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After the Flood
By ascian

Rating: PG
Disclaimer: Everybody who matters belongs to Joss.
Feedback: If you like it, let me know. If you don't, tell me why: ascian@tsoft.com.
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 her smile.

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, or stars.

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.

“Nice bike.”

“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.

“Five.”

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.

“Sunnydale.”

A shadow passes across the woman’s face. “Not the town on the news…?”

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.

-end-

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