A/N: Answer for the Good__Evil 'Apocalypse' challenge over at lj. The requirements were the end of the world and Hamlet. Won first place, too.
How It Ends
When Angelus told Spike that the first rule of hunting slayers was to never turn them Spike laughed, punched a wall and told his grandsire where he could stick it.
For once, just once in his damn life, he should have listened. Well, he reckons, it's too late now to weep for spilled milk, or in this case, blood.
When he closes his eyes in the early hours of morning, images still dance behind his closed eyelids. Images of rooms painted in blood, walls dripping, carpet making sickly wet sounds as he wades through the death and decay in search of … No, that's not right. He doesn't search for anything. Not anymore. His quest for salvation ended a long time ago and there is really nothing he desires anymore.
He had everything a man – monster – could ever ask for. And he ruined it. He found her in a cemetery. A fitting place for all kinds of dark and twisted things, a place that tainted things. He should have taken that as an omen but love is blind and gods, he loved her. Bleeding, broken, like the children in those rooms. Like dolls, painted in a red that never comes off, she lay, motionless, almost gone already.
"Drink, pet. Please drink. Just for once, slayer, do what I tell you to."
She did and it was the end of the world.
In a hundred and fifty years he's seen his fair share of apocalypses. And he knows the pattern well, knows it like the back of his hand because he used to be William the Bloody and when there was trouble to be had he wasn't far off.
There is supposed to be a way to stop them, a single fight to decide the future of mankind, a hero, safety. A simple pattern of good, evil, the glorious victory of the light, peace. There is supposed to be a golden haired goddess aided by her dark knight, saving the day. Sometimes there must be a sacrifice, yes, but not this. Never this. Things are supposed to be alright at the end of the day. There's supposed to be people left to enjoy a better world afterwards.
But this time there aren't.
This particular apocalypse started the night she rose from the dead, still a golden haired goddess, but with eyes like the deepest pits of hell, blood boiling with cold seduction and overwhelming hatred for the very world she had once sacrificed everything for. This particular apocalypse started with disappearances, inexplicable catastrophes, wild speculations. A piece of the puzzle here, a mutilated body there, it was death on silent feet, whispering through the night, nothing but a phantom but oh so deadly. City by city, man by man by woman by child, it crept forward and by the time the white hats caught on it was too late. Much too late.
This particular apocalypse has been going on for twenty five years.
He wishes sometimes for the good old times, where one glorious bloody battle decided all. Even if you lost, you didn't have much time to suffer because you were dead. Now you do.
He suffers every day, every night, every second that his beautiful and cruel creation walks the face of this earth intent on ruining them all. Because that's what she's doing. She's stealing the stars and drinking the oceans, bleeding mountains and burning earth. She's the world's last arsonist and she'll turn them all to cinders and ash blowing on the winds over a barren planet.
In the refugee camps 'slayer' has become synonymous for 'death' and 'evil', 'destruction' and 'loss' and it's his fault.
"Please, darling, please. I'll do anything…just -."
He steps into the sad remains of what was once the L.A. branch of Wolfram and Hart. It's a club now, what's left of it. There is a generation coming that does not remember what skyscrapers look like and how it is to walk down a street without climbing over mountains of debris.
The music – hard and loud, ugly and meant to pound the last thought out of a desperate human mind – makes his head ache and the smoke and stench of human fear make his eyes water.
Slayer's armies stay out of a city for years at a time, giving the humans time to regroup, breed and let their guard down. And so the mortal bodies fly high all around him, grinding the memory of better times into the stained concrete with the heels of their worn boots. But they step aside for him, a flicker of recognition in their glazed eyes.
"The Maker," they whisper, "the one who made Slayer".
Some hate him for bringing this all upon them, but most have seen too many horrors to still link a single deed with a world full of death. They don't care about the past enough to condemn him, not when now is so precious. They respect him, fear him for the power he holds, the things he's seen, survived. They step aside to let him pass because some of them stood on the last battlefield with him and they remember the slaughter he created in the name of a dead woman he once loved.
"I love you, I fucking love you and I won't let you die again. I won't."
Faith is sitting at the makeshift bar, sipping vodka – not her first tonight and certainly not her last – watching him approach. The years and battles have not been kind to her. She may heal almost as fast as he does, but she scars. The newest reminder of her own mortality – although she is now, de facto, the longest living slayer in history, even when no-one dares use the word 'slayer' anymore – is a thin, angry pinkish line running from her forehead, down the bridge of her nose, ending just beside her mouth on the right cheek.
Her hair is a chopped off salt and pepper parody of the flowing chocolate she once wore and Spike knows that if she dances tonight, her bad leg will kill her in the morning.
He steps up to her, traces her newest scar with a single digit and smiles weakly.
She slaps his hand away with a gesture that holds nothing of the fire she once breathed on everyone who dared show compassion. She blames herself for what happened almost as much as he does.
Blames herself because she was pregnant and in no state to help her blonde sister with slaying.
She lost the baby the same day she lost her sister, three days before she found her husband's head on her front porch. Five days before she declared war on her other half. Seven days before Buffy Summers disappeared off the face of the earth to become Slayer, a fear laced whisper in twilight shacks of humanity.
No-one has seen her since that day. Or at least, not Spike and Faith, the last of those who knew the woman whose face the devil wears nowadays. The last ones who neither fear nor hate Slayer.
They don't have the energy for it.
There are some veterans left, hidden away in the far of corners of the planet, that remember how life was, before, but none of them knew her.
Faith lifts two fingers at the girl behind the bar and catches two shots that come sliding down the chipped metal surface of the counter. She pushes them toward him with a smile, "I've had too much already."
He throws back the two gulps of pitifully weak vodka, frowns. "You can never have enough, darlin'. Not nowadays."
She shrugs, unimpressed by his words, having heard them a million times before. She twists around in her chair, leaning her elbows on the sticky counter, eyeing the sweaty throngs of people on the dance floor with mild distaste. Whether it stems from their ability to lose control or the reminder of her own youth they present, he doesn't want to guess.
Her eyes are filled with cynic humour and that's all he needs to know.
"I was in Alexander today," she informs him wile eyeing a girl, no older than fourteen, dancing in wild abandon, cheap plastic bracelets in a billion colours flashing on her frail wrists.
Spike raises an eyebrow, waiting for her to continue. Alexander is one of the refugee camps North of the city, named after a dead one-eyed boy. The irony is not lost on either of the two.
She makes regular trips through what used to be California, stopping at all the camps - Angel's Rest, Kennedy, Phreedom, Gaebriel, countless places that look the same, taste the same, smell the same – helping where she can, keeping the enemy at bay, at least in theory.
In reality, all she can do most of the time is help people move closer to the city, retreating foot by foot. He admires her for going out there, time and time again, giving hope she doesn't have. He prefers to go out alone, disappearing for a month or two and cutting as deep into the enemy territory as he can.
She closes her eyes, good leg twitching with the irresistible rhythm of the music. "It's gone."
It jars him worse than it should, shocks him more than is healthy. It's gone. Alexander, a camp housing over twelve thousand, is gone.
She shakes her head, "Not a single one."
Her foot keeps moving, her eyes stay closed, but she can't fool him. He clamps down a hand on her knee, stilling her movement, earning himself a hiss of anger. He ignores it.
"There's more." It's not a question. If Alexander is gone, there is more.
He lets go of her leg, orders and drains three more shots, waiting for her to speak.
"It's the third this month. Sisters and Witch Lair are gone as well."
He grabs the last shot glass and throws in into the wall with all his might, watching a rain of shards come down behind the bar and angry roar on the tip of his tongue. Beside him, Faith doesn't react at all. She probably reacted much the same way upon finding a whole town void of all traces of life.
Sisters was small, two thousand people tops, but it had better defences than most other camps. The Niblet's work. He remembers with pride the fight she put up, the people she gathered around her. She held out longer than most, except Witch Lair.
Red finally burned out less than five years ago, her magic spent, her body unable to sustain itself anymore. Dawn, Willow, Xander.
"She's killing them all over again."
Faith still doesn't look at him.
A girl hurries over, puts another vodka in front of him, looking scared.
Dawn, Willow, Xander.
And Faith grabs his arm, pulls him out onto the dance floor, making him move and move and move until he forgets his own name.
"Come on, if you won't do it for me, do it for the Niblet, for Red and the Whelp. They need you, bloody buggerin' fuck!"
Two months later there isn't a single refugee camp left and they still haven't found a single body. Spike was never very good with maths, but even he knows that the odds are bad for humanity this time. Pretty damn bad.
Faith accompanies him on his little hunts now and they kill like machines, dozens, hundreds of the fledglings crawling around the edge of town, too afraid to go in, too hungry to stay away. And for everyone they kill another three pop up.
They are burnt out, tired, weary and for the first time in years, hopeful. It's a tiny sliver of hope only, that crept into both their hearts before they clamped down on it again, so very tiny, but it's there.
Not a refugee's hope of freedom, but a warrior's hope of finally ending it, one way or another because there is no denying it now.
Spike is finally getting his heart's desire. The apocalypse is ending. Slayer is coming home.
He tries to work up the energy to be shocked upon seeing her at the head of her army of the undead. Tries to muster some denial, to cling to age old fantasies of Slayer being someone else, anyone but his golden goddess, and he fails.
He's known this was coming, has felt his bones ache and his heart sing as the last of his blood, his final mistake came closer.
And now she's here.
"May the Goddess be merciful," someone whispers to his left but he doesn't turn to look who it is. His eyes are fixed on the sight of her, drinking her in.
Blonde hair, almost white after almost three decades in the dark, down to her waist. Her lips blood red, like good wine and her skin, oh so pale. She wears black leather like he once did, all cocky confidence and hidden power and her eyes sparkle in the dark as they settle on him.
She smiles, inclines her head, gives him a saucy wink. Beside him, Faith snorts, "I thought she was your childe, not your freaking clone."
He chuckles and shakes his head in wry bemusement. The years are finally gone from the second Slayer's voice, leaving behind not a worn woman, but a girl. She's almost young again and for a moment he likes to think that he can feel his dead heart jump a bit.
"And what about Faith? She supposed to go out slaying with the baby? She needs you, too!"
The three of them back together on the battlefield, bouncing with anticipation, cracking jokes, thirsting for blood shed. It's almost like it used to be. Doesn't matter that they're standing on opposite sides of the field this time.
They'll dance and everything will be over.
Doesn't matter at all.
This isn't Hamlet and the question of to be or not to be has long since been answered.
A battle is a battle is a battle, but this one is a slaughter. Humans fall like toy soldiers, kicked over by a child. Only this child is blonde, deadly and immortal. She smiles at him across the battle field, smiles and crooks a finger at him in invitation.
And he follows as he always did, always will because he belongs to her, body mind and tattered soul. She owns him and no atrocity in the world can change that.
He lost Faith half a battle field ago but he's pretty sure she still lives because there is the occasional scream of pure animal terror coming from his left meaning that she is still wreaking havoc with child like glee.
She never did grow up after all.
So he takes another step, slashes another throat, rips out another heart and then there she is. There is a splatter of blood on her left cheek, her eyes are feral gold, clashing with her pale hair, making her seem even less real.
But oh, real she is. Always more real than any other thing he has ever laid eyes upon.
She smiles again, a mockery of that worn but happy smile she once gave him after long nights and longer days when she came home to him and crawled into the cold of his embrace.
And he looks at her and he sees….. he sees a life of happiness and joy pass in front of his eyes. He sees her grow old and slip away peacefully surrounded by loved ones. Not children, but people she loved, who loved her. He sees himself at her grave, crying, remembering and carrying her with him wherever he goes. He sees himself not quite moving on, maybe greeting the sunrise.
It's idiotic because he always knew that she would not go out like this, that even his love could not keep her alive through all the darkness she faced. But he wanted a few more years a bit of happiness.
He never thought he'd be the one to ruin it all.
But he did and it ends tonight, in a field of blood and death only months after she killed her family a second time, giving him a warning, time to prepare. He's known this was coming since Faith told him about the camps.
Slayer has come home.
It's time to get this over with.
"Please, Slayer, drink and everything is gonna be alright. I promise."