A/N: First and foremost, a thousand thanks to my beta, OrinForeverCrimson. She has been there for me through thick and thin. Okay folks, sorry about the massive delay. I believe that this will be my last instalment of the Redemption story. So, if you have any strong feelings about the story, be they good or ill, I would love to read about it. So, please read and review, but most importantly, enjoy!
Dawn slumped over Spike, exhausted. The runes around her had faded and her hair and eyes had faded back to their normal shades. Everyone stood in a semi-circle of stunned silence around the couch. After a moment, Giles moved to Dawn's side and offered her his hand. The teen wearily took his outstretched hand and was lead away from Spike to an area where she could more comfortably rest. As the minutes ticked by, Dawn fell into a deep slumber while the Sunnydale residents and the visiting investigative team from Los Angeles buzzed quietly about what they had seen and why Spike still was not awake.
Angel had regained consciousness quickly after the magical transference had knocked him out, but he was still too weak to stand. Cordelia and Wesley sat beside him, checking over their vampiric leader.
"Do you need anything? Blood?" Cordelia kept her voice low in deference to the slumbering teenager on the other side of the room. Angel looked up at the former cheerleader and nodded slightly, amazed at just how much the woman had changed from the first time they had met.
"There is some blood in the fridge," Tara said softly from across the room. Coredelia looked to Wes, who nodded and stood before walking into the kitchen. Cordelia then looked back to Angel.
"How do you feel?"
"Like my insides have been worn for a hat." Angel's quiet response drew a light chuckle from the former socialite sitting beside him.
"I feel the same," Tara whispered into Willow's ear, who nodded slightly. "Willow, w-we need to t-talk." Willow, perplexed and surprised by the sudden return of Tara's speech impediment, frowned and manoeuvred so that she and Tara were face to face. "Not h-here. Upstairs. In p-private." Willow's frown deepened as she began to worry. The redhead frantically ran back the events of the day to see if maybe she had done something wrong. Drawing a blank, she followed Tara out of the living room and up the stairs into their room.
"What do you think is wrong with them?" Xander couldn't help but notice the worry on his best friend's face or the sadness on Tara's. His question, said softy into his wife-to-be's ear, drew only a shrug from Anya.
"Human relationships are hard," she said simply and quietly. Quietly for Anya, anyway, as the volume of her voice still drew Giles' ire-filled gaze, which she easily ignored. Xander, a bit taken aback by Anya's sudden insight, hoped with all of his heart that she didn't' sense his growing insecurities about their upcoming nuptials. He hoped even more fervently that she didn't have hidden doubts of her own. Instead of responding, Xander hugged Anya even tighter to himself, eliminating any open space between them, drawing a contented smile out of the ex-demon.
Wesley walked back into the living room and handed Angel a mug of warm blood. Angel fought to keep his arm from shaking and found that his strength was slowly coming back to him. After the first few sips of blood, he was sure that he could stand unassisted. Still, he was reluctant to try anytime soon.
"Thanks, Wes," Angel said in a low tone, keeping his voice as quiet as possible. The Brit nodded his acceptance and returned to his seat opposite Cordelia. Comfortable silence ruled the room until shouting could be heard from atop the stairs. Giles looked up sharply at the noise, then checked to make sure it had not awoken his sleeping ward. He stood noiselessly, ceasing his fatherly vigil and walked briskly towards the stairs. The remaining conscious people in the living room looked from one to another before following the former Watcher upstairs.
"What is it, baby?" Willow had silently followed Tara into their room, the whole time worrying about what she had done or what had happened. Tara had played this conversation over and over in her head, working out flowing speeches and flowery lectures, but now that the time had come she felt grossly unprepared. She decided that directness was the only way to go.
"You're afraid to work magic." Tara's statement made Willow flush in anger and embarrassment. She wanted to deny the accusation, to yell at Tara and to point out her flaws, and she wanted to run and hide. The redhead stood there, shaking, trying to formulate a comeback or a defense, and found that she could not.
"I pulled my best friend out of heaven, Tara. It is obvious that I don't know what I'm doing."
"Baby, you made a mistake. Anyone could-"
"I didn't make a mistake!" Willow's emotions finally became uncontrollable. Her outburst interrupted Tara's consolations, causing the brunette to flinch, and echoed around the room. Willow picked up the framed photo of her, Xander, and Buffy that sat on her nightstand and stared at it mournfully "I did what I thought was right, what she would have done for us, for me."
"You c-c-can't hide from magic, Willow. It's part of w-who you are." Tara was doing her very best to keep her voice level in the face of Willow's emotion, but it was causing the elder Wiccan to stutter badly.
"It is not!" Willow's petulant reply had her words sounding off of he walls once again. "At least, it doesn't have to be. I can change! I can go back to old Willow, to regular, computer Willow!" Willow eyes frantically searched Tara's face for acceptance to her words, but she found only sadness in her lover's features.
"Willow," Tara said as calmly as she could manage, "I will always love you, no matter if your cracking codes or casting spells. Whatever you choose to do, I will always be there for you." Tara looked wistfully at her red haired lover. "But who are you trying to convince? Me... or you?"
And there it was, plain for Willow to see. She had been avoiding magic, not because she was afraid that she would ruin something, but because she was avoiding herself. Willow had done horrible things to cast the resurrection spell, things that would haunt her forever, and still Buffy wasn't with them.
Willow was disgusted with herself, far more so than she had realised when Xander drew her out of her shell only a few weeks prior. Xander had led her out of the cage of self pity she had put herself in but she had entered a stage of quiet self loathing all on her own. She hated herself, not for casting the spell, because Willow truly believed that the idea of bringing Buffy back was the right one. No, Willow hated herself for doing those terrible things to just to try and bring Buffy back. Giles had taught them early on that only the bad guys believed that the ends justified the means. And that was exactly what she had thought as she had slit the deer's neck. The ends justify the means. And the unfair part was that it hadn't worked. Willow had very nearly given herself up to true darkness, and for what?
"The road to hell," Willow muttered to herself.
"It is paved with good intentions," Giles finished softly from the doorway of the Wiccans' shared room. Willow couldn't remember whether or not they had closed it. She turned and saw not only Giles but that the hallway was filled with everyone from downstairs and instantly much of her anger dissipated, if only to be replaced by embarrassment. She looked over to Tara, who had an understanding, if shaky, smile on her face.
"It looks like our private talk wasn't private after all." Gone as quickly as it had surfaced was Tara's stutter. Her true love had, if not solved, at least confronted her problems, lifting a heavy burden from Tara's heart.
"We, ah, heard the shouting," Giles began as he removed his glasses to polish away some imagined substance.
"We just wanted to make sure everything was okay," Cordelia said brightly, taking up where Giles had left off.
"It's okay." Willow was still coming to terms with herself, but gone was her bitterness. She had many things to work on in the days ahead, but she knew that through it all she would have friends and loved ones there to help her out.
"You sure this time, Wilster? 'Cause you said the same thing two weeks ago." Xander teasing comment was softened by the humour in his voice. Willow looked again to Tara, who nodded.
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"Good. Can we go back downstairs now?" Anya's bluntness never seems to fail her, thought Willow wryly. "My feet hurt and my neck aches from trying to see through everyone into the room." Xander chuckled a little as he led Anya, as well as everyone else, back to the living room.
"Anya, honey, sometimes..." Xander didn't finish his statement as the closing of the front door caught his eye from the top of the stairwell. He swore that he saw a familiar black duster glinting in the moonlight just before the door closed. "Spike?"
A jolt of awakening ran through Spike like an electric current. His eyes shot open and sat upright on the couch. He took in all of his surroundings rapidly, detecting departing footsteps on the stairs and Willow's shouted words from her room. He also saw Dawn sleeping soundly across the room and Angel staring warily at him. Spike stood cautiously, amazed that his joints and muscles weren't stiff. He had no idea how long he had been gone but he suspected that it wasn't nearly as long as it had felt like on his end.
Choosing to ignore the hard gaze from Angel, Spike moved towards Dawn, unsure whether to wake her or to let her sleep. As he drew nearer, his dilemma was solved for him as Dawn's eyes fluttered open.
"Spike?" Her voice was filled with awe and wonder. Dawn was overjoyed to see her vampiric protector actually up and moving. Her excitement was evident on her face, and Spike knew that unless he did something the girl was likely to let out one of her patented squeals. Spike did the only thing that he thought would keep her quiet; he leaned down and brought Dawn's head towards him before kissing her passionately and deeply. When he broke the kiss, certain that the young woman had need of air, he stepped back.
"Wow," Dawn muttered breathlessly as her eyelids fluttered. Her heart was beating so rapidly that she was certain it would wake the neighbours. Spike could easily hear that heartbeat, so full of life, beating the drums of love, and he was humbled.
"Listen, luv'. I need to go away for a bit." Dawn's eyes grew wide and frantic as she began to protest.
"What! You can't leave, not now, not after everything!" Dawn's shrill voice was somewhat overshadowed by another outburst from upstairs, but Spike heard it loud and clear. Before Dawn could utter any more protests Spike put a finger to her lips.
"Nibblet, I need to make some changes. I've come face to face with all the little nasties from my past. I love you." Spike paused, a little shocked that he had said it and he immediately knew that he meant it.
"I love you," Spike reiterated more confidently, "but I've got some things to do to be worthy of your love. I wanna' be a man you can be proud of. I don't know how long I'll be gone, but I'll 'ave someone look after you in my place." Spike looked to Angel, who nodded slowly. "Nothin'll happen to you, I swear, but this is somethin' I have to do." Spike leaned in and kissed Dawn again, a bit more chastely the second time around. Then he got up and turned back to Angel.
"I know you don't owe me anythin'," Spike began before shaking his head. "Bugger that, you owe me plenty." His words drew a scowl from his recovering sire. "This will make us even. You look after her," Spike pointed to Dawn, "as if she was the cheerleader you're so obviously in love with. Watch over her, because Buffy'll be watchin' over you. You wouldn't want to upset the Slayer, now would you?"
"On my life, I'll keep her safe. But not for you. For Dawn. For Buffy." The vampires stared at one another until both were certain that they knew where they stood. Then Spike grabbed his coat and walked towards the front door. He knew that if he looked back at Dawn he wouldn't be able to leave, so he went out the door without a glance back.
Xander led the group down the stairs in a hustle. When it became apparent that Spike had indeed left, everyone began talking at once.
"I can't believe it, the ingrate!" Cordelia's opinion seemed to work for Wes, as he nodded his head in emphatically, mouth open in disbelief.
"Why would he just leave," a bewildered Willow asked Tara, who could only shake her head.
"I can't believe this guy! After everything we've done for him." Xander threw his arms up in disgust. "I can't believe I thought that he had changed."
Only Giles seemed to notice that Dawn was awake and sporting a stunned look on her face. Misinterpreting the cause of the look, Giles moved to console his young ward.
"Dawn, child, what happened? Are you alright?" There were tear streaks down her face, but when Dawn looked at Giles she gave him a smile that lit up the room.
"He loves me."