Giles leaned on the railing of the back porch, savoring a moment of quiet. He had spoken the least at the dinner table. In spite of his words to Dawn, he'd been unable, even for one moment, to find respite from his grief. Or his guilt. Or his doubts.
"Giles?" called another English-accented voice, very softly. Wesley came and stood beside him. "Is there anything else we can do before we leave?"
"No. No, I don't believe there is." Giles turned to face the younger man. "Thank you for coming, Wesley. You've all been invaluable these past few days."
"I'm glad we could be of service." Wesley's voice held great sincerity. "What are your plans now?"
Giles sighed. "In the short term, I am heading back to England, to the Watchers' Council to give them my final report and my Watcher diaries. While I'm there, I also wish to use their resources to discover what I can about the Key—who the Brotherhood of Dagon was, if there are any more Knights of Byzantium, what that Doc creature might have been, and any other information that may present itself. I am concerned that Glory might not be the only malign force that would seek to use the Key." He frowned. "I am somewhat reluctant to leave Dawn at this juncture, however. Spike seems to take his charge to protect her very seriously, but in spite of his aid during the final battle with Glory, I cannot say I trust him."
Wesley considered it. "We could take Dawn with us while you're gone, if that would make you feel better. Angel is certainly strong enough to protect her, and we're all very fond of her. It would be no imposition whatsoever."
Giles looked at him. "I can't imagine being gone more than a week. If you truly feel it wouldn't be a problem, it would certainly be a load off my mind, knowing Dawn is in good hands."
"I'll ask her if she'd like to come with us. Somehow, I get the feeling she'll say yes. A change of scenery might be good for her, anyway. Who knows—she and Angel might be able to help each other, even.
Giles considered Wesley for a few moments. It seemed impossible that this strong, sensitive, good-humored young man was the same pompous, self-righteous, cowardly know-it-all who had been sent in by the Council to replace Giles when the Watchers had fired him. Had this Wesley been sent to Sunnydale, things might have turned out very differently for all of them.
You've changed, too, Giles reminded himself. He thought of the by-the-book Watcher he'd initially tried to be when he first came to Sunnydale, before he understood that was exactly what wouldn't work with Buffy. He thought of his Ripper days, and how far he'd come since then.
"You're a killer," Tara said in her madness.
She saw Dawn's true nature; did she see mine?
Ben struggled feebly against Giles' hand, locked over his nose and mouth.
Perhaps I haven't changed so much.
He turned his mind away from that line of thought and back to Wesley. "You've changed a great deal," the older man observed.
"My emotional maturity is slightly above that of a blueberry scone now, yes." Wesley gave a rueful grin. "A great deal has changed for me over the past two years. For all of us."
"That much is obvious. Tell me one thing: how is it that you are now in charge of the agency?"
The younger man's brow knitted. "Circumstances led Angel to believe that he should no longer wield all the power in the agency. He felt he needed to be in a position of accountability, and thus, I am now technically in charge. More often than not, however, decisions are made by both of us, if not all four." He looked at Giles. "Strangely enough, I now feel I know better than ever what it is—rather, what it should be—to be a Watcher. I also feel I understand now exactly how foolish the Council was to strip you of your position because of your love for Buffy. It is our ties, the friendships and loves we have, that are of utmost importance. Without those, we lose the point of what we're doing and why we're fighting."
"Indeed." Giles felt troubled, and Wesley's words made it crystal clear why. "I do wonder, though, if Buffy knew just how much I . . ." He hadn't really meant to speak those words aloud. But wasn't that always his problem—not speaking words out loud?
"She knew," said Wesley softly, firmly. "There was no way she could not have known."
Giles met his eyes then, feeling almost freed by having confessed his one greatest regret: that he'd never told Buffy he loved her. He held out a hand to Wesley. "Thank you, Wesley. And good luck."
"To you also, Giles." Wesley shook his hand. "I'll find Dawn and ask her if she'd like to come with us."
"Could I?" asked a voice from behind them. Both men turned to see Dawn in the doorway. "Could I go to L.A. with the Fang Gang, Giles?"
"Absolutely," said Giles. "I'm having to fly to England for a week anyway, so I can pick you up when I return, as I'll be coming through LAX."
Dawn hugged Buffy's shawl around her. "What's going to happen to me?"
"Don't worry about that. Not right now. We'll talk about it all when I return." He looked at the child very seriously. "I promise you, Dawn: you'll not be sent anyplace you don't want to go."
The girl nodded, seeming to trust that promise. "Okay. I'll go upstairs and pack now. Thanks, Giles. Thanks, Wesley." She turned to leave, then looked back. "Giles? Wesley's right. Buffy knew. Buffy always knew." With that, she left.
Tara watched from the living room as the others cleaned up in the kitchen, and she sighed. She hated having a broken hand. She picked at the cast unconsciously. Someone sat down beside her.
"Hi," said Oz.
"H-hello," Tara stammered.
"Mind some company?" the werewolf asked. He gave her a ghost of a smile. "Promise I won't turn into a wolf."
"Of course. Yes." Oz's presence was unsettling to her, less because she felt threatened by his former relationship with Willow than because of unpleasant memories of their last encounter.
"You and Willow are happy," Oz observed.
Tara nodded, not looking at him. "We are."
"Good." He nodded. "Willow should be happy."
"She's . . . special."
"That she is."
Tara stole a glance at Oz. "What about you? Do you have someone?"
"Her name's Thia," he said. "She's a mage. Pretty strong, too, especially when there's a storm coming."
Tara's interest was piqued. "Magi don't invoke spirits, do they?"
Oz shook his head. "Nope. They manipulate natural energies. Her power's tied to water, so she's stronger near the ocean or during a storm. You have to be born with an affinity for it. Thia's father was also a mage, and she inherited the ability from him." He looked at Tara. "Not unlike famtran witches."
"Yes." Tara looked fully at him. "But even without other witches in your family, you can become very powerful. Willow—she's grown by leaps and bounds. I'm amazed at some of the things she can do."
Oz nodded sagely. "Willow excels at whatever she puts her mind to. Sometimes, though, she needs someone to ground her. You seem like you can do that."
He'd hit on something that had been bothering Tara. She worried about Willow, about the powers she'd invoked to strike back at Glory. Willow sometimes seemed to regard magic as another science experiment, more concerned with whether she could do something rather than whether she should. As Tara met Oz's eyes, she knew he understood.
"I hope so," she said softly.
He looked at her for another few moments, seeming satisfied. "I think I'll say my goodbyes now. It's been nice talking to you, Tara," he said, holding out his left hand to her.
She took his hand. "It has been nice. Good luck, Oz."
He looked at her, a slight smile creasing his face again. "You and Willow take care of each other."
"We will. We always will."
Angel stood looking into Buffy's room one last time. It had been rearranged since Buffy's senior year, but so much was the same. The same window he'd come in and out of, where he'd kissed her for the first time. Mr. Gordo still sat on her nightstand. The same scents she'd always worn, vanilla and orange. Pictures on the wall of her and her family—Joyce, Dawn, Xander, Willow, and Giles. The room looked like she would return at any moment. But she wouldn't, not ever again.
"Angel?" It was Wesley's voice. The ex-Watcher came to stand beside him. "Are you all right?"
"Not completely," said Angel. "Not for awhile, I think."
Wesley's brow creased. "Is there some reason the molding's cracked?"
Angel looked at it. "I did that the first night I was here. It was an accident."
Angel almost laughed. Wesley was so transparent. The vampire turned to face him.
"I'm not going to go crazy, Wesley. I won't do anything rash, I promise." He hugged himself a little. "Going dark—that would dishonor Buffy's memory. She . . . gave me something. Something I never expected. She showed me a light within myself that I never knew was there. With her, for the first time since I was a mortal, I could love and be loved. I never knew, never felt worthy . . . and that's why I've got to go on. She made me believe in something stronger than the darkness. You and Cordy, you've helped me to find my strength. She helped me to find my light." He shook his head, a sad smile touching his face. "Am I making sense?"
Wesley set a hand on Angel's shoulder. "I understand exactly what you're saying. We're here for you. Whenever you need us, we're here."
Angel nodded. "I know, Wesley. And that's what makes all the difference."
With that, he stepped forward, drawing Wesley into a strong embrace. It wasn't something the two men were in the habit of doing, but at this moment, it felt exactly right.
"I still can't believe you're getting married," Cordelia told Xander. "Married! You! It's like, a foreign concept."
Cordelia, Xander, Willow, Anya, and Tara were all gathered in the living room. Oz had left a few minutes ago after saying quiet goodbyes to everyone. Cordelia was sitting by Tara on the couch, Xander was sitting in a chair with Anya in front of him, giving her a neck rub, and Willow was perched on the coffee table.
Xander rolled his eyes. "A foreign concept or, say, against the laws of God and nature?"
Willow attempted to turtle her head into her shoulders under Cordelia's glare. After a moment, the Seer returned her gaze to Xander. "Whatever. You just make sure I get an invitation, or you're dead meat."
Xander grinned. "You got it."
"You are the reason we got together, after all," put in Anya, who'd been purring under Xander's attentions. "If you hadn't been so mad at Xander, I'd never have been called to Sunnydale and gotten stripped of my powers."
"Sunnydale's a good place for gettin' neutered, all right," opined Spike, walking in. "Speaking of neutered, by the way—Miss Cordelia, what is my sire doing with your scent absolutely all over him?" He looked entirely too smug.
Cordelia gave an impatient sigh. "If you must know, Angel and I slept together."
Spike's smug look gave way to blank surprise. Willow jumped in.
"It's the truth. Xander and I caught them in bed together."
Xander picked it up. "Yeah. Bit of a surprise, but we figure, consenting adults. As long as he doesn't go evil, we're okay with it."
"Oh, don't worry," said Cordelia. "I keep him very unhappy."
If there was one thing Spike hated, it was a joke he wasn't in on. He looked from one deadpan face to the next. "Are you people just funning with me, or what?"
Dawn walked down the stairs, carrying a duffel and still wearing Buffy's shawl. She sat down by Cordelia, who looked at the bag, then at Dawn.
"Where are you going?"
"With you," Dawn said. "Giles was worried about leaving me while he goes to England, and Wesley said I could come with you guys to L.A. for the week."
Cordelia squealed and pulled Dawn into her arms. "That's wonderful! You and I will have the greatest time."
Dawn leaned on her, not nearly as enthusiastic. "I don't know if I'll be the best company."
Cordelia just squeezed her. "Hey, I put up with Mr. Doom 'n Gloom on a daily basis. I'm sure you'll be an improvement."
Spike, meanwhile, was liking this not a bit. "You're going with Angel and his Charlies, Niblet? You don't want to do that."
Dawn cracked a smile. "Angel's Charlies. I like that. I'll be fine, Spike."
"She'll be fine, Spike," Cordelia stated, giving the vampire a stony look.
Willow wasn't looking very happy, either. "You sure, Dawnie? You can stay with any of us, anytime."
"I know." Dawn shrugged listlessly. "I think . . . I need a break from Sunnydale, you know?"
Xander and Willow traded a look. "I know, Dawnie," said Xander. "Make sure and keep in touch, though. You've got my email, don't you?"
"Yeah. Willow's, too." She settled against Cordelia.
Xander shook his head, looking at them. "I just can't get over it."
"What?" asked Cordelia.
"You guys. I dunno—you go without seeing someone for awhile, and when you see them again, you somehow think they'll be the same as when you saw them the last time. You guys, you and Wesley and Angel, even, you're all so different."
"Yeah? What about you, Mr. Gettin' Married Man?" Cordelia asked. "Everybody changes."
"It's the way of the world," came Angel's voice. He entered the living room, wearing his coat and ready to go. Wesley was with him. "Sorry to have to break things up, but we've got to get moving, Cordy."
Cordelia sighed. "Ready to go, Dawn?"
Spike stood, looking at Angel. "I can protect her just fine here, you know."
"We're not competing, Spike." Angel gave him a hard look. "Dawn wants to go with us. I can protect her. End of story."
Spike backed down, but didn't look cowed in the least. Angel held out a hand to Cordelia, helping her up.
The Scoobies, Giles and significant others included, accompanied the Fang Gang out to the Angelmobile. Hugs and goodbyes were exchanged. Cordelia hugged Willow, Xander shook Angel and Wesley's hands, and Spike ruffled Dawn's hair affectionately.
"See you soon, Little Bit." He turned and walked away. "Real soon," he added under his breath, and went to find a car to hotwire.
"Thank you all for coming," Giles told the Fang Gang. "I do hope the next time we meet will be for a better reason."
"Like my wedding," said Xander, arm around Anya's shoulders.
"Yes. Come. And bring many presents," added Anya.
Before they left town, Angel wanted to make one last stop. As his friends watched respectfully, he knelt by Buffy's grave. He could feel the consecration of the ground and knew it would drive off most of his kind—but not a heart so true. He touched the gravestone.
"I love you," he murmured. "Always. I'll never forget the gift you gave me, Buffy. Doesn't matter how long I live. And I'll always watch over Dawn—I promise."
For a long moment, he just knelt there, taking his leave of his beloved. He gradually became aware of another presence. He looked up to find Dawn standing a few feet away, a tear running down her cheek as she clutched Buffy's shawl around her.
Angel stood, turning toward her, and Dawn slipped into his arms. They stood like that, looking at Buffy's grave and sharing their unique sorrows.
Angel kissed her hair. "We'll be all right, Dawn," he promised. "We will."
"We will." She spoke softly, but sounded almost sure.
Together, they turned and left.
That's the end of this story. It will have a sequel on the Angel side of things once the author has had a chance to rest her fingers a bit. Thanks for sticking through this one, and please leave a review if you enjoyed it. I'd also love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Acknowledgments: Thanks again to Tanja and Gyrus, my darling betas. I can't say how much you two helped. Major thanks to Gyrus for creating the fight scene in Chapter 7.
Note: "Liebestraum" means "dream of love" in German.