A/N: Hey there! It's finally done!

I hope you are happy with the ending. Personally, I find it perfect, even though originally, I was going for something else.

Thank you for sticking with this story to the end. It means a lot to me. :) Please read and review!


Your heart's desire - Part V

To say Dawn was excited would be an understatement. In the span of just a few hours, her best friend had not only returned from the dead, but also come back into her life.

Admittedly, she had been downright furious at him for not checking in to tell her he was okay, not once in several years of her mourning and missing him. Then again, it wasn't like she had given him any sign he was wanted in her life before his 'death'. There was blinding joy at seeing him again; a sense of relief at finally being able to get rid of all the guilt and doubt that had stood between their friendship. And then, of course, there was the mere fun that came with being able to chat and laugh and mock other people and their own lives (or unlives) with him. And talking about serious things and to be actually taken serious by each other.

The thought occurred to her that Spike had been the first to see her as a real human being, not just an annoying teenage girl. And she had seen him, before anyone else, long before Buffy. To her, he had ceased to be a dangerous, soulless vampire the minute he had helped her break into the Magic Box. A strange moment, maybe, but then, he didn't do it for evil. He did it for her.

He was different, now. Not by a lot, but it was definitely noticeable. Had to be the shiny soul inside of him. At least she assumed that was still there. When she'd asked him, he'd smiled oddly and said it was, as if he wasn't sure it was a blessing or a – Angel pun coming up – curse. Dawn was astounded how many new sides to his personality she had missed out on just because she had still been sulking before the battle with the first. Maybe they were old ones she had forgotten or simply not seen before. But while he had always been surprising, now he was a downright enigma. One that for some reason made more sense than before.

Spike was sad, though. There was something about him that was a lot more defeated than before. She knew it had nothing to do with her and everything to do with Buffy, who – as he had mildly put it – hadn't been acting like she was at all glad to see him. There was hope in his eyes still, a tiny fluttering light, nervous and at every moment prepared to either go out entirely or spark a blazing inferno within the vampire. She would really have to have a long and possibly angry talk with her sister.

But first, there was something she wanted to show him.

"It's right in that room!"

She was skipping ahead of him now, hardly able to contain her enthusiasm. Oh, she couldn't wait. She should be able to, but now that he was here… She just absolutely had to know what he would see. Not like she didn't have a hunch, but she had to make sure she was right. Couldn't make Buffy get her head out of her ass if she wasn't right about this.

"Wait up, Niblet!"

But she knew she would be right.

She had finally reached the door, not for one second hesitating to pull down the handle and opening it wide.

Dawn still couldn't believe they had the Mirror of Erised in their castle. It made her even happier magic was real. Who knew, maybe J. K. Rowling had just taken elements borrowed from the real world and written her amazing books using them? Now she wanted to talk to her even more. Not like that would happen.

Shaking that train of thought, she quickly grabbed Spike's arm and whirled him around so that he was facing the mirror. And watched.

At first, he seemed annoyed she'd just drag him somewhere, mixed with a certain kind of lingering amusement. Then, his gaze narrowed in on the object before him, on the large piece of metal, glass and magic that held the deepest, most secret desire of his heart.

Dawn briefly wondered whether he could see himself, too; whether the mystical mirror made an exception and let a vampire see his carcass. Whether vampires could see anything at all.

From the look of it, they could.

There was wonder in his eyes, an open, vulnerable sense of trepidation and joy and something that couldn't be anything but love. He reached out to touch the glass in awe, awe that was quickly replaced with a sadness so tangible she wanted to kick herself for bringing him here, especially without preparing him first. His hand dropped back down.

When he spoke after a long, incredibly painful silence, he sounded resigned.

"Let me guess. It's the same mirror Angel supposedly found."

"You know about it?"

She hadn't thought he did. Because if he had, why hadn't he known exactly what he would have to face the moment he had seen the Mirror?

"'Course I did. Poof wouldn't shut up about how fantastic it was to look at himself all redeemed."

Which begged the question…

"Why didn't you look? I mean, did you?"

He was pointedly facing away from it now, a rueful, ironic smile playing with the corners of his mouth.

"Never even seen it. Pointless to take a good long look your heart's desire when you already know what it is. Painful, too."

"But you came back here for her."

With that, his gaze turned harder and while he said the first part softly enough for her to know he really was happy to spend time with her again, it was also clear how upset he was over the second.

"No, pet. I came here for you. She wouldn't even admit to wanting me here."

And what could she say to that? She was pissed at Buffy herself! Had gone into complete meltdown mode over missing him and loving him and seeing him in the freakin' Mirror of Erised and as soon as she found Spike, she acted like she hated him. She really needed to get some sense knocked into her and soon. Well, now that she knew for sure Spike was still head over heels for her, Buffy would have to endure a not so pleasant conversation with her favorite sister.

"Well, she's an idiot."

Again, that pained laugh.

"Can't say she isn't sometimes."

Then, he turned serious and that was worse than anything he'd said before.

"But maybe she's just done with me. Makes a bloke wonder why she'd come find him in the first place."

Dawns eyes were wide and she was biting her tongue. Things he would have noticed had he not been too preoccupied with that heavy feeling he then expressed.

"I might be a masochist, but I was honestly trying to get over her. No use in wanting someone you can't have."

"You didn't, though, right?"

At that, he had to laugh, even if it didn't sound as amused as he would have wanted it to.

"She's in the sodding mirror, isn't she? What do you think..."

Dawn knew she shouldn't interfere, not before have knocked some sense into her sister's stubborn head, but she simply couldn't stand to see him like this, all dejected and hurting. She wasn't going to tell him about what the Mirror had held for Buffy, but at least she could tell him something.

"She is happy you're back, you know. I don't know what her problem is, but she is happy."

"Care to tell me what makes you think that?"

Hm… What was she supposed to say now that wouldn't give it all away? Maybe something along the lines of 'She missed you'?

"Well-…"

"Dawn!"

It was only when Buffy hissed her sister's name that Spike realized she had probably been there all the time. She had spent the last few days practically stalking him and strangely enough, he had apparently gotten used to her scent, her breathing and her heartbeat enough to not have noticed her.

God, she looked glorious, all flushed and panicked. He could basically taste the blood rushing beneath her cheeks. Sometimes it was hard to not just fall to his knees and worship her.

"I wasn't going to tell!", Dawn squeaked.

To which Buffy answered:

"Just-… Grrrrrr!"

"Aaaargh!"

Spike watched confused as the two of them broke out in giggles.

"I'm gonna leave you two alone now. You really have some talking to do."

"I know."

"Bye Spike!"

The Niblet actually waved before skipping off in the direction of the door.

"Later, Bit."

Huffing about the nickname he knew she secretly adored, she scowled good-naturedly:

"I'm all grown up now, you know? And so much taller than Buffy!"

He smiled.

"I know."

And then Dawn left, the door falling shut behind her. He didn't know how to feel about being alone in a room with Buffy, especially this one, where their mirror selves were currently gazing at each other like lovers with no care in the world. The bit had said his girl was happy to have him back, but he was far from sure he believed her.

She broke the silence and for the first time since he died, he saw her with a soft look on her face and her voice was gentle. There was a glow in her eyes, an effulgence more intense than he'd ever seen there before.

"So you see me?"

He scoffed, eyes leaving hers. Why he would suddenly be embarrassed of his feelings for her, he didn't know. Wasn't like it was news for either of them.

"You even have to ask? Of course it's you. I have no doubt it would have been you even before I ever met you.

"That's… I'm glad you-…"

"I'm sorry."

He didn't even know why he interrupted her. But it had been weighing on him for the last few days. Hell, even before that. The minute he had been back and hadn't used his corporeal again hand to pick up the phone, he had felt the weight of this decision.

"What?"

"For not calling. I didn't know the Niblet was taking it so hard."

"She wasn't the only one."

If his heart was capable of doing so, it would have skipped a beat. Possibly more than just one. Was she saying that Dawn was right? That she had missed him?

"Really?" was all he could ultimately get out of his mouth.

"I-… Why didn't you? Tell me you were back?"

"Figured you deserved a fresh start", he sighed. Then, as an afterthought he added:

"Me, too, for what it's worth."

"Is that what you want? A fresh start?"

Despite himself, he snorted harshly.

"No bloody use, is it? You'll never leave me a second of peace."

He almost wished he hadn't said it, even if it was true. Buffy looked as if he had struck her across the cheek. Her voice sounded tiny, as if she didn't know what to say to make it better.

"I'm sorry."

He sighed. Then he turned to smile at her. It wasn't a proper smile, not the kind that exuded happiness; that, he could feel, but no one could say it wasn't a genuine one.

"Don't be. Really love, don't be."

He wasn't. If he was completely honest with himself – and he always was – loving Buffy was the best thing that had ever happened to him, even if it killed him in more than just the metaphorical meaning of the word. She had changed him, turned him inside out, but it wasn't like he could claim he hadn't let her, hadn't wanted her to. He still wanted her to. Or just wanted her.

In all his introspection he hadn't noticed her tearing up, but the words she spoke next seemed to cut right into his chest and touch that pesky soul of his.

"I'm sorry I was so mean to you."

His eyes focused on her, on her green eyes lined with moisture and the tremble of her mouth.

Like every time that happened, his mind went back to that night and it wasn't just his soul that made him want to tear his own heart out.

It was choking him, so Spike did his best to swallow the ache in his throat.

She was making an effort. A real, genuine effort to deal with their out of control affair like a thing that could be discussed among grown-ups. And she seemed-… contrite?

He didn't want to lie. Things had been bad between them, incredibly bad even before he flipped and a lot of that had been Buffy's doing. He might have been to take their game to a place there was no coming back from, but she wasn't innocent in the way she had treat him.

The fact that she was able to see that even through all the hate she must still feel for him because of what he had done as a consequence… He at least owed it to her to acknowledge her apology for what it was.

"I know you are. Just like you know that I'm sorry, too", he finally said.

Because she had to know it. She had to. Seeking out a demon to give him back his soul had to have made that clear, even if it couldn't erase what had happened no more than he could expect to be forgiven.

Despite trying to handle this issue as a thing of the past, his brain took him back there and her healthy tears of moving on transformed into tears of terror again, of disgust and betrayal and the knowledge that he had destroyed everything.

Spike tilted his head back and closed his eyes in an attempt to keep the forthcoming tears at bay. His throat felt as raw as his grand gesture clawing against his chest from the inside.

"I'm so sorry..."

And then she said words he was almost sure he only imagined. Yes, she had accepted his worth as a fighter and defended him against her friends, had let him hold her and told him he gave her strength, had told him she loved him even as a last motion of thank you, but never in a million years would he have thought…

"You more than made up for it. If there was ever anything to make up for."

His eyes opened and he could only stare. She was smiling, of all things, and it wasn't a cruel smile or a hurt smile or a fake smile. It was her in all her openness, eyes radiating warmth he had only in preciously rare moments seen aimed at him.

"Buffy-…"

"It took me a while, but I get it now, why I never wanted to stake you for it."

She hadn't?

"Why is that?"

"Because you at no point meant to hurt me."

He wanted to sink to his knees, bury his face in his hands and weep. Just weep at her feet until there was nothing left inside of him.

She was right, of course. Hurting her had been the last thing on his mind in that moment. He hadn't even noticed she was trying to push him off until she'd succeeded. It was only when he went back to that moment in his mind that everything was clear and he could see himself for what he had been doing to her then, could see the tears and her attempts to make him get off of her, could feel her little fists against his chest, her cries for him to please, please stop…

He hadn't intended to violate her. But to him, that had never diminished his guilt, not one bit of it.

And now, she had given him forgiveness. Given. Him. Forgiveness.

"It's over now", she went on and there was a finality to her tone that would have made him know for sure – if he hadn't gotten it before – that she wouldn't accept any more pain over this subject.

"At least, I would like to believe it is. We're different people now. We don't need to drag all that ugliness around with us anymore than we have to."

There was no wrapping his mind about the fact that she wanted them both to let it go and finally be free of it.

His voice felt choked up.

"Yeah."

A long pause.

Spike felt like he had been reduced or possible expanded to nothing but a big fiery ball of hope and awe and love for the powerful, fragile, impossible woman that had simply forgiven him for the biggest wrong he had ever committed.

Eventually, he noticed he had turned to face the mirror again and his eyes flicked up to her face in the old glass. There was a pensive look on it; still the same joy he had seen before the real version had shown up, but that one was a Buffy clearly deep in thought.

"Spike?", she softly spoke up.

"Hmm?"

"Stay here?"

Her voice was so small, so vulnerable. God, he wanted to believe it was she who wanted that. If it was… the gifts she was giving him today, he would never be able to return. Never. Already that was the case, even if his prolonged stay was just-… He cleared his throat and said:

"Right, for Dawn."

"No."

In the mirror, he could see her hand nearing his and he wished, he wished it wasn't just what he wanted to see.

Then he felt her hand slide softly into his, their finger entwining as if they'd never done anything else.

"For me."

He looked straight ahead into the mirror, where Buffy was looking back at him, soft, determined, her hand small, but strong, holding his. But she couldn't. She couldn't mean…

"Now let's get out of here. Two of you in one room are just too distracting."

Spike could have sworn he felt his heart flutter.

~o~o~o~o~

Buffy smiled.

I love you? No, she wasn't ready for that.

Loving Spike was scarier than all her past apocalypses and both deaths combined. It would probably take a little while for her to get used to the thought and all of its ramifications. It was too new, too strange and she just wasn't ready. But for the first time in her life, she knew she would be.

And he would still be there, right by her side when the time finally did come when she could say the words. Then, she would mean them.

Together, they stepped out of the room and left the Mirror to its magic.

There would be no need for them to return.

The End