Title: The Longest Stride
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.
Summary: One thing Buffy's taste in men had always, unfortunately, been consistent on: the annoying tendency to brood. 1400 words.
Spoilers: Way post-Chosen; DOOM (2005); sort of pre-Firefly
Notes: Challenge/pairing prompt fic. Part of an old series-- set after all parts of "Handle ID Slayer" but before "The Reaper Cometh" (posted separately).
"What are you thinking about, John?" Buffy asked, striding down the lowered ramp of their shuttle and insinuating herself under her pensive husband's arm.
"I'm wondering," John murmured, staring out at the red-brown sunset on their brownish-red dustball of a half-terraformed new world, "just how long this is going to last."
"What, the sunset?" Buffy teased him lightly, burying her nose in the warm fabric of his shirt. "I know it's been awhile since the last time we saw one, but I'm pretty sure they stop when the world turns far enough to hide the sun, just like the ones back on Earth."
Mmm, Reaper-scent; several decades now, and she'd yet to get tired of it. Andrew had called it a 'C24-linked species survival trait' the one time she'd had the poor judgment to mention it in front of him a few years after she'd become Mrs. Grimm; personally, she'd rather think of herself as a romantic. One who, after years and years and years of colossally bad luck, had had the good fortune to find herself the perfect man.
Almost perfect, anyway. One thing her taste in men had always, unfortunately, been consistent on: the annoying tendency to brood.
"The peace and quiet," John said, tucking his chin atop her head. "Everyone's all alliance and harmony and shit right now, but they didn't suddenly stop being human just because we left Earth. And we have no way of knowing how many samples of C24 made it offworld in some scientist's frozen baggage."
"Way to be an optimist," she replied, sighing. "Think about it this way: at least we can be sure we got rid of all the vampires, and none of the full demons survived leaving Earth's magical field. That's a major advantage for us, right there. As long as there's not a Hellmouth hiding somewhere in this system, we might actually be able to consider retirement."
"And if there is?" he grunted, still living up to their last name as the strangely small-looking solar hemisphere slipped further and further below the horizon.
"Then we go back to slaying," she said, with as much of a shrug as she could manage tucked up against his muscular torso. "No big. If you'd asked me a hundred years ago, I'd never have thought I'd say this-- but I kinda miss the action."
He snorted. "You'll always be in on the action, whether you want to be or not. You weren't ever not, I'd bet, even back when you were only a cheerleader."
"I was never only anything," she began indignantly, then sighed. Another argument she'd never have made a century ago, back when she'd wanted to be normal more than anything.
Normal would have died back on Earth, though. Normal would have been overrun by the advancing plague brought back from the UAC research into Olduvai, sparing only those wary and well-funded enough to escape with the extrasolar colony project, or fortify themselves in the Slayer-- and allied demonic-- stronghold once known as Vahla ha'nesh. Maybe one day, when the monsters finished consuming themselves, the small pocket of defiant holdouts there would retake the Earth... but there wouldn't be many 'normal' folk left by the time they did.
It had all happened before, as the ruins left on Olduvai proved; it would all happen again, if human nature held true. But hell if she was going to put her whole life on hold, waiting for that day. Surely there'd been ancient refugees who felt that way; and none had stuck around long enough to see Buffy's world fall, had they? She'd rather live each day as it came; store up precautions just in case, but enjoy all that life still offered, too. The grief would have crushed her long since, otherwise; she'd lost so much over the course of her long life.
As long as she still had John, she could survive anything.
"What brought this up again, today of all days?" she asked.
John was silent for a long moment; then he looked up, at the darkening arc of star-spangled heaven above them. "I calculated the date," he said. "Wanted to know what date to put down for the ship's log, not shiptime or Ariel-time but what the calendar would have said back home."
"And?" she prodded gently, suddenly certain what she'd hear. "How long?"
"Long enough," he sighed. "Would have been nice if it had been our birthday, not her deathday. I wish she could have lived long enough to see the new worlds."
Part of what stung so badly about his twin sister's long-ago death, Buffy knew, was that Sam hadn't had to die; she'd had the same genetic type as her brother, who'd adapted beautifully to the administration of C24. But Samantha Grimm hadn't wanted any part of the world her involvement with UAC had dragged her brother into; she'd never quite stopped feeling guilty for being a part of the scientific team that had unloosed the chromosomal plague on an unguarded world. She'd been part of a search for the cure until the day she'd died-- but she had died, at Duke's side when their complex in Colorado was overrun.
Buffy and Reaper had been fighting at the Cleveland Hellmouth at the time, shutting down a none-too-bright master vampire who'd thought turning some of the plague-created imps might be a brilliant idea.
She remembered standing in the rain, black-flecked blood dripping from the blade in her hands, when their contact at Cheyenne-- Destroyer, restricted to a light-duty job after his injuries on Mars-- had radioed them with the news. It had been a warm evening, already humid with the breeze off the lake before the thunderclouds had finally broken overhead; the warm drops had mixed with the tears on his face as he'd turned to her, pressing his forehead to hers for what had felt like hours.
She'd known then, that they had reached the beginning of the end.
So what was it called when someone found the end of one of those endings? Time to start over, on ground swept clean, and hope humanity could build something better able to stand the test of time.
"Maybe you're right," she said, pulling back to look up into his scruffy face. He hadn't shaved in a week, not since the computer had woken them from their long sleep and he'd hacked off the beard that had grown in during cryo. Her own hair rippled in long, impractical waves down her back; she'd probably cut it off in a few days, too, when it began to interfere with the hard work of helping set up the colony, but until then-- she loved the way it attracted John's touch, the sensation of long, callused fingers combing through the heavy, dark-blonde strands.
"Maybe they'll do it all again a couple hundred years from now," she said, "or a couple thousand, if we're lucky. Maybe they'll do it again, after that; people can be really, ridiculously dumb sometimes. Barbeque forks and PCP ring any bells? But maybe they won't. Maybe they won't even need supernatural protectors anymore. Which leaves us..." she trailed off, running a hand down the front of his dark shirt to tug it out of his waistband.
"Which leaves us where, exactly?" he growled, glaring down at her with a half-amused, half-aroused light in his eyes.
"Exactly where we've always been; party on the dance floor, but keep a stake in your pocket in case of sudden apocalypse," she said, brightly. "Come on back inside; we can survey out the foundations for our homestead in the morning. The Wellses and the Rosenbergs won't land until day after tomorrow."
"Think that's a stake in my pocket, do you?" he murmured, smirk turning up the corner of his mouth, black mood finally breaking as he turned fully toward her.
Buffy backed up the ramp in front of him, dragging him with her by the pocket of his trousers. "Might have to examine it to be sure," she said, smirking back. "Think you might consent to a quick-- inspection?"
"Nothing damn quick about it," John replied, hammering the toggle to shut the ship up behind them. Tonight they'd put to rest the past that brought them this far; tomorrow, they'd take the first step into their new future.
"Sounds like a plan," she murmured, and closed his mouth with a kiss.