Disclaimer: All owned by Mutant Enemy and various networks. Hail Joss.

Spoilers: For all seven seasons of BTVS and the fifth season AtS episode "Damage"

Timeline: Post-Chosen

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 sighed.

"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 fingers.

"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 detail.

"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 looked doubtful.

"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 thing going."

"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, you understand."

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 fault!"

"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 all.

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 mocking smile.

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 dinner there.

Maybe it was many cities in one, and maybe it wasn't so free of memories, after all. But for now, it was hers.