Note: Thanks to Godiva for the Bloody Awful Poem and JoMadge (with a little help from Gyrus) for the Bloody Awful Limerick. I hope you all can live with yourselves.
Epilogue: Fun on Saturday, Departures on Sunday
Wow, was last night scary! Just when we thought the White were going to come in and take out Andrew (Sandra's evil creepo mage husband), he shows up at the door. Spike took me, Sarah Anne (S.A.) and Fred down through the sewers to find a safe place. He had to fight off six demon dogs while we were down there, but Fred helped him, and all he got was a bad bite on the leg. Then we went to this place called Caritas, which is a demon karaoke bar (don't worry, it was closed for renovations). That was really cool. The owner is this seriously cool and funny green guy named Lorne who can read your aura if you sing for him. I think he's crushing on Angel, too.
The Fang Gang did great with Andrew, too. Cordy said Rebecca saved her life by breaking a demon dog's neck with her legs. That sounds like something you would've done. She also said Sandra yelled "I want a divorce!" at Andrew, which I think is great. Sandra's really nice, she's just been through a lot. And Angel beat up Andrew, and then the White showed up and took him down. Wish I'd seen that.
Sandra says she and S.A. are going back to Virginia now. The White said they'd help her rebuild her life back there. They're leaving Monday. Today's S.A.'s birthday, though, and I had this great idea: we're gonna throw S.A. a birthday party! Kate said there are other kids at the shelter who'd like to come, so we're going to decorate the ballroom and have a blast. I swear Angel turned even whiter when I told him my idea, but Cordy helped me convince him. Spike's being a real pain to him, though. They're kinda fun to watch.
Anyway, Cordy and I are going shopping after breakfast, so I'd better get down there. Wesley says Cordy's been known to spend entire days at the mall. She hit him on the head for saying that.
Talk to you later!
"No offense, Rebecca," Cordelia was saying as Dawn walked into the kitchen. "I mean, you saved my life and everything, and I know you're good with that staff thing, but I just don't think you can do it."
"No way in hell," Spike agreed.
"Mmm." The British girl smiled confidently, holding a quarterstaff. "Either of you care to put money on that? Twenty bucks says I can."
Cordelia shrugged. "Okay. I'll bite. I say I'll be taking another twenty from you."
"I'll bite, too," put in Spike.
"Shouldn't you re-phrase that?" asked Rebecca. Spike glared.
Dawn looked curiously from one face to another. "What's happening?"
Cordelia pointed to the table, which had ten egg cups, each holding a raw egg, lined up on it. "Rebecca says she can use overhead strikes with that big stick of hers and crack—not break, but crack—every one of those eggs."
"No whites should be visible," added Rebecca.
"Anyway, Spike and I each have twenty bucks riding on the no," Cordelia finished.
"Want in on the action, Little Bit?" asked the blond vampire. "Easy money."
Angel turned around from where he was making coffee. "No teaching Dawn to gamble, Spike."
The group stood back as Rebecca approached the table. Ten swings of her staff created ten lightly-cracked eggs. Wesley examined them.
"I'd say we're having eggs for breakfast," he noted smugly. "How would you like yours, Cordelia? Poached? Scrambled? On your face?"
"Ha, ha." Cordelia reluctantly opened her purse.
Rebecca held up a hand. "No need, Cordy. I couldn't take a friend's money." She then held out that hand to Spike. "But I will take yours."
"Hey! I thought you were bein' all generous," protested the blond vampire.
"Pony up, Spike," ordered Angel. "And don't whine about it."
Disgusted, Spike produced a twenty and handed it over. Rebecca took it and ostentatiously stuffed it in her bra.
"Least now there's something in there," grumbled Spike. Angel smacked him upside the head. "Ow!"
"Do you take coffee, Rebecca?" asked Angel, holding out a fresh cup.
Rebecca shuddered. "Horrid stuff. I much prefer tea. Top cupboard, isn't it?"
"Over there." Angel pointed. Wesley took the cup Angel was holding.
"You drink coffee now, Uncle Wesley?" Rebecca asked. "I swear, you're growing more American by the moment. Any second now, you'll start talking like Donald Duck."
"Watch your mouth, young lady," Wesley scolded mock-sternly. "Actually, coffee is completely tolerable—provided Angel makes it."
Cordelia explained, "We've got a system here: Angel makes the coffee on account of Wesley doesn't make it at all if he can avoid it, I supposedly make it too weak, and as for Gunn . . ."
"Last time Gunn made coffee, it almost started my heart," said Angel.
"You people are all wusses," declared Gunn. "Coffee should put hair on your chest."
"And take it off your head, I suppose," said Spike. "By the way, you people need to get more cocoa. Get a better brand this time, something like that Stephen's Gourmet or what-all, not that Swiss Miss crap. I don't see how you stand that stuff."
"This coming from someone who drinks microwaved blood, of course," retorted Cordelia.
Rebecca was opening Wesley's tea tin. "I personally don't care for any American brand. European chocolate is far superior."
"And this from a gal whose country provided us with such culinary delights as kidney pie and blood sausage," Cordelia pointed out.
"Well, kidney pie is . . . it's not . . . I mean to say, it's . . ." Rebecca gave it up. "Simply horrible, if you must know. Great-aunt Phyllida used to love it, so whenever we visited her or she visited us, we'd have it for dinner. As Mother didn't want to offend her—Aunt Phyllida was extremely wealthy—we'd all have to clean our plates. I'm convinced it led directly to my digestive difficulties."
Angel and Wesley traded a look then, and Angel walked over to Dawn. "Dawn, late last night, Giles called from England. He's going to be here tomorrow evening to pick you up."
"To—to go back to Sunnydale?" Dawn's good mood was rapidly evaporating. Going back to Sunnydale, back to her empty house, without Buffy or Mom . . .
"Yes." Angel seemed to understand her ambivalence. "Giles said he got something worked out with the Watchers to ensure you won't have to go into foster care, so don't worry about that. And I know Willow and Xander are looking forward to seeing you again."
Dawn nodded. "I guess. Do you—do you think maybe I could come back sometime? Visit?"
"Well, duh," said Cordelia. "You think we're going to let you spend your whole summer in Sunnydale? Not a chance, babe."
"You're welcome anytime, Dawn," Angel affirmed.
That made her feel better. Sandra and Sarah Anne came downstairs, Angel prepared the eggs (scrambled), and they all sat down to a happy, relaxed breakfast. Cordelia and Dawn finished first.
"We'd better get going," Cordelia said. "Dawnie and I are hitting the mall hard today." The Seer paused a moment. "Want to come along, Rebecca?"
Pure joy followed shock on Rebecca's face. She got her expression back under control quickly. "I'd love to, Cordy. Just give me a moment, and I'll be right with you."
"You sure?" asked Angel. "I was going to ask if you wanted to spar again."
Rebecca gave him a wry look. "Much as I'd love to get bruised head to toe again, after Wendy was so kind as to heal me last night, my X chromosomes are calling. I will, however, take a rain check on that spar."
"Consider it done." Angel gave her a slight smile as she put her dishes in the sink and went to follow Cordelia and Dawn. After they were gone, the vampire turned to Wesley. "You were right about her."
Wesley's expression was pure pride. "Yes. Occasionally, just occasionally, something good does come out of my family. And before Spike can make sarcastic comments about that—Sandra, how are you this morning?"
"I feel like I've been reborn," Sandra said, very sincere. "I slept well for the first time in years last night. It's finally over, and I'm so grateful. There's no way I can thank you all enough. There are just no words."
"We're only too glad to help, Sandra," Wesley replied. "It's what we do."
"No." Sandra shook her head. "No, you've done way more than you had to. Any of you could have been killed for me or my daughter. That's . . ." She stopped, swallowed hard. "That's something I never would have asked you to do, but . . ." She couldn't go on.
"Sandra." Angel was standing by her shoulder. "Like Wesley said: it's what we do."
"It's the truth. Disgusting, isn't it?" commented Spike. "Risking their lives for perfect strangers—I do hope insanity isn't hereditary, or I'm doomed."
Angel had noticed something. "You're wearing your leather pants this morning, Spike. Why could that be? Maybe because your other pants got shredded last night when you risked your life protecting Dawn, Sarah Anne, and Fred?"
Gunn snickered. Spike glared. "Don't take that too serious, Peaches," the blond vampire spat. "It was Little Bit I was protecting. The other two . . ." He thought. "Well, they are kind of cute, especially Tiny Bit, and that Fred's kind of nutty, which I always find attractive, but it's not like I'm getting all warm and cuddly."
Sandra whispered something to her daughter. Sarah Anne jumped up, ran over to Spike, and hugged him hard around the waist before returning, giggling, to her mother.
"Somebody stake me now," Spike moaned in the face of Angel and Wesley's laughter. "I need to do something evil." The Magnetic Poetry attracted his eye, and he went over to rearrange it. He finished the task, loudly announced he was going for a smoke, and left the room.
Gunn went over to inspect his work. " 'My love is like a dead, dead rose/Whose smell is all effulgent/My love smells sweet from nose to toes/If I may be indulgent.' Where the he . . . ck does he come up with this sh . . . stuff?" He reached for the poetry.
"Leave it," said Angel.
"Why?" asked Gunn. "You know how Cordy feels about it."
"Yes, I do," concurred Angel. "Unfortunately."
Wesley looked over at the elder vampire. "You've come to the same conclusion I have, then?" Angel nodded, looking unhappy.
"Would someone mind explaining what the two of you are talking about?" demanded Gunn.
"Simply put," said Wesley, "Cordelia is enjoying having someone around who a) flirts outrageously with her and b) she can rip apart verbally." Angel nodded his agreement, looking even more unhappy.
Gunn wrinkled his nose. "That's just wrong."
A few hours later, Cordelia, Dawn, and Rebecca came back to the Hyperion laden with bags, bags, and more bags. Wesley counted multiple bags from three different clothing stores, two from Toys R Us, three from Hallmark, and another from B. Dalton. In addition, all three women were holding the strings of what looked like at least twenty purple, silver, and white helium balloons.
"I'm extremely concerned about the state of my credit card," Angel murmured.
Sandra came forward and relieved them of the Toys R Us bags and one of the Hallmark bags, the one with wrapping paper rolls sticking out of the top. Cordelia pointed at the menfolk.
"You three have two hours to decorate the ballroom. Sarah Anne, you're coming upstairs so we can turn you into the Purple Princess. Get cracking, boys."
All the women then removed themselves to the upstairs, leaving the remaining Hallmark bags and all the balloons. Angel, Wesley, and Gunn looked at each other, then approached the bags with much trepidation. Reaching into one, Angel produced several streamers. He considered them briefly, then began to smile just a little.
"Spike?" he called. "I've got a job for you . . ."
At two o'clock, several vans pulled up outside the Hyperion. They unloaded nine adult women, including Kate, and eleven children ages four to fourteen. One of the women also had a baby. Kate carried a monstrous cake.
"Where do you want this?" the ex-cop panted. Angel took it from her and ushered them into the ballroom, where tables had been laid out. Another of the women began making punch. Kate caught Angel's arm and pulled him over to a petite blond.
"Angel, this is Beth Visser, my boss," Kate introduced. "Bethie, this is Angel, the friend I told you about."
"I'm so happy to meet you, Angel," said Beth. "Kate's told me how much you and your team helped Sandra and Sarah Anne."
"Pleased," said Angel, shaking her hand. There were far too many people milling about for his comfort. He was insanely grateful to see Wesley and beckoned the ex-Watcher over. "Wesley, this is Beth Visser, Kate's boss. This is Wesley, my boss."
Wesley shook the woman's hand with a smile, and Angel made a hasty retreat as they started to chat. He had almost reached the door when Gunn entered, lugging a perfectly enormous stereo.
"What's this?" Angel asked.
Gunn looked at him in disgust. "Tunes, man. You can't have a party without music. Help me with that extension cord, will you?"
What with one odd job after another, Angel was effectively unable to escape. When he finally did exit the ballroom, it was only to find the women descending the staircase with some ceremony.
They looked wonderful. Cordelia was wearing a sleeveless jumpsuit, deep purple on top and black below the high waistline. Rebecca, right behind her, had on a simple sheath dress of lavender silk. Her hair was in a French roll with curls trailing down her neck. Dawn was wearing a glittering amethyst top and a black skirt, with her hair sectioned and pulled back from her face into a number of tiny butterfly clips. Sandra's dress was similar to Rebecca's, but with a floral pattern. Even Fred had a new dress, an elegant purple knit wraparound, and her hair was pulled back into a clip from which it tumbled in vagrant curls down her back.
Last came Sarah Anne. She was wearing a glittery purple party dress with a fake ermine cape over her shoulders and a tiara on her head. She was even carrying a scepter. A closer inspection revealed that her nails had been painted purple.
Angel had to smile as they hit the floor. "You all look great," he said.
Cordelia raised one eyebrow. "Coming from you, that's practically gushing. We had a lot of fun." Angel thought of his credit card again. It must have showed, because Cordelia thumped him lightly and said, "Don't worry. The clothes went on Rebecca's credit card."
"And Daddy's paying it off," Rebecca confided slyly.
"Did I mention how much I like her?" said Cordelia. "And look! We discovered she has legs!"
"I can see that," said Gunn from behind Angel. He checked out said legs appreciatively. Too appreciatively, apparently. Wesley, who had joined them, looked at the younger man sharply.
"The party is awaiting only the entrance of the Purple Princess," the ex-Watcher announced after a moment. "If you ladies would like escorts, I believe we'd be the most privileged men in the world."
Wesley took Sandra's arm and Sarah Anne's hand, Gunn escorted Rebecca and Fred, and Cordelia and Dawn forcibly steered Angel into the ballroom.
It wasn't quite as bad as Angel had feared. He forcibly quashed his "bite or avoid" instinct and discovered yet again that children didn't bother him nearly as much as adults. Sarah Anne imperiously demanded that Angel draw a purple and pink dragon for her, and her request was quickly followed by almost every child in the room begging for a drawing of their own (with variations on the fantastical creature and color scheme).
As he finished the last drawing, Cordelia and Gunn were out in the center of the floor dancing with Dawn and Sarah Anne. Angel took a moment to appreciate the sight, then went for his sketch pad again. He began to draw the scene.
Spike suddenly appeared at his elbow.
"Miss Cordelia's lookin' delicious, isn't she, mate?"
"Why haven't you ever made a move for her? It's what I've been trying to figure out."
"Come on! You don't love her that way, so what makes you think having a good shag with Cordelia and her decadent curves would cost you your soul? Besides, isn't the risk worth it?"
"Therein lies the rub, William. I have sex with her and lose my soul, I torture, maim, and kill her, thus ruining our friendship. I have sex with her and don't lose my soul, she's insulted, thus ruining our friendship."
"Hm. That curse of yours is a real bugger-all, isn't it?"
"I've noticed that."
"Mind if I give it a shot?"
"If you don't mind being shot down."
"Think I should ask for a dance, then?"
"It's your face that's going to get slapped, not mine."
"Think she would?"
"Slap my face, you ninny. You think she really would?"
"I'm sure of it."
"In that case, I'll definitely ask her to dance."
Angel shook his head as Spike headed out to the dance floor. The younger vampire sauntered over to Cordelia, challenge in his eyes. She looked at him and the challenge he was presenting, set her mouth, and resolutely turned and began to dance with him, heating up her moves a little. Spike, Angel discovered with some chagrin, was an excellent dancer. Gunn gave them a disbelieving, then disgusted look. He shook his head and went over to pull a giggling Fred onto the dance floor. Dawn and Sarah Anne continued to dance together.
Kate plopped down by Angel. She was flushed and smiling, just having come back from playing a game with the older kids. Angel liked the change in her over the past few months. She was softer, more open, but also more grounded than ever.
"You doing okay?" she asked.
"Surprisingly enough, yes," answered Angel. He started adding Spike's figure to his drawing. "I've found I like the company of children better than adults. There's less pretense with them."
Kate nodded, eyes faraway. "I know what you mean. If they see something strange, they don't start rationalizing it. If something hurts, they don't want to analyze or understand it; they just want it to stop." She watched as an eleven-year-old boy came whizzing around on a scooter, hotly pursued by five other children. "And they're so full of life."
Angel had darker memories of children, memories of when that very life led him to hunt and feed upon them. Memories of viciously murdering innocents like Dawn and Sarah Anne.
He allowed the guilt to wash through him, settling again into a resolution to protect these children from predators like he'd once been. It was the only peace he could find, he knew, but it was comfort nonetheless.
"They are life," he murmured.
"Rebecca, no!" Angel and Kate turned sharply at Wesley's voice. Rebecca had hold of the ex-Watcher's arm and was resolutely dragging him toward the dancers.
"Don't be such a stick-in-the-mud, Uncle Wesley," she chided.
"But I look like a big dork when I dance. Cordelia says so," Wesley protested, nay, whined.
"Wonderful! So do I. Let's be dorks together!" Rebecca yanked her uncle into position, took his hands, and more or less forced him into dancing with her. Angel reflected to himself that they did, indeed, look like dorks. But happy ones.
Kate touched his arm and pointed across the room at a nice-looking woman with shoulder-length brown hair. "That's Julie, by the way."
"The psychiatrist you told me about?" Angel asked. The previous night, on Lorne's tip, Angel had spoken with Kate at length about Dawn. Kate had immediately told him about Julie, a psychiatrist who received state money for working with shelter patrons.
"Julie had a horrible run-in with a demon a few years ago," Kate had said. "She's still got the scars. Furthermore, she doesn't feel compelled to be in denial about the attack or about other supernatural happenings. I've counseled with her myself. If anyone can help Dawn, it's her."
Now, Kate looked at Angel. "I spoke to her this morning and asked her if she'd be willing to at least talk to Dawn today. I expect she'll be drawing her aside any time now."
"Good," Angel decided. He went back to his drawing, only to find it mostly done.
The music changed to something a little slower. Wesley gladly moved in for a slow dance with Rebecca, who contentedly leaned her head on his shoulder. Cordelia wasn't about to dance cheek-to-cheek with Spike, but did take his hands and move a bit closer.
"I don't suppose . . ." Kate bit her lip, looking at Angel. "I don't suppose you'd like to dance?"
"I—I don't dance," Angel said hastily.
"Oh. Okay." Kate blushed a little.
Great, thought Angel. Now I've embarrassed her. Aloud, he said, "It's not you, Kate. It's just that . . . the last person who got me to dance . . ."
Kate nodded, understanding. "Buffy, right?"
"Yes." Angel continued to watch the floor. A few mothers had collected their children and were cuddling them close, dancing. Sarah Anne had stepped up onto Dawn's feet, and the two swayed together.
Making a decision, Angel set aside his sketch pad and stood, holding out a hand to Kate. Surprised, she took it. He led her out to the dance floor, and she moved into his arms.
She was warm and alive and real against him. He thought back to the Prom he'd danced with Buffy at, remembering the love and the pain between them, the knowledge that he must leave in order to be true to that love. The pain had increased, then decreased, then increased again, and the love had changed its form, but both love and pain were still present.
Even though now, they only existed within Angel.
Kate pulled back and looked into his face, concerned, as a small sound of pain escaped him. He drew her in again, needing her warmth and the friendship that, against all odds, had flourished between them. Over her head, he caught sight of Cordelia. She looked into his eyes with sympathy. Spike was also looking his way, the younger vampire's expression knowing. Angel conjured a slight smile for them and turned his attention back to Kate.
They danced together, surrounded by life and family.
The young teen turned from where she was refilling her punch cup and found a brown-haired woman with kind eyes looking at her. "That's me," Dawn said.
The woman stuck out her hand. "I'm Julie. I was hoping we'd get a chance to talk."
Dawn took her hand, a little confused. "Why?"
"Kate asked me to talk to you," Julie said. "She said something bad happened to you, and you needed someone to talk with about it."
A suspicion was forming in Dawn's mind. "Are you, like, a psychologist?"
"Psychiatrist, actually. Believe it or not, there is a difference, even if most people couldn't tell you what it is." Julie's brown eyes twinkled. "The important thing, though, is that I might be able to help you deal with some of the things that are making you feel bad and afraid. Would you like me to try?"
The respite from her worries that the shopping trip and the party had given Dawn had already been giving way to concerns about what the future might bring. She felt the knot of anxiety that had become her constant companion for the past year tighten within her chest. Julie was looking at her, compassion in her eyes, and Dawn silently nodded.
"Come on, then," said the psychiatrist. "Let's find someplace quiet."
Across the room, Angel and Kate watched Julie and Dawn exit. "Thanks, Kate," said the vampire.
Kate touched the scar on her neck unconsciously. "All of us occasionally need someone to talk to."
Fred ran up, eyes bright. "Little Tiny's having such a great time bein' the Purple Princess, and doesn't it just remind you of Cordelia in the Bad Place? 'Cept, of course, for the monsters and the bad priests and all the ugliness of revolution, but that, fortunately enough, isn't likely to happen at a little girl's birthday party, now, is it?" She gave Angel the sweetest smile imaginable, then ran back to dance with Gunn.
Angel looked at Kate. "Maybe Julie could talk to Fred, too."
An hour later, the members of Angel Investigations finally filled the last trash bag. It would have been considerably easier if they hadn't had to listen to Spike's non-stop grumbling while Angel poked, prodded, and otherwise physically abused him into helping clean up. The exited the ballroom gratefully, the women removing high heels as they went. Sandra took Sarah Anne upstairs for a nap, and Kate remained to talk to Angel and Wesley.
The office door opened, and Julie and Dawn exited. Dawn was a small mess, the makeup Cordelia had so carefully applied almost completely conquered by the onslaught of the teen's tears. Cordelia reached out to the young girl, who immediately buried herself in the Seer's arms. Julie faced the gathered friends.
"Normally, at this point, I'd want to talk to Dawn's guardian" She looked at the girl in Cordelia's arms. "In this case, obviously, that's a difficulty. Dawn, is there anyone here you'd prefer I speak to?"
Dawn raised her tearstained face. "You can talk to them. I don't mind."
Wesley stepped forward. "We can pass on any pertinent information to Mr. Giles, Dawn's temporary custodian."
"Okay," said Julie. "Dawn has a classic case of PTSD. This includes anxiety, depression, panic attacks, nightmares, inability to concentrate, irritability, all symptoms both you and she have noticed. I think you all know where it started, from what Dawn said. She did tell you all about her experience, didn't she?" The gathered team nodded, and Julie went on. "I'd like to meet with Dawn at least once a week, if that would be feasible. I know it's quite a ways from Sunnydale . . ."
"I'm sure one of the Scoobies could get her down here for her appointments," interrupted Cordelia. "They all want to help Dawn."
Julie nodded. "Her insurance should pay for her sessions. If not, I'll throw in my fee. I'll teach Dawn some relaxation exercises and other coping methods, and I'd also like to put her on medication."
"What kind?" asked Angel, sounding a little wary.
"Well, Xanax, to start off with. It's a fast-acting 'minor tranquilizer,' as we put it. If Dawn starts to feel another panic attack coming on, she can take it and it'll calm her down quickly. Also, I'd like to start her on Paxil. It's called an SSRI. What they do, in layman's terms, is to help the brain to use serotonin more efficiently. The effect is that Dawn will feel better, more optimistic, less anxious. Within two weeks, she'll be sleeping better. After that, she'll be calmer and more able to concentrate. The constant anxiety she's under will lift so she'll be able to go about her normal routine."
"Do you really have to give her drugs?" questioned Angel.
Julie smiled, as if used to the question. "I liken it to taking pain pills for a broken ankle. They don't heal the ankle, and the patient knows she's been hurt, but while she's healing, they will help her live a more normal life. The medications in themselves aren't the answer, but they'll take the edge off the pain Dawn's in and help her concentrate on getting better. Don't worry; I've been using Paxil with my PTSD patients for two years now and have been very pleased with the results. We'll start Dawn with an introductory dose that'll let us know if she's going to have any bad reactions, and if she does well, we'll move her up to the regular dose. I'll drop some samples by the hotel later on, and she can start taking it tonight."
Wesley nodded. "We can pick up the prescriptions, and we'll let Giles know about them as well."
"Good." Julie looked satisfied. "I'll call the Xanax in, and it'll be ready in about an hour. Dawn?" The girl looked at her. "When you get back to Sunnydale, give me a call, and we'll work out times when you can come see me. Okay?"
"Okay." Dawn leaned back against Cordelia. "Thanks, Julie. I—I feel better, you know, just knowing maybe I can get better."
Julie smiled again. "I know exactly the feeling."
After Kate and Julie left, Cordelia declared that they all needed a "Bad Movie Night." As Dawn quickly discovered, that was a Fang Gang tradition in which they brought a television and VCR over to the Hyperion, made cocoa and popcorn, and rented the worst movies they could think of so they could make fun of them.
"We've had Spaghetti Western Night, Badly-Dubbed Martial Arts Film Night, '50s Sci-Fi B-Movie Night—'Day of the Triffids' was my personal favorite—and Brat Pack Night," said Cordelia. "Wesley has declared there will be no Adam Sandler Night, though."
Tonight's movies were "Double Team," that great Jean-Claude Van Damme/Dennis Rodman opus, and "Battlefield Earth." Both were so horrendously bad that even Spike and Gunn set aside their mutual hostility in order to mock them. At one point during "Battlefield Earth," Gunn turned off the sound so he, Spike, and Wesley could overdub the dialogue. Dawn nearly killed herself laughing.
Later, though, she'd never be able to recall just what was so bad about the movies. Sitting snuggled between Angel and Cordelia on the couch, feeling for the first time in so long that she was getting help and might be able to crawl out of the dark hole she'd been in, it felt like a terrible weight had been lifted from her. Not even John Travolta's worst could overcome that.
Sunday dawned clear and lazy over Los Angeles. At the Hyperion, Cordelia and Dawn woke early, but spent the morning sprawled in bed together chatting. Angel woke, decided it was too early in the day for a vampire to be awake, turned over, and fell back asleep. Spike took advantage of the quiet to make himself a cup of cocoa (with little marshmallows) and have a smoke in the lobby.
At Wesley's apartment, the ex-Watcher slept late even as his niece crept quietly out of the guest room. She pulled out an international calling card and dialed a number, praying that the phone would be answered. It was.
"Madeleine? Yes, it's me. I was so hoping to catch you. Actually, I'm doing very well indeed. I'll have to fill you in on everything that's happened this week in a letter. It's too much to go over on the phone. How are you?
"That's wonderful to hear. I was so afraid I wouldn't be able to find you, that you'd been reassigned already. What? You mean . . . oh, Madeleine, that's just wonderful! Oh, I'm so looking forward to seeing you when I get back to London! And it's what you want?
"Well, yes, I can certainly understand that. I was a small handful, wasn't I? But you taught me so well! Even Angel said so. Yes, as a matter of fact, I am in America. With Angel. And my Uncle Wesley. And I won't hear a word against him. Yes, he certainly did have potential back then. He's wonderful. I think I've learned more from him in a week than I could learn in an entire year at the Watcher Academy.
"Yes, I have thought about it. I've given it more thought of late than ever before, in fact. Frankly, I'm just not sure what I want to do, Madeleine. On one hand, I think I know more than ever what a Slayer is and what a Watcher should be. On the other hand, knowing that, I'm rather daunted by the thought of becoming a Watcher. Besides, they did throw out Uncle Wesley, and I simply cannot countenance that.
"No? Well, I'm glad they don't need my decision right now. It's a big one. I'm so grateful to you for all you've been to me, and I would want to make certain I'm the right kind of Watcher. Someone like you, or Uncle Wesley, or Rupert Giles.
"But anyway, I'm so glad you're going to remain in London! Once I get back to England, we'll have to 'get together,' as these Americans like to say. I'll tell you all I've been up to over here. It's been an amazing week, it really has.
"Actually, I don't know when I'll be back. I'll have to talk that over with Uncle Wesley. Don't worry; I promise I'll keep in touch. Yes, I mean it this time! Oh, you're going to hold that against me forever, are you?
"Good-bye, Madeleine. It's wonderful hearing your voice again."
Rebecca hung up the phone and found herself hard-pressed to not jump up and shout for joy. The bedroom door behind her opened, and Wesley, with a severe (nearly terminal) case of bed-head, came walking out, yawning. That did it. Rebecca leaped up and flung her arms around her startled uncle's neck, squealing with delight.
"I take it you had a good night," he commented.
"I just called Madeleine, and guess what? She's staying in London now! She's taken a teaching position at the Watcher Academy, so she's not going to be reassigned to another Slayer-in-Waiting and have to run off to the ends of the Earth, and I'll get to see her all the time!" The words tumbled out of Rebecca's mouth.
"That is wonderful." Wesley hugged Rebecca back, then disentangled himself enough to look at her. "I'm glad for you, Rebecca. Does this mean you'll be leaving soon?"
Rebecca sobered. "I was hoping to discuss that with you. Could we make some tea? You may be going native here in California, but I'm still English, and I simply refuse to have a serious discussion without the aid of tea."
They bickered good-naturedly about Wesley's Americanization while he made tea. After it and some English muffins were served, though, Rebecca sobered.
"Uncle Wesley," she began, "I know I haven't exactly been an ideal guest here, but the truth is, I've learned so very much even just this past week. I feel like there's so much more I have to learn from you and the others. So if it's all right with you, and with them, I'd like to stay on for the summer. I don't have to be paid—I've still got the Martin-Pryce money, unless Mother freezes my assets when she finds out where I am—but I'd like very much to stay."
Wesley nodded. "I, too, think there's more you can learn from being here, Rebecca. I'd be pleased to keep you on, and the lovely thing is, I'm the boss; I can do what I like. And I say Angel Investigations has a new intern."
Rebecca nearly hugged him again, but seemed to decide that was a bit too un-English. "I can't promise you won't regret it."
"And I can't promise you won't regret staying. But you're welcome here nonetheless."
The ex-Slayer-in-Waiting looked down at her teacup. "Madeleine said she's still willing to sponsor me as a Watcher. I know . . . I know you've had your problems with them, Uncle Wesley, but Madeleine was the brightest spot in my life. I'd like to be that for some other girl, if I could, and besides—having watched you, I think I understand better than ever what a Watcher is truly supposed to be. Would you mind very much if I did decide to join them?"
"No." Wesley smiled gently, laying a hand over his niece's. "No, I wouldn't. I think you'd be an excellent Watcher, Rebecca, and they need all the good people they can get. Just . . ." He paused for a moment, very serious. "Just don't believe everything they tell you."
Spike was taking a turn at working out in the penthouse. He'd gone through sword drills, fought imaginary opponents with an axe, pummeled a heavy bag within an inch of its life, picked up and discarded several other forms of weaponry, and ultimately decided he much preferred sitting down and having a smoke, poofy sire be damned.
Said poofy sire opened the door and let himself in. Angel looked around with an expression of marked dissatisfaction. "I really am going to have to do something about this place. Get some intact windows, for starters."
"That what you do with your spare time?" Spike crushed out his latest cigarette. "Work off that excess sexual energy trying to turn this place into anything other than a falling-down circa-1950s nightmare?"
Angel shrugged. "More or less. By the way, Wesley's downstairs growling about the smell of cigarette smoke in the lobby."
"Had a smoke there this morning," admitted Spike gamely.
"That's pretty much what we figured out."
Spike waited for a few moments, then let out an explosive, unneeded breath. "I take it all that noise you made the first night about how bad you were going to hurt me if I broke any of your precious rules was just noise and nothing more?"
Angel grinned and shook his head. "Poor Spike. You've worked so hard at breaking every one of those rules, haven't you?"
"Yes. And I think I deserve a little payoff, at the very least. Are we going to fight, or what?"
"You ignored the final clause, Spike." Angel gave him an all-too-familiar condescending look. "I said that you were to be on your best behavior, and I genuinely believe you have been."
"That's well and truly pathetic," declared Spike. He stood, paced over to a widow on the shadow side of the building, and looked out. "So. How's that soul of yours holding up?"
"Feels like it's been ripped in half." Angel's eyes went distant. "I know it'll get worse, too. I can't conceive of a world without her in it. You wouldn't think the world, having known her, could possibly let her go." The elder vampire's eyes flicked back to the younger. "And you?"
"Don't have the soul, but I feel like someone's ripped the unbeating heart right out of my chest. You're right about the world, though; about the only thing worth anything in it anymore is Little Bit."
"You look after her." The intensity was back in Angel's eyes, and to a degree Spike couldn't recall ever having seen before. "You watch over her, and never let anything happen to her, or I really will get creative, William."
The words sent a chill down Spike's spine. Angelus saying he would "get creative" meant you could be screaming for a year before he'd let you die.
"Nothing happens to her, mate," Spike said, giving no indication he really was intimidated. "I promised Buffy I'd protect her to the end of the world, if needs be."
"Good. Good." Angel's eyes went distant again, and he turned to walk vaguely back to the door. Before he reached it, though, he turned back to face Spike. "One last thing, William: if you ever get that chip out of your head, leave. Get as far away from Dawn as possible, because you will hurt her, even if you never touch her. Sometimes, the only way to protect someone you love is to leave. And you have to, no matter how much it hurts."
Angel left, and Spike breathed a curse. His mind flashed back to the night before, singing for the Host. The demon had pulled Spike away from Dawn and Sarah Anne to speak with him privately.
"Here's the thing, honey," the Host had said. "You're gonna hate hearing this, but tomorrow, Angel's going to give you a piece of advice. Now, I know it goes totally against your religion, but you're gonna want to listen to what your grandsire says, because sweetie—if you don't, the day will come when Key Girl over there will regret it. Comprende?"
The blond vampire lit another cigarette, trying to calm the sudden storm inside him. Angel couldn't be right. There was no way Spike would ever hurt Dawn, even if he did get the chip out. And what the hell did he mean, "you will hurt her, even if you never touch her"? That made no sense at all. And she'd understand if he took up feeding off humans again. If she didn't like it, he could leave them alive, or only kill "bad" humans, and he'd leave her friends alone. At least, the ones he knew about. Sweet Little Bit needed him, and he'd stay. It was that simple. The Host was out of his green skull.
The cigarette between his fingers slowly burned down to the filter, never touching Spike's lips.
He was just about to leave the penthouse when the door opened again. This time, it admitted Dawn. She was holding a small object in one hand, and when she saw Spike, she walked right over and sat down beside him. Spike smelled soap and shampoo and French toast about her.
"Hey," she said.
" 'Lo, Little Bit. What's the story?"
"I was looking for you." She handed him the object she'd been carrying, which turned out to be a small box wrapped in Sarah Anne's purple birthday wrapping paper. "I—I wanted to give you this."
"A present?" Spike questioned. Receiving a present from a human was a very odd sensation.
"Yeah. I just—I mean, it may be stupid, but it's kind of a thank-you, you know. For everything." She flushed deeply and gestured toward the gift. "Just open it."
Still a bit thunderstruck, Spike peeled away the wrapping paper to reveal . . .
Magnetic Poetry! And the deluxe edition, at that.
"Like it?" asked Dawn.
"Little Bit, I'm touched." And he genuinely was. "This is . . . this is quite the nicest thing anybody's done for me in a right long time."
Dawn seemed relieved to hear it. "I saw it at B. Dalton while we were shopping and kind of snuck it in while we were checking out. I mean, you've been having fun with Angel's set, and I thought maybe you'd like one of your own."
"Oh, I can do a lot of damage with this, Niblet. Thanks for thinkin' of me." He ruffled her hair.
"Why are you leaving poems for Cordy, anyway?" she asked. "Is it just to bug her or what?"
"Not exactly. See, she's got all her men so firmly under her thumb that none of them dares flirt with her. She's enjoying it more than she'll ever admit." Spike lit up a cigarette. "Besides, I never could resist any woman who belonged to Angel. 'Cept for Darla. Hated that bint."
Dawn's forehead crinkled. "But Cordy and Angel aren't together like that."
Spike barked a laugh. "They may not be together 'like that,' but that doesn't mean they don't belong to each other. Trust me on this, Little Bit. She may have him wrapped around her pretty little fingers, but he's got his hooks so deep into her she'll never be free. He knows what I'm doing, anyway."
Dawn was silent after that. Spike had the feeling she was working up the courage to tell him something, so he just waited.
Finally, she spoke, looking down at her hands. "Spike, can I tell you something? You promise you won't freak at me?"
"Do I freak at anything?"
"Good point." Still looking at her hands, she told him, "I've been writing to Buffy in my diary. Like letters to her or something. Julie said she thought that was okay, but anyway, one day, I was feeling so mad that I—I told Buffy I hated her. In my diary. I took it back, but . . ." She swallowed hard. "Do you think she knows? I know she's dead and all, but so are you. Do you think she'd understand?"
Spike blew out a long stream of smoke. "You kidding? She was one of the principles in the Ballad of Buffy and Angel. Do you think she wouldn't understand how close love and hate are? Of course she does, Little Bit." He took another drag on his cigarette, reflecting on his own past. "That's what family's about, you know. They're always in your heart. You love them, you hate them, and it's all the same thing in the end. They shape you. They're a part of you. You can never be free of them, no matter how you try. Hell, you can kill 'em off, but it won't do you any good. Your family's always in you, right down to the bone. 'Course Buffy knows you still love her, even when you hate her."
"Good," Dawn whispered, and she leaned on him, resting her head against his shoulder.
It took Spike by as much surprise as the present had. He wasn't quite sure what to do, so he just sat still. After a moment, he hesitantly moved his hand behind her, stroking the soft-as-silk hair falling down her back. She didn't respond, eyes distant.
After a few minutes, she stood, smiled a little goodbye, and left the penthouse. Spike was left sitting with a set of Magnetic Poetry in his lap and a burned-down cigarette in his hand, not at all sure of what it all meant.
Later that day, Dawn packed her duffel, anticipating Giles' arrival. She folded her clothes and placed them inside, followed by her toiletries, all sealed inside plastic bags. Her diary and book were set aside to be placed in the very top of the duffel in case she wanted them on the trip back. Just as she was about to zip up the bag, she caught sight of Buffy's shawl, laying across the foot of the bed.
She gathered it up. All week, she'd been wearing it around the hotel whenever she'd needed extra warmth, or whenever she was feeling especially lonely or scared. Now, she lifted it to her nose, inhaling Buffy's scent.
She remembered sitting on the couch with Buffy after their mother's death, watching an old movie as they both tried for something like normalcy in their insane world. Buffy had been wearing her shawl, and she'd wrapped Dawn in her arms and the shawl. Dawn had relaxed into her sister's embrace, eventually falling asleep like that. So safe, so warm, so loved . . .
With almost ritualistic care, Dawn folded the shawl, placed it in the top of the duffel, added her book and diary, and zipped the bag closed.
The afternoon wore on. Gunn sat down with Dawn, and the two of them quietly discussed their sisters. Wesley told Angel and Cordelia that Rebecca would be staying on for the summer, which surprised neither and pleased both. Spike came chuckling evilly out of the kitchen and told Cordelia he'd left a gift for her.
"Ooh, am I the luckiest girl in the world or what?" she deadpanned.
Finally, as afternoon shadows gave way to evening, Giles entered the hotel. Dawn was packed and ready to go, but Wesley drew Giles aside and into the office to tell him about Dawn's therapist and medications. The girl flopped back down on the couch beside Gunn.
"I'm sick of people talking about me," she grumbled.
"Aw, they just care about you," Gunn said. "You've got a lot of people on your side, Squirt. That's a good thing."
"I know," Dawn sighed. "I just wish I was normal."
"Yeah, don't we all." Gunn shared a grin with her.
Spike came into the lobby, wearing his leather coat (and pants), just as Giles and Wesley re-emerged.
"Dear Lord," murmured Giles.
"Did I mention Spike stayed the week, too?" asked Wesley.
" 'Lo, Rupes," said Spike, grinning. "We heading back now?"
"Shouldn't you use the car you came in to get back?" asked Angel.
Spike gave his elder a condescending look. "I abandoned it in an alley in Los Angeles. How much of it do you think is left?"
"Good point," conceded Angel.
Rebecca had stepped up to Giles and Wesley and waited patiently for the men to acknowledge her before offering a hand to Giles. "Hello, Mr. Giles. I'm Rebecca Martin-Pryce."
"My niece," said Wesley proudly.
"Pleased to meet you," Giles said, shaking her hand.
"I just wanted to tell you how much I admire you," the young woman said. "I'm planning on becoming a Watcher myself, actually, so we might be meeting again in the future. At least, I certainly hope so." She paused. "I also wanted to offer my sincerest condolences. As a Slayer-in-Waiting, I became very close to my Watcher, Madeleine St. Claire. I understand you were also very close to Miss Summers, and . . . I think that's the way it should be." Rebecca shook herself. "Listen to me go on. I'm very sorry for your loss. Miss Summers was a remarkable person."
Giles smiled a little through the pain. "She was indeed. Thank you, Miss Pryce."
Rebecca stepped back then. Giles looked at Dawn.
"I'm ready to go," the girl said. "Just need to say my good-byes."
"We've no rush, Dawn," said Giles. "We can leave anytime."
"Good," said Wesley, "because we've a small gift for Dawn."
"Really?" Dawn dropped her duffel and headed eagerly for Wesley. "What is it?"
Angel produced a flat package from behind his back and gave it to Dawn. "It's kind of silly."
Dawn ripped the wrapping paper off of what felt like a picture frame. It turned out to be a small plaque stating in calligraphic lettering:
THIS IS TO CERTIFY THAT
Miss Dawn Summers
IS HEREBY NAMED A JUNIOR MEMBER OF
THE FANG GANG
Below that were five blanks bearing the signatures of Wesley, Cordelia, Gunn, Angel, and Rebecca. Underneath each signature was a job title.
"We came up with the job titles ourselves," Cordelia said. Dawn looked at them. Wesley's stated that he was the "Figurehead Leader," Cordelia's said, "Vision Girl and Fashion Maven," Gunn's was, "Prettyboy and Hired Muscle," Rebecca's was, "Obnoxiously Enthusiastic Intern," and Angel's stated simply, "Grunt." Dawn had to sit down, she was laughing so hard.
"Thanks, guys," she said when she finally was able to breathe again. "I'll keep this."
The girl then turned to Gunn, who gave her a rib-cracking bear hug. Rebecca and Dawn exchanged cheek-kisses, and Wesley kissed the teen's knuckles. Fred offered a shy embrace.
"Now, you be careful, sweet thing," the physicist admonished her. "Watch out for monsters, and remember the stars shine on even the darkest night."
Cordelia was next, enveloping Dawn in a long, loving hug. "Come back here anytime. Anytime. You're always welcome, Dawnie."
"I know." Dawn was sniffling just slightly, but wiped her eyes and bent down to hug Sarah Anne. Sandra was next.
The mother took Dawn's face in her hands. "Oh, sweetheart," Sandra said. "I wish I could take you with us. I'd take care of you, darling, darling girl. I would." She wrapped her arms around Dawn, who gave up on trying not to cry.
There is something universal about mothers, something ineffable in their feel or smell, and it enveloped Dawn along with Sandra's embrace. For a moment, Dawn imagined living across the country, away from demons and vampires and everything else, making a fresh start with a new mother and sister. The idea of it was so tempting she almost—almost—wanted to tell Giles she would just go to Virginia with Sandra and Sarah Anne, and could the Watchers handle the paperwork, please?
But there was too much Summers in Dawn to run away. She knew that even if she tried, she'd eventually come back, the way Buffy had.
"Give my love to my friends," Buffy had said. "You have to take care of them now. You have to take care of each other."
So Dawn pulled back from Sandra, away from the motherliness of her, and went to Angel. The strength and coolness of his body as he held her seemed to steady her, make her more resolute. The tears stopped.
"Will you be okay?" she asked the vampire.
"I'll try," he whispered. "Will you?"
"I'll try." She pulled back from him, picked up her duffel, and turned to Giles. "I'm ready."
"Then let's go," said Giles. "Spike?"
"What, don't I get any hugs?" the vampire asked.
After Spike, Dawn, and Giles left, Cordelia walked resolutely into the kitchen and looked at the refrigerator. The Magnetic Poetry, aided by a few slips of paper where Spike apparently couldn't find the word he wanted, read:
"There once was a girl from the city
Who was clever and funny and pretty
With her tight ass and tits
She gave all the boys fits
But ignored the best one, which was shitty"
"The grand finale," the Seer muttered. "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the kitchen."
She left the kitchen and went back to the lobby, where she found Wesley and Gunn standing outside the office. Wesley gestured for her to join them.
"What's up?" she asked.
"Call it an instinct," said Wesley. He opened the door, and the three friends walked in together.
Angel was inside, and Cordelia drew in a breath when she saw him. He was standing, leaning on the desk, and his face was just . . . empty.
It was then that Cordelia realized why Wesley had been so worried about Angel burying himself in the case. Now, with the case finished and Spike and Dawn—especially Dawn—gone, there was nothing left to distract Angel from the pain he'd been keeping at bay. He looked up at the three who had just entered.
"She's gone," he said brokenly.
Wesley stepped forward, reached out a hand to lay on Angel's shoulder.
Headed back to Sunnydale now. Giles and Spike are in the front arguing about whether Paul McCartney has written anything worth listening to in the last 20 years. I know Giles didn't want to have Spike in the front seat, but it's easier to write in the back. At least for me, it is.
I've got a therapist now. Cordy says it's very trendy of me. Julie's really nice, and she's good at believing stuff. She showed me this awful claw mark from a demon attacking her a few years ago. I showed her where Doc cut me. I'm gonna be on medication now, too. I took a Xanax today when I felt like I was going to start panicking again, and it really calmed me down. Julie says you sometimes need a little extra help, and I think I definitely do. I've been through a lot. But then, you know that. You've been through even more. It's awful, I know, but I've been thinking about it and wonder if that's why you were so calm about dying—because it would be the last thing you'd have to go through. I hope you're okay now. I hope you're with Mom.
I love you so much, Buffy. I do. Spike said you'd understand why I said I hated you, and I believe him. I'm gonna try to do what you asked and take care of the Scoobies, and I know they'll take care of me. They're the only family I've got left. Them and the Fang Gang. And Spike. We'll all take care of each other. For you.
I love you. Talk to you tomorrow.
Note: Okay, that's another wrap! Thanks for sticking with me, and if you enjoyed this fic, if it touched you in any way, please leave a review or write me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will never object to feedback from my readers.
Note II: Extra thanks to Gyrus for doing a solo beta of the epilogue while Tanja was gallivanting around China.
This fic brought to you by Magnetic Poetry, B. Dalton, Toys R Us, Kleenex, Coca-Cola, and the makers of Xanax and Paxil. Especially Paxil, as it's what this author uses to keep her own head on straight. 'Bye, now!