Tara stirs, restless in her repose. For the first time in forever she feels compelled to visit old friends. Something seems to be uniting their spirits and the siren call is too strong to ignore. With a little bit of concentration she finds herself at the source of the strongest spirit: Buffy Summers.
Buffy sits, unaware of her visitor, holding a scrapbook to her chest. Taking a deep breath, she opens the book and stares at the newspaper clipping on the first page.
SUNNYDALE VANISHES INTO SINKHOLE. ENTIRE TOWN DEMOLISHED.
HUNDREDS MISSING AND FEARED DEAD
The headline still breaks her heart ten years later. Sunnydale was her town to defend and she still feels it a personal failure that it no longer exists. Apart from the new Slayers who perished in the Hellmouth, she lost more people that day than she’d saved over her entire slaying history.
Articles cover the pages until they’re reduced to two line blurbs. She has virtually no pictures from her childhood, or Dawn’s, so the remaining pages contain items from the past ten years: The first building Xander designed, Dawn’s high school and college graduation pictures, Andrew’s appointment to the new Watcher’s Council, being handed his diploma by Giles… Buffy’s catalogued them all.
She flips the pages one after the other and after a while her eyes no longer see what’s right in front of her. She puts her hand on the final page and whispers: “Spike” as tears fall silently down her cheeks. Buffy startles as the door opens to reveal the vampire himself, holding a cherubic youngster on his hip.
“Knew you’d be porin’ through the book.” He smiles softly, letting the little girl run to her Mama. “S’been a long an’ interesting ten years, pet.”
From the moment Buffy found out about his resurrection to their handfasting nearly five years later when she finally allowed herself the happiness she’d more than earned, interesting was certainly an understatement.
Buffy glances at the page that brought tears of joy to her eyes: a photo taken on the day Mr. and Mrs. William Summers-Bennett adopted two year old Tara Joyce. Now five, the blonde haired, green eyed sprite is a daily reminder that life can get better.
Smiling at the happiness of her friends, Tara moves on, pleased to note that both tortured souls have finally found true peace on earth. A slight tug and she zeroes in on: Xander Harris.
The meeting breaks up and Xander stands, shaking out the kinks and smoothing his suit to straighten out the wrinkles from sitting for the past two hours. A handsome man in his early thirties his long dark hair pulled back with a black leather strip that matches his eye patch, he strides out of his office looking confident and suave.
His step never falters as he enters a trendy bar/restaurant a couple of blocks away, fondly greeting, and being greeted, by the staff and patrons as a regular customer. He’s ushered to a booth in the back, isolated from the crowd as he is every year on this date, and it’s there that the façade begins to crumble.
There’s a tray on the table holding a dozen empty shot glasses and a bottle of Absolut. Xander fills the first two glasses and makes two quiet toasts:
“To you, Anya,” he murmurs quietly. “No matter how many years go by, I’ll always regret the way I treated you, and I’m so grateful you forgave me before… well, before.”
He downs the shot quickly, the tears in his eye not only from the burn of the vodka as it hits his throat, and he moves on to the second toast.
“Spike!” he says harshly, throwing back the shot before continuing. “What can I say on the anniversary of your flaming demise that doesn’t sound lame? Thanks for burning up? Thanks for saving us all? Oh, I know! Thanks for coming back and helping Buffy live again. Might not ever tell you to your face, Bleached Menace, but you done good.”
The false warmth from the drink spread quickly through Xander’s system. He only drank heavily once a year, preferring to keep a clear head these days. The rest of the shots were set up in a row, one for each of them – Buffy, Giles, Willow, Dawn, Andrew, Faith, Robin and all the potentials.
Remembering all that he’s lost over the years hurts more than he usually admits and Xander offers no individual toasts for the remaining shots except for their names, tears flowing in earnest now, soaking into the lining of his patch. Sunnydale’s survivors have a hard time being in the same room for more than a few hours. Their ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’s’ make it too overwhelming.
A slight clearing of someone’s throat in front of him brings Xander up short and he’s quickly attempting to wipe away the tears, when a slim pale hand reaches out and does it for him.
“Sorry I’m late, Xan. Work was a bear today.”
Max Porter is used to his lover’s emotional reaction to this anniversary. They’ve shared six such meltdowns so far with an eye towards many more. He takes Xander’s chin in his cool hand, and stares into his red-rimmed eye.
“You know we don’t have to stay here, sweet. We can sit and watch the stars and honor your friends together. Plenty of time to get home before the sun becomes an issue for me.”
How did I ever get so lucky? Nodding his head in agreement, Xander rises shakily, pulling his vampire partner into his embrace for a deep, life affirming kiss. He finally gets what Buffy found in her undead liaisons… it’s not what they are, but who they are. And his Max is a treasure.
Arm-in-arm they leave the restaurant, heading for a night of comfort and remembrance.
It’s funny to see that some things never change in that Xander’s still a demon magnet. Tara smiles, very pleased that he’s has not only found someone to share his future with, but that he’s also learned a valuable lesson about surviving in the day-to-day demon infested world. Judge everyone on an individual basis and never forget those varying shades of gray.
She leaves Xander and Max to their privacy, and heads towards the next pull of familiar energy: Rupert Giles. Unhappy vibes are emanating from the man in waves and Tara settles in for a closer look.
Giles’ home is quiet and dark, lit only by a large column candle sitting on the coffee table. This is how he marks the passing of the years since Sunnydale collapsed.
He stares at Buffy and Spike’s wedding picture, sent to him after the fact. He wasn’t invited. It seems his betrayal of her trust not only once, but thrice had finally managed to permanently damage their relationship. He knows she forgave him for the debacle of the Cruciamentum, and for insisting she kill her not-sister to save the world. What she hasn’t forgiven him for is the two-fold betrayal regarding Spike.
His fingers tighten around the frame, threatening to break the thin wood and glass surrounding the couple. It would be so easy to blame the vampire once more for the separation from his Slayer… his daughter in all but name. Doing so, however, is part of what caused the estrangement in the first place. Giles still believes his intentions were good but admits now, to himself at least, that he might have gone about things in the wrong way. Too bad there’s nobody left who’s willing to listen to him.
Closing his eyes, he can still center on the candle’s flame as images flicker past: Joyce on the hood of the police car. The kids standing up for Tara in the Magic Box against her family. Anya doing the dance of capitalism at the cash register. Seeing Buffy for the first time after her resurrection. The hoard of teenaged potentials descending on Revello Drive. His part in the… mutiny against Buffy’s leadership and the stricken expression on her face as she left her own home, he’d never forget that one. And the look on her face as Sunnydale sank into the ground burying the vampire’s ashes.
Spike had been right about one thing – Buffy had outgrown her need for him as teacher, and even though Giles had encouraged it, he’d been bitter and hurt, mistrusting the very judgment he’d urged her to develop. Now he pays for his mistakes with his solitude. Not that he doesn’t have a life and a smattering of friends more his age, it’s just that there will always be an empty place in his heart where Buffy had been.
‘The poor man,’ Tara muses. ‘Unforgiven after all these years. She sweeps by, sending peaceful thoughts his way, imparting as much emotional warmth as a witch spirit is capable of before heading out towards the next pull: Dawn.
In marked contrast to her last visitation, Tara finds the young woman happily flitting around her room. There are pictures everywhere: Buffy’s wedding picture. Her niece in varying poses. Xander and Max… she’s surrounded by happy, smiling faces.
Glancing at the clock, Dawn begins to frantically paw through her wardrobe. In less than an hour, Roberto will be picking her up for a night of dinner and dancing… and whatever else she’s in the mood for. She’s single, actively dating around, and the night life of Rome calls to her. Especially tonight.
As she showers, Dawn allows her mind free reign. It’s been ten years since her world was turned upside down. Ten years since everything she knew or owned vanished into the Sunnyhell pit. Ten years since she took her memories, both real and monk-fashioned, and moved on.
And here she is at nearly 26 years old, about to start her job as Council psychiatrist. Because of all the emotional and psychological crap her sister and Faith went through, Dawn knows exactly what she wants out of life. To help prevent that kind of trauma from happening to any other Slayer, and to heal whatever damage does occur.
Quickly toweling herself dry, she primps and plucks and curls and finally shimmies herself into something tight with silver sequins. She slips into strappy sandals just as the doorbell rings, and she’s off for a night of fun.
This is how she honors and keeps the anniversary. By living the life her sister and Spike sacrificed everything for, and got so much back in return.
Tara swirls around the room, absorbing the young woman’s happiness. She can almost feel its caress. Dawnie, all grown up and headed for good things. So nice to see the girl she helped mother all grown up and strong. It would have been nice to… well, can’t change the past, right?
Anyway, it’s time for her last visit of the day and she’s saved the strongest emotional pull for last: Willow.
She finds her girl on a green hilltop, one of the Devon Coven’s many meditation spots. She smiles to herself, knowing she’ll always think of Willow as her girl, even when she’s eighty. With nowhere else to go and nowhere on earth she’d rather be, Tara enfolds the woman as best she can in her ghostly embrace.
The stars are out in all their glory; brightly shining sparks of light in a midnight sky. Laying on an old quilt, Willow searches for the constellations as Xander had taught her long ago in his back yard. They fail to hold her attention this evening as a soft breeze wafts over her, carrying a faint hint of lily and ginger. The very smell that…
“Hey, Tara,” she whispers. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
Willow closes her eyes and extends her senses, hoping to actually see her lost love, but it’s not to be. She steadies her breathing and continues with her meditations. The whole reason for her being here tonight is to remember and pay homage to her home town.
There’s a yerzheit candle burning in the kitchen sink in memoriam for the fallen. At 33 years old, she still hears her mother’s voice echoing in her head: “Never leave a candle burning unattended on a flammable surface.” It should be burnt out by the time she gets home. Twenty four hours of remembrance until next year.
But that’s not exactly true, is it? Sunnydale is with her every day of her life. Lessons learned both good and bad; the biggest and best finally sinking in that magicks aren’t her problem at all. A good psychiatrist and several years of therapy have helped to shore up her self-esteem issues and to help her realize it’s not all about Willow.
And for just a moment, Willow sees Tara before her. A hazy, indistinct image made up of swirling dust motes and wishes, but it’s enough. Her girl is happy. Pretty blue eyes crinkling around the corners. Soft, plump lips turning up in a smile. It fills Willow with an indescribable peace as her beloved slowly dissipates into the ether. Maybe, just… maybe… her life is finally on the right track.