Author: Garnigal author/creator
Setting: Season 7, (new and improved) Sunnydale High
Rating: PG-13 (for off-screen school shooting)
They’re used to death.
They’ve all seen it before, that moment when life in someone’s eyes disappears (sometimes to reappear, but always different than before).
They’re used to fear.
They’ve all been afraid before, have kept going despite the fear (but it’s always there, a little niggling reminder in their brains that this place isn’t safe).
They’re used to confusion.
They’ve all been confused, asked that stupid question (and everyone laughs but at least things are a little more clear).
But this is panic. And this is terror. And this is people killing people.
Something about the distant popping sound makes Buffy’s heart race. She’s heard it before, associated it with badness, but can’t quite remember which badness… there’s been so much.
It can’t have been vampires, she remembers sunshine. But there was a lot of pain, and it got worse before it got better, which doesn’t really narrow it down much. She’s used to the roaring, wailing, growling kind of monsters. What kind of monsters made a popping noise?
Another pop, closer this time. And then she remembers.
She remembers the sunshine, the awkward conversation with Xander, the feeling of optimism that it took her forever to recognize because it had been so long.
And she remembers Warren, and the popping sound and the pain.
And, as she hears screaming in the hallway just outside her office door, she remembers how just when you think it’s as bad as it can possibly be, it always gets worse.
Spike can hear it clearly, even down in the basement. Even the basement two buildings over, because until the Slayer figures out how the hell to get rid of the First, he’s not going anywhere near the basement of Sunnydale High.
Unless he hears gunshots, and the Slayer and the Nibblet are somewhere up there. Then the First can bloody well try and fuck with his mind, he’s got shit to do.
He does run full speed and in full vamp face through the tunnels and basements, because he’s not an idiot and when you’re going through hell you just keep going. He checks himself when he gets to the door that will let him into the school hallway though.
He doesn’t know where the girls are. He doesn’t know where the gunman is. And worst of all, he doesn’t know where the windows are.
Won’t be much help if he leaps out and bursts into flame.
So he stands, balanced and ready to move… just as soon as he figures out where the shadowy spots are.
They’re actually studying. It’s an out of the way corner of the library, frequently used for make out sessions, but also quite handy when you want to talk about the Hellmouth and actual vampires, not the stupid Anne Rice movie (which didn’t do that well in Sunnydale, to exactly no one’s surprise).
Dawn is working on her Spanish, moaning about how much harder it is than ancient Sumerian, while Amanda is looking through another book on the Spanish Inquisition and muttering that they should have expected it, all the signs are right there.
And neither one is as attuned to danger as Buffy, but they are still Sunnydale girls, so when they hear sharp cracks followed by screaming and running, they don’t even need to think.
They do the only sensible thing - try to get to Buffy.
Dawn has a panic attack afterwards. She just wants to go home, but they have to wait for the paramedic to release Amanda, who fell and sprained her wrist. Usually an injury on school property would mean an automatic trip to the hospital, but they got lucky today.
The hospital is way too full of gunshot victims to deal with a simple sprained wrist.
She’s in the shade of the building, freezing cold, but Spike stayed with her when Buffy got called away to be a counsellor, and as much as she wants to stand in the sun, she wants someone to hold her hand more, so she stays and shivers until Spike puts his coat over her shoulders and wraps an arm around her.
She used to feel tiny and protected when he did that.
But she grew up (grew taller, grew sadder, grew more realistic) and now it doesn’t have the same effect.
She cries, wishing for those days again. Wishing that she stayed little, stayed innocent, stayed naive. Wishing that she didn’t know that moms can go away, even when they try so hard to stay. Wishing that she didn’t know that sisters can be both heroes and hurtful at the same time. Wishing that she didn’t know that people can be just as evil, just as broken and destructive as demons.
The shade is as deep as it can be, the solid shade of a building instead of the dappled and moving shade of leaves, but he still keeps looking nervously at the sky, even as he feels Dawn’s shoulders shake with sobs, and watches Buffy moving through the crowd of students.
He feels helpless.
He remembers his arrogance, years ago, telling Buffy she always had to reach for her weapon, while he only needed one good night.
And now a good night is any night she comes home.
Today he’d stayed in the shadows, waiting for his moment, while some wanker with a gun and a grudge stalked through the halls, searching for a woman who’d left him because she knew he’d kill her. And he’d found her, terrified but still defiant, protecting the children in her care and he’d gunned her down where she stood. But he didn’t stop there. Oh no, you never stop when you have a gun and power and fear rising up all around you, all because of you.
He’d found other pretty girls, young, barely aware of their own power, unaware that sometimes, even in Sunnydale, the scariest monsters are the ones that are just people, soft and broken inside.
And the hospital was full of the injured, but the morgue was full of women and girls who didn’t get the opportunity to live.
She walks up to another group of crying girls, with a professionally sympathetic smile and a cop beside her.
Who knew that Sunnydale cops could be useful?
She’d gotten to the cafeteria just in time to see the take down. Apparently, this was the type of event they trained for, right down to enlisting the guidance counsellor to help them calm the terrified students and send them home to their equally terrified parents.
She felt odd, being an innocent bystander instead of the hero. It was strange, sticking around after the battle to clean up instead of skulking off for a hot bath. It was downright weird, doing all of this in daylight.
But she was able to calm the students, mark them off her list as survivors.
That’s really all you can ask in Sunnydale.
And later when they are home, when the girls are sleeping and Dawn has stopped jumping at the least sound, they sit on the porch, and they pretend that The First is the scariest thing they have to deal with.