She’d been okay right after. Still filled with the rush of adrenaline from their narrow escape, distracted by her relief that Dawn had survived. Busy counting heads and attempting to comprehend the sight of the giant pit that used to be Sunnydale.
She’ been okay right after.
Time became meaningless the longer they drove.
There’d been first aid to administer and a field operation-slash-magic session to make sure Robin’s miraculous not-dying stuck. The smart thing might have been to herd everyone back on the bus and seek out the nearest hospital, but since Willow and Faith had managed just fine, even Giles had been too weary to insist.
He, Buffy, Xander and Dawn had debated where, if not a hospital, they should go. There’d been a firm veto against L.A. Getting involved with whatever Angel might have going on was the last thing any of them should want unless his people specifically called them. It had ended with Xander plotting a route to some small town on the far side of the state line.
She kept expecting the six non-Slayers to crash, but Giles was making phone call after phone call and Xander was refusing to let Kennedy take his place behind the wheel. Robin kept drifting between unconsciousness and sleep. Andrew had dozed off mid-sentence.
Dawn was clinging to wakefulness. Buffy resolved to somehow make her sleep if they ever arrived at some dead Watcher’s property and she’d be forced into a semblance of Buffy the Slayer General once more.
In the end, there had been nothing left to do but lean back in her seat and let Xander drive. And Buffy’d been okay for a while, until she’d let out a completely ordinary breath and hadn’t been, anymore.
There she’d been, letting herself be driven away from Sunnydale, where her mother’s grave had vanished, her house, Angel’s mansion, the high school, the Bronze. Leaving behind Spike, and all the people who’d refused to leave.
She’d been a lot better and a lot worse than she’d felt would be right.
They stopped in the driveway of a somewhat weathered bungalow. It was smaller than the late Summers house, which mattered little since they had a lot less people to cram into it than they’d had last night. Than at the beginning of all this. Than before Caleb.
Someone watching might have taken them for a bunch of college students on vacation if not for the school bus and the presence of Giles and all their injuries. Buffy doubted that outsiders would be perceptive enough to see their grief.
The nine Slayers in the bus had been exhausted if a little exhilarated still. For the moment at least, nobody had expected much from her.
Buffy should have been excited. She should have been weeping. Instead she'd been close, so close to how she used to feel after her second resurrection. She could have gotten up and joined Faith in watching over Robin, or tried to see if her hug could comfort Rona better than Vi’s attempt, or help-distract Giles from where he was making arrangements, but she hadn’t had the energy for even that. (She’d had all the energy in the world; if she’d had to, she could have made Xander turn the bus around and done it all over again.)
Inside one of Giles’ phone calls had left enough food to satisfy the remains of their small army. Buffy the Slayer General gave a toast to survival and changing the world, and by the end of it Vi and Rona were smiling. Buffy herself remembered not a word of it.
There she’d been, staring blankly ahead, feeling her heart beating. There Rona’s shaking shoulders and the muffled sound of her cries had been. There Xander had been, driving hard and precise just so he’d have something to do and no head space to think about Anya just yet.
Spike hadn’t been with them. Anya hadn’t been with them. Nor had Tara, nor her Mom, nor Jenny, nor Kendra, nor Jesse. It should have ripped Buffy’s heart to pieces.
The road had been open and wide in front of them.
Faith had followed Robin into one of the bedrooms, but when Buffy emerged from the bathroom Vi and Dawn had stacked all except Faith’s weapons in strategic places as if none of them could believe they might not need them. Ten mattresses for thirteen people, all spread out in the living room.
She’d been free of Sunnydale and all it represented. She, who after her return from L.A. had grown certain right down to the bone that she would never be able to leave it alive. She, who had died there.
Buffy should have been happy. She shouldn’t have been this numb. They’d gotten out of the Hellmouth. Fifteen of them were still alive. Among them Dawn and Xander and Willow, Willow who was so amazing, Willow who’d changed everything, Willow who’d changed the world. The most important part of her family had made it out.
‘I should want my privacy,’ Buffy thought. Or maybe she should want to be there to be near all the people she’d so long been responsible for. They’d saved the world and she was free and this was only just the beginning. Instead she just let her body claim a mattress next to her sister and in arm’s reach of the Scythe. Across the room Kennedy was calling her parents.
Tomorrow, new decisions would have to be made. At least two of the girls might want to go home and what relatives the others had left would need to be notified and empty casket funerals arranged. There’d have to be a real actual commemoration and making of plans what they were all going to do now.
So many Slayers in the world.
Dawn’s head had been pillowed against her shoulder. Her nostrils had been filled with her sister’s scent. She’d wanted to sleep for a week, but she’d been relentlessly kept awake by all that power run through her veins. So many Slayers in the world.
A world full of Slayers. A world that wouldn’t have to make with only her, with only her and Faith, any more, and though it had been Buffy’s plan she hadn’t quite processed the reality of that, yet. She hadn’t been so much with processing the reality of anything.
Buffy didn’t sleep. Maybe she would pass out during breakfast or on the bus tomorrow or maybe Willow’s spell had had a side effect and she would never sleep again.
Dawn lay beside her, breathing steadily in her ear. A delicate hand that had killed Turok-Han tod- yesterday had a light grip on Buffy’s wrist. Xander, who had made it very clear that he wasn’t ready to speak Anya’s name, was allowing Buffy to rest her stake hand on his shin and Willow to cuddle into his back, Kennedy curled into her.
They’d saved the world, and Spike and Anya and Amanda and Molly and Dianne and Annabelle and Chloe and Eve were dead and there was a world full of Slayers.
So this was living.
Fake it till you make it sort-of worked once.