Epilogue

More than anything, Dawn Summers wished that she could have said that those who had loved and lost her had carried on as normal in her absence. However, this is seldom the case in the wake of the passing of a loved one, and Dawn's friends and family were no exception.

Her death had evoked memories and feelings for Xander that he had kept buried for the longest time. For several weeks, he worried that he may become consumed by them again, and that the ghost of Anya that had once haunted him and been laid to rest would resurface with a vengeance the former demon would have been proud of. However, Xander decided quickly that he would not allow this to be the case and so, instead of focusing on the cloud of his own grief, he set about helping Spike to emerge from under his own. At first, the relationship between the vampire and the man who loathed him was tentative at best, built mainly on the shaky foundation of what they both knew Dawn would have wanted. She watched over them with pride as they fumbled their way through evenings in front of the television at Xander's apartment and half-enthusiastic Monopoly tournaments. Yet despite their lacklustre friendship, it was Xander whom Spike eventually trusted with his myriad of emotions, and Xander who inevitably held him when the tears came.

Regardless of all that had transpired between them prior to her death, Dawn was grateful for Xander's presence in Spike's life. He had come a long way from the stammering, floppy haired young boy who shielded his fragile heart with his wit, and he would go so much further before the day he drew his own final breath.

Naturally, Xander was not the only one to be reminded by Dawn's passing of the untimely departure of another loved one. In the weeks and months following, Willow spent more nights than she cared to admit wrapped up in Tara's old and somewhat ragged grey bathrobe. No matter how much time slipped by, it seemed to Willow that there was a part of her soul that remained fractured without Tara, and her own tears fell freely to the soundtrack of a soft female voice and gentle guitar strings, which had once lifted the two witches high above the dance floor of the Bronze.

And from the corner of the room, Tara would watch without fail, her own tears tripping her cheeks in perfect synchronicity, and Dawn was struck by the beautiful tragedy of it all. Willow would love again, it was in her plan after all, and her tears would eventually be stilled by the soft pads of another's thumbs. Tara would simply wait patiently for the day they would be reunited; too afraid to truly look into Willow's heart until that moment, content instead to exist in a lifetime of uncertainty, so long as the redhead smiled once more.

It was perhaps Giles who managed to surprise Dawn the most. The permanence of loss was something that the Watcher had long ago come to terms with, and so despite his considerable grief for the young woman he had considered a daughter, Giles was the first of the group to find beauty in life again. His smile was just a little wider than the others'; his laugh just a little less hollow, because for Giles, his acceptance of death had brought with it the realisation that they were all just passing time until the day they were called to the most thrilling of adventures.

Not only did a part of Giles long for the perfect clarity and knowledge that his own sensibilities told him existed in death, but his arms ached to hold those that had gone before him. So it was until the day he died that Giles continued to talk to Dawn whenever he was alone or afraid or beaten down, or a combination of all three. She was never far away from the husky call of his voice, and she was almost certain that once or twice he had actually felt the hand she had rested on his wearied shoulder. In death, their connection remained as strong as it had done in life, and that was perhaps why Dawn often chose to visit Giles and sit with him a while unbeknownst as he poured over his manuscripts and tomes.

When it was his time, however, Dawn did not come to meet him; instead, she left that honour to a dark haired woman who had waited four decades for the perfect first date with her Ripper.

It was perhaps Buffy that Dawn found it most difficult to look in on over the years. Despite Dawn's final pleas to her sister, there was a part of the Slayer that continued to blame herself for their parting. At least for Buffy, the existence of heaven was no big mystery yet to be unravelled, and she found her comfort not only in her husband's arms, but in the knowledge that Dawn was finally part of the light again. However, gone was that particular longing for Buffy, who was determined to at least honour her word that she would not let her sister's death be in vain. So the Slayer continued to fight, never sensing the dark haired eternal teenager who walked by her side, watching as battles were lost and won, as their old family home became filled by the laughter of children, and as blonde hair became streaked with grey.

On the day of their twenty-ninth apocalypse, Dawn watched as Angel fulfilled his human destiny with the single arc of an axe blade that took with it the head of a mythical creature whose name Buffy could not pronounce, and yet whose teeth had been millimetres from her jugular. She would never know that that had been the deciding moment; that the world would have gone to Hell without Angel in it because his destiny would always be to protect the woman he loved at all costs. Yet Dawn watched it all with a smile, never once sorry to have been the one to lay down her life for her sister's. Her only regret was that Buffy never seemed aware of her proximity again after the night they had said their goodbyes.

Buffy had once told her that heaven was a place without pain or doubt, and yet Dawn saw it in those she loved every passing day as they waited for the souls still on earth to be called home one by one. Perhaps worst though, she felt it herself in great debilitating waves every time she knew that her sister needed her and yet was oblivious to her presence. But still Dawn came, because that was just what sisters do.

When Buffy had taken a particular brutal beating in a battle, Dawn perched on the edge of the bed and held her hand as Angel tended her wounds, and that night she watched over them until the sun rose, ready to cause a disturbance should Buffy take a turn for the worse.

When it became apparent to Buffy and Angel after quite some years of fruitless trying that their desire for a child would not be easily fulfilled, Dawn held her sister in an unfelt embrace as she sobbed on the bathroom floor. Again Dawn spent the night in a vigil, this time with her fingers splayed upon the Slayer's forehead whilst her lips brushed the shell of her ear, and she whispered soothing promises of the future.

The day that Buffy's first daughter made her entrance into the world, Dawn sat at her sister's side through early morning contractions right up until the child's cries filled up the tiny hospital room. The day that the tentative new parents brought their baby home, Dawn watched as Buffy rocked the infant in her arms from the safety of a nursing chair, and was even responsible for the single white feather that Angel later found as he was laying his new daughter into her crib.

Indeed, Dawn was even at her sister's side the night her niece went on her first date, chuckling unheard as she watched Buffy arm the fifteen year old with stakes, vials of holy water, and a rape alarm – the latter of which was wholly unnecessary given her super-human strength. Dawn stayed even when the retired-Slayer fell asleep in the armchair, and it was she who was responsible for the blanket that Buffy found draped lovingly across her when she woke.

These moments brought Dawn great pain and yet she endured them because she knew they were the moments that, even in death, she could never have forsaken.

Although, from her position of omniscience in the lives of her loved ones, Dawn knew that the one who had perhaps lost the most was the one whom she had found it the hardest to leave behind.

It had taken Spike only hours after Dawn's final departure to realise that the reason he had been unable to give their daughter a name, was that the task was no longer one intended for him. And so, knowing that Dawn's decision was made by the kind of selfless love only a mother can exhibit, Spike swaddled their child in the softest white blanket they owned, and set out on the long drive to Maine.

He made his phone-calls of explanation from the road whenever he pulled into motel parking lots to take refuge from the breaking dawn. The first time he called Buffy and revealed his intentions, she yelled herself hoarse and threatened to track him down to ram a stake not only through his heart, but also up his ass. That was, until Spike explained that the idea had not been his own; that it was the final act of maternal love that Dawn had wished to carry out for her daughter. Each night after that, Buffy's anger receded a little more, until by the fifth and final night of Spike's journey, she simply listened quietly and carefully as the vampire spoke to her of the wishes he held for his daughter's future; a future he would not be a part of.

"I hope she's happy, you know," Spike had said, his eyes locked on the features of the slumbering child, "I want her to grow up in a big house… flashy, like… birthday parties every year, more toys than she could shake a bloody stick at… maybe a dog."

"That sounds perfect," Buffy had replied, her eyes misting over with tears as she contemplated the weight of the sacrifice Spike was preparing to make.

"I can't give her 'perfect', Buffy," he had murmured, the regret in his voice palpable, "and her old Mum's smart enough to know that; I always said she'd be a great mother."

"The best," Buffy had agreed, blowing out several steadying breathes as she felt her throat beginning to burn with the threat of more tears.

"Dawn knows what's best for Baby Bit," he had stated, the confidence that shone through in his voice alongside the pain a true testament of his love for the woman, "it's better this way."

Spike had refused to say an outright goodbye when he had placed her into the waiting arms of the woman who would take Dawn's place, under the watchful gaze of the man who would take his. The immediate looks of adoration that spread across their features as they regarded the baby were enough alone to reassure him of the kind of life they would give her, but nonetheless, Spike made his threats.

"If anything ever harms a hair on her head, I swear to God I will hunt you both down and feed you your own entrails," he had growled, finding it increasingly difficult to talk as the lump in his throat only seemed to grow larger.

The couple nodded, too lost in their blissful moment to pay much mind to the creature standing on their doorstep. For just a second though, the woman raised her gaze to Spike's features, and the sympathy she felt as she took in the sight of his hunched shoulders and defeated expression shone through on her face.

"We'll take good care of her," she vowed, her sincerity in not only her words but also her smile, "we've waited a long time for this."

"She'll be well protected," the man confirmed, his eyes still on the baby as he gently brushed the tip of his index finger across the apple of her cheek. He was already entranced, not that Spike could blame him.

"The coven promised us that nobody will ever know who she really is," the woman, now almost glowing with maternal radiance, added quietly as she shifted the baby slightly in her arms. Spike could only nod, gathering every last shred of courage left in him for the moment he would be forced to turn on his heel and relinquish the last precious scrap of the life that had been stolen from him.

He paused a moment, bending to press a kiss to the baby's forehead. He would not say goodbye, because at that minute in time, one more goodbye would have brought him permanently to his knees.

"You be a good girl, Bit," he murmured, nuzzling her hair with his nose and breathing in deep the intoxicating scents that clung to her, "I'll see you later."

Spike was as good as his word, and nobody dared to question exactly where he disappeared to for a week once every five years, or just why he appeared so very broken every time he returned. It was a secret that Spike would take to his grave, although he suspected one that Dawn would already be privy to.

As the years passed, the Scoobies remained in agreement of the fact that Dawn would always be there, watching over her daughter, lamenting the chance she had never gotten, and yet thankful for the ones that others had. Because above everything else, Sunnydale had taught them all one thing; that life was not truly full of goodbyes, just an awful lot of 'see you laters'.

The End


A.N.- And there they are; those two little words I honestly sometimes doubted you would ever see on this fic. I just want to take the time to thank every one of you; the reviewers, the silent readers, and the wonderful friends I have made through writing this. It means so much to me that people actually enjoyed what I had to say, and I am thrilled to have gotten the chance to play with Joss' toys for just a little while. I hope I have done Mr. Whedon justice, because Buffy will always be my first love.

Writing has helped me through some tough times over the past few years; deaths, difficult births, deployments, illness, and so much more that I have neither the time nor inclination to name. I just again want to thank you all for showing an interest in one of the things that always helped me to bounce right back, and for being there to share in the numerous good times too!

Special shout out to my 'fic wifey', Ashesatmidnight, who I finally had the pleasure of meeting a week or so ago in the real world. She has become a valued and trusted friend over the last 4 years, and I am so very pleased to have met her through this fic. You should all run and check her out, because she's a beautiful writer, and a beautiful person.

I have no immediate plans for a sequel, and I am sure you are all just about tired enough of my ramblings! We'll see what the future holds, but for now I am active in the Supernatural fandom as both a solo author and co-author with my sister. I'd love for you to check out my profile page and see what else lurks there, if you get a spare moment.

Take care, everyone.

Grrrr – argh!