Buffyverse, post-"Not Fade Away". Kind of a crossover with Return Of The Living Dead
, though no familiarity is required.Word count:
Willow and Illyria are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. The ROTLD background plot is the property of Dan O'Bannon.Summary:
Illyria hates how everything human takes time, especially after 20th century technology disappeared in a flash. And having mentioned that, she's not overly fond of zombies either. But if she has to stop the apocalypse, at least she can do it together with the only other being who's almost as powerful as she is. Written for femslash_minis
' apocalypse round, and snogged
's prompt "Crack the sky, steampunk, acid rain" with zombies.Humans need fantasy to be human, to be the place where the fallen angel meets the rising ape.
- Terry PratchettCloudbusting
The worst thing is how everything takes time. Willow complains about having to do calculations by hand ever since the EMP knocked out everything electronic; Illyria remembers travelling light years in an instant, flitting between dimensions on a whim, making and unmaking with a thought. And here she is, on top of something the humans have laughably named a skyscraper, drenched in tepid stinging rain, using a metal wrench to tighten a bolt that won't fit.
It's been roughly ten days since she and Willow came up here, taking the stairs 108 floors up by muscle power alone, barricading them one by one. At first, she thought the idea was ludicrous. They need her out there with the feeble vampire Slayers who go out in shifts, wearing protective clothing that's eaten through in an hour, trying to hold back the tide of living dead. Not that she can do much that ten superpowered humans can't do in her weakened state, but at least slaughter has a certain simple dignity. But "We kinda need Fred for this... Oh, um, a-and you too, obviously." Willow is perplexing; the woman is almost as powerful as Illyria would like to be and she still gets nervous around her.
It's not that the poison in the rain can really hurt her, but it shuts her in, a sticky cloud where it feels like she can never breathe. Not that she likes having to breathe, but her body's lungs insist on it. As if this world wasn't small enough.
Winifred Burkle's memories are full of theoretical physics; equations, models, primitive attempts to understand, quantify, predict and solve things that should just happen
, preferably at one's own instigation. Knowing the rules is pointless without power, and with enough power you can write your own rules. Willow should know that, but whenever Illyria tells her she points out, in a tone that Illyria should find infuriatingly disrespectful, that that's probably exactly what the military thought too. The living dead rise in Louisville and cannot be contained? Declare the city an acceptable loss, drop a nuclear bomb, then go "ooops" when it turns out they just disseminated the zombie plague all over the continental United States. Since then, the sky's been blanketed by black clouds. Since then, humanity has huddled inside shoddily isolated houses while the dead rise and prowl for brains. Since then, she and Willow have been stuck up here, building something that can carry a cure high enough.
Humans and their solutions. Humans and their simple manipulations.
Illyria's skin burns where the rain has eaten through the leather. She's going to need to remake her armour once (if) she gets back down. The first time she climbed back inside the top floor with one of the front seams dissolved, it took her a few seconds to decode Willow's response. She's not sure why it should have taken her that long; it's hardly a surprise that humans find naked flesh titillating.
When Illyria moves her hands over Willow's skin, she gasps as if they burn her, as if the rain still clings to them.
The bolt finally slips into place. This is what they need her for? It isn't even physics, it's just mechanics, the lowest, least godlike of sciences. One that sits in Winifred's Burkle's memories alongside the smell of sawdust, warm Texas sun, slow summer days, soapbox derbies, homemade dams and water wheels in little creeks; calloused loving hands showing her how to tighten a screw, fasten something in a vise, grease an axle. The 24-hour darkness doesn't bother her; her hands know this without thinking, she doesn't need more than the odd glint of light reflected off the metal to know what she's doing. It's just that she shouldn't have
They talk about mechanics, magic, chemistry, zombies; hows and whys, causes and effects, actions and reactions. They don't talk about anything that happens after they've talked about that.
They're not sure what the situation is below; ten days ago the hordes were still held back, but now...? Willow occasionally picks up a telepathic link to someone 400 metres below, but most of the time she's too tired to get a clear connection, or too freaked out... too overwhelmed by human emotions by what she hears. Occasionally the moans of the living dead drift up from far below. Sometimes Willow thinks they're getting closer, working their way up floor by floor. Sometimes she needs to have her mind taken off it.
Illyria wishes she'd embrace what she is, stop trying to pretend she's still what she was, that her power hasn't elevated her high above that. ...Willow, that is. (Humans and their pronouns.) Then again, Illyria isn't sure why she cares what Willow pretends.
One more bolt. Done. She wants to take a step back to observe the whole structure (as if gods needed to admire their own work) but the ledge she's standing on is too narrow and it's too dark. No matter, she's seen Willow's blueprints and knows what they've built; a tall mechanical antenna on top of the Willis Tower, all cog wheels, pistons and levers, brass and steel ripped from any metal object they could find on their way up. Technology that would have looked like a museum piece only two weeks ago, in the bygone age of electronics and molded plastics.
Willow once asked her what she was, before - "I mean, before
before." If there was ever a time when she wasn't Illyria, primordial god-gender-unspecific-monarch et cetera.
The room at the top is cluttered with discarded blueprints, broken metal parts, a single cot in the corner. Willow looks up when Illyria climbs back inside through the makeshift airlock, her eyes lighting up despite a mostly sleepless week of worrying and doublechecking wild guesses. Even their magic is hard work. "Hey. Everything in place?"
"It is." Illyria strips off what's left of her armour as Willow picks up a towel. Over the past few days it's become a ritual (gods like rituals) - Willow slowly coaxing the poison off her with clean water, a soft towel, cool fingers against Illyria's singed skin, somehow making it possible to breathe again. It's over too quickly; it's a big day.
As Illyria winds the huge pendulum that's going to power the machine, Willow carefully checks the potion she's spent a week on. She lifts the container to the pipe that leads to the roof, and stops. Her hands shake slightly as if the two gallons weighed too much for her to lift. They steady when Illyria steps up behind her and slides her hands down Willow's arms. Through the thin t-shirt separating them, Illyria feels her take a deep breath.
"What are you waiting for?"
Willow laughs nervously. "I just have this feeling like someone's going to have us thrown in Azkaban for... I dunno, building code violations or littering or something. I mentioned that this isn't exactly well-explored territory, right?"
"Let them try after we save them."
Willow raises an eyebrow but doesn't remark on the fact that there's apparently a "we" now. She plants a quick kiss on Illyria's cheek and pours the potion, and they release the catch together.
The pendulum descends, turning the axle that turns the cog that turns the gears that gets the machine above them working. They hear the slight hum as the payload is sucked up and aimed at the dead clouds, the slow grind of moving parts, the Whooosh whooosh
of the giant brass pendulum hung from Chicago's tallest building, ripping the black rain like a sheet. They've done what they can, and it'll be hours before they know if it does what it's supposed to. By tomorrow, the skies could be blue again. Theoretically.
Until then, they have nothing but time. And the unspoken knowledge that whatever happens, just happens.