Rating: R for theme - LOTS of character death
Pairing: Willow/Giles/Tara (non-graphic)
Timeline: AU from 'The Gift' - Buffy didn't close the portal.
Length: 1,965 words
From Challenge in a Can - Willow, calendar, melancholy. I blame the 'melancholy' bit. Post-apocalyptic mayhem follows:

Dates To Remember

"Put that down."

The vamp turned slowly round to face her, his movements calm and unhurried. He could obviously smell her, knew that she was just a human. Nothing to be scared of. Of all the species that now ran wild through what was left of this sorry world, humans were pretty much at the bottom of the 'oh shit I'm in trouble now' scale. Certainly nothing to make a vamp sweat, even one as scrawny and underfed as this.

One upside to the apocalypse: less food for the vamps. Not exactly a cheerleading thought, but Willow had learned to take her comfort where she could.

She moved forward a step, pulling the stake out of her belt. "I said, put it down."

The vamp eyed the stake, and at least granted her the respect of looking awake. Willow shifted lightly on the balls of her feet and tried to look threatening rather than exhausted and sick. She wasn't sure she'd manage it, but she had appearances to keep up. Their little hidey-hole was supposed to be protected; sacrosanct, inviolate. Demons were supposed to avoid it like the plague. Guess this one never got the memo.

"Last time, cowboy," she said, with as much menace as she could drag out of herself. "Put the calendar down, and get the fuck out of here."

If it looked like he was going to take her up on the offer, she'd let him go. The fact that a vamp had been able to get in the building meant trouble - it meant that her wards were fading, and she wasn't sure she had the strength to renew them. She certainly didn't have the strength for a fight as well.

She drew herself up and hefted the stake, hoping that she had enough left for a tiny glamour - just enough to make her seem healthy to the vamp, healthy and vital and just waiting to kick his ass. Hoping that he'd decide he didn't want a fight today either.

No such luck. Either her glamour failed completely, or the vamp was hungry enough to risk it anyway. He went into game face and charged her, one grimy hand reaching for her throat. The other was still holding the calendar, and it was that fact more than anything else that spurred Willow's aching body into action. She had nothing left anymore; less than nothing. Rags and hunger and pain, that was pretty much the sum total of her life. No friends, no hope, no possessions - nothing apart from that calendar. Memories and pictures of kittens; that was it, that was all she had. And she was damned if she was letting it go. If this was the end, fine. She was as tired as death already. The real thing might just come as a relief.

She sidestepped the first lunge with an ease that took her by surprise; the vamp was obviously even weaker than he'd first looked. He stumbled, driven onwards by his own momentum, and crashed into the wall behind her. He fell, and Willow's arm had the stake in his chest before her brain had really caught on to the plan. Thank heaven for muscle memory.

She lifted the calendar from the floor and brushed the remains of the vamp off its surface. Looked down at it for a long time, then opened it at random. The dates ran and blurred before her eyes, but the memories stayed sharp.

June 15th. The day she and Xander had busted Faith out of jail. Not that there'd actually been that much to bust by the time they'd got to LA; one of the big flying things with the dozens of heads had taken a fancy to the building and had been busily turning it into a nest. They'd found Faith trying to kill it with a gun she'd liberated from one of the guards, which was having about as much effect as poking it with a toothpick. Eventually they'd got Faith to understand what had happened - Glory, the portal, the endless stream of monsters - and that they couldn't afford to waste resources. This particular monster had already eaten everyone within reach, and that made it no longer a priority. Faith had kept the gun, but left the monster. They could see that it hurt her to do it, hurt something Slayerish inside her, but hurt was already becoming a way of life by then.

"Get Faith," Buffy had said. "Get Angel. Get Cordelia, get Wesley, get Ethan fucking Rayne if you can find him. Get anyone who has any kind of chance of fighting this."

"If Buffy's asking for help," Xander had said as they left, "we must really be doomed this time."

They'd smiled at each other then, as if they were joking. As if they still believed that they could win.

June 20th, the day they got back to Sunnydale. Minus Wesley, the girl Fred that Willow had barely had a chance to get to know, and Angel. The final score for the journey had been Monsters 3, Forces of Good approximately 350 and counting, but that didn't make it any easier seeing Buffy's face when they walked into the warehouse that was doubling as resistance central.

Surprisingly, it had been Spike who'd finally voiced the question: "Where's Angel, then? Poof decide he's got better things to do than save the world today?"

No-one had answered him, but they hadn't needed to. Obviously the look that passed between the survivors of their little road trip had told the story eloquently enough. Buffy never said a word, just went out on her own and didn't come back until fourteen hours later, covered in blood and reeking of death. Willow didn't doubt that the score had just gone through the roof. She supposed it was an epitaph of sorts. The best any of them were likely to get, anyway.

September 3rd. The day Buffy went out and this time didn't come back. It had followed close on the heels of September 2nd, the day they found the note from Dawn. It has to stop, she'd written. The portal is still open and it doesn't matter how many of them we kill, they keep coming. It has to stop, and I'm the one who can do that. The ink on the page was smudged, and it was so painfully easy to see Dawn crying over it. I love you, she'd finished. I love you all.

And the worst of it? They never even knew if she'd succeeded. There were so many of the demons by then, it was impossible to tell whether any more were coming.

November 23rd. The day Giles told her that he loved her. They'd worked together on the wards for the new - smaller - safehouse, spending days creating layers and layers of protection until she'd collapsed with exhaustion. He'd picked her up and carried her inside, his face a study in love and despair. She'd laughed then and she laughed now, although it sounded more like a sob in her ears.

"Dumb ass," she said aloud, tears splashing on the calendar as she turned the pages over. "Do you think I don't know that? I might be half dead but I'm not stupid."

The first time she'd said that, Giles had blinked, and stuttered, and just generally looked so adorable that she'd simply pulled him down to her and kissed him. This time, she was met with only silence.

November 27th. He'd fretted so deliciously about Tara, although Willow had tried to tell him over and over that it wasn't going to be a problem. Tara hadn't exactly been at the back of the queue when brains were handed out, either. Or sexual imagination, come to that. It might fly in the face of social convention, but when half of society had already been eaten, it seemed that conventions got a little looser.

When finally Tara and Faith came back from perimeter patrol, Willow ran straight to her and grabbed her by the hand. Faith had grinned

"Nothing like a little separation to get the fires burning, huh? Guess you got a warm welcome waiting for you there, girl."

"You don't know the half of it," Willow said, and pulled Tara back to Giles, and warmth, and love. They'd cried for Buffy, for Dawn, for all of them, but they'd found comfort in each other. For a short time.

December 7th. The day three became two. She'd watched Tara return, alone this time, from another patrol. Alone, and pale, and asking oh so prettily to be invited in. Xander had stopped Willow from lifting the wards and opening the door, and Giles had stopped her - eventually - from screaming. They told her that Spike had dealt with it, in the end. That, she hadn't been able to watch.

January 19th. The day she got her fool self cornered by a bunch of huge spiny uglies in a supermarket, where she'd been on a food raid. The day Xander came to get her, cutting his way to the door with an axe. The day she got away from the monsters. The day Xander didn't.

February 14th. The day she and Giles got married. They'd decided to save the alcohol for sterilisation purposes, but somehow Spike always seemed to forget that. And once the bottle of Jack was open, it seemed rude to put it away without at least a toast. They'd ended up lying on the floor, screaming with laughter at something, she never had been able to remember exactly what it was. Something to do with Angel and a battery operated tin opener, but the details had remained forever a blur. They'd realised what day it was, and Spike had drawn a heart in the entrails of the little furry rabbit-like demon they'd been eating. He'd put rings made out of discarded bits of wire on their fingers, and pronounced himself a priest of the Latterday Church of Love.

"You do," he'd told them, "so you are. Right? You can snog now."

They'd tried to oblige, although Willow was told the next day that she'd passed out halfway to her new husband's lips. It was the last night the four of them were together. The last night she ever laughed.

March 1st. The beginning of the end. An ambush, vamps and demons and things she couldn't even put names to any more. Spike and Giles, gone in blood and dust. Faith, knocked flying off her feet, broken but still alive. Willow had used everything she had then, a flare of power that bought them time but burned out something deep inside her. Game over.

Her legs were protesting too much time spent crouching in the dust. She got up, taking the calendar with her, and went into the bedroom. At least the vamp hadn't got that far.

She sat down on the filthy blanket. "Faith," she said, reaching out for her hand. "Faith, can you hear me? Wake up, Faith. Wake up."

She closed her eyes. Were there still miracles in this brave new world? Was anyone still awake on whatever lofty mountain the powers that be whiled away their eternal existence on?

Faith hadn't stirred. She'd take that as a no, then.

Willow concentrated on Faith's hand, but knew before she even began that there was nothing left. She was used up, worn out, running on empty. Her magic had kept Faith alive for the last week, feeding energy into her broken body, but she simply had nothing left to give.

"I'm sorry," she said, and tucked Faith's hand under her cheek. "Sleep well," she said, and got up.

And now, there would be no more dates to remember.

The End
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