Disclaimer: All owned by Mutant Enemy and various networks. Hail Joss.
Spoilers: For all seven seasons of BTVS and the fifth season AtS episode
Thanks to: HonorH, before beta-reading.
There were a lot of reasons why Buffy chose Rome. It was easy to get from
there to anywhere else in Europe, thanks to the airport, so whenever new
reports of girls with extraordinary strength showed up and none of the
others could deal with them, she could go. And it was warm there, not rainy
as in London, plus the food was much better. But the main reason why she
and Dawn settled down in Rome was the lack of memories.
Angel had never mentioned Rome. Neither had Spike, or Riley. Dad had not
been there with his stupid secretary, which had been the major drawback
Spain offered; Mom hadn't wished herself there in a single conversation
that either Buffy or Dawn could remember. Giles knew nothing more of it
than any other tourist. Okay, any other tourist who could tell you the
history of every second building, but still. He had never lived in Rome. It
could be theirs. Their city.
"Many cities," said Dawn, correcting Buffy, while they sat on the Spanish
Stairs and indulged in lots of *gelati*. "So many different cities in one."
Buffy shrugged. "Sounds like the perfect place for a Key and a Slayer to
me," she replied, grinning at Dawn, and Dawn smiled back. Dawn wore her
hair in braids that day, and had complained repeatedly about how young this
made her look, but really, with the hottest summer in a century, there
wasn't much choice.
After letting some more strawberry ice cream melt into her mouth, Buffy
"Italy must be where ice cream ends up when it dies and goes to heaven,"
she said, but then she heard the sound of her own voice, those two
syllables, hea-ven, and suddenly the memories were back. Telling him, the
warmth of the sun that she could not feel enveloping her. Feeling the fire,
nearly two years later, when their hands both burned. She looked at her
hand, stretching her fingers. Slayer healing had done its usual trick, but
there were still some tiny scars. She had an inkling they would not fade,
just as the scar on her neck had never done.
Dawn watched her, blue eyes attentive and burdened with a knowledge that
she shouldn't have. Buffy opened her mouth to say something distracting,
then stopped. She had promised herself she wouldn't do this anymore.
Instead, she took Dawn's left braid and let it run through her scarred
"Hey," she said.
"Hey," Dawn replied, and they remained silent, watching the tourists being
pursued by immigrants from Algeria who tried to sell them everything from
postcards to condoms. It was a comfortable silence.
Dawn liked the school there, and she adored the scooter Buffy bought soon
after they arrived, appropriating it whenever she could, which was rarely.
The traffic in Rome was crazy, with everybody and their dog pressing on
horns and nobody paying any attention to signs and traffic lights. Buffy
wasn't about to let Dawn drive unattended at all at first.
"Like you're such a great biker," Dawn said, which was true, but Buffy was
learning. Lots of kids from Dawn's school had rich parents who were worried
about their offspring, so Buffy took to teaching martial arts and self
-defence. It was good to earn money with something that was actually fun,
instead of living off the money all those dead Watchers had left, but she
really needed the scooter to get to the various homes. For the slaying, she
mostly went on foot.
It was something to run in the Via Veneto after a guy who so dated himself
with the Marcello look, or to feel the millennia under her bare feet when
she tracked down a nest in a desecrated catacomb near the Via Appia.
Sometimes it felt like she had been there before, breathing the heat and
dust mingled with ashes, cleaning her face afterwards with the water that
had something of the coppery taste of blood because of all the coins people
kept throwing into each and every fountain. But that was alright, because
she could guess where those memories came from. Dawn, who didn't intend to
give up her Watcher education just because Giles was nowhere nearby, had
the CD Roms with the copies of his chronicles Willow had painstakingly made
way back when in Sunnydale. One evening, she told Buffy all about the
previous Slayers who had lived in Rome, her face glowing. Buffy was torn
between fascination, amusement and being disturbed as Dawn recounted some
battle between a Gorgon and the Slayer Lucilla and included every gory
"Maybe you can find a Gorgon, too?" Dawn asked hopefully.
It wasn't a passing phase for Dawn, by any means. They were all together in
London for Christmas, and Andrew took them to see "Return of the King". The
entire way back in the Underground he and Dawn couldn't stop arguing
whether a Gorgon could have beaten Shelob.
"You two are so married," Buffy said.
"Please," Dawn shot back. "I'm not a lesbian." She reconsidered. "Well, I
don't know yet. But not with Andrew."
To Dawn's disappointment, Gorgons remained elusive, but she made Buffy tell
her all about Buffy's showdown with a Lamia and typed the report in what
Dawn called her chronicles. Fighting with Roman vampires was odd, at first.
They didn't pretend not to understand her quips, as the French ones had
done, but they were all either frightfully snobbish or trying to make
passes, even the younger ones. To her surprise, Buffy picked up Italian
pretty quickly. It just made trading insults easier, and she didn't have to
feel patronized by some fledgling who thought she was a cute American
abroad. The Lamia, though, was something else. Since she could change her
shape, Buffy thought she was dealing with the First again, and pretended to
ignore her, until the Lamia, whose present white hair and dark skin made
her look like a snow queen with too many sun tans, casually broke the neck
of a baby.
"Lamias aren't vampires, remember," Dawn said, when she helped Buffy gear
up. "A stake in the heart won't do anything."
"Weaknesses?" Buffy asked, regretfully setting Mr. Pointy aside. Dawn
"They're into killing children and seducing young men to devour them. Oh,
but," her face brightened, "some legends say they also have this troll
"Troll thing?" Buffy asked, having visions of Olaf, whom the elegant Lamia
could not have resembled less.
"You *really* need to crack a book sometimes," Dawn said. "They turn into
stone if you can keep them fighting until sunrise."
This time, the Lamia looked like a gorgeous Italian screen goddess, with
golden skin, luxurious black hair and curves just on the ride side of
voluptuous. She still had the dead baby in her arms, which thanks to the
heat had started to stink by now, and was humming until she spotted Buffy.
"Am I supposed to be impressed, little girl?" she said, rolling her r's in
what was obviously a mocking parody of an Italian accent, and afterwards
continued with a flawless British pronounciation Giles would have envied:
"There are dozens of Slayers now."
"Hundreds," Buffy confirmed, looking out for more dead bodies. The Lamia
held some stupid British kid named Richard hostage who went to the same
school like Dawn did, which was how Buffy had been alerted to the Lamia's
presence to begin with. But apparently Richard hadn't been devoured yet.
"Yes, I knew you were ordinary when I saw you," the Lamia smiled, and threw
the baby at Buffy, obviously in an attempt to shock. Years ago, it would
have worked, but Buffy had seen too many dead bodies by now to flinch. She
didn't even attempt to catch it.
"Same here," she replied, stone-faced, while the two of them started
circling around each other. "You're not even the best insano girl I I know,
and this shape-shifting act? So last year."
For the first time, the Lamia looked affronted.
"I was loved by Zeus," she said. "Poets of all nations came here and
worshipped me even while I brought them death and immortality."
She emphasized the last word with a vicious kick. Buffy didn't quite manage
to duck, but she rolled away and was on her feet again before the Lamia
could exploit the situation.
"There's your problem," she said, hoping she could keep this up until the
sun rose, and hoping Dawn was right. "Too much reliance on men for self-
validation. Hey, it's a phase we all go through."
She had not talked this much during a fight since Glory, and after the
first hour, it was really hard to keep it up and keep track with the
different strengths the Lamia had in various shapes. Thankfully, anything
but the basic two-arms-two-legs human form seemed to be out of the Lamia's
repertoire. In the end, she looked somewhat like Kendra, only older, when
the first teasing beams of the red morning sun appeared from behind the
Capitol. She had just been about the sucker-punch Buffy with her elbow, and
suddenly grew still.
"Hera killed all my children," she whispered. "I once was queen of Libya,
Buffy caught her as she fell. A harsh, cracking sound went through the
humid morning air. The Lamia didn't turn into stone all at once, and till
the last moment, her face remained alive, making silent, pleading grimaces.
It reminded Buffy of April, but she still smelt the rotting flesh of the
baby, and did not say anything. When there was nothing left but marble,
she used the blunt hilt of her sword and all her strength, and smashed it.
It took her nearly an hour till not even the best archaeologist could have
put the Lamia back together again. Then she went and buried the baby.
Still, for such a huge city, there were surprisingly few vampires and
demons around. She could cover the ground just as well as she had done for
Sunnydale, which at first just felt wrong.
"Maybe it's all the crosses," Dawn said. "I don't think they have that many
churches anywhere else in the world. Well, maybe in Utah."
Buffy had a somewhat nastier suspicion; maybe many of the vampires here
simply were smarter and richer and didn't have to find their prey in the
streets. Maybe they could just order victims to be brought into their
palazzos, possibly through a law firm.
She didn't know what Angel thought he was doing with Wolfram and Hart, but
it freaked her a little out every time something brought it up. Back when
Willow and Cordy had emailed info back and forth, Willow had filled her in
on the whole Wolfram and Hart deal. "As if the Mayor had branched out," she
had said. Faith, in her Faith way of switching between teasing with
knowledge she knew Buffy wanted to have and genuine desire to share
troubles, had told her even more during those first nights after the
Hellmouth had closed, when neither of them could sleep. And now Angel
worked for them. Or they worked for him. Either way.
It reminded her of her suspicion that Faith might have started to work for
the Mayor with some half-baked idea of infiltrating the enemy stronghold,
before going totally Dark Side, but she never asked Faith about that. The
truce between them was tender and new, and Faith had loved Snake Guy, who,
when all was said and done, had died because he had loved Faith.
With Dawn, though, there was no need to hold back.
"What is it with guys and big organisations?" Dawn asked. "I never got why
Riley went back to the Initiative, either."
"Hey, there's a certain equal-opportunity kick in ordering people around,"
Buffy said ruefully. "I should know."
"But Princess Leia didn't become Empress to finish off the Evil Empire,"
Dawn began, then stopped, horrified. "Gah! Star Wars! That's all Andrew's
"Told you you were married," Buffy returned, and Dawn stuck out her tongue.
During their time in England Giles and Willow had guilt-tripped Buffy into
a promise of visiting the Vatican museums. So she finally went in January,
on a wet, windy day, when any self-respecting demon was at probably at
home, roasting victims. It was a school day, so the queue wasn't that long.
Dawn, who had already been here with her class, had given her a map with
big red crosses on the rooms she said Buffy absolutely had to visit, but
Buffy found herself wandering aimlessly from floor to floor, following
snatches of English conversations.
Some of the paintings she actually recognised from her brief time in
college. She felt an unexpected pang at the thought. There was no way
they'd let her study here with her qualifications, or lack of same, and she
had thought that this particular dream had long been consigned to the dust.
Buffy found herself standing in front of a painting that showed some guy
who was cutting into the skin of another guy. She looked at the title,
written in three languages on a small sign on the wall. "The Flaying of
Marsyas". People brushed against her, trying to get to the next room, and
she smelled cold smoke in their clothes. That was the thing about Europe,
Italy in particular; everybody smoked. Years ago, she'd have wrinkled her
nose at it; now the smell was oddly familiar. She had tasted on him, after
Quickly, she turned away from the painting and let herself be pushed into
the next room. The big attraction there was completely invisible thanks to
all the people standing around it, so she looked at a smaller painting
somewhere in the corner that nobody seemed to be interested in. Not hard to
guess why. Even a college dropout like she could see it looked clumsy in
comparison to most of the other stuff here. Yet another Mary with child.
Still, there was something about this one that was almost.
She stood still. Looked at the face, tried to imagine the curls flattened
into a straight hairdo, and the rather pretty lacy dress replaced by some
horrid school girl outfit. Remembered the eyes, looking at her, and the
Darla. It was Darla, looking at her from a painting she must have
commissioned as a big joke. Virgin Mary indeed.
"Okay," Buffy said out loud. "I get it. There is no place where one of you
wasn't first. But you know what? It's still my city."
When she was outside again, where the rain had stopped enough for some sun
beams to get in between clouds, she breathed in deeply, and promptly
started to hiccup. Some guard asked her whether she was alright, and she
nodded and quickly went to the small German cemetery, which was apparently
the only place inside the Vatican walls nobody was interested in. Sat down
on a tomb. The cats who had been there first hissed at her, but she ignored
them, and after a while, one of them wandered over to her and started
purring. Buffy stroked her and wondered how screwed up one had to be when
being in a cemetery was one's idea of homey comfort.
Then the rain returned, and the cats rushed away. Buffy stood up. After a
glance at her wrist, she decided it was time to pick up Dawn from school.
"Hey Miss," one of the Algerians yelled at her in English as soon as she
had left the Vatican, "how about an umbrella?"
"No thanks," she replied in Italian, and began to jog a little. She hadn't
come by scooter, but the next Metro station wasn't that far. It was just
that she wanted to walk, rain or no rain.
After a while, she felt the ground beneath her feet again. The streets she
had walked before. She, and no one else. She recognised the shop where she
had spent entirely too much on absolutely gorgeous Sandro Vicari shoes, and
the bistro where two cute guys had flirted with her and Dawn when they had
Maybe it was many cities in one, and maybe it wasn't so free of memories,
after all. But for now, it was hers.