Chapter 26

Buffy slowly related her dream. All the details were clearly etched in her mind since awakening with the sure understanding of the First Slayer's message to her distant descendant. "It's almost like she was sending me a blessing over the ages."

"That makes perfect sense to me, dear," Joyce agreed readily to Buffy's analysis of the meaning. "I think that with someone with similar strengths at your side, you could have a much better chance of beating the odds with this duty of yours. I've finally had to accept that you can't just quit as the Slayer, especially with Faith in that coma. I also realize that what I call normal may not be possible-or even actually normal-for you. Baby, I just want you to be happy and I don't want you to die young. If there is any way at all to increase the chances for you to have the kind of life you deserve, I'm behind you one hundred percent and I don't care what ANYONE else says about it." Her mother looked pointedly at Giles as she made that last pronouncement.

"I'm glad you feel that way, Mom. I was worried. You never liked me dating Angel." Buffy had expected her mother to object when she realized Buffy was thinking of the vampire in the basement as a possible partner in more than patrolling. She cast a wary look at her Watcher. He hadn't said anything yet, but Buffy was still half expecting him to fall out of his chair in shock that she was considering a bond with Spike.

"Honey, I didn't like Angel because of himself, not because he was a vampire!" Buffy was surprised, but before she could say anything in Angel's defense, Joyce continued. "There was something about him that just didn't sit right. Oh, he talked a good game, but there was something shifty, like he was withholding something or even lying. He was also fairly controlling. I know from your father that in time you would hate having to always work to please him, to live up to his unrealistic expectations. Sooner or later, you'd just want to relax and be yourself, but you'd always be afraid you would be disappointing him. Maybe that's it; he reminded me of your father in a lot of ways. You're enough like me to need more than that."

Buffy was actually speechless. She had never seen Angel in the same light as her father and yet just as her dad had bowed out of her life claiming he didn't want to interfere with Buffy's new life, so had Angel left her for 'her own good'. She had loved Angel with her whole being but couldn't honestly say she knew him, or he her. There WAS a part of him that he always held back. "Wow, I just thought you didn't want a vampire dating me!"

"If you were just any human girl, I wouldn't, but you're the Slayer. Buffy, honey, when you hug me you have to hold back or snap me like a twig! I want you to be all you can be without pulling back. I doubt there's a man alive who can handle that. Why should you be alone though, if there are other choices," Joyce grinned slyly, "And when you have a perfectly acceptable candidate who is also well-educated, sweet, romantic and a complete hottie…well…I'd say you hit the jackpot!"

"MOM!" Buffy blushed brightly. Somehow you never get used to hearing a parent notice someone being a hottie.

Joyce saw her daughter's embarrassment and decided to add a tease by looking suggestively at Giles and adding, "Of course, there's more than one hottie in this town, lucky for the rest of us."

"Yes…well," a clearly flustered Giles piped in. "I shall have to give your dream some thought. You are quite certain it WAS a Slayer dream and not simply a case of wishful thinking on your part?" He cast a glance at his Slayer that practically begged her to be unsure.

"Nope, no wishful thinking. It was pure, one hundred percent Slayer. I've never felt it more strongly, Giles."

"Oh dear," he sighed. "I was afraid you'd say that. Good Lord, now I'll need to research this in full. If the First Slayer seems to think your proper partner might be a demon, one must wonder if other slayers have had similar dreams." He did a mental inventory of the journals more likely to touch on the subject. So few slayers lived to an age of sexual maturity, after all. "Then again, there are several demon races that have successfully attached themselves to humans through marriage. Many a half demon is in existence. The Council even employs a few. Does it absolutely HAVE to be Spike though?"

Buffy had to laugh at the look on her Watcher's face. It looked like he had just bitten into a particularly sour lemon. "It's not like I discussed it with him…or am going to! I plan to be non-verbal Buffy, that's really for the best. But yup, I think Spike's the one. I'm listening to my heart for the first time in ages and it feels right."

"Well, at least he has an appreciation for good music and alcohol. Now that we know his education is better than he's let on, he can prove useful at the research table as well. I suppose I'll adjust. One thing I've had to learn having you as my charge is to be flexible," Giles gave a half laugh as he thought about all the things he'd been taught at Watcher's school that had long gone out the window. "Of course it would be Spike. I had the most dreadful fear of that after Willow's spell. The two of you went far beyond behaving as an engaged couple. You doted upon one another. The berk even treated me like a father!"

"Well, you are the closest thing I have. I think it's sweet that Spike cares about people he knows I love, even down to the Scoobies. That's a good sign too."

"I won't stand for him calling me Dad, however. One must draw the line somewhere."

"Don't let him hear that or that'll be all he calls you!"

"Oh God, I'm going to be 'Mom' to a man old enough to be my grandfather!" Joyce grimaced at the realization.

"Neither of you need to rush things. I plan on a long courtship, whether he knows it or not," Buffy laughed at the older generation. "Besides, maybe he won't even be interested."

At that Giles DID fall out of his chair…with laughter.

"Hallie, this is Tara, the nice girl I told you about," Anya stood at the door to Willow and Tara's apartment just daring Willow to deny them entrance. "Hallie is a vengeance demon like I was."

"Justice demon, Anyanka. Justice is what I mete out." Halfrek smiled warmly and extended her hand to the shy blonde. "So pleased to meet you, Tara."

"Come in. I don't know if I would want veng…justice or anything, but I think I'd like to meet you anyway. Until just a short while ago I thought I was a demon too, and I think I'd like a chance to just talk to someone who really is one." Tara motioned to the guest chairs, ignoring Willow's glower of disapproval. They had discussed Anya's offer and Tara had made no promises except to take great care and not use the word 'wish' in any conversations around Anya or any of her friends.

"My father set a high standard for me and simply demanded that I marry well," Hallie confided. "It was so very stressful and I was never sure Father ever fully approved of me. Let me tell you, I've seen children over the years that have had the most horrible childhoods! I take great pride in evening the score in those cases. No apologies from me for that!" Anya had warned her that neither human girl was seeking to harm anyone.

Tara shared highlights of her troubled childhood with the others. As the story progressed, Willow found herself thinking that perhaps a bit of justice wasn't so wrong.

"Donny is trying to be like Daddy. They really believe that a man has to rule his women and that means in every little way. He was that way even as a little boy. When Mamma died they just decided I was going to be the woman of the house. I was already doing all the cooking and cleaning while Mamma was sick, but Daddy had started to treat me like a wife in other ways too," Tara blushed furiously. "Mamma was sick for a few years. I d..d..didn't let him…you know…but he birched me for standing up to him. Donny knew what Daddy was trying to do and he grabbed me too. Daddy belted him, because as the man of the house HE had rights, that's what he said anyway. I couldn't stay, not with Mamma gone. I just knew that one day I wouldn't win the fight."

Anya patted Tara's hand in sympathy, while Willow scowled. Hallie nodded with a look on her face that said she had heard it all before. "Yes, men like that think women are weak and that they have some kind of permission to do as they please. They use their greater physical strength to force themselves on them."

"That boy from the college, he's like Donny, only he's stronger. That's why I was so paralyzed with fear, I think. It was the same thing I'd run away from!" Tara shivered at the memory. "I know Mr. Giles and Spike tried to scare him off, but he keeps looking at me. It's like Donny and Daddy, just watching, watching all the time like they're waiting for a moment when I let my guard down." Tara looked like she might be sick.

"Willow, I know you don't like me and you don't like the idea of me bringing Hallie here, but you have to see that Tara deserves some peace," Anya pointed out. "She can't go to the police and report the creep is giving her the evil eye or that her dad and brother are thinking naughty thoughts. She shouldn't have to keep living in fear, should she? I mean, there are other ways."

"It's true. I'm very good at what I do. I really don't want to do anything to upset YOU. You've been through enough, sweetie," Hallie nodded.

Willow had been thinking all through Tara's confession and suddenly her face brightened and she turned to Tara, "Honey, can I talk to you alone for a minute?" Without waiting for their guests to speak another word, she guided her girlfriend to the bedroom.

"Well, that was just rude!" Anya was used to Willow treating her that way, but there was no reason for Halfrek to be snubbed. "And they say that I have no manners!"

"I think the witch may be coming round to our way of thinking. Didn't you see her face as Tara told us about her father?" Halfrek was already thinking of the dozens of ways punishment could be meted out.

Willow and Tara came back into the room with wide smiles. "Can the same wish be done on all three men?"

"What do you have in mind?" Halfrek was practically rubbing her hands in anticipated glee.

Steve rolled out of bed with the hangover to end all hangovers. The boys had all partied hard the night before and he'd won the chug-a-lug contest but was now paying for it. No matter, a nice hot shower and he'd feel more the thing. He stumbled from the bed and made his way to the end of the hall and the welcoming embrace of gallons of warm water.

"Hey, toots! Just who brought you into the lion's den and let you loose? Grrrrrrr!" Larry's hands made a grab for Steve's butt and pinched hard. The squeal that came out of Steve's mouth could have shattered glass and he was terrified to hear it.

He looked down, intending to break Larry's arm even if the jackass were the best receiver on the team, only to see his body for the first time.

Then he promptly passed out cold.

"So not just women, but weak, REALLY weak women and guy magnets too, don't forget that part!" Willow cackled in amusement. "Walking blonde jokes."

"Not a problem. They'll be their own fantasy women." Hallie thought it a tame request but beautiful in its simplicity. They had preyed upon women they perceived as weak and now would live their lives as exactly that: prey. Perhaps they might get lucky and find a nice fella and settle down, but they would know the fear, the suppression, the humiliation they had inflicted for years. Yes, it was a good wish. "Granted" had seldom been so satisfying.

Spike was feeling better than he had in weeks. For some reason the Slayer and her mom had insisted on human blood to speed the healing and there was a definite difference from the pig slop he'd become used to. "Not quite the same as from the tap, but still nice."

"Hey, you're lookin' like your old self there, blue eyes," Buffy teased. "Mom wants to know if you want dinner. It's pot roast and she's a great cook."

"Sounds right lovely. Tell Joyce I'm happy to accept," Spike grinned. He'd spent the last few days feeling welcomed more than in his memory. Joyce had always been kind to him, but even Buffy was acting like he wasn't a burden that she was grudgingly bearing.

"You going to be moving back to your crypt soon?"

'Had to happen,' Spike thought to himself. 'Wore out your welcome and now the Slayer's gonna pitch you out faster than you can swing a cat.' He looked crestfallen. "Suppose there's no reason to stay here, not being an invalid anymore, so yeah, I can be out right after dinner if that's fast enough for you."

"Hum…I suppose I can wait 'til after dinner. Mom would be pissed if we missed it, after all that work." Buffy moved in closer to Spike, invading his personal space and filling his senses with her sweet scent. "The walk over to Restview will be good after all those carbs she'll probably serve too. Don't want to be too full, after all."

Spike had nowhere to go since the cot was right behind him. "Vampire here, carbs don't matter much."

"I meant for me," Buffy said, not moving away. "I'd hate feeling bloated when I'm naked with a guy."

Spike was struck dumb.

"Careful, you don't want your face to freeze that way! Would be a real shame," Buffy teased.

"Slayer, you all right? Haven't hit your head or anything." Suddenly his face took on a look of horror. "Red's not been at the spell book again, has she?"

Buffy did her best to disguise her nervousness. She wasn't particularly aggressive in romance, but her vampire hadn't taken action yet and she was tired of waiting.

"No spells." She patted her head. "No head injuries either. I'll let you check me over everywhere else later…if you want to be sure I'm all right."

He blinked rapidly and began to wonder if he should check his own head for damage.

"I'm not a tell girl, Spike, so maybe I'd better be show." Before he could puzzle out her meaning Buffy leaned in and lightly kissed him. "Remember how I said I wanted to start over with you? Well I think I'd like to skip a few pages past all the 'getting to know him/getting to like him' parts and get right to the 'starting to love him' section. That is, if that's okay with you." She was nervous about what his response would be now that she'd shown her cards. She could only hope that the attraction she had been feeling was shared.

A slow smile started to light his face followed by a look of pure wonder. "More than okay." He tilted his head and gave her a look of adoration, "You're sure?"

"Completely," she sighed.

Their lips came together in a kiss so soft and tender the angels sang. In short order, it had heated enough that it could melt anything within ten feet and the devils joined in the chorus. His tongue sought entrance and was welcomed with enthusiasm. Hers soon engaged in the oldest of battles in a war they both knew would be a win on either side.

"So I'm thinkin' dessert at your crypt. You up for it?" She asked when they parted ever so slightly.

"Something sweet and tasty would be just what I've been wantin' forever," Spike replied with a quirked eyebrow. "Providin' that's what you have in mind too."

"Maybe a bit of something salty too," She teased and lightly ran the back of her hand across the bulge in his jeans. "Depends on how strong you're feeling. I wouldn't want to tire you out."

He chuckled into her hair as he held her close in a loving embrace. "I'd like to see you try, Buffy. Like to see you try."

"Challenges are always of the good," she agreed and began to plan all the ways to tire a vampire. It was going to be a long night before the coming of Dawn.

~fin