Leave Her to Heaven
Summary: Buffy’s funeral through the eyes of an unlikely observer
Rating: PG (for one f-bomb)
a line! Good, bad, and the ugly – I’d love to hear your comments
Author’s Notes: Written for the 2011 IWRY Marathon. Thanks again to Dark Star for another year of keeping the love alive. A special heartfelt ‘thank you’ to Jo for her terrific beta and for making me blush with her kind and encouraging comments J. A shout-out goes to Leena as a line from one of her stories inspired the gut wrenching devastation in Angel’s eyes. Quote by Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History.
Disclaimer: In my dreams... All characters created by Joss Whedon remain his copyrighted property. No infringement is intended.
They buried her on a Tuesday.
Surrounded by flowers and friends, and the ever-present demon lurking close by.
I spotted him at the far edge of the cemetery, just a hundred yards or so away, hidden by the cover of trees. Expertly fading into the shadows as only he can do, but easy enough to spot when you know what to look for, and well, I do.
From his vantage point, he watched solemnly as they slowly lowered the gleaming white casket into the cold, dark ground. I have to confess; I found this all rather strange – that she would choose to spend all of eternity trapped in a box.
After everything she had seen, everything she had endured, I would have thought she’d had enough of dirt and darkness. Too many nights spent sitting in this very same cemetery, keeping vigil at a fresh grave, waiting for a newborn vampire to dig its way out and rise. I thought when death finally greeted her, she’d want to be set free; free from the earthly ties that tethered her body and soul to this world. I would have expected her final wish was to be cremated.
I couldn’t help but laugh to myself at the sheer stupidity of my own thoughts. It would seem that by now I should know better than to expect nothing less than the unexpected. Much stranger things happen in our line of work all the time.
So should it really surprise me that she did exactly the opposite of what I thought she would do? Since the day I first met her, she was willful and insolent, constantly bucking the system. Time and time again she blatantly disobeyed not one, but two Watchers, to be ruled only by her heart.
And as I watched her grow from a girl into a young woman, she didn’t change much. She never did learn to follow the rules, but then again, I guess that’s what made her truly unique. She always did the unexpected. I certainly never expected her to die.
The rain earlier in the day left the heavens streaked with twisted shades of gray and black. Large, dark, ominous clouds hung low from the sky; their billowing forms obscuring the sun. Their presence on this day heralded the dark times ahead, but the warning went unheeded. For one man below could not see beyond the darkness engulfing him – a darkness to rival that of the sky.
The minister is rambling. Offering platitudes for a woman he didn’t even know. For all the crosses she wore, she never was one for organized religion per se. Oh sure, she believed in heaven and hell – hard to deny the existence of something when you’re seconds from being sucked into its depths.
“Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.”
Saved by love. Sounds nice, in theory. But looking at the pained expression on Angel’s face, I doubt he buys it. Love never did him any favors. Everything he loves dies. I wonder if anyone else thinks the minister’s words are meant expressly for him.
It’s so unfair really. To have fought so long and hard for a love that was never really meant to be. A chance meeting of perfect opposites: Slayer and Vampire — stalwart protector and vehement adversary. To have love blossom, then wither and die as the Powers with their other plans dealt them the final blow.
All Angel ever wanted was for Buffy to be happy and to keep her safe from those who would do her harm or worse, break her heart. Even if that meant protecting her from himself. Sacrificing his happiness for hers, he left so she could move on and find a better life — a normal life. He was trying to run away from something he couldn’t out run. And the pain followed. I thought that with time and distance they’d finally be able to put the pain behind them, only to realize now that it never had any intention of leaving.
It still hurts, even after all this time. We kept telling him that ‘time heals all wounds’, but it doesn’t, not really. He’s experienced enough pain in his unnaturally long life to know time isn’t some magical elixir; there are just some things that time cannot erase. The wounds never seem to heal; they just keep getting covered over by new scars. Another memento from the never ending battle between a past he’d die to change, and a future he’d kill to have.
Since Angel left Sunnydale, he’d been barely holding on to what little of his humanity he had left. If he was darkness, she was his sun, and without her, he’d lost the last thing in his life that resembled normal. The pain of that loss, of the little death he suffered every day, as those parts of his soul were ripped away over and over again, was the last human emotion I can remember him experiencing.
In those dark days, he truly was his own worst enemy. Constantly second guessing his decision to leave; brooding for hours on end about the ‘what-ifs’ ‘should haves,’ ‘could haves.’ But second guesses were his second nature. He knew it had to be this way.
The pain eased ever so slightly with the discovery of the Shanshu, giving him a renewed hope — some physical connection to keep him from fading slowly away forgotten, into the darkness. Fighting his way back from the evil threatening to consume him, he desperately clung to it as if it would somehow anchor him to her presence, when suddenly…it slipped from his grasp.
Soon enough the mourners left, and the heavens opened to spill their tears on the few that remained at her graveside. He emerged then, coming to stand next to Willow as she silently reached for his hand, his eyes unable to move from the freshly turned earth at his feet.
It’d been three long and lonely years since they’d really and truly been together – unless you count an ill-fated day in November, which he most certainly does not – but Angel was still quickly cast into the role of grieving widower. It wasn’t a stretch, by any means. He’s completely oblivious to the hushed whispers and sad looks of pity, and the almost palpable waves of hatred rolling off the tall man standing opposite him. Riley, the other ‘ex’, I think. No doubt blaming Angel for her death somehow, piling on the guilt he’s already needlessly carrying around. He may have broad shoulders, but even he can’t continue to endure that burden.
Flanked by Xander and Giles, Riley looks poised to fight, his actions driven by some misguided hero complex. Muttering something under his breath, his angry eyes shooting daggers, I could only imagine the invective. If Angel heard his words, he gave no indication. He simply stood, back ram-rod straight, gaze resolutely fixed on the stark reality of the fresh grave in front of us. He's retreated so far inside himself that there's nobody left at all.
He's been like that since the night we returned from Pylea to find Willow waiting for him, wrought with grief and eyes so wide and haunted. With each passing day he goes through the motions of ‘living’, knowing we’re all eyeing him warily. It’s been days of silent brooding, of seeing the loss and longing in his eyes, mingled with the steel of his resolve. It’s such a strange dichotomy really; he’s here but yet gone all the same. It's as if she took him with her when she died; his heart and soul are gone. It’s his body that hasn’t quite figured out that the jig is up. I keep thinking at any moment it’ll hit him– an eternity without her– and he’ll just drop to his knees and stake himself to put an end to the whole ugly charade.
Somehow, he keeps putting one foot in front of the other, mindlessly going through the days and nights. But inside, Christ, inside you can tell it's festering like an infected wound, slowly eating away at him – just like the loneliness and desperation that crawled inside of Buffy and hollowed her out.
She’d become distant and remote in the final months leading to her death. Unbeknownst to Angel, Cordelia kept close tabs on their communication, or lack thereof. It’s surprising what you can learn by simply opening the mail. Who would have thought we could garner a glimpse into their private world from our monthly cell phone bill. Through the call detail, she was able to track the demise of their relatively frequent calls – some lasting mere minutes, while others stretched long into the night. His last trip to Sunnydale for Joyce’s funeral signaled the end of their contact – not for lack of trying on Angel’s behalf. The calls dwindled until there was nothing but her number next to the time stamp. His last call, left unanswered, was recorded the day before she died.
That's probably what hurts him most of all, that he wasn’t there to stand by her side and fight with her; that he wasn’t there to die with her, for her. And the agonizing pain of realization that she was already so far gone that she never even asked for his help.
Seconds become minutes that threaten to tip over into an hour and still he stands at the foot of her grave and patiently waits. For what, I have no idea; absorbed by nothing more than the cloying scent of spring blooms layered over the all too familiar odor of death. For a moment I consider that he’s waiting for everyone to leave, so he can throw himself upon the mound of fresh dirt and sob out the years of heartache and despair. Cry for a life cut short and a love denied. Or maybe he's considering crawling in there with her. At this point, I wouldn’t put either past him.
I watch him a little bit longer, his emotions sickeningly seesawing from desperation to raw anger before landing on something akin to unadulterated panic. My eyes flash to Cordelia’s, hoping for some kind of sign on how to proceed. A small, sad shake of her head is her only response. I cough nervously, trying to cover my ineptitude. I didn't know the words that would be capable of easing his grief.
“She'll be missed, Angel,” I offer awkwardly. He looks like I’ve just struck him in the gut with the business end of his favorite broadsword, his face a study in miserable contrition.
Struggling, Angel finally speaks. “I thought,” his voice is lifeless, his eyes still not leaving the ground. “That maybe if I came here, I’d be able to still feel her somehow, like she wasn’t really gone. I thought that might give me some peace…some hope. I keep trying to tell myself that's she's not down there, that she's out here, somewhere. Waiting for me to find her. To help her. To save her.” His voice cracks on a sob because he knows his words are meaningless. Her death is a reality he can't face. Not yet. “But I can't seem to make myself believe it. Monsters don’t get to have happy endings.”
I reach out to comfort this man I now call my friend, and almost recoil at how cold he is – colder than normal. He’s like ice beneath my hand. "She isn't down there," I say deliberately, casting my eyes once more to her grave. "She's in here." I let my hand slip off his shoulder and lay it flat against his chest, above his cold, dead heart.
He glances down at my hand and then straight into my eyes. The pain behind those eyes is paralyzing. They're large and liquid, and wounded. I know this look; I’ve seen it countless times before.
"It's fucking empty in there, Wesley.” His voice is as flat and grey as the sky overhead. “I’m not even in there. Buffy sure as hell isn't." He angrily scrubs his face with his hands and then lifts his head; his eyes filled with the tears he’s been holding back all afternoon.
I’ve never heard Angel utter the word ‘fuck’ before; much less witnessed him shed a tear. I don’t know which is more unsettling. I want to tell him everything will be all right, but somehow I know that's not true. With her gone I fear things will never be all right for him again, and the last thing he needs is for someone else to lie to him.
A loud clap of thunder pierces the deafening silence. The unexpected sound causes me to blink, breaking my study of the man who was as still and silent as the abandoned monuments to the dead surrounding us. We stand like that for what seems like forever as the last of the rain finishes soaking us both.
The tears have drowned the hectic fires that burned there earlier. Now he looks weary and hollow and sad beyond knowing. This man, this warrior, who fought his way back from fiery pits of hell to re-join his beloved, is falling apart before our eyes.
"C'mon, Angel. Let’s go home."
The corner of his mouth lifts into what looks like an almost sardonic smile. "Home." The smile’s gone almost as soon as it appears. “I used to think home was wherever she was, that I always had a place in this world if she was near. Now I’m not sure if anywhere will be home again.”
I tug at the sleeve of his long, dark coat, gently pulling him towards the old iron gates leading out of the cemetery, Cordelia trailing silently behind us. “Come along then Angel. I don't have any desire to be haunted by Buffy because I let you catch pneumonia.”
Surprisingly, he laughs at my weak attempt at humor. He turns and follows me without further prompting, walking with slow and hesitant steps as we weave a path amongst the headstones. No one speaks as we make our way down the path to my car parked at the bottom of the hill; each of us lost in our own thoughts. We sit in silence for several minutes in the stale and humid air of the car, letting the A.C. run to slowly remove the steam built up on the windows.
"I wish I’d told her I still loved her – that I never stopped. Never," the familiar baritone cuts through the lull in the car startling me. "She was the only thing that ever truly mattered to me, and I never even told her."
I glance over at him, watching him watch the rain, his forehead pressed against the window. "She knew." My voice is soft, but certain. Seconds tick by with no response from him. His eyes have slipped closed, and I think for a moment he’s feigning sleep to avoid further conversation.
And just when I think he actually might have finally succumbed to sleep, he responds, his voice not much more than a whisper, "I know she knew. I just wish I would have told her." His voice slurs with his fatigue, and I can see him slumping in his seat as the days of sleeplessness finally catch up to him.
Cordelia reaches over the headrest from the backseat and strokes his cheek gently with the back of her hand. Like a mother comforting a sick child, she conveys through her soft touch what words cannot. He fidgets for a moment, uncomfortable with the tenderness of the gesture, but allows the consolation. The rain continues to fall as I put the car in gear and head back to LA.