Tomb of the Unknowns
By Sophia Prester
Disclamer: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and all associated characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy studios. This work was not written for profit, as that would be silly.
Note: This story is set sometime shortly after the S7 episode "Potential."
Xander always went by himself when he visited the grave.
It wasn't like it would be a big deal or anything if someone saw him or figured out what he was doing, but there was something comforting about keeping these visits quiet. Far too much of his life had been nothing but noise.
Of course there was the noise that constantly filled the home he'd grown up in--slurred voices, shrill arguments, clattering whiskey bottles, and slamming doors. Then there was the noise of school, but most of the time that was nothing more than his own voice as he mouthed off for any one of the million reasons he had. These days, he worked at a job that was almost nothing ~but~ noise, but that was a good thing. In that case, noise meant that things were going smoothly. It reminded him that he was making money and making something of himself.
He followed the familiar not-quite-a-trail through the woods. It had been well worn two summers ago, but everyone had visited the grave back then, and their footsteps had kept the path clear. Someone--Giles, he thought--had gone through with pruning shears at one point to clear away some of the branches that snagged into the path. Now, Xander had to brush past new growth and kick his way through tangles of vines and fallen branches. The grave site up ahead was in just as much disrepair, and not just because of the big honking hole right in the middle of the plot. No one else had been there to clean away the weeds or brush the pile of leaves away from the headstone. In a few years, moss and weather would start to blur the words he'd chiseled into the stone.
BUFFY ANNE SUMMERS
BELOVED SISTER, DEVOTED FRIEND
SHE SAVED THE WORLD
The job was harder than he'd expected. He should have realized that working with stone wouldn't be the same as working with wood. Willow had to do some magical editing at one point when one of the Fs in 'Buffy' became an E by mistake. He'd been trying to see the letters as nothing more than lines, angles, and curves, so he wouldn't think about what the words and dates actually meant.
It had taken Willow, Tara, and Dawn hours to come up with the first eight words of the epitaph. His only contribution to the discussion was to shoot down suggestion after suggestion as being too sappy, too vague, too trite, too this, too that. In the end, they seemed to come to some consensus, and Willow read out the words in a voice that trembled under the studied calm.
"Beloved sister, devoted friend, she saved the world."
"A lot," Anya, ever the literalist, added not even a second after Willow had finished. It was so absolutely perfect that Xander was caught between laughter and tears for nearly twenty minutes.
He finally reached the clearing, and pushed all thoughts of Anya out of his mind. There was only room to deal with one pain at a time.
Twenty-one smaller stones still rested in a neat pile next to the headstone. At first, Willow had tried putting them on top of the headstone, but they would always roll right down the curve and get lost in the grass. She had settled for arranging them in a tiny cairn on top of the grave itself. Much later, she admitted to Xander and Dawn that the stones' stubborn refusal to rest on Buffy's grave was what first started her wondering if they might be able to bring Buffy back.
As always, Xander checked to make sure that none of the stones were missing. Twenty-one stones. Twenty-one weeks. One hundred forty-seven days in the grave.
He wondered if anyone else had kept track of all of the days she was gone.
Normally, when he counted the stones, Xander would think back over that strange, lonely summer. Today, however, things were a little different. Twenty-one had taken on a different meaning.
For one thing, he needed another rock. True to form, he hadn't thought to bring one with him. Rocks were one of those things you expected to find lying around handy when you needed one.
He looked around, but the only thing he could find that looked even remotely like a rock was a chip of bark. It would have to do. He wasn't about to use one of Buffy's rocks. It would throw off the numbers, for one thing. Plus, it would be like giving someone a set of used underwear. Only not quite so gross.
He set the bark on top of the headstone, and it remained exactly where he had placed it.
"Sorry about the faux-finish rock, bud, but I'll try to do better next time. Or maybe you'd prefer some Fruity Pebbles instead of a piece of gravel. They say that giving offerings of food to the dead's coming back in fashion. Apparently, it's the 'new black' or something."
He sat on the ground next to the grave, in almost exactly the same place he'd been during the resurrection spell.
"You know, given the number of people around here who've died of supernatural causes, I'm kind of surprised that half the graveyard didn't get up and at 'em when we brought Buffy back."
He sat there, silently, as if waiting for the reply that he knew would never come.
"I'm glad you had a chance to meet her, even if you didn't get to see just how special she really is. I wish you'd been able to stick around longer than you did. It would've been cool if you were part of the Scooby gang, all fighting evil and making with the stupid jokes and getting yelled at by Giles. I really could have done with another guy in the group." Pause. "Spike most emphatically does ~not~ count, so don't even go there."
That reminded him... He pulled his wallet from his pocket and took out a glossy scrap of paper, not quite squarely cut.
"I've been meaning to bring this by, but what with fighting off primordial evil and babysitting the Slayketeers, time's been kind of an issue lately."
He reached out and dropped the piece of paper into the hole that Buffy had clawed open on her way out of her grave. A black and white picture of an awkwardly handsome young man was visible for a second before it fell away into darkness.
"You remember Webs, don't you? Buffy had to stake him a few days ago. Of course, he already has his own grave, but it's not like he's there anymore. Besides, it's the thought that counts."
He'd been carrying the picture around ever since Buffy had told him about her encounter with their old classmate. A few strokes with an exacto knife, and Webs' picture had come cleanly out of his yearbook.
His yearbook had a lot of holes in it. He'd even dug up a second copy at a yard sale because he needed the backside of some of the pictures he'd cut out of the first one.
"Yeah, I know it's stupid, but it's something, you know? I just hope it's not getting too crowded in there."
He had started cutting into his yearbook about a month after they had buried Buffy. He had thought for a while that he would never go back to that secret grave, but something kept pulling him back.
He'd gone then as he went now, visiting the secret grave during stolen moments, always careful to be well out of there before sundown.
It wasn't fair, he'd thought then, as he often thought now. A brave, beautiful young woman had died, and no one outside their own little circle could ever know. They didn't know that someone irreplaceable had died, and they didn't know just how much they owed to her.
It wasn't until he had screamed those words in front of the then-full grave, that he understood what compelled him to keep coming back to this place. It was the same thing that kept him coming back, even though Buffy Anne Summers (1981-2001) was back in the business of saving the world.
Unlike so many others, he and the others had the comfort of a burial. They'd been able to see and touch the body. They had a place where they could put flowers and pebbles. He'd brought the flowers. The pebbles told anyone who cared to notice how many times Willow had paid her own visits to the grave. He'd seen scraps of paper tucked into the earth next to the tombstone, and a couple of shattered bottles of whiskey within easy tossing distance of the grave. After looking at one of the bits of paper, he had scrupulously left the rest untouched and unread. Also, someone other than him had worked at keeping the gravesite tidy--grass carefully hand-trimmed, weeds pulled, dead flowers removed from a bouquet he'd brought the week before. One time, there had even been a small stack of split-open Oreos and a half-empty box of apple juice placed so carefully in front of the tombstone that no one would have mistaken it for trash.
After Buffy come back from the dead, these little touches no longer appeared. There was no more need for them, after all.
He was happy beyond happy to have Buffy back, but there were others he should visit, others who didn't have graves that could be tended, who didn't have a place where you could leave Oreos, spill your tears, read crappy love poetry, or rage against the unfairness of this world.
There were too many people in this town who only had an unmussed bed or an empty chair, and no explanations. They never had a viewing or a burial, not even a secret one. They didn't have resurrection spells, only some desk jockey at the police department telling them that even though the case was still officially open, all leads had gone cold.
There were too many people who would never know that someone they loved was now acting out the title of a song by Kansas. He used to wonder why some people were so creeped out by the idea of cremation, or why they did that whole let's-go-to-the-funeral-home-and-look-at-grandma's-corpse thing. Now, he knew. Dust was nothing but dust. It meant that you needed to sweep the floor or that you'd just staked another member of the Evil Undead.
"I spoke to Greggo today," he said, startling himself with the sound of his own voice. He'd become lost in his thoughts again, not a safe thing to do this close to sunset. He reached up and nudged one of Willow's stones so that it didn't look like it was going to slide out of the pile. "He's doing pretty good, wishes you a happy birthday, says he thinks you'd like Vegas. Once things quiet down around here--assuming we actually continue our little winning streak and aren't all sucked into a hell dimension--I think I'll go out there and visit. Play the slots, lose my life savings at the craps tables, live the high life."
Xander ran his hand across the back of his neck. He'd been wanting to tell someone this next part ever since he got off the phone with Jesse's brother. Willow would have understood, but there was someone else who should be the first to know.
"It's hard to believe that you'd be twenty-two today, that it's been almost seven years since..." Since Xander had watched his best friend, no, his best friend's ~corpse~ vanish in a puff of dust. "Well, Greg says your folks finally put two and two together about the mortality rate in Sunnydale, and I don't think they're expecting you to show up on their doorstep out of the blue one day."
Still, they'd never know for sure. All they had was the absence of Jesse. There was no way he could ever tell them what really happened to their youngest son. Even if they did believe him, would they think, as he had for so long, that ~he~ had been the one to kill Jesse? Greg knew what had happened to his little brother, but Xander had carefully avoided telling him just who it was who'd staked that particular vamp.
"It...it sounds like they're finally..." Giving up. "...moving on. They're going to put up a little memorial for you in a cemetery in San Francisco. I guess you could think of it as kind of a vacation home or something. It feels weird to have your official board-certified grave someplace else, but I get why your folks would want to have you nearby. I guess you won't mind if I keep coming here to visit you and the others."
A shift in the light caught his attention. The sun was sinking below the tree line. Less than an hour until sunset, then. That would give him enough time to get back to Buffy's place before anyone started to worry.
During his short-lived tenure in Cub Scouts, he'd been both amazed by the fact that their den mother could tell what time it was by looking at the sun and confused by why anyone would want to. That's what watches were for, right?
Sometime during the past few years, he found he could tell how long until sunset almost by instinct.
He got up and walked off without saying farewell. There was no need to. He would be back. By the time the current apocalypse du jour was over, there would be others who would need to be remembered.
For the ones he knew, he would leave some sort of memento--a picture from his yearbook, or even just a slip of paper with a name.
He wasn't sure what to do about the ones who had died with no name and no one even seeming to know that they had lived, let alone died.
Maybe, somehow, this open grave would be enough.
Buffy had done her best to protect them when they were alive. Maybe her grave could give them some shelter even though they had no resting place to call their own.