And so we have reached the last chapter of the story. I'd really like to thank all of you guys and gals who reviewed and kept up with the story from the beginning. I was really skeptical about posting this story in its rewritten form because I wasn't sure how many people would actually be interested in reading it. I guess my fears were invalid, because at the moment, this story is the longest and most-reviewed on my profile. So for all of you that read from the beginning, this entire chapter is for all of you. :)
Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy or any of the other Buffyverse characters. They belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
"Well, that's the last of it." Xander said, placing the last box into the trunk before slamming the lid shut on the car. As he turned to face the small group behind him, he could see the mixture of sorrow and anxiety that completed every other fact that stood all around him.
"Thanks." Buffy answered, offering him a hesitant smile as she returned to her feet. "Well, I guess this is it then."
"It'll take a few hours to reach L.A., are you sure that you have enough darkness to reach it? "Willow asked, her tone of voice barely able to conceal the emotions she felt through every inch of her heart.
"We're sure." As she came to a stop in front of her friend, Buffy wrapped her arms around the younger Witch's frame. "Goodbye, Willow."
"I'm not going to cry, I'm not going to cry." The red-head replied, the sentence betrayed by the tears already starting to slowly crawl down her cheeks. "Crying's bad."
"It's ok, Wills." Wiping the girl's tears away with her thumb, the vampire smiled. "I'll call." As she saw the girl's simple nod of understanding, Buffy moved on to where Giles was standing, the Watcher in the midst of cleaning his glasses with the bottom of his shirt.
"Giles?" She asked, almost chuckling as the older man stumbled over himself to push his glasses back into their usual place on his face. "Take care of them, ok?"
"Of course." As she hugged him, the vampire felt the man's grip on her back as he returned the gesture with pure emotion.
"And take care of yourself." As they finally broke the hug, Buffy saw Tara sitting on the curb, the shy blonde doing her best to comfort the crying red-head she held in her arms. Seeing the vampire approach, she looked up, part of her blonde hair covering her eyes.
"Angel told me what you did, what you helped Willow do. Thank you."
"Y-y-you're welcome." Smiling, the blonde-haired Witch simply nodded as Willow continued to quietly cry into the girl's shoulder.
"And so that would leave me, last as usual. Guess I should have grown used to it by now." Xander said, taking a few steps towards where the vampire was still standing.
"Goodbye, Xander." Holding open his arms, the teenager almost smiled as he felt the vampire's wrap her arms around his back. "I take it that Queen Cordy didn't want to come?"
"You could say that. She's not one for the good-bye scenes." Rolling her eyes, the vampire nevertheless smiled at the joke.
"Guess I should have expected it." From where he stood by the car, Angel looked down and checked the clock that lay attached to the inside of the car.
"Ready?" He asked, already feeling the wave of emotions that were flowing through his childe.
"I'm ready." She answered, walking towards the car. "There's just one place I want to go to first."
As she stood over the grave, Buffy could make out every individual inscription made into the headstone that stood just in front of a pile of fresh dirt. She didn't need a source of light to see everything that lay around her in the dark of night, given that her senses weren't anything like what they had been before. So many things had changed, and the result of one of them lay underneath the soles of her shoes. Stiffening her posture in order to stifle a wave of tears that threatened to overcome her eyes, the vampire offered a fake smile at the tombstone in front of her.
"Hey Mom." She said, crouching down onto her knees as she reached out and traced the name, the depth of the letters flowing underneath her fingertips. "I finally came to see you." She didn't expect anyone or anything to answer her. That was the price of having her mother's blood still stained on her hands. No matter what she did, the lives she saved, nothing would ever erase the blame she held inside her. Every night she opened her eyes, she would think about that single night, how the blood had tasted as it had flowed down her throat. It was the cost, the pain she had to endure for being able to live for the rest of eternity.
"I guess saying 'I'm sorry' won't mean much. I don't even know what to say." She continued, the cold of the headstone underneath her fingers matching how she felt on the inside. "Angel's better now. Willow restored his soul, and she helped me get control of myself again."
"We're leaving to go to L.A. tonight. Seems like these mystical things called the Powers That Be want us to go there to rescue lost souls. Hopefully we won't run into anyone who remembers what I did to the gym." The joke that passed from her lips was a dry one, with there being no humor inside her to even attempt to make herself laugh. Feeling something wet slowly moving down her cheek, she let the tear continue on its path until it reached her chin and then fell to the ground beneath her. "I'm so sorry. I'm sorry that I never told you about what I was, being the Slayer and all. I wanted to so ad but I could never go through with it. Every time I tried, it came out wrong. And now you're gone, and it's all my fault." Kissing her palm, she laid her hand over her mother's name, and tried to smile. "I love you."
Ahead in the distance, the lights of the so called 'City of Angels' continued to shine brightly against the pitch black darkness of the night. Leaning her head back down against her sire's shoulder, Buffy closed her eyes and felt protected against anything outside of that single moment. Both of them had agreed that Angel should drive, considering the notorious reputation that surrounded the former Slayer's driving abilities. Pulling money out of some long forgotten bank account from somewhere within the middle of Western Europe, the sire had managed to buy another car, considering the fact that Spike and his vehicle were long gone since that night at the Mansion. Faith hadn't been seen since that time as well, but Giles seemed unsure of what to feel regarding the new Slayer he had under his guidance.
The visit to her mother's grave still weighed heavily on the childe's mind. To see the harsh cold reality of what the Demon had done, even more so than the scars she had felt on Willow, had been enough to effectively break down the vampire's hard exterior that she had been working on rebuilding. Angel had waited for her to return from the grave, and as she come closer to him, he had gathered her into his arms, not saying anything but simply holding her. He had been unsure of what else to do, his mind having drawn blank thought after blank thought. But she had been able to pick up on that feeling of comfort and almost entirely melted into his embrace. At that single moment, he had been her anchor in the world, the sole thing that kept her emotions in a somewhat degree of calm.
Opening her eyes for a moment, she again stared ahead at the lights that glowed in the distance, and for the first time in weeks, she felt at peace. No matter what darkness the future may have held in store for herself and her mate, they had already survived one of the worst storms that either of them could imagine, and had become stronger for it.
Despite the non-beating heart inside her chest, she felt more alive than ever before.