And below, the angel dog
'Annie-Dog', The Smashing Pumpkins
The Bombs Go Off
She'd been a lovely thing, shy as a kitten and just as likely to scratch. Wildfire hair and huge luminous eyes, skin like pale silk, and lips as sweet and red as cherries. A beautiful, frail child-woman who had said that she loved him, though she was too young to know the real meaning of the word. He'd been halfway to falling for her himself, was seriously contemplating bringing her over to the other side.
But he had put it off, telling himself that there time enough for that later. For now, he would simply savour the warmth of her skin and the heady tang of her blood. For now, he would just lie with his ear to her breast, and listen to the sound of her heart beating.
Back then, of course, he hadn't known what would happen on June 18, 2001. No one had. The bombs went off, cities burned, and empires crumbled - who could have known? And so she had died, somewhere in the ruins of Los Angeles, along with millions of others.
The thing that really gets to him, he realises, is just the sheer, pointless waste of Willow's death. Shaking his head at the pity of it all, Spike cups his hand around the cigarette and lights up, gratefully dragging in the smoke with his undead lungs. A crying shame, is what it was.
That delectable armful of a girl, lost ten years ago to a mushroom cloud and radioactive dust, has never really left his mind.
* * *
It's night in San Diego - not that the night and day difference is such a big deal anymore. The dirt in the atmosphere makes the sunlight into this thin grey colour, just enough to scald a fledgling but no more than a minor problem for a vampire with over a century on his shoulders.
But night has always been the proper time for vampires. So under a moonless, starless sky, Spike picks his way through the rubble, heading to the only place in town where a guy can still get a drink after dark.
He passes through street after silent street, in which the few remaining houses are boarded up and dark. If any humans still live here, they're smart enough to stay inside after sun sets, probably with loaded guns at hand, ready to fend off raiders or demons.
But in complete contrast to the outside world and its air of grim survival, Series Six is jumping. Named for the bomb that started it all, S6 was one the first demon joints to start operating after the war. Three months after the nukes hit, five demons set up a keg and a turntable in the basement of a skyscraper, and since then they haven't looked back. Every night is party night at S6.
For the past decade, demons and cockroaches have pretty much had the run of the planet, being immune to the radiation that is in the process of wiping out ninety percent of the humans who survived the initial blast. The demons have been remarkably productive in that time, quickly rebuilding the core institutions of civilised society: that is, the bars, nightclubs and casinos. They've taken care of the refreshments too - alcohol is more widely available than uncontaminated water, amphetamines and heroin are easier to find than food.
Spike steps inside Series Six, into air thick with the smell of sweat and smoke, his bones vibrating to the heavy bass beats thumping out from the speakers all over the walls. From the top of the stairs, he looks down onto the packed dancefloor and can't help from grinning at it all. One apocalypse and ten years later, you'd think times would have changed a little.
But no. Turns out that people just want to dance.
He struggles his way through the crowd to the bar, and after downing a drink or three, he can't say that he blames them. In fact, he's tempted to join in. It must be immensely satisfying, providing you're a demon with a sense of history, to dance on the graves of a few million members of a species you've been trying to stamp out ever since they appeared.
Spike tosses back another shot and is starting to feel a little sloshed. Pondering those few million graves, and the hundreds of millions of others elsewhere on the planet, he begins to think that, yeah, maybe the war wasn't such a bad thing after all.
Then he remembers his sweet little redhaired mortal, and takes it all back.
* * *
Cut to a couple of days later, just before the sun sets, and as the light fades from dirty gray to pitch black. Spike's in some back alley, rolling a cigarette, when a bundle of rags sits up in the shadows to watch him. He ignores it, as he would ignore a rat or a cockroach, and strikes a match on the brick wall before lighting up.
But then the bundle of rags shakily rises to its feet, clutching a tattered blanket around its shoulders. Tentatively, it says his name: "Spike? Is that... is it really you?"
He stops. He turns. He stares. And then, horror of horrors, he recognises! "Willow?"
She nods, and he can feel his whole world crumbling to pieces.
He can't rip his eyes away from her, this shambling, grubby creature, whom against all odds he has recognised. For this woman, who can't be much more than thirty but looks closer to fifty, is scarecrow thin and raspy-voiced, grey-skinned and sunken-eyed. Her hacked-off hair is thin and patchy, her lips cracked and dry. He can see needle sores all down her arms and smell the alcohol on her breath. He is shocked.
Oh, whither his Willow? Whither the flaming red locks and sea-green eyes, the startling beauty of her white arms? Whither the softness of her embrace, the honey of her voice, and the sweetness of her kisses? Whither the Willow of ten years ago?
The answer is both simple and terrible. She is where she always was: in his head.
The woman he sees before him is the Willow of Now: a once-healthy human after ten years of radiation sickness and minimal rations. Hooked on heroin and booze, infected with hepatitis, and filthy from a month's worth of dirt.
In short - a human just like all the rest. He's seen thousands like her in the past decade, nothing more or less than vermin in a world ruled by demons.
With a start, he realises that she's talking to him. "... wasn't in LA when the bomb went off, see, I left a day early..." He notices that there's tears running down her smudged cheeks. "... Spike, god, I never thought I'd see you again..." She smiles, revealing blackened teeth, and holds her arms out to him expectantly.
The mere thought of touching such a creature, of holding it in his arms, and pretending that it is his Willow, his darling witch-girl-lover - it is too much. He doesn't reply, just stares at her coldly before dropping the cigarette on the pavement and crushing it with his boot. Shaking his head, Spike puts his hands in his pockets and turns to leave.
He's only taken five steps when a bottle flies past him and smashes on the ground.
"Wait!" she calls out, an edge of terror in her cry. "Spike? Where are you going?"
Spike stops, but doesn't turn around.
"Where are you going?" she repeats wretchedly with a trembling voice. "I've been waiting for this day for ten whole years, ever since the bombs went off. I always knew I'd find you." He hears her begin to sob, in the way that a drunk sobs. "Don't leave me here, Spike. Please, god, don't go..."
He pauses, as he remembers his Willow's soft words of love, and compares it to this harpy's shriek. Something dies inside of him, and numbly he starts walking again.
"You're, you're leaving me?" A short silence, followed by the sound of a bottle shattering close on his heels. "Bastard!" She's screaming, raw-throated and hysterical. Two more steps and another bottle passes through the air beside his head. "Monster! I hope you die!"
He doesn't look back, and when he reaches the end of the alleyway he silently replies with all his heart - *and I wish you had*. Then he's gone, disappeared into the night.
What a pity.