As group hugs went, Buffy had to say this one was well earned.
Not a one of them had a single wise-crack to make about it, either. Not Giles, or Willow, or even Buffy herself. Giles smiled broadly and playfully tousled the Slayers hair.
You have the damndest knack for scaring me out of my remaining wits, Buffy, he said.
And you love me for it. I bring excitement into your life, said Buffy.
So, its all over then? asked Willow. I mean, really all over?
Buffy let go of her friends and looked back at the heat-blasted Gehenna Key. She tried to reach out with the Dark Hunters senses, knowing it was futile, but testing it just the same. The Hunter was gone. The Slayer remained, but only as the final vestige of a past war, a relic of a different time.
Yeah. Its all over. Theyre all gone, Willow. All of them. No more vampires or Dark Hunters or Elder Powers. We did it. We won. I never thought it would happen, but we won.
Its almost beyond comprehension, said Giles.
Buffy nodded slowly. She felt a strange, unfocused apprehension, as if the universe had suddenly become a profoundly unfamiliar place. A large chapter of her life had come to a close, and she didnt know if in the next chapter, the characters would be the same. She could only hope so, because they meant the world to her.
Pretty hard to believe, she affirmed. So, what now?
I dont know. I suddenly feel well, superfluous, said Giles.
I guess no one ever thought to set up job training for unemployed Watchers and Slayers, huh?
No, for some reason it never came up.
Well, even without supernatural evil, Im sure there will always be plenty of nasty, bad things to beat the stuffing out of in this world. You and me, well find some. Youll never be superfluous to me, Giles, said Buffy. She looked at Hancock, standing nearby. The agent finally seemed to be recovering his senses from the events of the past few minutes. And Win, if the FBI seems a little dull to you after all this, the DH Group can always use a good profiler and field agent.
Hancock blinked. I wouldnt have to worry about occupational boredom, would I?
I really doubt it.
Buffy suddenly felt cold snow down her back.
Her friend wore a smile both angelic and devious. Thats for making me think you were dead.
Oh, yeah? Buffy asked, scooping up a handful of the deep powder and packing it into a smooth ball. Well this is for taking your sweet old time with getting that Sequence programmed.
Willow backed away, but Buffy was remorseless. The snowball nailed Willow in the shoulder. The two old friends grinned knowingly at one another.
Snowball fight! they both exclaimed simultaneously, leaving Giles looking baffled.
* * *
Angel saw her with Willow from the edge of the trees, laughing and seemingly without a single care in the world for the first time he had ever known her. For that one brief span of time in the nearly infinite eternity of the universe, there was no Slayer, no Dark Hunter, no curses or destinies, no regrets or recriminations. There was only Buffy Summers, and she was happy.
I figured it out, Hud, he said.
It was never as complicated as I thought. Pretty simple, in fact.
Hudson smiled. Go get her, bro.
* * *
Buffys all-out, snowy Armageddon with Willow showed no signs of a negotiated peace until the ex-Slayers gaze fell on Angel and Hudson, with Taggert at gunpoint, just emerging from the shadows of the tree line.
The snowball dropped from her hand, and two lost and wandering souls exchanged a glance that cut effortlessly through all the years, all the setbacks and frustrations, all the joy and despair that had been their sixteen-year journey through love and anger and loss.
Angel broke into a run and caught her up in a whirling embrace.
Thank God youre all right, he said, setting her gently back on the ground.
You know, for the first time in a very long time, I think I really am, she said. She glanced at Taggert in the distance. So, Taggerts the mole. What was he up to?
A long story.
Now theres a familiar line. Let me try one thats not so familiar. Marry me, Angel. Tomorrow. In town. Just you, me, and the best friends I could ever have in this world. How about it?
She looked deeply into his eyes, and through them into the heart and soul of a man redeemed by a once impossible love, and she saw again why she was so willingly drawn to him beyond all sane reason.
He smiled at her and gently brushed a stray strand of golden hair from her eyes. He just gazed at her for a long, suspended moment, then he said, Just try to stop me.
She hugged him tightly. Not a chance.
Buffy felt a warm radiance inside, a warmth no mountain cold could ever overcome, a light no elemental darkness could ever extinguish. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the simplicity and purity of a love that was for the first time in her life free of guilt or regrets, worries or fears.
Sergeant Aston interrupted them.
Hate to be the stick in the mud here, but theres still the Board and the Force Majeure operation to deal with. Well need to shift priorities and resources, he said.
I think thatll keep until after my honeymoon, Mick, said Buffy.
Force Majeure? Whats that? asked Willow.
Buffy put one arm around her friends shoulders and the other around Angel, and as they began walking away from the Eternal Wars last battlefield, she said, Oh, just this little alien invasion, global conspiracy thing. Itll be fun. I promise.
Will there be violence? asked Willow.
I think we can probably arrange for some, said Buffy before the three were out of earshot.
Hancock looked at Giles. Did she just say itll be fun?
Fun. Yes, said Giles.
The world is doomed, said the agent.
Very probably, he said, watching the three unlikeliest of heroes as they walked confidently together into a new, undiscovered world of their own making. Very probably, indeed.
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