‘Ease off, we’re clear….’ Faith said, as she realized they’d really made it out. She gripped the green vinyl seat in front of her tightly to keep from being flung around while Robin brought the bright yellow school bus to a screeching halt in the middle of the hi-way that lead out Sunnydale, California.
The road was uncommonly deserted for this time of day.
Robin was in bad shape, but he’d managed to drive them out of the town that was collapsing into itself and put the bus in park before he passed out, his injuries suddenly getting the better of him.
Buffy, clinging to the brake lights on the roof of the bus and through the sheer force of her will, had not been thrown from the top as it came to its full stop. As soon as it did, she vaulted off the roof and shuddered with shaky relief while she gained her footing. Hearing engines in the distance, she turned curiously and glanced around the bus to see what they would be dealing with next.
Army trucks were hurtling toward them.
‘Great’ she thought absently.
They were going to only have a few moments before the trucks arrived. After that it would be a toss-up on the good news – bad news scale. Not…what they needed right now. Definitely something none of them should have to be dealing with at all, especially in the wake of all that had just happened.
The power structure of Universe had literally changed in the last 10 minutes and she…they, had been the ones to change it. It was all just a little heavy, at present.
Dawn flung the Emergency Door at the back of the bus open. Smiling broadly, she scrambled out as relief tsunamied through her. She threw her arms around her sister and squeezed, unconscious of the pain Buffy was in. Dawn had been sick with panic when the bus had raced away without her sister on board. The nausea had doubled when she caught sight of Buffy running for her life across the rooftops of Sunnydale trying to escape the collapsing town. At the last possible moment, Buffy had launched herself into the air and aimed for the bus. When Dawn heard her sister land on the roof a split second before driving out of the town proper, relief inserted itself where the panic had been. She’d been through it once before and didn’t ever want to live through it again. She thanked the Goddess silently that Buffy wasn’t dead and squeezed her tightly again.
‘It’s a miracle any of us are even standing here,’ Dawn thought, shakily.
Then she realized that Spike and Anya weren’t with them anymore and the sickness of grief, something she knew too well at 17, invaded the pit of her stomach to replace the fear. She clutched her sister even closer and thought, ‘Everyone leaves. It twisted through her middle, harder this time. ‘Anya…Spike…’ whispered through her mind and she swallowed hard, willing herself not to cry.
Giles walked around the open door at the end of the bus to join the Slayer and stared in consternation at the giant gaping crater in the earth that was once Sunnydale.
‘I don’t understand…what did this?’ he sputtered.
Buffy pulled herself from her sisters embrace turning to look at the crater.
The pain she was in, was honestly coming from everywhere. It showed itself as it washed over the blood smeared plains of her face. The wound in her side, the bruises all over her body, her bloody knuckles, all of it ached horribly, but it was insignificant to the pain in her chest where her heart should be.
‘Like it’s been sucked out.’ She thought, foggily.
‘Spike.’ She answered Giles, collecting herself slightly.
She walked toward the edge of the crater and acknowledged to herself that he was down there. He was down there with her mother and Anya and she’d left him…’left them,’ there. She’d seen Anya’s mangled body, sliced nearly in half, lying in a pool of blood while she ran out of the building. She mentally shook her head to clear the image
‘Xander…’ she thought. Pain twisted in her chest while she thought of how he was going to take it. Numbly, she stared at the gaping maw in the ground, unable to process it. The white noise in her ears and head was consuming everything except her most basic thoughts.
‘I left them.’ She accused, guiltily.
She didn’t even know how many yet.
‘They’re all down there. With home…with him.’
He’d saved them. Those of them who were left.
‘Not many.’ She reminded herself, as if she could forget.
He’d saved them and the world. He’d channeled the sun through that entirely too large, gaudy, mythical champion necklace that Angel had brought her. He’d used his soul to do it and dusted thousands of Vampires, including himself, in the process, he’d saved them all.
He’d done it only moments ago.
He’d been there with her and now he was just…’gone.’
Like mom, there one minute and gone the next.
Dawn hesitantly walked a few steps with Buffy to the edge of the crater. ‘Just to look.’ She argued with herself. There really wasn’t anything left to look at and as if the Universe had needed to make its point, the ‘Welcome to Sunnydale’ sign fell morbidly into the hole. She stopped walking and stared at the place it had just been. It was almost as if it couldn’t stand to be parted from the rest of the town. It might have been a bit of comic relief, if grief were not consuming her so fully at the moment.
Buffy knew how the sign felt. She knew it was stupid. It didn’t stop her from contemplating hurling herself in after it for a moment…it was only a quick moment.
The rest of the Scoobies and anyone else not mortally wounded were making their way off the bus. They aimlessly milled about right in the middle of the deserted Hi-Way, lost in the trauma of all that had happened in the last hour. Raw emotion held each of them hostage while they attempted to pull themselves together while simultaneously falling apart.
‘So, did you see?’ Xander asked Andrew, grabbing at his arm, preventing him from joining the others at the back of the bus.
Andrew shook his head in shamefaced denial refusing to look Xander in the eye. He didn’t want to have to tell his friend what she’d done. ‘I was scared.’ he stammered, trying to make his way past Xander. ‘I’m sorry…’ he mumbled.
Xander stopped Andrew forcefully with a rough hand to the shoulder.
‘Did you see what happened?’ he demanded, insisting on being answered.
‘I mean, was she…?’ There was a thread of hope in his voice.
Pain flashed in Andrews downcast eyes as the memory of a fierce and brave Anya barreled through his mind on its loop once again.
‘I’m standing in front of Xander spattered in her blood.’ He acknowledged to himself, weeping. He really didn’t want to talk to Xander, but the very least he could do was put his friend at ease. Choking, he marshaled his courage, lifted his head, squared his shoulders, looked Xander in the eye and did his best to honor her.
‘She was incredible…’ he praised, the truth of it shining in his eyes.
Xander quietly accepted what he already knew. ‘Anya is gone.’ The pain of Andrew’s words burned and roared through his soul quick and violent. His lips quivered and he covered his reaction with a hollow smile for Andrew’s sake.
‘She saved my life.’ Andrew answered, in disbelief.
Xander, squeezing Andrew’s shoulder in hollow reassurance, didn’t buckle under the weight of finally knowing. It wasn’t Andrew’s fault she was dead, but the reality was, she was gone and it was hard to be understanding. ‘Someday I will get past it,’ Xander promised himself, without speaking. For now, though, the pain was fire in his guts. So, he did the best he could.
‘That’s my girl. Always doing the stupid thing.’ he said proudly, lips trembling.
Shrugging through the tears brimming in his eyes he turned away before his resolve faltered and he slugged Andrew, whose own tears were threatening to fall.
He just couldn’t take Andrew’s tears right now.
Andrew, nodding his acceptance, knew they would revisit this someday and whatever happened between the two of them, he knew he deserved it.
Back on the bus, Faith was doing her best to keep Robin with her. He was drifting in and out of consciousness and his coffee brown skin was much too cool and slick. That was worrisome.
‘It’s not bad,’ she lied baldly, forcing him to focus on her.
‘You just sit here. I’ll get someone to look at it,’ she assured him, quickly turning away to find Violet.
‘Hey…’ he gasped, stopping her, struggling to speak, ‘Did we make it?’
She turned back to him and kneeling so he could see her, she put a good face on it for him.
‘We made it. We won.’ She nodded at him and smiled haltingly.
It was all she could manage without her voice cracking.
Hearing her say they’d won was all he needed to hear. A contented smile briefly washed through the dark pools of his eyes and then he was just gone. Eyes that had been filled with peace and life an instant earlier were now glassy and vacant.
Faith’s heart dropped out of her chest.
‘He’ll be back. Just wait a second.’ She coaxed herself.
Staring into his charming, oftentimes fascinating face she patiently willed him to breathe. She waited and then determinedly waited another beat. Nothing. Resignation and regret overtook her then. She reached to close those soft, endlessly expressive eyes and the future that she’d given a few tentative thoughts to slipped through her trembling fingers.
Abruptly, Robin pulled in a ragged breath startling her and happiness coursed its way back into her nervous system while he took a few more breaths, forcing his body into the rhythm of staying alive.
‘Surprise,’ he gasped out and smiled at her.
He was tired and seriously wounded, but he was back…for now.
‘Thank G… thank everything.’ She thought with pleasure, knowing that it was going to be okay. That he would be okay and that he wasn’t going anywhere. She took up the mantra and repeated it a few more times willing herself to keep believing it.
Robin, focused on breathing and thought about what his mother, who he had seen in the light a few moments ago, had said to him. He’d wanted to stay with her. It had been so long since he’d seen her and all he’d wanted to do was stay, but she’d refused him. She’d sent him back and told him to fight, because he hadn’t lived yet. So, he was back and there was Faith, encouraging him to keep breathing with that sassy crooked smile of hers. He noticed then, that for the first time in a very long while, it reached her eyes.
Violet arrived to check over his injuries. Faith moved so Violet could work on him and she stepped off the bus. She needed to find Xander, she had to tell him about Anya, but as she stepped off the bus, she stopped to listen as Andrew told Xander what happened. It hurt her to hear it. They’d lost a lot of Slayers today and it was hard to accept that Anya was gone too. She’d seen the ex-demon’s body as she ran from the collapsing building. They hadn’t been close, but she’d enjoyed being a witness to the woman’s relationship with Xander. If those two could find love with each other, there was hope for her. She shook her head and forced the feelings away. Feelings weren’t going to do any of them any good right now. They had the rest of the day to get through and she could hear trucks in the distance.
‘Couldn’t be anything good…’ She thought.
Willow approached just as Xander turned away from Andrew. Faith looked on while Willow read the tortured expression on her oldest, dearest, bestest, friends face. Tearfully they reached for and held each other tightly, if silently, taking care to not upset the other. They held each other until the pulverizing grief had passed over them and they were once again numb enough to get through the next few minutes. They went to join Buffy and the others at the back of the bus next to the edge of the crater.
Andrew stared after them and Faith followed the pair to the edge of the crater, taking it in fully for the first time. ‘Holy shit…’ she thought, but said, ‘Looks like the Hell Mouth is closed for business.’ She knew after what she’d seen between Xander, Andrew and then Willow, the only thing that was getting them through the rest of this day without someone having a mental break was going to be heavy sarcasm.
‘There’s another one in Cleveland.’ Giles informed her.
Everyone turned and glared at him.
‘No way in hell was she moving to Cleveland.’ Faith thought.
‘Not to spoil the moment.’ Giles added sheepishly.
He bent to pick up a rock that was glinting in the sunlight. He was already worried about what was next. He could hear trucks coming towards them and he knew the others could as well. It had already been a hell of a day. He desperately wanted a cup of tea and he had absolutely no idea of what to expect the next few days. It was all just, unprecedented.
‘What had just happened?’ He just didn’t know. He tossed the rock into the crater.
‘We saved the world’ Xander said, as if answering Giles unspoken question and changing the subject all at the same time. It was a hurried attempt to stave off his brain destroying grief, now that he was truly getting the full view of the nothing that was left of his life. And besides that, he always set the tone when things got too heavy and things were definitely too heavy. No way was he going to let Faith step into that roll. It was literally the only thing he had left in the world.
‘We changed the world’ Willow replied, in her correcting tone.
‘I can feel them, Buffy. All over. Slayers are awakening everywhere.’
The spell she had used to turn the potentials into full-fledged Slayers had been so powerful that the light of the Universe had flowed through her and had momentarily turned her hair pure white. It had been the most amazing experience of her life. All over the world girls who may have been called to be the Slayer were now in fact full-fledged Slayers. She really could feel all of them coming into their powers.
‘Evil, has been put on notice.’ Willow thought, stolidly.
‘We will have to find them.’ Dawn said, taking her verbal cues from them.
‘Yes.’ Willow agreed, pushing positivity as well. ‘We will.’
This pain was so much more than physical. They’d suffered through loss before, but it was different this time. They’d just lost everything. Through the smog of anguish, they didn’t fully understand what it all meant for them yet, but right now they would deal with it in the only way they knew how.
Laughter and hope.
Perseverance had gotten them through each time the loss was too heavy to bear. It had brought them through Jenny and Joyce and entire year without Buffy, when their unhealing wounds lay open pouring out their grief. They each, in turn, hoped it would be enough this time, because…’damn.’
‘Yes, because The Mall was actually in Sunnydale so there is no hope of going there tomorrow.’ Giles teased, recalling the conversation they’d had not 30 minutes before in the hallway of Sunnydale High. They’d been quaking with fear and in need of a little lighthearted banter. ‘What should we do tomorrow when we are done with this little chore,’ seemed to be the perfect tension breaker.
Buffy smiled uneasily and ignored the burning pain from the wound in her side. The sensation from the wound told her it was already healing. The burning pain in her heart, however was different. She would need her family to help heal it. They would get through this with each other, just like they always did. It was going to take some time, but they would be okay…someday.
The trucks were so close. The moment this bubble was shattered…
‘Spike…’ her heart grieved, wishing everything would slow down.
‘We destroyed The Mall? I fought on the wrong side!’ Dawn joked bravely, while she stared all the way down to the bottom of the crater. Her mother was down there she mused while listening to the silly banter go on around her. Of course, mom was in her coffin and had been for years, but none of that mattered to her peace of mind. Her mother was down there with the monsters and it was eating at her. She shook herself a little forcing away such dark thoughts with the reminder that she had to be strong…’for Buffy.’
‘All those shops gone.’ Xander chimed in. ‘The Gap, Starbucks, Toys R Us. Who will remember all those landmarks and tell the world about them?’
‘We have a lot of work ahead of us.’ Giles sighed.
‘Can I push him in?’ Faith laughed, as she gave Giles a little shove.
‘You’ve got my vote.’ Willow laughed.
‘I just wanna sleep yo! For like a week!’ Faith forced a laugh again.
‘I guess we all could. If we wanted to.’ Dawn offered.
‘Yeah! The First is scrunched! So, what do you think we should do, Buffy?’ Willow asked tentatively.
Buffy numbly stared out over the nothing that used to be her home.
Faith added, ‘Yeah, you’re not the one and only chosen one anymore. How does that feel?’
‘Yeah, Buffy, what are we gonna do now?’ Dawn asked, her gaze still followed her sisters out over the open space before them, just now realizing that they didn’t have a home anymore.
Buffy thought over the last several minutes. They’d been pushing through the detached hysteria brought on by the adrenaline rush of their own survival and the crushing reality that lay before them. Reaching. Trying to work themselves into a better state of mind. The atmosphere was fragile and one misstep would have each of them succumbing to the actuality, that they were staring into a giant hole in the ground that held everything that defined each and every one of them. It was all so much dust now. The smallest thing would have them, well her, screaming into the void, weeping out the incalculable pain swamping her soul.
Softly, through the timber of Dawns voice, Buffy heard Spike’s command reverberate in the core of her body and she couldn’t help but smile for the love it brought with it.
The power of that love flooded through her and tears filled her already glassy eyes.
‘She was going to live.’
She was going to take the Gift that he had given her and make him proud.
She was going to LIVE.
The trucks coming toward them were not going to change that.