Dirt and ash fly past his head and cover his goggles with grime. He sighs and feels his breath heat the skin of his mouth. Coughing, he adjusts the strap of his gas mask. Adjusting his collar as he walks, he looks around at the skeletons of tree's surrounding the path. The ground feels like sand, and his boots leave deep imprints behind. He has a flashback to a picture he'd once seen. Astronauts on the moon. It's what his footprints remind him of. He looks to the moon, floating there, peaceful and serene in the cold depths of space. He looked at his surroundings once more.

It could easily be the moon.

He's Neil Armstrong. Walking along, exploring new territory. Though, technically the territory wasn't new. He's lived here all his life. He's sure there was a saying. Something about the neighborhood not being the same. He can't remember. He doesn't think it was that important anyway. He kicks a few rocks and hears them trickle down the edge of the crater. He stops, crouches, and picks up a few more pebbles to toss over into the pitch-black void.

The crater has a circumference of five miles and is fifteen hundred feet deep. The other survivors affectionately call it the "dust bowl." He stares down into the darkness. He doesn't think affection should have anything to do with such a reminder of death and destruction. Standing up he coughs and curses his mask. He hates wearing it. He hates how if he doesn't wear it he'll surely get the black lung disease that claimed many other survivors.

Turning, he walks slowly away leaving the pit for another night. His boots sink into the ash. His mask makes his face itch. The skeleton trees wave to him as he strolls by. He quells the urge to wave back. His stomach rumbles slightly. He hopes dinner will be ready when he reaches the camp, but he knows that he is the one that does the cooking. He wants to wish that this all is just some strange horrible nightmare, he wants to believe that it is all a figment of some deranged part of his imagination. He's had too many actual nightmares to counteract his wishes. He can't put his heart into it.

The crater is a constant reminder.

The town of Sunnydale, California no longer exists.

He let's his mind wander. Memories of happy days past almost make him smile.

The camp is the old army base. It being a few miles away from town, all of the buildings had survived the destruction. Mainly they were used for housing. One or two buildings were used for storage of what little items they actually had to store. He still had knowledge of his one night as soldier boy and he'd unknowingly been designated as the leader. He didn't ask for the responsibility, but he didn't turn it down either.

He tilts his head to the sky and he walks, closing his eyes and wishing for what could never be again. It was fickle hope that haunted him. He was too weak to fight it. Something rustles in the bushes next to him and he stops immediately. His breathing becomes shallow, his body as still as the dead trees surrounding him. He hears it again. Quietly he reaches for the Army issued combat knife strapped to his belt, slowly removing the blade with silent precision. The movement seems closer to him, he remains still. Minutes pass. A rabbit leaps nimbly from the bush and sits a few feet in front of him. He grips the knife a little tighter. Long ago the idea of killing a cute little bunny rabbit would have mortified him. Now all he can think of is dinner for him and Celia. He watches the rabbit carefully, anticipating the slightest movement and the right moment to attack. The creature's nose is twitching and he pushes the thought of Bugs Bunny from his mind. Another minute passes.

The rabbit does not move.

Faster than the rabbit he leaps at the furry little creature successfully grabbing it's hind legs. It squirms in his grip. He mentally apologizes to it. He closes his eyes as he brings the knife down. It stops squirming.

Twenty minutes later he arrives at the gates to the base. The two men standing guard nod at him as he approaches and lift their hands to their heads in a salute. One acknowledges the dead animal in his arms but says nothing. Passing through the gates he heads toward building E. Celia should be there, if not, he'll cook and wait for her to come. He passes a few more survivors as he walks and they all nod their heads in respect at him. He nods back and continues on his way. Children run about, squealing and laughing and playing. He almost smiles at the sight of it.

Once he reaches building E, he takes off his mask and goggles. He hangs them on the nail next to the door, and squints his eyes in the darkness of the room. He takes of his jacket and puts it on the peg. Celia comes running out of a dark corner and wraps her arms around his leg. He smiles and pets her fine red hair.

"Xander!" She squeals happily, her green eyes shining. "What'd you bring me?"

He lifts his arm to show her the rabbit. His Adam's apple bobs up and down in silent laughter when she scrunches her nose at it.

"Ew," she says. "It's stinky."

He shrugs his shoulders and gently removes the little girl from his legs and walks toward the small propane stove in the middle of the large room. A small benefit of being the designated leader was that he got the whole building to himself. At first he'd rejected the idea. There was plenty of room for others to share, but they'd insisted. Told him that he deserved it. He flicks the switch on the side of the stove and lets the small pot full of water boil. He goes to his sleeping mat and proceeds to skin the remains of the rabbit. Celia skips over to him and plops her little body next to him.

"See anything interesting?" She asked.

He shakes his head, bringing the rabbit to her attention once more. Indicating that it was this most of what he'd seen.

"Nothing fun ever happens," she says quietly.

He sighs and puts an arm across her shoulders. His kisses the top of her head lightly. She beams up at him.

"Mikey Myers said I was pretty today," she stated proudly. "You know the boy from building G? His parents are James and Sarah."

He nods his head, and looks at her skeptically, one eyebrow raised.

"Oh, he's just a silly boy," she said gruffly. "I don't care what he thinks."

Both his eyebrows shoot up and she breaks from him to throws her hands on her hips.

"I don't!" She shouts indignantly.

He shrugs and smiles at her.

"I don't!" She shouts again.

He goes back to skinning the rabbit, and she gets up from the mat and skips about in the shadows of the room, laughing to herself like any good hearted eight-year-old. He shakes his head happily at her and stands to drop the rabbit into the boiling water. Lying back onto his mat, he folds his arms behind his head and stares dreamily at the ceiling. Celia is still skipping around, but she's all the way at the end of the room and her can barely hear her. He enjoys the little quiet he can get.

After they'd eaten, Celia got up to go to the bathroom and he moved over to her dresser to set out her sleepwear. He smiled to himself as he pulled out the large pink shirt with the unicorn on it. It had belonged to Willow long ago. He didn't know he'd had it in the trunk he'd brought to the base. He's glad he did, otherwise she might be sleeping in one of his god-awful mushroom button-ups.

She comes out of the bathroom and slowly moves toward him, seeing the shirt draped on her sleeping mat.

"Aww," she whines. "I don't want to go to sleep yet!"

He waves a finger at her gently, symbolizing no room for argument. She pouts her lower lip and blows the bangs from her forehead.

"Fine," she caves. "But will you read me a bedtime story?"

His eyebrows furrow at her request.

"Jeez," she says quietly. "I was only kidding."

He glares at her, telling her that it wasn't funny. She sighs and moves slowly toward him, arms wrapping around his neck in a tentative hug.

"I'm sorry," she whispers. "I didn't mean it."

He gently hugs her back, giving her forgiveness.

"What if I read to you?" She suggests.

He nods, and she scampers over to her dresser to pull out her battered copy of a collected book of fairy tales. She runs back over to him and plops down in his lap.

"Okay," she says flipping through a few pages. "Tonight I think it'll be... Sleeping Beauty. Is that all right?"

He nods, and she begins to read.