Buffy stared at it.
The huge, gaping maw only a few dusty feet in front of her; a brand new Sunnydale-sized hole in the world; a point of evil on the map burned out forever by the light from a vampire’s soul.
He'd insisted on doing it, on sacrificing himself for the world, for her. He'd been their saviour.
Who'd have guessed?
But the once vicious, brutal Spike had finally completed his journey of redemption within cleansing light. By the end he had become a truly good man, a selfless champion with a shining, burning soul. He had believed in her and she in him. The once upon a time slayer of slayers had given her his strength to succeed. And then he had given his life to protect the future of his once mortal enemies and of the world entire.
She was so damn proud of him.
And she had loved him.
She had loved the man he had become even if she had not been in love with him. The idea of him, of what he had fought to achieve, to conquer and to absolve. That was what she had loved, and what she would always love.
Lost in memory and emotion, her eyes fixed on the destruction of her past, Buffy barely noticed as Faith, Giles, Dawn, Willow and Xander all gathered around her at the edge of the crater.
She heard Faith say: “Looks like the Hellmouth is officially closed for business.”
“There’s another one in Cleveland. Not to spoil the moment,” Giles offered helpfully.
Xander muttered, “We saved the world,” sounding quietly incredulous.
“We changed the world,” Willow clarified with a note of joy. “I can feel them, Buffy. All over. Slayers are awakening everywhere.”
“We’ll have to find them,” from Dawn.
“We will,” Willow told her.
“Yes, because the mall was actually in Sunnydale so there’s no hope of going there tomorrow,” Giles dryly quipped, harking back to Willow’s earlier suggestion of some post-apocalyptic mall shopping.
Dawn gasped in mock-horror. “We destroyed the mall? I fought on the wrong side.”
“All those shops, gone,” said Xander solemnly. “The Gap, Starbucks, Toy R Us…who will remember all those landmarks unless we tell the world of them?”
“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Giles sounding properly serious now.
From Faith: “Can I push him in?”
Willow giggled. “You’ve got my vote.”
Faith continued: “I just want to sleep, yo. For like a week!” The exhaustion was evident in her normally tough, vibrant voice.
“I guess we all could. If we wanted to,” Dawn chipped in.
“Yeah,” agreed Willow, “The First is scrunched so… what do you think we should do, Buffy?”
“Yeah, you’re not the one and only Chosen anymore,” said Faith. “Just gotta live like a person. How’s that feel?”
“Yeah, Buffy. What are we going to do now?” Dawn asked her sister, her young voice full of expectation, full of hope.
Staying silent, Buffy’s gaze soared above this deep pit of carnage that up until a few minutes ago had been her home for the past seven years. A place full of memories and incident, some wonderful, most terrible; a portal to evil; a ground zero to apocalypse. A mouth in to hell forever now closed. Her gaze reached on past its ruins, taking her into a future of possibilities, in to a world she had forever changed.
Things felt different. Better.
Although she'd always had her friends and family - a major reason she'd survived for so long - Buffy had still always felt, deep down inside of her, the inherent, unshakeable loneliness of being the Slayer, the Chosen.
How did it go?
‘In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.’
Tasting victory, The First had taunted her with those ancient words. It had said the key word in that phrase was 'alone'. That in being chosen, Buffy was alone, alone in life, alone in death.
Well not anymore.
She felt connected now, a part of something bigger, something strong and powerful. And it felt good.
As the high sun bathed her in its comforting warmth, as the desert breeze gently toyed with her hair, a slow smile now crept its way across this young woman’s face.
Yes, a new world awaited her, one full of countless girls blessed with strength and power. Girls armed with the tools to take on whatever evil might lie ahead of them.
Can stand up. Will stand up.
She would find them, train them, and prepare them. After all, they were family now, the biggest damn family in the whole world.
And families stick together.
For the first time in as long as she could remember, Buffy Anne Summers looked to the future with a smile.
She was ready to be strong.
Several hours later...
The sun was lower in the sky as the school bus rumbled on along the seemingly endless desert highway, passing the odd small town, the occasional gas station and convenience store, the carcass of some poor critter dead by the roadside. Every now and again they’d pass another signpost for Los Angeles, each one gradually counting down the ever-decreasing distance. At their current rate of travel they’d make L.A. by nightfall.
Buffy stared out of the window watching blankly as the world rushed by, the loud, constant grumble of the bus' engine trying its best to lull her to sleep. Her eyes felt heavy and it was a major effort to keep them open. She was exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally. It had been one hell of a day…literally. But she was afraid to sleep. She was afraid that she’d dream. Dream of Spike. Dream of her mom. Dream of all the girls who had died in the battle with The First. But most of all she was afraid she might dream of the future - a slayer premonition of terrible battles ahead and that perhaps she had made the wrong decision in choosing a future of violence, conflict and strife for so many young girls the world over. And that more of those girls would inevitably die because of her. Buffy knew that although beaten this time The First was not destroyed. As long as evil and darkness and corruption lived in the hearts of man then The First would always be around. It would always be looking for a way back. A way to finish what it had started. It wasn’t over. It would never be over.
She gave a weary sigh.
“You look trashed, B.”
Blinking, Buffy glanced to her right.
Faith had flopped down next to her.
“You don’t look too hot yourself, F.”
Faith grinned that familiar cocky, confident grin of hers.
“Hey girl, this package of hotness-“ she pointed to herself, “- is never anything less than blistering.”
“But-“ Faith conceded “-after today’s shenanigans I gotta say I’m feeling like you’re looking. So crap knows how you must be feeling what with that not-so-mortal wound of yours.”
Buffy winced at the memory of the blade running through her gut. Luckily it had missed her vital organs and her slayer healing had immediately kicked in, followed up later by some Willow Wicca healing to put her back in the game. She’d be fine. It still stung like hell though.
Faith must have noticed her wince. “Speaking of, hows the belly feeling?” She asked.
“Like it was run through with a sword.”
Faith nodded solemnly. “Yup, blade to the gut sure does put a downer on your day. I should know.”
“So, uh, who’s driving?” asked Buffy hurriedly changing the subject.
“Look, why don’t you grab some zzz’s for a while, and…”
“I really don’t like the idea of Andrew at the wheel," Buffy continued, ignoring Faith's suggestion of sleep. "We’ll probably end up lost in the middle of the desert, all dry and thirsty and wrinkled. I still think he’s not entirely back from being evil, you know. Probably sell our souls to a cactus demon or something…”
“Giles is driving," Faith told her calmly. "The nerd’s up front helping keep Mr Principle’s blood inside of his body. There was a bit of a tussle over the wheel with G…and about who was the best doctor or something. Maybe about where best to take The Principle and Rona to get fixed up. Anyway, G won out after a few choice British swear words were used. And a threat to do something nasty to nerd boys sonic screwdriver…whatever the hell that is.”
Buffy nodded. "So...how is everyone?”
Faith stretched, arching her back in a feline manner. “Well, I thought Rona was gonna croak for sure. But the girl seems to be getting better. Still weak an’ all, but super slayer healing is working its mojo. I’m betting she’ll be fine. The other girls are just bloodied and bruised.” Looking back at Buffy, her face grim, she lowered her voice. “It’s Robin I’m worried about. Dude lost a lot of blood and he ain’t carrying our healing power. Willow used some magics to help him…and it seemed to work some…at least kept him from tripping to the hereafter. But he needs a proper hospital, Buff. Soon too.”
Closing her eyes, Buffy sank back in to her seat. The temptation to fall in to some much-needed sleep was immense. But she resisted.
A moment later and she forced her eyes back open.
“As soon as we hit the next major town we’ll drop him off at a hospital. Rona too. We’ll let them know where we’re going so they can catch up when they’re able. If they still want to, that is.”
Faith nodded. “I was gonna suggest the very same." A pause. "So, Team Angel are getting the spare beds ready for the slayer deluge, huh?”
“Yeah, well, he does own a hotel so beds aren’t an issue.”
“Uh huh. The Hyperion is a pretty sweet crib to hang out in.”
Buffy stifled a yawn. “It’s only temporary, Faith. Somewhere to regroup, catch our breath and figure out where we go from here.”
Again, Faith nodded. “Sure. Good plan. A place to drop our heads, figure stuff out.” Buffy saw a shadow cross her face. “Thing is, though, when you’re a wanted fugitive, an escaped con, you kinda know where it is you’ll be headed for. Where I have to be headed for. Now that the war’s over.”
And in that moment Buffy felt something for Faith. Something she’d not felt for her in a very long time: compassion. But there was something else as well. A new connection between them. Not just slayer to slayer, something more. Their history, their struggles, their pain, it bound them together. They were two sides of the same coin. Faith had been in a bad place for a long time. Done a lot of hurt to a lot of people and deserved to pay for her crimes. Buffy knew that. Nothing would wipe clean the murders she had committed. But, like Spike, she was trying to change, to do right by the world, to find her soul and fight the good fight. She wanted to be redeemed. She needed to be redeemed. Angel, to his credit, had seen that when Buffy either couldn’t or wouldn’t. He’d seen deep in to Faith and known her worth.
“Yep, back to the big house for bad girl Faith,” said Buffy cheerily. “Gotta finish paying for your crimes. There’s plenty mailbags left to be stitched. That’s the right thing to do.”
Faith bowed her head and muttered, "Yeah. The right thing."
“But it’s not the necessary thing,” Buffy added.
She reached out and laid a hand on Faith’s arm.
Faith glanced sharply at that hand, then on up to Buffy’s serious looking face.
“Faith, the war isn’t over. It’ll never be over. Sure, The First was defeated this time, beaten back. But it still exists. It’s still out there, along with all the other demons and big bads that wanna kill us and make with an apocalypse now.”
She looked to the front of the bus, to the rest of the gang.
Xander and Dawn were crashed out together, fast asleep, Xander’s head resting on the window glass, Dawn’s head on his shoulder. Opposite them, Willow and Kennedy, wrapped in each other’s arms, mumbling quietly together. In front of those two, Andrew, looking after Robin Wood, the ex-Sunnydale High principle who was laid down out of sight, keeping still, avoiding worsening his already bad injuries. And opposite to Andrew and Principle Wood, Vi was tending to Rona, who was also laid down out of sight, keeping still, looking to heal. Everyone’s exhausted bodies wobbled and shook as the bus tripped its way along the well-worn, sun-cracked highway.
Buffy looked back to Faith.
The troubled slayer was staring at her, frowning.
“So what are you saying? You don’t think I should turn myself in? Go back and do my time? Honestly, not what I expected from you.”
Removing her hand from Faith’s arm, Buffy looked her sister slayer dead in the eyes...
And saw herself and thousands of brand new slayers reflected right back at her.
“Look, don’t get me wrong, Faith, you should pay for what you did. And you’re gonna be paying for it everyday of your life…where it really matters.” She jabbed a finger in to Faith’s chest. “Right in here. But the thing is, the worlds changed. I’ve…we’ve changed it. It’s full of girls now who have power and strength and purpose. They need to be found. They need to be helped. They need to be guided and trained. And I can’t do it alone. I need you. I need what you have. That dark side of the slayer, the side that’s all about the power and the kill. You’re always gonna carry it in you. Just like I do. But you’ve been intimate with it like I never have. And now you’ve learned to master it, to use it. It’s made you one hell of a warrior, Faith. And it’ll make you one hell of a teacher.”
Laughing, Faith shook her head, causing her tumble of dark brown hair to dance around her shoulders. “Yours truly a cautionary tale for young slayers, huh? Don’t be a bad girl, just be a bad ass.”
Buffy smiled. “Something like that. Face it, Lehane, we’ve got bigger fish to fry now. Way bigger than what went on in our past.” She nodded to the bus' window, signalling the vast world beyond. “We’ve gone and created an army of super chicks all over the world. And they need us. We have an obligation to care for them because of what we’ve done to them.”
A new realisation suddenly struck her and she felt her face instantly drain of colour.
Seeing Buffy go suddenly, worryingly pale, Faith cried out, “What? What is it?”
“Oh...” whimpered Buffy, her eyes gone big with shock.
“Oh what?" Faith demanded. "Come on. Spill.”
“I just realised something.”
Faith was starting to lose patience. “Damn it, Summers…”
“We’re parents, Faith. We’re mommies. We made a whole brood of baby slayers.”
Faith’s face went equally pale.
A moment later she shook her head vigorously and declared: “Uh uh. No way! I’m too young to be a mommy. I’m more of your bad influence, party time aunt who drops by to stir things up and make things harder for mommy.”
Her colour having mostly returned, Buffy now grinned mischievously at Faith. “Nope. No way out of it,” she said, enjoying the other slayers reaction. “We’re now both heads of the world’s biggest family. Mommy and Mommy slayer.” With a teasing gleam in her tired eyes, she added, "Maybe we should get married. Be a proper family unit. You and me and our thousands of offspring. Like a supernatural Brady Bunch. Only a bit lesbian.”
Faith shot her a sour look. “Hey, I don’t go down to lady town but I don’t mind kicking your ass again, B. Keep talking and junior slayers are gonna be a one parent family.”
Buffy raised her eyebrows. “And when precisely did you ever kick my ass? I seem to remember that our slayer on slayer always ended up with me on top. So I guess I’ll be the butch and you can be the…”
“Finish that sentence and you’ll be walkin’ to L.A.”
Leaning in close to Faith, Buffy whispered, “Please honey, let’s not argue in front of the kids.”
Faith couldn’t hold it in anymore. She burst out laughing.
And Buffy joined her.
Together they laughed for what seemed like an age, a release of exhaustion, tension, fear and anguish, all piling out in the form of mirth. Hot tears rolled free as the two slayers, as different as chalk and cheese, yet bound together now by something beyond old wounds and rivalries, joked and mocked each other playfully.
“Okay, what’s the funny? What’d I miss?”
Buffy looked up, tears of laughter blurring her vision.
He was standing over them, his one remaining eye filled with bewilderment.
Buffy and Faith kept on laughing, struggling with their composure.
“Hey, no fair! Share the funny,” Xander demanded, starting to sound more than a little put out.
Buffy wiped the blurring tears from her eyes.
“We…we…” she tried to get out.
“You want a wee wee? You need a comfort break?”
That only made the pair laugh harder.
Willow suddenly appeared beside Xander.
“What’s got in to them?” She asked.
“You tell me, magic lady. I’ve only got one good eye and that ain’t seeing any big funny yet. Maybe they’ve been hitting the sauce.” He scowled down at the two slayers. “You hiding a bottle of something good and tasty back here, girls? Fancy sharing?”
“Buffy, Faith…” Willow began.
“We’re mommies,” Buffy blurted between guffaws. “We made baby slayers.”
Faith looked up at Xander and Willow. For a moment she stopped laughing and held a serious look. “We’re getting married and raising our babies together.” She pointed at Buffy. “B’s the butch ya know.”
She then collapsed back in to whooping laughter along with Buffy.
Xander stared helplessly at this dynamic duo engulfed by hilarity.
“Okay, so I think the girls have gone bye bye. Clearly the days excitement has been way too much for them.”
“Technically I made the slayers. So that makes me a mommy too. Or mommy three I guess.” This from Willow.
Xander turned and stared at her.
“You do what now?”
The cute red headed Wiccan smiled back at him, her bright sweet open smile.
“Yep. It was my magic and their slayer power channelled through the scythe that did the nifty deed.” She nodded at Buffy and Faith still lost in their mutual mirth. "So we three are now mommies to an awful lot of junior slayers. I felt them awakening, Xan, all of them. Thousands. And every new generation there will be thousands more.”
“Um, Will? Kennedy, she’s a new slayer. And you two are…well… What you’ve just said is taking my head to a really bad place.”
Willow looked horrified.
“Oh…oh no…I didn’t mean…”
She shivered with disgust.
“I hearby renounce all parental intent and rights. I’m so not mommy. Just forget everything I said.”
With that the traumatised witch rushed back to the front of the bus, back to Kennedy.
He looked back down at the two slayers, still laughing and giggling together despite everything that had happened and shook his head in exasperation.
“Slayers,” he said softly. “Two was crazy enough. Now thousands?”
And then he began laughing too.
“Anya, honey, wherever you are now, please watch out for me. I have a feeling I’m so gonna need an angel on my side. And not the bumpy headed, fanged kind either.”
The bus rumbled on down the highway, heading ever further in to unknown territory, ever further towards the future.
A sign it passed said ‘Los Angeles 70’
In Los Angeles, Angel, Fred, Lorne and Wesley were busy readying rooms for the incoming Sunnydale refugees.
Even though the Hyperion Hotel was not to be their home for much longer, it would still remain in Angel’s ownership. And it would remain a haven for Buffy and her slayers for as long as they needed it. Angel had promised her that on the phone, though he hadn’t yet told her the part about his deal with Wolfram and Hart. He knew she wouldn’t have understood. Hell, he wasn’t even sure he understood.
Finished making a room up for Buffy, Angel wandered down the grand staircase, arriving in to the main lobby where Lorne and Wesley were waiting for him.
“Angelcakes, the big reunion is nearly here,” Lorne gushed, a huge grin engulfing his deceptively demonic face. “I bet you’re just full of the tingling happiness to be seeing your one true honey again. And living under your roof no less. It’s so darn romantic.” He looked excitedly from Angel to Wesley, then back to Angel. “Doesn’t it just make you want to break in to a big ol’ love song?”
Caught up in the moment, Lorne suddenly broke in to Smokey Robinson’s ‘Being with You.’
“I don’t care what they think about me-ee, and I don’t care what they say-yay…”
Angel’s darker than usual scowl made him stop.
Lorne's face fell. “Just me then,” he said.
A beat later the green faced, red suited demon threw his arms up in exasperation.
“Hey, look, I’m sorry, okay? But can I help it if I’m blessed with the need to express romance through the medium of song? Usually something by the motown greats…as I was about to share before tall dark and brooding here scared the music right out of me.”
He peered intently at Angel who was still locked in scowl mode.
“This is a happy day, big guy. So why the heavier than usual brow and the deep, deep worry lines? You look like someone stole your kitten.”
Sighing heavily, Angel strode past Lorne, heading for the office behind the reception desk.
“It’s complicated,” he said as he went. “Buffy and me…when we’re together, things get…messy…intense. But I’ll always do whatever I can to help her. I owe her.”
“You love her.”
But said nothing.
Nor did he turn back around.
A couple of seconds later and the taciturn vampire resumed his journey, disappearing in to the office, shutting the door firmly behind him. The signal was clear and well known to them all: vampire with a soul brooding. Do not disturb.
“He loves her, the big ox,” Lorne said to the now sealed up office.
Wesley patted The Host on the shoulder and in his clipped English accent, said softly, “He does indeed, Lorne. And that, as always, is precisely the problem. You should know from all those songs that love isn’t a fairytale story. More often than not love is pain and hurt and regret. It can bring people together but it can also tear them apart. And it can drive them utterly insane. As well as the ultimate joy it can be the ultimate torture. And no matter how much you might love that one special person, there are just some loves, some stories, that aren’t ever meant to be.”
With that, the ex-watcher and one time rogue demon hunter wandered away, leaving Lorne alone in the grand lobby of the Hyperion Hotel; alone to ponder the story of Buffy and Angel, the epic romance doomed by a curse. An impossible love that seemed mostly pain and heartache leading to eventual separation. And yet, despite all of that, somehow, and for some reason, the two of them were always being pulled back in to each other’s worlds.
Destiny…fate…life, whatever! Sometimes it could just be so cruel.
The sharp suited demon shook his head sadly.
“This calls for some Nina Simone, the poor lambs.”
With a heavy heart, Lorne began making his way back upstairs to help Fred with yet more room preparing. Half way up the stairs he started to quietly sing a slow, mournful number, something he considered far more suitable for this particular story.
“I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.
I wish I could break all the chains holding me.
I wish I could say all the things that I should say.
Say 'em loud say 'em clear for the whole round world to hear.
I wish I could share all the love that's in my heart.
Remove all the bars that keep us apart…”