In a perfect world, Buffy was convinced that the Turok-Han ubervamps would've been destroyed in the implosion of the Sunnydale Hellmouth. They had paid an enormous price that day, after all, and Buffy couldn't help but fear that they should've gotten more for their trouble.
But Buffy's life was far from a perfect world. Half of the time, she was convinced the whole thing was some kind of horrible myth written by the absolute cruelest of storytellers, a bloodthirsty deity that killed for no reason other than to relish in the pain of those forced to watch and go on with their lives.
(As Dawn so often said, the Slayer General was getting morbid in her old age.)
(Of thirty-two, Buffy was always quick to point out.)
Whatever the state of the universe and her own attitude toward life, though, Buffy found herself in Cleveland ten years after she'd closed her first Hellmouth. Ubervamps had started crawling out of this one, too, and while she hardly thought there was any chance of closing another Hellmouth for good, something definitely had to be done.
So, as always, Buffy Summers was there to do it.
Buffy smirked at the Turok-Han. The things hadn't gotten any easier to fight in the past ten years, but she'd gotten much more practice with it than she liked. And she had a few more tricks up her sleeves now than she'd had back in Sunnydale.
"You sure you wanna do this, batboy?" she asked the creature, though she still wasn't entirely sure if the things were sentient or not, let alone capable of understanding her. "'Cause I'm perfectly willing to let you just crawl back into your hellhole. We can just pretend this never happened."
The vampire snarled at her, and Buffy watched its stance shift as it prepared to attack. "Yeah, I didn't think so." She shrugged. "Bring it on, ugly."
It flew toward her as swiftly as if it was an actual bat on the wind, and Buffy dodged out of the way with the effortless grace of a woman who had been fighting vampires for over fifteen years. It was no wonder the younger Slayers looked up to her. (And so what if they had given her such a horrible codename as "the Slayer General"? It was the thought that counted, right?)
The Turok-Han rounded on her quickly, moving much faster--much more instinctively--than the typical fledgling vamps Buffy had spent her every night dusting during her school days. She dodged again, and her heel connected with the thing's back once she was behind it. It tumbled to the ground at her feet, and she leaped upon it, stake ready to swing.
But the thing moved even faster than she thought it able; it rolled, massive muscles rippling beneath sickly white skin, and Buffy's eyes went wide as she found herself pinned by the weight of it. It shifted as she struggled, its surprisingly immense weight still barely enough to old her, but she couldn't seem to pull herself free.
The Turok-Han snarled again, and claw-like fingers twisted into her loose hair, wrenching her head back with a single sharp movement. She brought her hands up, her fingers crawling toward its eyes as she tried to protect her neck--
--but then its fangs were on her skin and in her throat, and Buffy screamed until her vision burst with light.
The spell came almost too late. Buffy's heart was still pounding like any beat could be her last as she watched the pile of dust left by the ubervamp blow off in the breeze. Buffy rose from the asphalt with a hand on her throat to staunch the bleeding, and her gaze fell upon the orb of conjured sunlight and the witch standing behind it.
"Are you alright?" she asked, her voice as gentle and concerned as it always was whenever one of the old gang got hurt. The glowing orb at her side faded into nothing.
"Yeah…" Buffy said, dusting herself off with her other hand. "Close call, though, huh?"
Tara nodded. "Too close."
Too close, indeed. Buffy had been doing this for nearly two decades now, and few fights had ever been as close as that one. There'd been the Master, of course, and Glory, and that hair-metal reject vampire that had prompted her to…
Spike. That was the near-death experience that made her ask Spike about the Slayers he killed. The night that he told her about his human life. The night that she got her first glimpse of the man Spike could be in spite of the demon that he was.
Buffy cleared her throat, trying to quickly blink away her sudden tears. It had been far too many years since Sunnydale to still be crying about Spike.
"Does it hurt?"
Buffy's gaze shot to Tara. The woman's expression was so full of sympathy that Buffy could tell Tara didn't really believe that Buffy's eyes were watering from pain, even if she didn't know exactly what was wrong.
"A little bit."
"It's been a long time since you were bitten, hasn't it?"
Buffy hesitated, then nodded. "Sure has. It only happened a few times; shouldn't have even happened once." Slayers who got bit tended to be dead Slayers; but then, Buffy had always been a bit of an outlier. "The Master, Angel, and Dracula."
Tara's brow lifted subtly. "Not Spike?" Eyes downcast, Buffy shook her head. She didn't want to talk about this. How had she wound up talking about this? "You still miss him," Tara said, and of course she could tell; it was Tara. "You know there's nothing wrong with that, don't you?"
"It's been a decade."
"It's been a decade for me, too. Would you blame me if I said I still miss Willow?"
"Of course not. But that's different. Spike died fighting; he sacrificed himself to save us. Willow was shot. By Warren, of all people. "
"It's a bit different, yes," Tara said gently, "but that doesn't mean either of them deserves to be mourned any less than the other. I don't know about you, but I'll mourn them both for the rest of my life."
"He was nice to me. With my family, and after Glory, and just in general. And he died to save me as much as he died for everyone else--except maybe you. Of course I mourn him."
Buffy shook her head. Thoughts tumbled through her mind, as if a floodgates she'd been guarding for years had suddenly broken. "I just want to move on at some point. We're not getting any younger, after all."
Tara laughed. "We're only in our earlier thirties, Buffy. We've both got decades left to get what we want out of life."
Somehow, Buffy had never been able to believe that. It had never seemed possible for a Slayer to live a happy life, let alone a long one. But Tara said it so certainly that even Buffy had to smile as she wiped a damp eye with her thumb. "Thanks."
The witch smiled so sweetly that for a moment, Buffy wondered if it had been the thing that had first drawn Willow to her; if Willow had felt anywhere near as warm and fuzzy and content as Buffy did when it was turned in her direction, Buffy totally got it.
Buffy offered up a little smile of her own. The wound on her neck had stopped bleeding, and she could already feel the slightly itchy sensation of her accelerated healing. "We better go check on the other girls," Buffy said. "Might want to get that sunlight ready."
As the two walked off down the dark street just a few miles above the Cleveland Hellmouth, Buffy couldn't shake the feeling that her burden had just become a little bit lighter.