Title: Voices Like Thunder

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: PG-15/R

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is not.

Summary: "And I heard a voice like the noise of thunder..." (Life after the Apocalypse, Slayer Style, among the Massachusetts Militia.). 19,300 words.

Warnings: Some violence; post-apocalyptic setting; off-screen traumatic death of an OC.

Notes: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Falling Skies crossover, set after the Season 8 comics and the Season 1 finale, with spoilers for both. Contains canon-typical violence, injury, OC Slayers, low-key Buffy/Kennedy femslash, and the canonical survivors of the Second Massachusetts Militia Regiment, among them: angsty kids, foul mouthed soldiers, misogynistic gun nuts, and one very determined ex-professor.


Buffy collapsed to a seat on the bloody tile in the abandoned house's kitchen, pressing her face to the grimy knees of her jeans, and wept for the first time since the sky had fallen.

She'd hoped, just like everyone else, when the massive ships had appeared over every major city worldwide. Hoped, but planned for the worst: the only sentient thing she'd ever heard of that came from the stars was a Queller demon, and that didn't bode well for whatever else might be out there. She'd called Scotland, San Francisco, and L.A., asked everyone to put the word out, and packed up a couple of SUVs to visit one of the baby slayers' houses out in the countryside. But it hadn't been enough.

Not everyone at the Cleveland House had wanted to go with her. Not everyone had been at home when she'd called, either. She'd only managed a few minutes of conversation with her sister before the circuits had overloaded and cut off all cellular communication. Kennedy had rounded up six of the juniors with nowhere else to go, plus Andrew; they'd packed food, weapons, clothes, and keepsakes, waited long enough to be sure no one else was coming, then climbed into a pair of SUVs and headed out of the city. They hadn't got very far on the crowded highways before the aliens had done whatever they did to kill all the electronics – just far enough to miss the bombs when they fell.

Downtown Cleveland had disappeared. So had Dayton, according to a guy in fatigues they'd run into the next day while hiking along the road in search of a safe place to shelter. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base had been wiped completely off the map. There hadn't been any word yet about what had happened in the rest of the country, but it was a safe bet things were pretty much the same everywhere. No more industrial centers. No more military. No hope of rescue.

Just eight Slayers, a cook slash Watcher scribbling forlornly in a notebook as they traveled, and whatever supplies they could carry or salvage. They'd found other refugees, even traveled for awhile with a larger group – but they'd seen fewer and fewer people every day, once the green-skinned skittering things had started dropping in shuttles and attacking everyone they found out in the open. After that, all bets had been off. Too many people saw a group of girls with one guy as a soft target, and Buffy was sick of hurting other human beings when they could be fighting the creatures who'd done this to them instead.

Detoxing from coffee and chocolate had been nightmarish. Breaking the heels on her last pair of stylish boots had brought a lump to Buffy's throat. Weathering the girls' first monthlies without any meds – after living together for so long, the younger ones had mostly synced up – had kept them holed up in a park with pit toilets for days, making trips to every convenience store for miles for products that would be worth more than gold by the time the year was out. But they'd persevered.

They'd mastered campfire cooking, and filtering their drinking water. They'd learned where to apply pressure, where to twist and where to stab to take down the individual alien creatures. They'd thought they'd been doing well. But no living being still on Earth, no matter their heritage or powers, could stand up to the aliens' two-legged robot weapons – as little Mellie had found out first hand.

Buffy hadn't let herself cry through any of that. Not when her nails broke. Not when she found fleas in her hair and hadn't had a bath in four days. Not when they'd all shared out a handful each of dry Cheerios for dinner because they were out of food and hadn't found an unguarded store in days. Not when Danielle had crept back to them with a gunshot wound and a hysterical story about how Mellie had been taken by the aliens to be harnessed. She hadn't succumbed to the temptation to blame Kennedy for summoning her to deal with a few leftover issues from the grand Slayer Army days, ensuring she wasn't with Dawn and Xander when the capital-A Apocalypse finally came. She'd just gritted her teeth, pulled her Mom panties up, and got it done. Like Sunnydale all over again.

But this... she sniffed and wiped the back of a dirty, bruised hand across her cheeks, staring at Mellie's cooling body on the kitchen floor. They'd found her. They'd rescued her: they'd hunted like proper Slayers for the first time in weeks, charging in to carry off all the zombified children they could reach, including Mellie, before the aliens could stop them. There'd been mechs, but they'd lost them, running fast enough to make spots dance in Buffy's eyes from weariness. Then they'd broken into a house with a sharpening block full of knives and started cutting the parasites off the children.

Started – but stopped. Because if a Slayer couldn't survive it...

She didn't know where Andrew had taken the rest of the kids. Didn't care, either; if she couldn't save Mellie, what could she do for any of them? It was Chloe all over again, and worse: because this time, hers had been the hand wielding death.

Shoe soles squeaked as someone else came into the kitchen. Gradually, Buffy became aware of body heat at her back; a head of dark hair at her left shoulder, and an arm reaching around to apply pressure to her right hand.

Her fingers spasmed, and the knife finally fell to the floor.

"What do we do now?" Buffy asked, plaintively.

"We keep going," Kennedy replied, firmly and quietly. "We've come this far. We can't give up now. The others are still out there, and we've got five more girls to take care of."

"Okay," she said, sighing. "Okay."

Then she climbed to her feet and started looking for a shovel.

Voices Like Thunder

"Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and they will then live. When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory."
-Sun Tzu

The week after they found the Fifth Massachusetts Militia Regiment, Andrew Wells turned twenty-eight.

It wasn't the first birthday to pass among their little group since the world had ended. Buffy's had been only days after the Skitters landed, and Danielle's had been just a few weeks after that – they'd given her the last of their Twinkies for a cake. But it was the first chance they'd had to let down their guards all at once since they'd finally left Ohio, and more than that, the first time they'd felt like celebrating since the Skitters had taken Mellie.

It was amazing what a few solid meals and the chance to sleep through the night could do for a person. Buffy had almost forgotten what it felt like to not be exhausted, and Andrew, the only one of the Cleveland survivors not supernaturally gifted, had kept moving on sheer willpower alone. He was all skin and bones, with dark smudges like makeup gone wrong under his eyes, and spent more time writing his stories down than telling them aloud anymore. But he'd remained irrepressibly cheerful since the start, wielding optimism like a shield against the darkness around them. Buffy didn't think the other girls could have kept going without that.

She was determined to do something really special for him in return. She couldn't give the baby Slayers back their childhoods, wouldn't want to dull their reflexes even if she could... but she could let them bask in Andrew's reflected joy for one morning. For a guy whose crippling self-esteem issues had turned him into Evil's finger-puppet more than once back in Sunnydale, he was surprisingly resilient as an adult, still able to find wonder in the small things in a way that had long since withered in Buffy. She'd kept an eye out at every house they stopped at and every half-packed abandoned car they'd passed for weeks, hoping against hope that something would jump out at her. Not literally, though. She'd had enough of that from the Skitters.

She crept into the tent her team had commandeered just after the crack of dawn, smiling lopsidedly down at the puppy pile of teenagers wrapped around their vulnerable center. They'd done that with Danielle for a whole week after she'd dragged herself back bleeding from the ambush that took Mellie, and on the day they'd nearly lost Andrew because he couldn't climb out of Skitter range as quickly they could – well. They'd all claimed him as their Watcher, and decided he needed them to guard him in his sleep, and that was that. Buffy knew they were perfectly safe with him, whatever their new militia friends might think. He'd sooner try and molest Angel – if the vampire was even still alive – than he'd ever touch one of the girls under his care.

He was also just a little too well-trained these days for her to even consider dogpiling them all to wakefulness the way she wanted to. The goal here was celebration, not to wake him up swinging. She watched them a moment longer, then started softly singing Happy Birthday, growing louder and louder until Andrew twitched and flailed an arm like a school kid looking for an alarm clock.

"M 'wake, I'm awake," he murmured, then slit his eyes open. "...Buffy?" He blinked as he actually registered what she was singing, then struggled to sit up, an incredulous smile breaking over his face. "What? Oh, hey!"

"Hey," Buffy replied, smiling back. Then she waggled the object held in her hands, an awkward shape wrapped in carefully salvaged pieces of comic-printed newspaper. "Good morning, birthday boy."

The Slayers had all wakened the moment he'd moved; they sat up with him, all eyes on the present as Buffy held it out to him.

"Wow, Andy. Happy Birthday," Erin said, brightly.

"Happy Birthday!" the other four chorused with her.

"I wonder what she got you?" Danielle said, curling up with arms around her knees and head on Andrew's shoulder.

"You mean you don't know?" He raised his eyebrows at the youngest Slayer, then smiled up at Buffy as he took the gift. "You've been keeping secrets, Buffy."

"Yep," she smiled back at him. "Go on. Ken will be here with your breakfast in a minute, and I want to see you open it before you get all distracted."

"How'd you talk her into that?" he asked, looking impressed.

Buffy snorted. "Like I said, before you get distracted," she said, gesturing at the gift again.

He sighed, clutching it close, and gave her a winsome look. "Can't I just savor it for a minute before I wrap the paper off? Right now it has the potential to be anything. World peace, a working computer, my old demon flute from back in the day..." He sighed.

Buffy's smile saddened a little. "Nope, not any of that. It is something I think you'll like. But if you really want to just sit there and, you know, anticipate, I could take it back and give you an empty box to cuddle..."

"No, no! I'm good," he exclaimed, hunching over the gift as though to protect it. Then he chuckled, and ripped the paper off. He gasped, then looked up at her, lifting a still-sealed package of dry erase markers in one hand and a personal sized write-on wipe-off board in the other. "It's... Buffy!"

"I kind of miss your Big Board, you know," she laughed. "I thought you might, too."

He struggled to his feet then, and held his arms out, wrapping her up in a bony hug. "Thanks," he whispered in her ear. Then he whooped, and turned back to the others, enthusing about just what he'd use the new Little Big Board for.

Another set of warm arms wrapped around Buffy as she watched over them, smiling.

"One more day," Kennedy murmured to her.

"One more day," Buffy agreed.

However many they had left – as long as they were still alive, their charges would live.

Buffy had learned several new things about herself since the world had ended.

...Well, maybe not so much new, or learned, as stopped pretending they weren't true.

First: she wasn't really, deep down, so much with the wishing to be normal. She hadn't been normal since she was fifteen; she wouldn't know how to cope if she was no longer a Slayer. What she didn't want was to be The Slayer, the One Responsible Girl in All the World.

She'd thought she'd come to terms with that after Sunnydale, what with being Slayer General and all. But, see: vault thefts, Twilight, the end of magic. Slayer, Comma, The; the buck stops here.

Second: every romantic relationship since Angel had flourished mostly when her partner made her feel stronger. Selfish, but true. Each one crashed and burned after her vulnerable side was exposed. Her desires and fears were ultimately rooted in that feeling of empowerment... which had little to do with her partner's gender.

And now it was Kennedy shoring her up inside. Buffy doubted things would end any better with her than they had with Satsu, if she reached out. But there was no benefit in pretending that failure'd had anything to do with Satsu being female, now that survival was more important than labels.

The First Slayer had told Buffy that love was pain; that she forged strength from that pain; and that it led to her gift. And therefore the third thing: what she really excelled at, then as now.


Forget waitressing and counseling and trying to be three dimensional. Buffy was good, really good, at just one thing: the one thing that might save them. She was a killer.

And she was going to keep killing, so long any Skitters were left to pose a threat.

Buffy and her small team of Slayers slowed to a walk as they approached the resistance camp, careful not to leave any blatant tracks that might lead a Skitter to them. They'd been out foraging for two days with only a few sacks of canned food to show for it, but at least it was more than they'd picked up on their previous run. The Skitters in their area had started to get smarter over the last couple of weeks; they didn't split up any more, and they brought more and more mechs along every time they attacked.

Alien necks were easy for a Slayer to break. Two legged metal death machines? Not so much. And quick as her girls were, they weren't fast enough to outrun energy fire or bullets indefinitely. One of these days they'd walk into another ambush if they weren't careful, and the rest of the group would be easier pickings without them. Buffy'd lost too many people already; she wasn't about to let that happen.

"Summers!" their leader called, poking his head out of his tent to wave her over. "You're back! Good; Colonel Porter's got updated orders for us."

She handed her bag to Kennedy with a nod, then hurried forward into the tent, brushing dirty strands of blonde hair out of her eyes. She hadn't had a shower in far too long, and clean clothes in longer than that – unlike the lucky Second Mass, the Fifth didn't have any generators to heat water or run low tech equipment – but they were all so grimy these days, she didn't think the major or the colonel would mind.

Buffy had heard of the guy who'd taken charge of all the survivors he could find on the East Coast; who hadn't, these days? She hadn't started out in one of his groups – when she'd brought Andrew, Kennedy, and their handful of baby Slayers out of the wreckage of Cleveland they'd joined a group in Ohio for a while – but they'd been with the Fifth Massachusetts for a couple of months, ever since the Skitters had found that first camp and orphaned them all over again. Colonel Porter was like the Messiah to these people; when he told them to jump, they jumped, and she couldn't blame them. It had kept them alive so far.

"I saw you had some bags; how's the food situation?" the major greeted her as she entered.

"Enough to stretch things out a couple days longer," she shrugged. "The area's pretty picked over. But I saw a community garden another quarter mile out; it's half gone to weeds, but there should be some ripe fruit in a few more days."

"Good; good," he nodded, then turned and gestured to the sharp-eyed, grey haired man with the military bearing standing next to him. "Now, Summers – this is Colonel Porter; and Colonel, this is Summers, the leader of that group of scouts I was telling you about. I know she doesn't look it, but she's taken down a Skitter bare-handed and her aim's better than any two men in the rest of the unit, and the other girls are nearly as talented as she is."

The Colonel looked a little skeptical at that, but held a hand out nonetheless for a welcoming shake. "Ms. Summers, I'm pleased to meet you," he said.

"Likewise," she replied, gripping his fingers just tight enough to confirm Evan's praise, if he was paying attention.

He was; she saw his eyebrows raise a little, and he nodded thoughtfully. "If you're really all the major claims you are, I have an important task I'd like your group to take on," he said. "The Second Mass have a guest staying with them right now who's managed to figure out a way to take down mechs with one shot – but no matter how quick they work, they won't have enough of the new bullets to equip everyone for the assault planned a few days from now. We need people with dead-on aim who can take care of themselves when the Skitters eventually notice just who's doing the most damage and start targeting the shooters. Do you think you can handle that assignment?"

"Mech killers? And you want to let us use them?" Buffy perked up, feeling more alert than she had outside of a fight in days. "Definitely count us in."

Before the aliens had dropped out of the sky and torn up their world, Buffy would never have considered picking up a gun, but times had changed. Magic was no use against the aliens, not after what had happened under the ruins of Sunnydale a few years back, so that left only muscle and reflex to fight the invaders with – and whatever weapons they could get their hands on. She'd learned; all the surviving Slayers had, and found that their instinctive facility with weapons fortunately applied to guns as well as blades or bows.

"Glad to hear it," Porter replied, shaking her hand firmly. "I'll send you with a guide first thing in the morning. Don't let Weaver give you guff; I'll write him a letter to make sure you're provided with the new bullets. And in a few days, we'll strike."

"Sir, yes sir." Buffy shared a predatory smile with him, then took off to go tell her team the good news.

The universe, as ever, seemed determined to harsh on their parade, though. Only a few hours later, the eight of them stared over their shoulders at a hellstorm of mechfire behind them. Porter had been determined to get them out to make sure the attack on the structure succeeded, but hadn't been willing to abandon the camp himself while any civilians remained behind.

If Buffy hadn't been wounded in the initial exchange – if they'd salvaged more than one bike – but even after the death of magic, she didn't dare think the W word.

They'd get there, or they wouldn't.

But they wouldn't let Porter's sacrifice go to waste.

Buffy limped to a halt half a block from JFK Memorial High School, where she'd been told the Second Massachusetts Militia Regiment had made their home, and tried not to wilt too visibly in front of the others. They'd known they were going to be late; at least half a day too late to participate in the assault Porter had talked about, if the other regiment had even survived long enough to attempt it. Finding the entire school empty in front of them, though... it felt like a giant's fist squeezing her chest.

Andrew pulled up behind her on his bike, surrounded by the squad of junior Slayers. Kennedy brought up the rear, gazing around at the too-quiet façade of their hoped for refuge.

"The Skitters found them," Andrew said, heavily, staring at the collapsed ruin of a metal monstrosity a few paces in front of the barricades set up around the school.

"I guess the mech killers worked," Buffy acknowledged, eyeing the holes punched through its shell. It was the first time she'd seen one damaged by anything less explosive than a grenade – but it had sure taken a lot of them to put it down, and she remembered Porter saying they were only going to have a limited number of those bullets. "They wouldn't have attacked with just the one, though."

"No... but wouldn't there be a lot more damage if the Skitters had broken through?" Kennedy asked, approaching the barricades to look over them to where the defenders must have crouched.

She'd hacked her thick, dark hair short a week after the power had died, unwilling to spend the time it would take to keep it neat, bound up, and tangle-free with only boiled stream water and bar soap to wash with. It made her jaw line look less square and stubborn, and gave Buffy a better view of her hopeful expression as she checked out the scene. "I don't think they died here," she added, optimistically.

Buffy considered that. "Okay. So one of the other runners must have got through, after all. If they knew it was coming and bugged out ahead of time..."

"Then we can still join them," Andrew said, letting out a whooshing breath of relief.

"But where would they have gone?" Zahra asked, exchanging a worried glance with Danielle. "The Major didn't have time to tell us where all the rendezvous points were before the Fifth was attacked, and Colonel Porter only gave us a map to here."

"Excuse me... did I hear one of you ladies mention Colonel Porter?" A weary voice spoke up out of nowhere, and Buffy half jumped out of her skin before she zeroed on where it was coming from. A beat-up old truck was parked a little way down the road, with what had looked like a body slumped over the wheel; she'd been kind of mentally blocking that out, like they'd all learned to do in the weeks right after the Skitters had first invaded to preserve their own sanity in the face of so much death. But it wasn't a body: it was a weary older guy with graying hair wearing a ball cap and a uniform, just lifting his head to look toward them.

"Who's asking?" Kennedy asked, stalking over from the barricades for a better look. She still projected a better stern face than Buffy did, though she usually let Buffy do the actual leading.

"Captain Weaver," he replied, straightening up as though waking up from a long nap – or a post-battle stupor. "Are you the reinforcements from the Fifth?"

"Some of them," Buffy said, approaching cautiously. "The camp was blitzed pretty hard just as we were leaving, and we had to go the long way around." She gestured at her bound, blood-stained leg. "The really long way around. Did the Fourth make it?"

He winced a little at her explanation. "I'm afraid not. And the Second lost most of its fighting men last night – including my second in command. While the seven – eight? – of you are welcome," he said, gesturing up the street at the rest of the Slayers, "I'm not sure it'll make much difference for any of us."

Buffy exchanged an alarmed glance with Kennedy. It sounded like they were right about the civvies getting out – but with most of their fighters gone, and probably their weapons and ammo with them, how long would the survivors last against the Skitters? Weaver seemed to have a pretty bleak view of the situation – and he'd been the guy on the ground. He would know.

Kennedy chewed her lip for a moment, staring at Buffy, then turned back to Weaver and lifted her chin. "Maybe not. But we kind of have a motto in our group. If nothing we do matters? Then all that matters is what we do." She held the pose for a moment, then shrugged, a little sheepishly. "Besides, we don't have anywhere else to go. Do you know where the rest of your people went?"

Weaver studied her a moment, then sighed. "No; but I have an idea. Tom would've sent them out the back way with the lady doctor, and I have a fair map of the area. How's your group at scouting?"

"Good enough to make it to Boston from Akron after the Skitters hit our group there," Buffy shrugged.

He raised his eyebrows a little at that, nodding thoughtfully, and some of the bleak heaviness cleared out of his expression. "All right, then. Maybe there's a little hope for us yet, after all."

The last thing left in Pandora's legendary jar. Had anybody ever thought to ask her what it had been doing in the same storage as a bunch of evils? After everything that had happened since she'd first picked up a stake in L.A., Buffy thought she had a pretty good idea.

She smiled wanly at Weaver anyway.

"Let's find out," she said, and gestured to the other girls to circle up.

Several shots rang out, one after another, splintering the center of a makeshift target set up downwind of the refugee camp.

Buffy had offered to show off her aim for the leader of the Second Mass mostly to back up the tattered letter of introduction Colonel Porter had sent with her. The militia had lost so many fighters in the aborted attack on the Skitter structure in Boston that every man, woman, and teen capable of holding a gun steady was being drafted for patrols, but after the way the remnant of the Seventh had reportedly betrayed them they were a little leery of new faces. Buffy had hoped that proving her creds to Captain Weaver would help her little group of reinforcements integrate more smoothly, and he must have pretty much guessed what she was up to because he'd invited half the camp to view the demo.

One of the kibitzers gave a low whistle as Buffy lowered her handgun, the guy who'd been introduced as the chef. Between the long hair, scruff, tattoos and attitude he stood out from the rest of the pack; Buffy missed Faith more sharply than she had in months as he grinned in admiration and gave her a slow clap of applause.

"That'll get her done, all right," he said, nodding to her. "Just how many Skitters have you killed?"

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Every one I laid eyes on between here and Cleveland," she replied, as she reloaded the weapon. "Mostly with bare hands, though, before we hooked up with the Fifth."

"A woman after my own heart!" he exclaimed, grin widening. "Are the rest of your girls that deadly?"

"I don't know, Kennedy, are you that deadly?" Buffy smirked, stepping away from the firing line as the other Slayer walked up to take her turn with the gun.

"You know it," Kennedy smirked back, casually falling into a firing stance and ripping off the new clip even faster than Buffy had. More chips of wood flew away from the center of the target... but nowhere else, as she proved her aim to be just as supernatural as Buffy's.

"Damn," the guy commented as Kennedy passed the gun back to Buffy. "Finally, some useful females around here."

"Yeah, good thing, since you're oh for two on that score, huh?" a blonde woman halfway across the crowd snarked back before Buffy could come up with a suitably barbed answer.

"Now, now, Maggie, petty jealousy doesn't become you," he sneered in return.

"That's enough out of you, Pope," the graying leader of the Second Mass spoke up, stepping forward to get a closer look at the target. "He's right, though," he added as he reached out to touch the damaged wood. "That is some damn fine shooting. What did you ladies do before the invasion? Cops? National Guard?"

"Sorry to disappoint," Buffy said, shrugging. "I was a school counselor for awhile, and a waitress; Ken was getting her degree in... what were you studying?"

"You know damn well what I was studying, you just thought it was useless," Kennedy rolled her eyes at her. "And maybe a public administration degree with a political focus is useless now, but at least I was getting a degree," she said, chin high.

"Well, however you got your experience, we'll be grateful for it," Weaver interjected, walking back to them as the crowd began to disperse. "Though, Ms. Summers, you might want to talk to Dr. Glass – she's the only real medical personnel we have right now, her and one girl who'd had her first year of pre-medical studies. I'm sure she could use whatever counseling experience you have between missions."

"You'll add us to your patrol schedule, then?" Kennedy asked, hopefully.

"At least the two of you," Weaver nodded. "If all goes smooth, we'll test the rest of your group in a few more days. In the meanwhile, you might want to discuss amongst yourselves whatever other skills you're willing to share, and tell Mason–" He winced. "I mean, Scott. He'll find a place for 'em."

"Will do," Buffy nodded. "Anything else I can help you with?"

"Not unless you know where we can find a half dozen mech skeletons to melt down into bullets," he sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face. "We need to take down that structure. There's no telling what Mason told them; we can't just sit here waiting for the Skitters to come after us again, armed with all those notions of his about resistance fighting."

"He wouldn't tell them anything willingly," a stern-faced woman with long dark hair put in, approaching with a tall, worried-looking teenage boy at her side. "You know that."

"They had Karen. And they were using her to threaten Ben. You think he'd hold anything back with that on the table?" Weaver shot back.

The teenager swallowed, paling with every word, but he was just as stubborn as the doctor. "I think my dad would hold out as long as he could. And it's not like they can harness him; he's way too old. It's only been two days; we might still have a chance to get him back."

"In your dreams," Pope put in, limping up to join the group. "Guy had balls, I have to admit, but they took him away in a ship. He could be anywhere by now."

"But why would they take him anywhere but that structure?" the kid pressed.

"We lost nearly fifty men assaulting that thing, you think you can take it down on your own?" Weaver snorted. "No, Hal. We train. We resupply. We wait until the moment is right, and we find another way."

"Or..." Buffy interrupted, holding up a finger as an idea occurred to her. Fifty men in trucks might not have been able to get close. But a small group of Slayers on foot armed with mech-piercing weaponry? It would be a way to more firmly establish their place with the Second Mass and kill a crapload of Skitters at the same time, even if they didn't get this Tom guy out.

"I bring you that half dozen mech carcasses, load me and Ken and Zahra and Stasia up with all the ammo we can carry, and we find out."

Weaver glanced over at the target, eyes wide in surprise, then back at her. "Are you crazy? Being a fine shot is one thing. Attacking that structure with just four of you...?"

"Best kind of crazy," Buffy shrugged at him. "We fail, you don't lose anything. But if we make it?"

The hope on the doctor's and the kid's faces was almost enough to choke her; the chef's feral grin another painful reminder of the friends she'd lost. What she wouldn't give for Faith right now, or Spike, or – or Giles. But hopefully Spike was with Xander and Dawn in that dirigible of his, safe and sound, and Faith with Angel in whatever stronghold was left of L.A. At least she had Kennedy and Andrew and the girls.

Weaver frowned. "Bring me that metal, and I'll consider it."

Buffy exchanged a glance with Kennedy, then thrust out a hand to shake. "Done."

The Slayer group took a few days to settle, establishing their place among the surviving members of the Second Mass and recuperating from their long, sleepless journey. It gave Buffy's Slayer healing time to work on her wounded knee, Andrew a safe space to sleep his way through the exhaustion induced by the trip and exacerbated by too little food beforehand, and the younger Slayers the opportunity to run their skills past Weaver's critical eye before they needed to put them into practice on the camp's behalf.

The mood in the Second Mass was stressed and panicky, with so many of their remaining soldiers injured and their second in command missing; Buffy didn't want to make things worse with hasty action. She knew they couldn't wait too long, though, or her self-assigned mission would become moot, one way or the other. Either there wouldn't be anyone left to rescue... or Mason's eldest son would break and go after his father before they did. Neither option was a good one.

Unfortunately, the brief spell of enforced downtime had brought something else to the surface that Buffy had spent months trying to suppress, that could cause even more distraction. She winced as she ducked into the small tent she shared with the other senior Slayer, a tiny thing with just enough room for two cots, a couple of duffel bags, and a narrow aisle down the middle – currently occupied by a meditating Slayer who was supposed to be out walking a patrol. She must have made a deal with Captain Weaver, or swapped duties with another campmate.

Kennedy opened her eyes at the sound of Buffy's entry, immediately uncrossing her legs and curling up so as to wrap her arms around her knees. She eyed Buffy carefully, checking for fresh damage from her still damp hair to the soles of her decrepit athletic shoes, then smiled wryly at her.

"So," she said. "Are we ever gonna talk about this?"

Buffy gulped, and glanced briefly over her shoulder back through the open tent flap. "Uh, talk about what?" she ventured.

Kennedy's smile slipped into a thin-lipped, unimpressed stare, and she raised her eyebrows. "You know about what."

Buffy grimaced, then sighed and reached for the zipper, sealing the tent again to keep the convo private. "Okay, so I can guess," she said, turning to sit on one of the cots. "I know I've been a little avoidy since – well, since the other night."

"Since you climbed into the wrong cot by accident when you were half-asleep and woke up warm for once," Kennedy replied, dryly. "It's not like I'm contagious, you know. Or is that the problem? Starting to worry that Satsu wasn't as much of a one-off as you like to pretend?"

Zing. But it wasn't like she hadn't known the subject had to come up sooner or later. Buffy knew she hadn't had the best reaction ever after deciding to put that Kiss of True Love thing to the test. But in her defense, the whole world falling in on them the next morning? So par for her love life course. It wasn't about Satsu being female. It was about Buffy being Buffy.

This last half year or so, she and Kennedy leaning heavily on each other just to get through each day and keep the others moving... okay, so she had started to see what Willow had seen in the bratty Slayer. She doubted they'd ever have grown so close if it hadn't been for the alien invasion and the separation from almost everyone else they'd ever cared about, but there it was. And the idea of changing that, of maybe losing that hard-won rock in an effort to grasp at roses like she always had before... yeah, Buffy was kind of terrified of going there.

"That's not the issue," she said quietly, trying to come up with a coherent way to explain it. "You know I defended you to Willow, right? I'm totally okay with the gay thing. Even pretty okay with kinda sorta straddling that line myself. And you know..." she broke off for a moment, swallowing a lump in her throat as she flashed on a kitchen floor, a knife in her hand, and a head on her shoulder.

"You know I couldn't have made it this far without you. The L word? The other one, I mean? It's relevant."

"Then what is the issue," Kennedy replied, frowning at her. Her expression had softened a little, but not much. "I want to understand, Buffy. But I'm not okay with reaching out and getting shoved back without an explanation."

Buffy bit her lip, staring down at her hands in her lap. They were so ugly, even after her sponge bath; grit and oil had worked their way into the creases of her knuckles, and her cuticles were totally ragged. Just like the rest of her.

"It's like this," she said, quietly. "You know the last time I had sex? I made a new universe, sucked all the magic out of ours, and got a lot of people killed. Too many. The time before that? Before I even had a chance to enjoy the afterglow? Half the Slayer Army stuck their noses in my bedroom, we had that sitch in Japan, and Renee died on Xander. And, for a hat trick, the time before that? I called up all of the Slayers, setting off the whole Twilight mess in the first place, and my not-really-boyfriend put on a magic necklace and burned himself up to save the world."

She stopped there, leaving Kennedy to connect the dots. Angel; Satsu; Spike. Even the one 'destiny' had supposedly set her up with had been fucked over by the universe trying to reproduce itself, and had done something she wasn't sure she could ever forgive him for, mind-controlled or not. Giles. How could she even think of touching her best friend's ex and current pillar of support with that kind of record behind her?

Kennedy snorted, and her response was more exasperated than understanding. "So, what. You think if we push the cots together and start 'conserving warmth' like everyone already thinks we are, things are somehow going to get worse? First off – this world does not revolve around you, past evidence to the contrary. Second – no mentioning Angel anywhere near a bed, okay? That was kind of a traumatic experience, and not just because of what happened afterward. And third – I really want to know how much worse you think things could possibly get. The world already ended."

"But you're still here," Buffy said, in a very small voice. "Go figure, but... I don't want to lose you."

Kennedy sighed, and her shoulders slumped a little, but she unwound at that, leaning forward to take Buffy's small, worn hands in her own. "And you won't. You seriously think I want to do this without you, either? There's been a lot of water under that bridge since the 'Dale. And besides, where would I go? It's not like I have a home anywhere else."

That was true; they'd headed for the East Coast after Akron in the first place because more of the minis had family out here, and they'd started with Kennedy's parents' place. They hadn't been there. Nor had most of their valuables: food and weapons and non-electronic power tools either wrecked or missing, windows shattered and locks broken. If they weren't dead, they were still long gone, with no way to track them. They'd stumbled across the Fifth Massachusetts Militia Regiment not long after that.

And now they were with the Second. Still working together, settled into a working partnership that fit like a worn glove – a little holey, maybe, but comfy and familiar all the same. "And... if we stumble over Willow one of these days, and she bursts into tears and says she still loves you, please take her back?"

Kennedy's eyebrows crept up. "You're one to talk. What if Spike drops down in his dirigible one of these days with Dawn and Xander? Not to mention..."

"No. Don't mention him," Buffy cut her off, abruptly. The criticism was totally deserved; but she didn't think Kennedy could possibly feel more repelled by either of her vampires at this point than she did. She remembered the way they made her feel just fine, and their shapes were still totally lust-worthy, but... baggage. Piled too deep to ever even attempt to unpack, anymore. And all other issues aside, a lot of the Romeo and Juliet appeal had soured since finding out they'd been set up. That all Slayers had, really – she was just the first one to ever cross that threshold.

"Never going there again. And I was resisting Spike just fine in San Francisco," she pointed out.

"Fair enough," Kennedy replied, expression finally warming. "So if I tell you I'm at least as over Willow as you are over your necrophiliac phase?"

Buffy wrinkled her nose. "I try not to think about them that way, you know. Undead, not dead, thank you."

"So not the point," Kennedy rolled her eyes.

"Yeah. So... okay," she said, tentatively. "If you. After we. I mean..."

"No," Kennedy replied firmly. "No, not after. I told you, I don't believe in your morning-after curse. We're going to rescue this Mason guy from the Skitters. Would it help more to go in all tense and irritable, or actually feeling good about our chances?"

Buffy couldn't help it; her apprehension broke at that, and she snickered. Maybe Kennedy was right. Time to take her self-important drama down a notch.

"Sold," she said. "But not because of the benefits of endorphins pep talk. Seriously? That was what you came up with?"

"What? It was worth a try," Kennedy smirked, then stared at her for a long moment, eyes tracing Buffy's face for the second time that evening. "No last minute straight girl panic?"

"No last minute, she's such a screw up, what was I thinking panic?" Buffy replied lightly, giving her partner the same scrutiny. Lean beauty, matured from her Sunnydale days. Warm eyes. Tough hands.

Strong heart.

Kennedy leaned in, and Buffy met her half-way.

It was a decent jog from the new camp to the old school, by Slayer speeds. Far enough the mechs would have trouble tracking them, but close enough that Buffy, Kennedy, and Zahra were able to head out before breakfast and return by noon with the better part of one and a half mech skeletons.

Buffy had promised Weaver half a dozen. And she'd get them – but probably not before their planned four-woman blitz attack on the Skitter structure. There just wasn't time to melt down that much metal in the little electric furnace, or enough spare gas to run the generator that long. They'd need to add cars with siphonable fuel still in their tanks to the list next time a patrol went out for food and other consumables.

The single mech the resistance had downed in front of the school, though? And the leftover pieces from the one they'd been melting down for the initial set of bullets? Those would make a good start.

"Hello the forge," Buffy called as she jogged back into camp, box full of scrap in her arms. "Where do you want all this?"

"Want all what?" the chef guy grunted, popping up out of the sheltered area they'd constructed to help muffle the generator noise.

His eyebrows rose as he took her in; if he'd been working with the mech metal for long, he undoubtedly knew how much it weighed. "Thought we'd left all that behind."

"You did," she said, dropping the box at his feet with a loud clank. Then she jerked her chin over her shoulder toward Kennedy and Zahra, the tallest and most muscled of the Slayer group, trotting in behind her with the whole carcass braced over their shoulders. "That, too."

"Ho-lee shit," he commented, grinning madly at the sight. "Tell me you didn't run that thing all this way without taking the truck."

"Couldn't afford to waste the gas, remember?" Buffy smirked at him. "Cheaper to just feed us a little extra. How fast do you think you can make us a couple of clips each? The sooner we bust your friend out, the better. We can work on collecting more dead mechs afterward."

Kennedy and Zahra slowed to a halt a few paces away, then carefully shifted the weight off their shoulders until they could drop the mech on the grass without flattening anyone's stray arm or foot. Pope limped out of his enclosure to run a hand over the bullet-pocked carapace, an almost lascivious gleam in his eye as he probed the metal wounds.

"First off, he isn't my friend," he said, dryly. "And second – mmm, not long. It took a couple of days to make the last batch, but that was with other demands on the power, and limited shifts working the molds. If y'all help, it'll go faster. You'll have to wait until the custom batch I've got going right now is done, though. Couple of hours. Your friend Andrew brought me some pretty neat stuff."

Zahra sucked in a breath at that. "He gave you that?" she said.

"Gave who what?" Kennedy frowned at the young woman standing next to her. "Is this about that heavy thing he keeps wrapped up at the bottom of his bag?"

"What thing?" Buffy blinked at both of them. Then she turned to frown at Pope.

"Whoa, hey. Don't look at me," he said, throwing up his hands. "Ask your friend. I'm just the guy baking the bullets." Then he ducked back down into the enclosure, whistling under his breath.

Zahra bit her lip, looking torn. "If it's what I think it is – he was saving it. He didn't want to tell you guys he had it, because – well, he thought you'd want to throw it away, or bury it, or something, and he thought it might still come in handy."

"Spit it out, Zahra," Kennedy frowned at her.

Buffy thought she had figured it out, though. Andrew had been badly injured during the final assault in the ruins of Sunnydale, and during his recovery he'd fixated on writing an accurate account of events. He'd been completely shocked when she mentioned breaking the Scythe in her efforts to destroy the Seed of Wonder, and horrified that she'd just left it there when they'd evacuated the caverns.

She'd told him she'd had other things on her mind at the time, and left it at that. He hadn't bothered her again, but she wouldn't be surprised to find she'd talked Spike or someone else into going back with him for it.

"It's the Scythe, isn't it," she said. "The blade was warped, and I broke the haft, but if he found it–"

"There was still some enchantment left in the metal," Zahra confirmed. "He thought bullets made out of it might be at least as deadly as the mech metal ones, at least against living targets. I guess he talked Pope into trying it while we were out."

Buffy wasn't sure how she felt about that. The Scythe had sung to her every time she'd used it; a weapon meant for wiping demons from the face of the Earth. Then again... Skitters were as close to demons as they were ever likely to encounter again, and maybe it was fitting, giving the broken symbol of the mass Slayer empowerment one last gasp of purpose in their efforts to beat back the dark.

"I guess it's worth a shot," she said. Then she smiled at Zahra. "Don't worry, I'm not upset. A little bemused that he never told me about it, but that's Andrew for you. I will want to talk to him about it later, though."

"I'll let him know." Zahra smiled back, then nodded to Kennedy and trudged off toward the chow lines, rubbing her shoulder a little where the heavy mech had pressed into the muscle.

"I bet you're sore, too," Buffy nodded at Kennedy's shoulder. "Need a massage?"

"Food first, then that sounds like a plan."

The first set of new bullets was surprisingly not all that much to look at. The Scythe had been a unique weapon, all dramatic curves and points, deadlier than any other edged weapon Buffy had ever wielded; but the ammo Andrew had asked Pope to make from its salvaged blade just looked... ordinary.

The feel of them, though. Buffy picked one up and closed her eyes, letting a slight smile tug at the corner of her mouth as she felt it singing. Not as much as the Scythe itself had when she'd held it, just a whiff of hungry enchantment, but definitely enough to pierce the tough skin of a Skitter. She closed her fingers around it, then sighed and opened her eyes again, nodding at Pope.

"These will definitely come in handy," she said.

He cracked a grin at her, practically preening at her remark. "Thought so. Don't know what that metal is, but I test fired a round; they penetrate all out of proportion to their size. Mags're there, if you want to load 'em up yourself; there won't be many, though, so you'll want to save 'em and alternate with mech-piercers during the actual assault."

"Good to know," Kennedy nodded, taking the bullet from Buffy's hand and studying it with a thoughtful frown. "It sucks that there's no way to make more of them, and we can't exactly get them back – but every little edge will help. We can't afford not to use them."

Technically, they couldn't afford not to use their full team, either, but Buffy and Kennedy had agreed that if the mission failed, they wanted at least the youngest three Slayers to still have a chance at some kind of life. Zahra and Stasia were both college-aged, but the others were still young enough to tempt the Skitters for harnessing. If worst came to worst, they'd agreed to go into hiding with the kids of the Second Mass; better to split their group than risk the Skitters finding out exactly what gave Buffy's girls their fearsome edge. Fortunately, they'd started to make connections among the miltia kids already, especially Danielle, who was just a little bit older than the middle Mason kid, Ben.

Pope called the three Mason sons the princes of the resistance, and he wasn't far wrong. For all he didn't seem to give a damn about anyone other than himself, Buffy had already noticed he was more honest than just about anyone else there. Kind of like the Big Bad version of Spike that way, and just as gleeful about killing anything nonhuman. The Mason kids didn't appreciate that about him as much as she did, though, so she didn't see much of them while she was helping with the ammunition. She just watched them at a distance, noting how the attention of the rest of the camp strayed constantly in their direction, and added mental notations to her dossiers of the Second Mass as they went.

One of the things she'd noticed was that while the civilians seemed to respect Hal and dote on Matt, they seemed alternately afraid of and worried for Ben. Buffy had heard three separate rumors before her first day in the camp was over about the length of time he'd been harnessed and how much the Skitters had done to him. She'd tasted copper in her dreams that night, thinking about Mellie and hearing Danielle's quiet sobs in the next tent. The second day, though, the youngest Slayer had marched right up to Ben and challenged him to some kind of complicated field game. He'd laughed as they collapsed to the grass afterward, a half-hysterical sound caught between relief and tears; she guessed he probably hadn't been able to play full-strength with anyone since he and Rick had been brought back changed.

Good for him. And good for Danielle. At that age, they were probably still capable of healing from their traumas. It would be up to the rest of the camp to give them that chance.

Not that Buffy was ready to throw in the towel just yet. The Second Massachusets might have had some good fighters, but they'd never seen a Slayer go to war.

By the end of the sixth day after Tom Mason's capture, each of Buffy's chosen team had as much ammo ready as they could easily carry, a couple of clips' worth of specials and the rest all shiny-tipped mech metal. Weaver watched them gear up, then gave them a cautious nod.

"I still think it's suicide to go in so soon, with just the four of you," he said, "Are you sure you want to do this? And that you don't want to take the car all the way?"

"No," Buffy shook her head. "As soon as they notice it, they'll shift forces into position. From what you've told me about your attack, and what happened to the other regiments, I think they put a couple of their own satellites in orbit. They might not be watching us all the time, but they definitely have eyes on their own bases, and I wouldn't be surprised if they're watching approach routes right now in case you try something else."

"So you're just going to run all through Boston?" Weaver frowned at them. "I know you ladies are fast, but if you're going to have a chance at all, you can't afford to attack already exhausted."

"Don't worry about us," Kennedy assured him. "Worry about yourselves – you might want to have everything packed up again and that radio cranked just in case something goes wrong. If worst comes to worst, we'll cause as much damage as we can before we go down, but we can't guarantee they won't track us back here."

"I'll talk to Uncle Scott," Dr. Glass said, approaching them with a small zippered bag in hand. "Here. It isn't exactly a full first aid kit, but there are some things in there you might need if – well, you might need." She swallowed visibly, her expression a mask of worry.

"Thank you," Buffy said, carefully taking it from her. "I hope we don't, but there's no such thing as being too prepared."

The doctor nodded. "And – I just wanted to say, thank you. For volunteering to do this. If I thought I could do any good–"

"You are doing good," Weaver interrupted gruffly, shooting her a sidewise look. "Right here. Which is where Tom would want you to stay."

Dr. Glass didn't disagree, but she looked deeply unhappy.

Buffy smelled romance brewing, and wondered, not for the first time, if Tom Mason would live up to everything she'd heard about him already. He seemed to have inspired a lot of respect among the militia for a history professor who hadn't earned his degrees via the GI Bill, and Dr. Glass practically had her heart in her eyes despite the brief length of time she'd known him.

He sounded like a Giles, actually.

Buffy swallowed back painful memory and shouldered her bag. All the more reason for them to rescue him. She didn't want anyone else to have to lose theirs, too.

They'd all lost more than enough already.