Animatus II: Descent
Disclaimer: None of the themes, ideas, settings, or characters from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" belongs to me; they all belong to the great Joss Whedon. I'm just borrowing them for a joy ride. Also, I'm borrowing some ideas from some popular zombie movies, as I did in the last story.
Notes: This is the sequel to "Animatus." If you have not read that particular story, I would recommend it. You might be rather lost with this one without the background information. These stories are entirely dependent on each other.
Prologue: The End of Everything:
Buffy watched as Faith scrambled over the chain link fence separating freedom from the quarantined town of Sunnydale. She could smell the smoke of the burning van that they had left smoldering and ruined near the entrance of the highway. The winds had shifted and, mingled among the acrid smell, she caught a sickeningly sweet odor that reminded her of burning flesh. She shivered; the image of her mother's body burning to dust, trapped underneath the steering wheel of the van, crept into her mind unbidden. She knew that if she turned around, she would see flames shooting up into the sky, claiming all the remained of the exploded vehicle and everyone inside of it. She wanted to collapse on the ground and cry until she could cry no more, but she knew that she would be seeing her mother again soon. The sound of Faith's feet hitting the concrete on the other side of the fence captured her attention.
The bite wound on her arm throbbed intensely. She wondered if the knowledge that a deadly infection slowly was circulating through her body heightened the pain. She had been injured many times before, but no wound had hurt as badly was the bloody bite. She felt dirty, like black sludge was creeping through her veins. She smiled sadly when Faith turned and faced her with a confused look on her face. "Buffy?" Faith asked and the blonde Slayer heard the question in her voice. Why didn't you follow me?
"You have to go," Buffy found herself saying. She wanted nothing more than to spend her final minutes, hours, or days as a living, breathing human being with her lover, but she knew that Faith had another destiny. Faith had to lead their ragtag band of survivors to freedom. The younger girl's eyes widened when she saw the blood running down Buffy's arm and dripping from her fingertips into the road. Buffy gripped the fence with her clean hand, holding the metal rings so hard that her knuckles were turning white.
"What happened?" Faith asked in disbelief and stepped forward. But Buffy knew that the dark haired Slayer already knew the answer to her question. She just did not want to accept it. Neither did Buffy, but the older girl knew that she had to face reality. She was dying.
"It's too late," Buffy stated, anticipating Faith's next reply. "You have to go."
"I can't leave you here," Faith insisted and Buffy heard panic in her voice. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Giles moving forward. She knew that her Watcher understood how perilous their situation was; the zombies were coming and even a high fence would not long separate them from their prey. The zombies were hungry. Most of the residents of Sunnydale had been turned or eaten. They were running out of food. The motivation to feed drove them to venture into the sun and to chase their quarries with more speed than they usually possessed and it would drive them to accomplish even more for the sake of food.
"I love you," Buffy whispered, wishing in that moment that she had been given the opportunity to speak those words to her girlfriend more. She had not realized how important they were until the moment that she knew that she would never utter them again. She felt nothing but love for Faith in that moment. She wanted to kiss away the younger girl's tears, which were starting to slide down her face unbidden. She wanted to cleanse her of her pain and spend the rest of her life with the former rogue Slayer. But she knew that was impossible.
"Don't say that," Faith replied angrily. Buffy almost laughed. She was going to become a zombie and Faith was angry because she wanted to express her love a final time. She would have laughed if not for the tears coursing down Faith's cheeks.
"I love you, Faith. Don't ever forget that, okay?" Buffy said earnestly. She knew that Faith had more life to live, but even if Buffy could not be a part of it, she wanted her lover to remember the happy times that they had experienced together.
"Stop saying good-bye!" Faith shouted. She looked like she wanted to hit the fence.
"This is good-bye," Buffy reminded her gently. She knew that Faith always would be angry with her for choosing to stay behind. But she also knew that she could not risk infecting the rest of the world, and the people that she cared about, with whatever she now carried within her blood.
"I can't live without you, B," Faith spoke and Buffy felt herself weakening. She knew that if Faith lingered much longer, she would be unable to resist her desire to go with her. As if Giles knew what Buffy was thinking, he intercepted Faith as she stepped forward to grab Buffy's hand. Pulling the dark haired Slayer back, he whispered something into her ear that Buffy could not hear.
"Get her out of here," Buffy instructed, nodding at Giles to say good-bye. She knew that out of everyone, Giles would most understand her need to remain behind – her duty to contain the infection, even at loss to herself.
"We'll see each other again," Giles promised, though Buffy knew differently. He started running, dragging Faith along behind him. The younger girl looked back at the blonde Slayer once, and Buffy saw such a depth of pain in her eyes that her throat became choked with sobs that shook her shoulders and blinded her vision. Turning away from the fence, she looked down at the gun she clutched in her hand.
Blood from the wound on her arm splashed over her fingertips, staining the gun, and pooling at her feet. She was infected. She would die, as Riley had, and turn into a zombie. But no one would be there to end her suffering. She would become a mindless creature bent on feeding human flesh until she withered away, starved, and perished for the last time. Shuddering at the thought, she realized what she had to do. Lifting the gun, which contained only one remaining bullet, she pressed it to her temple. The cool barrel of the gun touched her flesh and she shivered with a sense of finality. She could see the horde of zombies running at her. They were almost upon the van. The sound of their famished moaning reverberated through her bones and she closed her eyes.
Tightening her finger around the trigger of the gun, she inhaled deeply, and prepared to shoot. However, she hesitated. Something Riley had said before he had died lingered in the back of her mind. He had told her of new experiments being conducted at the Initiative on Sub-Level three. He had spoke of rumors of genetic testing with some kind of virus. Whatever she had been infected with through the zombie bite had been transmitted to her by the creature's saliva. "If it is a virus," Buffy reasoned, a new clarity dawning in her mind, "maybe there's an anti-virus."
Hope suddenly blossomed in her heart, along with the realization that if there was a cure to the virus that created the zombies, it would be located within the depths of the Initiative. She lowered the gun from her temple and smiled. In the face of overwhelming odds and adversity, never before had she given in to defeat, and she was not going to do so now. Aiming the gun, she pulled the trigger, sending a bullet flying into the skull of the closest zombie. It crumpled to the ground. Buffy was a Slayer, it was her duty to destroy the undead, and until she found a cure, she was going to kill as many as she could. Rushing over to the van, she closed all of its doors, and jumped inside. Giles had left the keys in the ignition when everyone had disembarked from the vehicle, assuming that they would no longer require its services, for which Buffy was grateful. Turning the key, she smiled wildly when the engine roared to life. The first of the zombies reached the van, grabbing onto the back of it.
Buffy threw the vehicle into reverse, stomping down on the gas pedal. The van flew backwards with a squeal, slamming into the zombies, and crushing them underneath of its wheels. Buffy grimaced at the sound of breaking bones and splattering flesh, but she held onto the steering wheel tightly, as the van jolted over the bodies of the dead, and did not release her foot from the pedal. When she came upon a clearing in the road, she threw the van into drive. It shot forward, speeding past and through the crowd of zombies. Glancing in the rear view mirror, she noticed that only a minority of them were chasing after her.
As she drove, she formulated her plan in her mind. Once she reached town, she would spend the night in the Bronze, where she felt she could find relative safety. When the first lights of dawn crept over the horizon, if she had not yet died and turned into a zombie, she would seek one of the auxiliary entrances of the Initiative. The main entrance required the use of an elevator. With the power in town deactivated, she knew that using the elevator itself would be impossible. Though she contemplated repelling down the elevator shaft, she knew that, by morning, if the effects of the bite were starting to take hold of her, she would be considerably weaker.
However, she remembered during her tour of the Initiative, just before the town had been overrun, seeing several auxiliary entrances, which contained stairs, rather than elevators, leading down the main floor of the compound. She would require more time to reach the main floor, but ultimately, she could avoid the elevator. Buffy wondered what she would find underneath the city of Sunnydale; she wondered what remained inside of the Initiative compound. Though there were many zombies wondering through the town, Buffy did not remember seeing many wearing military uniforms or lab coats. She feared that the majority of the Initiative employees who had been turned had been trapped underground. Perhaps they still waited within the Initiative, unable to find a way to escape from its confines.
Buffy reached the exit off of the highway and into Sunnydale when the sun touched the horizon. The light touched her eyes, a deep gold that bordered on red. The entire sky was filled with the color and it seemed to Buffy that she was driving into an ocean of gold. The light shimmered in her eyes and dropped as the sun began to sink beneath the edge of the world. Buffy sighed. The drive back to the Bronze would not be easy. Abandoned cars littered the roads and medians. When the group had left the Bronze earlier that morning, they had wasted much of their day trying to navigate through the cars spread across the roads. However, they had been traveling in broad daylight. Buffy did not relish the prospect of trying to pick her way through the maze in the dark, just when all of the zombies in town were decided to awaken.
She remembered that Faith had spent her first few nights, after awakening from her coma into zombie ridden Sunnydale, on the roof of a sporting good store that had been owned by Liz's father, both being victims of the zombie attack. The Bronze was located off of Main Street and in the industrial section of town, close to the motel where Faith had lived during her time before moving into the apartment with which the Mayor had provided her. In order to reach the Bronze, Buffy would have to drive through the residential section of town, across Main Street, and into the industrial section. However, she would save a significant amount of time by stopping at Main Street. She hoped that the sporting good store still remained a safe place to inhabit. Pulling the van off of the road and onto one of the residential side streets, she began the grueling task of picking a route through the abandoned cars.
The sun had disappeared below the horizon, its display of red and gold fading into a dark blue, and night began to fall as Buffy screeched to a halt in front of the sporting goods store. Already, she could hear the nightly moaning of the zombies beginning. They were leaving their daytime shelters and venturing out into the night. She had left the horde of zombies that reached the fence behind. Though they had initially tried to chase after her, they had quickly lost interest. Buffy was one human, while many humans were on the other side of the fence. The zombies were preoccupied with trying to figure out how to reach them. Shutting off the engine, she moved into the back of the van. They had left their supplies inside of the van upon reaching the fence because it was clear to them that civilization laid on the other side. Jay had seen guard towers.
Buffy was grateful that they had left behind their supplies. Filling a backpack with food, guns, ammunition, and a flashlight, she grabbed a first aid kit and exited through the back of the van. Closing the doors tightly, she glanced up at the roof of the sporting goods store. She could imagine Faith standing up on that roof, surveying the ruined town, and wondering where Buffy was amid all of the chaos and death. While she and her friends had been holed up in one of the dormitories at U.C. Sunnydale, she had felt something which she had not felt for a long time. A low humming had entered into her mind and had never left. She realized now, looking back, that she had been aware of Faith's awakening without even knowing it. She and her sister Slayer always had been connected. Buffy had tried to block out their connection when Faith had joined the Mayor. Eventually, she had forgotten about it. But she had remembered it the instant that she had seen Faith's face again. She also had remembered all of her feelings for Faith, the ones that she had buried deep down inside of her heart, hoping never to feel again.
She wondered that she could not feel their connection now. She knew that Faith was alive, but the moment that she had been bitten, something had changed inside of her. She no longer felt the connection to her inner Slayer. The infection had taken that away from her. Loading a fresh cartridge of ammunition into her gun, she gripped it tightly in her hand, and shouldered her backpack. She pulled back the hammer, prepared to fire if necessary, and moved forward. She had not seen any zombies yet, but she could hear them. She knew that they were coming close. She wanted to be inside, and out of sight, when they finally descended upon Main Street. Entering the front door of the store, she allowed her eyes several moments to adjust to the darkness.
She saw a dead body lying in a pile of shattered glass that had once been a display cabinet. The body belonged to a little girl. Buffy wondered what had happened to her, but decided that it was best that she did not know. Once she could see again clearly, she started moving forward. She could not sense anything in the store, but she knew not to trust her intuition; it had been tainted. However, she caught no sight of moment, nor heard anything that would indicate that there was anyone – or anything – inside. Moving over to the stairs, she quickly ascended them. She remembered that her mother had hid inside of the store as well. That thought caused a deep pain to spread across her chest. Though she had cried for the loss of her mother, she had not been granted time to grieve fully. She had not been granted time truly to grief for any of her dead friends.
She wondered what her mother's life had been like atop the sporting goods store. She wondered if she had been happy, or if she had spent her days worried about the fate of her daughter. When she reached the top of the stairs, she located the ladder leading to the roof. Again, she felt no presence and saw nothing to indicate that any zombies had infiltrated the second floor of the store. She moved over to the ladder and shoved the gun into the waistband of her jeans. As she gripped the metal rungs, preparing to climb, she felt the tight grip of someone's fingers grabbing her by the shoulders. Suddenly, she was falling backwards. She landed with a soft thud on top of someone. Rolling over, she screamed when she saw the rotting face of the man on top of which she had landed. He looked as if half of his face had started to slide off of his skull. His skin dripped downwards, hanging loosely off of his bones.
Buffy scrambled to her feet, reaching behind her to grab the gun. But the zombie rushed at her, knocking into her again, and the gun flew out of her hands. Buffy crashed against the wall, struggling against him. As he tried to bite the side of her face, she lifted her knee into his midsection. The zombie doubled over and she brought her elbow down on the back of his head. She saw her gun lying across the room and she knew that she would not have enough time to reach it before the zombie had regained its footing. However, just to her left was a stack of surplus kayak oars that had been waiting for their turn in the store. Grabbing one, she cracked it in half over her knee. Pointing the sharp end at the zombie, she slammed it into the man's face as he charged at her again, smiling with satisfaction and mingled horror as the oar slid into his eye and through his skull. Blood shot out of the wound, the remains of his eye dribbling down his face. Buffy grimaced and released her grip on the oar, moving backwards as the man crashed to the floor, where he remained.
Closing her eyes briefly, she allowed her heart several moments to calm itself. Adrenaline was pumping through her blood and she felt as though she could fight an entire army of zombies. However, she knew that the feeling would fade. Opening her eyes again, she quickly scanned the store for her gun. Locating it, she moved over to it, picked it up, and replaced it in the waistband of her jeans. Then she ascended the ladder, pushing open the trap door above the hole and poking her head out into the night. The moaning of the zombies was louder now and she knew that they had reached Main Street. Climbing up through the hole, she stepped onto the roof of the store and closed the trap door behind her. She did not want anything following her.
She smiled when she saw three chairs sitting on the middle of the roof. Two sleeping bags still remained spread out next to them. She almost could see her mother, Liz, and Faith sitting in those chairs, talking and joking. Tears sprung up into her eyes and she blinked them away. Moving over to the chairs, she sat down and pulled the first aid kit out of her bag. She had lost a great deal of blood when the zombie had bitten her, but the blood flow had lessened, and as she inspected the wound, she saw that it had ceased altogether. Grabbing one of the bottles of water, she poured some of the liquid out onto a rag and began to clean the wound.
She winced as the water seeped into her torn flesh. She gently wiped the blood away until the wound was clean and then tossed the rag to the side. Pulling a bottle of antiseptic out of the kit next, she frowned. "This is gonna hurt," she muttered, removed the lid, and tilted the bottle over her wound. The antiseptic poured out, striking her skin. Gritting her teeth, she repressed the urge to scream. Tilting the bottle upright again, she replaced the cap, and put it back in the kit. She waited several moments, until the pain had lessened, and tore open a bandage, affixing it to her arm to cover the wound. Sighing once she was done, she leaned back in the chair. She suddenly felt very tired. Glancing up into the sky, she saw the stars twinkling above her and the round, bright moon smiling down at her. Closing her eyes, she drifted off to sleep.