AN: If you recognize this story, that's because I'm reposting it from another now-defunct account, HeartandSol. It will remain up over there for those who favorited it, but I thought it should take its place among the rest of my fic!


Anya was born on the fourth of July, as a matter of fact.

A very long time ago, she'd made that up for the benefit of a bunch of staid British Watchers. She was strange. They were not American, so Americans had been strange to them. She posited hopefully that the strangenesses would overlap and the Watchers would attribute any inconvenient demon-y characteristics to how gosh-darn American she was and leave it at that.

She can't remember, now, whether it worked. But then, that isn't true. She can remember, she feels, but remembering anything is so tiresome, every thought like gathering dozens of far-strewn pebbles, that she doesn't bother. (It was, after all, a very long time back.)

It was even longer ago that she was born—long and long and long ago—but she could remember her father taking her outside that night, and showing her the stars, showing her her place under them. All her memories are there for the having, even the ones she's forgotten, if she'll only step up and have them. She remembers the stars, and she calculates their paths through the centuries. It isn't a quick thought to have, but then, she's been here a very long time, and will be here a very long time yet.

She was born on the fourth of July.

They didn't call it that, of course, back in the old country a thousand years before that interview with the Watchers. It had some other name, but by the late twentieth-century Western calendar, it was the fourth of July.

She doesn't leap up from her little pile of rubble (clean of her red human blood many trickling rains ago) to find Xander and tell him, no matter how funny he would think it, how he would grin and kiss her. She never forgets that he isn't there.

There are lots of other people there, and not entirely, as one might have guessed, as a result of the wholesale slaughter of a dozen or so post-adolescent girls. (The same straight statement of fact, the same lack of bitterness, as she might have used before. But there is something limp and sterile to it now, when there is no valuable time that tact could waste.)

The girls are there, yes, sitting in dusty corners, or on top of jagged heaps, or barely visible in the hollow made by nearly-fallen walls. But there are others too. Jonathan, for one, leaning back against an askant bronze petal whose flower had opened on a mouth of Hell. They should be several levels apart, but in the collapse everything was shaken together. There is no more than twelve yards between them, with only a few yards of vertical difference. They could call and wave to each other, but they don't. Nobody speaks down here, or moves from their places. Eye contact might be made, but once is enough. Then back to staring at dust, stone, drywall, debris.

He is small (so small) propped against that great metal wedge on which he laid and bled. She was always among the first to mention that he was short, yes, but somehow in that time when thoughts came easier she never realized how small he could be.

Warren is there, too. He is nothing to be feared or hated anymore, just another victim of the dark, waiting quietly, his hard thin mouth pressed into a solemn line. He sits among the exposed tangle of a rotting tree's roots (the tree she tied him to, but nobody mentions it, not even Anya, because it's better not to say it, even if she isn't here either) from where it tumbled in among the rubble. He waits in his pink, untouched skin and meets no one's eyes.

Sitting on top of a great heap of ruin, leaning one elbow on a fallen, rusted locker, is Jenny Calendar. Anya never met her, but she knows Xander (who isn't here) told her about Jenny once. She sees that Jenny is very pretty, and proud, even here, where the only thing to be proud of would be getting out alive. And, well.

She thinks of Giles (who did get out, though she doubts he's proud; he's probably ashamed for some reason, which is stupid) and how even though he was in many ways their center, in many more he sat just outside the circle. No one to lean towards and murmur to in dismay when the "young people" wouldn't listen, no one to hold when everyone else's arms were full. She sees now that this was a hole he saved for Jenny (and isn't it funny that it should be her talking of him in past tense. She supposes by rights she should use the present, unless, of course, by now she shouldn't, it was hard to tell, it had been a long time) and always would be.

She sometimes has deep thoughts like this, now that she has the time to have them. She told Willow once (she isn't here) that she could be deep if she wanted to. Xander (he isn't here) would be proud of her, probably.

There are others, too. Kendra, who like Jenny she recognizes without having ever met her, sits crosslegged beneath the shelter of a former classroom door, her back straight, her chin high, her eyes hooded. Anya feels like she would have liked her, even though they definitely wouldn't have gotten along. Way over there is Jesse, Xander's friend (Xander is not here, he got out, he does not have to wait and stare at the world's slow erosion) from childhood. She'd heard Jesse mentioned only once, when Xander'd had one too many beers, but he refused to explain and Anya had to get the full story from Willow, in private. Jesse sits a distance from Anya on the fallen, splintered sign for The Bronze, his feet dangling, and he blinks slowly at dust motes in the air.

Not everyone who didn't make it out of Sunnydale is here, though. Tara, felled by an ordinary bullet from an ordinary gun made by human hands, isn't here. The darkness of the Hellmouth did not take her. She needs not watch its grave. She is elsewhere, carrying on with the things that happen After. Watching over Willow, Anya supposes. Joyce is not here either, thrust from the world by the strange arbitrariness of biology. Anya does not make the effort to remember Joyce's departure, how it made her cry, how it made her feel so mortal. She knows without remembering that she is glad Joyce does not have to wait with the rest of them.

There are so many waiting, ones Anya never knew—students and teachers and policemen and pizza delivery boys and babysitters and public officials, that didn't get out, left now to guard the last piece of Hellmouth they ever stood on. Hers is a simple white floor tile, broken and scarred. She knows it very, very well.

Then one day (and there have been many, many days, she doesn't even know how many, she could count them if she wanted to but she doesn't) there is someone new.

Her blonde hair swings around her heart-shaped face the way it always did, and though she has not counted the days or calculated the stars, Anya knows the hair should be gray, not blonde, that the old Slayer moves should come much stiffer now if they come at all, but here she comes, swinging and shimmying and hopscotching down through the ruins.

Every eye in that pit watches her as she descends, though nobody speaks, and she carries on with perfect aplomb and concentration, as though she does not feel all the eyes, as though she does not realize into what she is descending. She is wearing jeans and a simple white blouse that stays perfectly clean. (She is either sixteen and oh she is so young or else she is twenty-three and still young but oh she is so old too. And yet she no longer looks tired, and Anya realizes that she never saw Buffy not looking tired, just a little tired even at the best of times in the corners of her eyes.)

Buffy reaches the bottom, the very bottom, and stands near Jonathan on another bronze slice of trapdoor that no longer opens on anything. Only now does she look up, and she meets Jonathan's eyes, and Anya's eyes, and Kendra's, and Warren's, and Jenny's, and Jesse's, and the Slayers and the students and the policemen and the babysitters and all the rest. She is smiling quietly and her eyes are bright and full of pride in them all. (Pride in the waiting, not the getting out, and maybe they do deserve to be proud, come to that.)

"It's done," she says in a soft voice that no one strains to hear. "Let's go, guys." She turns around and begins the climb out the other side, and with one unhurried movement they all step away from their last piece of Hellmouth and follow her.

Anya leaves behind her broken tile and hoists herself up over a piece of rebar. Maybe she is going to see Xander, maybe she is going to where he is, or maybe she will have to wait a little longer and if she does, well. She's gotten good at waiting.

It's done.