by Christina K
Copyright 2003

Spoilers for "Chosen". Post-the-second-it-was-over fic.  I started this within a week of the finale, with no modifications made for new eps of Angel.

A big thanks to Perri, Dee, Lizbet, and the other Horsechicks for betas ('specially Perri, who helped me with major chunks of dialogue) and to Mike and Bruce for telling me it didn't suck. Thanks, guys.  A tip of the hat to the Sunnydale Socks: I thought of this at about exactly the same time they played with the idea, but didn't take it as far.  With all joy to Joss, for giving me a seven-year obsession, and enough plot holes to play with, and continuity to hold it together. Ave, always.

Part 1

"What are we going to do now, Buffy?"

Buffy turned away from the crater that used to be Sunnydale with a very slight smile. She couldn't believe Dawn had just handed her that straight line.

"I'm going to Disneyland!"

Which earned her a look from Dawn, giggles from Willow, a whoop of approval from Faith, and an amused sideways glance from Giles.

"Isn't the Magic Kingdom two hours south of Sunnydale? As we are currently five hundred yards north of the former city limits, I somehow doubt you will be meeting Mickey Mouse any time soon, Buffy."

"Picky, picky." Buffy slung an arm around Dawn's shoulders, turning back toward the bus and the waiting Po-- Slayers. They were Slayers now.  She still couldn't get her mind around it, even if it *had* been her idea in the first place. "We just won the supernatural Superbowl, Giles. I deserve all the cotton candy, mouse ears, and rollercoasters I can take, especially since no one's giving me a commemorative ring."

"We should get rings. Or T-shirts! 'We Ashed the Army of Darkness!'  Team Slayer, Saving the World Tour 2003!'" Kennedy put an arm around a now-staggering Willow, who smiled giddily back at her. Between sleep deprivation, the fighting, the running, magic spells, and unbelievable triumph and relief, they were all exhausted and loopy. But Buffy felt a pang at Kennedy's words in the middle of the jubilation, sharp as an indrawn breath.



Later. She'd sort out her feelings about his loss later; she could still feel the searing tightness of burnt skin across her palm, the imprint of his fingers in hers. It would be healed soon, and there'd be nothing tangible left of him. She'd know how she felt, then.

With one last look at the crater where the Hellmouth and the town she'd defended for seven years had been, she stumbled back to the bus, holding onto Dawn, and unable not to smile in spite of the pain in her side, in spite of grief. Above and beyond everything else, there was a lightness inside of her she hadn't felt since the first night in the cemetary with Merrick.  

She was free.

Her destiny was now shared with dozens of girls and women, maybe hundreds around the world.  She wasn't alone any more, with only Faith to understand. It would never all be on her shoulders again.

"What are we going to do?... Anything we want, Dawnie. Anything we want."


It had started raining gently by the time Giles pulled the bus into the parking lot of the Breakers Motel. Most of the others were too young or too exhausted to be trusted to drive, and Robin Wood had surrendered the wheel outside of Sunnydale, too badly wounded to continue. And yet, for all that, their wounds were healing faster than they should have.  Something had intervened, or maybe getting beyond the reach of the Hellmouth had made things easier for them all.

Faith claimed she was  busy fixing Robin up, and thus couldn't take the wheel herself.  "Besides, G-man, I've been in jail for three years, and driving, it was never really my thing, you know? You think you can keep it on the right-not-left side of the road?"

"Of course, Faith. I have only lived in this country for seven years. And don't call me that."

She'd flashed him a bright smile before going back to bandaging the principal, and he'd turned the bus toward the highway. San Luis Obispo was two hours away; time enough to think of a story, an explanation for a bus full of wounded young women coming from Sunnydale, by then.

Giles hadn't thought of anything more convincing than 'Girl Scouts escaping from an earthquake' by the time they arrived.  Wearily putting their vehicle in park, he turned to Buffy, sitting in the nearest seat with Dawn dozing against her shoulder. "I'm going to see if they have enough rooms for all of us, but if they don't, I think we should allow the most wounded to rest here, with you in charge. I'll take the remainder of the girls to another motel."

"Okay... are you going to pay for this?" she asked, brow furrowing in worry. "Because I'm not sure where my credit card is right now. Probably at the bottom of that pit. The First could be trying to charge Pay-Per-View with it for all I know. We really should have packed for this apocalypse but it never exactly came up before."

"Council funds, Buffy. I suspect we'll be living off them for some time in the future. Fortunately, that's not a problem." His voice softened as he looked at the exhaustion in her eyes, the smudges of smoke across her face. The relief he'd felt when she'd climbed off the roof of the bus... He had no words for it. "Let me deal with this. Just rest. You've accomplished one unimaginable victory today; there's no need for you to fight any more battles yet."

"In spite of Cleveland."

"Cleveland can wait. And so can you. Rest."

She smiled and closed her eyes, tilting her head against Dawn's.

Giles was half-way across the parking lot before he realized that Faith was trailing behind him. "I can handle this, Faith. You don't need to leave Wood alone."

"You're getting twenty rooms for you and thirty teenage girls, G-man. I think they'd like to know you're chaperoned." She grinned at his grimace. "'Sides, Robin needs more bandages, and I'm hopin' they've got a first-aid kit for him and the others, or directions to the nearest clinic. I think he's gonna be okay, but...." She shrugged.

There weren't enough first-edition books in the world to induce Giles to ask Faith about the situation between herself and Buffy's former employer. But her concern was obvious, and the idea about medical supplies a good one. Lord, he was tired. Tunnel vision was starting to take over, moving him from one goal to the next without planning beyond that. Somewhere outside the tunnel there was Scotch, a quiet corner, and time to both reflect and mourn. But not now. "Right. Rooms, then supplies. Necessities for the next few days. Food..." He rubbed his eyes, then reached for and opened the door of the motel office. "And then perhaps a very good scotch."

"Second that one. I'd take the bootleg booze from Cellblock D after this day." She frowned. "Hey, you think there's still a warrant out for my arrest?"

He didn't have a second to comment on that very unwelcome reminder before the motel clerk, a young man whose name tag proclaimed him to be "Ricky", came out of the back office, smiling politely. "Hello. Welcome to the Breakers. Single or double room?"

"Twenty doubles, please. For three days, at least. If you have them?" Giles gestured behind him feebly, at the bus in the parking lot. "There's, um, rather a lot of us."

The clerk's brows rose, then he turned to the computer. "You're in luck. A dentists' conference got cancelled a couple days ago-- they got scared off by the earthquakes-- so I think we've got just enough vacancies.  Where are you folks from?"

"Sunnydale," Faith said, before Giles could launch into his prepared 'camping trip gone terribly, terribly wrong' speech.

"Oh, refugees." Ricky nodded knowingly. "Jeez, I thought everybody got out of there weeks ago. Wasn't the San Andreas opening up right underneath the town, or something? You guys must be the last ones out."

"Quite likely," Giles admitted.

"You should contact the Red Cross, they can get you in touch with the insurance guys and the relief centers. Why'd you wait so long to leave, anyway?"

Faith grinned and leaned forward, looking far too pleased to be asked. "It's a long story."

"Yeah?" Ricky looked interested in more than the story, and Giles rolled his eyes as he searched for his Visa card.

"It takes about... oh... a hundred-plus hours to tell. It includes destiny, cheerleading, saving the world, and giant demonic snakes. Plus, leather coats and gymnastics. You sure you're up for hearing it?"

"Uhh...." The young man's eyes were glazed, a common reaction to Faith in flirtatious mode. Perhaps he'd give them a discount for large groups and sexual innuendo.

"Do you happen to have any first aid kits we could borrow? Some of the girls were injured. And possibly, some toothbrushes and other toiletries? We left in rather a hurry," Giles said, shooting the Slayer a short 'behave' look. She pouted at him, then transferred the pout to the clerk, who visibly shook himself.

"Um, right. Yeah, we do. I'll have them sent up. And there's a drug store down the street, two blocks east, if you need anything else." Ricky handed over several room keys. "You've got half of the top floor to yourself, check out's at eleven am on Friday, and the local pizza place starts delivering at noon. Will there be anything else?" he asked, looking hopefully at Faith.

"Nah, that's perfect, Rick. You're a *prince*."

The clerk turned deep red, and Giles suppressed the urge to snort until they were out in the parking lot. "What was all that flattery in aid of?"

"Hey, he quit asking questions about us, right? And he's not gonna believe it's me on the news if he sees anything about the breakout. Trust me, G-Man, no guy wants to think he has the hots for a psycho murderer."

Giles shot her a quick look at that, noting the drawn lines around her mouth. "You're much more than that, Faith. Especially after today. Your help has been essential, and much appreciated.  I hope you know that."

"I'm getting there, G-man. Getting there."

"Good. And I must remember to make Xander pay for that nickname."

Faith snickered as they climbed back onto the bus.


Part 2

The sun was going down by the time everyone had checked in to their respective rooms and made a run to the local drug store for T-shirts, shampoo, and other basics. The four wounded girls were put into one room, most of them already beginning to heal. Ivy's broken ribs and concussion were the worst of it. The other girls were taking turns checking on her, in between changing each other's bandages and counting bruises.

Exhaustion and being fed should have made some of them collapse, but Xander wasn't surprised that rest wasn't happening for any of them. It was always like this, after the big ones: everyone too wired to crash, too jacked up on adrenaline and relief to do the sensible thing and pass out. And this apocalypse was bigger than the others had been-- they'd defeated the First. El Uno. The baddest of them all.  Why shouldn't they be acting like popcorn in a giant microwave?

Especially since most of them hadn't lost anyone. Not anyone special.

(Anya, are you mad at me? I couldn't find you. I would've brought you with us, no matter what, if I just could've found you....)

He did not want to be alone with the thoughts inside his head.  Those thoughts were not his friends. He didn't want to talk about it, either.  Not yet. Sometime, maybe, but not now. It didn't seem real yet; he kept expecting Anya to call and chew him out for leaving her by the side of the road, demanding that he pay for a cab to the hotel so she could get out of the rain.

If there had even been a body, he probably wouldn't feel like this. Something he could touch, something to traumatize him and give him nightmares and make it impossible *not* to deny it. It wasn't that he didn't believe Andrew, or that he desperately didn't want to.  It just... wasn't real yet. Anya was going to be back any minute, his gut said so.

The crash that was coming when his gut finally got the message that she wasn't ever showing up wasn't going to be pretty.

Until then? There was Strawberry Hill wine in plastic cups - two bottles of it-- and crazy bread in Buffy and Dawn's room. As long as he wasn't going to be drinking alone, progress was being made from the last time Anya went away.

"Why don't I get any? I helped save the world too, darnit."

Buffy poured herself another cup and made a face at the pouting Dawn. "Because you're underage, and none of the other girls get any either. They're all Slayers now, but strangely, that doesn't mean they won't get mega-sick if they drink too much. And they're all too young to have any idea what too much is. I'm just heading that problem off before they learn it through sad personal experience."

The other Slayers had been wandering in and out of all their rooms on the floor for the last hour, skipping in to share their Chinese take-out and Mexican food and excitedly hug everyone before dancing out again. It was really pretty scary. Xander was very glad that he was not sharing a room with any of them tonight.

"You should talk." Dawn snorted and snagged another piece of pizza from the box on her bed. "I thought you always said 'beer bad'?"

"Yes, beer bad. But wine? Wonderful."

"Not that anyone's advocating alcoholic excess, of course," Giles murmured, taking another sip from his cup and grimacing, then leaning back in his chair.

Buffy and Dawn had each commandeered a bed, with Willow sprawled out at the foot of Buffy's, and Xander stretched out on the floor in between them, his back against the nightstand. Giles had fallen into one chair as if he were a hundred years old and never moving again, and Andrew had kind of curled up in the other, for once not saying much.  Xander could tell he was still sort of shocky, which was actually kind of a relief, because he didn't want to talk to Andrew right now. He wasn't sure how well he'd keep it together if Andrew said anything about Anya again. He'd been proud that he hadn't yelled when the kid had given him the news, and very glad that he hadn't lashed out with "why didn't you save her?" or "God I wish it had been you." But he wasn't going to push it by actually holding a conversation with Andrew, or letting himself drink so much that it would all spew out without being able to stop it.

(Even though it's true. I think I'm going crazy, An. I'm talking to you in my head, and I'm wishing him dead and not dead; I'm glad you saved him, I don't want to undo that. It's nothing personal, I just hate the sight of him now. Why didn't I stay with you instead of Dawn? I could've saved you, it's my fault, not Andrew's, no, it's no one's fault, or it's the First's fault, it's...)

No, talking to Andrew was not an option.

"Oh, but a little celebratory giddiness is in order, you know," Willow said, waving her tacky pink plastic champagne glass around in a circle. His Willster never could drink more than one beer without getting goofy and lit up. "We got out of the Hellmouth before it could chew us up and spit us out and... okay, not all of us, but...." She bit her lip, her face falling. "Sorry, guys. Being quiet now."

The expression in Buffy's eyes when she glanced down at him probably matched his own: don't make me think about that yet. I'm okay if I don't think.

Whatever else he'd ever felt about Spike - which had ranged from kill-him-now to almost liking him, about once a year - he'd come through for them. Xander knew he was now *not allowed* to ever, ever call the guy evil again. Or say that he hadn't loved Buffy. In another month or so he could probably make fun of his hair, but not any sooner. And he would personally rip the arms off anyone who said anything remotely similar about Anya.

"It's not your fault, Will." Buffy took another sip from her cup. "I'm not sorry we're alive and I'm really, really glad we won. We kicked ass, the girls should get their party for it. And I don't want to bring everyone down." She looked at Xander again, and he clenched his jaw and looked away. "But could we not go there yet?"

"Seconded," Xander said, raising his glass.

"Thirded," Dawn muttered, then stuffed another piece of pizza in her mouth.

Giles looked around the room, then cleared his throat, studying the bottom of his cup. "I have a suggestion, before the subject of our... losses, is tabled for the evening. If anyone would care to hear it."

"Maybe," Buffy said warily. "What is it?"

"The Slayers have mentioned wondering how to deal with the deaths of the others, since a funeral service is impossible. I spoke to the management and confirmed that bonfires are allowed on the beach with a permit. Perhaps a mass memorial service tomorrow night would be appropriate, if it isn't raining?"

Xander turned this idea over in his head and felt the first real stab of grief hit him, untinged with anger or disbelief. (You never saw the point of funerals, you didn't understand Joyce's, and you didn't really get Buffy's, maybe you'd be glad we're not having one for you... )  Oh, how much did he *not* want to deal.  But Anya would -- would've yelled at him for being stupid, for not agreeing to a perfectly plausible solution. The Slayers deserved some kind of ceremony to say good-bye to their friends.  And he owed Anya this. So much more than this, but at least a good-bye. Not drawing it out forever until he couldn't avoid it anymore.

(I'm glad you were a hero there, at the end, I'm glad you didn't bail, I love you for that, I always loved you. I was stupid and I miss you so much already.)

"That works for me," he said, not looking at Giles. "Buffy?"

"Yeah. I think... It's a good idea." She nodded without smiling. "Thanks, Giles."

"I'll see to it tomorrow, then. Around sundown."

They were all quiet for a second, avoiding each others' eyes, which made the sudden very loud, multi-voiced shout of "We're the Olympic Slaying Team!" from down the hall that much louder. Xander blinked. He caught Willow's eye, and saw the giggles she was sternly suppressing, and felt a grin tug on his mouth against his will.

"What on earth...?" Giles wondered aloud, cocking his head.

"We will, we will, ROCK YOU! *Rock* you!"

"Everybody sing!"

"We will, we will--"

Giles winced as the song became increasingly off-key. "Oh dear lord. They're going to get us thrown out. And I put down a deposit."

"Are you sure they didn't get some of the wine earlier?" Dawn asked suspiciously.

"Pretty sure," Buffy replied, sounding hesitant. Then she frowned. "Except I think Faith went with some of them to get food, so um, not sure at all, now that I remember what happened at the Bronze. Not that she had a driver's license, but that didn't stop her getting served before...."

*thump thump THUMP! thump thump THUMP!* It sounded like the Slayers were stomping down the halls toward them and back, shouting "We Will Rock You" the whole time. Xander swallowed more wine to hide his smile, then tilted his head to the side, humming along. Willow was snickering into the mattress now, her shoulders shaking.

"Ahem, yes." Giles rolled his eyes. "Where is Faith, may I ask?"

"Cuddling with Principal Wood."

"Faith and Principal Wood...?" Andrew asked, looking intrigued and awake for the first time in half an hour.


"What? I don't think he's 'up' to anything else yet, he was wounded..."


"Oh, spare me. Those two have  so been boinking. And he doesn't need her to 'check his bandages' in his room for four hours straight." Dawn smirked. "Although, that does wind up at a pretty interesting visual place, like the two of them comparing body piercings--"

Buffy's "meep" owed more to Dawn talking about sex than her being upset at Faith and Wood doing anything, Xander judged, so he felt safe sticking his two cents in. "You know, they'll have matching stomach scars by the time his heals up. Kind of like getting tattoos with each other's names.  Very trendy. Much better than wedding rings."

"Should we get them congratulations-on-your-sex-buddy presents?" Willow put in with an evil smile. "I bet that would freak Faith out."

Buffy's ack-face morphed into mischief-face at that. "Ooo. I'm in. Maybe matching earrings?"

"Nothing dangling for Robin. It wouldn't go with the baldness. He'd look like Dennis Rodman," Dawn pointed out, snatching another piece of crazy bread before Xander could.

"I don't know, I think he could pull it off," Andrew said, thinking aloud. "I mean, Wesley Snipes wore earrings in 'To Wong Fu' and he's a real badass... although not so much in that movie, 'cause he was supposed to be a drag queen."

"Okay, I vote for dangling."

Buffy hit Xander with a pillow, not hard, just as Kennedy came in.

"Kennedy, what was that godawful noise about the Olympic team earlier?" Giles asked as the dark-haired Slayer pounced onto an open spot on the bed next to Willow.

"Hunh? Oh, that. Some guys in one of the rooms came through the hall and wanted to know who we were, and Vi and Rona had been saying that we could take on all the martial arts teams ever now, so it just kinda seemed-- Uh, maybe you had to be there." She grinned, and kissed Willow on the nose. "Having fun?"

"We're getting Faith and Robin some earrings to celebrate their couple-dom," Willow informed her.

Kennedy brightened. "Oo! Do we get presents for getting together too?"

"Aren't I present enough?"

"You're a goddess. But I want new earrings. These aren't even my best pair, and they're all I've got left."

"Tomorrow there will be much more shopping than there was today," Buffy said firmly. "All courtesy of the Watcher's Council platinum cards. Right, Giles?"

"As long as I'm not required to witness your rampage through the malls. Or carry any shopping bags."

"Sweet mother of god, yes," Xander said with feeling. Twenty-five Slayers on a shopping hunt. Twice in one day, he was feeling mortal fear. "Wills, you know what I wear, you'll get me new shirts, won't you? I'd just slow you guys down."

"Of course. And I might get you some *nice* shirts, too."

"Ha. Ha. Ha."

"If Willow gets to shop for you, and we have unlimited charge cards, I'm getting you something too. Something you *will* wear," Dawn decided. "You'll thank me later."

"I'm sure I will. I'm not stupid and I have good self-preservational skills. Everyone says so."

"Giles, are those charge cards really unlimited?" Kennedy asked, twisting her head around to look at him.

"Well, for most practical purposes, yes. The entire resources of the Council were-- extensive, and since there are only a handful of Watchers left, we've rather done away with the necessity for accounting for the near future. Why?"

"Some of the girls want to call their parents, let them know they're okay. And some of them are talking about going home now...." She looked wistful at the thought.

"Ah. I see. The phone calls certainly aren't a problem. Tell them to charge them to their rooms. As for the other... that has yet to be decided." Giles looked thoughtful, and Xander had a brief, passing thought about contacting his parents. Just to let them know he was alive.  After all, if they'd heard about Sunnydale sinking into the earth, they might be worried.

Worried? His parents?

Well, he'd call them tomorrow anyway.

"We should probably call L.A., tell the guys down there how everything came out," Buffy said, leaning her head back against the pillow behind her. "They should know they don't have to worry about the First."

"Don't you want to call Angel?" Willow asked, looking at Buffy worriedly. "I mean, we do kinda owe him, for the amulet...."

"I really, really don't want to talk to him yet," Buffy said, her voice low. "Not yet."

Which brought up a whole new angle on how things turned out: that Angel had been the one who was probably supposed to die, and not Spike. That had to be the ultimate weirdness for Buffy.  Not for the first time, Xander was glad that the whole destiny thing had passed him by. (An, I'm sorry we didn't get married. I'm sorry I didn't tell you to leave. I'm sorry I didn't keep you safe. I wish I could have, I wish I had....) Maybe he didn't have superpowers, but at least he didn't have to stay up late at night thinking about whether one of his old girlfriends was supposed to die in the other's place.

"We are the CHAMPIONS, we are the CHAMPIONS--- there's no time for LOSERS cause we are the CHAMPIONS--- of the WOOOORRLLLD!"

"Somewhere, Freddie Mercury is spinning his way out of his grave from sheer horror," Giles observed sadly, shaking his head.


Part 3

What an enjoining spell did three years earlier, stress and newly awakened Slayer powers did to almost the same extent the first night after Sunnydale disappeared. Unsurprisingly, the primal Slayer force wasn't any kinder to her new Slayers than she'd been to Buffy, Xander, Willow and Giles three years before. But these dreams had more than one purpose.

Vi dreamed... of kisses.

Of kisses and groping, and nerves, and hormones singing like demented pop divas in the back of her head (now baby now tonight's the night now). The girl in the dream had known Michael forever, since he gave her a valentine in 8th grade, and it was right, tonight was perfect, it was exactly--- *crack!* "Holy crap."

"Oh god, I'm sorry, I'm sorry,  I didn't mean to! I can't believe I broke your stick shift---"

But he was laughing way too much to be mad at her. "Forget it. Just the excitement. Kinda flattering. Come back over here, Jackie."

Vi didn't even notice the name wasn't hers. "Oh. Okay, yeah...."

Rona dreamed....

Of bouncing on a bed, jumping higher and higher with glee, because she'd made the home run and won the game and the Little League championship, and she had the pennant pinned to her wall and now Dad was going to take her out to dinner to celebrate, and she RULED! And cool, she could touch the ceiling! Danielle had just hit it for the sixth time when the bed collapsed and her dad came in and gave her a *look*....

Ivy dreamed...  of shakily crawling to the bed, and hauling herself up.

Of balancing on legs that were still weak and uncertain. Of letting go, and being able to stand. And bursting into tears, because it had been three years, three long impossible years of therapy and hand-holding and trying not to give in to fear, and it had all paid off finally, finally, Shira's legs weren't damaged anymore....

Phen dreamed... of equations, dancing through her head as she got out her bike lock key.

Was that a footstep, behind her? Laughter? Quickly, she unlocked her bike and mounted it, just as someone (Some *thing*? What was with this guy's (vampire, it's a vampire, run!) face, what was going on-- ) tried to tackle her off of it. Reflexes she didn't know she had kicked in. She reversed, lashing out with her foot and sending him sprawling, and then she was pedaling, faster and faster, shaking with fear and anger and leaving her attacker in the dust behind her....

Rebekah dreamed....  of dreams.

Sariko knew she was dreaming-- but it was so vivid (monsters and ghosts crawling out of the walls at the subway station, a pale woman with long fingernails stalking commuters and smiling as she poked out their eyes). It was important, she knew it was, but she didn't know why, and even in the dream, she sensed she wasn't alone....

Faith dreamed.... of blocking a punch from her father, for the first time ever.

Forget that he'd left before she could remember his face, forget that it was her mom that always used to hit her (except that no, she knew her mom was just sad and pathetic, too scared to stand up to him), this was her father, and it was so damn familiar, and so damn *old*, and there was no way she was putting up with this shit again. This was it, he was staring at her in surprise, and she wasn't afraid any more. She grinned, tightened her fist around his hand, saw him flinch, felt the bones begin to grind against each other, and thought, *I could snap it right off if I wanted to.*

*Do it, and you'll regret it.*

*I hate him! He deserves it! I don't care!*

*You will. Let it go, kid. He's not worth the grief. Trust me on this.*

And she opened her hand, letting him fall, and turned away from his blubbering... and as she did, Faith caught a glimpse of her face in the mirror: fourteen and stocky, baby-fine hair and uncompromising face, and her name wasn't Faith, it was Lisa....

She woke up.


In the hotel room bed, Robin shifted next to her, then settled back into sleep, and Faith took a deep breath. Slayer dream. God, she hated those. Let Buffy and the newbies have that part of being the Slayer, she'd take the fighting. The dreams creeped her out, confused her, made her feel stupid--

(As stupid as being hit, as helpless as being fourteen and alone, as scared as an abused kid--) Oh, shit.

Faith shivered. Somewhere, some Potential-- no, Slayer-- had just woken up and laid a smackdown on her dad. And was she wrong, or had she stopped the kid from going too far?

The girl's name was Lisa Hackett, she was fourteen, she lived in Memphis, at 1413 South 10th Street... Damn, this was too weird. Had to be a side effect of the Slayer spell Red did. She knew the kid's phone number. Faith could call her right now, tell her to get out of there, tell her what had just happened, explain the whole Slayer deal to Lisa, but she was too freaked out to do any of it.

Faith eased herself out of bed, not wanting to disturb the man next to her, but way too shaken up to go back to sleep. Silently, she put her shoes on and grabbed the hotel room key before creeping out of their room, and walking down the hall.

Their room. Jeez. First time in... well, ever, maybe, unless you counted Riley, that she'd slept the night through with someone. And Riley sure as hell hadn't known who or what was in bed with him. Robin had collapsed so easily, not even worried about her strangling him in his sleep, or wondering if she was going to leave in the night. He trusted her.

Big time Twilight Zone. Oh yeah.

Usually when she was this messed up she'd go out slaying to take the edge off, but they hadn't exactly had time to check out where the nearest cemetaries were yet. Robin wasn't going to be up for a re-match for a while - and she wanted to be better prepared for that, when it happened.

When, not if.

She padded down the hallway to the emergency stairwell, then took the stairs down, as fast as she could, images pounding through her head with the slap of her feet on each step.

Robin's face, so still in the bus, then smiling at her a few seconds later, asking if she'd been about to close his eyes, teasing her about it. The armies of Turok-han closing in as Buffy handed off the Scythe to her, realizing again that becoming a Slayer wasn't worth losing a friend, and wondering how she'd ever thought she could kill B.


Busting out of jail, diving with Wes in her arms to the ground-- how long would she be out this time? And if she was going to stay out, what was she going to have to do? She couldn't stay in California, where could she go--


All those girls, all of them, were Slayers now. They could do it right, they wouldn't make her mistakes, she'd make sure of it--


And she wouldn't, she would *not* think about how terrified she was, realizing that she was really out, she was free, she was a good guy again. It had all happened so fast, none of it had sunk in until now.


She landed at the bottom of the staircase, breathing hard, then turned and began to climb back, only a little slower.

She'd have to call Angel tomorrow, let him know how it all worked out. Let him and Wes know that they'd been right, she could make a difference. Maybe not the difference-- that had been Willow's mojo and Buffy's crazy plan-- but still. Enough to justify not going back to Stockton; at least to them, and Buffy and the other Scoobies.

It just would've been nice to think that she'd be done paying for her mistakes, that someone would tell her it was all clear. But Angel had been right, when the Orpheus was burning in her-- you just had to live with it....

She rounded the bend in the staircase, swinging by one hand on the railing as she gasped at the figure blocking her path. "Christ, you scared the crap out of me! What are you---"

Andrew was huddled on the stairs, crying. Tears were dripping off his chin, leaking into his mouth, and his eyes were red and unfocused.

He was clutching a shining medical scalpel in his hand.

"--doing here...?"

Oh, fuck.

He didn't answer her, just rubbed his nose with the back of his hand and swallowed, hard. He wasn't even looking at her, but it was so freakin' obvious what he was doing. Or going to do. Sesame-Street-picture-clear.

Faith let out a shaky breath. "Hey."

"Hey." Tiny voice, hunched shoulders, eyes on the glinting sharp thing in his hand.

What was she supposed to say? God, don't let her sound stupid, don't let her screw this up.

"Nice blade. Can I take a look?"

Andrew didn't say anything, just thought about it for a second, then held it out to her, handle first.  Faith gently took it from him and put it down on a step far out of his reach, not letting herself sigh in relief.

"Where'd you get it?"

He sniffed, shrugged his shoulders, still not looking at her. "Sunnydale. When we went for medical supplies."


Andrew glanced up at her, then away, fast. "I wasn't going to use it for-- I thought we were all gonna die in the last fight, I didn't think of it until we got here... I wouldn't chicken out before it was all over. I wouldn't do that."

Faith nodded, and wished intensely that anyone else had found him. Anybody who was good at talking people down. Giles, maybe, Buffy definitely, but not her.


"You have to ask?" He glared at her, a sad little chipmunk ready to walk into traffic, and she winced.

"No, I mean..." Shit. She was screwing this up, she knew it, two words and she was blowing it. "I was gonna ask, why here? Kinda strange place to do it."

He rubbed his eyes. "I didn't want Xander to find me. Not after... Willow's in our room with him. In case he wakes up. And she might stop me, she's like that." He sniffed again. "So I thought I'd go somewhere else. Outside the hotel. But then I thought, I'd better leave a note, so people know where to find me...." His face twisted up, and he choked, breathing hard for a couple minutes until he got control of himself.

"And then I remembered there's no one to leave a note for. 'Cause Anya's dead, and Xander probably hates me, and everyone else just puts up with me, and..." He put his hands over his face and just let it out. "I killed my best friend last November! And I deserve to be dead!"

Aw, hell. Faith climbed up to sit next to him, and put her arm around him. Comfort was so not her thing, but you'd have to be stone or souless not to pity the guy. And it wasn't like she hadn't been there. She just held on to him while he lost it, until he was breathing little easier again, and wiping his face on his shirt sleeves. And she still didn't know what to say.

But maybe she didn't need to talk. Maybe she could just listen.

"It's a lot harder to kill yourself than it is to kill someone else," he muttered. "I thought it would be easy, but it isn't."

Pouring rain, pounding fists, Angel holding her so tight she couldn't fight.... "Yeah. I know what you mean."

He drew a long, jagged breath. "I was *supposed* to die. I was okay with it. You know? It was going to be like Darth Vader at the end of 'Return of the Jedi.'"

Faith blinked, then cocked an eyebrow at him. "Darth Vader? You think you're *Darth Vader*?" Oh, this boy needed so much more help than she could give.

"Uh, no. 'Cause I wasn't a super-warrior for the Dark Side who could kill people with a thought," Andrew said, sounding annoyed and a little more alert. "It was going to be like that." He sighed. "He died saving Luke, and was redeemed and all, and then his ghost was with Obi-Wan and Yoda, and it was okay. You know?" Faith nodded, getting a hint of what he was saying. "But I don't want to see Jonathan any more, because of the First, and I don't want to be wherever Warren is, 'cause I'm not sure it's a good place, and... I thought it would be--- over. And it's not."

He shook his head, eyes big and lost, not even seeing her. "I don't know what happens now."

She didn't have a clue either.

This was going to sound so lame. "Uh. Well. If Darth Vader had lived, what would he do?"

Andrew sniffed, and actually seemed to focus on her for a second. "I don't know. That's my point. His whole *life* was leading up to him getting killed--"

"But yours didn't," she interrupted. Better to keep him off that line of thought. You could get really obsessive and stupid if you were convinced you were evil and had nothing to live for, so... "So, uh, stop thinking of the Darth thing." Faith quirked a smile at him. "Get another geek role model. Somebody who didn't end up dead. What would they do, if they were you?"

He looked almost intrigued by this idea. "I dunno. There really aren't enough geek role models."

"There have to be. Bill Gates, maybe?"

"True. But he likes being evil," Andrew pointed out. "Microsoft is a multi-layered application of demonic energy possibilities. He's not redeemed. That won't work."

"Oh." She really didn't speak enough nerd-words to be very helpful here.

"And I can't have you for a role model. You're a Slayer. And a girl."

"Gee, thanks."

"I just mean that someone's always going to *want* to save you, and help you out," he said quickly. "'Cause you used to be good, then you were bad, then you got better. And you were always hot. I started out as a pathetic geek and went evil. There's no comparison."

"Uh... shit." Why did everything have to be a movie or a comic book with this guy? Her shrink would've had a field day with him. "You can't do it by yourself? Just... keep going? Fight the good fight, or whatever, and figure it out as you go?"

"Maybe." He was silent for a minute, his expression exhausted. "But I don't think I could stand it. 'Cause if it's just me, there's no point."

Okay, that was depressing. Crap, what was she supposed to say? "Forget role models and heroes, okay? You know, lots of people have done worse than you and come back. You're not that bad of a guy now. Look at Angel, if you want real evil. Okay, he got a soul back after losing it, it's not really the same, but still...."

"Spike," Andrew said suddenly.


"Spike. He can be my role model."

Way to set that bar. "Uh, he can?"

"Sure. He was evil for a long time, and then he was forced to be good-- like me, when Buffy just tied me to the chairs and wouldn't let me leave, only he had a chip-- and then he fell in love with Buffy, and he made himself be good for her... Like I was when I started liking everyone and being scared of dying.... And then he went and got his soul, and came back to help, and then he saved the world." For the first time since they started this conversation, Andrew was showing a little enthusiasm. "If you pretend to be good long enough, it gets to be real. So that's what I'm going to do. Be like Spike."

She was not going to laugh. And after a minute she didn't want to, because she got it. And it was pretty familiar. She was beginning to know that she'd never be able to forget all she'd done. Never be able to be "okay" about the people she killed. But this, this was familiar.

She squeezed his shoulder. "Fake it 'til you make it."

He nodded vehemently, and she nodded slowly, thinking of the phone call she still owed Angel; and the one to Lisa, that she'd have to make even sooner. Just so maybe, just this once, the badness could stop before it started.


Part 4

Xander dreamed. But it was a dream of the past, not of the present, and it was more of a memory than a dream.

They were in his parents' basement again, but her hair was the wrong color; it fell in the amber-gold waves she'd had for most of the year Glory was stalking Dawn. They were curled up on his bed watching movies, and the Cheese Guy was eating all of the popcorn in the bowl, sitting cross-legged right in front of the TV.

"The movie *sucked.*" Anya was scowling at the screen as if she wanted to demand a refund. "That was not a love story. That was a lame disaster movie trying to be deep. And they didn't even mention that the iceberg was being steered by a c'Nith demon."

"It was a _tragic_ love story, An. Okay, so the ending wasn't happy, but they loved each other, so---"

"Oh, he loved her. He *died* for her. But her? Ha!" She snorted, crossing her arms and looking peeved. "I'd be embarrassed for women everywhere, except this movie was written by a man, so it's obviously wrong."

"Cheesecake topping?" the Cheese Guy said, offering them the bowl.

"No thanks, I recycle." Xander turned back to Anya as the Cheese Guy sadly shook his head, walking into the closet and taking the bowl with him. "She remembered him for the rest of her life and loved him the whole time--"

"How can you say that? She got *over* him. She moved on. Sure, she remembered him, but it didn't hurt her, except that she was obviously deranged when she threw that big diamond back in the ocean--"

"It's not about the hurt, it's about feelings, and knowing that you aren't forgotten. I think. Okay, now you've got me confused, and I'm not really sure what it's about. Aside from the ship sinking. Uh...."

"It's just like Hank and Joyce." Anya scrambled off the bed to pace around the room, gesturing wildly, getting more and more upset. "He promised to love, honor, and cherish, they had two daughters together, and did he even show up for her funeral? Ha! A very sarcastic ha, Xander Harris! He did not! He didn't even send a card!"

"Okay, I'm trying to figure out what you've figured out, and once again, I'm completely missing the answer here. Back up and start over, hon." He got to his feet, blocking her path on her second go-round of angry pacing. "What are you saying?"

"If it had been real love, Rose wouldn't have gotten over Jack. She would have been devastated forever and never known true happiness again. And if Hank had really loved Joyce, he never would've left, become a deadbeat father, and failed to attend her funeral. So what's the point?" She leaned her head against his chest, and he stroked her hair as she spoke to his shirt buttons. "I don't want to get over you. This is true love. But somebody has to die first, Xander, and I don't want you to die! I'd miss you! But I don't want to be safely dead, and I don't want your heart to go on, either!"

"Oh." He rested his chin on top of her bright head. It wasn't funny, it really wasn't. Well, maybe a little... "Hey, maybe we'll get lucky, and we'll be like those old people who have heart attacks during sex at ninety and go at the same time. Or maybe we'll both die in an airplane crash."

"Really?" She lifted her head from his chest, sniffling a little. "You think it could happen?"

"An, we're living in Sunnydale. I'd say the odds are *extremely* good we're gonna go together."

"That is so... sweet." She smiled at him through watery eyes. "But promise me that if I go first, you'll never recover."

"Easy. If you ever die, I'll never get over it."

"Good. And I promise that I'll never get over it if you die either. Of course, I might get married if someone who's very rich and good at sex offers, but it'll be just for the physical gratification."

He grinned at her, pulling her closer. "That's a relief. So. Want to play shipwreck survivor again?"

"Oo, yes. That's always exciting. Where's my whistle?"

When he opened his eye, there wasn't any transition from the dream. He didn't think *where's Anya?* or even *what happened to the basement?* He just knew.

Anya was dead.

They'd had that conversation already, a couple weeks after Joyce died.  It had been in his new apartment, with no Cheese Guy eating the popcorn --

(Anya'd just moved in, she was still trying to figure out how much space they had for all her clothes)

-- but they'd had that exact conversation, after watching TITANTIC.

("Stupid movie. Stupid Billy Zane. *He's* the one that should've drowned. Who writes this stuff?")

Which had prompted him to go looking for a ring. Because there'd been one too many close calls with Glory, and if they were all going to die--

(Later, stuck in the motorhome under attack by crazy knights with Tara and Willow and Spike and Dawn, he'd thought, this is it, but at least we're together--)

--then it should say "Anya Harris" on her tombstone, the one right next to his....

Willow's fingers were brushing across his face, which was when he realized he was crying, and God, he didn't think he could stop. Why did he leave her, why hadn't he married her, why did he chicken out? Why couldn't he have done something to make her *happy*, why why why wasn't she here? They could still work it out, maybe, maybe not, if she wanted, it's not like he stopped loving her, she made him crazy. Maybe he couldn't marry her or love her forever, but if she were *here*, then at least they'd have a shot. Maybe he couldn't be the forever guy, but she should have that, she wanted it so much.... She wasn't supposed to die, she was going to get her shop on the Stock Exchange, she wanted to see Spain again without the Inquisition screwing things up, she was supposed to get a pet, she wanted a kitten, she wanted so many things and she didn't get them damnit it wasn't *fair*....

It was only when Willow pulled him closer, rocking him as he cried, that he heard the words coming out of his own mouth. "Why?" He asked. Choked. "Why?"

"I know it hurts..." Willow whispered, holding him tight, "but I don't know. No reason."

"Just because?"

"Just because."

No more words after that, just crying and shaking, and remembering. That he'd said the same thing to her last year, after Tara died.

What felt like a long time later, Willow helped him sit up, and forced him to drink the glass of water she'd had next to the bed. She'd said she just wanted to be with him tonight, Scoobies again, but he'd known. She was waiting for him to crack, and she'd been right.  Wills always did know him better than he wanted to admit.

"Does it get better?" he asked, because he wanted to know, and Willow wouldn't lie. It wasn't a fair question, but he figured she'd forgive him for asking her for the cheat-sheet answers again. She was better now, she had Kennedy, so maybe he already knew the answer. But he didn't want to believe it. Not right now.

She stroked his face, her eyes solemn and thoughtful. Some things hadn't changed since she was fifteen-- she was still careful with him when it was important. "It gets better, and it gets worse."

He leaned his head against the headboard, closing his eye and just listening to Willow's voice. "It gets better than this. And then, you remember, later, and... it's bad all over again. Because you forgot for a little while." She held his hand in one of hers, like she had when he was in the hospital, so tight it hurt. "I'm not sure if it ever gets *all* better. It hasn't for me."

He opened his eye to look at her and saw the tears streaking across her face. For him, for Anya... for Tara, even after a year.

"The day you die is the day I can't do this anymore," he told her,  keeping his voice soft.

Her eyebrows drew down in a frown, and she shook her head. "You don't mean that. If I died, and Buffy still needed you, or the Slayers, with Giles---"

"We've survived Buffy dying how many times, now? And Giles, well.... I love the guy, but he's old, Wills. If I feel this old at twenty-something, he can't last that much longer at forty-plus." She shook her head reprovingly at him, and he smirked a little. "But I could live through losing them. I could keep going, tell myself it's what they wanted. But if you weren't here--" He shook his head, felt her fingers tighten on his. "That would be it. I'd quit and go to Alaska for the daylight season and Tierra del Fuego for summer there, and watch the rest of my life go by. Game over."

"So, I'm not allowed to die?" Willow asked, drawing him closer into a hug. "Not until you decide to retire?"

"Pretty much." His voice was muffled against her shoulder.

"Okay. But same goes," she whispered, her voice choked. "If you hadn't been there last year...."

He held onto her, remembering black hair and rage, knowing now so much better what she'd been going through, than he had before.

Before. After. His whole life was like that, his world changing and spinning around with each event: before Buffy. After Jesse. Before Cordy. After Faith. Before he moved out. After he got his real job. Before Buffy died. After she came back. Before Anya. After he left her at the altar. After she became human again.  After Anya.

He'd never wanted there to be any "after Anya."

The only thing in his life that wasn't a before-or-after was holding him right now. There had never been a before-Willow. And god, there better never be an after-Willow. He really couldn't take that.

(An? Do you miss me? Do you want me to suffer? I'm okay with that. I don't want my heart to go on either.)

They didn't speak any more. Willow held him, still rocking him, and he finally fell asleep around sunrise, back in numb denial-space and grateful for it, and beyond grateful for the arms holding him, keeping him safe.


Part 5

Buffy dreamed, but it wasn't a Slayer dream. No omens, no portents, nothing vaguely Destiny-ish showed up. Just a mix of the weird and the painful.

Her mom was making cocoa for Spike, and they were talking about the last episode of Passions. She couldn't hear the conversation very well, maybe because people kept tromping through the kitchen at random, walking off with orange juice and brownies, getting knives to sharpen stakes, saying hi to her mom and ignoring Buffy completely. Which was okay. She stayed in the corner of the room, and just watched them laughing together, feeling content.

Chloe wandered by, munching on a cookie, and finally stopped to ask her if it was time to train. Buffy nodded, not really paying attention because Spike had just winked at her. She turned back to Chloe and surprised a sober, quiet stare on the girl's face. "What?"

"Can I call my mom now?"


"Where's the phone?"

"Over there--" Buffy turned to point, and saw Spike put down his cup of hot chocolate and walk over to the back door, his hand on the doorknob. "Wait, Spike, no--"

Sunlight came blazing in, blinding her, and when she blinked it away, Chloe and Spike were gone, and her mom was shaking her head.

"You're forgetting, Buffy."

"What am I forgetting?"

Mom just *looked* at her, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world--

--and suddenly she was on a beach, a beach that she recognized, that she'd never been to in her life.  A beach she'd still visited every night for four months, the summer she ran away.

She closed her eyes, refusing to look at the man sitting beside her, just listening to the birds and the crash of the waves.

"Won't work, pet."

"Yes, it will."


"It worked last time."

"You know better now. You know how the story ends."

She shook her head, squeezing her eyes shut, and her voice came out thin and crushed. "I killed you."

"No, you didn't." His hands in hers felt real, solid and cool, this wasn't a dream, it wasn't, it wasn't--

"Open your eyes, Buffy."

And she did, she had to, because she couldn't resist his voice, that tone of love and mockery; but the last thing she wanted to see was Spike there, because that meant it was all over. Sitting on the sand next to her, holding her hand, smiling at her easily, no pain, no anger, no blame. Like Angel had, when he was in Hell.

He was so beautiful in sunlight.

"I'm sorry...."


The sound of her own voice woke her up, and she froze, listening. Dawn turned over on her bed, smacking her lips, but stayed fast asleep. The sunrise was just starting to peek through the curtains. She dressed silently and tip-toed out,made her way downstairs and and through the lobby, waving at the desk clerk as she went by, and then turned for the beach as soon as she was out the door. She slogged across the sand to the edge of the water, then let her knees give way as the tears broke free at last.

It wasn't anything like her dream: no docks in sight, a harsher breeze, and a rockier shore. The marine layer was thick, the fog rolling in and obscuring the sun, nothing like the brilliant sunlight on Spike's hair that was so clear in her mind. But it was as good a place as any to lose it completely.

She cried for the girls who she hadn't been able to save, whose parents and families she'd have to call later today. Giles had offered, but it was her fault, so it was her job. Even for the ones whose names she couldn't remember. I'm sorry, your daughter was very brave, she helped save the world, she's lying at the bottom of a crater where the town used to be. I didn't teach her enough, I didn't say it right, I'm sorry I couldn't get her ready in time, it's not fair and I wish I could make it better and I know I can't. I wish it were different, I wish she'd never heard of us, I'm sorry. Anya, Amanda, Chao Ahn... I'm sorry.

She cried for her mom, and all of the pictures, possessions, letters, cards, every single memento that had gotten buried under a million tons of dirt and would never be found again. One picture, one photo of her and Dawn and Mom together, stuck in her purse, and that was it. Just like Tara's grave, and Anya's body, and every trace of what she'd done for the last seven years-- all gone. Like it had never happened. And she was *glad* the Hellmouth was closed, but that was a big chunk of her life that had just disappeared, and maybe the best parts were asleep in the hotel behind her, but she could miss it without anyone thinking she was crying about the mall, couldn't she?

And she cried for Spike. From relief (now I'll never have to kill him, thank you, whoever's in charge), vindication (I *knew* he was good, I knew he could help, I was right, I'm so proud of him), anger (Are you coming back in one hundred and forty-seven days? Are you going to make me wait longer, you bastard? Is this payback for jumping off the tower?), and grief (He believed me, I know he did, it wasn't a lie, no matter what he said, he said it so I'd leave... maybe we'd never have grandkids, but it was real then and it's real now and I want him back, I want him back, I want him back....)

Someone's arm went around her, and Buffy jolted back, almost falling over into the soft sand.

"Relax. I just brought you some Kleenex. Dorkhead." Dawn's tone was sarcastic but her hands were gentle as she dabbed at Buffy's tears, then put the tissue in her hand. "Blow."

She sniffed and blew her nose, wiping her face and feeling the puffiness starting around her eyes. "How'd you find me?"

"The hotel clerk pointed me this way. You weren't *that* hard to find." Dawn's eyes were tired, but not tear-swollen, and Buffy could only be grateful that her sister wasn't falling apart too.

"I guess it all just hit me, and I didn't want to wake you up."

"You have to quit leaving when you're upset. Remember how much it pissed me off when mom died, and you shut me out?"

She bit her lip, ashamed. It hadn't been the last time. Or even the last time she promised not to ditch Dawn again, and broken her promise. God, she never learned. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to, it snuck up on me..."

"Yeah. Well." Dawn looped an arm around her shoulders, and Buffy gave in to gravity and leaned against her, exhausted. "Someday you'll get that I won't let you leave, and I'll probably have a heart attack and die from shock. Until then? You're a dorkhead."

Laughing was beyond her, but Buffy managed a shaky smile. "We're gonna be okay, you know. I'm not worried."

"I know."

"It'll be so much easier now, with all the rest of the Slayers working too. And the First won't be back soon. If ever."

"I know."

"The future's wide open, we can do anything, go anywhere-- it's going to be great. You'll see."

"I know."

"I just...."

"I know. I miss him, too."

Buffy closed her eyes and let Dawn be the one to run her fingers through her hair this time. She just listened to the ocean, and tried not to think at all.


Part 6

Sometimes it seemed that all of her life so far-- all of the life that had actually happened, Dawn corrected herself-- was about going to funerals.

Dawn carried her new boombox in one hand, and held Buffy's hand in the other, with Xander's arm around her on her other side. All of the survivors were straggling out to the shore; most of the girls carried roses they'd picked up at the corner street seller.  The rain had cleared off, and the sun was setting slowly behind the departing clouds, sending rays of light over the ocean. They'd brought firewood too, driftwood they'd picked up from the beach and extra they'd bought from a vendor down the boulevard, along with firestarters and kerosene.  Giles had already set a ring of rocks near the edge of the beach, and they piled the wood inside the circle as they arrived.

Mom's funeral had had a program, speakers, a ton of people. Tara's had been the same, but fractured, broken by whispered rumors, and Willow's total red-eyed, white-faced devastation. Buffy's had been so private, only the seven of them even aware that she'd died, with only a few hushed good-byes. This, this was... different.  

Not because she didn't miss Spike and Anya, Mandy and the other girls. But because this time, she was the one who had to be strong for other people.  Later, Dawn was sure, she'd have a breakdown about it all. She'd probably end up crying about something stupid, like Spike calling her Bit, and how they'd never really got all the way back to being friends after he went to get his soul. Or missing Anya and the money dance, expecting her rude comments in the middle of a serious discussion, and wishing someone would say what everyone was thinking just to break the tension. But this good-bye wasn't about her or for her so much as it was for Buffy and Xander, and the other girls, who maybe had never had to do this before.

It was pretty sad that she was this used to it, when you thought about it.

She put the boombox down, and waited for Giles to light the fire before she pressed the button for play.

Heaven on Earth,
we need it now
I'm sick of all of this
hanging around
Sick of sorrow, sick of the pain
I'm sick of hearing again and again
That there's gonna be
peace on Earth....
As the sounds of "Peace on Earth" faded away, she could feel everyone looking at Buffy, who just stared into the fire, refusing to meet their eyes. Dawn squeezed her hand, but Buffy closed her eyes and shook her head. Dawn glanced over at Giles, raising her eyebrows - they'd both expected this -  and he nodded gently, then began to speak.

"We are gathered here this evening to remember and to pay tribute to our friends, who gave their lives not just for us, but for the safety and preservation of the world, as well. But since the rest of the world will most likely never know of their sacrifice, it is up to us to carry their memories forward into the future...."

The crashing waves muffled the sound of some of the Slayers crying, as Giles went on to name each of the sixteen girls who had died at the school, as well as those who had died in the weeks prior to that.  

"Chloe Armstrong."

Vi stepped forward, and gently placed a pink rose near the edge of the fire.

"Eva Sorenski."

Rona limped closer and put a yellow rose on top of the burning embers.

"Chao Ahn Li."

Another pink rose, this time from Faith, whose face remained closed and set. Principal Wood put his arm around her when she stepped back.

"Annabelle Stockton."

A white rose from Willow, who brushed away tears even though her face was serene.

"Molly Covington."

Kennedy's lips were thin, her eyes shiny, but she stood straight and unbending after placing her cream rose on the burning wood.

"Amanda Dreyer."

Bye, Mandy, Dawn thought. I'm sorry. I wish you were here, I wish I could talk to you about all of this one more time, I'm going to miss you... She leaned over the edge of the firepit and put the gold-pink rose right in the middle of the burning pyre, and told herself it was the smoke that was getting to her, that's all. That this was a way to wave goodbye to someone who couldn't see you, like putting flowers on her Mom's coffin, staying with Tara's body, kissing Buffy's cold face before they buried her.

"Anya Christina Emmanuella Jenkins," Giles said, his voice a little hoarser than it had been on the other names.  

Xander put a handful of red roses on the fire, ducking his head as he went back to his place, his shoulders slumping. Dawn leaned sideways, not letting go of Buffy's hand, and put her arm around him. He clutched at her, shaking and burying his face in her hair, and she saw Willow hug him from the other side. Andrew was openly crying; by now, several of the girls were clumped together in group hugs for support, while a few others were hugging themselves and wiping away tears.

"Spike... known in life as William Grayley."

Dawn let go of Buffy's hand so her sister could take a small bunch of white-and-red striped roses forward. Kneeling, she placed them one by one in the flames, and leaned back on her heels to watch them burn. When she realized Buffy wasn't getting up, Dawn went forward to take her sister's arm, and tug her to her feet. She seemed hypnotized by the glow, but moved where Dawn directed her, tears streaming down her face, her expression almost calm.

The fire was roaring now, flames crackling and sparks rising up as the petals slowly blackened and curled away, gold fire licking around the edges of the green leaves. The colors of the roses -- purple, scarlet, pink, and orange -- were reflected in the clouds that swirled over the horizon as the sun hit the water. Dawn couldn't help thinking how beautiful it was, and how much she wished the others could be there to see it. It wasn't fair that they'd escaped Sunnydale, were moving on, were leaving everyone behind without even a gravestone to show they'd ever been there.

And it would probably happen again, and again, and again... as long as there were vampires and monsters to fight, and the people she loved were committed to fighting them, this wouldn't be the last time she'd have to do this.

She tilted her head against Buffy's and rocked her sister a little as Giles took a breath and said, "We ask that whatever powers, gods, or spirits they worshipped, please welcome our friends and loved ones into the afterlife, and recognize their worthiness of eternal peace and joy. We hope that we may meet again, in some other life, in a better place...."

Xander was crying now, gritting his teeth around it, but still shaking with ever breath he took. Willow's tears hadn't stopped since the first name had been read. Principal Wood's face was carved from stone as he stared off over the ocean, his hand tight in Faith's.

"If any of you wish to say a few words now, in memory of your friends, we would all like to hear them."

No one moved for a long minute, and looking around the circle, Dawn could see that no one knew what to say. She turned her head to look at Buffy, and briefly closed her eyes at the ache she saw on her sister's face. Then she gently disengaged from Buffy, and stepped closer to the fire.

"Mandy... Amanda... was so scared, the first night she found out she might be a Potential. Freaked. But she dealt. I know she was scared a lot of the time after that, too. But she was never so afraid that she wanted to run away. When her parents left town, she got out at the rest stop and walked five miles back to Sunnydale to be with us, because she didn't want to let us down." Dawn swallowed, feeling her throat clog up, and she blinked. "She was a good friend, a good person. Smart. Funny. A little warped." Choked giggles around the fire at that. "And I wish... I wish she'd gotten to be a Slayer for longer than ten minutes. Because I think she would've kicked a lot of ass, and really enjoyed it." She stopped, stuck. "That's all. I'm going to miss her."

She stumbled back to Buffy's side, tears clouding her vision, and felt Xander's arm around her shoulder, and Buffy's around her waist. Why did this have to be so *hard*? She'd been fine, she had been okay, but maybe she just wasn't as tough as she thought she was....

One by one, the other girls stepped forward to say something about their friends, three or four of them speaking in their own language, brokenly trying to say something about the girls who'd died.  It all came down to the same thing, really.

"She was really cool."

"I wish she was here."

"She was so funny, so brave, I can't believe she's gone, it's not right...."

"I owe her my life, she saved me, when we were fighting..."

"We will not forget," one of the Irish girls finally concluded.

There was a pause, and then Xander stepped forward, calmer now, his head high and his hands shoved into his pockets.

"Anya and I... had a complicated relationship." His lips quirked in a small smile. "She was one of the smartest, scariest women I ever met, and that's saying something." Smiles around the fire, and a teary nod from Andrew. Giles took off his glasses to clean them.

"She was also maybe the bravest," Xander went on. "She didn't have to be here, she wasn't a Slayer, or a Potential; she'd bailed on an apocalypse before, she knew she could go any time she wanted. She knew what the odds were and she stayed anyway, because when Anya was on your side-- she was there for always. Even after you screwed up. Once she got past the vengeance-impulse, she wasn't going anywhere."

He coughed, cleared his throat, closing his eye for a second. "I could stand here for hours and tell you Anya-stories. Funny stories, weird and scary stories, great stories... but the thing is, I'm going to be telling those stories for the rest of my life. Because there is no way I'm going to forget her."  He took a deep breath, raised his head. "She was unique, and special, and she knew more about being human and appreciating life for what it is than anyone else I ever met. I know that she's okay, wherever she is. She'll always be okay. And I'm only sorry... Sorry that I ever hurt her."

He stared around the circle for a moment, then shrugged, ducking his head and walking back to stand next to Dawn, who gave him a hug. He returned it and held onto her, like he was afraid of letting go.

"Buffy?" Willow asked softly. "Do you want to...?"

Buffy shook her head, then sighed and nodded, trembling a little. She didn't move forward, just swallowed hard and started to talk.

"I suck at speeches."

Everyone laughed a little, and she grinned, rolling her eyes, then sobered.

"Spike...." She shook her head. "It's too much, I don't know what to say. I don't know what--" She frowned, staring into the flames, then slowly spoke again. "He wanted to be... more than he was. He's the only evil vampire, the only demon I've ever heard of, who... transcended?" She checked with Giles, and got a small smile from him, and a nod. "Transcended-- rose above-- what he was supposed to be. Just because he wanted to. That was... or should have been... impossible. But that was Spike, he always went for the hard stuff. Stopping Angelus. The Gem of Amara. Drusilla.... Me."

She fell silent for a second, her voice full of wonder.  "If you'd told me the first, or second, or even the third year I knew him that I'd cry for him someday, I would've laughed myself sick.  But... he changed." Buffy's face crumbled up, and her voice got raspy. "Or maybe he didn't. Even when he was really evil, he loved the world. He never wanted it to end, 'cause it was too much fun. Manchester United. Smokes. Sid Vicious. Hot chocolate. Life. Fighting and shagging and...."

She laughed and sniffled. "I hope, wherever he ends up, they let him play pool and drink and fight. Because I can't imagine him happy if they make him behave. And I want him to be happy now...." She shook her head, her face crumpling, and turned away blindly. Dawn grabbed her arm and pulled her close, felt Buffy collapse against her shoulder and just held on.

And even in the middle of all the crying, she took a second to be glad she had her sister back, that it wasn't two years ago, that Buffy was safe and was going to stay that way. At least, it was if Dawn had anything to say about it.

Everyone was quiet now, except for the jagged sounds of crying, blending with the swooping gulls and the slowly rising ocean, and finally Giles cleared his throat.

"A.E. Houseman wrote a poem over a century ago, for those fallen in time of war. Our friends were of different creeds, religions, and faiths, and so I can not say only one prayer for them; but I think this applies equally to all...."

"Wake: the silver dusk returning
Up the beach of darkness brims,
And the ship of sunrise burning
Strands upon the eastern rims...."

As Giles recited the poem, the first stars began coming out. Dawn closed her eyes, hanging on to Buffy and tried to imagine and believe that their friends were only sleeping, only gone for a little while, as the sun finally set.

"Clay lies still, but blood's a rover;
Breath's a ware that will not keep.
Up, lass: when the journey's over
There'll be time enough to sleep."

The crying had largely quieted, only a few silent tears left. Dawn opened her eyes and smiled at Giles, now staring at the bonfire with a melancholy expression.

"Thanks, Giles." He looked up, nodded his head and rubbed his eyes behind his glasses. "Thanks for coming, everyone." She disentangled herself from Buffy and Xander, and crouched down to hit 'play' again on the boombox; Bono's voice floated out over the air again, one last time.

And if the darkness is to keep us apart
And if the daylight feels like it's a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
Before the second you turn back
Oh no, be strong

Walk on, walk on
What you got they can't deny it
Can't sell it or buy it
Walk on, walk on
Stay safe tonight

Walk on....

Some of them stayed to talk, others wandered down the beach alone, skipping shells and watching the waves come in. Dawn stayed close to Buffy and Xander, watching the flames die down, and silently sent up one last prayer: let it stop for a while. Let this be the last funeral for a year.  That's all I want. Please.

She hoped there was something out there that was listening, as she leaned her head against Buffy's shoulder, and let her eyes fall closed again.


Part 7

"Silver dollar pancakes, yum."

"Belgian waffles with strawberries. Oo. And sausages on the side."

"Santa Fe omelet and my own jug of coffee."

Willow snorted, studying her menu as the younger Slayers debated the pros and cons of the Denny's Grand Slam breakfast the morning after the wake. The other girls seemed convinced that their likelihood of exploding if they ate as much as they wanted was only a faint, unlikely dream; maybe that Slayer thing about eating after a big fight was finally kicking in. Xander grinned at her over his menu, then shook his head at Kennedy's announcement that she intended to have sausage *and* bacon *and* eggs, because Slayers didn't  get cholesterol poisoning.

"I don't think any Slayers have lived long enough before this to find out if that's true, Kennedy," Willow said worriedly.

"Well, they're about to."

"Good ambition," Dawn commented. "Be the first Slayer to die of a heart attack not induced by fright."

"Hey, anything's possible now," Kennedy responded airily. "That's kinda the point, right?"

Giles grimaced and took a sip of his tea. "Still, I don't think the first thing the new Watcher's Council wishes to invest in is a stomach pump."

"Watchers, schmatchers."

Buffy frowned. "You know, as long as there are only, what-- five of you guys? I think now is a good time to talk about a couple things that ought to change. Maybe starting with that name. 'Watchers.'" She smirked at Giles. "You guys need a new title, one that doesn't hint that you're just standing around taking pictures. Especially since the standing-around part always ended up with you rushing in and getting hit on the head. Maybe if we call you guys 'coaches' or 'umpires' they'll show you a little respect. And maybe learn to wear protective helmets."

"Easy enough for you to joke about, Buffy, but frankly, I'm rather... intimidated, by the amount of work ahead of us." Giles shook his head and put his mug down, folding his menu. "Hundreds, perhaps thousands of Slayers called, and there's barely a dozen Watchers within reach. We have to re-establish the Council as soon as possible and begin training replacements."

Willow tapped her fingers on her menu and considered mentioning her own speculations about the Guardian Buffy had met a couple days earlier. Was that woman really the last one? And if she wasn't, could they find the others, ask them about the Scythe and the power she'd just released?

It hadn't been like anything she'd felt before: pure and overwhelming and *good*. The impulse to give in to it had been there, but unlike last year, it had been easy not to lose herself, to not fall into the oblivion of power and emotion. How was that possible? Was it because the power had been used for others? To save the world? Or was she actually, maybe, finally beginning to understand how to hold the power without needing to *make* it do things? To let it grow, and bloom, and pass away. She had so many questions, and no idea where to start....

"Maybe those girls don't *need* Watchers," Rona said, licking whipped cream from her cocoa off her lips. "Maybe they'll be fine now that they're Slayers. They've got the power, they just gotta use it."

"I trust you're being optimistic, not silly, Rona." Giles began to polish his glasses, and Buffy signaled to the waitress to come over and take their orders before Giles could get too worked up.  "These girls have no idea what's happened to them, what kind of dangers they're facing--"

"--And they have us to help 'em, not just Watchers," Faith interrupted. "I'm not dissing the Book Guys, but once we've tracked down the new girls, we can clue them in, get them training, get them started. We've got enough time."

"There's never enough time," Giles said severely. Willow studied Giles over her menu, and bit her lip. This last year had been horrendous for all of them, but on Giles, you could actually see how bad it had been. Maybe he'd be able to recover now, if he let himself; maybe if they could get him enough back-up, he'd be able to relax, not stay wound so tight.

She hoped so. She had to believe that *some* good things could go back to the way they'd been before. They'd lost so much-- Buffy and Xander especially-- that losing anything more, any time soon, would be unbearable. She glanced at Kennedy, sitting beside her, laughing with Ivy. If something new and good could come along, there had to be a way to get the old good things back too.

"Giles, lighten up.  It's a lot of work, but it's doable," Xander chimed in. "We just have to figure out who goes where."

"Will I have to go to my room if I say I don't want to go to Cleveland?" Dawn asked, folding her arms. "I know it's the Hellmouth and all, but it's also *Cleveland*. L.A. would be better than that."

"Not L.A." Buffy made a face, and Willow didn't have to be a mindreader to know what she was thinking. Los Angeles was Angel's, the scene of Buffy's long-gone high school days, and the first place she was a Slayer. None of it would make her want to go back. "But maybe not Cleveland, either."

"I still have to finish out my last semester," Willow realized, after giving her order to the waitress. Frowning, she took a sip of her orange juice. "I wonder how big a headache that's going to be, what with half the school records at the bottom of a crater."

"I'm certain I could pull a few strings for you. Surely some of the records are transferable, and the Watchers do endow a chair at Oxford," Giles said, handing his menu to their server with a smile.

"Oxford?" Oh. Oh, wow. That was a dream she'd given up-- for good reasons, and she'd never been sorry, not even last year-- but for the first time, Willow realized that no more Hellmouth, and no more one-and-only-Buffy-as-Slayer, meant that she could go anywhere. And if she could, Willow could too. Which meant-- Oxford. A thousand years of history, the Royal Academy, total immersion in learning....

"Oxford, *England*?" Kennedy sounded dismayed. Willow blinked and looked at her girlfriend, who was clearly much less than thrilled. "That's a million thousand miles away. I wanted you to come to New York with me this summer, maybe meet my parents."

"We can still do that," Willow responded hastily.  "And I want you to meet my parents too-- whenever they get back from New York again. But I wanted to go back to Devon anyway. I have to talk to the coven, tell them what I've learned this year, about the Scythe and my powers and my progress. I can't leave them out in the cold on this, it's too important."

"Cheer up, Kennedy. If you're gonna date the most powerful witch on the planet, you have to expect that she's going to have other priorities sometimes," Dawn pointed out.

Kennedy's expression grew more stormy, and Willow sighed. Kennedy was special, she really was, but every once in a while, it was obvious which one of them was nineteen and which one was almost twenty-three. Xander and Buffy hastily looked away from the growing confrontation, and Dawn smirked at the dark-haired Slayer's being temporarily thwarted. *Dawnie is kind of evil,* Willow thought irritably. *Which is gonna be real helpful if she does become a Watcher dealing with baby Slayers. But I wish she didn't have to practice on me and *my* Slayer!*

"Am I the only one who wants to go home?" Vi wondered. "I mean, I'm still up for fighting evil, but I miss my parents. And there's a couple girls in my class that I need to have a serious talk with now that I can kick their asses."

A giggle of agreement somewhere down the table. "I hear that."


"Ladies, need we remind you that superpowers are not to be used for petty vengeance?" Giles asked, shaking his head. Xander flinched a little at the word 'vengeance', and Willow winced on his behalf.  "I'm sure that trips home will be easily accomplished, but I'd like to get each of your directions and addresses, as well as details about the new Slayers you were dreaming of, before everyone scatters to the four winds."

One of the younger Slayer's faces suddenly brightened. "Oooo. New plan: crash the Justin Timberlake concert tour, get backstage without anyone seeing us, and get his autograph! We could so totally take his security guys."

"Oh, no doubt."

"And while we're at it? We should track down Britney Spears, give her a makeover, and tell her to stop being a skank," Ivy said, looking perky.

"Hey, I *like* the way she dresses."

"Did no one hear me about using your powers for evil?" Giles said in exasperation.

Rona tried to look innocent, and failed miserably. "This would be a blow for the forces of good, Giles. Trust us."

Willow choked on her pancake bite while trying not to giggle, and intercepted a glare from the Watcher. "I learned to hate those words coming out of *your* mouth, Willow. Yours and Xander's. You've been corrupting them, haven't you?"

Willow shook her head vehemently, and pointed at Xander when he said, "Now, now, Giles. They're Slayers. They don't need any help from us. They come pre-snarked for your convenience."

"I refuse to believe that. If I thought they'd *all* be like you lot, I'd retire to Bora-Bora right now."

"I have to figure out how to put 'school dropped into a big hole' on my resume'," Robin said ruefully. "Somehow, I don't think fights to the death with Lord of the Rings rejects is going to cut it with the California School Districts when I try to explain what happened."

"Hey, that's easy compared to what I have to deal with. They've still got warrants out for my arrest in this state. And possibly outside this state." Faith fell silent as the waitress put a plate of eggs and waffles down in front of her, then after the waitress left, she went on, "I mean, I'll turn myself in if I've got no other choice, but... I'd like to think I've earned another chance now. You know?" she said, almost pleading, unable to look up from her plate.

"I know," Buffy admitted. "And I think it's only fair, too. No one here is going to object to you being out of jail, Faith."

"Good to know," the second Slayer mumbled.

*That's optimistic...* Willow squirmed and took a sip of her juice. *Oh, hush. You have absolutely no room to throw stones, Willow Rosenberg. You didn't have to go to jail for killing Warren last year, did you? She was a big help the last few weeks.  If Faith wants to stay free... she should. You keep your mouth shut. Besides, you probably won't end up in the same country as her anyway. So let it go.*

"Maybe we can work something out with the Watchers abroad," Giles said slowly. "At least until we can think of a way to expunge your record and the bench warrants. Possibly with the assistance of Angel's new law firm. You could help the other Watchers in tracking down the new Slayers; maybe training them until we get new ones on board."

"That'd work." Faith glanced at Robin, then shrugged negligently. "You don't have to get a new job 'til September, right?"


"Ever been to Mexico?"

"So, what about the Slayers who don't have families?" Xander asked Giles in a low voice. "I know at least six of these girls don't want to go home, or don't have any homes left after the Bringers got through with them. Where are we going to take them?"

"Cleveland?" Willow suggested dubiously. "There is a Hellmouth, and all..."

"Are they being punished for surviving? 'Cause that's just cruel," Dawn said. "Maybe you could take them back to England, let them get to know the coven. They'd probably think it was cool."

"Cleveland isn't the only Hellmouth, and not even the only one in America," Giles said. "Perhaps a visit to Roswell is in order."

"You did *not* just say what I thought you said." Buffy threatened Giles with the bite of sausage speared on her fork. "Because if you did, you've been holding out on us, and I don't want to even imagine the explanation that goes with the concept of Roswell, New Mexico, as a good place for Slayers to kick back and slay things."

"It would provide some unique--" At the swoop Buffy's fork took, Giles verbally backpedaled. "Certainly not. I merely wish to acquire tacky tourist souvenirs, and a hypothetical Hellmouth is my excuse."

"Good answer."

"You know, we could go anywhere," Andrew said from down the table, his voice full of awe. "We're free of all directives! Anywhere. Japan. Bolivia. Canada, even. I've always wanted to visit Canada. Home of the proud moose, the majestic bear, the soaring hawk...."

"Rocky and Bullwinkle," Xander added.

"Andrew..." Giles sighed. "I know I'm going to regret this."

"What?" Andrew asked around a mouthful of muffin.

"Do you have anywhere to go right now? Other than Canada?"

"I was going to look up Tucker, he's staying in Oakland..."

Willow made a face, echoed by Buffy, then picked up and magnified by Xander. "Prom Boy Beastmaster? Are you sure that's a good idea?"

"Well, our parents are in New Zealand this summer--"

"Right." Giles put down his tea. "Andrew, while I know we no longer have any claim on you, I think it might be--- good for you, to come to England and perhaps get some training in magic. A more thorough grounding, as it were. I can't force you, but--"

"Really? Magic school? Like--?"

"Do *not* say like Hogwarts," Giles threatened him. "Or I will throw a butterdish at your head." At Andrew's crestfallen expression, he relented and said, "There are several good teachers. And..." He looked at Willow now, and his voice gentled as he continued to speak to Andrew. "I think it would be a good idea if I don't repeat mistakes I made in the past. You have a certain amount of talent. You should learn how to use it wisely."

"That would be *neat*." Andrew looked shell-shocked and happy. "Thank you, Mr. Giles. Thanks."

"Mmmm." Giles looked like he was already regretting the offer, but Willow reached across the table and squeezed his hand, and his expression eased as he gave her a genuine smile in return.

Xander cleared his throat. "Here's an idea: we load up the Slayers who don't have anything else to do this summer, and we tour the country, fighting evil as we find it, taking photos in front of national monuments, buying commemorative T-shirts and drinking Slurpees at 7-11's, working on our tans when we run out of baddies to kill."

"It's weird how you can make that sound like fun, instead of like the road trip from Hell," Willow observed.

"Road trip from the Hellmouth," he corrected her, sounding snooty.

"Same thing." She grinned at Xander, and managed not to do a chair-dance of joy at getting a real smile out of him for the first time in two days. Personally, she still couldn't believe in her deepest heart that Anya was gone. Or Spike, for that matter. Or Sunnydale. She couldn't comprehend what their absence was going to mean long-term.  For every good memory she had of them, there was something else that made her shudder. And yet she still wished they weren't gone. All she knew for sure was that her two best friends were hurting more than she'd ever wanted them to, and any suggestion that made them look even half-way happy was something that would get her resolve face to make it so.

"It is weird. I almost want to sign up for the tour too," Buffy put in, looking speculative.

"Or we could backpack across Europe, go see the galleries Mom wanted to take us to when you graduated from high school," Dawn said calmly, forking up another mouthful of omelet.

Buffy put down her fork, her expression arrested by the image. Willow held her breath, hoping the plan she and Dawn had come up with would work. "We could, couldn't we?"

"Pick up hotties in Greece, go drinking in Spain, stuff ourselves on chocolate in France...."

"Oooo." Buffy's expression went from fascinated to hopeful to wary and tense, as she steeled herself and turned to her Watcher. "Giles? Um, if I had a cell phone with a speed dial for the new Watcher's Central, and I promised to come back in September, and we worked our way across Europe as waitresses, do you think--?"

"Absolutely not." Giles took a sip of his tea, and smothered a small smile. "I would insist on the Council paying for your accomodations. Hotel prices are astronomical in Europe at this time, you know."

Dawn froze with her fork in her mouth, her eyes going huge. Willow nearly choked on a bite of fruit from giggling at the look on Dawn's face. Then Dawn swallowed, pulled the fork out of her mouth, and shrieked, jumping up from her place to run over and hug Giles. "You rock, you rock, you rock, you rock, Giles, you rock so much more than rock and roll and ---"

"Yes, yes, thank you, you're welcome, I know, yes...."

"Giles, are you sure?" Buffy was shaking a little as he nodded and Dawn did a little dance around his chair. She stared at Willow and Xander, staggered, and they grinned back at her. "You guys want to come with?"

"Maybe for the part in England," Willow answered. "You should meet the ladies in the coven too. I'd love to see what you think of them."

"I could go for some beer and architecture in Germany," Xander allowed. "But I don't think I want to see you and Dawn ravage the souvenir shops around the Acropolis. Could get ugly: sister-sister fights over reproductions of the Apollo statues always make me want to hide."

"We can do this," Buffy marveled. "We can go off into the sunset, and come back later, and start over somewhere else, and..."

"Tour the country like the Patridge Family in the meantime."

"I can see *you're* going to be a world of help," Giles said to Xander, quirking an eyebrow at him.

"Why yes, I am. Any problem with that?" Xander matched him, look for look, until Giles shook his head slowly, capitulating without saying anything else.

A thought seemed to suddenly hit Buffy, and she almost choked. "We're breaking up, aren't we? It's never going to be the same..."

"Buff?" Willow patted her shoulder. "Don't look like that. This is a good thing."

Xander shrugged. "Yeah, Buff. We're not the Beatles, you know."


"We're more like the Eagles." Xander grinned at her. "We'll keep doing reunion tours, telling people we won't get together again until Hell freezes over--"

"And then it will," Faith pointed out.

"--so we'll get the roadies, get the equipment--"

"Axes and stratocasters and buses and stakes!" Andrew said enthusiastically.

"--and play in Austin, Texas, and Tallahassee, Florida, and drive up the coast to catch some wanna-be vamps in D.C. --"

"With some appearances in Europe, for select audiences," Willow said mock-haughtily, catching Xander's riff.

"--then go back home, and wait for the next end-of-the-world tour, and work on our moves in the meantime," Xander finished.

This did nothing to reassure the Slayer. "Where's home gonna be, though? How are we going to do this? Who's going to be in charge? It's all still undecided, it's all fuzzy and confused, and how are we going to explain all this to people, hunh? And what about---"

Willow traded long-suffering looks with Giles and Dawn and saw Xander rolling his eyes.

Giles finally broke in on the Slayer's obsessing. "Buffy?"


"Eat your waffles. And stop worrying,," Giles said gently. "We saved the world. But it's old enough to take care of itself for a little while."

Buffy grimaced, then took a deep, deep breath. Willow could almost see her putting her freak-out aside for later. "Okay. Okay.  Issues stuffed down where I can't see them for a while. I'll take them out when it's September. Just like every year. So we can wait for something to kill us again."

Looking down the table, she was suddenly grinning again. "Before all that though... who's up for a trip to Disneyland?"


The poem is "Reveille"; the songs are U2. Thanks to Perri for the poem, and the suggestion of "Peace on Earth" (and thanks to Lizbet for the vid that made it an easy choice).With thanks as always, to the SunS. Here's for six years, guys.

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