Chapter 1

May 23, 2001

It had been the longest night of his life, which would probably lead into the longest day…

Giles stumbled into his apartment Wednesday morning, dead on his feet. Buffy's body had been picked up by the mortuary he trusted (long ago looked into when he first moved to Sunnydale to be her Watcher). Xander had taken Anya to the hospital, accompanied by Willow, most likely. Dawn had insisted on just going home, and he'd seen her and Tara escorting Spike away.

He hadn't done so much that he would be so exhausted, despite being up all night, but grief affected the body as much, if not more so, as the mind. His golden Slayer was dead. There was no option of CPR this time, no one pulling his finger and saying "Gotcha!" No little boy to wake up from a nightmare world of his own creation. She was just…gone. Hopefully at peace.

He desperately wanted to drown himself in a bottle of scotch until he passed out for at least a day, but solace wasn't an option, yet. There was still much to do. He had to make the arrangements for Buffy's burial. Contact the Council to let them know the Hellmouth was now unguarded by a Slayer – perhaps they would arrange for Faith to take over, he didn't know. Since he couldn't drown himself in the scotch, Giles settled for making some tea. Hopefully, it would keep him awake long enough to take care of things.

He had been sitting in his favorite chair, just staring into the cup, when there was a knock on the door. Giles set his teacup down on the saucer, on the coffee table, and walked to the door. He figured it would be one of the children, but the one knocking was the last he expected to come to his door on her own.

"Um…hi, Mr. Giles. Am I disturbing you?" Tara asked softly. The poor man – he looked awful. Like he had aged ten years overnight.

"Not at all, dear. Please, come in." He paused speaking long enough to close the door after her. "I thought you'd be with Willow by now…"

Tara looked up shyly through her lashes. "She's, uh…still with Xander. I don't m-mind, really…they've known Buffy the longest, besides you…Um, I thought, well…I figured you might not want to be by yourself? If I'm being too presumptuous, I can just go…"

Giles shook his head. "No, please…I think I'd like the company, after all. I was going to make the necessary…calls, and…well, it might be easier with you here. There's, uh, tea…in the kitchen, if you like…It seems I forgot to drink mine," he admitted. She understood, and just followed him into the kitchen.

They worked silently, Giles pouring the old tea down the sink and starting a fresh pot, and Tara washing the dishes he'd left in the sink the day before. It helped, in a way, to just do busy work.

"I don't even know where to bury her," he blurted out suddenly, making Tara pause with a wet dish in hand.

"I think…she'd probably want to be next to her mother. The spot next to hers didn't have a marker…perhaps it hasn't be purchased…" she replied gently.

"Of course…I'm not sure that is the best option, though…a, uh, grave…out in the open might be desecrated by demons."

Tara thought for a moment, then made a suggestion. "I n-never asked, but was 'Buffy' her birth name?"

"I…I haven't a clue," he replied, chuckling a little. "I suppose we could ask Dawn, when she's up to it. How…how was she?"

She dried her hands and turned around to lean against the counter, her smoky blue eyes meeting his for the first time since she arrived. "As well as can be expected. We went back to the house, and she insisted on cleaning Spike's wounds before she went to bed. Her stomach had to be wrapped, too. I, um…used some herbs in with the ointment that should help…she shouldn't scar…"

"I'm sure she'll be pleased later," he interjected.

Tara smiled a little. "Yes. Anyway, they, uh…seemed to be okay, so I cleaned up a bit, and came here. Spike will take care of her, Mr. Giles…I think they need each other right now," she said quietly, but firmly.

Giles' head tilted in consideration, and he sighed. "Yes, I suppose you're right. I have to say, I never thought I'd see a vampire cry at a Slayer's…" The word hitched in his throat. "…completion." The tea kettle whistled, interrupting his train of thought. He prepared two cups. "Do you like milk and sugar?"

"Just sugar, please. One teaspoon." He handed Tara her cup, then attended his own. "Thank you, Mr. Giles."

"Please, it's just 'Giles'. Mr. Giles was my father." She nodded, and he gestured towards the living room. Tara moved on ahead, the Watcher right behind her.

Giles took a sip of his tea, then set it on the desk next to the notepad of chores he had to do today. Tara took a seat on the sofa and just waited. His glasses were soon discarded on the desk, his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose as he grimaced in pain.

"Did you sleep at all?" she softly asked. He shook his head.

"Too much to do. I don't think I could, anyway." Giles drew in a breath, straightening his frame. "A Watcher is trained for this inevitability. There will be time enough for…well, when everything's done."

She nodded in understanding. "What's on your list?"

"Arranging the service, calling the Council...and someone's going to have to go down to L.A. Buffy's father needs to be told, as well, if we can find the bastard. He was three weeks late sending flowers when Joyce passed. Let's hope he can do better when it's his daughter involved. I suppose he'll be taking Dawn with him…"

Tara chuckled. "I don't know how well that will go over with her. He's not her favorite person, and she's going to protest leaving all her friends…perhaps we should look at Joyce's will, to make sure her wishes are followed?" she speculated.

"Of course. Parents usually list more than one potential guardian for underage children in event of their death. I believe Buffy once mentioned an aunt…" he considered.

"We'll figure it out, M – Giles. She deserves a s-stable home. Losing her mother and sister within months…" Her voice trailed off in a whisper as the caring and sympathy she felt for the young girl welled up in her throat. Tara brushed away a couple tears, and looked back at Giles. "Was there anything else?"

He shook his head. "No, just the next steps once the process is started. Just details…"

"Alright. Would you rather have some privacy? I can go…"

"Perhaps that would be best. I'm…" He fumbled for the right words, not used to expressing his emotions to others.

She held up her hand to stop him. "I understand, Giles. I'll, umm, go see if I can find Joyce's files and come back later, okay?"

"Thank you, Tara. I know we've never really gotten to know each other, but I appreciate your efforts today. Willow is lucky to have such a thoughtful young woman to love her," he replied, looking down at the desk. He still couldn't compliment a woman without blushing.

"I try my best," she murmured shyly, and got up to put her empty cup in the kitchen.

Tara flashed a quick smile at Giles as she left. He set to his tasks with a slightly lighter mood. Despite all that was weighing heavily on his heart, he did feel a bit better from the young woman's visit.

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Tara let herself into the house and quietly shut the door. Her first stop was the living room, to find the sofa now empty. 'Spike must have sent Dawn to bed,' she thought, as she traveled up the stairs to check on the teen. Tara opened the door just a crack, to see Dawn curled in a ball around Buffy's stuffed pig, with Spike on the floor next to the bed. A blanket had been draped over the window for extra sun protection. She smiled sadly at the pair, thinking that they would need to lean on each other a lot for a while. Spike opened his eyes and met hers.

"Sorry…must have dozed off again…I'll head down to the basement," he mumbled, slowly attempting to rise. He was still moving stiffly from his injuries, though it was obvious Dawn had made him drink some blood.

Tara's eyes widened at the misunderstanding. "Oh! No, Spike," she whispered. "It's okay. I was just checking on Dawn since I just got back. Please…you don't need to move," she insisted.

He nodded gratefully, and sunk back down on his elbows. "I uh…thought the pig would help her sleep. It…it smells like her…" There was no need to clarify who the 'her' was. The vampire averted his eyes again from the blonde, not wanting a human to see his tears.

"It was a good idea, Spike. Want me to…should I wake you later?"

"Probably for the best, luv. The others…"

"Yeah," she sadly agreed. Tara smiled reassuringly, as much as she could manage, and shut the door again.

She made a mental note to talk to Willow about letting Dawn see Spike when she wanted to, and Willow pass it on to Xander. However they felt about the vampire, it was obvious that the teen trusted him more than any other, and would seek him out for comfort, either way. And Tara had seen how he cared for the girl, too. If it was a Summers woman, he loved them, simple as that. She'd seen it in his aura all year.

She walked back down to the kitchen, made herself a sandwich, and thought about where Buffy would have stashed important papers. Tara quietly started her search, checking all drawers downstairs before heading up to Joyce's room. With all the turmoil of keeping Dawn safe from Glory, the girls hadn't even had a chance to do anything with the room, so it was just as their mother had left it. The desk seemed like her best bet, and sure enough, there was a file drawer with folders labeled for important documents. Last Will and Testament. She closed the drawer and took the envelope with her. +

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"Quentin Travers, please."

"I'm sorry, sir. He's in a meeting…"

"Tell him it's Rupert Giles. He'll want to take the call."

"One moment, sir."

Giles took off his glasses and massaged his forehead while he was put on hold. Bloody Council always took its good sweet time…

"Rupert…I'm assuming since you are able to reach a telephone that your Slayer has succeeded in averting another apocalypse…" Mr. Travers finally greeted him.

"She has, though in a way I was not hoping for. Buffy has…passed on," Giles stated, emotionless.

"I see. And Glorificus?"

"Dead. I made sure myself."

"Well, good work, Mr. Giles. We'll be expecting your report soon, of course. Have you made arrangements?"

"I know how to take care of my Slayer, Quentin. As for the Hellmouth, it is currently…unguarded…and it will only be a matter of time before the demons learn that fact."

"We certainly can't allow Sunnydale to be overrun. The Council will see to its preservation. Will one week allow you enough time to organize your report?" The Council Head's tone suggested this timetable was not up for debate.

"Agreed," Giles sighed. "Good night, Quentin."

"Good day, Mr. Giles." The call disconnected.

Wanker, Giles thought for the thousandth time. One week…well, the children would understand, and he would be back…at least for a while. Was it terrible of him that he now found the town loathsome for taking his Slayer? If the Council ordered him to stay, then he would, but he hoped for another choice. It would just be too painful to remain in a city where every turn reminded him of the petite girl that he thought of as his own. But he was getting ahead of himself. What was that platitude people always said in times of grief? 'Take one day at a time?' Well, he would play the responsible adult, and then he was going to get really, really drunk.

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I haven't let Spike leave my side for more than a few minutes since it happened. I've cried for my sister, but I've cried even more for Mom. I didn't really get the time before, when we buried her, but now all I have is time. Giles let the school know I would be out for a while, and Tara picked up my assignments. It's been two days, and I'm trying to do my math homework, but my eyes are too blurry to see the numbers. And I'm trying to be brave, because every time I start to cry, Spike does, too, though he tries to hide it. But I know. He's my best friend. How could I not?

They wanted me to pick out a dress for her. Willow was just going to take it over, but Tara persuaded her that it should be my choice. So, I picked out my sister's favorite dress, with her favorite shoes that matched 'oh so perfect'…and pretty earrings, and her favorite cross necklace. I sent over her make-up, too. She should look like Buffy, you know?

The funeral is on Sunday, at dusk. I insisted that it be at a time when Spike could be there, and Giles is too tired of everything to fight me on it. It's going to be a small ceremony (have to keep it quiet because of the damn demons), but Mom's sister is coming. She's our only, and favorite, aunt, and it will be good to see her again. It was just a few months ago, but it already feels like years. We've tried calling Dad, too, but all we got was his secretary. I know I haven't actually met him, with the Keyness, but I have all these memories…and, well, I know Buffy would be happy if he showed up, just one more time. Dad was hers, you know? She loved Mom like crazy, but Dad was her hero, and the divorce really messed her up…much more than either of our parents. So, I hope for her sake that he can show up for a few minutes, and bring flowers. She loved yellow roses.

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I'm nodding off as the Bit tries to get through her schoolwork. I know she needs me here, but being in this house is torture…everything smells like her, reminds me of her…and I can't sleep, not really…and even when I do, it's all nightmares. How I should have been faster, more clever, gone a different way, been stronger…anything that would have prevented her… Well, I'm not going to think on that. Can't say the word.

I made that promise without hesitation, but it's eating me up inside. Not my Niblet's fault, of course…but she's the only thing keeping me tethered to this rock at the moment. 'Til the end of the world.' Well, my world ended three nights ago, but I'm helping Dawn hold on to hers. After all, I'm a vamp of my word. It's only going to get harder for a while, too. Rupert told me, while she was sleepin', that Joyce wanted her sister to take the girls if anything happened to her while they were still underage, so my Bit's going to be leaving with her aunt at the end of the school year. They all think it's best to leave telling her until after the service. I know she'll keep her chin up and make me proud, but I can' help but worry. She's just a little girl.

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Elizabeth Anne Winters

Jan. 19, 1981 – May 22, 2001

Loving daughter, sister, and friend

That's what Buffy's tombstone read, right next to Joyce Summers. They kept Dawn's aunt from seeing that, of course, but Dawn had a cover story, just in case. Spike had to hand it to his Niblet – she had quite the imagination. She was going to tell her aunt that Buffy had had a quickie marriage that had been annulled, but hadn't had time to change her name back before she died. An easy sell, if the woman liked to be as oblivious as Joyce had lived for so long, before they slayed a vampire right in front of her. He growled low, in his chest. The Poof was around somewhere. That was a scent he could unfortunately never forget. Well, for his Slayer's sake, Spike could be magnanimous enough for one night to let the git say goodbye to her, too. He had a teenager to watch over, anyway.

Spike raised a hand to his lips, then pressed the kiss to her tombstone. Rest well, luv. He set the white rose carefully in front of the stone, then stood and looked off towards a stand of trees, and nodded once. And left.

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The gathering after the service was back at the Summers' house, consisting of Dawn, her aunt, Xander, Anya, Willow, Tara, Giles…and Spike was around somewhere. Cordelia and Wesley had come with Angel, but not back to the house. Cordelia had made sure they brought a tasteful floral arrangement. Dawn thanked everyone because it was expected of her, but she didn't have the energy to put much feeling into it. Seeing her sister's coffin lowered into the ground, right next to her mother's…well, it made her new reality all too…real. She'd heard the whispered conversations when they thought she was still in her room. The house was going to be sold to pay their debts, and she was going off to live with Aunt Arlene. In Minnesota. Three weeks left in California, and then she would be in the land of snow. Well, mosquitoes, 'cause it was summer, but…

Life officially sucked. And she was going to let them know it as soon as they got up the courage to tell her.

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"But Spike! You have to come! I'm not going to know anybody, and besides, who's to say that I'm not still the Key, huh?! I still need protection, don't I?!" Dawn insisted.

"Bit…" he hesitated.

"No! Don't you leave me, too…please…just for a while, at least. Please?" she begged. The pout was already in place, and tears were on the way if he didn't cave soon. Didn't he understand? He was the only family she had left! The only one who would hold on to her sister's memory as fiercely as she did.

"Oh, pet, don't cry…you know I can't stand it when you cry." The vampire enveloped her in his arms. She clung to him tight enough to make a normal man wince. Spike sighed in defeat. "Alright…I'll follow you to your auntie's. It'll take a bit, since I have to drive…" he warned.

"I know, but as long as you say you're coming, I trust you to show up, Spike. You're all I've got." Dawn buried her face in his shirt rather than have him see her cry again. She felt like a big baby for crying so much the past three weeks. Didn't a person eventually run out of tears?

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She'd spent the weeks since the funeral finishing up her freshman year, and packing stuff up with Aunt Arlene. Thankfully, 'William' had easily charmed Aunt Arlene, after Dawn had showed her a couple pictures of Joyce, Dawn, and Spike together, so her 'big brother' had still been around to help. Dawn took what she wanted of Buffy's, then let the Scoobies go through the rest. Heh – that had been awkward. Willow and Xander didn't come right out and say it, of course, but she could see in their eyes that they blamed her for losing their best friend, at least partially. Her fault that they were losing their meeting place of the Summers' house. Her fault that they would no longer have Scooby meetings. Her fault that Buffy was dead. Giles was either understanding, or he hid it better. Didn't matter, anyway. In just a couple days, she'd be out of Sunnydale.

The Council had sent a field team to help with the demon population. Dawn worried every time Spike went out at night that they would stake him before he could come home. That was part of why she was begging him to come with her. She didn't think he would last long on his own, and couldn't bear the thought of losing another person she loved. He hadn't fooled her as much as he thought. He wasn't eating as much, and it showed. He wasn't sleeping much, either. And he always came back smelling of whisky. She knew because she got up at sunrise every morning to make sure he was in bed in the basement and safe. And every morning, that scent would greet her when she opened the basement door. Dawn hoped the change of scenery would help him, too.

"Do you need help packing up your crypt?" she asked, her emotions back under control.

He brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. "I'll manage. There's not a lot to box up, and I've gotten used to doing it quick over the years. Besides, you have to study for your last exam."

"Yeah, okay. Will you be back tonight?" she asked hopefully.

His blue eyes softened, knowing she would need comfort from the nightmares. "Yeah, I'll drop in. Can't have you traipsing through cemeteries in the middle of the night. Your sis would bloody haunt me if I let anythin' take a bite out of you."

It got the grin he intended. "Yeah, she would. So you better not give me a reason to worry, huh?"

"Just who's the grown-up here?" he responded, indignant, though not with the force he used to.

"Oh, go on. Sooner you get the job done, sooner you'll be back to sing me to sleep," she teased.

Spike shook his head. "'M still not singin'."

She scoffed, and walked off towards the kitchen. His smile left, shoulders dropping, and Spike left before she saw how hard he was trying to hold it together for her. His burdens weren't hers to share, if he could help it.

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"Hello again, luv." Spike knelt in front of Buffy's grave, his nightly ritual. He placed a pink rose on her headstone. The color had reminded him of the tint her cheeks would flush to when she was fighting or angry. "Well, I'll be doin' what you wanted…watching over the Bit. All it took was that patented Summers pout, and I caved. God, Buffy…I miss you so much. I can't believe I'm leavin' this bloody town…leavin' you. I hope Red or the Whelp will visit. You deserve to be honored, remembered. Poor Rupes does…he's a bleedin' mess, but we soldier on, don't we? I think he'd be catching the first ticket out of town if the Council weren't makin' him stay. Don't know what they're up to, pet, but my money's on those wankers installing a new Slayer on the Hellmouth. She could never measure up to you, though…a golden warrior goddess, you were. And now…well, I'm sure you're where all heroes go…

You're little sis is leaving before me, and I have to confess I'm tempted to…if she's not watchin', then I can…well, I'm not doing very well, kitten, but I guess you probably already know that." He sobbed once, before catching himself. Wouldn't do to have a demon, or the Council team, come upon him unawares because he was blubbering like a useless git. That could wait until he was in his crypt and settled in with a nice big bottle.

"I should go…I won't say goodbye, yet…but soon…your sister will be right cross with me if I'm not back in one piece by her bedtime, so…

Goodnight, luv."

Spike slowly rolled to his feet, giving one last glance to 'Elizabeth Winters', and continued on to his crypt.

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"That's everything in the truck, Mrs. Powell."

"Thank you Xander, and all of you kids. I'm so glad Joyce and the girls found such nice people when they moved here. I'd worried, you know, after the divorce," Arlene replied. She and Dawn were driving a large moving truck to Minnesota. All of Dawn's room was in there, plus several family heirlooms that Joyce had brought to Sunnydale. The realtor had found a young couple just starting out to buy the house, and they had bought it including the leftover furniture. It was a win-win situation all around. The new owners were moving in the following week. "Dawn, honey, do you have everything? We should really get going so we don't have to cross the desert in the middle of the day."

"Yeah, I'm ready," she said forlornly. It was really time to leave everything she'd ever really known.

Tara stepped up to hug her. "Safe journey, Dawnie. You have all the numbers?"

"Yep, in my bag. I'm going to miss you, Tara. You've been like another sister to me."

The others wished her good luck and left. Anya at least gave her a hug, too, and wished her success in entering the capitalist work force. Dawn just nodded, knowing it was best to just let Anya have her say. She'd miss Anya's quirkiness, too. There was lots she could have learned from the ex-demon. So few people ever told her the truth.

Dawn guessed it was good timing to leave. The Council had arranged for Faith to serve on the Hellmouth, and she wasn't really interested in running into the bitch. It was just another reminder her sister was dead, anyway. Let Giles deal with the hard stuff.

She'd bought two pay-as-you-go phones with her allowance/babysitting money – one for Spike, and one for herself. Dawn presented it to him last night, and didn't leave until she was sure he knew how to use it. If there was any trouble on the road, then they could communicate. Plus, it was another reminder that he better not disappear once he was out of her sight. She texted him as they pulled onto the highway, telling him what time they left. Once that was done, Dawn settled into the seat and gazed out the window as everything familiar melted away.

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The Niblet and her aunt have 10 hours on me when I'm ready to leave. I have a brand new cooler in the trunk full of blood, guaranteed to keep anything cold for seven days. It was a present from Harris – surprised the hell out of me, but I guess he was just that glad to see me leave town for good. I stop by Clem's to have one last beer together. He's another one that's grown on me over the past year. Offers me a kitten for the road, but I decline, complaining about how the fur gets stuck between my teeth. Can't admit that Dawn made me promise not to eat them anymore after she caught me with a couple in the crypt. Rupes has been a decent sort for a while, so I drop by to give my regards. He has an envelope for Dawn with a death benefit from the Council to the family of the fallen Slayer. Don't know how he pulled that off, but my respect for the Watcher just gained a couple notches. I leave before we get sentimental, and make one last stop.

"Hello, kitten. It's a beautiful evening. The perfect summer night. Perhaps that's your way of blessing our journey. Four years…an incredibly short time for a vampire, but you've changed my life forever, Buffy. We had our rough times, but I'll cherish every bloody memory you've given me. I'm going to watch over Dawn, pet…protect her every day like I couldn't on that tower…for you, and for Joyce. I don't know if you ever would've believed me, but I love you, Buffy. I always will."

It was time to go and not look back.

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Months later, Dawn was starting her sophomore year in St. Paul. Spike dropped by most days before his bartending shift (that paid for his small apartment), and spent his off days over at the house helping her with her homework, or watching DVDs. As time went on, it got easier to talk about Buffy, and they could both do it without tears…most of the time. It was just Aunt Arlene and Dawn in the house, but she wasn't lonely. She even made a few new friends over the summer. They were moving on as a family, and succeeding.

Back in Sunnydale, Giles and Faith had worked out their differences and were functioning well as Watcher and Slayer. Xander and Anya had announced a casual engagement. Tara was splitting her time between classes and working at The Magic Box.

And a petulant witch was about to do a spell.

The End.

(I know, I'm evil.)