After the Flood
Disclaimer: Everybody who matters belongs to Joss.
Feedback: If you like it, let me know. If you don't, tell me
Pairing: mild S/B
Summary: “He used to make it sound exciting, so the first
place she heads for is New Orleans.”
This follows Chosen by a little time, but not very much. Maybe
a few weeks, maybe a month or two.
He used to make it sound exciting, so the first place she
heads for is New Orleans. But it's not about the destination, not really. It's
about the places she's stopping along the way, and the places she'll go
afterwards. Following the dots on Willow's map, she meets a lot of girls.
It's a lot easier to explain the whole deal to them than
she'd thought it would be. She knows they feel it, that they all felt the
change when it happened. They're not all happy to see her, but most of them
seem relieved to hear an explanation they can finally believe. They're a part
of something now. Sometimes at night, when she closes her eyes and listens to
the rumble of the distant freeway in whatever room she happens to be staying
in, she can feel them all, moving around out there in the world, and it makes
She wonders, sometimes, how it is that there are so many of
them. How many might have been Called, if things had been left as they were.
How many might have lived the isolated, short life of the One True Slayer, and
whether she was right in taking that chance away from them. When she sees them,
though, among their friends and family, bursting with new power and utterly
innocent of the knowledge of what it's like to carry it alone, she knows she
made the right decision.
It's hard, the other way. She knows.
Pulling into a dusty gas station somewhere outside Tucson,
she parks the motorcycle near one of the pumps, in the long shadow of an
impressively Yosemite-Sam-like cactus. Peeling off her helmet and jacket with
heartfelt relief, she leaves them on the seat and heads into the Quik Stop in
search of water. It seems right to be doing this in a desert, somehow, but she
thinks she'll be waiting for sunset before she rides any further.
The motorcycle had been Faith’s idea. She hadn’t thought
much of it at first, but there was something about it that had taken hold of
her. She knew what that something was – everyone did, although not a one of
them had voiced it – but that didn’t change anything. She was New Improved
Buffy, and it was about damn time she learned how to drive something anyway.
Left hand clutch, B. Right hand gas and front brake. Roll
it on gently-like, there you go. You sure you want to do this alone?
I won’t be alone, she’d
told her then, and the other Slayer had nodded, because she could feel it too.
All the others, lighting up the sky when she closes her eyes, like fireflies,
A few months ago she would
never have considered this. Turns out, though, she’s better with the motorcycle
than with cars. Cars are a machine thing. This is more of a body thing. Like
handling a weapon, she relaxes and lets her instincts do the talking. She likes
the solitude, and the way that driving – riding – the thing makes everything
quiet inside her head.
Sometimes at night when
she’s riding alone, she thinks she can feel him out there with her, an incongruous
sense of warmth and safety in the darkness. It still makes her cry, but she’s
doing all right.
She calls Dawn every night, and Willow nearly as often. Willow
and Kennedy were in Portland on Tuesday, about to head north to Olympia, in Washington.
Dawn is in Idaho with Xander and Andrew and the bus, heading north to drop off
one of the Potentials – Slayers, now, but still girls - with relatives in Montana.
She can feel them all from here, even Dawn, even Willow and Xander, although
that doesn’t really make sense. Feels connected to everything. It’s a new
feeling, but she thinks she likes it. This trip isn’t about isolation. She just
needed some time, to breathe, to see the world and figure things out.
A grizzled older man, caked with paint and grease, nods
appreciatively as he gets out of his truck by one of the pumps.
“Thanks,” she calls back, and smiles, because it isn’t. It’s
an ancient Honda, the first thing that came to hand in Oxnard when they were
trying to figure out how to divide up the travel time and make the best use of
the Council’s emergency money, when Faith asked for a car of her own, when
Giles said he wanted to go back to England.
The inside of the Quik Stop is blessedly air-conditioned,
and as the door slips shut behind her, she takes a moment to let the cool seep
through her. Closing her eyes, she lets her head flop backwards, lets her
ponytail fall back and the rush of cold air chill the sweat on her scalp and
neck. It reminds her of ice cubes pressed against the back of her neck, and she
smiles a little bit as she straightens up. It hurts to think about him, but
she’s trying, because she thinks it would hurt a lot more to forget.
“Can I help you, miss?” the woman behind the counter asks.
She’s fairly young, with dark brown eyes, and looks vaguely Hispanic, and Buffy
finds herself wondering for the millionth time if this is one of them. She
smiles at the woman, and shakes her head.
“I just want some water. Uh, and some gas, I guess.”
The woman points towards the bank of fridges. Bottles of
cold liquid dance enticingly behind the glass doors, all bright colors and dewy
moisture. Heaven, or damn close.
“Which pump are you at?” the woman asks.
The woman smiles, really looking at her for the first time,
taking in the dusty, sweat-damp clothes, and the boots. “The motorcycle? Really?
Where are you coming from?”
Buffy heads over to the fridge, scanning for bottled water
as she opens it. More cool air rushes out, and she’s in no hurry to close it. “California,”
she says over her shoulder as she picks out a couple of bottles.
“LA?” the woman asks, a little wistfully, and Buffy shakes
her head as she turns around, heading back to the counter.
A shadow passes across the woman’s face. “Not the town on
Buffy looks away. Without warning, tears prickle the corners
of her eyes, and she blinks hard before looking back up.
“Yeah,” she says, quietly. “That’s the one.” She hopes that
this is the end of the conversation, because it’s rapidly falling into
territory best not explored in a gas station convenience store.
“It’s so lucky you’re okay,” the woman says, voice soft with
sympathy. “Were you—did you lose much in the earthquake?”
Oh, crap. Before Buffy can
do anything about it, her eyes are blurry with tears. Both hands are full of
water bottle, so she wipes them with the back of her wrist instead. When she
puts down the bottle and looks up, the woman is looking down at the cash
register, obviously embarrassed.
“God, I’m so sorry,” she
says hurriedly, ringing up the water. “I didn’t mean—“
Buffy shakes her head.
“It’s okay,” she says, and wishes it was true. “It’s… I just…” She takes a deep
breath, pushing back the lump in her throat. “I lost someone.” It’s easier to
say than she thinks it should be, but things have been like that lately. New
and improved Talky Buffy.
The woman nods, darting a
quick glance at her. “I shouldn’t have asked. On the news, they said no-one was
hurt, so I thought… two dollars for the water.”
Silently, Buffy digs out the
money and hands it over. “Five dollars’ worth of gas,” she adds after a moment,
and hands the money for that over too. “Thanks.”
She gathers up her water
in the awkward silence and heads for the door, dreading the shimmering heat
that hangs over the concrete outside. Pausing at the doorway, she looks back,
catching the young woman’s eye.
“He died saving us all,”
Buffy says softly, and pushes the door open before the woman can answer.
Hot air rushes in,
surrounding her like an embrace, and she goes out into the world.