Well, here it is: the final chapter of Prodigal. :) Thank you for all your feedback and support throughout this fic. :D
"I was beyond out of control," Willow said quietly. "The power, it was all about controlling people and my own security. My connections to others was what made me too strong."
Buffy nodded, though she knew Willow couldn't see it on the other side of the receiver. "For most people, that's a good thing."
"Not for me. I can't…" Willow sighed heavily. "It's good that I'm doing this. I'm not coming back. Not for a long time."
"I'm sorry," Buffy murmured.
"It was never your fault," Willow assured her. "What I said, I said because I wanted to blame you so desperately. I wanted to hurt you like I was hurting. But you did the right thing."
Buffy stared blankly at the wall, twisting the phone cord with her finger. "And now, Tara's in a wheelchair."
"Warren did that." Willow was silent for a moment. "You protected her. From me. And she needed that, and a loyal friend, and I just…I… thank you."
"You're welcome," Buffy said, and meant it. "Do you want to talk to her? Or Faith or Xander?"
"I don't think that would be a good idea," Willow said, her voice suddenly strained. "I need to…I need to stay away for a while. Break free of the dependence. I spoke to Giles about it, and he thinks it's a good idea, too."
"Send him my love," Buffy said wistfully before hanging up the phone. In a way, she envied Willow, studying in England with Giles as her guide.
"How's she doing?" Tara asked worriedly, wheeling into the kitchen.
"Better." Buffy murmured. "She sounds like she's healing, but it's going to be a long process."
"As long as she gets the help she needs," Tara agreed. She smiled. "But you two are getting along! That's…it's good for her to have a friend right now. Even if it is one she tried to torture to death."
"We have a special relationship," Buffy grinned, heading back into the dining room, where everyone else was assembled for a second attempt at the welcome home party for the newlyweds.
Faith raised a glass. "C'mon, B! We're doing toasts!"
"This isn't just an excuse to get me drunk, is it?" she asked suspiciously, looking from her lover's innocent expression to her sister slayer's smirk to Angel's exasperated face.
Faith gave her a mocking grin. "I've heard interesting things about Drunk Buffy. Who am I to pass up on that?"
Dawn rolled her eyes. "Please. Even I can hold my liquor, Buffy. It's pretty lame if you can't."
"You are not drinking!" Spike sputtered, pulling her glass away from her and sniffing it.
Dawn gave him a look. "Relax, it's just iced tea. You didn't think I'd actually try drinking when you're around, did you? You'd get all mad and somehow convince Faith to ground me. Again."
"Nah, I'm all for you holding your liquor," Faith objected. "I know you're going to be drinking whenever you can get it past me, so you may as well be able to operate while drunk. That's the key, you know?"
"So I can have some?" Dawn asked eagerly, reaching for the beer.
There was a resounding "No!" from everyone else present.
"A toast," Xander said, raising his glass. "To another year without an apocalypse."
"I don't know," Anya commented, frowning. "That seal of Willow's seemed about ready to pop open. And wasn't there supposed to be an army of ubervamps down there?"
"We're looking on the bright side, Anya," Spike reminded her. "I'm with Harris on this."
Faith smirked, raising her glass. "A toast," she started. "To having a boyfriend who's not in love with Xander."
"Okay, that's it!" Spike stood up. "I am not in love with him! He's in love with me! There's a bloody distinction, people!"
Buffy wagged a finger at him. "Careful, you're hurting poor Xander's feelings."
"It's nothing to be ashamed of," Anya said, taking a long drink from her glass. "Xander's very lovable. And a great kisser. And sometimes, he'll agree to wear a leather collar, if I call him-"
"Okay!" Xander held up a hand. "As fascinating as Spike's crush on me is, let's not discuss this-"
"Give him a kiss, Xander," Faith said, gulping down the last of her drink.
"What? No!" Spike protested. "I'm not some kind of poofter! I don't kiss-"
"Never stopped you before," Angel said, a smirk playing at the edge of his lips. They all gaped at him.
"I knew it!" Faith slammed a hand on the table. "You so owe me twenty bucks, Buffy!"
"Shh…not now!" Buffy waved away the other slayer, her eyes glued on the two males.
"Kiss him, kiss him, kiss him!" Dawn chanted, watching the scene with fascination.
Xander glanced at Buffy. She raised her eyebrows. "Fine," he muttered, and gave Spike a quick peck on the lips while everyone cheered them on.
"What, that's it?" Spike grumbled, but under the table, his hand had crept up Buffy's skirt and was slowly moving aside her underwear.
She inhaled sharply. "Are you alright?" Tara asked, concerned.
"She's fine," Faith said knowingly, raising her glass again. "Who's our next toast?"
"Oh, me!" Anya said gleefully. "To raising a family with my husband!"
Xander dropped his glass, suddenly very pale. "Oh, god. You're kidding, right?"
"Well, not exactly," Anya said matter-of-factly. "I'm not pregnant, but I do expect that we should start building a family within the year. I want a boy and a girl, and I'm not getting any younger, you know." Xander gulped.
Buffy choked as Spike slid a finger into her.
Xander glanced at her. "Buffy?"
"Moving on, people," Faith said loudly, kicking Angel under the table when he suddenly caught scent of what was going on and let out a loud growl. "Spike, how about a toast?"
"Yeah, okay," he said, slipping another finger inside Buffy. With the other, he raised his glass. "To family."
"To family," they echoed, except Buffy, who was hanging on to the table for her dear life before she let anything else slip.
As the others drank, she let out a long, strangled moan that she barely muffled with her hands as she came.
Dawn snorted, and everyone looked over to her. "What?" she asked innocently. "Am I supposed to pretend I don't know that Spike isn't doing nasty stuff to Buffy under the table?"
Buffy flushed bright red. Spike choked on his drink. "Nibblet!"
"That's not fair," Anya complained, turning to Xander. "Why don't you ever get me off under the table?"
Buffy bit her lip. "Can I crawl into a hole and die now?" she wondered shakily, letting Spike pry one of her hands from the table to guide it to his jeans.
Faith shook her head and laughed. "I'm going to make another toast," she announced, giving Buffy a playful nudge as Spike let out his own gasp. "To old friends returned to us," she offered, giving Angel a beaming smile and Buffy a mocking smirk.
There was a clink as they all touched glasses and drank.
Buffy took a long sip, closing her eyes in contentment.
…There's nowhere I'd rather be.