"Do you think she'll be okay?" Willow asked anxiously as she headed toward the door. "I mean -- I could probably..."

"No." Buffy's voice was firm as she cut her friend off abruptly. "Willow, have you learned nothing from all this? No more magic in this house -- and especially not by you, and especially not on my sister!"

"I wasn't -- um -- I was just going to say, maybe I could -- talk to her?" Willow hastened to explain. "I kinda -- know what it feels like to feel like you -- don't belong in your own family." Willow's shaky, hesitant words were tinged with an unusually apologetic tone, as she met her best friend's eyes with a sad, almost pleading look in her own.

Buffy could not help but soften a bit, when faced with Willow's hurt at her hasty assumption.

"I'm sorry, Will -- I know you wanna help," she explained gently. "But I think what Dawn needs right now is her family -- and to be honest with you, all things considered, she'd probably bite your head off if you try to talk to her -- what with the whole..."

Buffy paused, clearly searching for a tactful way of continuing, before shrugging with a little grimace as she finished weakly, "...wonky spell that nearly killed us all thing -- you know."

"She holds me responsible," Willow nodded with sad resignation, her eyes fastened on the floor. Then, quickly, she amended her words, looking anxiously up to meet Buffy's eyes. "I am responsible! I'm the one who messed with the spell, and -- and it almost got your whole family killed! I'm so sorry, Buffy!"

Buffy could barely contain her surprise at her friend's suddenly humble manner.

Her eyes narrowed slightly as she studied the wide-eyed, pleading expression on the face of the little redhead, trying very hard not to be suspicious of the girl who had been her best friend for so long now. She desperately wanted to believe that Willow was genuinely sorry for the trouble she had caused, was really ready and willing to accept responsibility for her part in the trauma that Buffy's family had just been through.

But unfortunately, it just seemed to be too sudden a change of heart for Buffy to accept.

"I'm glad you see that, Will," she said quietly, keeping her voice carefully neutral. "That will go a long way toward making things right between us again." She paused for a moment, drawing in a deep breath before she added with a firm resolve in her voice, "But it doesn't. Make it right. Not all on its own."

Willow's expression of hurt and confusion was almost enough to weaken Buffy's resolve – but she forced herself to maintain the strong stance she was taking, even as Willow protested in a trembling voice.

"But – Buffy – what else do you want me to do?" she asked pleadingly. "I mean – I can't undo it – or – or maybe I could -- no!" she hastily backtracked as Buffy's eyes widened in disbelief. "No, I can't undo it! I'm sorry, and I've told you I'm sorry, and I'll be more careful in the future, but what else can I do to make this right again?"

"If I may," Giles interjected quietly, slowly approaching where the two girls stood near the front door. "I do have a suggestion that might serve to help you learn how to control your magical abilities, Willow – and how to prevent their gaining any level of control over you, as well."

Willow eagerly grasped at the possibility for forgiveness that the Watcher was offering her, nodding eagerly as her eyes focused on Buffy again. "Yes! That sounds great, Giles! Tell me all about it, I'll do whatever it takes!" After a brief glance in his direction, she looked at Buffy again through wide, earnest eyes. "Whatever it takes, Buffy," she repeated in a soft, solemn voice. "I will – I promise!"

"Okay," Buffy nodded with a cautious smile. "I believe you, Willow. I love you – you're my best friend – but – I just want you to be careful. I can't have my family in danger because of your magic…"

"I understand, Buffy, I really do," Willow insisted. "Giles – tell me what you've got in mind…"

"Yes, dear, of course," Giles agreed, the exhaustion of the past few days showing in his voice, as he smiled wearily and added emphatically, "Tomorrow. I must say, I haven't quite recovered from the last few days. One full night of sleep after about three of very little seems hardly sufficient."

"So right," Buffy agreed, yawning, as she opened the door for her friends and her Watcher to exit, heading to their respective vehicles to go home. "I just got up, and I think I could use a nap."

"You mean you want to go to bed – that's not the same thing," Dawn muttered from the stairs, where she had just reappeared, leaning against the wall with her arms crossed stubbornly over her chest. Apparently, her curiosity and need to know if anything more about her origin was discussed, outweighing her anger for the moment.

Her suggestive mockery of her sister and her vampire mate was, thankfully, out of earshot of those who were not standing closest to her, the Scoobies who were already on their way out the door – but still clearly audible to Buffy, Spike…and unfortunately, her mother.

"Dawn Marie Summers!" Joyce gasped, her eyes wide with shock.

"Well – she could just want to – watch TV?" the girl shrugged, offering her mother a weak smile of unconvincing innocence.

Buffy laughed softly, but was still quite distracted as she watched the Scoobies – less one – making their way down the sidewalk. She was troubled by the aimless, uncertain way that Anya moved toward the sidewalk, her eyes downcast, her arms crossed protectively over her chest in a way that made her slight frame look even smaller.

Buffy felt a fresh wave of annoyance and anger at her stubborn friend when she realized that Xander had taken the car when he had run off on his little temper tantrum – leaving his girlfriend to walk back to her tiny apartment.

"What is it, love?" Spike asked softly, edging nearer to the window where Buffy was now looking out, though keeping as much to the shadow as possible.

"Anya," Buffy replied simply. "How is she gonna…"

"I'll drive her," Joyce immediately volunteered, realizing quickly what the issue was, and heading for the door. Just as her hand touched it, her daughter's voice stopped her.

"Wait…" Buffy began, her eyes widening as a slow smile crossed her lips.

"What?" Joyce was curious as she walked back to the window and looked out – to see the same scene that had brought the soft smile to her daughter's face.

Willow had already left. Anya stood on the sidewalk, talking quietly with Giles, who gave her an encouraging smile and gestured toward his own car. The ex-demon appeared uncertain at first – as if she was not quite sure what was appropriate for a human girl who had a boyfriend to do when offered a ride by a man who was not that boyfriend…

But then the Watcher said something, accompanied by a cheerful smile that made her laugh…

And the sudden blush that came into her cheeks, the strange light in her eyes, made it clear that at the moment, said boyfriend was becoming further and further from her mind for the moment.

Anya nodded with a strangely shy little smile, as she climbed into the car via the door that the Watcher had just opened for her, allowing him to close the door for her once she was safely inside.

"Ever the English gentleman," Spike smirked, his hands venturing into the light only for the split second it took to pull Buffy insistently back into the shadow with him, wrapping his arms around her from behind and kissing her neck softly.

"Ever the English cad!" Joyce muttered with a little huff, turning away from the window and heading toward the kitchen.

Spike jerked slightly away from his mate for a moment, looking up in alarm toward her mother – but Buffy just laughed softly, pulling his arms back around her.

"Not you, silly," she murmured, turning in his embrace to kiss him softly. "Giles. She was talking about Giles…" Her words trailed off as she frowned slowly, considering. "But – what was she talking about, exactly?"

A slow smile rose to Spike's lips as he realized what had caused Joyce's sudden irritation. "Nothing, pet – your mum's just a bit afraid she might have a bit of competition – in the form of demon bint…"

Buffy's frown deepened with confusion. "Competition? For what? With Anya?" Suddenly, her eyes widened in an almost panicked expression as she realized what the vampire was getting at. "Are you saying Mom has a thing for Giles?" she squeaked – much more loudly than she had meant to, at least judging by the sudden crashing sound that came from the kitchen.

"Allow me." A small, sarcastic smile formed on Dawn's lips as she left the stairs and headed toward the kitchen to head her mother off before she could confront her daughter and the vampire.

Spike and Buffy exchanged a brief, wide-eyed look of mingled fear and amusement, before rushing out of the living room and up the stairs toward the haven of Buffy's bedroom – and some much-needed privacy.

They were still laughing, a bit giddily, as Buffy slammed the bedroom door behind them, just before Spike caught her around the waist and tossed her easily down on the bed on her back. The Slayer's light giggles of amusement slowly died away, her expression softening, as their eyes locked together, and a slightly more serious mood seemed to descend over them.

Seemed to.

"Mom," Buffy mused thoughtfully, not breaking eye contact with her mate. "And Giles…"

Spike smirked down at her with a little shrug. "And don't forget Anya…she might not like gettin' left out…"

"Ew!" Buffy groaned. "My mind did not even want to go to the nasty place you just sent it to!"

"Well – let's see if we can't distract it again," the vampire's low, husky voice rumbled in her ear as he leaned in closer, following up the words with a soft, cool kiss on her throat, trailing kisses slowly down to her collarbone.

"Mmmm," she murmured, closing her eyes and leaning her head back for a moment, shifting her body sideways across the bed and pulling her mate insistently down onto the bed on top of her, her fingers weaving through the loose blonde curls that he had not yet found the time to gel today – much to her complete approval. "Spike – love you…"

When she felt his body freeze momentarily, his lips ceasing their tender movements, her heart lurched within her with a sense of fear and uncertainty.

Was it too soon?

After all that had happened, did he even want to hear those words from her again? She knew that they were gradually working their way toward some sort of comfort – some easing of the trauma and pain that had characterized their relationship since – well, since ever…

But was he not ready to hear her intimate feelings for him just yet?

She forced herself not to avert her eyes as he slowly raised his head to meet them – and her breath was stolen away by the look of awe and affection in his shining blue eyes.

"Love you too, pet," he whispered. "So much…"

Relief swept over her, and she felt her body begin to tremble with it as she gently pulled his head down, urging him into another tender kiss. When she pulled away reluctantly, gasping for breath, her vampire mate lowered his head, resting it against the crook of her neck, his own breath coming rapid and uneven, although she knew he did not have to breathe.

Idly, Buffy toyed with the soft hair at the back of his neck, a slight frown of concern on her face as she waited for him to speak – for there was clearly something on his mind, judging by his reaction.

Without looking up at her, he finally spoke in a low, rough whisper, "You took up for me. To your mates. Your Watcher. Would have taken up for me to your Mum, too, had it been necessary – though it never was – wouldn't you?" There was a note of awed disbelief in his voice, as if he had not quite believed that she would, until he had seen her do it.

"Of course," Buffy replied softly without hesitation. "You're my mate now, Spike – and I'm yours. Nobody can change that – and I'm sure not gonna let them even try! I love you – I really do – even if I haven't done much to prove it lately – but I'm going to. I promise, Spike…"

"I just – seeing you – so strong and commanding and – and taking control of your own bleedin' life for a change, pet – not letting those soddin' children tell you how to run it, who to love…it – it proved something, pet…it proved – you've changed. Really changed," Spike explained softly, his arms gently embracing her, pulling her closer to him as if to soothe any accidental hurt his words might cause her.

But Buffy was not hurt by his assessment of the situation, or her former behavior. She knew that for too long she had allowed the people surrounding her to dictate to her what she should and should not do – although the actual power to act, as the Slayer, rested with her.

And this time, allowing them that control over her had proven to be disastrous.

But it would never happen again.

"I'm just amazed they took it as well as they did," she said softly, gazing at the ceiling as her mind played over the last couple of hours again. "Giles – Anya – though she was never really a problem as far as we're concerned – even Willow – though – I still think she mostly just doesn't want me mad at her…but if Giles' idea actually helps her, then…"

Spike nodded, raising his head to look her in the eyes, adoration clear in his crystal blue gaze. His expression was slightly troubled as he reminded her quietly, "The Whelp, though – he didn't take it so well…"

Buffy shrugged, easily dismissing that objection, gently tightening her arm around the blonde vampire's waist above her, as she declared firmly, "He'll either get over it and decide he wants to be friends – with us -- or he won't. That's it. It's up to him. But the only thing that is not up for negotiation, is the fact that you are mine, and I am yours, and nobody is going to change that. Ever."

Spike studied her expression for a few moments longer, still more than a little surprised at how easily she was able to discount the opinions of her friends, and accept him, now that it was all over.

Well – mostly…

"What about Niblet?" he reminded her thoughtfully, a frown of concern coming over his face as he looked away from her, contemplating. "This – this nasty that's after her now – fresh apocalypse in the making…she's gonna need us more than ever now…"

Buffy nodded in agreement. "We'll make it through it," she said with a tired sigh. "We made it through this, didn't we?"

When he was silent, she met his eyes again, a deep insecurity and guilt still showing in her gaze, as she repeated softly, "Didn't we?"

Spike's expression softened as he raised a hand to gently caress her cheek, and reassured her, "Yes. We did, love. At least – we will," he amended quietly, opting at the last moment for complete honesty.

Buffy seemed to appreciate his choice. While his initial words had failed to wipe the worry from her face, his final ones seemed to ease her fears a bit.

"I'm so sorry, Spike," she whispered. "I really am. I love you so much – and I promise you I'm gonna make it right."

"Believe you, pet," he murmured, leaning down to kiss her tenderly again, before rising up to continue with a teasing little smirk, "Believed you the first few hundred times you said it, too…"

Buffy's lips formed a slight pout as she lightly slapped at his chest, turning her head away for a moment before searching his eyes again as she protested softly, "But it hasn't made me feel any better – hasn't made it feel -- right again – you know?"

Spike nodded slowly, his smile softening as he replied, "I know. Don't s'pose just sayin' it's gonna make it right again, no matter how many times you say it. It takes more than that, pet. It takes time." He leaned down to kiss her again, punctuating the remainder of his softly spoken words with brief, tender kisses along the column of her throat.

"And every day…that goes by…will bring us…that much closer…to 'all right'…and one day…we'll just wake up…and won't even think of it." He raised his head again to look her in the eye, his eyes shining with emotion as he finished in a soft whisper, "We won't even see it coming…won't know when it does…but one day, it will be all right again, love. It will."

Buffy could not help the tears that slid down her face at the sight of the love in the vampire's eyes, in spite of the pain she had put him through. "How can you even look at me?" she whispered softly, though there was more gratitude than shame in her eyes, her voice, as she drank him in like a gift that she felt she had no right to possess.

His smile widened slightly, a mischievous glint in his eyes as he pulled her closer to him, shifting slightly over her to bring their bodies into closer contact.

"Easier than you might think, love," he growled in her ear, before giving it a playful tug with his teeth, and then lowering those teeth to gently worry his mark on her throat.

Buffy let out a soft gasp of surprised pleasure at the intensity of sensation that his touch sent through her, instinctively pulling her closer to him – but he caught her wrists, pulling them gently up over her head and restraining them there, rising up just long enough to catch her wide, startled gaze with a playful smirk on his face.

"Don't think so, love," he teasingly reproved her. "My terms – remember?"

His tone was playful – but the slight trace of uncertainty in his slightly wider than usual blue eyes told her that he was only halfway kidding. Obedient, willing to do whatever it took, as she had promised, until her mate felt safe and secure enough to trust her completely – the Slayer lay back on the bed, submitting to his gently restraining hands, not challenging the control he was taking of the situation.

And in a few moments – she was very glad she had done so.

Spike's expert hands, his soft, cool mouth, moved over her skin with a touch that was just strong enough, just gentle enough, anticipating her needs, her desires, almost before she felt them herself, through their bond. Before long, the Slayer was lost to the sensations he was awakening anew within her, without even removing a single stitch of clothing from her body.

As his hand gently caressed her body through her clothes, his mouth gently worked at his mark on her throat, drawing her ever closer to the brink of ecstasy with each carefully timed, measured touch. Instinctively, her hand found her matching mark on his throat, tenderly caressing in a firm circular motion that drew a rough moan of pleasure from his throat, as he drew back away from her for a moment, gasping for breath.

"Spike – love you," she whispered breathlessly. "Love you so much…"

"Love you, Buffy," he replied in kind, his own voice trembling with a combination of powerful emotion, and powerful pleasure aroused by her touch.

The simple, profound, mutual declaration was all they needed to achieve the pinnacle of pleasure to which they were headed – and the Slayer and her mate surrendered to the overwhelming flood of ecstasy that washed over them, beginning at the marks that symbolized their intimate connection, and flooding through both of their bodies in a rush, finally leaving them both breathless and weak as the sensations gently ebbed away.

They lay there in silence for a long time, just holding each other, neither willing to break the intense connection that still joined them, making them intensely aware of the thoughts, emotions, feelings coursing through each other's minds and hearts – binding them together in a way that went far beyond the physical union of sex that Spike had earlier that morning not been quite willing to resume just yet.

I think I can deal, Buffy thought flatly, still stunned by the intensity of pleasure and union that had been possible for them, focused on their marks, rather than more – er -- conventional areas.

Her mate's low, throaty chuckle against her skin took her by surprise, even as it aroused a fresh wave of desire, a warmth radiating from his mark a few inches above where his cool lips touched her throat, and she realized with mild embarrassment, but greater concern for his feelings, that he had heard her thoughts.

"It – it doesn't bother me," she quickly assured him. "I mean it. I said I'd wait, Spike – however long it takes – and I meant it. I don't want you to think – I mean…"


The Slayer fell silent with a sigh of resignation, and simply waited for him to speak again.

"I know you mean it – and it means the world to me, love," he explained softly. "But – don't think it's as far off as you're thinking, pet."

She raised her averted eyes to meet his, surprised.

"There's certain advantages to this claim we've got," he continued with a smile. "Such as – neither one of us has got to worry bout the other's – motivations – feelings – we can see 'em, right there on display." His smile widened as he gently ran the backs of his fingers down her cheek to trace her parted lips. "And in our case – that's a very good thing. Tends to help along the trust factor, yeah?"

Buffy nodded slowly, feeling a sense of relief come over her as she realized that he was right – the fact that Spike could feel the sincerity of her love for him, didn't have to wonder about it…

….which would make proving it that much easier.

"Then – maybe we haven't got such a long way to go, then? Have we?" she said softly, her emotions making her voice tremble slightly as she instinctively pulled him closer to her.

"No, pet," he reassured her gently. "Not so long at all. In fact, we're almost there…" He leaned down to brush her lips with yet another tender kiss, pulling back to look her in the eyes as he whispered softly, "…almost home."


A/N: I know I left a few loose ends, but I'm pretty much planning on writing a sequel to this fic…don't have any details on it, except it'll basically be season five, with Spike and Buffy mated, and dealing with the shaky beginnings of their relationship and their mutual control issues (can you tell I'm into psychology much:P lol)…but I do have about 3 ideas boiling around in my head at the moment, so it'll probably be a while before the sequel takes shape….thanx for all your reviews during this tremendously long story…lol…hope you've all enjoyed it!!!