The week after they found the Fifth Massachusetts Militia Regiment, Andrew Wells turned twenty-eight.
It wasn't the first birthday to pass among their little group since the world had ended. Buffy's had been only days after the Skitters landed, and Danielle's had been just a few weeks after that – they'd given her the last of their Twinkies for a cake. But it was the first chance they'd had to let down their guards all at once since they'd finally left Ohio, and more than that, the first time they'd felt like celebrating since the Skitters had taken Mellie.
It was amazing what a few solid meals and the chance to sleep through the night could do for a person. Buffy had almost forgotten what it felt like to not be exhausted, and Andrew, the only one of the Cleveland survivors not supernaturally gifted, had kept moving on sheer willpower alone. He was all skin and bones, with dark smudges like makeup gone wrong under his eyes, and spent more time writing his stories down than telling them aloud anymore. But he'd remained irrepressibly cheerful since the start, wielding optimism like a shield against the darkness around them. Buffy didn't think the other girls could have kept going without that.
She was determined to do something really special for him in return. She couldn't give the baby Slayers back their childhoods, wouldn't want to dull their reflexes even if she could... but she could let them bask in Andrew's reflected joy for one morning. For a guy whose crippling self-esteem issues had turned him into Evil's finger-puppet more than once back in Sunnydale, he was surprisingly resilient as an adult, still able to find wonder in the small things in a way that had long since withered in Buffy. She'd kept an eye out at every house they stopped at and every half-packed abandoned car they'd passed for weeks, hoping against hope that something would jump out at her. Not literally, though. She'd had enough of that from the Skitters.
She crept into the tent her team had commandeered just after the crack of dawn, smiling lopsidedly down at the puppy pile of teenagers wrapped around their vulnerable center. They'd done that with Danielle for a whole week after she'd dragged herself back bleeding from the ambush that took Mellie, and on the day they'd nearly lost Andrew because he couldn't climb out of Skitter range as quickly they could – well. They'd all claimed him as their Watcher, and decided he needed them to guard him in his sleep, and that was that. Buffy knew they were perfectly safe with him, whatever their new militia friends might think. He'd sooner try and molest Angel – if the vampire was even still alive – than he'd ever touch one of the girls under his care.
He was also just a little too well-trained these days for her to even consider dogpiling them all to wakefulness the way she wanted to. The goal here was celebration, not to wake him up swinging. She watched them a moment longer, then started softly singing Happy Birthday, growing louder and louder until Andrew twitched and flailed an arm like a school kid looking for an alarm clock.
"M 'wake, I'm awake," he murmured, then slit his eyes open. "...Buffy?" He blinked as he actually registered what she was singing, then struggled to sit up, an incredulous smile breaking over his face. "What? Oh, hey!"
"Hey," Buffy replied, smiling back. Then she waggled the object held in her hands, an awkward shape wrapped in carefully salvaged pieces of comic-printed newspaper. "Good morning, birthday boy."
The Slayers had all wakened the moment he'd moved; they sat up with him, all eyes on the present as Buffy held it out to him.
"Wow, Andy. Happy Birthday," Erin said, brightly.
"Happy Birthday!" the other four chorused with her.
"I wonder what she got you?" Danielle said, curling up with arms around her knees and head on Andrew's shoulder.
"You mean you don't know?" He raised his eyebrows at the youngest Slayer, then smiled up at Buffy as he took the gift. "You've been keeping secrets, Buffy."
"Yep," she smiled back at him. "Go on. Ken will be here with your breakfast in a minute, and I want to see you open it before you get all distracted."
"How'd you talk her into that?" he asked, looking impressed.
Buffy snorted. "Like I said, before you get distracted," she said, gesturing at the gift again.
He sighed, clutching it close, and gave her a winsome look. "Can't I just savor it for a minute before I wrap the paper off? Right now it has the potential to be anything. World peace, a working computer, my old demon flute from back in the day...." He sighed.
Buffy's smile saddened a little. "Nope, not any of that. It is something I think you'll like. But if you really want to just sit there and, you know, anticipate, I could take it back and give you an empty box to cuddle...."
"No, no! I'm good," he exclaimed, hunching over the gift as though to protect it. Then he chuckled, and ripped the paper off. He gasped, then looked up at her, lifting a still-sealed package of dry erase markers in one hand and a personal sized write-on wipe-off board in the other. "It's... Buffy!"
"I kind of miss your Big Board, you know," she laughed. "I thought you might, too."
He struggled to his feet then, and held his arms out, wrapping her up in a bony hug. "Thanks," he whispered in her ear. Then he whooped, and turned back to the others, enthusing about just what he'd use the new Little Big Board for.
Another set of warm arms wrapped around Buffy as she watched over them, smiling.
"One more day," Kennedy murmured to her.
"One more day," Buffy agreed.
However many they had left – as long as they were still alive, their charges would live.