by Minim Calibre

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.

"You've caught."

"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 Schrodinger'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 Schrodinger'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.


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