Just Another Apocalypse



Author: Jo
Word count : 2081

Pairing : B/A
Rating: Anyone

*

Buffy winced as Angel pressed a dressing firmly into place over a gash across her ribs.

“Ouch.”

“Sorry.”

She looked at him as he bent for another large white dressing. Really looked. She’d seen him in bad condition before, but she didn’t know how he was holding himself together, this time. Almost literally. As usual, he was much more badly wounded than she was. He was always her shield.

Not that she was in good condition. A hospital wouldn’t have been out of the way, much as she hated the places, but the hospitals would all be full. Bursting at the seams, even.

“Just another Apocalypse... Ouch!”

“Sorry,” Angel said, automatically, reaching down for a third dressing.

“Just wait till I get started on you, buster.”

His small smile gave a glint of sharp whiteness.

“It seemed a bit more than just another Apocalypse, don’t you think?”

She nodded agreement, and then stopped with a grunt as the world started to swim around her. That would be the swelling lump on her temple.

“The foot soldiers went down easily enough, but those others were hard to kill.”

“Hard indeed. There. You’re done. Sorry I can’t clean you up a bit better...”

“Yeah. I know.” She sighed. “No water in this dump. Cleaning up will have to wait until we get home.”

She slid off the lump of concrete they were using as a chair.

“Sit. Are you going to peel off those rags, or am I?”

When she’d finished patching him up, there were no dressings left at all. They curled up in a corner of the ruined warehouse, and tried to sleep away the daylight hours.

+

Angel was the first to wake, his hearing sharply attuned to the slightest hint of an intruder. At first, all he heard was silence, no sound at all from the outside world. No voices, which perhaps wasn’t surprising, considering where this wreck of a building was. No shouting or screaming, which was a bit odd. He should have been able to hear that. No sirens, which was definitely a worry. There was so much destruction out there that there should still be sirens.

And then there was the clink of metal on concrete, and a gentle huffing sound.

Angel stiffened. Buffy, alert to every movement her lover made, woke instantly.

“What is it?” she whispered.

He put his finger to her lips, then rose silently into a crouch. Metal clinked again, softly. Angel reached out to the sword that had lain at his side through the night, soundless as he hefted it, getting a firm grip. He stood up and turned his head, pinpointing the source of the small noises.

Then he frowned, puzzled, and pointed the sword, first to one corner, then to the other. He held up two fingers to her. Two intruders, in different places.

Both of them were badly hurt, stiff and weak. No point separating to search the dusty shadows. They’d be easy meat that way. Better to stay here, with a solid wall at their backs, until they saw what came.

He felt Buffy’s hand creep into his, and he gave it a squeeze.

“We didn’t get them all,” she breathed, so low that only he could have possibly heard.

He shook his head. They hadn’t. They’d hunted the authors of this particular apocalypse, and now the boot might be on the other foot.

The chink of metal was louder now, the breathing heavier, more of a snort, as though something found the air here distasteful. They could concur with that. A certain aroma spoke of broken sewers somewhere in the vicinity.

Suddenly, there was a movement inside one of the doorways leading onto this wide open space. Angel squeezed Buffy’s hand again, then dropped it, to pull a long knife from his belt. These were all the weapons left to him. Buffy had fared little better, but she’d still got two swords. She hefted one in each hand. They were as ready as they could be, ignoring the throbbing, searing pains of existing wounds, willing adrenalin and demonic power to kick in and give them an edge.

The movement came again, and the first intruder stepped out into a small patch of dying sunlight, nickering softy. Buffy let out the breath she’d been holding. It was a large horse, and it stood quite still, gazing at them, and then tossing its head. She stepped towards it. Angel reached for her, but let his hand fall. There was something about that horse...

Then from another doorway stepped a second horse. It calmly crossed the space to its fellow, to the same small patch of weak light. The two stood head to tail, nibbling at each other’s itches, like two old friends in a field.

The first horse was a bright red, the colour of fresh blood, saddled and bridled in expensive red leather. Its dark eyes seemed to shimmer with images of slaughter, shadowy against towering flames. It blinked, and the shadows were gone. Buffy reached out to it, and it nuzzled her gently, then lipped at her cheek.

Angel caught its rein. “Get off,” he murmured. “That’s mine.”

He thought the horse smirked.

The second horse nudged him in the back. It, too, was a colour never seen on Earthly horses. It was pallid, but it was neither white nor grey. It was a pale greenish white, darker shadows around its eyes, giving them a bruised, sunken look. It was the colour of a corpse, definitely something he was qualified to recognise, although this horse was alive and looming. It was harnessed in dark leather, but he caught the scent of something, just a few drops on the saddle.

Gingerly, he touched one of the drops with his forefinger, sniffed, and then tasted. He moved round to the red horse. There was more... fluid... on the saddle. He tasted that, too. A different individual, but close enough to be a brother...

“What is it? Blood?”

“Yes.”

“There weren’t any riders there last night, were there?”

“Not that I saw.” He sounded worried. “But there were a lot of hinky things out and about.”

“What sort of blood is it?”

“I... I don’t know.”

“Not human, then.”

“No.”

“Demon?”

“No. I’ve never tasted anything like it before.”

“And you’ve tasted most things?”

“Yes.”

“So, what’s the closest you’ve tasted?”

He didn’t hesitate. “You. But it isn’t very close. Not other Slayers. Not like that.”

“You know something?”

He didn’t answer, but went to the head of the pale horse again. It nickered softly, reassuringly, and its eyes were kindly. He thought he knew why. What he thought this horse carried could be both cruel and kind.

*Come away, Buffy.”

“What?”

“Come away. Now.”

“Why?”

“These aren’t just horses.”

“Duh. I can see that.” She faltered, looking at his strained face. “What do you think they are?”

“He knows exactly what they are.”

The breathy, hoarse voice made them turn quickly, weapons ready. It came from where they had been sleeping. There was no chance that the owner of that voice had come past them.

“Who are you?” Angel demanded, stalking over to the shadowy figure, Buffy only a step behind.

The newcomer slowly drew back its hood, revealing sunken features, the creaminess of bone shining through the tightly stretched skin. Its eyes were grim hollows, the lips thinned and stretched into a ghastly rictus.

“You should recognise me, Angel. You’ve known me well.”

“Get out of here.” Angel’s tone was flat, his face expressionless.

The stranger laughed, an unpleasant grating sound.

“Now look!” Patience gone, her wounds aching, Buffy stepped forward and held the point of her sword against the creature’s midriff. “Less talk, more going ‘poof’. Get your ass out of here. And the horses, too. Pun intended.”

The pale horse rested its head on Angel’s shoulder. The red horse nudged Buffy in the back, shoving her arm so that the sword pierced the stranger’s robes, deeper than should have been possible. Suppressing a hasty apology, she pulled the sword back. It was clean and shining. Too clean. It hadn’t been that clean when it went in. Whatever had been left stuck to the blade had been... eaten.

“You can’t hurt me,” it reassured her. “I’m not incarnate just now.”

“I’ll find a way if I have to,” she hissed.

The horses whickered softly.

“I’m not staying. Although, I’ll be back. Those two are a different matter.” It nodded to the horses. “They know where they belong. They aren’t going anywhere.” She thought the creature smirked at her, but it was hard to tell with that rictus grin.

“Angel, if you know what this is, tell me.”

“I... I think... I’m nearly sure... This is Famine.”

The Famine? The mythical one?”

“Strictly speaking, it isn’t a myth...”

“No semantics here, Angel! Is it or isn’t it?”

It was the creature that answered her.

“He knows what I am. He knows me very well. All those years of starvation... A self-imposed famine for him.”

“Angel?”

“I think so...”

“And these up-market donkeys?”

The red horse nudged her again, more sharply this time.

“The red horse, I think, is the horse that’s ridden by War. The other one is Death’s horse.”

“Appropriate, don’t you think?” Famine looked smug, now. “The Slayer is always making war on others. And death, for a vampire? Perfect.”

Buffy squared her shoulders. “I don’t know what you’re getting at, you skinny rack of ribs, but we stop Apocalypses. We don’t bring them about!”

“Is that how you remember it? Really? That’s what you have to tell yourselves, is it? My goodness me. That’s not what I heard. Just keep thinking about it.”

Both of them had the grace to look abashed. The guilt, the ‘if I’d done it differently,’ those were always there.

Its grin widened.

“Yes. You know what I mean. I’ll see you later.”

The creature began to fade from sight, leaving its final words drifting back to them on the crowded air.

“And think on this, Champions. You broke it, you buy it.”

“Come back here!” Buffy demanded. “Right now!”

But the thing that might have been Famine was gone. The horses weren’t. They were solid horseflesh, with no signs of fading into whatever dimension Famine occupied.

“We didn’t kill two of the Horsemen,” she wailed. “We couldn’t have. All we did was stop something that was just another Apocalypse.”

“Maybe.” Angel seemed more taciturn than normal.

“What do you mean Maybe?”

“Some of them were hard to kill, if you remember.”

“Whatever. I just don’t buy it.”

He took her arm and guided her out into the falling night. Normal human sounds began to filter back to them, the noises of tragedy and fear. Recovering from this Apocalypse would take a while. There was a lot of work to do. Warm breath on the back of his neck told him that the horses were following.

“Do you want someone else astride those horses?”

“Do you really want to become Death itself?” she retorted.

“Death for who?” he asked her. “Death for humanity’s enemies?”

“Would you get to choose? And do you really see me as War?”

“Absolutely,” he replied, enigmatically, giving her no clue which of her questions he was answering.

“I’m not a horse rider, and I’m not starting now,” she grumbled.

“It’s a long way home, and the car is somewhere at the bottom of the river,” he reminded her.

“Didn’t you learn anything from Wolfram and Hart?” she asked, acidly.

“That was nothing but a learning experience. This is different. There can be no Apocalypse in the future without the Four Horsemen.”

“And I don’t want us to be just two of them!”

“You’ve got that red leather outfit,” he said thoughtfully. “You would look really good on that horse in that outfit. Very Wagnerian. Apart from the horned helmet of course. Very fetching.”

“Dream on! And we aren’t taking a couple of horses home with us!”

“I think that they might have their own ideas about that.”

“Think of all that hay! And all that horse shit to shovel.”

They continued to bicker as they left the building, supporting each other, out into the busy night. At the ruinous entrance, the Horses turned their heads and appeared to wink at something invisible even to the eyes of the Slayer and the Vampire, and then they calmly followed the couple, the night reshaping itself behind them.


The End
July 2011