Author’s Notes: Remember how things went after Chosen? Well, forget about all of that, and ignore the comics. This is my version. This series is comprised of Latter Days, Faithfully Dangerous, and Now and Always, and the entire series will be known by the third title. You’ll see why. (And although some of the locations mentioned in this fic exist, this is my world, which means that I’m twisting reality to my own ends.)
“What a beautiful piece of heartache/This has all turned out to be/Lord knows we’ve learned the hard way/All about healthy apathy…There is a me you would not recognize, dear/Call it the shadow of myself/And if the music starts before I get there/Dance without me, you dance so gracefully/I really think I’ll be okay/They’ve taken a toll, these latter days/Nothing like sleeping on a bed of nails/Nothing much here but our broken dream/Oh, but baby, if all else fails/Nothing is ever quite what it seems…” ~Over the Rhine, “Latter Days”
Jerry Van Peldt had been in the disaster relief business for years now. He’d caught the bug at nineteen, as a volunteer EMT working with the Red Cross. Since then, he’d seen floods, fires, earthquakes, a couple of war zones, and even a terrorist attack or two.
He’d never seen anything like the Sunnydale crater, however. Or “the Crater” as they were all calling it. No one had ever seen anything quite like it, and they had all braced for the worst, ready to find hundreds of bodies buried in the ash and rubble.
So far he’d found a grand total of three, and he’d been working the site for four weeks now.
Jerry had heard through the grapevine that they were planning on shutting the recovery operation down soon. There was no point on wasting resources when there were no bodies to find, and very little in the way of artifacts. The word on the street—or in the Crater—was that the good people of Sunnydale had known that something bad was coming and had skedaddled with everything and anything they could carry.
Until they gave the word, however, Jerry would be working. He had a list of family heirlooms and other articles that people had requested to have returned should the disaster workers find them.
That was the best thing about his job—returning something precious to the person who had lost it. Sometimes it was a body, and the ability to lay their worry to rest, other times it was a live pet, or another item that couldn’t be replaced with money.
Jerry sighed. He knew that voice all too well. The only reason he was able to maintain his patience with Stuart is because he remembered his own enthusiasm for the job when he’d just been starting out. Still, the young man was trying at best. “What is it, Stu?”
“Is this on the list?”
The poor kid had been trying for days to find something—anything—of any value at all in the Crater, only to be told each time that it was nothing but junk. This time, however, Jerry recognized the amulet from its description on the lost and found list. Someone was very interested in getting the thing back, given that instructions had been given to every worker there that they were to keep a sharp eye out for it.
The amulet itself was blackened with soot and grime, and it looked as though it had been battered almost to oblivion. Still, someone wanted it, and that was good enough for Jerry. “Yeah, it’s on the list, kid.”
Stuart’s face creased with a big, goofy grin. “Great! I didn’t think I’d find anything before we got the word that the site was being closed.”
“You know when that’s going to be?”
“A couple of weeks at the most,” Stuart replied. He was well known for being something of a gossipmonger, and often had information before anyone else did. “I heard some of the bosses talking. They said it was really weird that nearly everybody got out in time, and that there’s no reason to stay when there aren’t any bodies to recover.”
Jerry didn’t know if he bought that. It was likely that there were still bodies remaining in the rubble, but there was only so much they could do. It was probably time to pack it in. “Yeah, I can see that,” was all he said. “I’ll send this off to the owners.”
“Cool,” Stuart replied. “Thanks, Jerry!”
Jerry sighed, beginning to flip through the list of people who had put in requests for items that might be found. He wished he still had that kind of energy.
The pages of the notebook seemed to flip almost of their own accord, and he saw the name he’d been looking for. “Willow Rosenberg,” Jerry murmured. “Rio de Janeiro. Lucky girl. I wonder how she managed that.”
It didn’t take long to fill out the necessary paperwork, address the padded envelope, and put it in the mail truck to be sent out the next day.
At no point did Jerry wonder about his compulsion to get it in the mail immediately, nor did he question how easy it was to get through the paperwork. Normally, a request like that took weeks to process; this one took hours.
Then again, Jerry didn’t really believe in magic, so maybe that was for the best.