Word count : 4,005
Pairing : B/A
Summary: Apocalypses come in all sorts, with all sorts of consequences. Some
of them might even be real.
The Apocalypse was supposed to come from the heavens. Buffy and Angel knew
that. They’d fought enough false ones, ones that had been sent by Hell, or
brought about by demons. The real one, the one that was foretold, should come
from the heavens. And it did, but not in the way that they expected.
For this most final of Apocalypses, there were no Horsemen, no heavenly
battalions of angels releasing pre-ordained carnage upon the world. No power
of evil rose from The Pit, there were no Hellish Legions, no battle at the
end of time. This Apocalypse offered no rapture, no last judgement, and no
It had long been feared that the Apocalypse might be brought about by man, by
the weapons of mass destruction, by nuclear death, by man-made plagues, by
climate-fuelled famines. There were none of these. This weapon of mass
destruction was not one of mankind’s.
It was a simple asteroid. A planet-killer. It came with almost no warning,
plunging out of the Sun, unseen by astronomers until it was only a few hours
away. Some hoped that the Moon would stop it, but it grazed past, missing by
a cosmic hairsbreadth, rolling and tumbling, and as deadly accurate as a
Buffy wanted to try and save people. It was Angel who understood how
impossible that was. He only had time to knock her out, scoop her up, grab as
many supplies as possible, and head for the nearest hole in the ground. For
the first time in his existence, he cursed the fact that the Hellmouth was
gone. No matter how dangerous, that would have been safer. Instead, he made
do with a long-abandoned gold mine, deep in the hills around Los Angeles,
finding a tiny rubble-choked entrance to a maze of cramped passages.
Half a dozen strangers had had the same thought, and they followed the tall
man who didn’t need a torch, but who carried his awkward burden, the limp
form of a small, blonde woman, deep underground.
When she recovered consciousness, secure in Angel’s arms, Buffy railed at him
for not letting her save people, then cried as the truth dawned on her. He’d
done all he could, all anyone could. He’d tried to save them both. Whether
that would succeed had nothing to do with Angel fire or Hell fire, and all to
do with the strength of the planet.
Even hunkered down as far beneath the surface as they could get, they knew
when the asteroid hit, a fiery cannon ball of rock, twenty miles wide. No-one
could possibly not have known that moment. The planet shuddered, and rang
like a bell, faltering in its endless dance around the Sun.
By a grimly ironic coincidence, it hit exactly where the dinosaur-killer had
hit, on the Yucatan Peninsula. The impact threw flaming, sulphurous rock
debris high into the atmosphere, and beyond, and an inferno swept around the
world as the atmosphere caught fire. On the opposite side of the planet, the
Earth bulged, and its skin cracked open, as fragile as a broken egg. Flood
lavas poured out, changing the continents forever. And the Earth burned.
Coalfields, oilfields, nation-sized peat beds, even naked rock, everything
burned beneath that sky of fire, taking forests and plains, cities and
deserts, consuming all the world’s oxygen.
Even though he had no need to breathe, Angel was the first to understand the
change in the atmosphere. He scrambled back to the surface, to be met by the
sight of Hell on Earth. Quickly, he brought down the entrance until there was
just a wall of rock and sand, and the air within the mine was preserved.
Back with the survivors, he took Buffy aside, and gave her the grim news of
what he’d seen outside.
“I’m going to have to go exploring.”
“Because everything we have here is all we’re going to have for a long time
to come. We need more air and we need more water. I’m the only one that won’t
suffer if I break into a cave that has no oxygen at all. You have to keep
everyone here calm. Conserve air and supplies. Let me do what I’m best placed
He set off into the darkness of the tunnels, accompanied by only the
occasional sound of scurrying rodents. The first day, he found a small gap
into a natural cave system, and widened it so that more air could get
through. He squeezed past the rocky gateway, to find a more extensive system
of caverns, with a pool of clear water. There were several rocky pinch points
in the passageways, but eventually he came to the cave mouth. He had to stand
back from the appalling furnace heat, but even above the roaring of the
fires, he heard another, deeper sound. He understood immediately, and prayed
that he’d found a place that was high enough as well as deep enough. The
ocean was too far away to be seen, but a planet-sized tsunami would soon be
rolling over the continent.
Fear lent him speed. He snatched up a couple of charred carcasses from the
cave mouth, dead and roasted deer that would feed the survivors, and squeezed
back through the pinch points, pulling down the rocky ceilings behind him. He
had to preserve the sweet water pool at all costs. He might not be able to
find another, after the salt water had swept through. If, that were, they
weren’t swept away themselves by the power of the tidal wave. At least they
were on the side of the hills that faced away from the water.
He dropped the carcasses around the corner from where Buffy and the others
had made camp by the light of a single candle. They were as deep in the mine
as they could get. There was nowhere else to go.
“Brace yourselves,” he told them, as he sat and took Buffy into his arms,
hiding from her his broken and bleeding hands. Minutes later, a tsunami that
had girdled the world smashed its way onto the land, obliterating hills and
valleys, remaking the face of the continent. Their refuge shuddered from the
force of it, and the humans held their ears, trying to keep out the sound
that suggested mountains being ripped out by their roots, but the chain
behind them held.
When it was over, one of the women was sobbing. All the others were silently
curled up, immobilised by fear. Buffy went over to the crying woman, holding
“There’s food,” Angel told her, keeping his voice dispassionate. “You’d
better all eat while it’s fresh.”
“What about you?”
She gave him an old-fashioned look, and he ducked his head, unable to look
her in the eye. He was fine now, but for how long? The tooth-sharpening
scents of blood and fear were thick in the close confinement.
He resumed his explorations, glad to get away.
When he went back to the natural cave, the pool of water had survived, but
the cave itself had been swept clean. Only the last two rockfalls that he had
created still survived. Outside, the land was a featureless plain of sand and
mud, mixed with the splintered remains of trees and shattered rock, and great
salt lakes. The sky still burned, but the fires on Earth had been
He needed to be strong for the people in his care, so he sat and wept alone,
grieving for everything that was gone, and for a future that could now never
Over the following days, he excavated access points to other mines and other
cave systems, always careful to create temporary blockages that would keep in
as much air as possible. Occasionally he came across other pools, but these
were all contaminated with salt water. And sometimes he came across animals
that had sought refuge underground. He hunted these, penning the larger ones
into dead end tunnels. When he took them, he always chose those in the worst
condition, trying to eke out the living larder as long as possible. The blood
sustained him, and the meat sustained everyone else.
He watched the first nightfall, when the oxygen in the atmosphere at last ran
out, and the sky fires flickered into darkness, leaving the airborne debris
free to fall back to the surface of the Earth. The stars still shone, the
Moon still looked down, but it was onto a planet that was shattered and
broken. If there wasn’t enough plant life left on land or in the oceans to
replenish the oxygen, these few surviving humans wouldn’t make it for more
than a very few weeks. Nothing larger than a bacterium would survive. And
neither would he. A vampire can go a very long time without blood, but if
there was nothing drinkable left in the world? How could that go for him?
After the fires and the tsunami came the rain. Not the life-giving, cleansing
rain that was born of clouds of water vapour. These rainstorms were born of
different clouds, boiling sulphurous clouds that stretched from horizon to
horizon. Sulphuric acid. When it began to fall, he held out his hand to catch
it, hoping it was pure, clean water. Instead, his skin burned and sizzled. It
might as well have been holy water. The only difference was that humans
wouldn’t be able to tolerate it, either. There was an irony in it, he thought
Soon, he had networked miles of tunnels and caves, blocking in enough of an
atmosphere to last for a good while. He brought the humans one starving
animal after another, just enough to keep them alive, but at last, there were
only rats left. And still the rain burned his skin.
When the rats were gone, or too difficult to catch, even for a hungry
vampire, it was still impossible to go outside. He looked around the tiny
group, already showing too much stretched skin and protruding bone, and so
much blood. He took Buffy aside.
“I’ve got something to show you.”
He took her through miles of tunnels, deep into the mountains, until they
came to a shallow lake.
“How are the supplies?” he asked.
“If we keep on just eating a few bites a day, we’ve got enough for about
another week. How long will the rain last? Because after that we’ll be eating
He smiled wanly. “I can see you letting that happen.”
“Don’t kid yourself. I’ll be the first one chomping on a chunky thigh.”
He smiled at her attempt at humour.
“I have no idea about the rain. It might stop tomorrow, or it might keep on
for a year. I’m not an astrophysicist.”
“What does your gut tell you?”
“It’ll go on for a while yet.”
He turned to look out across the black lake, but she knew his thoughts were
far from there. She didn’t interrupt, and it was a long time before he spoke.
“This water is clean,” he told her, “and as far as I can work out, the river
that fed it has changed course or gone altogether. You should be safe from
contamination by the acid. And there are fish in here. They’re quite small,
but if you’re careful, they will last you for months. There are tiny shrimps,
too. It would take a hundred to make a teaspoonful, but you can eat them. Can
you remember how to get here?”
“Of course I can. But what about you?”
“There’s only one group of prey around here for me to eat. Maybe only one
group in the entire world. And I’m not going to do that.”
He pulled something from his pocket. It was a stake.
“I want you to stake me. If you don’t, I’ll kill you all, eventually.”
“No.” Her voice was very flat and very final.
“Yes. You have to.”
“I’ll feed every one of them to you before I stake you. I’ll make them give
you blood turn and turn about. And you’ll have mine, of course.”
He shook his head. “And turn me into The Master? I don’t think so. Besides,
you can’t afford it.”
“It won’t be for long! As soon as this rain stops, we can go and look for
food and shelter and other people.”
“You think there’ll be any?” He took her by the shoulders. “It’s all gone,
Buffy. Everything. There might truly be nothing at all living on the face of
the Earth except for us. And it’s hardly the Garden of Eden out there. The
only chance you’ve got is if the ocean still has fish in it. Wherever the
shore is nowadays, there might be shellfish if they haven’t all been boiled;
edible seaweeds; crabs. There won’t be much, I guess, but there’s likely to
be nothing on land. I can’t eat fish.”
“It could keep you alive...”
“No, Buffy. It couldn’t. It would be like you trying to live on diet soda.
There’s no actual nutrition in it. You need to stake me now, while I’m still
strong enough not to eat anyone.”
“Angel, it can’t come to this! Please don’t do this to us. I need you. I can’t
do this without you.”
“I’ve done everything I can, Buffy. I’m a liability to you now. Your future
lies with these other people.” He offered her the stake. “Please.”
She snatched it from him. “No. Absolutely not.”
His laughter was harsh. “You think there aren’t enough timbers in these mines
to find another stake? Or I could just walk out into the rain, but I’d hoped
you would give me a quicker end than that. I hoped you’d think I might have
earned that much.”
Her sob stopped him. He’d tried to keep his distance, but his resistance
crumbled, as he knew his resistance to the call of blood would also crumble.
But, for now, he folded her into his arms and held her close.
“Please, Buffy. Or I’ll do it myself...”
“You could turn me. We could fight this thing together. I could be by your
side always. Have you thought of that?”
He kissed her.
“There isn’t a day goes past when I don’t think of doing that. But I won’t.”
“There has to be another way,” she sobbed. “There has to be. What have
vampires done in the past when they faced starvation?”
He rested his forehead against hers. “They’d go to ground.”
“What do you mean?”
He pulled away and turned back to the lake.
“A vampire can go to ground, and lie dormant until woken again. That can be a
hit or miss affair, which is why it’s good to have someone around to do the
“Would that work here? For you?”
“It might,” he admitted. “I’d be very hungry when I woke up...”
“So, you could wait here, unharmed, until we’ve established whether anywhere
has survived, and whether there’s anything for you to eat. No matter how long
“I suppose so.”
“It’s better than being dusted, isn’t it?”
His smile was warm, but his blood ran cold at the thought. He wouldn’t share
that with her. Vampires who went to ground were very dangerous if they were
left too long, the demon so much wilder, so much more primitive, than it had
been before. And what of his soul? How would that manage, in the
reconstruction of the demon? It was a ghost of a hope, though, for her, at
“Yes. Just don’t leave it too long.”
Together, they dug a hole in the sand by the lake. When it was deep enough,
he took her hand and led her a little way along the water’s edge, where he
laid her down and made love to her. There was no chance of perfect happiness
here, just perfect desperation. And then he lay down in his new grave. Even
through the first layers of sand, he could smell her tears, as she pushed the
sand over him. It was the last thing he knew, before his body shut down.
When she was done, and she’d dried her tears, she found a beautiful piece of
crystal that had been shaken loose in the cataclysms, and laid it on the
mounded sand beneath which her lover lay.
“I’ll come back for you, Angel. One way or another, I’ll come back for you.”
She knelt by his grave, and prayed that it would soon stop raining. She came
back there every day of their incarceration.
Col and Suk wormed their way into the cavern. They’d been following a small
scattering of the sun metal, little pieces in the earth. If they could find
enough of it, they might be able to trade it for some of the black stone that
burns. That was so vanishingly rare that a lot of sun metal would be
demanded. But, the black stone that burns was the only thing that would allow
them to smelt the sharp metal to make better tools and weapons. So, they
would dig until they had enough.
There was no sun metal in this cavern, but there were tunnels leading off,
and they would be worth following. Perhaps they would find some old workings
from the Last Inhabitants. Or better, perhaps they could find some ancient
tools or other artifacts. All of those fetched a good price.
For now, though, there was the lake, and they were thirsty and hungry. They
waded out into deepest part, washing off the mud, stirring up the sediment in
the crystal water. It slaked their thirst, but the water was quite barren.
There was no visible life at all, no swimming things, no scuttling things,
not even any dead things to scavenge.
Disappointed, they waded back to the shore. Col pointed to a white crystal
that glittered in the single ray of sunlight from their tunnel. Suk picked it
up. It was pretty, so he put it into his pouch. Then he knelt down to look
more closely. There were some small shards of bone. Just by a neck bone
something black lay coiled on the sand. Gingerly, he picked it up and rubbed
it. It was a heavy cross and chain, made from moon metal, but tarnished now
by age. Perhaps it would buff up.
He stirred the bones around with his finger.
“Something died here, Col.”
Col stood back a little, surveying the shape of the sand.
“It’s a mound. I think something is under the ground. Something of the Last
They began to dig.
What they found was a shrunken, mummified body and the shape of it didn’t
belong on Earth. They stared at it with interest, and poked it, but it didn’t
fall apart on exposure to the air. That might be worth a good price. They
bundled it into their groundsheet and set off back to the city.
When they showed the thing to Asha, at the city’s museum, he was more than
interested, and he did indeed give them a good price, enough for a few pieces
of the black stone that burns.
The next day, Asha set about examining the find. It was a strange and alien
thing, with sharp fangs, and the bony plates of its face gave it an angular,
predatory look. He’d never seen anything like it.
He measured and made notes, and did drawings. It was important for a
scientist to have facts, he believed, and the more facts the better. And all
the bones were here. Such good fortune.
Despite the covering of parchment-thin skin, the mouth gaped open in death,
as skulls usually did, but there was a shrivelled piece of tissue that might
once have been a tongue. He poked a measuring stick down into the throat, but
he must have been careless. His wrist scraped against one of the largest
fangs, and blood ran down into the cavity. Quickly, he peered at the numbers
to get the measurement, and then he pulled out the stick. With his kerchief, he
dabbed at the spots of blood on the tongue, and wiped the stained fang.
And then those fangs closed over his wrist, and try as he might, he couldn’t
get it off him, and he cried out for help, but no one came, and then he had
no strength in him to cry out at all.
Weak and withered, the demon that had once been Angel slid off the table and
hid in a cluttered corner until night fell. The food had been familiar,
although he couldn’t name it. Not yet. It would take a lot more of these to
rebuild his flesh after such a long fast. He wondered how long he had been
underground, but only briefly. His thinking processes were slow, his only
remaining instinct focused on the need to feed. When darkness fell, he pulled
himself painfully down the stairway to the cellars.
The scent of food was all around him. The scuttling little creatures were so
free of fear that it took only a few days of hunting to clean them out. Now
he had enough strength, enough shape, enough intellect, to venture outside.
When he had finished in the cellars, his memory managed to supply the word he
had forgotten. Rat.
Out on the street, in stolen clothes that hung on him like a scarecrow, he
began to explore. The buildings were timber, roughly gnawed at the ends. Very
frontier. He was startled by a cart that rumbled past, drawn by four strong
beasts. They weren’t horses, though, or anything that had come from horses.
They were rats, giant rats, long-legged and muscular, as tall at the shoulder
as he was. What was driving them wasn’t a human, either. That, too, was a
rat, with no fur to speak of, two-legged, sharp-featured and sharp-toothed.
His nostrils flared. Yes, definitely a rat.
His sight and hearing were improving, but still poorer than they would be
when he was well-fed again. His most basic hunting sense, though, was honed
by starvation until it was razor sharp. Scent. He sniffed the air, the warm
breeze carrying molecules from hundreds of miles away, or perhaps from
thousands of miles, tenuous but real, like light from a distant star. Of the
warm-blooded world, he could smell nothing but rats. Rats that were evolved,
into all sorts of different shapes and sizes, but rats nonetheless.
He must have slept for an unimaginably long time, time enough for the sole
survivors of the cataclysm, the rats, to fill the gaps left by every other
type of life-form. Walking, crawling, running, flying, they were all rats.
Well, at least he knew that he could eat those. He might get sick of the
taste, but they would keep him alive, in all their new shapes. Perhaps there
were humans somewhere else on this world, with blood and hormones that were
more to his taste. There was plenty of time for him to explore, when he was
He thought of a blonde slayer, a girl who had once been an obsession of his, and
who had put him in the grave, as she was perhaps always destined to do. If
she had killed him, then he had killed her. When he had woken, there had been
some faint residual scent of her death, in the eternal atmosphere of that
cavern. Well, the world turns, and obsessions come and go. The time for this
one was gone.
Deep inside, something wailed, and sang a sad, mad song about redemption and
a higher purpose. About a better life. About love.
He laughed, and shuffled off to find a suitable lair where he could feed and
fatten. And hunt. Humanity had been the sum of their hopes and dreams and
nightmares. It seemed that rats were the new humanity. If they had hopes and
dreams, then even rats ought to have some nightmares to spice the mix. He
would be sure to provide them.