Disclaimer: I own nothing, am making no money from this and am doing it purely for enjoyment.
Author's Note: Here it is! The very last chapter! Before I let you get to it, I just wanted to say thank you so much to everyone that read this and an extra HUGE thank you to those of you that took the time to review. The update schedule I set was somewhat of a lesson in discipline (I happen to be the Queen of Procrastination) and I really don't think I would have been able to pull it off if it weren't for all the amazing support I received.
I also want to apologize for all the errors probably floating around in this story and say thank you for being gracious enough not to point them all out, God knows I gave you enough opportunities. :-P My editing basically consisted of reading it over once or twice and throwing it out there while hoping for the best. Now that it's finished, hopefully I'll be able to go back and fix it up some.
And lastly (yes, I'll be shutting up soon), a lot of people are asking "Will there be a sequel" and "What's next", so I'll address that really quickly. A sequel to Gone is very unlikely. But not impossible. Who knows if a rabid little plot bunny will show up one day and the muse will crack the whip. In the meantime, I have a handful of other story ideas floating around, so I'll need to explore them further and see if there's anything there to go on. With any luck I'll have something new for you to read soon. :-)
Now, on to the finale!
Epilogue - Three Months Later
Buffy's socked feet were up on the dash, toes wiggling to the beat of the song on the radio as she stared out the window. The landscape of middle America that sped by outside wasn't one that was familiar to her as a California native, but over the last few months had started to feel like home. As did the seat under her, the rumble of the engine and the man sitting in the driver's seat. Home. Maybe not one like she'd had with her parents in L.A. or with her mom and Dawn in Sunnydale, but a home just the same. And she'd never been happier.
"Are we going to make it to Palo Alto in time for dinner on Sunday?" She asked, turning her gaze on Dean. He was without his usual coat on this warm spring night, the snug Henley tugged up on his forearms and outlining his body in a way that made her want to scoot closer.
"Buf, it's only Wednesday. We'll make it," he said, shooting her an eye crinkling smile.
"I know you. You'll come up with three new hunts between here and there," Buffy said as she crossed her arms, not fooled at all.
"You're the one that popped the last hunt on me," he said, glancing back and forth between her and the road with raised eyebrows. "I was ready to start back two days ago."
"Well, yeah" Buffy said, her arms falling out of their crossed position as she realized he was right. "But it was an evil clown, Dean. An evil clown! You can't just ignore something like that for a birthday. That ranks right up there with Azazel. Maybe above him."
"Of course it does," Dean said with an eye roll, then chuckled evilly. "Wait till I tell Sam about this. I got this great shot of that thing with my phone, he's gonna shit."
"Dean Winchester," Buffy said, repressing the wince at how much she sounded like her mom right then. "You will not torture your brother with pictures of evil clowns on his birthday."
"What?" Dean whined, shooting disappointed little kid eyes at her. "But I was gonna have it blown up and hung in his bedroom as a present!"
As outraged as Buffy wanted to be on Sam's behalf, she couldn't help the burst of giggles brought on by the mental picture of his horrified face.
"He really would shit," she said, pulling herself back under control.
"Don't worry, I'll behave myself," he said, shooting her a soft genuine smile. "I won't scare Madison off, if that's what you're worried about."
"She's pretty tough, I think it'd take a lot to scare her off. She handled the whole werewolf thing really well. Oz said she picked up the meditation techniques faster than anybody he's ever heard of."
"So, she'd still meeting with Guru Oz? Getting the animal within, under control? Bet Sam's disappointed, she was probably a beast in the sack."
"Dean," Buffy gasped, leaning over and punching him in the shoulder. "Don't talk about your future sister-in-law like that."
"Sister-in-law?" Dean sputtered, taking one hand off the wheel to rub arm. "They've only been dating like a month, Buf."
Buffy just gave a little shrug in response. She had a good feeling about Madi and Sam, they just seemed to mesh well.
Sam had gone back to school a few weeks after the whole Devil's Gate mess. Dean had seemed both disappointed to be losing his brother again and relieved that he'd be somewhere safe. Buffy had privately taken Sam aside and told him if he pulled the not calling crap that he did the last time, she'd come to Stanford and kick his ass in front of everyone. He'd laughed and promised to stay in touch, making her promise in return that she and Dean would come visit anytime they were on the west coast (which Buffy sneakily made sure they were every couple of weeks). Sometimes Sam even joined them on a hunt - which is how he met Madison in the first place.
Buffy didn't know if she was filling the void his brother left, but Dean seemed happy with it just being the two of them, roaming the country and hunting evil.
"What's Faith up to?" Dean asked.
"Oh… uh, shouldn't we be going to help?"
"Nah, it's already done with," she said easily, then shot Dean a smirk. "Plus, she had your dad there watching her back."
"Haha. Funny girl. You're never going to let that drop are you?" He asked flatly, obviously unamused.
"Yeah, it is funny isn't it. You know what makes it funnier? That it's true," she said her smirk widening into a full blown grin.
"What?" Dean said, sounding a little shrill. "Jeez… That's just fucked up. My dad and a girl I-"
"A girl you what?" Buffy asked dangerously, grin fading and eyes narrowing.
"I just mean - you know… Faith's kinda hot, and I… noticed…"
"Hmm, I guess that's okay," she said, forcing her face to smooth out into a look of contemplation. "It's only fair, I guess. I mean, I had similar thoughts about Sam." She tapped her chin thoughtfully as Dean gaped at her from the driver's seat and threw in, "Maybe we should give each other a free pass."
As Dean seemed to choke on air, Buffy felt her lips twitch as she held back her laughter. He must have seen the struggle though, because his shock and horror melted away and he burst out laughing.
"I really am a bad influence on you," he said, shaking his head.
"Yeah," she said, letting her own laughter free. "Me and her just started getting along, I'd hate have to stab her again because she touched you."
As silence filled the car after her declaration, she turned to tell Dean she was joking (maybe) to find him watching her with those steamy eyes that sent a tingle of heat running through her.
"It's fucking sexy as hell when you get all possessive," he said with a slow smirk that made her want to tear his clothes off.
"It's a little scary that you find me threatening to stab someone, again, sexy," she said, her voice a little breathless.
Dean shrugged, his smirk melting into a real smile as he turned his eyes back on the road. "What can I say, I'm a sick, sick man. Speaking of… You still have that outfit Faith lent you? Maybe we could do a little role play- OW! Shit, Buffy!"
Buffy scowled at him, no longer hot and bothered, as he rubbed his arm again from getting a punch laced with Slayer power.
"I was just kidding," he muttered.
"Jerk," she answered, and as she saw him opening his mouth, she cut him off. "And if you call me a bitch, we'll never have sex again."
His mouth shut so fast his teeth clicked together, making her turn toward the window so he wouldn't see her smile. Role playing? Seriously? What an idiot. She knew he was kidding, but you didn't admit to finding your girlfriend's friend hot and then jokingly suggest she pretend to be her in the sack. Especially when said friend was the on-again off-again… something to your dad.
The brunt of Faith's after slaying hunger and horniness had landed squarely on John Winchester and, while the rest of them had gone back to Bobby's, the two of them had disappeared for two whole days. Dean and Sam had started wondering if she'd killed him. But then they'd shown back up, Faith looking down right cheery and John looking very tired, but in a better mood than Buffy had ever seen him in.
John was spending most of his time in California these days, much to Sam's surprise and pleasure. He'd become part owner of a small garage a couple hours from Stanford and was living in the apartment above it. Either he visited Sam or Sam visited him just about every week, working slowly to repair the damage to their relationship. John Winchester, who saw everything in black and white, good and evil, was still working to get used to Sam's werewolf girlfriend, Madison. But he was trying, which was more than any of them had expected.
What Dean didn't know (and she doubted Sam did either) was that John had been getting antsy in his new "normal" life, and had been looking for hunts - hunts in particular that would take him right to Faith's Hellmouthy doorstep. He'd been up there three times that Buffy knew of. Faith acted like it was no big whenever she called, but Buffy knew better. There were hunts all over that John could take care of, yet he went all the way to Cleveland, over and over. And Faith wasn't the kind to pull punches, if she didn't want him there she'd say so. Buffy also happened to know that Faith was coming back with him for Sam's birthday party on Sunday. But she'd keep that to herself. She wanted to see the look on Dean's face when they came in together.
Buffy shot a glance at Dean, which he must have felt with some kind of Buffy-radar because he met her eyes almost immedietly, trying to look contrite but the smile threatening to burst out ruining the effort. She gave him a half smile and shook her head. He was impossible, but damn if she didn't love him anyway. He grinned at her, knowing all was forgiven and turned up the radio, singing along loudly with Metallica's Turn the Page.
"Depressing much?" Buffy asked reaching for the dial.
"Hey, driver picks the music," Dean said, putting his hand in front of the radio and blocking her. "Shotgun-"
"Shotgun what?" She challenged.
"Uh… sits there and looks ravishing," he said, turning his most charming smile on her. "And also doesn't touch the radio."
She arched a brow at him. "You really wanna play it like that? Knowing that the Camaro will be done in the next few weeks and I'm going to be driving? Don't forget I'm a California girl born and bred, I'll blast some fluffy girly pop for hours on end."
Dean looked like he might be sick.
"Girly pop? In a '68 Camaro? That's like… blasphemy," he muttered like he couldn't comprehend it. "Okay, how about a compromise?"
He shoved a tape in and AC/DC poured out of the speakers. Buffy smiled and nodded and that was the end of it. Like all fights or arguments between them, it was over and forgotten within about fifteen seconds. Both of them had seen too much, lost too much, to bother with truly getting angry over stupid things. Turning her gaze back out the window, the night darkened scenery whipped by. She'd probably be able to see the mountains soon, but that wasn't where her eyes were drawn. Even now, after a couple months of being on the road with Dean, it still fascinated her…
"Are you looking at the stars again?" Dean asked, his voice affectionately teasing.
"I can't help it, there's so many…"
Dean found her interest in the stars endearing, but didn't really get it, she could tell. He'd lived his life on the road, the open sky above him. Buffy'd lived in LA where stars might as well not exist and then in Sunnydale, with her nights filled with slaying all forms of nasties - not much time left for star gazing. She'd seen more of them in the last few months than in her entire life.
"Well, you need a better look then," he said, pulling the Impala over.
She watched him in confusion as he rolled down his window, and got out, leaving the keys in the ignition and the radio on. Her door was pulled open seconds later and she was tugged out by her hand, then he rolled down the passenger window and leaned in to turn the radio up, giving Buffy a view to appreciate as he did so.
AC/DC filled the air around them as Dean shut the door and grabbed Buffy, making her laugh as he spun her around, then pulled her close, swaying slowly to a rhythm that definitely didn't belong to Back in Black.
"I don't think this is really music for a romantic dance under the stars," she said, as snuggled against him, absorbing the warmth and scent of Dean.
"We've always danced to our own beat, Buf. Just more of the same," he said, dipping her back and drawing another laugh from her.
Things between them wouldn't end well. She knew that. While both of them sometimes wished for normality, neither of them could give up this life - the righteousness in him called to save innocent lives and the Slayer in her called for the hunt. Their end would be bloody and devastating. But right now, on the open road, under the stars with Dean pressed close, there was nowhere she'd rather be. It was perfect.
The doubt, the confinement, the weight of the world, the loneliness - it was all gone.