Chapter 51 – Sunnydale, 19 August 2004

The crater looks different. Last time I saw it, it looked raw, like a recent wound. Now, there're weeds growing in and around it and it's starting to look like it belongs. There're fences around it, complete with signs warning of the danger, but it's not as if anyone's around to patrol it. We go past the barriers, a small group lit only by moonlight. Giles, Dawn, Spike and me. It's funny how things end up – all four of us have had our differences, yet on this we're united. I'm holding the urn containing the ashes, and when we're assembled, as agreed in advance, we each say a few words, although as it turns out, it's a very few words.

"I wish you peace," intones Giles.

"Peace and excitement in just the right amounts," corrects Spike.

"Look after Mom, and let her take care of you too," I murmur.

Dawn completes the moment with her, "You saved the world a lot. And now you're home."

With that, I hurl the urn down into the crater, watching as it smashes and disintegrates, the other Buffy's dust mingling with the remains of Sunnydale.

On the ride back to LA, we're all deep in thought, or in Dawn's case, snoring. The past few weeks have been like a new beginning in many respects. Dawn's all set for school to start. We're back in our apartment in LA, a place which seems like home now only because she and Spike have been there too. Giles is staying with us, a flying visit to the US before going back to London. Sadly, Spike's going with him. They're going to spend some time sorting out just how he's going to fit into the Council set up now, and exactly what his duties will be. I already know he'll be spending some time in Glasgow and some in London, but for the next year, it's actually been agreed that he can do the bulk of his work out of the LA office. Once Dawn's in college, I think there's a good chance we'll both base ourselves in Glasgow. I can certainly continue with the work I was doing in Rome from there, and Spike really wants to turn his flat into what he terms 'a proper home'.

The relationship between Giles and Spike has been interesting. Once he knew that Giles was trying to accept him, it seemed as though Spike stopped trying to irritate. I suppose I knew all along that his most irritating behaviour was a defence mechanism – a reason he could use for being rejected without having to face a harder truth. If only he'd had a more positive experience from all of us from the beginning, maybe it wouldn't have been needed. But then, events before he was turned also contributed. Oh, there're still times when I can see Giles biting his tongue rather than give the scathing reply that comes to mind, and similarly I see Spike stopping in mid-sentence, modifying his manner to seem more serious, but it's getting better.

I've heard from Angel – just a couple of emails. He and Nina seem to have settled down – she's actually moved in with him. We haven't made any plans to meet. I don't think I'll be able to be comfortable with him for a while, and for once, I think he realises it. Of course, we'll be in the same city and there might be reasons to work together and we might bump into one another, so we won't be actively avoiding each other either.

My relationship with Spike is something else again. With everything that happened in Glasgow, we both needed each other very badly. Given that we're both people who don't easily trust others in that way, it was a revelation. He was there when I needed him, but he gave me space too, so I didn't feel hemmed in. And the other side of it, knowing that he needed me too ... that was special. The depth of his need for me is greater than I've ever experienced, and there was a time when I'd have run a mile rather than take on that responsibility, but I don't want to now. Yes, it's a huge responsibility, but it's mutual, the woman in me needing him as much as the man in him needs me. We're still learning how to be together, but then that's a lifelong endeavour.

I fall asleep in the midst of these thoughts, safe in the knowledge that night driving is Spike's speciality.

It's early morning when we pull up outside our apartment in LA. Spike knows just where to park to minimise his smoking rush to cover, and we all make our way inside.

Dawn immediately sets about getting some breakfast underway, microwaving some blood with no more thought than putting on the coffee. I wander into the living room and spot that the answering machine light is flashing. I play the single message.

"Buffy, it's Angel. You know I wouldn't call if it wasn't important. I've had a ... letter that I think you and, er, Spike should see. Let me know how you want to do it. I could just copy it and put it in the mail, but I think it'd be better to talk. You know my number."

I look up to see that Spike heard the message.

"That what you're going to do?" he asks.

"What, get him to mail it? Seems ... unnatural."

"And having a vampire for a boyfriend doesn't?"

"You know what I mean. Maybe ... maybe we should meet. Somewhere neutral."

"There's a coffee shop close to his hotel. They do a killer chocolate fudge cake."

I raise my eyebrows at him. If he had his way, I'd weigh twice as much as I do now.

I call Angel and make the arrangements, and after a hurried breakfast, we go back out.

Angel's sitting there already when we arrive, at a table towards the back where there isn't any chance of stray sunlight, although to be honest, there's not a lot of natural light anyway. He looks nervous.

We order coffee, and when the waitress is out of sight, Angel pulls a letter from his pocket.

Angel,

I have been asked to pass on a message from my former employers, but it is complicated, and I will try to explain as well as I can.

You see, business is about 'face'. If you have 'face', people will trust you and it is easy to do business. If you lose your face, it is a very different matter. Things that were once easy become difficult, and it can become so difficult that it is easier to move elsewhere. That is what has happened with Wolfram and Hart. After Los Angeles, it was suggested that anyone who could cause your group to lose face would be rewarded. As you know, these attempts were not successful. The result is that it is Wolfram and Hart who have lost their face, and those responsible have therefore decided to dissolve the company.

For myself, I am looking forward to a new career. I have been appointed CEO of the Rome office of a new company – World Information News. It is a very exciting opportunity, and I am very much pleased. In fact, I can even keep my old office and many of my staff, as WIN has taken over the Rome offices of Wolfram and Hart. Isn't that a coincidence?

The message from my former employers is simple. You have won for now. Wolfram and Hart no longer exists, although the individuals continue and their memories are long.

For myself, I wish you a long and happy life, and I will be at your disposal if you ever visit Rome again.

Ilona Costa Bianchi

"Who's she?"

"She was the CEO of Wolfram and Hart's Rome office. We met her when we went there to retrieve a head."

I notice that Spike conveniently doesn't mention that he and Angel also didn't bother to let me know they were there.

"So, what? They've given up?"

"Hardly, Pet. They've just switched their base. Instead of evil lawyers, it's evil news people. Got to hand it to them – there's just as much scope for evil-doing, but it's a new name so they can start again. That how you see it, Angel?"

"I don't know. I honestly don't know what to believe."

"So what're you going to do? Is this letter going to change anything?"

"No. I don't suppose it does."

"Well then, time'll tell whether they mean it or not. It'll be easy enough to find out if they've really dissolved the company. As for the rest, if they do mean it, then I suspect Buffy or another Slayer'll upset them some time in the future anyway, so they'll come gunning for us again. Don't think we can beat them, best we can do is stop them from winning."

I purse my lips at that comment, and Angel's nod of agreement. It's a depressing thought, but he's right. Our job is to stop them from winning. And in the meantime, I get to live and love and have a life. So, on balance, I reckon I'm not doing too badly.

I rest my hand on Spike's thigh under the table. Whatever they throw at us, we'll fight it together.

The End

A/N: Many thanks to all of you who've been reading and a special thank you to those of you who've commented. And if you haven't commented already, now's a good time ...