Buffy’s thirty years old and she doesn’t lie about her age.
It’s a badge of honor that she’s made it this far—and if she reaches forty maybe then she’ll think about being less than honest about her age. She’s thirty, still a Slayer and she doesn’t think she’d have it any other way. The shape of her life is comfortable—despite the certainty of turmoil and difficult battles—but she never has to go it alone and that is something she’s finally accepted.
She isn’t the only one out there anymore.
Buffy still dreams of the First Slayer. These dreams are not discussed with others, never analyzed for the greater meaning. She already knows that she’s broken the ancients bonds that have condemned the Slayers to brief violent lives. Now she and the other Slayers of the world must walk together in this new world.
In her dreams, she guides the First Slayer out of the floods that have spilled over her bone-strewn desert into the dense forest that’s only grown larger since the first time she dreamed of the Slayer. They watch fireflies dance through the branches and when a flame ignites dry underbrush, they smother the struggling fire with their bare hands.
The Slayer would laugh in delight but she has not spoken in any of these recent dreams.
When Buffy holds the hands of the Slayer, she doesn’t feel the dried blood and caked mud anymore; the scars and calluses are as strong as ever, marks of a true craftsman. Craftswoman.
Eventually the Slayer will retreat, back to the familiarity of the desert and floods of her bloodied history, the popping crunch of bones broken underfoot. There is no way to unmake the past.
It’s the anniversary of the day Sunnydale was left a smoking crater and Spike sends her his usual care package. It arrives via special courier promptly at an inopportune time and Buffy doesn’t like to think too deeply on how weirdly prompt the delivery is, year after year.
There's the main attraction carefully sealed in a durable envelope, a series of photographs of surprisingly good quality. If Buffy had to guess, out of everyone she’s ever known or met, she'd not have picked Spike to become addicted to the camera. His shots are rarely in color but when they are in full color, she feels a little breathless looking at them.
He captures his subjects with a devastating precision and she sometimes wonders if Angel encourages Spike’s calculating focus. Because she knows that they continue to fight together. Spike shows her the evidence and even without the pictures, she knew it. It pays to have a super-powered witch as your best friend.
There are never direct shots of Angel but there are glimpses, a strange angle off a shoulder, blurring the background of murky, crumbling buildings that could be located anywhere. A wind-swept fold of black fabric (a jacket, she assumes) obscures a clock tower in, she assumes from the rest of the pictorial evidence, Switzerland. She has no idea what business they had there but a brief consult with Willow might confirm demonic activity.
Buffy doesn’t consult with her. She trusts her instincts when it comes to them and the mutual agreement, that they have their missions and she has her own, has kept both teams peaceful, if hesitant, allies.
Spike never sends any photographs of himself. He doesn't want to change her last image of him, below the ground of Sunnydale High, amulet burning him up.
They did tend to drift towards theatrics together and she figures it's fitting, as though she deserves it, an end to what they should have never been.
The lovingly wrapped pastries he gives her are another matter altogether.
On the second anniversary of Sunnydale’s end, Spike sent her the first of these care packages. A note had been slipped in between a photo of an empty bottle of whiskey resting on a table’s edge and a long-fingered hand, knuckles bruised, loosely pulled into a lazy fist.
She read the note with Spike's voice in her mind, Do you know how easy it is to get Angel singing like a bird when he's had some good Irish whiskey? Pathetic, he is. And I'm not talking about the sounds he makes when he tries to sing. Bloody Manilow.
It had been a dozen cookies. Freshly baked and in all varieties.
She's never going to live that down. She did give out the cookies as rewards during a training session to a bright-eyed team of Slayers, so some good did come of it.
This time it's apple strudel and it's delicious and needed as she'd spent the night pouring over hunting briefs. Being a grownup is so weird.
There's plenty of action and don't get her wrong, she does fly by the seat of her pants pretty much all the time, but she has to pretend to be ordered and prepared. It really does help to know what's going on in the field. And there are a lot of fields to cover.
It’s why she’s thankful she’s got Willow’s witchy powers (now in tune with Mother Earth so much it’s occasionally weird to talk to Willow because she’s kind of doing her astral projection thing all the time) and the magical powers of the BlackBerry and iPhone to keep her in touch with the happenings all over the globe.
Sure sometimes she gets an emailed report riddled in text-talk that not even she can figure out. Rarely does she admit her failure, if anything she’ll get a cleaned up report from someone who can keep Buffy’s language fail on the QT.
You have to make the Internet your bitch, B, Faith tells her, too many times. Faith does not make the Internet her bitch. She’s torn through enough phones and PDAs that she has to buy them on her own dime now and only sometimes does she remember to forward her new number. The email address is at least always the same.
Keep in touch has gotten a whole lot less fun, Faith has said, time and again.
They look up to us, Buffy has told her and Faith always has a smart-assed response to that.
No, they look up to you. They don’t want to end up like me.
In one of Buffy’s pettier moments, she snapped, That’s why I need you.
The history between them is changing slowly, like the winding end of a migraine and one day she believes that the rift will be fully healed.
Before she logs off and does her early morning jog along the beach, she gets an email from Faith. There are attachments, which might mean that Faith is turning in a once-in-a-Blue-Moon full report. Heart sinking, she clicks on the email only to find a series of photographs of Faith and Connor, both suntanned and looking oddly matched as ever. The preppy look Connor has going for him contrasts sharply against Faith’s garish print shirt and grommet detailed leather pants.
They make a good fighting team. Faith’s still as wild as ever, in her Faith-esque way, but she’s become the best Slayer out there not working directly for Buffy. There’s no friendship between them but it was always deeper than that, and Buffy has learned to trust Faith in a way she never fully let herself do before.
The betrayals may still sting, even after all these years but they’ve had time to let the wounds close and the scar tissue serves as a reminder that they can survive the worst even when they bring it on themselves.
Faith’s become dedicated to working with difficult cases especially with those Slayers who can’t get a handle on their powers. She seems to actually like the work and sometimes say it’s her real calling.
Connor sought out Faith after he’d gotten a handle on his powers, saying he remembered her even if she didn’t and while Faith sometimes expresses her disbelief—How’d Angel manage to hide a magic kid? One day the big guy should learn he should say it with flowers and stop sacrificing himself.— she kind of looks after Connor like a kid brother.
It’s very weird. But it works so Buffy doesn’t complain. She has her reasons for believing Connor’s honest about who he is though she doesn’t exactly share with the class how she knows that’s he’s true to his word.
She responds back to the email with a quick comment: When are you going to get Connor out of the Abercrombie & Fitch?
Faith’s quick on the draw. You get that means naked Connor? Not gonna happen. Scarecrow’s got a thing for the older women and I’m not old. Not even 30 like you, B. And he’s raiding H&M. Preppy memories are nasty. Hard to get him into bitchin’ stuff.
Clearly this means Buffy should treat herself to a day at the mall since she’s failed in identifying clothes. Her credit card isn’t going to abuse itself.
However there’s jogging to be done and eventually sleep will happen as she’s still burning through the first wave of energy post-jetlag. It’ll catch up with her, so she resigns to again slip out of being hip and fashionable. Morning jog, short workout session and then a long, serious nap: that’s her plan for today.
Back to being a grownup.
They burned the First Slayer’s body.
She was told that, straight from the Slayer’s mouth. Well. In a way.
Dream logic does work in mysterious ways.
It began as she brought a bouquet of wildflowers to delight the Slayer, an enticement to walk with her out of the flooded desert.
There’d been a hastily-made dam in the middle of the waterlogged desert. (One day it won’t be a desert any more and won’t that be something?) There in the wet, sandy ground rested the remains of the First. The bones were charred and broken.
They used them in spells, Buffy realized. They tried to steal out the magic that had been shoved in there and it had been a foolish choice. The Slayer was let out of herself.
She nodded then to Buffy, and smiled.
You do not stop being a Slayer.
They worked at breaking apart the dam, fast, strong hands crushing rock and bone and driftwood until the waters washed away the Slayer’s remains.
No one can use her now.
The Slayer walked with Buffy into the forest, this time of her own volition.
Buffy’s getting better at fighting off regrets. They sneak up on her, like particularly nasty demonic ninjas, and she does her best at fending them away, back to the recesses of her mind. She doesn’t mourn Heaven anymore.
She remembers a single perfect day and the taste of ice cream mingled with salt on her tongue. But she forgot it for a long time and too much has changed for her to attempt to relive the past. It’s a memory that she does revisit when looking for that perfect, blissful moment that sends her over the edge when nothing else will quite do it.
She guards it selfishly.
She remembers a life without Dawn and refuses to accept it as her actual life history. Dawn is more than faked memories.
There is too much living to do and she cannot let the regrets sink her. The years have been to her, neither kind nor unkind, and she has lived the years no longer focused on her end but that there are more years to come.
One day she will be forty. Fifty. Sixty. Miles to go and she fears none of them.
Buffy has seen Angel exactly five times in the last five years. The number is not purely coincidental.
They have an annual meeting. Not a date or an anniversary. A meeting. It’s not something that they discuss or explain to others (well, Buffy’s sure Spike knows since he’s gotten Angel to confess embarrassing things for Spike to annoy and blackmail him about). It is exactly what it is. A meeting.
And if there’s sex, that’s only between her, Angel, and the bedsheets.
It wasn’t planned and now, reflecting on how it did start, perhaps this was always how it was supposed to be, despite the rocky start.
There’d been overlaps in missions culminating in a huge blowup over unraveling a nasty demon organization in the Ukraine. Angel had been working on the inside while Buffy had sent out her best team of Slayers to take out the head boss.
The losses were too many. She’d gone tearing after Angel, rage and grief the worst of partners as she took him on. There’d been a moment that she’d gone too far. Where she’d self-righteously laid the blame at Angel’s feet, deriding his way of doing things, telling him that she’d become repulsed that this is how he’d fight for the greater good. It should have torn apart everything.
It should have been their end.
No divine intervention stopped them. It was the military, working their own covert ops, who accidentally stumbled across Buffy and well. The results, they were not pretty.
There might have been some licking of wounds, after realizing that it wasn’t Angel’s interference that had botched the mission, and then a serious, reasonably mature discussion that they had to stop working against each other and then, things had progressed.
Words were not enough and she could not let a poor apology ruin things beyond repair. She kissed him and they fucked out bitter regrets and unburdened griefs to each other in the dark, in a hasty attempt to ruin any potential for the purity of perfect happiness.
That is impossible now and she finds herself grateful for it. She is beyond blind optimism now.
They’ve already made plans for their meeting, a month’s time, on the other side of the world.
He’ll ask her about Connor then.
She’ll ask him about Spike.
They won’t ask of anything from each other.
The First Slayer stands knee-deep in the forest’s river. There was a desert ages ago but the dreams of many Slayers have brought life to the valley of death. The clay of life is cracking off her body, piece by piece.
Buffy is not sure what she will become. The Slayer doesn’t entirely knows either, watching herself be slowly reborn.
In Buffy’s hands are the Slayer’s weapons. The stake lines up well against her right palm, the man-made scythe burns hot in her left hand. They are relics and the Slayer holds out her hands to Buffy.
Buffy doesn’t hand them over.
The burden is neither of theirs to carry alone.
She grinds the stake into the ground where one day it will grow strong and beautiful and should the need come it can be remade again. And as for the scythe, she cannot reject it and will not, for the fight will never be over and the Slayer is impatient. Her hands clasp over Buffy’s.
Come with me, Buffy says. You need us.
What of the fire?
The words echo in the forest.
Let it burn.
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Summary:In her dreams, she brings the First Slayer out of the desert.
Author’s Notes: Set after the finales of BtVS & AtS. Major thanks go to Stef and Memphis for the beta work.