This is the way the world ends.
That is what she thinks every time: this is the way the world ends. Because I was not able to stop it.
On the anniversary of that day (that day when they blew up their hometown and that day that everything changed) Buffy finds Willow and Xander: the three of them, the original Scoobies, the ones who remain.
"Tara," Willow whispers.
"Anya," Xander gulps a little and bites the inside of his cheek so he will not cry.
"Spike," Buffy says, looking down at her lap. They light a candle and move on.
So, the apocalypse.
"Tomorrow." Giles says.
"Really?" Buffy asks.
Here is a sword. Here is the Slayer. Here are her friends. She fights. She wins. It is a well-etched pattern.
Here is the world, still circling the sun.
"Why Spike?" Willow asks, when they are driving across the United States in a grey sedan, somewhere that is flat, greenish, and most certainly either Kansas or Missouri.
"At first he made me feel human," Buffy says. Her mouth is dry. "And then later, he made me laugh. At the end, it was because he loved me."
"Did you love him?" Willow asks, holding onto the steering wheel tighter than strictly necessary.
Buffy exhales. Willow can hear the yes along with the long breath.
"What about Tara?" She asks.
Willow doesn't hesitate. "She wanted me to be the person I should have known I was."
From the radio, a snippet of sound: and the band played on/as the helicopters whirred...
Buffy makes Dawn dinner. They're in an apartment in Cleveland that isn't not nice, but it isn't good enough either.
"You undercooked the potatoes," Dawn says.
"Eat them anyways," Buffy says. "Or have cereal. I don't care."
"What," her sister says, and Buffy looks at the scratched surface of the table.
"Some days," she starts, murmuring a half-completed thought, and Dawn raises her eyebrows and waits for an answer. Buffy doesn't provide one. "You know what, no cereal. Eat your potatoes."
"You should stop thinking about him." Dawn stares at her unflinchingly with the wise eyes of the young. "You're making yourself sad."
"The vegetables are organic," Buffy says. "They were expensive. Please finish your dinner before Willow and Giles get here."
She gets up from the table and walks away.
If there was a soundtrack to her life, it would be saxophone.
Or maybe piano in a minor key.
Another drive, another question, even if this one is only to the grocery store to pick up milk and dish detergent.
"If Tara was alive," Buffy starts, not looking at her friend, "what would you do?"
"Find her. Hold her," Willow says. "Maybe I would apologize. I don't know."
Willow doesn't ask a question in return and Buffy doesn't offer an answer, but she wonders.
She pictures it, sometimes. What it would be like if he came back. How and what and when it would happen. If he would be happy or sad or not care at all. How everyone else would react. How she would truly feel (elated, or melancholy, or maybe merely interrupted).
There is imagery in her head: running into his arms, jumping, leaping, kissing him. Having him turn away from her, turn towards some other shadowy thing that she can't quite see clearly. Someone staking him, pretending he is an imposter.
She is the Slayer, and sometimes her dreams come true.
It's that what keeps her up at night.
Sometimes she asks herself if she really did love him, or if she just got used to him being around.
But it's been two years and she can't stop thinking of him, can't stop seeing his smirk in her head, can't stop replaying that kiss, god that kiss, that kiss after the musical theater demon did his work.
This is how Buffy's previous world ends, and her new one begins
She is walking down the street a little after dusk. The last weak rays of sunlight are catching dust particles in the air. The sidewalk is concrete and speckled with hard, dark patches of gum. The moon is rising, like it does, and the sky is turned the color of dark, unwashed denim.
She sees a shadow at the street corner; familiar yet foreign. She sees blonde hair and leather, sees the smoke from a cigarette curling up into the navy sky.
The man at the corner turns his head a little bit and she can see a familiar profile, cheekbones she knows from tracing them with the pads of her fingers, glinting eyes and a certain remarkable scar.
"Oh my god," Buffy breathes out, and she breaks into a faster walk.
He is loitering, smoking at his leisure, and she catches up to him easily.
"Spike?" she asks.
"Buffy," he says.
And then she punches him in the stomach.
He doubles over wheezing, puffing out air he doesn't need to stay alive.
"What the fuck was that?" Spike gasps. "Have you gone crazy since the last time I saw you?"
"I thought that you were dead!" Buffy retorts. "You were dead!"
"Well, now I'm not," he scowls. "I'm alive enough to be your punching bag."
(behind her she can hear a child asking why the pretty lady hit the man)
"This isn't how I thought this would go," Buffy says.
"I didn't either."
He goes back to her apartment with her. No one is there, and she tosses her jacket over the back of a chair with a sigh of relief. She slips out of her boots. Spike keeps the leather duster on.
Buffy doesn't know how to begin. They stand at opposite ends of the room, him in the doorway and her perched on the chair.
He could turn around and go.
She knows that she doesn't want that.
Buffy remembers Willow. She remembers Tara, too. She remembers what she needs to do.
She walks over to him and wraps herself around Spike. He tenses at first, but soon his arms come up and she can feel his hands pressing against her spine.
When she pulls away, she can feel a slight dampness on her cheek. Spike touches her face gently, swipes the tears away with a pull of calloused fingers. She exhales.
"Start from when you first came back," Buffy says.
And this is how it begins again.