Not only did Joyce and Giles hate it, so did Hawk, although I think he understood even better than Giles did. Since he had an idea of where Buffy was, Hawk elected to leave Sunnydale and return to Boston with Susan and me. I even tried to call Hank Summers, but he wouldn't answer the phone. I left him a message that his daughter was OK. I later found out he'd been sent to Toronto.

The summer passed, and in September, Susan and I were out walking along the Concord River with Pearl. Pearl had slowed down. She no longer tried to chase squirrels, but she still noticed them and occasionally barked at them. Susan's cell phone rang.

"I thought you shut that thing off when we went for walks," I said.

"Sometimes I have emergencies, sweetie," Susan said. She put the phone to her ear. "Hello. Yes, Rosa, go ahead and put the call through."

Rosa was one of the people who worked for Susan's answering service.

"Hello, Buffy," Susan said.

I called Pearl back to me and listened, at least to Susan's end of the conversation.

"Yes, that's wonderful. I knew she would have no problems taking you back….Good heavens! Zombies?......And Principal Snyder let you go back to school?.....Very good."

Susan's brow furrowed. "So how did Giles and Willow respond when you told them about Angel?... I see. Have you told your mother or Xander yet?.....No, I understand….Yes, he's right here, do you want me to put him on?....Hold on."

Susan held the phone out to me.

"Hello," I said.

"Hi," Buffy said.

"So you returned home," I said.

"Well," said Buffy. "In the end, it is home."

"And that's where the heart is."

"Well, actually my heart is split between home and Hell, which, not coincidentally, is right next door."

"How's Dawn?" I asked.

"Still not wanting to speak to me," she said. "She's kind of mad about her birthday."

"She may be twelve, but that may not go away for awhile."

"Believe me, I am well aware of how long Dawnie can hold a grudge."

She was quiet for a few seconds.

"I just wanted to thank you, for you know, finding me. Mom still got this really pissed look when I said your name, but I think Giles really appreciates what you did. And I didn't even know that you and Giles shared a friend. I think Giles called him when I came back."

"Good," I said. "I don't think either Hawk or Giles were comfortable with the secret of your location hanging between them."

"It was really good to see two people who cared about me, even if you hadn't met me before. It was really good for me to talk about…what happened…to you and to Susan. It made the rest of the summer go easier."

"I'm glad."

"I know," Buffy said. "Thank you. And keep on loving Susan."

"I will," I said.

And I have.

END