"What are we going to do now, Buffy?" they asked and she smiled into the abyss. The abyss smiled back and she basked in the warmth of the sun. Without turning around, she suggested Giles and Faith get the bus to the nearest hospital. There were hurried noises as the walking wounded reboarded the bus, the mosquito whine of Andrew a distant irritant. Giles ummed and ahhed behind her when she didn't move, until Willow suggested he come back for them in a few hours. When the bus had grumbled away, its gears biting harshly as if it felt it had put in enough fight for the day thank you very much, there were just the three of them standing on the edge. No animal sounds yet. No airplanes ripping through the air so high above them. No traffic. Just the still air.
Buffy wasn't staring at anything in particular, just letting her eyes float over the clouds of dust still drifting through the new valley. She vaguely wondered whether the sea would start to fill the crater, washing inwards from the beach. Her mind marvelled at it. He had done this and not for her. He'd done it because it had to be done and it made her smile.
Xander was suddenly sat on the rippled tarmac, his exclamation both too loud and too quiet for the space around them. It tore at her eyes to look away from the abyss but Buffy forced her body to turn on its fashionable and slightly impractical heels to look at her friend. He had his legs curled beside him and his right arm holding him upright. His left rested lifeless in his lap, as unnaturally still as the black material where his eye should have been.
"She's gone. I-"
He looked helpless. He looked as if his heart was trying to scrabble out of his body and down into the pit. Buffy didn't know what to say. She didn't have the right comforting words. They didn't know if it had been quick, if Anya had seen her death reflected in a sharp blade or a hissing fang. She was just gone and there would be no body for Xander to whisper his secret goodbyes to. Buffy knelt in front of him and put her hand on his right shoulder. His whole body was trembling with the effort of staying strong, staying resolute. When she touched him he looked up as if she were invading and his face had crumpled. She hoped he could sense her support through her hand as she had no way of verbalising it. She was afraid to. What could she say? I know how you feel? I'm sorry for your loss? Empty ritual words of sympathy.
"We all left someone down there," Willow said.
She was stood behind them, her hands fidgeting unconsciously with the buttonholes in her top. Buffy knew she must have frowned up at her, but Willow smiled. It was a private sad smile and Buffy realised, as her stomach fell away, what her friend meant. Jenny. Her mom. Tara. They had put them to their everlasting rest and then destroyed the markers of it. Willow would never be able to remember her lover as she walked to Tara's grave. Never warm that stone with her loving touch. All the reminders were gone, so much dust in the ground.
Dust to dust, Buffy thought, and for a moment her lip trembled.
They split up slightly then. Willow walked westwards along the edge of the crater as if still walking by the lake. Buffy saw her pick up a couple of pebbles and put them in her pocket. Xander snuffled into his sleeve and then sat, smiling, looking at the chaos below. Buffy walked east and looked into the wide open sky.
When they heard the growl of a hire car, they drifted back and smiled at Giles. Xander sat up front, exchanging manly grunts and desultory talk of how well Vi had done, how Rona had only lost conscious for five minutes and never mentioning who they had both shared so much with. Buffy sat in the back, with Willow, her legs coiled beneath her. Willow had been turning something over and over in her pockets, glancing about at them all. As they drew into an overflowing motel forecourt, where so many of the fleeing Sunnydale townies must had wound up, Willow took her hand out and pressed it into Buffy's without a word. Buffy had felt the twisty edges, the bobble of the chain and the cool cool facets of the gem against her palm and smiled.
For four days they had exhausted themselves with planning and constantly moving between hospital rooms, motels floors and pleather diner booths. The grievously injured were stabilised and the walking wounded found spaces to crash. Giles' phone had never stopped ringing and Buffy knew that at least one of those calls was from Wesley. She'd heard them talk of Faith and Giles' praise of Wesley's care of his former Slayer. She knew Giles would tell Wesley who - assuming they hadn't attempted to become mortal enemies in the meantime - would tell Angel what had happened in and to Sunnydale.
She hadn't told anyone. She kept the amulet next to her skin and smiled when the icy gem brushed against the underside curve of her breast. A secret kiss. A memory of cool lips, warmed by contact with her, to comfort her to sleep along with her sense of completion.
On the fifth day, Giles had spotted the amulet. He didn't say anything but his slight frown made Buffy think a little. He'd died to give her what she wanted: a normal life. All Angel had done was mooch off to LA and look tormented. He'd died and now she was free. She could do anything she wanted, just as she'd always said she'd dreamed of. The responsibility, the weight, was gone. Suddenly the stone had laid heavy next to her heart and she had pulled it out.
"Send it back to Angel," she told them.
To her surprise, Dawn had reached over and briefly squeezed her arm. The vengeful little sister, showing her forgiveness.
Another entire week had gone and they had tickets longhaul to London. Willow was almost bouncing at the idea of seeing her friends in the West Country again and Buffy had to hide a smile at Kennedy's thinly veiled jealousy. That girl had a real problem with the sharing. Faith had taken the brat to one side and worn her out with form practise. Xander showed signs of regaining his natural state of mind by wondering aloud if he could watch and laughing at Willow's mock offended pout. Giles had rolled his eyes and the world was falling back into place.
Buffy hadn't much to pack and she arrived in London with little more than the clothes on her back. Two days of serious shopping had rectified that. Giles snootily informed her that only ignorant Americans went to Harrods and instead led her under a huge bronze statue of a winged woman and into a department store the size of a street block. When Buffy tired of Selfridges, Willow dragged her into the overcrowded, overheated tube and they emerged, blinking, in Camdem. Buffy felt underdressed here, whilst Willow merged with the PVC and leather and retro clothing. Everyone was looking slightly grumpy in the sunshine.
"Oh," Willow smiled, "that's just because it's a proper summer and this is England. They're only happy when it rains."
Buffy wondered if that applied to her too. She'd spent her entire life in the Sunshine state. She basked. Yet she felt a little lost without her cloud of doom. Basking seemed a little boring without the darkness waiting beside it.
Willow led her over a canal bridge and then into a market where half the stalls were in archways of the railway viaduct. There was a food court here. Not that it was like any Buffy had been in before. The food sizzled and popped on ranges which made the air waver. Chips were eaten with garlic mayonnaise. And ought to be called fries, though Buffy had never seen such fatly cut potatoes before. No wonder he had bemoaned American food.
As they shared some onion rings, Buffy had caught a bleach blond head in the swirling crowds and the flap of black leather. She heard Willow draw her breath in as well and then they realised the man was striding through the sunlight. And was totally the wrong size. They glanced at each other and Willow opened her mouth to say something.
"It's OK, Will," Buffy interrupted.
On the nineteenth day, Giles started to buy replacement books for the new Watchers' Council. Although they were not altogether sure that they would be calling it that.
"One thing the last few years have taught me - and Wesley - is that watching alone is not enough."
Wesley's purported new library wasn't enough either. Buffy didn't see why not - why have a library that big, with all the tedious searching for the right book, when you could have a shelf full of the lot? Giles had given her his hardest glare and mumbled about knowledge needing to be acquired through effort. There was doubtless some stuff about quests in his lecture but Buffy let it wash over her. Willow followed Giles happily along and they promised Buffy that they would make up for the time in the occult bookshops around Seven Dials by going for dinner in Covent Garden.
"Why does that sound familiar"? she asked.
"Dinner? Or Covent Garden?" Giles was leading the way through a maze of side streets. Buffy couldn't quite get her head around the non-linear layout of the city and sometimes felt reduced to a little girl, clinging to her daddy's coat so he wouldn't lose her.
"Seven Dials, actually."
"It's always been a bit of a mystical hotspot," Willow told her but Buffy knew it was something else. Something about a world of parties. Dreams of lust and fists. I used to love Seven Dials. Good place for a fight, any century.
At the third arcane bookshop, Buffy pleaded a headache and went to buy a lemony diet coke from the shop two doors down. Another difference. All these tiny little shops, with barely room to turn in. All the mixes of race and creed and accent tumbled together. Giles had taken her for her first curry the night before. First real curry, he had told her as he cracked the poppadoms and clicked bottles of lager with Willow. And not needing ID for a drink. The food had been spicy, tastes tearing at her tongue and warming her belly from within.
I could murder a curry. Joke, luv.
Standing at the counter in the cramped shop, Buffy's felt a little dizzy.
"Are you alright, luv?"
She looked up, disbelieving her ears. His voice, his accent. And an Anglo-Asian guy looking at her in concern. She fled, dropping the cola. Outside, the humidity closed in and the narrow dirty streets were harsh in the pale sun. Her breathing was too fast, too shallow.
I love you.
No, you don't. But thank you for saying it.
He was dead. Dead dead, not just vampire dead. He was dust and ashes in the abyss of the hellmouth. The grief pushed down on her, made her ears roar and her throat shrivel. Spinning and swimming and drowning in the grit of an alien city. His city. She could hear his voice everywhere, feel the thud of thousands of old biker boots on cobbles, taste the expelled smoke of the cigarettes of a million Londoners. It hit her so hard she cried out. So hard she couldn't even cry.
Spike was never coming back.
Eight hours away, Angel ripped open his post.