Chapter 41 – Epilogue

She's beautiful. I'm always amazed at how beautiful she is, but I can never understand why I'd be surprised. I mean, neither of her parents are exactly slouches in the looks department. She's six months old, and she's sitting in her chair watching my every move with her huge, liquid, brown eyes. Not that I'm doing that much, just warming her lunch and listening to the radio. Emily Maria, named after her two grandmothers, seems to find me watching her amusing. No, I realise, it's not me she's laughing at, it's Spike. He's playing peek-a-boo round the door with her, and I hadn't even heard him coming in.

"How's she doing?" he asks once he knows I know he's there.

"As you can see, she's fine."

"Seems funny having a baby around."

"Well, yeah, I suppose. I did think for a while that she'd be in high school before Wes and Gina finally agreed to go off for a weekend and leave her with us."

"Understandable, isn't it? Must be hard leaving her behind, even to celebrate your anniversary."

"I suppose," I agree. "So, what's up that Fred had to call you before lunchtime?"

"You know Fred. When she's working on something, she doesn't know if it's day or night. Turns out, she thinks she's got something that'll work against that Dranlak demon that's been causing problems up in Bakersfield."

"Oh good." I say the words, then realise it's not so good.

"You're not thinking about going after it on your own, are you?"

"Did consider it," he admits. "For about ten seconds, until I realised that if it didn't get me you would."

"Good," I repeat, trying to look at him sternly, but he's smiling and I can't keep it up.

"We can go tomorrow, straight after Wes and Gina've collected Emily."

I feel the telltale tingle run up my spine at the prospect of a good fight. "You can tell me all about what Fred's got planned later when Emily's asleep."

I suppose the life we have wouldn't suit everyone. There was a time I wasn't sure it would suit me, but then I'm sometimes wrong. I'm back counselling, but only part time. I work afternoons at that, and Sarah Carlisle, who took over from me while I sorted out the Senior Partners, decided to stay on after I got back. I think we actually complement each other well. I specialise in the demon-induced trauma, and while she'll cover that, she prefers the more 'mundane' stuff. Evenings, I join Spike, and sometimes Wes. Wes' business became a joint venture between him and Spike. Wes runs the business and research side of things, but Spike's been surprisingly into the research too once he got over trying to play the Big Bad. The business is doing well so far, and it gives me the chance to finally do what Anya suggested years ago, and make some money out of helping people. Of course, we don't insist on cash up front or anything like that, and sometimes, for individuals, we don't charge at all. There're enough businesses around that are keen to get rid of vampires or whatever, and they normally pay up gratefully.

So, counselling in the afternoons and Slaying at night. What about mornings?

Well, mornings are ours. Spike's and mine. That's why it's so surprising that Fred'd call. The only reason I've been up for hours already is Emily who, thanks to Gina, keeps more normal hours than we usually do.

Fred and Gunn went into business together too. It turns out, when Wolfram and Hart finally collapsed, that she was still able to access her substantial research budget. She's got some ideas that're going to make big money in a few years, and in the meantime, she does jobs for us at less than her usual rates. Gunn looks after the business side of things, drumming up customers and so on and leaving Fred to do what she does best.

Willow's in LA now, and taking the first tentative steps with Clinton. It took her a while to make the final break with Kennedy, but they seem to have parted, well, not exactly friends, but reasonably amicably.

The only problem is Angel. He went into a major decline after we got out of the basement. From what I heard, he was instrumental in saving my life, but he doesn't see it that way. On top of all the guilt he was carrying anyway, he added a truckload about the way he let himself be led along by Wolfram and Hart, and he feels he let the rest of us down by not killing the Ram. Add to that the fact that the reward he was working towards – becoming human – seems to have been taken by Spike, and he's been pretty lost. Oddly, the only person he'd let near him for three months was Spike, and he used to say that the only reason Angel let him near was that he saw it as part of his punishment.

Then, out of the blue, came the news that Angel was willing to see Sarah professionally. The rest of us were relieved, and although Sarah wasn't too comfortable at first, she seems to be warming to him. However it's going, she's managed to get him to occasionally get out of the tomb of an apartment he's living in, and he's been taking cases from Wes when Spike's needed elsewhere. It's early days, but he seems to be getting back on track.

Spike and me? We're doing fine. I'm not saying it's been moonlight and roses, 'cos it hasn't. We're still two people who both expect to get our own way, but we're learning how to give and take in a way I once would've thought impossible. As far as we can tell, I'm in the clear as far as that agreement I had with the Senior Partners, but just because there's been no sign of anything yet, doesn't guarantee anything. Still, the longer nothing happens, the better I feel.

There's news on the Slayer line too. All those slayers who were made by what Willow did with the scythe, well, they're eventually going to die, and there was concern that there wouldn't be any more. It seems that's not going to happen. Girls are being born as Slayers. Not many, and according to the information Giles has collated, there've been maybe five a year born so far. Some have even been born to current Slayers which leads to the possibility that there's actually a mundane, genetic component to the whole thing.

I'm really very lucky. When I think back to when I was fifteen, and first knew about my destiny, it all seemed so short term. No one would have expected I'd live this long, let alone have things turn out the way they did. Despite Spike's comment about it being odd having a baby around, we've been talking about having one of our own. Now that Angel's taking a more active part in things, it's probably the right time. The only thing I could wish is that my mom was here to see me. She knew what I was and she knew I was in daily danger. She knew I had little hope of long term life let alone happiness, and I know that hurt her. It would hurt any mother. Yet, once she got used to the idea, she just supported me. It would be great if she could see me now. I know she'd be very happy. But then, if she's in the same place Tara is, she probably does know.

"You ok, Pet?" Spike asks, concern on his face.

I realise I'd fallen so far into my thoughts that my eyes are actually filling a bit. I wipe at them roughly then go back to stirring the puréed carrot in front of me.

"I'm fine, Spike. Just thinking about Mom. Wondering if she knows how happy I am."

"Don't know, Pet," Spike replies, putting his arms around my waist. "Reckon she might, though."

"Yeah, hope so."

Spike kisses me then, warm and soft but threatening harder and more demanding, but we're interrupted by a cry from behind us. We break apart guiltily to find Emily crying, tears running down her cheeks.

"What's wrong?" Spike asks, almost panicking as he rushes towards the child. Magically, Emily stops crying as soon as she's got our attention.

"If I didn't know better, I'd say she was jealous," I answer, looking at her suspiciously.

"What? Does that mean I'm not allowed to kiss you all weekend?"

"Looks that way," I answer. "Of course, after lunch, she'll have a nap, and then she won't be able to see what's happening."

"Nap, eh? Sounds like a good idea. You get her fed and off to sleep, and we can have a little lie down too."

"Sleepy, Spike?" I ask, smiling at his expression.

"Not yet, but you can take that as a challenge," he replies, waggling his eyebrows in a manner that Emily seems to find amusing.

"A challenge, eh? And what do I get if I succeed?"

"I'll think of something," he promises.

And you know what? I bet he does.

The End

Thanks so much for all the feedback - it's been very much appreciated. A special word of thanks to my beta, tgeyer who's been such a huge help throughout the story.