*** I do not own anything in the universes created by Joss Whedon or JRR Tolkien.
It had been a month since the last great battle. Buffy internally kept track of the days that passed: thirty days since defeating the First; thirty days since so many were lost, but so much was gained; thirty days since Spike had said to her the only words that could have convinced her to leave him burning in the mouth of hell. Thirty days in which the slayer had had dreamless, if not restful, sleep. Now all that had changed. She could no longer deny that something was seriously wrong with her. This feeling of wrongness had been growing, even as it seemed that the powers of the new Slayers were waning. It was time to break her silence.
They'd spent the first day traveling aimlessly on the bus, categorizing their wounds and losses, and finally deciding to make Team Angel the first stop in their new lives. For one thing, they had nowhere else to go. With Sunnydale wiped off the map, everything they owned and loved was buried behind them in a gaping crater. They didn't talk much that day, except to tend to the wounded. The thrill of victory had been slowly edged out by uncertainty of the future and lingering images of war.
Giles had managed to call ahead to L.A., so it was no surprise when a bus pulled up outside the Hyperion Hotel with a gaggle of weary, displaced warriors. Fred had met them at the door and ushered them inside where their colleagues were waiting. As they stood around awkwardly, still carrying the weapons that were their sole possessions, Angel was the first to break the silence. He approached Buffy, aware of the beleaguered expression on her face, and placed his hands gently on her shoulders. She was startled, feeling strange in what used to be such a comforting and familiar embrace.
“Buffy,” he said softly. “What do you need?”
Her eyes stung with sudden tears, and her shoulders hunched forward. He looked to Giles for some sign, and hitched in an unneeded breath at the former Watcher’s expression. So many regrets etched there as he eyed his Slayer-daughter. Luckily, Fred jumped in to save him by offering her welcome.
“There’re plenty of rooms,” she began, “and if you pair up, everyone will get a bed. I bought some shampoo and soap since I figured y’all wouldn’t have any,” she sighed. “The only thing worse than bein’ far from home is bein’ far from home without shampoo!” She got several smiles from the wearied group as they disbanded.
Seemingly unable to sleep, everyone wound up back downstairs after settling in. Wesley, Fred, and Gunn had ordered out, so they sat around eating in silence. The residents of the town formerly known as Sunnydale were still in shock. Robin had been taken to the hospital, although Buffy refused to be checked in herself. Team Angel, curious about what had happened, tried to restrain themselves from prying. Even Andrew wasn’t speaking, he kept seeing visions of Anya lying dead on the floor. Finally, Faith broke the spell.
"So, the Hellmouth is closed for business."
"Closed?" Angel asked. "Completely closed?"
"Yep, no more SunnyD," she replied.
“Bye-Bye Boca…” Xander inserted, somewhat numbly.
"How did you manage that?" Gunn asked.
“Well, B over there had another one of her crazy-but-rockin’ ideas and got Red to make with the mojo and turn all the Slayer wannabes into full on Slayers -- then we made war down in the Hellmouth with the Turok Han -- and then Soul Boy #2 got all glowy with his necklace and burned the place to the ground.”
Angel glanced over at Buffy, and saw her wince at the mention of Spike. As the new Slayers warmed up to the subject of their victory, they began adding bits and pieces to the story from their personal perspectives. Andrew spoke again of Anya and her bravery in battle, and the evening drew on into night as the survivors held their requiem for the lost. Finally, everyone trailed off to bed, too exhausted to talk anymore. They seemed calmer after having released some of the horrors of their experience.
Buffy remained downstairs, sitting alone in the dark, replaying her final conversation with Spike over and over in her mind. Angel started to go down the stairs to speak with her, but Xander placed a hand on his arm and stopped him.
“I’ll go,” he said quietly. He sat down next to Buffy on the floor, their backs against the wall, gazing out the double doors into the night. For a while, they said nothing. “He saved us all, Buffy,” Xander finally said softly. “I…I’ve done and said a lot of things over the years that I regret. I never had your compassion or vision. I allowed my jealousy over sharing you to block out what you were trying to do. You wanted to do more than kill to save lives. You wanted to save souls, and you did. He saved us all. He was good in the end and he died a noble death.”
Buffy began to cry. Not looking at Xander, she replied, “She did, too.” And so they sat, grieving.
The next month was busy for everyone. Team Angel had signed on to Wolfram and Hart, but the Hyperion was kept as Slayer central. Xander was drafted to build training rooms, and began doing some freelance work for Team Angel as well. Buffy and Faith organized training sessions for the new Slayers to help hone their powers. The plan was to eventually send them out on coordinated patrols. As the weeks went by, however, Faith and Buffy began to notice something strange. Meanwhile, Willow, Giles, and Dawn set about doing locator spells to find any new Slayers that had been passed over by the Bringers. Dawn was becoming quite proficient in magick, though she didn’t have Willow’s natural affinity for it. Everyone seemed to realize that this was a temporary situation, but no one seemed quite ready to split up yet.
The original Scoobies had gotten in the habit of meeting once a week to discuss problems and new ideas. Buffy and Faith had privately discussed their worry about the new Slayers, but had held off on telling the others until they were sure. Four weeks in, Buffy finally spoke up. Everyone looked surprised to hear from her. She’d been so silent all this time and withdrawn. She seemed almost ill, and Willow had begun to wonder if the sword that had impaled her was poisoned.
“I think we have a problem. Or at least I do,” she began.
“What is it, Buffy?” inquired Giles, instantly concerned. It had to be important for her to break out of her reticence.
Buffy looked at Faith for a minute, and then said, “Faith and I have noticed that the new Slayers aren’t as strong as us.” Faith nodded in confirmation.
“Do you think it’s 'cause they’re not as experienced?” asked Willow.
“That’s what I thought at first,” Buffy said. “But the more we’ve been training, the more obvious it is. They… they seem to be slowly getting weaker.”
“B’s right,” Faith put in. “These ladies aren’t at full Slayer power anymore.”
Giles looked thoughtful. “For once, I can’t really consult my books. This whole situation is so unprecedented that there is no literature to fall back on.”
“And with the Watcher’s Council out of commission, we can’t look to them either,” Willow added.
Giles inquired, “How have the two of you been faring?”
“Me and B haven’t changed a bit. Still strong as ever.”
“This is fascinating,” Giles stated, warming to the subject. “There are myriad possible reasons for this occurrence. Perhaps it has to do with balance...” he trailed off.
“Balance?” Buffy asked.
Willow’s face suddenly grew more thoughtful. “Ohh,” she said. “Balance, of course!” Seeing Buffy and Faith’s confused faces, she continued. “What I learned from Althanea and the coven after I went scary-veiny Willow is that the world is based on a balance of forces, and that everything is connected.”
Giles took over, thinking out loud. “So this means there must be a balance between good and evil as well. Both must exist. When we activated all the Slayers, it was necessary in the face of the enormous threat of the First. We ourselves threw off the balance and allowed evil to gain the upper hand, so something had to be done to counter it.” He glanced suddenly at Buffy, fearfully, and cleared his throat hoping she hadn’t caught his words.
“We?” she asked. “How did we allow the First to take over?” Buffy looked at each of them in turn, and they looked away from her guiltily. Giles and Anya had told the others about their visit to Beljoxa’s Eye, but they hadn’t told Buffy. It seemed like no one would speak up, but Buffy was having none of it. “Out with it, guys. I know you’re hiding something, and I also know it has something to do with how I’ve been feeling, so spill it.”
“How you’ve been feeling?” Giles asked, wanting to know more.
“Nope, you first,” she replied firmly.
He sighed and began to speak. “As you know, Anya and I went to see Beljoxa’s Eye to ascertain who was after the Slayer line and why. It was not very forthcoming about how to defeat the First, but it did tell us how it was able to rise out of its place and take action. You see, it’s all about balance. When you jumped into the portal and died, you were not meant to come back. The line of Slayers was meant to continue through Faith. When you were…resurrected… the energies surrounding the line were disrupted. This imbalance and disturbance of the Slayer force is the reason the First was able to make war against the entire line.” Everyone was silent, and no one seemed to want to look at Buffy. Faith, who hadn’t known, looked shocked. Buffy felt sick inside.
“All that death,” she whispered.
“B, it’s not your…”
“Fault?” she interrupted. She laughed harshly, and seemed about to speak again, but Xander interrupted her.
“Were talking past and present here, Buff. I don’t know about Willow, but I know I’ve been dealing in major guilt coupons ever since Giles told us that day. But this is now, what say we figure this out before we do guiltapalooza.”
“Yes,” Giles said, relieved. “You mentioned that you’ve been feeling strange?”
She drew in a deep breath and nodded. “It’s like I don’t belong here. And it’s not just a post one-girl-in-all-the-world crisis, it’s different.” She grimaced and cradled her stomach. She couldn’t bring herself to look them in the eyes. “It feels like Willow’s spell changed everything and now there are two worlds: the old one, and this one. And I…it feels wrong that I’m here. Like I physically don’t fit. And it hurts inside. There's also this.” Slowly, she pulled up the hem of her shirt, revealing the expanse of her stomach. Her stab wound had become a large, raised mound of purple, black and greenish flesh. Heat radiated from the area, and it glowed slightly. She dropped her shirt and gently hugged her midsection again.
They all regarded her carefully, trying not to look horrified. Everyone was thinking back over the past month and remembering her silence, the empty stare that hadn’t been seen since just after she was torn from heaven. Dawn, who’d been quiet the entire meeting let out a strangled sound.
“What do we do?” she cried out. “How can we fix this? Will it go away?”
Giles regarded Faith curiously. “Have you been experiencing the same thing?”
She shook her head. “Not a peep. It doesn’t make sense, man. If B’s right about this whole old world-new world bit, I’m from the old world, too.”
Willow spoke up, tentatively. “This is all about balance, right? So what if now that the First is defeated and balance is restored, the Slayer line is returning to its original form?”
“You know, that actually makes sense,” Xander said. “If it’s true, I’d feel bad for the girls, though. I think they kinda like being an army.”
Faith snorted. “Not likely. They’re proud of their battle, for sure, but those girls would jump at the chance to have the weight taken back off their shoulders.” She glanced at Buffy, who merely nodded.
“This is a lot to think about,” said Giles. “I guess the only way to know for sure is to watch and wait, see if their powers completely disappear with time. But, this doesn’t solve our concerns regarding Buffy. I don't know what to say. Do you think it's poison?” He asked her.
"That would make sense," Buffy said quietly, "But I don't think it is. I think there's something bigger going on."
“You know…” Willow said, and then backed off quickly.
“What?” they all asked warily.
She refused to look at Buffy as she spoke, just sat and stared at her hands as they fiddled restlessly in her lap. “If we’re right about the balance thing, it may be affecting Buffy, too.” She cringed, but kept going. “The First is defeated and things are going back the way they were supposed to be before it rose, which means, well, that she should be dead.”
“On that note,” Buffy said, interrupting the silence that surrounded Willow’s revelation. She stood up and walked out.