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I've parked the car. Our ride is over and we've arrived at our destination.
It took awhile, at least in my head for this fic to take shape, but in the
end, I think it accomplished everything I wanted it to.

I hope you've enjoyed my sharing it with you. It's been a pleasure.



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One Year Later

Buffy leaned back against the door and watched as her family cavorted on the floor. Spike was on all fours, their son astride his back, yelling “Giddyup!” at the top of his lungs as his legs pounded Spike's flanks to make him run faster.

She couldn't help but smile fondly at the image they made. That's right – fondness. Spike-related fondness. Over the course of the past year – in addition to the usual Spike-specific vampire tinglies – she'd begun to have warm fuzzies whenever he was around.

Dawn kept teasing her; asking when they were gonna get married and make an honest child out of Josh. However, since (thanks to the legal wrangling of Sam and the military) Josh's name was already registered legally as Joshua Daniel Summers-Pratt, Buffy couldn't help but suspect that the teasing was mostly abouther sister's desire for yet more family ties.

Because, additional bonus, as a favor to the ex-Mrs. Finn: the military had managed to come up with adoption papers for Dawn, as well as Josh. Her full legal name was now Dawn Eden Summers-Pratt, and she was still walking around with her head in the clouds over that one.

There was no way Buffy was going to let Social Services threaten to tear her family asunder again.

Buffy laughed as the game of horsie devolved into Spike and Dawn convening over Josh – taking turns blowing raspberries on his belly. The boy's exuberant giggles warmed Buffy's heart as nothing else could. She had thought she already understood her capacity for love; she loved her sister beyond reason, but what she felt for Joshua outstripped even that.

Surveying the now happy scene, she couldn't help but remember how fiercely she and Spike had been tested about six months earlier. Sam had been transferred to the north island of New Zealand – a minor Hellmouth was in the process of opening up at Mount Ruapehu, and Sam's company had been assigned to keep the human population safe.

The dregs of the Initiative had taken the opportunity, while Sam was absent, to attempt to regain custody of her child. They'd managed to subdue Spike – holding him hostage against the return of the boy. And Buffy had watched as Sergeant Major Oswald Griffith III held a wooden stake to her vampire's heart – clearly intending to drive it home if she refused to part with their son.

Spike's fierce '“You keep that boy safe no matter what”' still reverberated in her head all these months later. By the grace of the Powers that Constantly Meddled in Their Lives, Willow and Tara had returned home just in time to cast a disabling spell, allowing Buffy to rescue Spike and boot the military's sorry asses out of her home and off their property.

Since then, barrier protection spells had been erected, and were renewed monthly.

Extra insurance was provided by a little bit of good old blackmail. Willow's hacking had uncovered a handful of women who'd been impregnated with Joshua's potential 'siblings'. Buffy's threat to bring it all out in the open had effectively stymied the enemy; there would be no more flack from the Initiative.

Buffy was startled out of her contemplation of the past by a wad of little boy's socks smacking her in the face, followed by the sound of hysterical giggles.

“Ewww!” She held up the offensive items. “Whose stinky socks are these?”

“My socks!” Joshua crowed proudly. “Gotcha, Mommy!”

“Yes you did, my little hellbeast!” Buffy laughed. “I'm sure your Daddy and Aunt Dawn had nothing to do with it.”

“Daddy said 'throw', and Auntie Dawn said 'at Mommy's face'.” Josh got up and hugged Buffy around the knees. “I did good!” he insisted.

“Bitlet's got your arm, love,” Spike said, the expression on his face soft and open. “Like to see what he'll be like when he's old enough to play cricket, or even baseball, bein' that this country's so in love with the sport.”

“Joshua Summers-Pratt – Superstar,” Dawn added, her pride in her nephew evident. “As long as he's not too good. It wouldn't do to have him breaking all the records and drawing that much attention to himself.”

“Time will tell, Dawn,” Buffy said, her own pride evident. “When he's old enough to understand, we'll help him to hold back a bit if necessary. We don't need him to be everyone's superstar – he's already ours.” She watched as JD (as Dawn tended to call the boy, much to Spike's chagrin) turned his attention on his father - pelting him in turn with his socks, a stray ball, and a discarded magazine. Buffy knew she should curtail Josh's tendency to fling whatever objects were at hand, but he was so happy and she wasn't willing to restrain him just yet.

Of course, that would have to change before he started preschool. She could see the letters home, now: Dear Mr. and Mrs. Summers-Pratt, Please be advised that Joshua tossed his buddy across the room today. Luckily he landed in our pillowed nap-time area, so nobody was hurt. Please impress upon your child that the throwing of other children is not acceptable behavior in Little Humans Pre-School.

Wait a minute...

“Holy crap!” Buffy murmured.

“Wassat, love?” Spike asked, because of course, he'd heard her.

“N-nothing,” she stammered, her cheeks flaming pink. Oh. My. God! Had she really just referred to herself and Spike as Mr. and Mrs?

No-longer-Denial-Buffy had no choice but to admit that she had, indeed, coupled them in her head. For all intents and purposes, they were married. They lived together and they had a child together. Spike was listed on Josh's birth certificate as his father, and Dawn was legally his daughter.

The only thing they weren't doing was sleeping together. And in the interests of perfect honesty, Buffy had to admit she really, really missed having sex with Spike. The man was nothing if not inventive to put it mildly. What she didn't miss was the hate and self-loathing that had accompanied their previous sexual activities... things would have to be totally different this time.

Things were already different.

If Spike still wanted to... if he still loved her.

Who the hell was she kidding? Every now and then when he thought she wasn't looking, Buffy caught his eyes moving over her, and she could almost feel the scorch marks his looks left on her body. This time, she knew. She KNEW that Spike loved her. She knew it to the very core of her soul.

The question before the jury was – as always – did she love him back? The way he deserved to be loved?

That was the $64,000 question, wasn't it? Okay, list time:

One: Buffy definitely had feelings for Spike. Warm, fuzzy, didn't want to live without him (or Dawn and Josh, of course) feelings.

Two: He was as much family to her as any of the Scoobies.

Three: Although she most assuredly did NOT want to sleep with any of the Scoobies.

Four: She... she... well, fuck it! Buffy Summer was in love with William 'Spike' Pratt.

Now all she had to do was tell the vampire in question, and see if he was willing to put her out of her misery by making an honest woman out of her.

Action-Buffy to the rescue.

“Dawn,” she called out, disrupting the latest bit of horseplay. Would you mind taking Josh upstairs? See if you can calm him down a bit with a story?”

“Spoilsport,” Dawn retorted, sticking her tongue out like a five year old. “Fine, come on, JD. Let's go upstairs and Auntie Dawn will tell you a story about vampires and slayers.”

Josh kissed Spike on the cheek, before happily following Dawn up the stairs.

Ever the astute one, Spike had obviously cottoned on to the fact that she was up to something.

“So, what's going on here, petal?” he asked, his voice dropping down into that deep, dark chocolatey-caramel tone that always inflamed her insides.

“Do I have to have an ulterior motive for wanting to spend a little alone time with my favorite vampire?” she asked, coyly, batting her eyelashes.

“Kitty wants to play?” Spike purred, stalking towards her like a pale panther.

“She might,” Buffy admitted, meeting him in the middle of the living room. “Wanna guess the game?” she practically purred back at him.

Spike took a step back, obviously unsure as to what she was up to. “Think you're gonna have to make the rules a mite clearer here, Slayer. Don't wanna incur a penalty for cocking things up yet again.”

“Tell me you love me,” she repeated a phrase she'd used once before.

He shot her a disbelieving look, as if he knew exactly the response she was looking for. When Buffy remained silent, her own eyebrow rising in challenge, Spike swallowed hard and took the bait.

“I love you – you know I do. Point of fact...”

“I love you, too,” Buffy said, before he could finish the sentence.

The look of completely unadulterated awe in Spike's eyes would remain with her for the rest of her days.

Finis