5. Forty-one days.
The first two weeks were spent fighting around the clock. The sky was permanent twilight; ash and smoke and grit obliterating the sun, kill one demon only to find three more in its place. Every available slayer had been sent to fight. She didn't have time to think, so Buffy didn't, just carried her dread around with her, as if it was something that needed careful tending.
On the eighteenth day, the sun pushed through in the middle of the day. It was only for a few hours, but for that brief period a truce was declared. Demons and demon killers alike stayed inside, resting up for further exertions later. Except for Buffy. She spent her time crawling into collapsed buildings, marking likely sites of rubble on a map. No one said anything.
On the thirty-third day, a survivor was found. It was plastered all over the news and hailed as a miracle. Unspoken was the knowledge that there will be no more found. Buffy didn't speak for the rest of the day. When Willow placed her hand on her arm, Buffy shrugged it off. "It's different," she snapped. "He's different. Time doesn't mean anything." Willow didn't answer.
"B." Faith is quiet and Buffy wonders when Faith's brashness got burnt out of her. "Ready to go back to Rome tomorrow?"
And that's when Buffy remembers. Six weeks. While L.A. still needs years of rebuilding, the demon threat has been reduced to manageable levels. A team of three slayers is staying behind, but everyone else is going home. She has a sudden urge to scream but the compassion in Faith's face makes that impossible. Instead, she opens the door of their hotel room and slams it behind her.
She walks the streets, bypassing buildings she's already checked, collapsed streets she's rummaged through. She initially concentrated her efforts on the area immediately surrounding Wolfram and Hart convinced that was the heart of the apocalypse but days and nights of searching have revealed nothing. A small voice tells her that because there's nothing to find. She closes her eyes and pushes it away just like every other day. She chooses a direction and begins walking. After twenty minutes she's past the circle of streets that she's so carefully combed through.
The devastation is notably lessened here. Windows are shattered, a structurally iffy building needs shoring up, but obviously this isn't the epicenter. She curses softly, there's no time and she's wasting what little she has. She's about to turn around when something on the next block catches her eye. The way it moves, she thinks demon and hurries over.
By the time she gets there, it's gone, but she's not sure she cares. The next block is flattened. She's no longer sure she believes in anything, but she says a silent prayer of thanks anyway. This alley is where it started, she's positive.
It's so bad here that there's only been a cursory attempt to make the area passable. She surveys the area trying to decide how best to proceed. It reminds her of the game "Booby Trap", one miscalculation on her part and she could easily slip and break her neck. She steps cautiously on each pile of debris, leaning her weight carefully forward until she commits herself. She's standing in the middle of a building, half demolished ceiling, walls and floors all around her. She makes her way to a staircase that's still standing, even though it now goes nowhere. She cranes her neck, trying to determine what to do when she sees it. A hole in the ground. It takes her forever to creep over to it. Switching on her flashlight, she can't make out the bottom. Her stomach tightens and without further hesitation, she jumps down.
Her knees bend deeply as she hits the concrete floor. The sound of skittering nails makes her flesh crawl. Slowly, she swings the narrow beam of the flashlight around. A broken pipe in the corner is slowly dripping water. Underneath is a dark shape. Cautiously, she steps closely.
The stench is so overwhelming that her stomach immediately heaves and it's only due to a supreme act of will that she doesn't vomit all over the floor. A second later all she wants to do is cry.
The bundle is barely recognizable as a person. One arm is at an awkward angle, the clothes are filthy and ripped with dirt and blood. The face is swollen and misshapen, one eye completely invisible. Every bit of exposed skin appears to have a cut or a bruise or a rat bite. The body itself is emaciated. The broken pipe spits out a few drops of water onto the dry lips.
It doesn't matter. She'll never not know him instantly. "Angel?" She fights to keep her tears at bay. She pulls her knife out of boot. Slayer blood will go a long way toward healing him, the thought that could be dangerous for her doesn't figure in her calculations any more than it did all those years ago.
She gets closer and the smell hits her full force. Blood, decay, piss. And that's when her subconscious pushes to the forefront. Vampires don't use the bathroom. She moves his arm slightly and the noise he makes is the rusty hinge sound of every front door in every horror movie every filmed. She hates hurting him, but she doesn't know what else to do. She lays two fingers on his wrist and there it is. A pulse, weak and fading, even as she kneels there. He's dying right in front of her.
Buffy stands up and screams. She yells at the world, at G-d, at Angel, at Giles, at herself and everyone else she can think of who might possibly have a hand in this. And then she jumps. It takes three tries, but she manages to propel herself high enough that she grasps the edges of the hole she feel though and pulls herself back out. She says a silent prayer, promising that she'll never do anything the least bit bad in her entire life, if only. If only.
The cell phone comes to life and she speed dials Faith. She barks out the address and demands that everyone get there as quickly as possible. When she hangs up, she realizes she forgot to say why. Then she dials 911, describes exactly where he can be found, explains his injuries as much as she can and tells them they might also need equipment to get him out. And then she jumps back down.
She's talking a mile a minute, about anything and everything, fear telling her if she stops, he'll stop too. His lips are moving soundlessly and when she notices; her words stop so suddenly it's as if she's been knocked unconscious. He's struggling to take a deeper breath and she leans into him, worried.
"Angel, don't. The ambulance is going to be here. Don't hurt yourself. '
He puffs the word out, a feather in the breeze, lighter than air.
It is statement and question, promise and prayer. It's the way he always says her name, through apocalypses, through their own deaths, through the deaths of loved ones. They've never needed endearments; their names carry everything they are. She whispers his name back to him.
She can hear the sound of the siren now. It's going to be all right, she thinks. Whatever happens, it will be all right.