She looked so peaceful.
That was the first thought each one of them had: Giles, Xander, Anya, Willow, Tara, even Spike.
The body of the one who held them all together, whose mission had been theirs, who had seemed eternal and invincible, lay before them broken and dead and somehow still beautiful for all of that.
She was gone.
It seemed impossible. She had faced so much and come out on top. How were they supposed to go on without her?
Xander stared, the weight of Anya in his arms not even registering. No amount of CPR was going to fix Buffy this time. He'd saved her once, but there would be no second chance. He remembered the elation he'd felt when his breath had given her back her life that night so long ago when, in their youthful innocence, they'd thought The Master was the baddest of the bad guys. He wasn't even close.
This was just one more part of being human that reminded Anya of why she'd been so happy to become a Vengeance Demon. Staring at the corpse of a friend, a friend who'd just saved the world, a friend whose reward for all the slaying and fighting was becoming a broken body lying at the foot of a scaffold. It didn't make sense, but then when did anything about humanity make sense? Buffy would have done better to switch teams. At least then she might still be alive.
Giles was…there weren't any words; nothing in his Watcher's training had prepared him for this. Maybe it was because Buffy wasn't just his Slayer, she was his daughter. Not by blood, that was true, but it was no less a fact for all of that. They had fought together and with each other, they had laughed and cried and loved and lost and through it all there was one constant: their bond. The trust, the affection, the mission they shared and the devotion they both felt to their sacred duty. Now she was dead. No father should have to do this – bury a child. For the first time, he understood the Watchers Council and why they discouraged Watchers from bonding so closely with their Slayers. Because losing Buffy hurt more than he could bear.
Tara was confused about a lot of what had happened recently, but there was one thing she wasn't confused about: Buffy was dead. She knew that she should be far more upset about that, but the only thing she could really think about was Willow. Her girlfriend had found her when she'd been taken by something powerful and evil; now she had to help her. The world had lost Buffy: that much she understood, and it was a tragedy. But losing Willow? That would be worse.
Willow couldn't believe her eyes. She knew it was her fault. Buffy had counted on her; she was Buffy's big gun. But instead of focusing completely on the task at hand, she'd gotten distracted by… No, she thought as she glanced at the girl leaning against her, she couldn't regret rescuing Tara. But she still should have been more, done more, tried harder – something, anything. The world needed Buffy. Dawn needed Buffy. Willow needed Buffy. Already, Willow missed her. Her mind was awash in memories of Ben & Jerry's and bad Indian TV. What was she going to do without her best friend?
Spike was numb. Just…numb. Buffy was dead. All sorts of powerful emotions and changes were roiling around within him, but somehow just out of reach, and he didn't understand a bit of what was happening. There were tears and blood running down his face, but he barely registered them. It occurred to him that Buffy wasn't the first dead Slayer he'd ever seen, just the first one he was sorry about. He felt...numb, still. There were feelings that he somehow knew were supposed to be within him. Where were they and why had they gone?
The shock probably would have held them all day if Giles hadn't registered the smell of burning leather. Spike was smoldering, and it didn't look like he intended to move. It was hard to think past the pain, let alone move, but he realized that losing Spike would be one more tragedy in a day too full of anguish.
"Spike. Spike. You need to get out of the light."
Through her sobbing, Willow heard the grief-dulled urgency in Giles' voice. Looking over, she saw what had caught his attention. While she could understand Spike's urge to give up and let the sun take him, she didn't think she could handle one more death. Not after Buffy... no, not after Buffy. Shrugging off Tara's support, she limped over to where Spike was crumpled up, grabbed him by the shoulders, and tried to pull him up.
"Spike, we have to go."
When he didn't respond, just stared blankly at Buffy's corpse, she shook him a bit, her voice rising.
"Spike, you need to get up. The sun is coming, you can't stay here."
He said nothing and Willow was afraid. He must have truly loved Buffy, must not think it worth going on now that she was dead. Part of her entertained the notion of staying with him and letting the flames that would consume him take her as well. Then she thought of Tara, Xander, and Dawn. They all needed her. Even Giles needed her in a way. It was selfish of her, but she didn't think she could let Spike have the peace that death would bring him. It might just break her, and if she didn't have the luxury of dying, she wasn't going to permit it to him.
"You need to get up now, Spike. I can't lose anyone else, not now. Please, just... for me, please get up."
Something in her voice seemed to do the trick, because he struggled to his feet and, both limping, they started to make their way to the nearest building. Burying the pain of Buffy's loss, Willow took charge. Someone had to. Looking around, she started barking orders as she saw people.
"Giles, I need you to find a car or truck, something with cover. We need to get back to... we need to get back to the house. Tara, I need you to help me get Spike inside. Xander... you've got Anya, good. Now, find Dawn and bring her inside, too."
She didn't notice the looks of confusion as she started to stumble away with Spike.
"Willow, wait," Xander called out as Willow pushed Spike into the building ahead of her just in time to keep the sun from incinerating him.
Tara, Anya, Xander, and Giles – they were all confused. Sure they were grateful that Willow was taking charge, but right now she was making no sense and they were suddenly concerned that she was even more overwhelmed by the loss of Buffy than they were.
They watched with no small amount of anxiety as she turned back to them at last. What was she going on about anyway – finding dawn? The sun was rising in the sky before their very eyes. Xander finally asked the question that was on the tip of every tongue.
"What are you talking about – find dawn?"
The others were glad he'd been the one to ask the question and not them as Willow's eyes grew wide as she stared. Giles wondered if the magic she'd used to save her lover might not have done something to her.
Willow, for her part, was simply confused. What did Xander mean, 'what was she talking about?' And why was everyone looking at her as if she'd lost her mind?
"I'm talking about Dawn, Xander. You know, Buffy's sister, the Key. Who did you think I meant?"
The blank stares continued, so she turned to Spike, suddenly panicked and desperate. "Dawn! Little Bit! Where is she?"
"Buffy doesn't have a sister," Anya said. "At least, I don't think so. Did Buffy have a sister, Xander?"
No one else spoke, but their eyes soon filled with confusion and pity as they approached Willow at last. Something terrible had happened to her during the battle, they were sure of it, and she needed their help. Spike looked on with growing horror as he realized that, aside from Willow, the others had no idea who Dawn was. It was as if she never existed.
Willow wasn't sure what her friends were thinking, though she was quickly coming to the same conclusion as Spike. All she really knew was that Dawn was gone and no one remembered her - no one, that is, but she and Spike.
Buffy had died for nothing.
With that last realization, Willow fell to her knees and wailed.