by Rowan

1. The last vampire in New York

This is the year 2107 and Spike is about to die.

He's running. He's running and the gap that yawns between this building and the next is eleven feet and three inches wide with a drop of forty-six storeys below it. He takes it without hesitation.

Spike lands on the other side with an ungainly sprawl and barely paused to grimace as he hauls himself to his feet, ignoring the protests of twisted tendons and bruised ribs. He runs and runs and runs, without a glance behind him.

As he leaps from rooftop to rooftop in desperate flight, Spike's mind flickers through, evaluates, narrows the possibilities. He'd been so careful, dammit, hadn't killed a human for years. So was it the cat-corpses rotting in the sewers or the bags of stolen hospital blood that gave him away? Or had the Council finally grown more powerful than he had imagined possible, tracking him down through scent and instinct alone?

But in the end, who the fuck knows, who the fuck cares? They're on his tail. That's all that matters.

Another gap: fifteen feet eight inches wide and nine feet one inch up. It is the only choice and it is impossible. His stride never falters.

Spike runs full tilt and leaps into emptiness, legs tensing as they launched him into the air, arms outstretched and coat billowing in the wind, every muscle bone tendon nerve in his body willing him onwards, gotta make it gotta make it gotta make it...

He flies like a bird and falls like a comet, forty-one storeys, ten nine eight seven six five four three two--

The metal body of the taxi-cab opens up to cradle him, reshaped and shattered by the force of his impact. Every bone in his body breaks and it sounds like glaciers calving icebergs. In every fibre and cell he can feel the red-lava boiling-oil hell-fire gnashing-jaws of Pain. The police sirens are a distant echo of hell's bells.

His eyes are still blue, even with the burst blood vessels, still blue and open. They will not close again.

Through scratched corneas he sees Death appear above him, masked and with a stake in her hand. Bitch he thinks, still wanting to spit and snarl even through the agony, bitch won't even take her mask off and let me see her face before she kills me.

But even then, even in that shattered body, he senses the unnaturalness of the figure leaning over him. The immobile mask which he realises is no mask, the metallic skin and bloodless scent, no wisp of hair visible on the dull chrome of skull. This is no ordinary Slayer, he realises, and with that realisation knows fear.

Is it even a woman? Or human?

Death is plastic-and-metal, circuitry-and-bone, a cyborg with the Council's logo engraved in its breast. Death is--

"You?" Blood chokes his vocal chords.

Buffy kneels beside him, metal clinking on concrete and glass. "Yes," she says, and then she pushes the stake into his chest.

So ends William the Bloody, the last vampire in New York.


2. The beginning of a love story

When he was nineteen, a girl called Buffy saved Warren Mears' life. He never forgot it.

The vampire had slammed him up against a dumpster and sunk its teeth into his neck. Dazed and being swiftly drained, he could neither speak nor move, only watch from some great distance as it bit down harder and darkness began to consume him.

I'm going to die, Warren thought numbly, I'm going to die going to die so young and I've never even...

She burst in like an avenging angel, blonde hair flying and eyes determined, one small hand descending from heaven to pull the vampire from his neck with a painful wrench. Warren slid to the ground, watching dazedly. Even then, he could see that she was the best.

Kick kick, punch punch, swift as a snake and fierce as a jaguar, forcing the vampire back and back and back till there was nowhere left to go but wall. In the darkness he saw her make a stabbing motion, and then - he wasn't sure.

But his saviour seemed unsurprised at his attacker's disappearance, calmly turning away and dusting her hands together. "I'm Buffy," she said as she approached, heroine with a Californian accent, "Here, let me help you up." And in that moment, as she pulled him to his feet, as he leant against the dumpster and gazed into her eyes, Warren fell in love.

It was to be the single most pivotal moment in his life.

"Are you okay?" she continued concernedly, unaware of his epiphany.

No, he was not okay. He'd just had a near-death experience, was still feeling faint from the blood-loss, and, oh yes, he had also fallen in love. But it didn't seem right to say all this at once, so Warren simply shook his head.

She said he looked too pale so she flagged down a cab.

"Thanks," he said inadequately as she opened the door for him, "for everything."

"No problem." Buffy shrugged it off. "Take care of yourself," she called, waving as the taxi pulled away from the kerb. He twisted in his seat, watching through the glass at the slim figure walking down the darkened street.

It would be years before Warren met Buffy again. Not till she was 1.0 and he was the head of the Science and Mysticism unit, when her life would be the one that hung in the balance and he would have the chance to prove his love, in a distant future which they could not yet conceive.

But all that was to come. For now the night swallowed her up, and Warren turned away.


3. But the spirit remains

2003 AD

She lands on the pavement wrong and feels her left ankle break. "Fuck," Buffy groans.

2008 AD

A demon spits poison in her eye. Buffy screams as she feels it melt to nothing but manages to kill the demon anyway.

2013 AD

She is in Lithuania, patrolling with the latest and youngest of her Watchers, when they are rammed by a tank.

The woman, whose name in time none but the Council Historians will recall, dies instantly.

Buffy loses her left arm.

2016 AD

Buffy is thirty-five years old and still alive.

She is the best Slayer the Council has ever known and they wish to keep her. So as her body crumbled around her, they began to replace it, one part at a time. An eye for an eye, and so forth, ad infinitum.

In 2016, she takes a bullet in the chest and dies for the last time.

2107 AD

"When Jesus rose from the dead," 1.0 says. These are the first words it has uttered since returning from New York.

The lab attendant drops his pen. It clatters on the floor and rolls away unnoticed. "What?"

"When Jesus rose from the dead," 1.0 says in its chrome monotone. "Do you truly believe that was him? Do you truly believe that the corpse was being animated by the son of God?"

He does not reply.

"There other beings that can inhabit the bodies of the dead," 1.0 says. "That can make the dead walk, speak, give every appearance of life. Not all such spirits are benevolent." It pauses. "Verity comma Anastacia. An Introduction To Animation And Re-animation. First published 2018."

It is a quote, he realises with a feeling akin to relief, just a quote.

1.0's optic sensors flash neon, bright in the darkness of the lab, then fade.


4. The end of a love story

He has always been in love with the First.

It hurt him very badly to think that she must one day die, as all the Slayers must. So it was partly from selfish desire that he came to the Council and proposed that they immortalise her; and it was he who oversaw every step of the process that through which she shed her old body and donned a new one.

At first she was unwilling, yes, but it had to be done, as even she came to concede at the last. So although he wept for the loss of her golden hair and warm skin, her soft eyes and voice, he drew certainty from the knowledge that it was for the greater good. That now she would live forever.

It excites him still, even fifty years later, to run his hand over the cool chromium of her leg, caress the smooth silver of her bicep, and finger the silicon filaments embedded in her neck. The narcissism of this fetish, almost incest, for he helped create her, built her from the first chip upwards - all, he admits, but her mind - so what else to call it when he is aroused by his own creation, this metal flesh of his flesh?

He has put a part of himself in her: physically, with the microscopic shedding of skin molecules and perhaps an eyelash or two, embedded now into plate and gear and circuit; and spiritually, too, for he has poured his soul into her making and knows it. She is his life, the only daughter he will ever have, the only lover he will remember on his deathbed.

"You never touched me like that when I was breathing," she says to him one time, early in the process, late at night as he labours over circuitry in her inner thigh, the limb as perfectly formed as the barrel of a gun.

"No. I didn't." And the thought makes him weak at the knees and she knows it.

She utters the sound that approximates a laugh for her, a rattling machine-gun stutter. "Don't you wish you had?"


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