Buffy was back in the Hyperion, her leg in a cast but her spirits buoyed by having her rag-tag family and friends around her and no imminent apocalypse on her shoulders. She sat in the lobby, talking intently with Faith about the future. .
Nearby, Giles sat with Dawn, discussing her status as "former key". Ultimately they decided that her life was her own, now and that returning to finish high school in the fall like any normal girl, would be her next step.
Alan, who hadn't left Buffy's side, sat with her sipping tea and making notes into a journal he'd found in the hospital's gift shop, so he could transcribe the story of yesterday's battle in his grandmother's book.
Andrew was in his glory in the next room, retelling his version of the story to those who had been unable to come; Cordelia, Wes and Lorne expected his exaggerations, yet they were horrified by the story and fascinated with the outcome.
In the basement, Oz awoke on the cold concrete floor. He hurt all over. All he could do at first was blink. He struggled and managed to raise his head. With the effort, the world began to swim around him, then, holding very still, it came back into focus and he saw bars. He panicked. Caged! He'd run free for so long and now this? He tried to howl, to voice his outrage, but all that came out was a coughing kind of sputter. With immense effort he rose to his feet and with shock he realized that he stood on only two. What was this? He fell. With fear he examined his hands and feet, so longer fur-covered, now only pale skin and human bones. He picked tentatively at the too large shirt and pants he now wore.
He turned toward the voice, his human throat again trying to growl, his nostrils sniffing for clues to his new surroundings and his captors.
"Do you know me, Oz? It's me. Willow."
He was confused, he was cold, he wanted to be a wolf again. That voice was too painful. He shook his head to shoo away the noise like an irritating fly. But it didn't leave.
"I brought you something to eat." A plate was pushed through a slot at the bottom of the cage. "It's one of your favorites."
His unfamiliar stomach was lurching but with a little effort he realized he was hungry. He fell upon the plate and bit into the food, forgetting he now had hands to use. As he ate, he became aware of being ravenous. He devoured every morsel on the plate and licked it clean before he became aware of another noise. It was the girl. She was sitting on the floor outside his prison, sniffling.
He moved awkwardly toward the side of his cage near her and leaned heavily on the bars. He looked at the girl through the thick, unkempt hair that had grown over his eyes. For some reason, probably because he had just eaten, he did not see her immediately as prey and as he continued to gaze at her he realized that he probably never would. Then, without warning, that terrible pang of humanity he had felt earlier returned. He threw himself angrily against the bars of his cage. Slowly the words came to him. Anger. He was angry.
He roared and the girl pulled back warily. Surprisingly he found he didn't want that either and stopped.
Her voice shaky now, but her determination strong, Willow resettled herself in her new position and began to talk, "I know this is all very confusing for you. You must have been a wolf for a very long time, ever since…because of me, of me and Tara, I mean. Can you even understand anything I'm saying?"
Oz began to pace in the cage. The voice was familiar, soothing, oddly comforting. If he had to be human, he was glad that listening to this voice came with it.
"I am sorry I hurt you. I loved you, even when I sent you away, but I couldn't leave Tara. She, she needed me. I needed her…and I…I loved her too. The timing was just…. But now…well, now, I'm…." Willow stumbled over the things she wanted to say. Inside his cage, Oz was finding himself again. The words were not just words, or orders, or cries, they had meaning, they were important. He closed his eyes and listened, tasting each syllable and finding that each was sanctified with meaning that filled him and nourished a part of him he had forgotten.
"Oz, they say that love is the most powerful magic. Maybe that's why I was able to turn you human again with the spell Giles and Wes found. I think I'll always love you because, just by being you, you give me hearts and flowers. You and everything you are, after all, are my fairy tale, my first true love."
The voice had stopped and Oz opened his eyes and looked upon the tear-stained face of the woman he loved. Although he hadn't understood all of it, the emotion in her words had touched him, made him glad he'd heard them, glad she'd said them. From somewhere deep within him, he found the need to communicate with the human. He licked his lips, surprised only for a moment by the diminutive canines and short muzzle of his face. With effort he managed to form his first word in three years, "Willow?"
1 WEEK AFTER THE APOCALYPSE
Angel walked purposefully into his office only to find Cordy there, making herself useful by straightening the mess left during research for the last crisis. "I swear, boss. When will you ever learn how to file?"
"Uh, yeah. Sorry 'bout that." He'd been trying to have a moment to talk to Cordy for a week now, ever since the whole business with Magus had been settled. "Cor…."
Cordelia interrupted him, "We need to talk, Angel." She sat on the leather couch on the far wall of his room and patted the seat next to her in invitation. Cordy was doing her best to seem nonchalant but inside she felt like a schoolgirl. She, the real she, hadn't been near Angel for a long time and yet the old feelings she had for him were still as strong.
Nodding, Angel walked over and sat down, suddenly uncomfortable. Silence. Awkward silence. Obviously Cordelia meant for him to go first. "Well, …."
"Wesley told me everything. I…I don't know what to say, Angel. Do I say I'm sorry?"
"No, Cordy. There's nothing for you to apologize for. You were used by Jasmine and didn't know what you were doing. I lost Connor, not because of you, but because he was never meant to be, or, never meant to be mine." He hesitated for a moment before continuing. "Listen. Let's just leave the past in the past."
Cordy thought for a while then nodded solemnly. "Is it all right if I still think it's all sad, though?"
"I do," Angel agreed. They sat in silence for a few moments before Angel cleared his throat. "Cordy?"
"There is one thing that I still need to clear up with you though."
"I'll try, Angel, but I'm afraid I don't remember anything that happened over the last few months, other than an image or two here and there…"
"No. This was something…before. Something I should have told you a long time ago." Angel stood up, agitated and still unsure of the right words to say.
Cordy stood up and stood in front of him. "The best way is to just say it."
Angel looked down on the beautiful, china-doll face of the woman he had grown to love over the last few years. Time and worry had etched small lines around her eyes and mouth, but it had also produced within her an intensity, a maturity, an inner strength. "Cordelia Chase," he began. Then he started again, "Cordelia Chase…."
"Yes, well, we've established who I am already, just…." But her words were cut off by the touch of Angel's hands as he cupped her face and turned it up to his.
Angel gazed into her eyes for several moments in silence and suddenly all of his insecurity fled, overwhelmed by his intense need to share his emotion and his un-life with this woman.
"Cordelia, I love you. I've loved you for a very long time and I was a fool to not tell you when I had the chance. Wes told you about what happened to you while you were gone, but did he tell you how lost I was without you, Cordy? Everything I tried came out wrong. I couldn't be a father, a businessman, a friend. Hell, I couldn't even hold on to my soul. After Connor…left and you were in a coma…I guess I never realized how lonely I could be. There was no Cordelia to turn to, no Cordelia to keep me grounded, no Cordelia to come welcome me home. That Crown gave me a miracle. It gave me you."
2 MONTHS AFTER THE APOCALYPSE
"Starbucks anyone?" Xander asked as the tempting coffee smells wafted through the long airport corridor. They had all been down this way just a week ago, seeing off the last of the SITs, sending them home to be real girls again.
"Any more coffee and I won't need a plane, I could just float to England," Buffy joked. Everyone had shared breakfast together early that morning and they now laughed good-naturedly.
"I wish they'd let us all go in. I miss the days when we could watch the planes take off," Faith mused.
Robin wrapped his arm around Faith's waist and tried to comfort her a little, "We can still watch them take off outside."
"I know, but it's not the same."
Buffy, whose leg had healed, but which she continued to favor slightly, looked at Faith warmly, "We'll call you as soon as we get settled into Giles'…is 'flat' the right word?"
"Yes, Buffy," Giles removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose in mock exasperation. "Thank God you're not moving to France, I don't think I could survive teaching you a whole new language. English is hard enough."
"Well, I have to know, cuz we're all going to have to go house hunting when we get there," Buffy explained. "From Alan's description of your flat, I don't think there's room there for the five of us and you. At least not for long."
Willow reminded her of another deadline, "And we have to find a place and fix it up before the…um…"
"…the 16th," 5:24 pm," Oz squeezed her hand and finished her thought. "Chains and locks by then, or there'll be stories about me in The Guardian."
Alan shook his head in amazement. He still couldn't believe these people he'd found. Looking around the circle of friends he counted them off, a vampire, a demon, a werewolf, a witch, a demon/visionary, two ex-Watchers, a one-eyed carpenter, a Slayer's son, a genius, a warrior, a teenage girl who had held the key to the universe, and two…count 'em two…ex-Slayers, one of which was now something more.
"Wesley, I will look into the libraries for the text we discussed. We must determine the extent of Faith's new power. Meanwhile, I will need you to document her activities."
"Yes, Rupert. Much as we did when we were Watchers, eh? I'll do my best," but the younger man's gaze slipped to meet Fred's eyes and Giles began to suspect that Wes might be somewhat distracted from his duties.
"I'm counting on you," the older man added, rather loudly. Wes' attention was drawn begrudgingly back to their conversation and he nodded.
"Um…," Faith spoke up hesitantly. "Folks? I think, that the first thing you might want to look into is…succession?" and a tentative smile spread across her face as instinctively her hand fell to her stomach. Robin looked like a canary-eating cat and as everyone began to realize what Faith's words meant, they all gasped and cheered.
"Oh, honey, a bun in the oven?" Lorne asked.
Buffy pulled Faith into a tight embrace. "My God, girl. Secrets much?"
"Pretty cool, huh?"
"Very. Maybe I should stay? Giles?"
The Englishman finished shaking Robin's hand before answering. "I think that things are quite well in hand here, Buffy. You can come back at any time for a visit. Say in six months or so?"
"We'll take good care of her," Cordy stepped up to Faith's side, "I promise."
"Me too," Angel added, his loving glance taking in Cordy's maternal gesture.
"We all will," Andrew seconded.
"C'mon, Buffy. You promised me fish and chips for dinner tonight," Dawn urged her sister back into the reality where they were moving to England.
"She's right, pet. I know just the place too."
Buffy smiled at herself. She was being overprotective. The others would be there to watch over Faith, and a new life, a more normal life with Dawn was calling to her. "Okay, okay. I'm going. But I get to suggest baby names."
"You've got a deal, B. Just nothing like…well, Muffy," Faith beamed.
They were all exchanging farewell hugs and kisses when the airport speakers boomed, "Now boarding, British Airways, flight 4215 for London."
"That's us," Buffy called as Alan collected their carry-on bags. Although the differences were becoming more apparent day by day, his resemblance to Spike still struck her by surprise sometimes. The memory of the last words they had shared came back to her. "That Alan's a good lookin' fella. Don't you think?" and she laughed out loud in spite herself.
Alan stood up and, as though he read her mind, answered Buffy's gaze, "Someday I'm goin' to make you sparkle like that because of who I am, not who he was." Still smiling to herself, Buffy started to turn away and stopped dead in her tracks. Wait. What had he said?
Giles handed out e-ticket confirmation numbers and the six who were headed for London passed through the metal detectors and waved goodbye one last time to the nine who were staying in LA.
Falling in step close behind her as they walked the last passageway to the plane, Alan whispered in Buffy's ear, "I can't compete with a ghost, luv. But someday I'm gonna make ya love me too."
It occurred to Buffy that someday, he just might.