Life Is But A Dream


by Lightles




(The next morning)

Giles rubbed his eyes as he poured himself a third cup of coffee. He sighed and returned his attention to the paper. He'd been up and about since six and had read almost the entire paper including the business section, which he usually shunned. The girls were still asleep, strewn about his living room, so he made an attempt to stay quiet for their sakes. He couldn't help but notice that they all seemed to be somewhat restless. Willow had her left fist clenched as if she was holding on to something for dear life, while Anya had a small smile playing across her lips. Cordelia was groaning softly, while Buffy kept muttering something about someone being an "idiot".

Giles took a swig from his coffee and turned his attention back to the comics, when a soft noise caused him to raise his head. Angel carefully picked his way among the strewn bodies and sat down next to Giles. The Watcher could see that Angel hadn't slept well either.

"Feeling better?" Giles asked dryly.

"What?" Angel looked somewhat startled.

"I heard you screaming last night." Giles explained.

"Oh. Sorry about that. I actually kind of need to talk to you......" Cordelia turned over in her sleep and Angel lowered his voice. "I had a very strange dream last night."

"Really?" Giles listened, fascinated, as Angel described his experience. "That is extraordinary. I recognize some of the scenes you mentioned and I must say that you've described them perfectly, down to the last detail."

"I know." Angel shook his head. "I can't understand this. I wasn't *there* for a lot of them. How could I have known that kind of stuff? More importantly, how could I have seen them from Willow's perspective? I saw what she saw and I felt what she felt."

"I don't know." Giles admitted. "Perhaps it's a spell of some sort? We should look into it."

"I..... Could we not tell the others about this?" Angel asked, tentatively. "I really don't want Willow knowing....."

"Of course." Giles agreed. The two sat and talked softly until the others began to wake up. Neither of them noticed when Willow sat up and stared at something in her hand for a moment. When everyone was awake and washed up, they decided to go their separate ways for the day-after all, Buffy and Willow still had classes and Xander had to work for a living. To everyone's surprise, Anya opted to stay and help with research. Before she left, Willow attempted to get Giles alone so she could give him Doyle's message about the Order of Revelation, but it was impossible. She sighed and decided that she would have to blow off her afternoon class in order to get some alone-time with both Giles and Angel.

As soon as those who (as Cordelia put it "are lucky enough to have lives") departed, Anya focused her attention on Spike. The blonde vampire was just filling a mug with blood when he noticed that the former demon was staring a hole through his head.

"Yes?" he asked, arching an eyebrow.

"I need to talk to you." she said.

"So, talk." Spike popped his mug into the microwave, then turned so he was leaning against the counter and folded his arms across his chest.

"I had a dream last night." Anya began. For some reason she couldn't explain, she was suddenly nervous.

"Yeah, so?" Spike smirked as he caught sight of his sire. "So did I."

"I had *your* dream last night." Anya said. Spike's eyes widened as he looked more closely at her.

"What are you talking about?"

"I had a dream where I was in your body and seeing things through your eyes." Anya explained. "I've had these kinds of experiences before. It was your dream, only somehow it ended up in my head."

"Really?" Spike's voice acquired a distinct edge. "What did I dream about?"

"Willow." Anya only barely managed not to flinch when she saw the look on his face. "Look, I won't tell her how you feel....."

"Good." Spike growled.

"..... but you should." she finished, completely ignoring him.

"Like Hell." he muttered.

"Why not?" Anya snuck a glance over her shoulder and was glad to see that Giles and Angel were engrossed in some old book, while Cordelia was busy searching for split ends. "Look, how do you know she doesn't feel the same way?' Anya had been observing Willow all morning and she suspected that the red-head might, indeed, return the vampire's feelings.

"Why would she?" Spike asked. "How *could* she?" Anya was surprised at the pity she felt for the vampire. His face briefly showed his pain before his expression returned to his usual sardonic smirk.

"Okay, but the book did say something about the joining of heart and hand....."

"Drop it." the vampire snarled.

"Okay, okay." Anya sighed. "You can't say I didn't try."

"You tried, you failed, and if you even think about mentioning this to anyone else....."

"I won't." Anya reassured him.

******

As he headed for his car, Buffy grabbed Xander's arm and pulled him aside.

"What's up, Buff?" he asked. She noted with envy that he seemed to have gotten a full, restful night of sleep.

"I need to talk to you." she said, softly. She held up a finger when she saw Willow approaching them. "Go on without me, Willow. I need to talk to Xander for a minute."

"Okay." Willow shrugged and turned around. Buffy waited until she was out of hearing range, then turned back to Xander.

"I had a dream last night." she said, softly. "I think I somehow got into Anya's head and saw what she was dreaming about."

"Really?" Xander looked awed. "Wow. What did Giles say?"

"He didn't. I haven't told him yet. I will when all this dies down. But that's not the important thing." Buffy took a deep breath. "Look, Anya really loves you."

"I know." Xander nodded.

"I don't think you do." Buffy interjected. "She pictures the two of you being married and having kids and living the perfect suburban life." When she saw Xander's expression, she paused. "What?"

"Whoa. This is.... freaky."

"Look, I know that guys are supposed to be commitment shy and everything, but I don't see why this should be such a surprise......"

"You don't understand." Xander interrupted. "Here, let me show you." He reached into a pocket and pulled out a black ring box. Buffy pried it open and gazed at the exquisite diamond engagement ring nestled inside. "I've had this for weeks. I just haven't been able to work up the nerve."

"Why not?" Buffy stared at him in shock. "I mean, the girl is crazy about you. That's obvious to everyone."

"Yeah, I know." Xander searched for the right words. "I know she likes doing the dating thing and the S-E-X thing, but I don't know if she wants more......"

"She does." Buffy assured him. "Trust me."

"But what if she doesn't?" Xander asked, anguish in his voice. "I mean, I've never felt like this about anyone.... not Cordelia, not Willow...... not even you. No offense."

"None taken." Buffy smiled. "There's only one way you're going to find out, Xander. Ask her."

*******

Angel was the only one in the living room when someone rapped on the door shortly after 2:00 in the afternoon. As the door began to open, he dove out of the line of sunlight.

"Oh!" Willow hastily shut the door behind her. "I'm sorry, Angel."

"It's okay." He walked towards her, attempting to think of something to say.

"Where is everyone?"

"Giles and Cordelia went to get some food and Anya upstairs looking through some more books. Spike is taking a nap." Angel grimaced when he recalled his earlier conversation with his childe. It was obvious Spike knew something he wasn't supposed to, but he wouldn't give up his information easily. Another thought hit Angel. "Aren't you supposed to have a class now?"

"Yeah, but I needed to talk to you." Willow dropped her bag and sat on the couch. Angel took a seat on a stool, so that he faced her.

"Well, why not wait until tonight?"

"It's kind of.... private." Willow withdrew something from her pocket. "I have a message for you." She held out the bracelet and had a mental giggle over the expression on Angel's face.

"Where did you..... " Angel took the bracelet gingerly, as if it might somehow burn him.

"Doyle gave it to me. Last night I had a dream.... actually, I had *Cordelia's* dream. There was a lot of shopping. Anyway, this Doyle person showed up, expecting to find her. He found me instead. He gave me a message for you."

"What is it?" Angel asked, somewhat fearfully. After all, it wasn't often that the dead returned to give messages and when they did, the messages usually weren't good.

"Well, he said that we're close to figuring out this Order of Revelation thing." Willow started, not quite sure how to broach the subject.

"That's wonderful." Angel said, relieved. "But why did you need to tell me that....."

"There's more." Willow held up her hand to silence him. "He said..... Angel, he said that your soul is permanent."

"What?" Angel blinked.

"Your soul." Willow tapped him on the chest. "It's permanent. You can be happy without worrying about whether or not Angelus is going to give an encore performance."

"That's impossible." Angel spat.

"No, it isn't." Willow grabbed his wrist. "Angel, he said that the Powers that Be aren't into punishing you anymore. Your time in Hell worked off most of your debt to society."

"It's impossible." Angel gasped. "This can't be real."

"Angel, if it isn't real, then where did I get the bracelet?" Willow asked. "Please believe me. You have been given cosmic permission to be happy."

"This is incredible." Angel stood up and began to pace. "You're sure?"

"Yes! I'm sure." Willow stood up, then squeaked when Angel grabbed her in a giant hug.

"Thank you! Thankyouthankyouthankyou!"

"You're welcome." Willow laughed, breathless. "Listen, I need the bracelet back."

"For what?"

"I have a message for Cordelia." Angel nodded and handed it over. His smile disappeared as quickly as it had come.

"Don't.... Oh God. I can't tell Buffy."

"Why not?"

"If I tell Buffy, she'll ask me to stay." He looked like someone was torturing him. "God, if she asked me to....."

"Why wouldn't you?" Willow asked, using her most reasonable voice. "What's stopping you from getting back together with her now?"

"I can't. I've hurt so many people....."

"Angel." Willow grabbed him and forced him to look at her. "Doyle said that if you don't take this opportunity to be happy, he will haunt you.... with bongo drums."

"But...."

"And if that doesn't work, I'm sure I can get Cordelia to think up something even worse." Willow smiled triumphantly. "Face it, Angel. You are going to have your heart's desire..... whether you like it or not!"

"Has anyone told you that you can be quite persistent?" Angel smiled weakly. "All right. I'll talk to Buffy. I can't make any promises after that, though. After all, she has her own life now. She may not want me to stay....."

"Fat chance of that!" Willow snorted. "Just remember that you've paid for your sins. It's time to move on with *your* life."

"Yeah....." Angel got a faraway look in his eyes. "Speaking of my sins, I'm so sorry."

"For what?"

"For.... well, for trying to kill you."

"What?" Willow was confused. "When did you ever try to kill.... Oh!" Understanding hit her. "You mean Angelus, right?"

"Right. I don't deserve your forgiveness....."

"Angel." she cut him off mid-grovel. "You don't have to apologize. I know that you.... the you that I've known for years and the you that has saved my life countless times and the you who is standing in front of me right now...... that you would never, ever hurt me. You had no control over what was happening, so as far as I'm concerned, there is nothing.... repeat, *nothing* to forgive. It's time for you to stop apologizing for the past. Live in the now, man!" She held up her fingers in a peace sign and they both laughed.

"All right. You win." he said, hugging her again. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Suddenly, Willow's brow knit. "What brought this on, may I ask?"

"I had a dream last night." he explained. "I think it was caused by the Powers that Be or something..... I basically got to see all the times you've nearly died through your eyes."

"Eeeg!" Willow shuddered "I hate that nightmare. Wait a minute.... you had my dream.... I had Cordelia's...... What's going on?"

"I don't know." Angel shook his head. "We'll need to talk to Giles when he gets back."

******

A few minutes later, Giles and Cordelia returned. Willow grabbed Cordelia's arm and pulled her upstairs. After a brief bickering match, Anya came downstairs and informed the others that the two girls needed some "private time." Giles went up to check on them a few minutes later, but silently retreated when he found Cordelia sobbing in Willow's arms. He came down just in time to see Xander on his knees proposing to Anya. This was a much more pleasant experience than the time he'd walked in on a be-spelled Spike proposing to Buffy. Anya accepted, as he'd known she would, and Giles offered the couple his congratulations and offers of any assistance he could provide.

Shortly after sundown, Spike woke up and Buffy arrived. Giles gathered everyone around the table and began to speak. "All right, some very strange things have been going on. Somehow, Angel had a dream where he saw everything from Willow's perspective and witnessed several incidents from the past where he, himself, wasn't present. Willow had a dream where she was, apparently, in Cordelia's body."

"And I had a dream where I was in Anya's body." Buffy chimed in. When the others looked at her, she shrugged. "Well, I didn't think it was important to anyone but Xander."

"'Confusion of dreams.'" Willow suddenly shouted. "It said that in the book..... the coming of the Order of Revelation would be heralded by the confusion of dreams and the end of illusion."

"That is certainly true." Giles' eyes grew wide. "All right - Willow had Cordelia's dream, Angel had Willow's dream, and Buffy had Anya's dream. Anya, whose dream did you have?"

"Uh...." Anya glanced at Willow and blushed. "I had Spike's dream."

"What was it about?"

"I can't tell you." Anya blushed deeper. "It's private."

"I see." Giles turned to Spike with an inquiring look.

"Not a chance." The vampire growled.

"All right." Giles sighed. "Spike, whose dream did you have?"

"I had the great Poof's dream." Spike grinned. "He was reliving his last meeting with our girl Buffy. It was quite.... interesting."

"Spike, what are you babbling about?" Buffy asked, impatiently. "I was only there for, like, five minutes."

"Not exactly, pet.... mmf!" Spike made a noise of protest when Willow slammed her hand over his mouth. Cordelia, then Angel, had told her the true story about Buffy's "lost day" and she wasn't about to let Spike spill the beans.

"It's private." she declared. "Right?" she asked, glaring at Spike. He nodded. "Now, if I take my hand away are you going to say anything?"

"Keep in mind that I'm still your sire and I can pound you into dust without using a stake." Angel warned.

"Yeah, right mate." Spike scoffed. "Don't worry. I'll keep your secret.... for now...." he winked at Buffy.

"What is he talking about?" the Slayer asked Angel.

"I'll tell you later." he assured her. "Go on, Giles."

"Yes, well.... Cordelia, whose dream did you get?"

"I got Buffy's dream. That's another one you're not going to hear about." she stated.

"All right." Giles nodded. "I had insomnia, so that just leaves you, Xander."

"I slept like a baby." Xander shrugged.

"And you snored like a buzzsaw." Spike informed him.

"I did not." Xander objected.

"Yes, you did." Angel told him.

Giles cleared his throat. "All right - in her dream, Willow was told that we are on our way to solving this mystery. However, I'm not sure...."

"Oh! Oh!" Willow's eyes grew wide. "Anya and Xander are engaged..... that's the joining of heart and hand, right? And Cordelia.... well, we talked and that covers the sick being healed part."

"Yeah...." Cordelia turned to Xander and Anya. "I'm really sorry, you guys. I know I've been kind of obnoxious. It's a long story, but I'm over it now."

"Sure, Cordy." Xander smiled gently. Angel had filled him in on some of the things that had happened to Cordelia since she had left Sunnydale.

".... and.... and...." Willow grew more and more excited. "And I think I know what the restoring that which is broken part is about too." She looked at Angel and raised her eyebrows. It took him a moment, but he finally got her message and smiled broadly. Standing, he took Buffy's arm.

"Come with me." he said. "I need to talk to you." Buffy looked surprised, but stood.

"Is now really the time....." Giles began, but Willow interrupted.

"Trust me, Giles." she beamed. "This is important."

"Care to share, Will?" Xander asked.

"I can't.... not yet." Willow watched as Angel led Buffy outside. "Angel needs to tell Buffy before I can tell the rest of you."

"Okay. Well, then could you explain the healing the sick thing?"

"Yeah.... " Cordelia took a deep breath. "When Angel and I moved to L. A., we met this guy named Doyle. He was the one who originally had the visions. Anyway, Doyle and I.... well, we kind of danced around the dating thing, but I didn't know he was half-demon. Anyway, I found out right before he.... right before he died." Anya placed a sympathetic hand on the other woman's shoulder. "Anyway, his death messed me up a bit, but Willow gave me a message from him." Just then, Buffy shrieked. Giles instinctively headed for the door, but Willow laid a hand on his arm.

"It's okay." she assured him. "Angel's telling him that his soul is permanent."

"What?" Everyone stared at her.

"Are you sure?" Giles asked, terrified of what could happen if she was wrong.

"I'm sure." she bounced with excitement. "Angel can never turn into Angelus again."

"Wow!" Cordelia looked towards the door and smiled. "So, I guess Buffy's dream is coming true after all."

"She dreamed about getting back together with him, didn't she?" Xander nodded in understanding.

"Yes." Any further conversation was halted when Buffy and Angel re-entered, hanging onto each other as if they were joined at the hip.

"Guess what!" Buffy was openly crying.

"Angel has his soul back?" Spike drawled, enjoying the look of disappointment on the Slayer's face.

"Uh.... yeah." She looked at Giles. "How did you.....?"

"I told them." Willow explained. "Well, I had to." she said defensively when Angel glared at her. "When Buffy screamed, Giles looked like he was about to start staking someone."

"We forgive you." Buffy mock-pouted. "This time."

"So, does this mean you will be staying with us?" Giles asked.

"Wild horses couldn't drag me away." Willow stood so Angel could sit by Buffy. This put her in the seat next to Spike.

"So, what was destroyed has been restored, what was sick has been healed, and heart and hand have been joined." Giles said, speculatively.

"Not really." Buffy disputed. "I mean, Anya and Xander's hearts were joined long before now."

"She's right." Angel looked to Giles.

"So, that means we still have to deal with the joining of hearts."

"How are we going to do that?" Xander asked. Suddenly, Spike yelped and glared at Anya.

"All right." he snapped. "But if you're wrong....."

"I'm not. Now go." she ordered him. He sighed dramatically and stood up.

"Come with me." he said and grabbed Willow's arm. Looking confused, she stood and followed him into the back hallway. There was silence for a few minutes as everyone tried to hear what was going on. All they heard was a squeak from Willow which was abruptly cut off.

"Now what?" Giles rolled his eyes.

"Why is Spike talking to Willow?" Xander craned his neck in a futile effort to see what was happening. "What does that have to do with the joining of heart..... oh, God!"

"Now, let's not jump to conclusions...." Buffy had a panicked look on her face.

Cordelia stood up and walked towards the hallway. She suddenly smiled and turned around. "I think we can jump now."

"Oh God...." Buffy jumped up and nearly ran into Spike and Willow who were returning to the others. Nobody missed the fact that they were holding hands and casting loving glances in each other's direction.

"This is bad." Xander joined Buffy. "This is so not good....."

"Xander...." Willow tried to explain.

"How could you?" Buffy asked. "I mean.... he's Spike!"

"You're one to talk, Slayer." Spike jeered.

"We're not talking about me!" Buffy hissed. "Get your hands off of me!"

"Quiet!" Everyone turned to stare at Willow. Willow very rarely raised her voice, but when she did, it commanded attention. "Look, I know that you all probably don't approve, but I don't really care. Spike cannot hurt me....."

".... and more importantly, I *will* not hurt her." Spike added. Nobody could remember him ever sounding so serious.

"Why should we believe you?" Angel asked.

"Because love transforms, clarifies, and enlightens." Spike replied. "You should know that." Angel nodded, but Xander wasn't so convinced.

"Where did you get that? It sounds like it came from a fortune cookie."

"He got it from me." Willow said. "You know, I think it applies to all of us."

"All right." Buffy reluctantly sat down, as did Willow and Spike. "But if you hurt her, your next date will be with Mr. Pointy."

"You'll have to stand in line." Angel said.

"Yes, well....." Giles was rather shell-shocked at everything that had just transpired in the past few minutes. "This afternoon, we found a spell....."

"All right then!" Buffy slapped the table. "Let's get it over with and go on with the rest of our lives."

And that, dear reader, is exactly what they did.

THE END

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