Two Weeks: Story
Author’s Notes: I wrote this because I’ve been craving a quick fanfic fix and couldn’t find anything to read that satisfied the craving that wasn’t a WIP. Of course I’ve been working on this for months… I took the frame of the Not Quite Extinction Challenge and tweaked it a bit to fit my post-Chosen fic fetish. It should be pretty evident what I changed around- I like ambiguous the way rhinos like to wear ballet shoes. I disclaim ownership of both fandoms, also- I kill a lot off characters off in a relatively short period of time.
I’d love to hear what you guys think. This is probably my least believable story, but it wanted to be written, so here it is.
Post-Chosen; Post-SerenityTwo Weeks to Despair and SalvationTuesday2017
It was a Tuesday, the day the world began to die. That was fitting in its own fucked up way, more so than any apocalypse or so-called glorious battle. Buffy would remember the name of every day of the week, hundreds of years after that horrible Tuesday, even though time had long ago lost most of its real meaning. It was difficult to keep track of when it went so slowly, a pool drain clogged with life. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Saturday. Sunday.
Dawn died that first Tuesday, in May. May. June. July. August. Months from a year that bled itself out so fast. Most of the world had been horizontal by July, and not in the fun way.
Buffy had been slicing up tomatoes to go in the salad as they cooked and gosspied in their apartment in Rome. She had been telling Dawn about the date she had gone on the night before, and how Rob’s aftershave had been the most appealing part of the two hour ordeal. She would have forgotten his name decades ago if would have made the memory of her sister's death better instead of worse. But it would be too much like forgetting Dawn. Too much like forgetting an integral part that made Buffy what she was, centuries later.
Or, more importantly, what she no longer was.
She remembered how the afternoon light had streamed in through the westward facing window in the kitchen, the way the long shadows had made Dawn seem so unreal when she straightened at the sink, leafy greens in hand, and slowly slid to the floor. Remembered that it was nearly night when the virus finally leeched the last of the warmth from her dead sister’s hands, how the shadows had painted the blue tint of Dawn’s lips violet. The exact same shade of the sweater Buffy had been wearing.
She hadn’t been able to stop the heave that shook her shoulders as she hunched over and lost the contents of her stomach. The tile was hard on her knees, Dawn’s hair so fucking soft as one hand stroked her sister’s chestnut halo and the other wiped her own lips with the back of her other shaking hand. 2523
“That was too gorram close!”
Mal glared at Jayne on principle but didn’t disagree as he willed his stomach to settle a mite from another too-close run-in with an Alliance cruiser. The galaxy wide search for the Tams had abated, but there were too many who were a part of the Alliance with deep pockets and a long reach.
Mayhap too long. Hardly a day went by without them having to doge and tarry, loosing job offers and more money than Mal cared to calculate on the road to salvation. His crew and he, they’d given a dead planet a voice once again. Let the truth be known ‘cross the Verse, at a cost almost too great to stomach.
He stole a glance at Zoey who was ignoring the argument in the cockpit. His second in command stood behind the pilot’s chair where River perched, the younger girl’s broken gaze and steady hand guiding them as surely as Wash once did. Zoey had been his right arm for longer than he cared to admit, and it had been a mighty strange feeling, these last nine months, having an arm that looked like an arm, acted as an arm, but didn’t much feel like an arm.
Zoey’s hands looked relaxed but the knuckles that held the fabric of the pilot’s chair were white. Wednesday
Giles died on that first Wednesday. It had been after midnight when Buffy had scrubbed the rest of the tears and snot from her face and stumbled down the suspiciously quiet streets of Rome, leaving Dawn sprawled like a marble Madonna on the tile floor of the kitchen. If she had been thinking Buffy would have categorized just how many slumped bodies she passed as she blindly began to run.
Every body she pretended not to see only made her run faster.
Giles’s apartment was empty when she found it. She had to break the lock to get in and a small wounded part inside of her uncurled a little when all evidence pointed to the fact that her Watcher had been out for a few hours and simply hadn’t come home yet.
The faint sound of music playing led her outside to the small building the tenants of the complex used as a garage, in the back alley. Giles’s car was in parked in his usual place and the lights were off. The radio was on though and Buffy’s Slayer sharpened senses didn’t spare her even the illusion that there was any life left in the slumped form in the driver’s seat.
She didn’t know what broke inside of her when numb legs brought her to the driver’s side window but she knew that she would never grow back as straight or as strong inside as she stared into Giles’s sightless and filmed over eyes. Funny how one little virus was all that it took to bring the strongest Slayer in the world to her knees.
His hand was still resting on the keys in the ignition, but his forehead was resting unnaturally against the glass of the window. Shaking fingertips traced the furrowed lines on his brow, the laughter lines that spread like stars from his eyes. The glass was cold beneath her fingers and Buffy felt the broken parts inside of her start to chill in preparation for what was to come.
By dawn the fractured and hysterical news reports began to broadcast. Over 500 million dead in less than twenty-four hours, with more dying by the hour. 2523
“How’s she doing?”
Simon looked up and took a moment to wipe the perspiration from his brow as Kaylee leaned in the doorway of the medical bay. Normally the sight of the grease smudged mechanic made him feel lighter, more whole than any textbook or stack of money. But worry for River, as ever, overrode anything else. “I keep upping the dose but she still wakes screaming. I can’t get her to tell me what the nightmares are about when she wakes but she keeps hurting herself every time she falls asleep and I… I don’t know how to fix her.”
Kaylee cautiously stepped into the room and looked visibly ill at the sight of the younger woman, curled delicately on the exam table. River was paler than usual, and troubled sleep circled her eyes with violet bruising, even with the sedatives. Long gouges ran up and down her limbs, from where she had clawed herself, and there was an open goose egg on her brow, where she had banged her head bloody against a wall.
The two lovers stood together and watched the youngest Tam toss and turn, cracked lips murmuring words in a language that had died lifetimes ago on a planet no one remembered. Thursday
It felt like a benediction, to hear Xander's worried voice on the phone as the Council owned and internationally sanctioned jet flew her over continents and landmasses that were falling apart beneath her.
You couldn't see the bodies through the clouds but the feeling of growing despair was hard to escape, even in the air. Three of the 27 girls at the London Academy had already succumbed. She could hear the strain and grief beneath the business she and Xander talked over. He was breaking from the knowledge that those first three girls likely wouldn't be the last of his Slayers that he put to rest.
The already broken parts of Buffy couldn't help but flinch with the knowledge that Xander was not a Slayer and that made him all the more vulnerable.
The London Academy was eerily silent as the plane landed and Buffy disembarked with a pilot who swiftly disappeared, likely to see who of his family was left. She walked through the small, private air hanger, heels clicking on the cement as her brain categorized every nuance of “wrongness” that she saw.
Posts unattended, grounds ill-kept, a hungry looking cat that likely hadn’t been fed since the first deaths, two days prior.
A flash of red made Buffy tense more, her shoulder blades tightening with her enhanced fight or flight responses, made worse by tension, exhaustion, and grief. Willow turned the corner and Buffy dropped her duffel bag at a dead run. The oldest Slayer in the world and the strongest witch in existence clung to each other, silent tears streaming down their faces as they mourned their broken hearts together.
Buffy wasn’t sure what she was expecting- how could she guess when the world had been shattered and remade a thousand times over with every death- but Willow’s first gasped words, followed by sobs, still froze her in her tracks. “Faith…”
And just like that, the world was remade again. 2523
“Mei-mei… what are you doing?”
River whirled and stared at Simon as stared at her, hands outstretched like a bridge she couldn’t cross. Wouldn’t? Made of ice… not of stone… crossing alone was too much to bear.
“You should be in bed… you’re not well and being out…”
River’s foot sailed across the distance in the hallway between them before she formed the thought. Simon crumpled to a heap on the grated floor and she knelt, checking for the firm presence of his pulse before she stood, head titled, as she studied her older brother.
His limbs lay together like a puzzle but River could see the truth of them- the love for her that curved around his knee, the loyalty in his arms. She touched the bandage on her temple and smiled, wistfully, thinking of the times her brother had stopped his studies to play with her.
“Simon,” she whispered, “it’s time to go for a ride.” Friday
Buffy avoided looking in the mirrors she passed as she walked quietly down the hallways of the London Academy. Sheer will-power was the only thing keeping her going as sleep hadn’t been an option, for many reasons, since she and Dawn had tried to make a salad together. Grief pulsed wildly at her throat for a moment and Buffy paused, viciously pushing the overwhelming despair aside. It was getting harder every day though.
Since her arrival eight more girls had passed, bringing the total to eleven of the 27 Slayers in residence. Even magical communications had all but broken down but, from their rough intelligence guesses, the numbers were comparable elsewhere. In four days over half of the world’s population had succumbed, and roughly a third of the Slayers.
Most of the world fell as they slept, clutching each other in beds and hospitals. The news reports and web were filled with horror stories, of spouses waking to face the next day with a cold body at their side. More heart breaking still were those who merely fell as Dawn had, in the middle of whatever task they had been working at before the virus stole their breath and stilled their hearts.
“Xander… have the witches in Glasgow gotten back to Willow on magical ways to keep the heart beating through the first burst of the viral load?” Buffy paused in the doorway of the command station for the London Academy. Electricity hadn’t exactly been reliable lately but those of them that were left had been making the most of what power and expertise they had. It felt like too little too late.
It WAS too little too late.
Buffy had saved the world a dozen times and died twice only to live through her worst nightmare. A world felled by something she couldn’t begin to fight. A world changed by a nightmare Buffy wasn’t sure she was strong enough to wake from. A virus transmitted by air- so pervasive it was almost impossible to counter. It was moving SO fast and they had so little information. The medical community was hardly immune- but what little information they had indicated that the incubation time was long enough that almost the entire world had been exposed before the first fatalities. The President had died in a sealed container where no outside air had been allowed to enter since Tuesday. England hadn’t had a monarchy since the day before.
“Xander… don’t tell me you fell asleep again.” Buffy walked into the room and grumbled to herself at the heat. The energy for air conditioning had been appropriated for other things days ago and the control room was stifling hot. Xander always could sleep like the dead though. She smiled fondly at the slightly tilted head. “Sleep deprivation is no reason to slack at your job…”
Her words trailed off she stepped closer. Xander’s hand were on the control buttons of the main panel, his eyes open, but the heart of the Slayers had stilled over an hour ago. Willow found her, hours later, sitting on the floor next to his chair, holding a cold, cold hand. 2523
“What are you doing little Albatross?”
Zoey enjoyed spending time in the cock pit after they had their course set. Wash’s dinosaurs still sat on the dash of the pilot’s seat and it was easy to close her eyes when it was quiet and remember the timbre of his laugh. River though, for all her instability, usually wasn’t a bother.
Too much in the girl’s head to have it spilling out all the time. She had seemed more centered too, after Miranda. Able to contain the jumble of thoughts and feelings and needs. But the girl that entered the cock pit now was wild, one more child made feral by the abuse of men in power.
River teetered in the entryway to the cock pit, momentarily uncertain, even as her dark eyes darted to the flight controls. Zoey, who had been inadvertently blocking the way to the pilot’s seat, gave the younger girl a measured look. A heartbeat passed, then another before River slowly straightened and relaxed, her limbs uncurling like a flower released from a too tight bud.
There were self-inflicted bruises fading on her cheekbones, and the wetness in her eyes made her look much younger than even she was. “I have somewhere I have to go.”
The older woman pondered for a moment, and then slowly stepped aside to take her more familiar place behind the pilot chair. The knuckles that rested against the fabric were unclenched for once and she couldn’t resist reaching down and slowly smoothing River’s tangled hair.
She and Wash had wanted children of their own… eventually.
“How many of us are likely to come back from this little adventure?” Zoey asked idly as River reached forward and began to enter coordinates to a place Zoey had never heard of.
The younger woman paused a moment and pondered the question. Zoey couldn’t see the same things River saw, but she trusted that the younger girl would give her the truth of things. Most seers didn’t have room to lie. “All of us, plus one.”
Zoey blinked and considered the reply. “Plus one?” But River had already forgotten the conversation now that her task had been completed. She was playing with dinosaurs and this time it was an unexpected smile that Zoey blinked back, as the Stegosaurus reared back and bit the Allosaurus in the head. Saturday
Willow shuddered as the magic she called from the ground surged through her, throwing her head back and hands up as it screamed into the night. It would be too little, too late. Los Angeles would be lost for good to the demons that outnumbered them more every day. She could feel more than see her best friend at the edge of the circle of power she had drawn. Feel the light that shone from Buffy like a miniature sun- Californian to the end.
“I thought I told you to evacuate the survivors of the compound!” she shouted as a winged demon swooped low and opened its jaws impossibly wide, liquid fire streaming out. Willow grunted from the impact of shielding the flames and staggered before finally kneeling in the dirt and refuse of a city that was being torn down around them.
“Willow- I can’t leave you!”
The witch shuddered as she felt the barriers she had put up at the end of the street begin to fail under the force of the hundreds of lesser and greater demons pounding against them. “You darn well better or I’ll kill you and resurrect you again!” There was a moment of heartbroken silence from the other side and the redhead felt a pang at her words. Buffy’s job was dangerous at the best of times and these were not good times. It hadn’t taken more than a month and a lucky vampire had proved what Willow had begun to suspect: Buffy Summers, for better or worse, was immortal. That didn’t mean that demons couldn’t rip her limb from limb and scatter her over the Earth. There was a whole demonic religion dedicated to it in fact. It was up to Willow to save the day this time.
Willow decided the effort to stand and make her last stand was worth it. She staggered to her feet and allowed the magical barriers that separated Buffy and the survivors to drop for just a moment.
The only active Vampire Slayer left in the world stared at her with empty, sightless eyes as tears made tracks in the mud and blood smeared on her face. She wasn’t speaking audibly but Willow could see the words cracked lips formed. Don’t leave me too…
“Buffy Summers… I love you. We all do. It’s our turn now.”
The instant that Buffy came back and met Willow’s eyes the redhead nodded once, smiled, and threw the barrier back up. She rolled up tattered sleeves, ignored the tears running down her own soot smudged cheeks and allowed herself to believe that Buffy would guide the survivors out of one of the last great human cities. It would be enough to make her sacrifice worth it.
“All right missy,” she murmured to herself, “there’s work to do.”
The rolling red skies opened right about the time her barriers at the end of the street were smashed. The tide of demons was sickening- a flow of disfigured flesh and sulfur and exposed bone. The screamed in inhuman ecstasy as they surged forward, a tide of destruction and mayhem, bent on destroying the last bit of humanity left.
Willow felt the tired earth beneath her feet, felt the weariness of the broken world they still struggled upon, and asked, one more time, for the power to fight for good. 2523
The Earth That Was wasn’t much to look at. Kaylee looked dubiously around as they huddled together in the desolate landscape at the base of Serenity and looked, valiantly, for some sign that their people, that humans, had come from here.
The landscape was desolate- with a barely breathable red atmosphere that hung thick and clotted in the air. The ground was gray, rocky, and in the distance there were spires of what once was a city. But everything looked worn, barren… a place that had died centuries before.
Zoey sounded unbelievably tired as she fiddled with the controls of the portable scanner. “There’s a concentration of organic matter a mile or so to the south I think, but the atmosphere on the surface isn’t exactly a joy to work with. I’m not sure…”
They all looked up at Simon’s shout as his sister took off at a dead run towards the direction Zoey had pointed too. The Captain cursed, loudly, “Gorram it! I thought I told you to put a leash on that girl!”
Simon shot the Captain a disbelieving look. “I thought you were kidding.”
Kaylee spoke up softly, “What are we going to do?”
Mal turned on her, face red with anger and a trace of unease. “We are going to go fetch your Doctor’s tetched sister and get off this gorram rock. And if they take too long we’re going to leave them HERE!” Sunday
“Hey old man- how’s it hanging?”
The elderly man gave her a superior look from a height even shorter than hers. Andrew had been taller once, but age stooped him, made him curl in on himself. Even if he hadn’t been… Andrew… he would have stood out. There weren’t many who lived to be as elderly as he.
Almost a hundred now? Buffy stared at the smooth unblemished hand she placed on his shoulder and wished so desperately that Wills had made it out of L.A. that last time. But then, without Wills no one would have made it out alive, Buffy included. At this point the West Coast had completely been abandoned.
Andrew’s colony was one of the largest, if not the largest, left in the Western Hemisphere. Demons didn’t much like the cold and while farming opportunities were limited in Canada, wild game was still abundant. In light of the continuing instability of the Earth’s atmosphere- triggered by a few accidental nuke strikes and meltdowns during the first days of the virus and amplified by demonic takeover of old population centers- plentiful food for the few thousand people who called Andresia home in the caves deep underground counted for a lot.
“How long are you staying this time?” her old friend asked as he made his way carefully, walker and all, down the dirt packed “streets” of the underground colony. Buffy followed him with practiced ease, though she knew the streets better than he likely did.
She practiced sticking her tongue out at his back and hid a grin as a few curious children saw and snickered. Andrew was beloved- a leader of great renown- and he certainly knew it. It made her feel nice… human… to take advantage of his “benevolence” and tease him whenever possible.
“I thought I’d stay a few months, teach some self-defense to the youngsters now that your lady-wife is out of commission. Congratulations by the way… being a father in your nineties is no small feat. Speaking of, where is Mei-Lien?”
Andrew took a moment to consider before nodded down a hallway to his left. “She’s teaching the children Chinese. They seem to find it absorbing… she’ll have the whole world be bilingual if she has her way.”
Buffy nodded sagely, having met the thirty-something diminutively terrifying Mrs. Wells who had decided, in her teens, that the colony’s geriatric leader was the man for her. It had taken some convincing to shake Andrew out of bachelor ways that he had had for the better part of seven decades but Mei was nothing, if not persistent. Her resolve face would have blasted Will’s out of the park.
It was nice to see someone from Sunnydale so bewilderingly happy but, then, it took a lot of special circumstances to achieve that happiness. It wasn’t often a person got the chance to run the world’s largest underground colony on a post-apocalyptic type world and fall in love with a fiercely smoking hot girl sixty years or so junior.
Buffy would envy that happiness more if she didn’t find it quite so weird. That being said it was good for her to visit Andresia at least once a year. The familiarity of the weirdness grounded her, and connected her with the humans who had been born so long after most of the people in the world she had cared about died. 2523
“River- River! Come back here!”
Simon exhaled in frustration as his sister climbed over the rough terrain with a dancer’s in-born grace. Watching the soles of her combat boots flash at him as she climbed with single-minded focus gave him pause as he remembered her in battle, all languid death and sweetly tinged rage. The lump on his head was more recent testament.
She didn’t turn around, only continued to climb, and Simon started to feel a thread of panic as he began to be winded. The rest of the crew were waiting below and he could see the Captain shade his eyes against the harsh glare of the atmosphere. Could almost hear the older man calculating how long he’d give his two errant crew before stranding them on the god-for-saken heap that was Earth That Was.
He was lucky that he was with River. The calculations were a lot more likely to go in his favor.
“River, where are you going?!”
He finally caught up to her on the top of the ridge when she paused. Simon was sweaty and streaked with dirt, breathing too hard in the slightly heavier gravity of the planet’s scarred surface. He reached out, blindly, the years of loosing his sister as always overshadowing the years he’d managed to keep her safe.
The countless hours he’d spent trying to put her back together.
He steadied, the world righted, when he grabbed her shoulder and felt the tangible proof of her presence. The sleek steel of tensed muscle beneath a young woman’s pale skin. Only then did Simon raise his head to see what had drawn his sister here.
At first he didn’t see her. All he saw was the lushness of the small high plain. Flowers, trees, green everywhere as it spilled out of rocks, crannies, painting the desolate landscape beneath it like an artist who finally learned sight. The aesthetic was jumbled, an alien beauty that took his breath away with its riot of color and perfumed smell.
It was clear though, as he glanced at his sister, that she very likely hadn’t even noticed the blooms. Her gaze was locked on a small figure sitting on a boulder in the center of the high plain.
“Mei-mei…” he murmured, unsure, as he saw River’s lips moving in soundless repetition. “Mei-mei, who is that?”
Simon felt the muscles under his hand tense for a moment as his sister hid her face from him with a waterfall of dark curls. Suddenly the shoulder, the body next to him relaxed with a movement that was almost audible. The smile she turned to him was blinding with its own strange beauty, as alien in many ways as the oasis they had found on a dead world.
He smiled stupidly back at her, heart in his throat as his SISTER, his real, true sister, beamed up at him for the first time in years. “That’s one girl. One girl in all the world.”Monday
It wasn’t cold out but Buffy shivered anyway, the morning the spaceships left her alone on Earth. It made her proud, in a way, that the rag tag group of survivors had lasted so DAMN long despite the adversity that faced them, in a world that was mostly overrun by demons now. Long enough not just to survive, but to hope, to leave the ragged world that birthed them behind.
Their fates were hardly certain but they had hope. Hope to raise their children under sunshine. Hope to live in a world without fear of shadows. It was hardly a perfect hope- man was not so kind as to ensure that. Human nature would, without a doubt, rear itself to take over the lack of obvious evils in those news worlds. The First would make sure of that.
Buffy held up her hand to block the haze cast by the polluted sunlight of Earth, breathless as she watched the exhaust from nearly a dozen spaceships stretch like ghostly strings, from Earth to a Heaven she might never see.
“How long do you think it will take for you to go bloody insane?”
It wore Gile’s features today, and Buffy hated herself just a little that she was so fucking lonely that even the First Evil wearing her mentor’s features was a kind of relief.
She didn’t answer until long after the trails of smoke faded in the red-tinged atmosphere. Until her people were for once, completely and utterly safe from the destiny that had enslaved her. “Who says I’m not already crazy?”
The First snorted and her heart nearly broke when the thing that wore Giles’s face reached up and began to polish his glasses. “You shouldn’t have stayed. What’s left here? A few thousand pathetic demons, desperate to scrape by on this rock? How long until they begin to hunt you for sport?”
It took her a moment, but just one, because Buffy had learned a few things in her extended lives. Learned just what it meant to tip the scales of the universe, and the consequences for doing so. She turned and faced the First Evil and laughed, wonder ringing her voice brightly. “You can’t start over, can you? I stood by in broad daylight and used my spidey sense to make sure that every man, woman, and child who got on those ships were human. You must have expected that. But you must not have expected me to stay behind too… I took demons out of the equation completely.”
Giles’s features shifted and Buffy watched, suddenly impassive, as Angel took over the First’s features and snarled with rage and the human face of an Irish boy who had died long ago. “It won’t work!”
“No,” Buffy replied, softly, carefully, “not forever it won’t. Human nature has its own demons and you’ll find your way to touch us again soon enough. But until then, until that day, this Universe is no longer a Powers’ play-thing. Humanity will have seeded itself across new planets to live and laugh and die… without you.”
Angel shifted to Faith who smiled with such sweetness that she felt her heart skip a beat, first in longing for a friend so long in the grave, then, just for a moment, in fear. The sweet smile turned dark, feral, as the First prowled closer, wearing Faith’s familiar scent of danger and leather like a sword that it knew would draw blood. The First leaned down the few inches that separated Buffy from Faith, put dark lips to the cusp of the blonde Slayer’s ear, and whispered, “Without me yes, but they’ll live and laugh and die without you too. You’ll be here, with me, for centuries. Immortal and broken enough to feel pain. You’ll rot here, on this Earth you’ve killed, until you’re needed again. And when the Universe sends for you, when humans who don’t remember what it is to be afraid of ME come here… they’ll find a hero so broken I’ll laugh as you drool on their shoes.”
Buffy heard the truth of the First’s words, felt the weariness she had fought for the last century begin to claw at her heart, to claim her sanity for itself. A parasite as sure as any vampire. And she knew that as broken as she was, she was going to have to get stronger still. Strong enough to live in the Earth she had consigned herself to.
So she swallowed and smiled as Evil wore her sister’s face, and asked, “Do you think people will even have feet in the future?” 2523
It had seemed so simple to find her, in the end. Just a quick visit to a dead planet that had killed its ghosts and River was closer to sanity than she had been in years. The voices- the hundreds of thousands of thoughts and fear and screams from the people who filled her… it was as if they finally slept, lulled by the centuries of silence that filled Buffy Summer’s brain.
The older woman, the older Slayer, was a gift. A present, all wrapped in time, that the Verse had given her for being such a good girl. Good soldier. Good experiment. A lifeline out of the insanity she had been swimming in for so long. Little fishy… big current. But gifts like Buffy Summers were not without their price.
There was a shadow that would follow them back into the Verse. This was unavoidable… presents like Buffy Summers did not come cheap. But the Verse had shadows already, on all the worlds, and River knew better than most what men were capable of. What they could force to be, so that the Verse could be balanced once more.
Two by two, hands of blue… and a Slayer was sparked to life on an Alliance operating table. River knew the shadow they brought, on a primal level that had no words. Knew that everyone in the Verse would feel this shadow as it drew near, as it whispered their deepest, darkest wanton fears. Especially because it wore their loved one’s face.
The First Evil, progenitor of all that made River wake with suppressed terror, gasping for breath, soaked with cold sweat from nightmares that left stains behind, let her features shift as River turned to face her, in the solitude of her small cabin on board Serenity. The First’s face flickered between a thousand sets of features before settling on the one that had given River the first peace she had known in years. Buffy Summers stared at her, cruel laughter dancing in her eyes. It should have bothered River more, to see the Verse’s darkest incarnation wearing her personal salvation’s face. But although Buffy must have died once, long ago, she had lived too long for the First Evil to imitate her properly.
The delicate, stubborn features were right. All angles that bled soft, but the turn of the mouth, the eyes, were too inhuman for someone who had suffered for centuries. There was a weariness that came with a mortal’s immortality and the First suffered none of the shadows that the Oldest Slayer did. Dark puppet, strung for torment… and torment it did.
“You won’t hold the darkness at bay forever. Even with her,” the First shook her head towards the galley, where Mal was trying to talk to the flesh bound version of the body she currently inhabited, “you may only last a lifetime.” A lifetime. So little time. So much. And, in the end, a single lifetime was all that mattered to the person living it, no matter how long or short. “She may be your Champion, Albatross, but you may end up wearing her around your own neck in time.”
River tasted the truth of Evil’s words, felt the doubt that the power sowed in her heart, and smiled in spite of it. To spite it. Two by two, Slayers true. Her birthright may have been forced to bloom on an Alliance operating table, all needles and blades sterilized to cause the most harm, but Buffy had been forced to wait for her. The first Slayer to be “born” in centuries. The first of a new line. Long ago a girl had been forced to exist with a demon. Buffy had been forced to live among them for longer than any mortal should have been able to bear.
River took a breath and shook her head, hair cascading like a newly turned stream, before she calmly met The First's familar eyes and serenly replied, “Buffy lives long lives.”
The human girl was not the first to look away. Tuesday
“I knew a priest once, looked just like you.”
The man, Mal, studied her openly as she sat at the dining room table of the fucking space ship, hot tea cooling in the mug in her hands. Buffy watched the dregs of the tea leaves swirl and settle in the heat of the water and a distant part of her tried to read her fortune in the patterns the leaves revealed.
Hope was so trite sometimes.
Mal, unsatisfied apparently by what he saw in his study of her, leaned back, eyes intent on her face as he slowly responded. “I knew a preacher once, looked nothing like you. Mayhap if he did I would have been smart enough to listen a mite more.”
A rueful grin pulled at her lips and the Captain seemed to relax a mite more in response. He paused for a long moment and Buffy appreciated that. Most men, hell most demons, who spoke with Mal’s confidence were the kind to sort their thoughts after putting them out there. She liked that he was so careful in his intention to piss people off. “There’s a weight to you. Things left unsaid that maybe no one left alive should be able to hear.”
The rueful grin stretched slightly farther and Buffy leaned back as well, basking in the first banter session she had had with someone other than herself in a century or three. “Good thing I’m not much of a talker then.”
Mal’s sharp bark of laughter startled them both. “Yes, but the little Albatross is all ears.”
She cocked her head to one side. “You mean River?” At Mal’s curt nod she hummed slightly under her breath and swirled the tea leaves with a scarred index finger. “I don’t think its words River wants from me, just silence.” Centuries of silence. Not all rescues involved gunfire and staking after all, some involved nothing more than quiet understanding. The sanity of peace after years of noise. “Isn’t that right… mei-mei?”
“It is my turn to talk.” The younger girl stole to Buffy’s side, grabbed the neighboring seat, and Mal looked at them both, head tilted to one side, before his shoulders finally relaxed and he sighed.
“You two are going to have us haring off on some wild adventures, I expect.”
Buffy smiled tentatively in response. “I specialize in saving the world.”
River squirmed at her side. “Worlds.”
Worlds… “How many are there now?” Buffy asked absently. Mal sighed again, muttered something that sounded suspiciously like cursing in… Chinese?... under his breath and stomped away.
Buffy turned and saw River staring at her, eyes shining with power and love, the reflection of a hundred girls she had worked so hard to save, and that damn hope, trite as it was, bloomed up inside her, a life trying to claw its way into her heart and through her throat. Damnit. She would NOT cry.
The younger girl hummed happily before replying, “Enough to take us lifetimes.”
Life. Lives. The hardest thing in the universe was to live in it.
It was time to be brave enough to live once again. To face the inevitable release of evil into the Universe.
Rive rose suddenly, her hand holding Buffy’s like a promise of tomorrow, as a smile split the solemn young woman’s face. “The sun rises here every day on Earth, doesn’t it? We can watch…” Buffy felt the word dawn start to fall from River’s lips before something in the older Slayer made her quickly reconsider, “… we can watch the sun rise. Bright ball. Full of gases.”
Buffy paused for a moment, well aware after centuries of life that she was on a precipice, something both greater and more terrifying than five hundred years of certainty ever could be. She shuddered as the moment passed and something inside of her clicked into place as she let River pull her to her feet.
“Let’s go watch dawn as we take off. It’s been… a long time since I’ve seen it. And I’ve never been on a space ship.”
River regarded her with solemn eyes full of broken pieces that only tender care could have fit back together. Would Buffy be that well tended one day?
“Firefly is much like your sun. Full of gases. Jayne and Simon especially.” The girl spun suddenly and danced away towards the cockpit, voice tinkling like bells as she called over one shoulder, “Beware the soy!”
Buffy stared after her a second, startled, before a shifting smile split her face as well. It was, after all, a Tuesday. With a laugh that surprised her as much as anyone she ran after River, well aware of all that she was leaving behind and finally, desperately, ready for what came next.