Willow had done it without thinking. Or so Kennedy told her later, weeping crocodile tears that made Buffy want to backhand her across the mouth. They'd been somewhere outside Toronto, on their way to a hellmouth near Niagara, and Spike had felt drained and irritable.
Willow thought she could help.
Simple spell, simple mistake.
Maybe it was the amulet, the power he'd taken on beneath the earth. Maybe something in his uncertain soul. Could have been anything, even the spell itself. If they'd had the chance, she might have looked for answers.
This much was clear. Without him the center didn't hold.
At times, when she can't help herself, she thinks about the weeks that followed. The funerals that came one after another. The day they stopped wasting time on ceremonies. The night they stopped burying the dead.
Chaos raged through the cities, the stench of death met them at the outskirts of every abandoned town. Willow's guilt circled in upon itself. Reckless, desperate in her attempts to make amends for lives lost. For strangers. For Spike, Tara. For Buffy herself.
In Willow's last days, she didn't venture from her room in a dilapidated house on the outskirts of Seattle. Surrounded herself with remorse and incantations. Kennedy finally packed a rucksack and pushed past Buffy on her way out. Faith, feet kicked up on the coffee table, arched an eyebrow.
"I could snap her neck for you, if you like."
Buffy let out a humorless laugh, and went back upstairs. Willow was lost in a torment of her own making. Her eyes black and featureless, cold sweat standing out on her brow.
She slipped away from Buffy at four-fifteen in the morning. It was the last day Buffy ever wore a watch.
Giles was at Buffy's side the morning Dawn died, overpowered in a strip motel somewhere in the Nevada desert.
They were too exhausted to continue their cross-country journey. She and Dawn curled up on top of dusty covers, Giles on the floor against the door.
The vamps were swift, enraged. She remembers coming out of sleep to the sound of breaking glass and Giles' hoarse yells. She dusted as quickly as she could. She wasn't fast enough.
Buffy dug a grave in the baking red earth, her muscles strained and aching from the fight. Then she sank to her knees in the dirt and wept until she couldn't catch her breath. Giles carried her back to the motel, a dreadful piéta silhouetted against the sinking fire of the sun.
He kicked open the door to one of the rooms, as far from where they'd slept the night before as he could find, laid her on the bed. Half-blind with tears and choking on her grief she pulled him down to her. Kissed her way up his neck and across his jaw line.
He protested, half-hearted, gasped along with her. "I can't...we shouldn't...."
Buffy didn't listen.
She left him before he woke. She couldn't keep him alive, was damned if she'd watch him die.
Now, Buffy has her back pressed against the rough bark of a redwood, looking out over the remains of a golf course at the breaking waves of the Pacific. Eighteen months and nature has already reclaimed the greens.
Faith drops to the ground beside her, bottle of tequila in one hand, rucksack in the other. She doesn't greet her. Makes it seem as though they always planned to meet here, two faithful witnesses to the end of the world.
Faith unlaces road-worn boots and peels off Army-issue socks. She wriggles bare toes with nails painted an improbable blue. A fresh, angry scar winds down her upper arm.
"Just us, then," she says, twisting the top off the tequila and taking a long swig from the bottle.
As the sun dips below the horizon, the colour bleeds out of the trees. Stark black outlines, sharp against the greying sky. They pass the bottle back and forth between them. It's still summer here, or somewhere.
Faith's never been one to stand on ceremony. She leans in to unbutton Buffy's shirt even as Buffy continues to drain the last of the tequila.
She thinks it's a cliché, sex as the last act of humanity, but Buffy lets the bottle fall to her side and slides both hands into Faith's dark hair as she works her way down her body.
Buffy lets her head fall back, her mouth fall open, her eyes fall closed.
There's nothing left but Faith's tongue against her nipple, Faith's hand inside her jeans.
Soon, they will travel.
Faith will prove a half-decent mechanic, and they'll have an abundance of cars to choose from. She'll let Buffy pick where they sleep at night, but how they get there will be up to her.
They'll avoid the cities. Buffy will claim it's for safety, but really she won't want any part of the pointless suburbia that encircles them, even in decay.
Occasionally she'll imagine she sees Angel (in the distance, in the dark) but she'll never call out, never mention it.
They'll toy with heading all the way to South America, but they'll both know it'll be harder and harder to feed themselves, keep themselves healthy, alive.
Unspoken between them will lie the idea of settling. A farm, maybe, somewhere in the mid-west. Picket fences. Preposterous.
So they'll lie beside lakes in the sun, skin baking brown. They'll eat apples from orchards. Liquor will be the first thing they steal when they stop each day.
They won't say much to each other, there won't be much to say.