EPILOGUE

AN: Here ends the story that took me way too long to write (sorry if it's a little cheesy). Fear not, though – I plan to write an alternate Season 7 as a sequel. The Scoobies' story isn't quite finished yet, but this part of it is. So again, thanks so much for reading and sticking with me on this overly long journey, and thanks for the absolutely wonderful reviews. They've made writing this story that much better.

Lastly, as inspired by another fanfic I've read, I'd like to dedicate this story to Alyson Hannigan and Amber Benson, the women who brought Willow and Tara to life. You two are amazing, and thanks to you, the Willow/Tara legacy will live forever.

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"Dicere," Dawn said, closing her eyes and concentrating on Willow and Tara. Almost immediately, she found herself in the halfway realm, a golden thread around her waist, and at the other end…

The girl grinned broadly when she saw the two witches who had been like second mothers to her. They were smiling too, their eyes shining with happiness as they floated side by side, the magical rope wrapping around both of them.

"Hey, Dawnie," Tara said softly.

"Hey, Tara," Dawn replied, suddenly close to tears.

"Your eyes…" Willow said, sounding surprised as she peered at Dawn closely.

"It means she's the messenger, sweetie," Tara explained. "She absorbed the remains of the spell, so now she can talk to us whenever she wants."

Willow's smile turned into a grin as she comprehended this. "See? We haven't really left you. We're just a magic word away," she quipped. Dawn giggled, grateful for Willow's humorous remark to lighten the situation a bit.

"We can't thank you and the others enough," Tara said seriously, wrapping an arm around Willow's waist. "You brought us back together." Tears were welling in her eyes, and Willow stroked her cheek soothingly.

Dawn blushed – not at the display of affection, but at Tara's praise. "Well, Willow's the one who did it. And you're the one who let us know what was happening."

"But you made it possible for me to get back to Tara," Willow replied. "You were the ones who anchored the bridge." She shuddered for a moment at the memory, and Tara held her tighter. "Thanks to you, I'm back with my soulmate." Willow wrapped both her arms around Tara and lay her head on the blonde's shoulder. Tara smiled and brought her other arm around the redhead. Dawn couldn't help but smile as well, their tenderness touching her heart.

"Well, that's what we Scoobies do," Dawn said, shrugging. "Besides, nothing can keep you two apart. I mean, Will, you saved Tara from a hell-god, and she pulled you from Hell itself. If that doesn't mean something, I dunno what does," she finished, breaking into a quirky grin, despite the fact that she was starting to cry. The two witches had tears streaming down their faces as well.

"We love you, Dawnie," Tara whispered. "You're everything to us – you and all the Scoobies."

"As Buffy once said, we're family," Willow added, briefly squeezing her lover, never breaking the embrace.

"I…we love you too. We miss you…" Dawn choked. "I miss you so much,"

"Oh, Dawn," Tara said soothingly, reaching a hand in the young girl's direction. "We'll always be here for you, just like Willow said. Whenever you need us."

Still crying, Dawn nodded, fighting the weariness that was starting to overcome her. Willow and Tara noticed her struggle, and smiled at her sadly. "Don't tire yourself out," Willow said. "You know you can talk to us whenever you want now. We love you."

"Very much," Tara added.

Dawn nodded again. "I…I'll see you soon…" She swallowed back a few tears, then found the strength for one last small smile. "By the way, nice threads."

"Thanks," Willow replied, glancing briefly at the white, dress-like robes she and Tara wore. Then the connection was broken, and Dawn fell back on the living room couch. Happy but still so sad, Dawn collapsed on her side and cried in earnest.

Feeling a hand on her shoulder, Dawn opened her eyes to see Buffy kneeling by the couch. "Dawn?" she murmured, asking everything just by speaking her name. Still crying, Dawn fell into her sister's arms, sobbing into her shoulder until she had cried herself out.

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"Should we wake her up?" Faith whispered to Buffy as they stood watching Dawn from the kitchen door. Almost two days had gone by since the speaking spell, but the young girl had prudently waited before contacting the witches, especially after what had happened to Buffy, Faith, Anya, and Xander the night before. Now Dawn had collapsed, exhausted not just by the spell but her hour-long crying.

"No," Buffy replied just as quietly. "Let's give her some time to rest. I don't think any of us really appreciated how hard this was on her. I mean, she is still a kid, and Willow and Tara were like moms to her while I was…gone." She sighed. "I think a lot of this sort of thing hits her harder than she lets show."

"Eh, living in this part of town, she'll get used to it soon enough." Faith's tone was sarcastic, but without humor.

The doorbell rang, causing both Slayers to flinch and glance at Dawn, but she was still sound asleep. When Buffy opened the door for Xander and Anya, who came bearing food and board games, she put a finger to her lips and jerked her head in the direction of the living room. For once, even Anya obeyed, the trials she had had to watch having temporarily sobered her somewhat. Faith went upstairs to let Giles know that dinner had arrived, and they all ate in silence, glancing every so often at the sleeping teenager.

When Faith got up from the table and turned to find herself facing D'Hoffryn, she couldn't help but yelp in surprise and literally drop back into her chair. "Hello," the vengeance lord said, looking around at all of them. Noticing Dawn, he negligently waved a hand in her direction. A soft blanket emerged from thin air and draped itself over her. "Poor thing," D'Hoffryn murmured before turning back to the others.

"Hi, D'Hoffryn," Anya said, having remained calm at the demon's entrance. "Pull up a chair; have some lo mein."

"Thanks, but I'm just passing through," he said. "I just wanted to congratulate you all on the success of the spell. It's good to see Willow out of that wretched place."

"Thanks," Buffy said sincerely. "And we can't thank you enough for helping us – for helping Willow."

"Though I still think she should have called you at Circle Two," Anya added.

D'Hoffryn shook his head. "She couldn't have. The last part of the journey always has to be made on one's own." Faith, Buffy, and Anya all winced, suddenly feeling a little less hungry.

"Does anyone want to fill me in on that, or am I gonna be left in the dark?" Xander asked.

"Enjoy the dark," Faith replied as Buffy and Anya nodded emphatically.

"They're together," Buffy said firmly. "That's all that matters."

D'Hoffryn smirked. "They're certainly together."

"What do you mean?" Anya asked.

"Surely you felt their re-conjoining?" the vengeance lord asked. "It touched almost every realm nearby."

"As far as the world without shrimp?" Anya asked, stunned.

"Just about," was the demon's calm reply.

"So that's what that was…" Faith said, glancing wryly at Buffy, who was blushing so deeply she looked sunburned.

"What what was?" Giles asked.

"Nothing," everyone else replied, D'Hoffryn included.

"Well, I'd best be off," the demon said. "Havoc to wreak, vengeance to exact. Goodnight, everyone."

They all bade goodnight to the vengeance lord, watched him vanish from the dining room, then went back to the first relatively normal dinner they'd had in weeks.

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"Oh Goddess, that felt good," Tara moaned, recovering from the aftershocks of a powerful climax as she stretched beneath the cloudy covers on the huge bed she shared with Willow. The redhead grinned, kissing her cheek.

"Well, I figure I have to make up for lost time," she said. "All those nights alo…" She trailed off mid-word, the grin sliding from her face. Tara saw this and wrapped her arms around her lover, molding their bodies together.

"We will never be without each other again," the blonde murmured into the heated skin of Willow's shoulder. "We've got forever together, and I intend to spend that forever making love with you."

"Well, I'm glad our interests coincide," Willow said, a wry smile forming on her lips once again as she drew Tara in for a kiss. The two sighed as they moved their mouths against each other, bathing in each other's afterglow. "Who'd've thought that even here we'd get tired?" Willow continued, snuggling with her lover as they pulled the covers over their shoulders.

"It's probably for effect," Tara said playfully. "Just so we can fall asleep in each other's arms."

And that's just what the two of them did.

……………………

"So now what?"

Faith turned to her fellow Slayer as the two of them sat on the porch watching the sunset. "What do you mean, 'now what?'"

"Well," Buffy began carefully, "are you going back to L.A., or are you staying in Sunnydale?"

"I dunno," Faith said honestly, rubbing the back of her neck. "When I came down here I wasn't expecting all this to happen. Now I'm not sure what I'm gonna do."

Buffy took a deep breath. "Well, you…could stay at our house. I mean, I'm sure Dawn would like your company – a-and I certainly wouldn't mind…" she stopped at the look Faith was giving her. The rogue was smiling, one eyebrow arched in amusement.

"You want me to live with you, B?" she asked. When Buffy, uncharacteristically shy, nodded, Faith grinned outright. "Well all right then." Chuckling, she added, "I have been sleepin' in your room a lot anyway."

Buffy blushed and lightly shoved the brunette, but she was grinning nonetheless. Looking back out at the sunset, the blonde sighed, releasing a lot of her tension in one breath. "You know, I think everything's gonna turn out all right."

"You totally just jinxed it – you know that, right?"

"Well, yeah, but we can't let life get boring now, can we?"

THE END