Chapter 1

May 20, 2003

The school bus stopped a safe distance from the crater. Several of the occupants got out to survey what had happened.

"What did this, Buffy?"

"Spike," she said quietly. The Slayer stared out into the distance, at the hole where her vampire lay buried.

Dawn moved up beside her and slung an arm over Buffy's shoulders. She was quiet, too. Everything they'd had, that they'd known, was at the bottom of that crater. They only had one bag, each, of their most precious possessions on the bus. There just hadn't been time, or room, for more.

The others are behind them, talking about what this means now, and where they can go. Buffy breathes in a bit of strength, and turns back to her friends.

"Come on, guys, back on the bus. We have wounded that need attention. We'll probably have to stop at a hospital in L.A. Giles, can you drive a bus?"

"I think I can manage, Buffy."

"Good. Let's go."

They usher the new Slayers back on the bus. Faith helps Robin move to the back where he can stretch out on the long seat. Giles moves into the driver's seat and gets the bus rolling again. Buffy and Dawn take the seat behind him.

"I think Angel still has that hotel, Giles. We should head there. There's enough room for the girls to rest, and Angel's team will have first aid supplies. Let me know when we're close enough for me to give you directions."

Buffy gets as comfortable in the seat as she can, trying to ease pressure off her wound. It hurts like a bitch now that the adrenaline is wearing off, but at least it's not bleeding. It's an hour drive to L.A., so she closes her eyes for a bit, feeling Dawn take her hand. Her little sister has really grown up. A year ago, Dawn would be throwing a fit over the injustice of losing their house and all her friends being scattered to the winds. Now, she chats quietly with a couple of the girls in the seat across from them, just grateful that her sister is still here.

As they get into the heart of the city, Buffy directs Giles to the Hyperion. He pulls the bus up in front of the hotel, and everybody files out, eager to stretch their legs. Buffy, Willow, and Faith walk up to the doors.

"That's funny. The lights are off in the lobby."

Willow tries the door, and it's unlocked, so somebody must be around somewhere.

"Hello? Anybody here?" Buffy calls.

The door to Angel's office opens. "Buffy? Willow, Faith, what are you all doing here? Is everything alright? Angel mentioned you were facing an apocalypse in Sunnydale." Wes looked concerned, and curious.

"Wesley, you look…different. No more stuffy Watcher clothes," Buffy quipped. "Listen, we need some place to stay for a few days, or so. Sunnydale is gone, so Giles needs time to make arrangements for us. Are you the only one here?"

"Yes. I was just picking up some books, and files. We've relocated, as it were, but Angel still owns the hotel, so don't worry about that. How many are with you, and does anyone need medical attention? I'm sure Angel won't mind you being here."

"Great, that's a relief. We have around 20 girls, plus the Scoobies. We're going to need some first-aid stuff, and food. We also have a couple people that need to get to a hospital. What floors have usable rooms?"

"I believe all the rooms on the second floor are functional. I'm sorry we don't have more to offer, but it's only been the few of us living here. I'll show you the rooms that have been fixed up." Wesley gestured toward the stairs.

"Will, Faith, tell everybody they can come in, and get Giles or Xander to take the wounded to the nearest hospital." Buffy and Wes walked up the stairs.

Angel's team now had living quarters provided by Wolfram and Hart, if they wanted to use them. Wes had his own apartment already, Angel had moved into the executive suite immediately, and Fred, Gunn, and Lorne were still figuring things out for themselves. They had only been with the company for two weeks, but already, they were swamped with work. Wes pointed out the rooms that had been lived in first to Buffy. He told her she could divide them how she wished. He then told her the room numbers on the second and third floors that were safe to inhabit. With the recent influx of people that had come to the hotel to see Jasmine, practically every room had been cleaned and somehow found a bed, but the second floor would accommodate Buffy's group with plenty of space left over.

When they came back down to the lobby, the girls were bringing in the various items they had managed to stow on the bus this morning, Giles was making calls, and the bus was no longer out front.

"Xander took those who need attention to the hospital, Buffy. He said he'd call once they've been seen," Willow informed her.

"Good. Can you and Faith show the girls around since you've been here before? We need to start thinking about food and stuff."

"Sure, B. I remember where the kitchen is. Wes, is there anything left in the fridge?"

"Not likely, though there may be something in the freezer still. None of us have been here much over the past two weeks," Wes replied.

The rest of the day, and evening was very busy. Giles managed to get in touch with a couple Watchers still alive that he trusted back in England. He was taking charge of the Council assets, and reforming the organization. Any of the girls who still had family tried to reach them. Giles informed all the new Slayers that they could go back to their lives if they wanted to. Neither he, nor Buffy, wanted anyone with them against their will. A few of the girls, the youngest, wanted to go back to their families, but most were willing to stick it out for now. Many of them had nothing to go back to, thanks to the Bringers.

Wes arranged for food and basic supplies to be delivered, then left, citing a mountain of work he had to do. He handed Buffy the keys before he left.

The next few days saw the wounded coming home, all patched up. Robin was now staying with Faith. The doctors had let him go as long as he promised to stay in bed and not move around much. Willow did a locator spell on a globe for new Slayers. They had so many to find and teach. A local map showed a few in Southern California, so they started trying to contact these girls.

The first they talked to was April, because she walked in the door and requested to talk to Buffy. They quickly found many things in common, including both going to Hemery High. April was a year behind Buffy, and had run in a different crowd, but she had heard the rumors when Buffy had been expelled. Buffy liked April right away. She had that quality, like Tara, that made you want to talk with her, only April wasn't shy. She was a beautiful, confident businesswoman who had carried on in her father's name for two years, now. Buffy basically ended up spilling her life story as a Slayer to the girl, including her relationship with Spike.

April listened, but never judged. It just wasn't her style. She found Buffy's tale fascinating, and the events were backed up by the others, too. She also clicked with Dawn, and took the girl shopping for some much needed clothes and things while the group was in L.A. Dawn added her own version to Buffy's story, from her point of view, and talked about the friendship she had had with Spike over a year ago. She quietly expressed her regret that she would never get the chance to make things right with him. April felt for the girl that had lost her one true best friend.

The first Sunday after the collapse of Sunnydale, the group drove out to a quiet cliff overlooking the ocean for a memorial service for those they had lost. The girls paid their respects to their fellow Potentials, tossing a rose over the edge after they spoke. They then walked back to the bus to wait for the Scoobies to say their goodbyes privately.

They remembered Anya, Xander allowing himself tears for the first time since he had discovered she hadn't made it out. Andrew got carried away, as usual, in his speech, but it lightened the mood a little. The others eventually left Dawn and Buffy alone.

"Do you think he's in a better place, Buffy?" Dawn was the first to broach the subject.

"I hope so, Dawn. He saved the world. I'd like to think that 7 billion people might outweigh his earlier exploits."

"I wish I had the chance to tell him I'm sorry. I never talked to him after he first came back. He…probably died thinking I hate him, but I don't."

"Oh, Dawnie, I'm sure he knew. It's me he didn't believe."

"Did you love him, Buffy?"

"Yeah, by the end I did, I do, but he didn't believe me when I said it. He just told me to leave the cavern," she admitted quietly. No more secrets from her sister.

"I never thought he wouldn't be here, you know? Even if he wasn't around, he'd still be here somewhere, longer than we would. What do we do now, Buffy?"

"We live, just like Spike wanted us to. I'm going to try to show you the world, Dawn, just like I said I would a year ago. The Hellmouth is closed, and we're free. Spike gave us that. Where would you like to go?"

Dawn linked arms with her sister as they started back toward the bus. "Paris, maybe? I've always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower. What about you?"

"I was thinking about Rome."