He wishes he'd said something different.

This is not a new feeling for him. There's an abundant wellspring of smartass that spills readily from his mouth, and a never-ending supply of regrets to tag along behind.

These particular regrets -- a little harder to shake. He stood near the edge of that crater that held pretty much everything he'd known in his whole life, and made some inane crack about Starbucks and the Gap.

Not that it even matters. He's sure no one heard, any more than he registered the shocked comments of the friends standing around him. They were all trying to deal. But he wishes the words nobody will remember but him had actually meant something.

Xander shifts on the bench seat, trying to find a comfortable position. School buses, though: pretty much built for the short haul. He's sitting on the left side -- doesn't want to watch the scenery flash by. There's something unsettling, though, about traveling through what seems to be a black void, and a thread of nausea uncurls in his belly. He closes his good eye and leans his head against the glass.

He feels her fingers in his hair. He'd slumped in that chair, still shaky, synapses fried from the Tasering, and Anya had stood behind him, stroking his hair. It was worth getting the piss jolted out of him, he supposes, for the memory of her touch.

His thoughts are still jittering from topic to topic, and he's not quite sure if the Taser permanently scrambled his wiring, or if it's just the coincidental effect of seeing your hometown reduced to a giant fucking hole in the ground. What should he have said?

It's too big. Xander has never been a master of the big statement. The big joke, yeah. He's getting good at coming up with a glib remark while staring at the ragged hole where something important used to be, something he'd taken for granted his whole life. The Xander "Left Eye" Lopes crack, he'd thought, was pretty choice, even if no one laughed. Okay, maybe the fact that she's dead took that one over the top into bad taste territory. Probably would've gotten a snort out of somebody otherwise. And then piling the condom joke on top of it -- a certain kind of person (and medical professionals probably fall into this category) just won't laugh at any condom joke.

Off on a tangent. Now he's evaluating his material, for crissakes. Where was he? Right. The thing he should have said. He doesn't have it in him. He wishes he were one of those people who knows a million Shakespeare quotes by heart. (Except for one drawback, that it would require him to memorize all that shit.) Shakespeare, he's sure, would have had it in him. Stood on the lip of that crater and declaimed.

Xander couldn't even make it to the edge to stand with his friends. He'd come sort of close, but had to backpedal. Edges and heights -- not a combination that is a one-eyed guy's friend. (Another way this whole one-eyed thing makes him stand apart -- literally -- from everyone he loves.) So no wonder he couldn't come up with anything to say that went to the core. He couldn't even *see* the goddamn core.

Maybe if he makes a list of the things he's leaving behind in that crater. That might get him started.

God, Anya.

In a strange way, though, he feels kind of all right with this. They were just coming back together, things were getting good. Tragic timing, in a chick-flick sort of way, yeah. But more bearable than if they'd still been apart. He has the memory of her lips and tongue, cold and tasting of chocolate ice cream, warming beneath his. The roll on the kitchen floor, like old times, except with the added kick of a couple dozen potentials who could walk in on them at any moment. Jesus, that was hot. Little moments -- her fingers skipping through his hair, the way words like "sweetie" had started falling naturally between them again -- these are memories that will sustain him.

Things between him and his parents? That's the shit that will never be fixed. He will never get what he needs from them, and they'll never stop and take a fresh look at him and decide he's turned out pretty okay, considering. Last time he saw them was the wedding -- now there was a cluster-fuck, a self-made one, always the best kind. Last time they saw him -- well, Willow said the old man showed up at the hospital, after Caleb fucked him up. Xander was completely zoned on pain meds, has no memory at all of the visit. Willow wouldn't tell him what the old man said, and now that he's dead, Xander wonders if she ever will.

Tara. Joyce. Ms. Calendar. Jesse. All of them long gone, but now all the places that kept them alive in his memory are powder. Not even rubble -- hell, they *aspire* to rubblehood.

What else is gone?

The high school. Again. Weird. He hated everything about the place, but he'd spent so much time there with the people he loved. And the second school -- that was something he'd helped build. There was a piece of him in that place, and in other structures scattered around town. Everything he'd worked on -- gone.

The Bronze, which held memories of goofing around with his friends, dancing at the prom with his strange little demon-girl, and occasionally getting terrorized by the evil undead or a really crappy band.

The old derelict factory where he and Willow kissed. (Mixed feelings there.)

The movie theater, which had a marble floor surrounding the box office, inset with the slogan THE HOME OF PROVEN HITS. And a good many sucktastic bombs as well. He'd seen a decent percentage of both kinds at the HoPH, so much better than the multiplex at the mall.

The cruddy motel where Faith popped his cherry (he'd forget about that other part).

The Magic Box, which got reduced to rubble before the rest of the town did. *Major* mixed feelings tied up in that place. Lot of good Scooby times there, some singing and dancing ( *God, that was cool!* Except for the people dancing themselves to death. And the secrets that came tumbling out of all of them.) -- but: Anya. Spike. Funny. They're the two that didn't make it out of this.

His mind refuses to contemplate Anya and Spike in any connected way, slips into wondering who else stayed behind -- who else died with a lot less reason than they had. He doesn't know why he suddenly thinks of the Parks, the Korean couple who ran the candy store where he and Willow hung out, fed their addiction to Pocky. They always seemed pretty smart about making a good life for their kids -- he bets they sniffed what was coming and got the fuck out of Dodge. He hopes so.

And: There's this one nurse. In the hospital, after Caleb. She was so goddamn kind to him. Xander wants her to have gotten out, but he knows deep inside she'd have stayed. Crazy how, out of all these people and places that are gone forever, it's the thought of this one nurse whose name he never learned that makes him break down. He props his elbows on the handrail on top of the seatback in front of him, and buries his face in his hands.

Before very long, someone slides into the seat beside him. Puts a hand on his shoulder, right there near the base of the neck, and squeezes gently. Says nothing, but somehow it's a silence with a Brit accent -- Giles.

He stays by Xander's side as he weeps quietly, hands him a handkerchief when he needs to mop his face. "I've grown extraordinarily fond of her too," he says as Xander tips his head back and draws in a shaky breath. "I'm so very sorry."

Xander nods. He's stopped casting around for something worthwhile to say. He's figured it out -- there are times when nothing is as eloquent as nothing.