Title: What Came After
The ride over had been nearly too much, I actually thought I might vomit at one point. Xander behind the wheel, the back seat crowded with shaking teenage girls clutching to weapons they could barely lift, barely thrust, and barely name. The morning air was still chilly and I looked down at my clothes and realized how inappropriate they were; this soft blouse that had seemed so sensible when I pulled it from my bag of rumpled clothes. I was going into battle wearing rayon and it consumed my thoughts, but only for a moment, because then we were there.
We drove up to the front of the high school and we went inside, a band of girls with a few token men, one of whom barreled into me as he passed trying to race from the sun. He turned to face me and gave a small smile. A smile that said what came before was just a dream. It was just a moment in time that we both needed, but a moment nonetheless. I said nervous goodbyes to all of them, Buffy and Willow who were to focused to be afraid, Giles and Dawn who refused to show their fear even though they had no reason to put on the brave face. They were the mortals, no special powers, and no super strength. I thought maybe if they were lucky they would go quick, without pain. I said goodbye to Xander and it burned me to know that he cared. He didn’t want to leave me, for once he wanted to stay, but it was impractical, like the blouse, we would be spread to thin as it was, we couldn‘t bunch up in threes and fours. So I followed Andrew into a hallway and we waited while the others descended into the hellmouth.
I tried to take my demon form. I scrunched my face and held my breath but I couldn’t bring Anyanka to the front. It was then that the fear rushed in. I realized I was truly on my own. There was no demon strength, no D’Hoffryn coming to save me. All I had was a thin sword and a human that I didn’t expect to survive the first wave of attack long enough to scream. The funny thing is, at that moment, I wasn’t thinking about what came before anymore. I was thinking about what came after. I thought about a peaceful place that forgave demons the evil they had done. I dreamed of slow rivers and vibrant skies that soothed you to sleep with their lilting breezes and soft bird songs. I was standing on the hellmouth and I still hated it, but when the vampires began to race down the halls I wasn’t thinking about the hellmouth anymore.
I lasted longer than I thought I would. I managed to kill five of the Turok’Hans and wounded another two or three to the point I doubt they made it out of the building. The irony is that I never saw the Bringers coming. I never sensed them behind me; I was focusing on the vampire lunging for Andrew. I swung hard and took his head off, I almost smiled as the dust wafted around me, but I didn’t have time. I was mid swing when I felt the blade hit my shoulder. I think I started to gasp at the pain, but then my mouth seemed to be separate from my lungs and the air wouldn’t come. Then it was over.
What came after were thatched roofs and dirty children running around like in a movie. What came after was a place where the hellmouth stayed quiet and the men drank mead and laughed at silly women, but that doesn’t bother me anymore. Here in this place where demons are forgiven and redemption has a ring of truth to it I can look back at my time with a human and a vampire and a witch and a slayer and know that it was worth the journey.
Giles had driven. He decided not having a California license just wasn’t that important anymore. The jeep had been crowded with children and weapons and scared tears. I suppose in retrospect some of those tears were mine. Huddled under a blanket in the back, a sharp blade pressing against the calf of my leg, I was too afraid to move it, too afraid that if I shifted just wrong the blanket wouldn’t cover me and I wouldn’t be there to help in the fight. So I stayed still and listened to the chatter around me, they talked about access points and if the bloodletting would hurt, and if they were morbid talking about the odds of winning. Things we had all talked about the night before, but seemed to need repeating.
When we arrived and the back hatch of the jeep was opened I raced inside and nearly ran over Anya. They had arrived a few moments before we did. Giles blamed a red light, which seemed incredibly ironic. He stopped for a red light on the way to an apocalypse. I stifled a laugh and turned to say goodbye to Anya before heading into the basement. I wanted to apologize for coming to her that night but realized I wasn’t sorry. I had craved her touch from the moment we began to the moment we stopped and I truly didn’t regret a minute of the act itself, only the consequences, the strain of what came after, but not what came before. And then she was gone, and I was inside the hellmouth.
We had barely descended the stairs when the Turok’Han had scurried up the sides of the cavernous hellmouth and met us on the ledge. There were thousands of them and mere dozens of us. I was tempted to slip into demon face. I knew it would make me stronger but I worried about whether the girls would be more frightened if my true face showed. I think now that part of me was also afraid the demons attacking us would pick me out of the crowd as a more appealing target. It was a cowardly thought and so I fought even harder to fight back my own demon, I kept it at bay and waited for the spell to work. Then it did, and I was surrounded by thirty slayers where before there had been two.
They didn’t all make it. There were bodies littering the ground, but the majority of them were already covered in dust. They had taken vampires with them and the slayers left standing had fought all the harder each time one fell. It pained me to see the vampires climbing the stairs out of the hellmouth. Part of me wanted to give chase and protect the humans above and I found myself wondering when I changed so much? When did I start caring if that lot lived or died? Had it really been five years since I had allied with Buffy for the first time? Three years with a chip in my head, a year already with a soul? A year with a soul. I wasn’t thinking about what came before that anymore, it seemed a dream a life without a soul. Now I was thinking about what came after.
After the fight when I could look Buffy in the eye and say ’look, I’ve had a soul for a year and survived’. Maybe I could look at Xander and find the words to make peace, ways to atone for being an evil soulless thing as he was want to call me. Maybe even thank Giles for chaining me to a bathtub instead of staking me. What would come after smelled like redemption, this bauble around my neck seemed to pull at my soul and remind me that I was in a fight. It brought me back to the hellmouth and then there was pain and burning and sunlight streaming down and exploding from the prism around my neck. What came before didn’t matter now, even thoughts of redemption streamed out with the stinging rays of light.
Buffy took my hand and told me she loved me and I think on some level she meant it, maybe not romantic love but ‘see after five years of torturing each other we survived this long’ kind of love. Then she was gone, racing up the stairs, I could here her pushing and urging the girls outside and here I was left in the hellmouth with a race of pure demons trying to get past me. The earth began to rumble and the faintest smell of cinnamon seemed to fill the air. I felt my flesh begin to sizzle and there was laughter in the air.
What came after was a riotous dinner party. My mother looked youthful and laughed heartily as she was passed sticky buns over the table and the small party smiled at each other. Someone whispered that they had found a poem in the washroom that was terrible and I found myself laughing in agreement conspiratorially. Here at a table where demons were forgiven and welcomed redemption didn’t seem such an unlikely proposition. What came before was harsh and hurtful, but what came after was humility and knowledge that it was only a simple life, but a life worth living. It had been a good journey.