She comes striding in with an ax in her hand and her hair short around her ears and god knows how many piercings and possibly a tattoo or two and the first thing Cordelia thinks to say to her is, Did you steal that ax? (Even though she knows the answer is yes.)
(She’s a very bored immortal being on a cloud. She sees stuff.)
It’s been a long fucking day in a long fucking month in one of the longest years of her life and the first thing that she says after tearing down the gates to the gods the first thing she says, Twenty years of sitting on a cloud with a harp isn’t long enough for you? I can always take my rescue party elsewhere.
(She’s a very busy immortal being with an ax. She doesn’t have time for niceties.)
Cordelia remembers a knobby-kneed preteen with impressible (and impossible) clear skin and wide eyes. She also remembers raw, green energy, blood that can open any door, the possibility of boundlessness wrapped into fragile skin and bone. She remembers a girl growing up, scratching at the walls, the pain of her first tattoo, that giddy moment with Faith’s hand in hers and a needle going through her tongue (her navel, her nose, her cartilage). Hours of training, bruises, dusted vamps, cracked and bleeding knuckles and knees. Secret nights and alleyways of hurried skin against skin. She remembers more than she should.
Dawn remembers an illusion, a memory of a memory, stories told over and over by heroes around campfires (metaphorical campfires most of the time). She’s seen pictures, heard every blight every victory. Remembers a lingering scent of sweetness in the air after she’d been in the house, a brief conversation, a shared joke or two. Dawn remembers very little – all of it was only told to her anyway.
You finally caught up to me, Dawnie, she looks down at her own unchanging skin and smiles wryly. She should be wrinkling now. Should be swinging Connor’s children in her arms. Should be flesh and bone.
Dawn grabs her arm, Are you ready to go or not? Because I really can’t have you here when the cavalry arrives.
What are you doing here?
Dawn’s eyes glint and she’s older than her body, her body is infinitesimally younger than it should be (like hers) (how did they become the same after all), I’m tearing down Olympus. What does it look like?
They run (out of the corner of her eye, Cordelia almost sees Illyria tearing down her home and her heart lurches – though with pain or relief, she can’t yet tell) which is rather more like standing still, Dawn slicing her arm against the ax in her hand and whispering and then the universe is moving around them.
Standing breathless in a field, she finally has the courage to ask, Does Buffy know what you’re up to?
It’s been twenty years and I don’t look a day over 25 and you don’t look much older. It’s been twenty years and you sat on a cloud and I stopped moving but that doesn’t mean nothing else changed.
Stop running riddles around me. What the hell is going on?
Dawn looks up at the sky, seeing something in the void of stars Cordelia can’t, When the General dies, the mission changes.
They steal a car (Dawn steals a car) and set up in a cheap motel with one stained bed and a broken window and Cordelia takes a long, lukewarm shower wracking her brain for a death she overlooked, a moment when her eyes weren’t trained down on the war below. It’s all a blur of memories and deeds done and not-yet done, a headache forms over her right eyebrow.
And that’s when she realizes she’s human again.
Did you kill them all?
The Powers? Dawn is perched on the windowsill like a hawk and doesn’t turn to look back at her. Not all of them. That wasn’t the point.
What was the point?
I … we just brought them back down to earth.
So there’s no one upstairs anymore?
She shrugs, A few stragglers. Illyria will find them and drag them down or kill them if they won’t.
Without the Powers…
What? Dawn lurches up and pins Cordelia against a wall by the throat in seconds, Without the Powers, WHAT? She’s snarling in Cordelia’s ear, one leg pressed between hers, We might finally have a fighting chance? We might have a choice?
Dawn’s grip relaxes and she leans against Cordelia’s body as if suddenly deflated, her forehead on Cordelia’s shoulder in supplication, Throughout all the ages of time men have fought against the weight of their gods. I’m just the first one capable of ripping them down.
Cordelia wakes up long after the sun rises and there’s a strange stiffness in her neck that refreshingly reminds her that she’s human.
Dawn is sitting in the chair by the window, watching her curiously – like a cat watching an unsuspecting mouse.
Pancakes? I haven’t had solid food in years. Diner pancakes could really hit the spot? she’s cheery like it’s the first day of the rest of her life (it is).
I could feel you, you know? I could feel you watching me. All these years. I wasn’t sure it was you until last night.
Cordelia is jolted with a memory of Dawn in a crowded club, her soft mouth on the neck of a girl with pink hair and a hundred-watt giggle.
Dawn smiles at her softly as she ducks her head to hide her blush, Well isn’t that just interesting.
They eat pancakes and pie at a diner a few miles from their hotel. The waiter teases them for having pie at nine in the morning, but Dawn just winks at Cordy across the table. She gets a phone call on a battered cell phone and mutters into it discreetly.
They travel for a while. Switching cars every hundred miles or so, eating junk food, and singing too loudly to the radio. Once, Cordelia begs for a red convertible (they can only keep it for a short while because it’s too noticeable) and they ride through a summer shower with the top down and the radio at full blast.
Around them, Cordelia can see the world crumbling. It’s ripping itself apart at the seams and they are singing at the top of their lungs like young girls that they no longer thought they could pretend to be. At night, she dreams the visions she blocks herself from during the day, hellfire and brimstone, pain everywhere. She should be fighting the good fight, helping the helpless.
That’s what heroes do.
Only she’s an ex-immortal-Power half-demon travelling with a god-killer in league with a potentially really evil god-slash-the body of her old friend, and all the other heroes are long ago ground into dust.
Five cars and three hotels and about twenty slices of pie later, she puts her hand out her window and plays with the wind, It’s been longer than twenty years, hasn’t it?
Dawn keeps her eyes on the road, her knuckles whitening on the steering wheel.
How did I miss so much time? I see everything.
Not everything. I stopped you.
What? (Why, how, why.)
I could feel you, Cordelia’s mind leapt, memories of Dawn in a chair with a tattooist bent over her now coloured with the feeling of someone else in the room, something lingering and searching with intrusive eyes. She struggled against the impact of images flooding into her, changing and shifting as her memories made way for Dawn’s. Not just when I was fucking. Like all the time. I could feel you watching me, all the time. I knew… I knew if I wanted to do this, I had to block you somehow. So I did.
Danced with a demon.
Buffy wanted to save you… or Spike or Angel or Gunn and sometimes Wesley. There was a different plan every year. Some way to get up to you, to contact you, to get you back. It’s all they worked on in their spare time. That and Fred. But that was more Wesley and Spike’s campaign than the others. And then Willow found a way.
Willow is the strongest of all of you.
No shit. Did you read that in your crystal ball made of clouds? That’s definitely why she was the first one to fucking die.
So I figured out how to block you from seeing what we were up to. The others… the other PTB, they would have stopped me. You aren’t really supposed to break into Valhalla unsummoned. Except… She sighed and shifted in her seat, letting one hand fall uselessly to the gear shift beside her – between them. It was an automatic, she preferred manual, felt more in control, but stealing cars at every border town meant they couldn’t really be picky and Cordy never learned stick. Except it took a lot longer than we anticipated. Years actually. And they kept … dying trying to get to you.
Cordelia took in a long, shuddering breath, Are they… are they ALL dead?
Dead is a relative term.
Are they all gone?
You aren’t going to see as many of us as you’d hoped.
I didn’t ask to be rescued.
Dawn turned and looked at her, It wasn’t about rescuing you in the end. I mean – that’s what they wanted. But they’re gone. I tore it all down because I’m fucking tired of living in a world of their creation.
Somewhere in the world a war began with the simple act of a young man lying down dead in an empty street, she could feel the pain of it in her bones. Somewhere in the world a war was being raged in silent houses, beans on toast and coffee filters and wells running dry, but it was a war all the same. Cordelia reached out to the farthest teathers of her Sight and pulled it all into her, the cries and shouts and silences and councils and posturing politicians and children laughing, before pushing back onto Dawn.
The action left her weak and shaking in her seat.
Dawn chuckled beside her, low and fierce, Was that supposed to make me want to apologize? A single tear rolled down her cheek, Sometimes in order to save the world you have to destroy it.
Is that what Buffy would do?
Buffy was a hero. She lived like a hero and died like a hero. She didn’t change the world, she just kept it spinning the same way it always did. I rip things up and expect the world to fix itself. I’m not a hero.
I’m the reason we need heroes.
(When they finally fuck, in the shower of one of the nicer hotels on their tour of the apocalypse, it isn’t love and it isn’t not it just is; Dawn’s tongue rough and fingers tender, Cordelia’s lips warm and teeth sharp. It isn’t at all like any memory because it’s real and hard and their hearts pound in-sync as though they are normal human women.
And maybe that’s why they kept clinging to each other night after night.)
Ten cars and uncountable slices of pie later, a vision comes in a coffee shop of a girl in the alley just beside them.
Dawn is vengeance and fury and light and death. She’s beautiful in her rage.
An ex-boyfriend angry.
They find her fighting back and clawing bloody stripes into his skin with her claws.
Okay, so the mission has changed.
Let the heroes deal with the demon problem.
There’s always a place for heroes.
Let’s help the helpless.
They help the apocalypse along, chip away at the cracks in the world where the light is finally starting to show through. They snub the world they knew and the rules they were taught to follow.
(The Sight changes with the mission. They are the Powers That Be. They are writing new rules in the sand for the next generation to blow away.)
They only kiss under the stars because it’s when the moon is full and the sky is lit from galaxies too far away that they feel infinite.
They kiss to feel human.
It lasts as long as they can make it last.
(Anyway, the war rages on.)