AFTER THE BIG BANG by Joseph B

Disclaimer: Buffy and friends are created and owned by a very nice man, Joss Whedon, copyrighted also by Mutant Enemy, the WB, and some Fox who claims to have been around for 20 Centuries. All I own is my soul, which was refunded back to me by Satan.

Dedications: This is just too short to be a worthy of a dedication to anyone.

Author's notes: I got the dialogue for the last scene from the original script of the episode, before it was edited for television. I wrote this as a prologue to a story I may still write.

* * *

The fire department were still busy dousing areas of the smoking rubble that had once been the proud high school of Sunnydale, but the last of the fires had been put out over an hour ago. Glancing up at the sky as she slowly walked down the street, amid the many firetrucks and ambulances, she saw that the moon was maintaining its eclipse of the sun as they both continued to set towards the horizon. But Giles, and Wesley, had assured them that the moon would return to its normal pattern within the next twenty-four hours.

Speaking of the annoying Watcher, she and Xander saw that he was finally being wheeled to an awaiting ambulance. Only sustaining minor injuries he had been listed close to the bottom of a very long line of people waiting to be taken to the hospital. She was actually thankful that the waiting list was very long, she thought grimly. The dead had no need to be rushed to the hospital.

As they drew closer to the ambulance they were able to hear his faint, moaning voice, sounding like he was mortally wounded.

"If I could just get something for the pain," he said, lying on the gurney wearing a neck brace. "It's rather a lot of pain, actually... an aspirin . . . anyone . . . perhaps if I could just be knocked unconscious..."

His last lingering groan faded as he was loaded into the ambulance while being ignored the entire time.

She just gave the ambulance an idle glance then scanned the surrounding area. All the flashing red and white lights strobed the street in a macabre tableau that was not entirely lost on her. And one that, unfortunately, was becoming more and more familiar to her. This was the third circuit she was completing this way down the street. Xander had joined her just a couple of minutes ago.

"We got off pretty cheap, considering," he finally said, with a glance towards what remained of the school.

She didn't look at him but replied. "Seems like we did."

Xander noticed the way she was looking around. Searching. When they reached a spot almost directly in front of the school she turned around, still searching. Xander stepped in front of her and said. "He made it through the fight." She finally looked at him and he was glad to see some of the worry lifted from her eyes. "I guess maybe he took off after . . ." he offered.

He wished there was something he could do to take the sadness out her green eyes, but knew there wasn't. She just lowered her eyes and nodded. Not having anything else to say that would help, he gave her a small smile and turned to walk away.

He saw Giles walking towards them.

"Good job," he told Xander, as they passed each other.

She turned her attention to him as the former Watcher walked up to her. He removed his glasses as he regarded her kindly. "Are you all right?" he asked, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder.

She smiled faintly. "I'm tired."

"I should imagine so. It was quite a couple of days."

"I haven't processed everything yet. My brain isn't really functioning on the higher levels; it's pretty much, 'fire bad, tree pretty'. Anything more complex..."

Giles smiled knowingly. "Understandable. Well, when it's working again, congratulate it on a good campaign. You did very well."

She was able to give him a warmer smile. "Thank you. I will."

"Uh, I ferreted this out of the wreckage for you," he said, slipping his glasses back on and reached into the inside pocket of his jacket. "It may not interest you, but . . ." He pulled out a rolled-up diploma. Her diploma.

"I'd say you've earned it." He offered it to her.

She didn't say anything, but gratefully accepted it. She examined it for a few seconds before wrapping her hands securely around it. She saw that he was looking at the wreckage of the school and looked with him.

"There's a certain dramatic irony attached to all this," he began, once again removing his glasses. "A synchronicity that borders on predestination, one might say."

By the end of the short speech, Buffy was looking at him again. "Fire bad. Tree pretty."

Smiling sheepishly, he said, "Yes. I'm sorry. I'll go tend to Wesley." He started to move passed her, putting his glasses back on. "See if he's still . . . whimpering." He chuckled lightly.

Buffy watched his retreating back for a moment then felt a sensation run up her spine. One she had grown very familiar with over the past two and half years. Turning around, she knew where he was before she actually saw him.

He was standing about twenty yards away, beside the front of a fire engine to his left and the rear of an ambulance to his right, oblivious to all the activity around him. He was looking directly at her.

Several EMS and fire crew members walked across their line of sight, but neither broke contact with each other's eyes. Her first impulse was to rush over to him with the relief she felt of seeing him unharmed. Especially after coming so close to losing him just last night. But her brain was working well enough to stop herself. There was a sadness in his eyes that she knew was reflected in her own.

The moment seemed to stretch to hours but was still over far too soon for her as he took a step back, then finally broke eye contact when he turned and started to walk away. She watched him until his form faded into the rolling white mist created by the smoldering rubble and steam.

Then Angel was gone.

Buffy turned and walked off in the opposite direction.

* * * * *

Buffy spotted the others in the grass meadow across the street from the used-to-be school. Willow was sitting on the small stone bench, her hands in the pockets of her yellow jacket. Oz was standing right behind her, casually stroking a hand over her hair. Xander was sitting on the grass next to the bench. The trio were gazing at the school.

Then Cordelia stepped up to the group, her arms crossed, and a serious expression on her face. Buffy started to make out their voices as she got closer.

"Well, that was the most fun you can have without having any fun," she said, dripping with sarcasm.

Willow smiled slyly as she said, "What about the part where we kicked some demon ass? I didn't hate that."

Xander spoke up next. "Guys, we blew up the school! It's the best day ever!"

Willow added, "Why do demons even come here anymore? Don't they know how bad we are?"

Buffy wanted to smile at that but found she was unable to. She finally reached her friends and said, "You guys wanna take off?" She gave the school another look. "I think we've pretty much done everything we can."

"I'm for it," Cordelia said.

Willow looked up at Buffy. "Are you okay?"

Buffy's gaze seemed to focus inward as she considered the question. Finally, she nodded slowly. "Yeah." With a little more conviction that she actually felt, she said, "I'm okay." She saw from the redhead's eyes that Willow believed what she said also. "I could use a little sleep, though."

"Yeah," Willow agreed.

Buffy sat down next to her. "If somebody could just wake me up when it's time to go to college, that'd be great."

"Guys," Oz spoke up, behind them. "Take a moment to deal with this. We survived."

"It was a hell of a battle," Buffy said.

Oz shook his head. "Not the battle. High school."

Silence fell as the group of teenagers looked at their destroyed high school.

"We're taking a moment," Oz said.

Two seconds later, Willow and Buffy stood up and started to walk away.

"And we're done," Oz concluded.

Cordelia raised her eyebrows and Xander got up from his spot and they walked side by side across the meadow. The entire scooby gang, together. Oz put his arm around Willow's waist.

"You know what the best part of high school was?" Xander asked.

"When we blew it up?" Buffy replied.

"Yeah! That ruled. 'Cause you know the thing that made it so special..."

"Was that the school blew up?"

"Exactly!"

"I begin to find you troubling."

"Oh, come on, you know you're all thinking it."

"Well..." Buffy said.

Then they all said at the same time:

"I was." From Willow.

"Pretty much." This from Cordelia.

"Uh-huh." Sounded Oz.

"Yeah," admitted Buffy.

Their chatter began to fade with them into the night, leaving the stone bench behind. In front of the bench, lying against the curb, a partially burnt yearbook was lying on the ground amid a few bits of rubble. On the cover:

SUNNYDALE HIGH '99

"The future is ours!"