To One in Paradise (Chapter Thirty-One)

Willow stepped out of Dawn's room, reeling. Dawn was okay with her and Angel. More than okay, Dawn was actually almost excited about it.

Oh sure, Willow hadn't told her that she and Angel had… after all, it wasn't like she was going to tell Dawn all about Angel's tryst with Darla. But Dawn had been eerily calm anyway, sure that Willow was hard at work on some magical solution to the curse problem and blithely confident that everything was going to be just fine. The closest thing she'd come to even mentioning the Buffy factor was when she'd squeezed Willow's hand and said it was important to go on and be happy. That that was what Buffy would want.

Happy? Willow didn't know what she felt for Angel, but it didn't make her happy.

A wave composed of fractured memory and the echo of warning after warning – those wonky 'Angel feelings' now sharpened into terrifying clarity – washed over her and she wondered how she could still breathe; why wasn't she drowning in it?

It felt like her life had spun completely out of control. Or, more accurately, that control had been wrested from her – that, for all her magic, she was a puppet now, being jerked around by forces that saw her as nothing more than a pawn in a larger game.

Forces that had been reshaping her world since Buffy leapt from the tower.

Tara.

Giles.

Dawn.

Willow.

How had all of this happened? Or maybe she should be asking whyall of this happened. Was it because it was so important for Angel to be here that nothing else mattered? Or was she being melodramatic and even narcissistic and delusional?

She should go downstairs, maybe talk to Xander, find out what he thought about what had just happened to Dawn, but she felt cowardly and also incredibly unsettled, so she decided to go hide in her room.

Unfortunately, the universe stood fast against her still. Opening the door to the bedroom, she gasped as she saw it wasn't empty.

"Angel."

He stood up from the bed where he'd been sitting. Again she was struck by how large and imposing he was, this dark presence which dominated her life.

"I think we need to talk. Don't you?"

"The whelp and his demon chit are gone," Spike said as Dawn came down the stairs. "Angel went upstairs a few minutes ago." He wasn't sure why that was the first thing he said – or maybe he was. Dawn's eyes held that odd mixture of innocence and knowing, little girl sweetness blended together with ancient wisdom.

He wasn't the only one to blurt something out. "Spike, do you like me? I mean like like me?"

Part of him wanted to pretend that he had no idea what she meant, mostly because she was too damn young to mean what she was talking about. He should have done a better job of concealing his feelings. But now that the cat appeared to be out of the bag, well, he owed her honesty and respect. "It's complicated, Bit," he replied, and that was true enough.

'Complicated.' That was the favorite word of every adult Dawn had ever known. She wanted to ask why, but she didn't. Maybe everything really was. Maybe the older you got, the more tangled up everything got. For the first time, she wondered if she wanted to be a grown-up after all. Except… even though she didn't remember anything before becoming who she was now, she was technically thousands of years old and everything still seemed pretty simple to her – not always easy, but simple.

Was it weird that she didn't quite understand what she meant by that?

"Because of Buffy?" she asked, figuring that had to be a big part of the whole 'complicated' thing. It always was, wasn't it? Buffy was beautiful and brave and strong and she was the Chosen One. Dawn was… well, she was a seer now. Would that help? Could it be enough?

Because she realized that deep down she'd been in love with Spike for what felt like forever.

"Partly." Spike took her hand, looking at her like she was an adult who could understand things. It was nice. More than nice.

"Does that mean you just like me because I'm…"

"No!" Spike's voice was low, but as stern as stone. The fact that she thought he might… "I care for you. It's got nothin' to do with her. But I'd be lyin' if I said I was over all the grief…or that I didn't feel bloody guilty for lettin' you into my heart so soon." Dawn's eyes held him fast and there was no turning back; he kept talking. "You're still so young." She was about to say something and he was pretty sure what it was, so he cut her off. "Buffy was a Slayer, and Slayers are a different breed. The duty they have, the almost guarantee that they'll die while they're still girls… That's not you, Dawn." Her eyes widened at his use of her name and not a nickname. She got that he was deadly serious.

"But I'm a seer," she argued, her teenage petulance adorable – and full of answers. She 'liked' him back and it made his dead heart soar.

"I know you're a seer now and that changes some things. But it doesn't change everything. And one thing that it doesn't change is that you're not ready for what goes on between a man and a woman." Leaning in, he planted a soft kiss on her forehead and to Dawn it felt every bit as romantic as any of those kisses in the movies. "You need to grow up, sweet girl. When you're 18 – if I'm what you want – I'll…"

"You'd wait for me?" Dawn asked, her eyes filling with tears that were both happy and sad, frustrated and hopeful.

"'s not so long, pet. Not for a vampire."

It seemed like forever to Dawn, and she wondered if… "Are you just saying that?"

Honesty – it was still the best policy, but he hoped she would understand. "I can't say I won't take some comfort here and there. Would be lying if I told ya I could manage that. We can't all be Angel," he said, even as he knew that last bit wasn't true at all anymore. Apparently so did Dawn, because she snorted.

"Oh please. I know all about him and Willow."

Hell's bells, had Willow spilled her guts upstairs? "Didn't know you'd heard the news," he offered carefully, wary of her tricking him into revealing the whole story.

She snorted again. "Oh please. Like it's not totally obvious."

Spike was sure now: his girl was playing games. She knew something, but she didn't know everything – and she wasn't gonna hear it from Spike. "He fancies her. Has done for awhile. She might fancy him back as well." He fought back a chuckle as he saw Dawn's eyes narrow and her mouth set in a tight, frustrated line. "It's none of our business, pet. Not unless they want it to be."

It was all she could do not to stamp her foot, but Dawn got it; she did. This was part of that growing up she was supposed to do, wasn't it? Being a seer – it changed a whole bunch of things, but she realized that Spike was right about some stuff. Maybe she was young in a lot of ways. She could get over that, though. She could. And way before she turned 18 (not that she'd say that to Spike - no, she'd let him see it for himself). "I'm gonna go to bed," she said. "I'm kinda tired and I should probably be well-rested for all this vision stuff."

"It's a big responsibility," Spike agreed. He was looking at her in that special way again, the way that made her tummy tingle.

"Spike?" she said softly before turning to go. "Can I ask you for something?" He nodded and she breathed in deeply, trying to be brave. "Would you… could you kiss me?"

Bit's request took him aback. He should say no, should tell her that when he'd said 'wait' he'd meant wait for everything, but he couldn't. If he was honest with himself, he'd admit that he wanted to make sure she knew exactly what she had to look forward to if she threw over any silly teenage swains. So he pulled her to him and kissed her. It was a soft, gentle kiss and he didn't allow himself to taste what lay behind those sweet lips, but…

It was amazing. It was fireworks and rainbows and all that stuff that the romance novels Dawn had swiped from Buffy had ever said a kiss could be. And he hadn't even used his tongue. Imagine what it would be like when he did. Imagine what it would be like when… was it hot in here?

"G'night, Dawn." Spike let go and went to the door. He needed to leave. Now.

"You better wait for me," Dawn said. "Because I'm yours. I am."

"18, Bit. 18."

"My 18th birthday," she affirmed and he stifled a groan. Not trusting himself to say any more, he made his exit.

Tonight it was a difficult thing, leaving her. But he realized he could handle it tomorrow and every day thereafter. Because she'd said it. She had. She was his. And all right, maybe he'd never been known for patience before, but it was different now. He could wait.

She was worth waiting for.

The world after Buffy – it wasn't so bleak and horrible after all. "Rest in peace, luv," he said softly to the night sky. "Everything's all right."

Okay, a minute ago she'd actually meant it about going to bed, but now… How the heck was Dawn supposed to sleep? She'd kissed Spike! Spike had kissed her! And he cared about her, wanted her – like real guy-girl wanted – and he'd promised to wait for her. It was even more cool and special and wonderful than being a seer, though that was really wonderful, too.

She almost danced up the stairs to her room. No, she probably wasn't going to get much sleep, but she still wanted to be alone with all her happy thoughts.

For a split second, she felt guilty for how happy she was, but she flashed back on what she'd told Willow. It had been the truth. It had. Buffy would want them all to be happy. "I love you," she said, hoping that somehow her sister could hear her. "And it's all right. You can be happy in Heaven now. Because we're okay."

She lay down on Buffy's bed for what she decided would be the last time. It was time to let go. Tomorrow she'd get Angel to help her move the bed into the basement or something. If he wasn't busy with Willow. She giggled and stared up at the ceiling. It looked like a starry sky; at least it did to Dawn. A bright, beautiful night sky. She made a wish on one of those stars. And what do you know? It had already come true.

Anya followed Xander into the apartment they called home. "You know, you're really good at all that manly construction stuff. I think you should build us a house."

Xander chuckled. "I don't think Giles is paying you enough for that. I know I sure don't make enough."

"Why not?"

"First I'd have to buy the land. Then all the materials. And hey, I've never designed a house before. I might need professional help."

Anya was dumbfounded. "You have to buy the land? And materials? Why? If you're going to do all the work of building a house, it should practically be free."

"It doesn't work that way."

"Well it should," Anya groused. "I thought Americans were all about that pioneer spirit and homesteading and things like that."

"And we were. Until the real estate people and Home Depot stepped in." Xander was pretty sure history was actually a lot more complicated than that, but Willow had done all of his history homework and that pretty much took care of any attention he had ever paid in class.

Willow. "There's something I should probably tell you," Xander started. Anya went into the kitchen and he waited until she came back to the living room carrying two sodas. He sat down on the couch and she joined him.

"Is this that thing you and Willow talked about and didn't tell me?" She sounded less peevish than he'd expected, though it was obvious she was sort of ticked off.

"I couldn't," he explained. "Not until we were alone."

"Oh." She furrowed her brow for a moment. Then she got that 'light bulb' look. "So she and Angel are having sex."

"No!" he replied. "No way would Willow risk unleashing Angelus."

"Maybe they're having oral sex." Once again Anya succeeded in creating images in his head he wished weren't there.

"I'm sure they aren't," he said, with a lot more conviction than he felt. Not like Willow had looked him in the eye when she'd said it had just been a couple of kisses.

Anya was about to argue, but she saw the pained look in Xander's eyes. Tact wasn't her biggest virtue, but she could cultivate it for Xander's sake. Tonight – seeing how fragile and lost he'd been in the backyard when he'd thought he wasn't special – it reminded her of just how much he meant to her and how much she'd do to make him happy.

It was time to change the subject.

"Well, she is a pretty powerful witch, so no matter what, I'm sure we'll be safe," Anya pronounced cheerily. "But hey, speaking of sex… all that disgusting vegan food we ate earlier has me thinking about my favorite meat." She reached over and put her hand on that very thing, just in case Xander needed help figuring out her euphemism.

It didn't distract him the way she'd hoped. "What do you think Buffy would say? I mean if she knew that Angel was already making the serious moves on her best friend?"

"But she doesn't know. She's in Heaven, or whatever place Slayers go when they die saving the world from hordes of trans-dimensional demons."

Anya's logic was sound; Xander had to admit that. Still… "What if she does, An?"

Her hand moved to close around his – somehow that was a lot more comforting than the naughty touching. "I think she wants us all to be happy. She isn't here, Xander. Not anymore. I don't think she expects Willow and Angel to be lonely and miserable forever."

Xander thought back to the haunted look in Willow's eyes when she'd told him her fairy tale about Angel. He hoped it was because she'd feared his reaction and not because… He closed the door in his mind on any dark thoughts. "You're right. She'd want Willow to be happy. Because hey – she's in Heaven, right?"

"Right," Anya affirmed. "Now can we please have sex?"

Xander chuckled lightly before pulling his fiancée in for a kiss. Wherever Buffy was, she was happy. It was okay for the rest of them to be too "Yes, we can have sex."

"Dawn seems happy," Angel said, even though talking about Dawn hadn't been his intention. He decided to ease into discussing the matter of his and Willow's relationship instead of hitting her with it immediately. She looked tired and fragile and he adapted his manner to suit.

"Yeah. She's pretty excited about the whole seer thing."

"Is that what she wanted to talk to you about?"

"Uh huh." But there was more to it. He could hear it in the slight pause before she spoke. To his surprise, she told him without urging. "She knows. About us. I mean, not everything, but… but she figured out that there's stuff going on."

Cautiously, he ventured a question. "What did she say?"

A part of Willow almost wanted to lie, but it was pointless because Dawn would give the truth away. Still, she couldn't bring herself to reveal Dawn's enthusiasm. "She's okay about it."

Even that made Angel smile, blunt human teeth whose gleam somehow made her think of his fangs. As much as she didn't want to think about it, being alone in this bedroom with him... She remembered those teeth closing around her nipple, that mouth moving down her body. Her thoughts – they changed her scent, didn't they? Angel would know. Great.

"I'm glad." A long pause. A silence that stretched into infinity before Angel spoke again. "I know this is hard for you," he said, all kindness and understanding. "It's been hard for me, too. All the loss, all of the changes. But they're not all terrible, are they?" Arms around her now, cool and strong.

"Is Cordelia okay?" Willow blurted out, amazed at herself for even thinking about the former owner of the visions Dawn had been given.

It was just like Willow to be concerned even about someone to whom she'd never been close. He gave her a version of the truth. "Wesley's with her. It'll be an adjustment but I know she'll be all right. At least now she can focus on her acting career again." His tone wasn't dismissive, but there was no undercurrent in it either and he did nothing to encourage further discussion of the crew he'd left behind.

Willow's scent… she'd been thinking a moment ago, and not about Cordelia. Angel decided that there had indeed been enough conversation tonight. Tomorrow they could discuss the necessary practical adjustments involved in him being a permanent member of the household along with those necessary for Dawn in her new role as seer. For now…

He tilted her face up, staring into her eyes for a moment. She didn't try to pull away. So he kissed her.

There were so many things Willow wanted to say, protests she wanted to make. Again, she thought of Buffy. Tonight's events had turned Willow's life into Buffy's dream – fighting evil with Angel by her side, in her home, in her family…and in her bed. Willow had it all.

But despite her body's eager response, despite her own weakness and willingness to let Angel keep her loneliness at bay, this wasn't Willow's dream come true at all. She knew that she was paying dearly for the sin of accepting what Angel had to offer. And it wasn't in the easy coin of soul-loss and an ensuing demonic rampage on the part of her lover. Oh no. The toll was hers to pay and hers alone.

Visions of Tara swam before her eyes, the way things had been before Glory had stolen what Willow realized was so much more than Tara's mind.

She would never have that again.

Angel's hands were working the buttons on the back of her dress and soon she felt it slide down her body. "Beautiful," she heard him say. There was nothing for her to say. She let him divest her of her bra and panties, watched him disrobe.

He was beautiful himself; she admitted that. A model of perfection too unreal to truly exist. But he did. And a moment later, they were on the bed and Angel was inside her, taking her to the heights of ecstasy even as she hated herself for robbing Buffy's grave. She hoped Buffy was in Heaven, too caught up in the joy of her reward to even think about the life she'd left behind. But Willow missed her. And she wished Buffy was still here. That was selfish, though, wasn't it? Because Buffy had served and sacrificed and she deserved peace and comfort and freedom. One thing had not changed. One thing never would. Willow loved Buffy. Platonic though it might be, that love was deep and real and forever. She hoped it somehow made up for the love she'd stolen. 'Be happy,' she called to her departed friend in the depths of her mind before Angel's skill made thought impossible. One of them should be.

Angel drove himself over and over into the welcome heat of Willow's body. Buffy wasn't the only one who'd received a gift, was she? No she wasn't. All the years he'd spent in degradation, the centuries in Hell, his attempts to atone… it wasn't meaningless or insufficient as he'd feared. No, it was…not enough, certainly – he'd never stop atoning – but it was enough to earn him more than he'd ever dared to dream.

He had family now, in Spike and Dawn, and he had found love with Willow: truer, richer, and more passionate love than he'd ever known. If the object of his love didn't quite return those feelings yet, well, that would come in time, and time was now utterly and completely on his side.

He let go, losing himself in the sensation of his flesh moving against and inside Willow.

Buffy might be in Heaven, but Angel was in Paradise.

The End.