One Shield Among Many

Summary: *Memorial ficlet for 9/11* As the search for survivors continues, one firefighter remembers fallen loved ones, past and present. WARNING: Not a happy ficlet.

Challenge: personal; just wanted to write something for today.

Timeline: AU in what would have been season 6 – since that's the airdates around 9/11.

Warning: Massive character deaths.

A/N: I attempted a different story, but it came out more venty than memorial-ish. I decided that if I couldn't write a season 6 story without bashing certain characters, I'd write an AU story instead. There's still bashing, but not of people that really matter that much.

Thanks to my betas: none this time.

Disclaimer: BtVS and AtS characters belong to Joss Whedon / Mutant Enemy. I claim no rights to any copyrighted material. Please do not copy or take this story without my permission.

Ground Zero

As she dug through the rubble, Buffy didn't care that she was crying or that people might think of her as an emotional female because of it. This was bringing back horrible memories of the life she left behind in Sunnydale three years ago.

It was all the Council's fault…them and that damn test of theirs on her 18th birthday.

First they 'removed' Giles because he refused to poison her. Remove…a polite euphemism for murder. Poor Giles, he thought that by refusing to do it, he would protect her. He died before discovering how wrong he was.

The monster they chose for her test overheard them talking about the people most important to her, so when he broke out, they were the ones he went after first in order to lure her to the house. Xander, Willow, Joyce and Angel were all tied up in the basement, waiting for her to rescue them.

She managed to defeat Kralik by tricking him into drinking holy water, but she hadn't counted on his back up plan.

Once she entered the house, he started a timer – which was attached to some homemade explosives he managed to acquire somewhere. The psychotic vampire thought it would be great fun to test himself to see if he could kill her before the explosives killed them both.

The others died when the house collapsed on them, and she barely survived because of dumb luck. When she couldn't untie them, she went looking for something to cut the ropes, so she was in a room that sheltered her from both the blast and most of the collapse. Still, she was in the hospital for almost a month afterwards.

The Council never intended for her to survive.

Even if she passed the test, it was only a matter of time before a vampire was able to overpower the former Slayer. The poison they wanted Giles to use was temporary; the stuff they used on her was permanent.

Fortunately, it wasn't complete.

While she would never be able to match a vampire again, Buffy was as strong as any male she had to deal with.

When it was all over, she left Sunnydale, letting Faith worry about keeping the world safe. Even if she had her powers, she was done with her sacred duty and the Council.

Her father understood her reluctance to remain on the West Coast, so he set her up in an apartment in New York City. Costly, but nothing he couldn't afford. He also made sure she got her high school diploma so she could attend college if she wanted.

She was, but only part-time. Without her Slayer duties, it wasn't long before the need to help mankind bubbled up inside her again. This time it was going to be different, though. Buffy wasn't going to be a soldier or police officer – which would have been the closest alternative to Slayer. Instead she chose to become a firefighter.

At first the guys were skeptical of a woman – especially one her size – doing what they do, but she kept up during the training and never backed down during any of the hazing incidents. They still razzed her from time to time, but no more than anyone else. It was like having a couple dozen brothers and uncles.

And now, with Buffy barely out of her probationary period, she and her family were digging through mounds of metal and garbage, looking for bodies. What made it worse was that some of the bodies they were searching for were their 'cousins' from other squads.

Buffy wished she was the Slayer again so she could hunt down the people behind this and take care of them, but for now, all she could do was mourn for the dead, pray for the living…and dig for both.

A/N: Hmm, not sure how I feel about this one either, but between the two, this one is better, so I'll post it.