The street is leveled when she comes back to her senses. It's the middle of the afternoon, the sun beating down on the soaked street, stinking floodwater tainted with death steaming up into the filthy sky. A thousand cuts sting her naked body, pale skin stained brown with blood. She grimaces as she sits up, bites her lip to keep from crying out in pain. A huge splinter of what used to be the floorboards is stuck in her thigh, leaving a dripping wound.
"Buffy." Angel's voice, very soft beside her ear.
She jumps, momentarily forgetting her injuries, and throws her arms around his neck. He grunts in pain, but his hands come up over her back, soothing her against his chest, blood mixing against bare skin.
And then she realizes. The sun.
"Angel." Her voice is soft, tired, devoid of all girlish hope that might have been there in years before. "It's day. How are you here?"
"Wolfram and Hart," he says flatly. "I've changed."
The car is on its side in a ditch, and two of the girls are trapped in the crushed backseat, limbs splayed at odd angles. Blood darkens the inside of the one window which remains intact.
More casualties, thinks Xander numbly.
An inevitability of war.
Clothes are strewn all over, tangled in the wreckage and hanging from shards of buildings like limp flags of surrender. Most of them are white. She's suddenly aware of her nakedness, though there's no one but Angel and a few broken bodies as far as she can see. There is something terribly primeval about it and she shivers, though the sun is unbearably hot.
"Can you stand?" he asks at last, looking worriedly at the place where splintered wood has shredded the flesh of her thigh. "You need to get that cleaned."
She almost laughs. Cleaned. With the stinking, disease-ridden floodwater that is their only companion on this ruined street?
"Maybe." She tries to move her leg, hisses at the pain which shoots hotly up her thigh. "Get it out," she grates.
"Are you sure?" His hands go to her leg, long fingers instantly colored crimson. "You could bleed to death."
"Get it out," she repeats, and then her vision goes dark.
She stands braced against his chest, her leg sore and bleeding, a gaping wound where the wood bit in. His palms brush over her skin, checking for glass. Little shards fall away under his touch, sparkling like malignant jewels in the dusty midday sun.
Satisfied, he eases her back to sit on a concrete step which has survived more or less intact, and starts digging through the wreckage of what used to be their room. He plucks his pants from a jagged broken board and pulls them on. She notices belatedly that he's limping, but can't recall seeing any damage to his legs. Her stomach twists with self-loathing, and she tries to get to her feet. Her injured leg buckles under her, and she collapses against Angel, who is suddenly beside her.
"Sit," he says softly. He tears strips from a ragged towel, demon strength ripping it like paper. But his hands are unbearably gentle as he wraps the cloth around her thigh, and she shivers again in the heat, feeling feverish. She wishes he would be rough. That might not hurt so damn much.
They've been walking for hours, and even with their Slayer strength the girls are starting to look decidedly worn beneath the relentless glare of the sun. Xander's lost track of his feet; they seem to be walking of their own accord though they've gone completely numb.
There's floodwater everywhere, but it's so dirty and foul-smelling and filled with rapidly bloating corpses that the repulsion in his stomach far outweighs the burning thirst in his mouth and throat. Not a vehicle, or sign of life in sight He wonders where the relief teams are, then wonders if there are any left alive.
Lonely thoughts in a lonely world in the middle of a rotting wasteland.
They are going to die out here, he thinks, but doesn't stop walking.
She wonders if this is what Sunnydale would have looked like, if she'd gone back and climbed down into the crater. The sky's so dusty it might as well be a wall of dirt above them, but there's water instead of ashes, though the street is just as ruined. She suddenly wishes that she'd gone back after the rescue teams were finished, and the area became yet another forgotten landmark of the war destroying the world from above and below.
They might have gone back to her house, she thinks. It wasn't standing at the end of the fight, she knows. But Xander can fix anything. They might have built a house from the wreckage of her own, and lived beneath the sky of dirt, hidden away from the war and the world and the wall of years that has grown up between them all. Just her, and Dawn, and Willow, and Xander.
She leans against a fallen tree as she coughs, little drops of blood falling into the floodwater to tinge it pink.
Willow is unconscious and bleeding from a head wound when Dawn at last finds her body. The blood's trailed all the way down her neck from her temple, and for a moment Dawn's thoughts go to Spike. She wonders if he's still alive. Thinks that they could use his help about now. Knows that he'd never come, even if he could be found.
She sits down carefully, avoiding the sharp pieces of rubble, and eases Willow's head into her lap. She brushes red hair off the older woman's forehead.
They are exposed, the magical barriers destroyed along with the physical ones. They'll be discovered soon, and the only woman who can stop that from happening is lying unconscious on her lap. Dawn sighs, and decides she doesn't care.
They spend the remainder of the afternoon picking wordlessly through the wreckage, looking for items that will prolong what is bound to be a long and painful death for her. She knows this, and knows that he must be aware as well, but neither dares mention it.
He brings a bundle of something over to her, breaking her reverie. All she can see is a tangled bunch of cloth, but her heart speeds up uncharacteristically as he sets it in her lap and kneels before her, his hands on her knees. There's an odd reverence in his movements, and his eyes are dark and vulnerable in the too-bright light. Her fingers look twiggy and gnarled as she struggles to untie the cloth, and she wonders absently what the rest of her must look like by now.
She at last manages to tear the rags open, and realizes that they used to be part of a blanket. Two dirty stuffed animals fall out onto her bandaged leg, a teddy bear and a rabbit. Her thoughts stray once more to Sunnydale and Mr. Gordo, and she hugs them tightly to her chest.
Willow is murmuring nonsensically to herself, and shivering violently, though she hasn't woken. Sweat beads up on her forehead, and Dawn brushes it aside, trying to convince herself that any sign of life is a good thing. Night has come, and it's raining again, lightly this time. The drops are warm and feel deceptively like tears running down Dawn's cheeks. She stays sitting in the middle of the wrecked compound, because there isn't anywhere else to go.
"Come back," she says to Willow, because there isn't anybody else to talk to. "We need you. The whole world does, and they don't even know it yet." It sounds young and naïve, but that's the way she feels. She's lost her makeshift family once again, and she's never felt so utterly hopeless. She wonders if this is how Buffy felt, before. Decides it's not enough reason to forgive her sister for leaving yet again.
They find cans of food in the wreckage of what used to be a shop. Angel brings as much wood as he can find that's dried in the sun over the course of the day, and before long they've got a fire going that's strong enough to shoot sparks up into the night sky, like quickly dying stars. She warms a can of beans, and eats them with her fingers until she catches him watching her, hunger evident in his eyes.
"Angel?" she asks softly. She puts the can down and locks eyes with him. Something's changed in this day after world's end, but she can't quite say what.
Silently, he comes over and sits beside her. She gasps as he takes her by the wrist and carefully licks the remaining sauce from her fingers, tongue raising gooseflesh all over her body.
"What?" There's something low and primal in his voice, as though he belongs to this world made ancient by devastation.
"People like us…do we ever get to heal?"
He presses a kiss to the hollow behind her ear and rests his head on her shoulder, saying nothing.
The fire dies down until it's nothing but smoldering ashes, and the night sky is filled with dust-obscured stars, their glow diffuse and yellowish. Buffy stares at it and thinks about paintings, wondering whether there will ever be enough of a world for art again. Whether anything she's done in her too-long brief life has made the slightest bit of difference.
"You okay?" Angel's lips against her neck make her jump; she'd thought he was asleep.
The water in the air is turning into fog, and she realizes she can't see the sky anymore. She draws her knees up to her chest, and glances at the two salvaged stuffed animals on their perch by her abandoned can of beans, suddenly feeling very small.
"Come here." He gets to his feet and lifts her into his arms, saving her injured leg the stress of walking. Finding a patch of bare ground among all the wreckage, he stretches out on his back, arranging her atop his body so she's spared the wet ground. Somewhere off in the distance, a lonely night bird calls.
Oceans away, Spike huddles beneath the dirt and thinks about coffins. At least it was warm and dry inside his, though he's never been so afraid as when he woke up locked inside it. The memory of Drusilla's singing, her huge eyes filled with mirth as she watched him claw his bloodied way out still haunts him in the odd nightmare.
He thinks of Buffy doing the same, and grips the metal sign he spent days searching for until he can feel it beginning to bloody his palms.
1630 Revello Drive
And the circle continues.
He laughs bitterly as he reclines on the wreckage of her couch, now covered in mud from the floodwaters running down into the crater. Sunnydale is beautiful without the sun, covered by foot upon foot of dirt and rubble.
He ought to know by now.