***This is the final chapter of "Family Ties-Part One".

CHAPTER 31

She awoke to the silence of the room. Blinking back the fatigue of the night's earlier exploits, Jennifer craned her neck to look at the figure whose arm was wrapped so protectively around her waist. Though she could not make out his face, she smiled at the coolness of his body against her warm flesh. She felt so protected that, for an instant, she forgot about whom she was and what she was here to do.

Jennifer closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, the scent of sex still in the air. After she had explained her motives to him, they had participated in even more carnal acts of desire. Were it not for her limitations and need for rest, she didn't doubt that they would still be at it even now. As it was--she glanced at the green digits of the clock across the room--they had about eighteen hours before show time. Good, she thought as she wiggled her rear into the groin of the fast asleep vampire.

The simple motion of her hips quickly erased all traces of sleep from Seth as he growled into the back of her neck while his own hips ground against her firm ass. She moaned in pleasure and reached a hand behind her, cupping the back of Seth's head as he trailed kisses up and down her spine.

"Seth," she murmured as she felt his cool shaft slide between her slick thighs. Raising her leg, she cried out louder when he entered her in one violent stroke. As he plunged into her, forgotten was her true nature. Forgotten were the slayer and her friends. Forgotten was the Key. Forgotten was the Enjoining. All that she knew what the feel of her lover inside her and the way he made her feel, both inside and out.

As she screamed into the air and collapsed against him, spent, Jennifer couldn't help but beam at it all. Everything had fallen into place nicely. Twenty-four hours ago, she had expected to do this alone, but now…now she had a partner. Someone whose desires ran almost parallel to her own and the human part of her couldn't help but wonder why the fates had been so kind to her. It didn't matter, she had all that she wanted and in--seventeen hours, she would be on her way to becoming the One. It never crossed her mind that things would not work out. It never occurred to her that the slayer (or slayers) would be able to stop her and Seth.

Her thoughts were interrupted and chills ran through her when she heard Seth whisper three small words into her ear before he drifted off to the land of the undead. She melted even further into his embrace, her arms sliding along his as tears clouding her vision. This was almost too good to be true.

"I love you, too," she returned his declaration and though he was asleep, Seth's body relaxed even further, tightening his hold on her minutely. Everything had been taken care of the night before, so there was no need for an all-day planning session, thus they could afford a few more hours of sleep. Hell, they needed it.

Jennifer's final thought before she followed her lover back into the realm of dreams was that this day couldn't pass soon enough. After the Enjoining, she would be truly immortal but maintain her current form and she was quite eager to begin the rest of eternity at the side of her lover.

No, this day couldn't be over soon enough…

This day can't go slow enough, the blond thought as she studied the marred features of her husband-to-be. Anya had been told the whole story of Dawn's kidnapping and, though the Scoobies didn't quite know why the teen had been taken, in all probability, it meant only one thing: Apocalypse.

She absently traced the contours of Xander's face with a single finger, as if trying to memorize it by touch. His nose was swollen, though not as bad as it could have been. She supposed she had Faith to thank for that--of course not the "crazy, psycho slayer Faith that just so happened to usher her lover into his manhood" Faith--but "the daughter of Buffy and Angel" Faith. Either way, the swelling would be gone in time for the wedding next week.

I can't believe we'll be married this time next week, the ex-demon marveled. Had it been that long ago that, as Anyanka, she was called upon to bring retribution against this brunette that now shared her bed and her heart with? Now, as she watched him sleep, she couldn't express what she felt for him. He was her lover, her friend, her companion and confidant. Of course, he wasn't perfect but neither was she, though she had an excuse really. Not for her flaws, but for her indistinguishable nature of saying the right thing at exactly the wrong time. A thousand years as a demon did not prepare one for the tact that needed to be elicited with dealing with humans. Two years could never make up for millennia of vengeance. Hell, not even twenty years could.

Which presented the question of why was he with her.

She knew she was the perfect orgasm buddy (and at one time she thought that was the only reason he had stayed) and a capitalist of potentially epic proportions but aside from that, what did she have to offer? She wasn't the most beautiful woman--though she had to admit that her cheekbones were quite ravishing--and her social skills were tenuous at best. She never understood his jokes and, more often than not, the Scoobie humor. It also seemed that they only tolerated her because of Xander (and the fact that the Magic Box was the premier spot for Scoobie Central). But what did she have to offer?

At the realization that the answer to her question was 'nothing', Anya closed her eyes and cried silently. She didn't know how long the tears fell, but her eyes opened when a warm hand caressed her cheek. Leaning into the gesture, Anya opened her eyes and stared into the chocolate pools of her fiancé.

Concern was etched in Anya's features and he fought through the sleep to figure out what it was that hurt her. It didn't take long since it was the same look he often wore when she wasn't looking. That far away, helpless look of insecurity; the not knowing or understanding of why you were loved by someone you thought to be above you. It was strange to see it on her face, however--this brave and beautiful young woman (well, relatively speaking) exuded confidence even at the most desperate times, even when she was worried out of her mind. But now, that confidence was stripped away and the pain he was in had faded only to be replaced by a deeper ache of his soul at seeing her like this--eyes bloodshot and her cheeks stained with tears. He wanted so much to be able to wipe her fears away with a few well placed words but he knew that would not be enough. Instead, he did the only thing he could think of--he kissed her.

Anya was surprised to say the least when she felt Xander's lips engulf hers. It was a kiss filled with passion but tenderness as well. And the slight hesitation alerted her to something else, something that she never expected to feel from Xander.

Reassurance.

At that moment, she knew that he felt the same way she did about him. She wanted to scream at him for that, doubting that he was good enough for her. She wanted to slap him silly for not thinking that she was content with him, no matter how unfunny his jokes were. She wanted to tell him that she would love him for the rest of their short, mortal lives until they were old and gray and raisin wrinkled.

In the end, however, she decided that her actions would speak for her. Yeah, no words. For as powerful as they were, words never seemed to be enough.

Words had always been their plaything. A sultry tone here, a well-placed innuendo there was what they did. But there were times when all they wanted to do was stare into each other's eyes, green on green, at the love that was reflected in both of them.

When Tara had awakened to the light chirps of birds outside, she had been surprised that she and her ex-lover were nestled in a familiar embrace, their faces only inches apart. She smiled shyly and, as if she had called Willow's name, the red head had opened her eyes sluggishly.

It took Willow a minute for her eyes to adjust to her surroundings and before she did, she thought she was dreaming. She had to be if the angel before her was any indication. But as everything swam into focus, she made out the familiar contours of her love. She moved to say something as she noticed that had maneuvered into a lover's embrace sometime during the night. Before she could form words, however, she felt Tara's gentle lips brush across her own lips. To say that Willow was surprised was an understatement and she surmised that it showed when Tara giggled. Willow's frown only made Tara giggle more. Willow soon found the musical laughter contagious and couldn't help herself from joining in.

With Willow here, laughing with her, Tara felt as happy as she had been since--well, since before the breakup. The few months with Willow out of her life had been so hard that she had spent more than a few nights crying herself to sleep while other nights were spent willing herself not to cry until she fell asleep. Of course, some days were okay but she had found the mornings to be harder than even the nights. Waking up to an empty, loveless bed had sometimes overwhelmed her but she stayed strong knowing that Willow was fighting an even tougher battle.

As the laughter died down, Tara could only gaze upon this sweet creature in front of her and marvel at how the red head had captured her heart. They had been through so much in the time they had known each other, some bad, but most of it good. When Tara had found out that Willow had altered her memory twice, she had for a time thought it was over. They were oceans away and the blond didn't know how they would be able to cross it. It hadn't been easy but they had graduated from the Atlantic separating them to just a simple turn between them and greener pastures. As Tara dove in for a second, more passionate kiss, she had made up her mind. They had come so far that it seemed like a waste not to take advantage of the situation at hand.

When Willow saw Tara move in for a second kiss, she couldn't help but be amazed at how they had come so far. When Tara had left her, she had felt they were half a world away and would never be able to reconnect. As their tongues danced their familiar rhythm, Willow thanked whatever deities were listening for their flight across the distance, back into one another's arms.

It was, after all, where they belonged.

He was almost home.

The polite announcement from the stewardess roused him from his dozing. He removed his glasses and sleepily rubbed his eyes, all the while trying to process what she had just said. Oh, right. They would be landing at JFK International within the hour. Excellent. Despite the fact that he was lounged in business class, a transatlantic flight wasn't the most joyous of activities.

Replacing his glasses, he twisted his neck from side to side, painfully delighted as the kinks were forced out. Rubbing the back of his neck with one hand, Rupert Giles flipped his notebook back to the beginning. He needed to go over everything once more, just to get everything straight because once he landed, the flight out to LAX would depart a scant thirty minutes later. He had decided that the flight out to California would be best used resting up as well as figuring out a way to explain it all to his children.

My children, he thought tenderly as the faces of Buffy, Willow, Xander and the gang flitted through his mind's eye. As funny as it sounded, Giles had, however unintentionally, adopted every last one of them as his own. He was quite sure he would never have any progeny of his own blood, resigned to make the sacrifices necessary of a Watcher. It had been genuine happenstance that his affection for Buffy turned into more than just the adoration of a teacher admiring his pupil. Of course, it had taken Quentin Travers—bloody pillock—to make him realize consciously something that his heart and soul had already known.

Buffy was as much of a daughter to him as if she had been born from his own seed.

He pinched his nose to staunch the tears that threatened to spill as he thought of her. She had been through so much, never truly getting the opportunity to grow up, to be a teen. She had been thrust into the charge of saving the world at the tender age of sixteen and he couldn't help but feel responsible for her current lot. If only he had chosen differently, then maybe she could have had a normal life.

But it doesn't work that way, Rupert, the rational side of him reminded. And that was the problem. Feeling so helpless at times, not able to help her gain the life she deserved gnawed at him more than anyone would ever know.

And what did you do when she needed you? Scurried back to merry-old England for a cuppa tea. The guilt he felt over leaving that second time was, at times, unbearable. When he had read the texts that foretold what was to happen-- it had almost brought him to tears. Now, here he was, on his way home, to where he belonged. He just prayed that he would get there in time. If anything happened to Dawn or Buffy--or any of the Scoobies for that matter--he didn't know what he would do.

They were, after all, his only family.

Faith stared at the ceiling, her hands clasped comfortably behind her head. She was still tired, managing only three hours of sleep after Spike had carried her to bed. It wasn't as if lack of sleep was a new thing for her--it was a pretty common to say the least. She hadn't slept through a night since she had seen Buffy ram that stake through Spike's chest…

The blond shivered at the memory and forced it down as she flipped to her side, facing the window. She couldn't see the sunrise from here but she could see the crawl of its rays over the trees and houses across the street. It wouldn't be long before the King of Day's loyal subjects flooded the streets.

A giggle escaped her lips and she covered her mouth to stifle the sound. Spike--no, Daddy--had told her that when she was only five and the memory still stood. She had asked him why he never really played with her much outside.

See that, luv? He had said, pointing at the Sun. That's the King of the Day. And the little rays of light are its loyal subjects. Now Kings like discipline and being the rebel that I am, your Da isn't welcomed too much in the King's court. She had gotten so mad that she had told him that she would never walk out into the sun again. And she stuck to her word. For all of twenty minutes.

Faith wiped at her eyes, her vision flooded by tears and memories of happier times. Times when she had nothing to worry about except if her Mum and Dad would catch her practicing spells Willow and Tara taught her or if she did bad on a test. The only strategy she had to employ were tactics that dealt with extra dessert or staying up a little later. Things were so innocent then. She lived in a bubble where the monsters were slayed at night by Mummy and Daddy who always came to give her goodnight kisses no matter what time they got in. And her Aunts--Willow, Tara, and Dawn--were always there if she needed them. They were all family.

Even when she started patrolling, she never really thought about one day not having her family with her. It had been so hard when Dawn disappeared, but there was still the five of them left. It never occurred to her that, one day she would be fighting alone. She couldn't help but wonder if her dependence on someone always being there was the reason that she had been beaten. No, she wouldn't go down that path--it invariably led to thinking about him and the things he had done to her…

But it didn't matter anymore, did it? She wasn't alone now. Not only did she have her parents plus Willow and Tara, but Dawn also, not to mention Xander and Anya, two people she had never met. No, things would be different this time. She would see to it. She would not lose again and she vowed that, no matter what, Dawn would be returned safely and Seth would receive the punishment he deserved.

Fingering the locket around her neck, Faith swore that she would get the job done, even if it cost her her last breath…

…falling

I'm holding on to all I think is safe.

It was a distant murmur, barely audible in her coma-like state. Reflexively, she tightened her hold on the cool body nestled in her arms, intent on reconnecting with the peaceful realm of her dreams.

And I'm trying to escape…

She moaned and jerked in irritation at the continued blitz of vocals that permeated the air. The cool body beside her moved slightly, adjusting its position before bringing her closer to it. She smiled into the body's chest before snuggling closer, the distraction temporarily forgotten.

now that it's over

Reflecting on all of my mistakes.

Her eyes shot open at their own volition as everything slowly started to come back to her. Temporarily disoriented, she couldn't place where the clock was. After a few seconds of eye rubbing, she caught the familiar red tint of the digital numbers just over the body next to her. It took her another second to realize just who the cool body next to her was.

Spike.

Buffy was a tad shocked at waking up with Spike beside her, let alone nuzzled deeply in his embrace. The shock wore off, however, and was replaced with an almost childlike jubilance. She had all but told him those three words, though she was still too scared to actually go on the record and say them. She wondered if the things she said and the way they kissed gave him…

I'm six feet from the edge and I'm thinking

That maybe six feet

Ain't so far down.

Dawn! Her sister's name crashed into her head, laying waste to the giddy emotions of her and Spike's heart felt talk. Instantly, the guilt of sitting on her laurels while her sister was out there with some lunatic began to gnaw at her and she needed to get out of his arms.

Spike had been partially awake since Buffy's first irritated grunt. Though he heard the clock radio sound off with music, it was her change in breathing that was his trigger, as if he was in tune to her every tick. Her struggling to get away had wakened him fully and he was instantly on guard. His first thought, of course (and why wouldn't it be?) was that she had seen last night as a mistake and was more than ready to rebuild the barriers of Ft. Buffy. Though he was afraid of this and wanted nothing more than to leave her be, he had to see her eyes. He had to know what she was feeling. If she was going to crush him, he wanted proof in her eyes--proof that said the love of his unlife was a coward.

One look, however, was all it took for him to know that this wasn't about him but something else. Her green eyes were filled with pain and glazed over with a haunted look. Her features had twisted into a pain-laced frown and it took him a second to register the emotion most prevalent within her.

Guilt.

Taking an unnecessary breath, Spike pulled Buffy closer to him. At first she fought it, and he thought she would use her slayer strength to pry herself free. But after a token struggle, Buffy melted into his arms, allowing the grief to overtake her.

Hold me now

I'm six feet from the edge and I'm thinking…

Their roles now reversed, Buffy cried into the strong arms of her Protector. Though she didn't know if she would ever admit it aloud, that's what he was. He was her partner, her confidant and her lover. As Protector, he watched her blindside, listened to her rants, tolerated her attitudes and watched over Dawn and the others. But more than that, he protected her from the one enemy she didn't have an answer for.

Herself.

She cried with no shame and the comforting words he spoke, his accent still husky from sleep, touched her in a way that she wouldn't understand until much later. But when she did--when she did, she would tell him.

Tell him that she was sorry.

Tell him thank you

But most of all tell him that she loved him.

The devilishly potent kink in her neck was what woke Dawn up. She had fallen asleep, rather awkwardly, on the couch in the office she had been locked in. Using her right hand to push herself up, she used her left to massage the painful throb. It took several minutes of focused treatment before the discomfort retreated into something more attractive--though a dull ache was not too far from where she had started out, it would do.

The teen stood and stretched her arms to the ceiling, noting several decidedly less irritating kinks spread across her lithe frame. She went through a gamut of stretches until the sluggishness had dissipated.

All but the shroud that covered her thoughts.

She still couldn't get over what had happened when she grabbed the Spike wannabe. The power that coursed through her was a little--no--majorly intense. For a brief moment, she was in sync with every fiber of her being. Not only that, but her conscious mind danced across every cell of the three individuals that were in the room. Though the vampire was dangerous, at that moment, Dawn could see that the woman, Ms. Calendar, was more than dangerous. She was something old, something beyond time, almost like Dawn. In that instant, she had known what the woman was planning and it frightened her to the core. Not because the woman was stronger (Dawn knew they were even) but that the woman obviously knew what she was doing while the whole light show and singe had been reflex for Dawn--a reflex she didn't even know she had, never mind being able to duplicate it.

Of course, just like any moment, it was fleeting. And all the knowledge and power that filled her senses disappeared with only a silhouette's trace now in her mind's eye.

She paced the room in agitation, unaware of her demeanor as it related to a certain bleached British vampire. She was thinking of Spike, however, and not in the post-crush 'I'm totally over you but really not' way. She was thinking about him hard as if she could will him here and barge in the door. Hell, it had worked before, when Buffy was…gone.

Dawn gave herself a respite and briefly thought back to the time this summer, before he had started keeping a nightly vigil outside her window, she had sneaked out to see him. Stupid move. Not even five minutes later, she found herself flung over the shoulder of a very unpleasant looking (and smelling) demon. It had carried her to its lair and chained her up as three other of the giant beasts rounded on her, smiling at her (she guessed that's what they were doing) with several rows of decidedly sharp teeth. Though she was terrified, a part of her was relieved that the pain inside her would be over and she would get to see Buffy and her mom again. She had stared up, defiantly, at the beasts, fighting back the remaining tears.

As they moved on her she heard the dangerously low voice telling her to close her eyes and she complied. She winced, as her ears were audience to the brutal fighting that raged around her. She knew it was Spike and though he was tough, she didn't think there was any way in the world that he could beat four of the giant demons. Several minutes later, Dawn felt his cool hands brush against her arm as he freed her of the shackles. When she opened her eyes, she gasped at the gaping wounds on his face and chest but the look in his eyes would forever stay with her.

The anger there was tangible and she had steeled herself for his reprimand. No sooner than he got her nickname out, William the Bloody broke down into tears. His words were intelligible as he sobbed against her shoulder; save for his constant refrain of I can't lose you, too. As she cradled the emotionally broken vampire in her arms, she couldn't help but to cry along side him and it was there that she whispered for the first and last time that she loved him. It had only made him cry harder and Dawn knew that he had probably never heard those three words said to him.

Bringing herself back to the present, Dawn wiped a stray tear away. She couldn't keep the guilt at bay and slumped back in the couch. She had seen the way everyone treated him when Buffy came back and yet she said nothing about it. She didn't admonish the Scoobies nor did she soothe him. True, he didn't make too much of an effort and from what Buffy had explained to her in the kitchen earlier; he had been keeping the company of a certain someone's older sister. Still, that did not alleviate them--her--of responsibility for casting him off. How neglected he must have felt. They had all been so caught up in their own lives; no one had even given him a thank you for his summer exploits with the gang.

That's gonna change, Dawn thought as her face contorted from one of fear and pain to a scowl of determination. Things would be different once she got out of here. She never doubted for a second that they--Spike and Buffy--would get her out of here. After tonight, everything was going to change.

And as she lay back on the couch to rest, Dawn had no idea how right she was.

***Well, that's it for Part One of 'Family Ties'. Like I said, I decided to split it up into two parts, lest it grow to epic lengths. I will start on 'Family Ties-Part II' in a week or so, but I will update my other fic, "Do What You Have to Do" twice during my "Family Ties" hiatus. There you can see my take on what happens post 'Grave'.

***Reviews are welcome, as always. I'd really like to hear what you liked (and loved) about this story and even what you didn't like. You can leave me reviews or email me with your critiques at d_jasper77@hotmail.com .