Chapter One: A Final Toast
Disclaimer: Here's a little known secret. All of the characters in Buffy and Angel are actually mine. Joss Whedon and the people at Mutant Enemy stole them from me when I wasn't looking. I now reclaim them in the name of writers everywhere! (Diabolical laughter; one eye twitches uncontrollably) All right, all right. I only wish that they were mine. And I don't have any source of income so suing me is not a viable option
Summary: So the First Evil has been defeated, the Hellmouth has been sealed and the power of the Slayer has been released. Without breaking into song, Where do we go from here?
Authors Note: The story takes place three hours after the series finale 'Chosen'. Also, I may be taking some liberties with the Harris and Rosenberg families but since we have heard very little from them I think I can be forgiven.
Chapter One:A Final Toast
It was pretty clear to everyone that Principal Wood was in no shape to drive. Xander hadn't been sure whether his depth perception made him suitable to drive Dawn out of town; much less drive a busload of Slayers. Buffy's mishaps behind the wheel of any vehicle were legendary, and while Willow certainly knew how to drive, Giles questioned the wisdom of letting someone who had just had the equivalent of Wiccan electroshock therapy be allowed behind the wheel of the last school bus to ever come out of Sunnydale.
So for now, Rupert Giles the man who had served as a watcher over the Slayer who had lived longest in the history of the Council, who had personally survived nine (by his own count)Armageddons, a man who had spent years of his life learning about demon lore and black magic found himself in a position that troubled him more than nearly anything.
Normally when placed in a situation which made him feel out of sort, he would have taken the opportunity to polish his glasses, a gesture which usually served to comfort him. There were only two small things that stopped him from doing so now: 1) To do so would involve taking his hands of the wheel and his eyes of the road, and 2) he wasn't wearing his glasses. SO he kept driving down the highway trying to understand why he had this feeling of dread at the pit of his stomach.
There was, of course, the possibility that it had to do with the fact that Andrew had taken the opportunity to lead all of the Slayers in a round of campfire songs. Before today, Giles had been one of the fortunate few to have never heard the complete lyrics to 'The Wheels On The Bus' and it was an experience that he well could have gone to his grave without. However, he knew that the last few months had been incredibly stressful for everyone and if this helped the potentials (Slayers, he corrected himself in his mind) let off steam well by all means he could take their discordant voices.
But he knew that his dismay was most likely do to the fact that he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. He knew that Buffy, Willow and Xander had thought that they with the closing of the Hellmouth they could put their days of fighting evil behind them forever. Giles only wished things were that simple.
For one thing, since he had come back to Sunnydale, he had the feeling that the First could not be defeated. He had tried to stop Anya from constantly speaking so defeated, but in truth, he had believed that she was the only one thinking clearly about the whole thing. The First had managed to do something that had not been thought possible by anyone, destroy the Watcher's Council and eliminate most of the Slayer line. And he had held out little hope that even Buffy could stop so mighty a force.
When Buffy had proposed her idea about using the power of the scythe in order to make every potential Slayer into a real Slayer, he had thought that it was a brilliant idea. He couldn't help but think that the late Quentin Travers and his fellow narrow minded Watchers would have paled at the mere suggestion of such an idea. Dealing with one independent minded Slayer would be difficult enough; dealing with two had been harder. But having all the potential Slayers in the world with the power in their hands would make a lesser man want to curl up and take a very long nap.
Because he couldn't see any other way to defeat the First, he thought that it had to be done. What he didn't tell any of the others was that he believed that their would be consequences. As he had taught Willow, he believed that there was a balance to all things, particularly those that concerned good and evil. A disruption of that balance had occurred after Buffy's second death and more importantly, her second resurrection. That change had helped the First evil begin its manifestation that had nearly brought about the end-times. Who knew what kind of evil force would arise to match the ascension of dozens, if not hundreds of Slayers?
For that matter, who knew if the First Evil had been vanquished? Buffy and Faith had both said that it was history, but they----like everyone else--- had not stayed around to see its death throes. The closing of the Hellmouth seemed to symbolize that it would never again emerge, but maybe all that it meant was that it could no longer use it as a resource. There were other hellmouths, other axis' of evil that it might be able to emerge from. For all they knew, all they had managed to do was piss it off royally.
Giles old boy, you really need a vacation. Here it is , you have just witnessed an event that will change the battle of good and evil and all you can do is look on the dark side. You've been under a monumental strain for the last six months. For God's sake, you are entitled to take a break. Everybody is..
It took the ex-watcher a full second to realize that the voice speaking in his head was his own. He had gotten so used to hearing the constant chatter of being around a group of teenagers, he had nearly forgotten what his own voice sounded like. And the advice was sensible. He had spent so long fighting the forces of darkness, he couldn't remember the last time that he had just rested.
We all need to rest. But there something else that we all need to do first.
He drove about half a mile before he could find the off ramp for the next town. He couldn't tell how big it was but he hoped that it was large enough to have a sizable motel.
And a liquor store.
After Giles had told Buffy his idea, she had thought that it was good but then reminded him that there were thirty people on the bus and since they were for now on a budget, maybe Dom Peringon was not the wisest idea. He shrugged in that British way that he sometimes did and said he figured that they could do it with something domestic. He then agreed to go into the store alone seeing as none of them had brought their proper idea with them and it would be easier to avoid discussion in a new place.
So that left her at the front of the bus looking at the last survivors of the final battle of Sunnydale.
First she looked at Xander, the boy whose naturally sarcastic attitude hid one of the purest hearts she had ever known. He had never complained to anyone about being the only one in the group without any real power. But she knew that he had a lot more than anyone--- perhaps even he --- suspected. She didn't think that she would ever forget that speech he had given before the ill-fated first attack against the vineyard--- it might have been the most beautiful thing anyone had said about her.
Next to him was Dawn. Even now more than two years after she had learned what she really was, she could not stop thinking of her as her sister. A year ago, she had said that she was going to show her the world. She didn't know if she had completely lived up to her word but she had seen quite a lot, certainly more than she had seen at her age. She intended to fulfill the promise that she had made even if she was finished.
Across from her was Willow, holding Kennedy's hand. Even after what she had nearly done a year before, she was still her best friend. She had come a long away from the shy, bookish nerd who had a fear of frogs and speaking in public. It wasn't just that her power had made it possible for her to win the final battle. Willow really had been growing and changing more than anyone else. Maybe Buffy hadn't fully become the person she would be when she grew up, but Willow by now had. And there was a strong fearless woman who didn't care what anybody thought about her.
Behind her sat Faith, ministering to Principal Wood's injuries. (He may need to see a doctor, Buffy thought. Unlike the rest of us, he doesn't have any naturally restorative Slayer powers). It was a funny thing. For years, she had hated Faith. Because she had gone rogue, because she had been the final straw that had broken up her and Angel, but mostly because she had lost sight of the better parts of her nature. But over the past year, even before she had come back to Sunnydale, she had begun to think that the two of them weren't so different. There were times when a Slayer needed to be ruthless and cold. Faith had taken it to an extreme, of course, but she still thought that maybe you needed to make yourself an island in order to lead. And Faith really had changed. She wasn't the cocky Slayer she had met five years ago, or the cold-blooded killer she had been two years later. Maybe her time in jail really had changed for the better.
And filling up the rest of the bus were the twenty or so girls who had come to Sunnydale as merely potentials and now were full-blooded, power filled Slayers. It was funny. In all the excitement and stress that had passed over the last few months, all the energy that she had spent on getting them ready, she didn't think that she knew the names of more then half of them. She wondered how she could hide her ignorance and subtly relearn everybody's name.
Then she wondered whether or not she would need to.Now that the battle was over, now that she was no longer by default the leader of the forces of Good, not that she was no longer the one (or two if you wanted to get technical) born into every generation would they even listen to her? Did she even have the right to command their attention? And if the answer was yes, did she want to?
It was funny. For the better part of seven years, if anyone had asked her if she wanted to give up the mantle of leadership that was forced upon her by being the Slayer, she would have almost definitely answered 'Yes'. Now the opportunity to set it down had been dropped in her lap, and she found that she was reluctant to give it up. It had cost her happiness, it had broken up at least one relationship, it had even gotten her killed--- twice.
Yet it was so deep a part of who she was that she wasn't entirely sure what she would be without it.
This probably would have bothered a lot more than it was if she wasn't so damn tired. The events of the last few months--- hell, of the last few years--- made her when was the last time she had gotten a good nights sleep. For a moment, her mind flashed back to three days ago when she had slept peacefully in the arms of Sp--- no, she wouldn't think of him yet. She would think of him--- that was the reason that Giles had left the bus in the first place--- but not yet.
As if he had been drawn by some kind of psychic Slayer-Watcher connection, Giles took that moment to reappear. "Well I've got it. If everybody would care to come outside."
Since Buffy was at the front of the bus, she was the first one off and saw what Giles had bought. It was a box with four bottles of champagne and a bag full of plastic cups. "Buffy, if you could give me a hand."
"Giles, when opening a bottle of champagne it is traditional to use a corkscrew." The watcher fixed Buffy with one of those looks that only someone like Giles could give.
"Of course. How foolish of me to assume that someone capable of removing a scythe from an anvil would be capable of removing cork from a bottleneck."
Buffy took one of the bottles from Giles. "Wonderful. A new use for my talents. I can rent myself out as a Swiss Army Knife."
Xander and Willow had come off the bus and heard some of the last part. "What's the matter, Giles? Did you forget the Corkscrew of Geldon?
Giles gave off a sigh. "No, that was lost in The Great Fire of 1698."
Xander took this in. "Hey, I was kidding."
"So was I."
"So I guess you are allowed to have a sense of humor in England." said Buffy.
"Yes. ' sighed the watcher. 'It's just discouraged.'
Buffy paused. "Didn't you use that line once before?"
Giles thought it over for a moment. "I may have. I don't keep track."
"Well maybe you can take the time between apocalypses to work on your banter."
At this point Buffy managed to get the cork out. Giles got one of the cups out and managed to stop the bubbles from all flowing out. He gave the first glass to Willow and slowly began pouring into the others.
By this time Dawn had come out of the bus. Giles hesitated only a moment before handing her a cup.
"You sure that its OK for me to drink? This isn't corrupting a minor or something like that."
"I think that the traditional rules can be suspended after the aversion of an apocalypse." said Willow.
"Drink up, Dawnster. Tonight you become a teenager." said Xander.
"As you'll recall that happened two years ago." Everyone looked at Dawn, who had an expression of placid innocence on her face.
"Right, because two years ago you were fourteen. That's what you meant and not that you were created out of a ball of mystical energy and just became human and will somebody please shut me up before I put my foot any deeper in my mouth."
Dawn playfully slapped Xander on the head. "It's really good when I get to mess with somebody's head without saying anything."
"Yeah; I really got to work on that."
Faith and Principal Wood came out of the bus. Already most of the other Slayers, Kennedy and Rona at the head were starting to push ahead.
"Well, I hope that you broke out the good stuff, B. I feel that I could use something to get me going." That sounded enough like the old Faith for Buffy to look up somewhat alarmed.
"Faith, you do realize that this a wake and not a celebration." said Giles.
"Hey, I'm not feeling that zip-a-dee-doo-dah right now either. But the idea of a wake is more for those who are still living then those who are dead. The people who died did so to save the world and it's up to us to enjoy it."
That sounded so deep and adult it stunned some of the others into silence.. Faith noticed the expressions and gave a small smile. "What can I say? You spend time in the big house, you learn a little philosophy."
Buffy looked past her towards Wood. "You feeling well enough to do this,sir?" Wood gave a half smile that reminded Buffy how young he really was.
"I think that it's just Robin now. My title disappeared along when my school did." Robin nodded back to where Sunnydale had been. "Besides, it'll probably help dull the pain."
"Hey, you should consider yourself lucky. The last time the high school got trashed, the principal got eaten." said Xander.
"Yeah, I'm feeling really lucky right now."
Slowly the rest of the Slayers got off and Giles and Buffy did their best to make sure that they all got a glass of bubbly. Some of the younger girls were a little unsure if they could have a drink but the older ones were assured that it was a special occasion.
Buffy had just about thought that they were finished when she noticed that someone was still on the bus. "What happened to Andrew?" she asked Molly the Slayer who had been sitting nearest to him.
The tall and somewhat gawky girl shrugged. "I don't know. When you mentioned what we would be drinking for, he got kinda quiet."
This was somewhat surprising. Over the last few months, Andrew had been almost irritating in his cheerful way of mattering on, even after every major attack by The First. He had seemed all right even after the final battle.
"Maybe he's experiencing some kind of Post-Traumatic Stress." said Willow.
"Or Survivor Guilt." said Xander. "I know that he definitely didn't think that he would be coming back from this battle."
"What do you think that we should do with him?"Buffy didn't know either the long-term or short term answer to this problem. For six months, Andrew had filled the role of uninvited guest in the Summers house. He had run the gamut from sometimes being useful to being a damn nuisance. AT one time or another, everybody had wanted to throttle him--- not an idle threat since most of the people in the house had done it a couple of times.Buffy had never had any clear idea what she would do with him because she had not thought that he would survive and now that the battle was over, she had even less of an idea.
At this point Andrew ended her musings by emerging from the back of the bus.
"Sorry I took so long. It's just.... I didn't know if it was OK for me to celebrate with you guys. I mean, it's not like I'm a hero or anything." For a moment Buffy felt an emotion she had not associated with the nerdy would-be super-villain. Empathy.
Xander moved to him. "Hey, you made it through the fight, too. You've earned your seat at the table."
That was one of the few nice things that anyone had said to Andrew in a while. He acknowledged it with a half-smile and took a glass from him.
"All right. So how do we do this?" said Willow. For a moment, there was a long pause and Buffy realized that although death had been her near constant companion for almost seven years, she had gone to few funeral and fewer wakes. The silence was about to become awkward when Giles cleared his throat.
"We have just survived a great battle--- maybe not the biggest of all history, but certainly one of them." ("That's being modest," Faith whispered.") Um, rarely in the course of human history has so much been owed by so many to so few."
"Ah Giles, you're verging on plagiarism there." said Xander.
"Sorry I needed something. We are the fortunate ones, the survivors. It is up to us, the living, to keep in our hearts the memories of those who have fallen. Whether they were Slayers, potentials or other forces for good in their own way they were all heroes." Giles paused again. "Buffy? DO you have anything that you would like to add?"
It was a strange thing. Buffy was good at motivational speeches and fighting off scary monsters but she could be very awkward when it came to public speaking. For a moment she froze. Then suddenly it what she needed to say came to her.
"I think that it is very important that when we think of Sunnydale, we think not only of the vampires, demons and other monsters but also of the brave people who tried to stop them." What was coming next would make them uncomfortable but she knew it had to be said. "It's also important that we remember all those in Sunnydale who fell against the forces of darkness. The ones who died fighting and the ones who just didn't come back."
She glanced at the faces of her friends. From their expression, Buffy thought that she could guess who they were thinking of. Xander was thinking of Anya, his ex-fiancee who had died in the fighting, as well as his other friends like Jesse who had died at the hands of vampires. Willow was thinking of Tara, the Wiccan who she had fallen in love with and whose death had driven her to madness. Giles was probably thinking of Jenny Calendar, the computer teacher with whom he had loved before her death at the hands of Angel.
And Buffy was thinking of the others. The Slayers who had fallen in the battle with the First, whether at the hands of the Ubervamps or at Caleb's. Her old high school acquaintances like Larry and Jonathan and Harmony, all long dead now. Cassie, the shy freshman she had tried to save from the death that she had predicted for herself.
And Spike. When she had first started sleeping with him, she had told herself that it was out of revulsion, out of some perverse self-loathing. But in the end, she had realized that there was something good in him. Something worth saving and caring for. Something that made her love seem pure. Whatever his faults--- and they were manifold---- he had died a champion.
"To those who have fallen, we who live salute you." she said.
"Amen" said Giles, and they all drank.
The mood of silence and solemnity lasted forty-three seconds---pretty decent for people their age. It was Xander, perhaps inevitably, who broke it.
"You know, this may be the weakest champagne that I have ever tasted."
"And how much have you..." Giles didn't get a chance to finish the sentence.
"It does taste a little... You know off." said Willow.
"Is it supposed to taste this watery?" added Dawn.
"Let me look at that" said Principal Wood taking one of the bottles. "Domestic. From Houston."
"I didn't know that they bottled champagne there." said Buffy.
"Yes, it's right up there with Paris and the Napa Valley for wine production." said Willow.
"I thought people from England were supposed to know something about the quality of liquor." added Faith.
"That generally has to do with the difference between single malt and double malt. " said Robin.
"Everyone else doesn't have a problem" Giles countered, gesturing to the other Slayers who then proceeded to shuffle and looked at their feet uncomfortably.
"I thought that the bubbly water was excellent." said Chao-Ann. However, since she was still speaking in Mandarin, nobody paid her any mind.
"Fine, fine. Next hellmouth that we seal Buffy can buy the champagne." said Giles.
The solemn mood, such as it was, broke up. But Buffy knew that, at least for a moment, those who had fallen in Sunnydale had been and would be remembered.