(spoilers through The Gift but AU as far as the end result)
It was done. Buffy stood at the edge of the platform, staring at the ground below her. She'd been too late. So close, but too late. Buffy knew Dawn did it intentionally. She had to have heard Buffy and Giles arguing.
Buffy had been unwilling to sacrifice Dawn. Giles had tried to get through to Buffy by using their daughter. Of course she deserved to live. She hadn't carried her for nine months and gone through labor only to have her live so short a life.
Damn it, she was tired of losing things. Was this the way it worked? She got Giles, lost her mom. Got Sydney, lost Dawn. Was life nothing but a bunch of trade offs.
"It sucks," she whispered, not bothering to wipe the tears away. She let them fall. Her gaze swept over Willow, Xander, Anya, Tara, Spike, and Giles. All looked exhausted but alive and breathing. Well, all but Spike who didn't need to breathe.
"I'm sorry, Dawn," she whispered. She had hoped there'd be another way. She tried to think of how proud she should be of Dawn. She had fought her way out of her restraints so that she could jump off. Her blood had to stop flowing. She had heard, she knew the ritual was about her blood.
Their plan had almost worked. Almost didn't count, though. She wondered now that Dawn was dead if the memories go away. She hoped not. She didn't want to forget. Spike collected Dawn's body in his arms, cradling her to his chest like a doll. She considered herself lucky to have Spike on her team. He had taken a beating from Glory which more than made up for the robot he'd had made in her likeness. At least as far as she was concerned it made up for it. Giles may not feel the same way.
She made her way from the platform down to the ground, watching the sky for any signs that the portal was still open. All appeared quiet. Job well done. So why did she feel like she'd gone fifteen rounds with Mike Tyson? And why did her heart feel worse than after she'd driven a sword through Angel?
She went immediately into Giles' arms. Her crying became little more than uncontrollable sobs then.
"I'm sorry, Buffy."
"I know. It shouldn't hurt this bad. I mean, I've only really known her less than a year, but it feels like Mom died all over again."
"At least you're not telling me it was for a good cause."
"I thought about it," he said and Buffy sensed he was teasing. "Are you ready to go home? We're all exhausted and will have to take shifts with Sydney as it is."
"Oh God," Buffy murmured. "I have to tell Janice. What do I tell her? Your friend left with us but didn't come back sorry. Oh and thanks for babysitting."
"We'll worry about that later. We'll think of something, Buffy."
She glanced at Spike who until a minute ago clutched Dawn to him like he could breathe life back into her. "What did you do with her? Where's Dawn?"
"Uh, Slayer, I didn't do anything with her. One minute she was here the next poof, she's gone."
"What do you mean?"
"Just what I said."
"Shh, Buffy, it's all right. I imagine her key powers had no more use for the human form they'd taken."
"I," she sobbed. "She's gone? She's really gone?"
"Let's get you home."
She let herself be led. She had no idea what the others were doing. She knew she should ask or find out, but there was a stronger pull for her to get home. To her daughter. Life must go on. She'd stopped it again, but there'd be another apocalypse. It never ended. It could suck the life out of someone. She got that now. She was grateful she had her friends, Giles and Sydney. They kept her grounded, gave her the will to live. And to keep trying.
She sent Janice home and curled up on the couch, putting her head in Giles' lap. She expected there to be nightmares but when she dreamt there was nothing but stillness, peace. And a reassuring presence that told her she'd done all that could have been done. She didn't have to like it or understand it. It was what it was. She was only supposed to have Dawn for a short amount of time.
She woke in her mom's room. Well, the room she and Giles shared now. It was still weird for her to get used to that. This house was hers now. She stretched and let her eyes flutter closed before the panic hit her. She had slept in. She had slept through Sydney crying. She threw back the covers and ran down the stairs only to find Willow reading a magazine with Sydney in her infant seat nearby.
"Buffy, hey. We didn't wake you, did we?"
"Uh, no. What's going on?"
"Well, this is give Buffy some rest day. We all thought you'd earned it."
"You guys helped."
"Well, yeah, but," Willow shrugged, setting the magazine down. "We didn't have the emotional stakes you did. I mean, we all loved Dawn."
"I know. I still can't believe it. She's gone. Why give us the memories if they were just going to take her away again?"
"I don't know. I guess we never will."
"Where's everyone else?"
"Tara's upstairs in your old room sleeping. She was on the early shift. Xander and Anya are off doing whatever they do. But you weren't really asking about them, were you? You're wondering where Giles is. And I don't know. He went out earlier after making sure I didn't mind having baby duty for a while."
"So, if you want to sleep some more, take a shower, or whatever go for it. Take advantage of the free babysitting while I'm still feeling generous."
"Yes, I know, because caring for your goddaughter is such a hardship."
"You know it is. Go get some more rest. You not only deserve it, you need it. When you get going again it's going to really hit you hard."
"Maybe I will. Thanks for everything, Will. You helped. You all did. I couldn't have done it without you. I mean, Dawn wouldn't have had a chance without you guys."
"You don't need to thank me. Any of us."
She went back upstairs and got back into bed. Willow was right. She deserved a day to just wallow. Tomorrow she could be Buffy again. Today she needed to say good bye to Dawn.
She must have dosed because the next thing she knew Giles was lying next to her and it wasn't so light out anymore.
"Hmm, yes, Buffy, it's me."
"What time is it?"
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"No, it's fine. We were all in agreement that you get as much rest as you needed."
She pushed her hair back and sat up, propping a pillow up behind her. "Are you mad?"
"Mad? Whatever for?"
"Well, you moved in here for nothing."
"Buffy. That's the least of my concerns and shouldn't even be one of yours. I moved in here of my own free will. You didn't twist my arm or make me."
"Yeah, but without Dawn we could have made do at your place."
"And made do is exactly what we would have done. That place wasn't designed with a family in mind, Buffy."
"Buffy, I kept that place because I had no reason to look for a different one. To be honest, I assumed Sunnydale would only be a temporary stop in my life."
"Obviously, that's not the case. If Ethan could hear me now he'd be laughing. But my home is with you and Sydney, Buffy. It doesn't matter to me what structure's roof we live under. And I know it would mean a great deal to you to raise Sydney here."
"Yeah it would."
"So, this is where we'll stay. This is my home now, Buffy. I do have one question for you, though."
"Will you let me make an honest woman out of you?"
"Well, now that the hormones aren't raging a war inside of you and Glory has been dealt with." He showed her the palm of his hand. Inside was a diamond ring. "It was my mother's. It's nothing fancy, but it seemed fitting you have it even if you don't say yes. So that Sydney can have it, too."
"Giles, it's beautiful. I don't know what to say."
"Yes would be a start. Or at least tell me you're answer isn't no. We don't have to do it tomorrow. A year from now, two years from now. Whenever. I want you to know the intention is there. I'd still like to see you finish your schooling."
"Yes?" He slid the ring onto her finger. She stared at it for a minute, not believing it was real.
"Do I need to repeat myself?"
"I was just making sure I heard correctly."
She heard Sydney fuss.
"That would be our cue. I'm afraid Sydney Joyce has worn out the volunteers today, so we're on our own for the rest of the evening."
"That's fine. I could use some time for just us."
"I thought you might. Lord knows how long the quiet will last."
She slid out of bed, the glint of the ring catching her eye as she ran her fingers through her hair.
"Do you like it?"
"Yes, very much."
"As do I. I meant what I said, Buffy. I've spent years with no place to really call home. Until now. You've given me that. A home. A family. I hadn't even realized what I was missing."
"Family's pretty important."
"Yes, I'd say so. And that includes those that get taken in to the fold as well as those born into it."
"Good thing I have plenty that I've taken in."
"Indeed. And if I failed it to mention it yesterday. You did well. I know it was a difficult situation."
"Thanks, but I didn't really do anything. Dawn did it. She jumped before I could stop her."
"She was a brave girl and knew what needed to be done."
"I loved her so much."
"We all did."
"Buffy Giles. I like the sound of that. Does that mean I have to start calling you Rupert?"
"I've been meaning to talk to you about that."
"Yeah, yeah," she said as they headed down the hall together to check on Sydney.