Title: Last Link Rating: R warnings for suicide Summary: It's several years in the future and Buffy is dead, again but this time it's real. This time she's not coming back. Dawn holds onto the last link she has to her sister. A/N: Written for the Dangerous Woman ficathon for Tiarrajanae. It's not what I intended it to be but once the idea struck me I couldn't let go of it.

Dawn stares at row after row of empty coffins with dry eyes. This isn't happening. She's done this before and it's not happening again, she thinks. Only she knows it is happening. She's seen the body. She's signed all the forms.

"I-I think she'd like this one" Willow says softly and points to a white coffin with pale pink lining.

"It looks too big. I think it's too big" Dawn says.

"They are the same size, Dawnie" Xander says.

"Oh. The lining is nice" Dawn says.

"So this one is good?" Willow says.

"Why are they all the same size? People aren't all the same size. They should have sizes, like clothes. Don't you think? I just don't want her to-I don't know." Dawn says.

"It'll be okay Dawn. I think she'd like this one Willow says.

"Yeah, I guess so" Dawn says.

Willow goes over to speak to the coffin salesman. Dawn can hear them speaking in hushed tones. It seems to be the norm for a funeral home. She wonders what would happen if she screamed. Would the universe go strangely out of whack or would everything just shatter around her? She thinks it would all shatter so she whispers and makes tiny movements. This brittle shell won't allow anything else. She turns when she feels a hand on her shoulder. She smiles tightly at Xander.

"How you doing, Dawnie?" He asks.

She shrugs. It's a silly question really. How is she supposed to be doing? The last bit of real blood family she has is gone. That doesn't exactly denote okayness.

They leave the funeral home together. Willow and Xander talk in hushed tones about the funeral.

"Is there anything you want in the funeral?" Willow asks.

Dawn shrugs. "What ever you think is good."

She doesn't know why Willow and Xander are planning things. They weren't exactly a part of her life the last several years. Willow got involved in Kennedy, who is now past tense, and tried to leave all the magic behind. Xander never really forgave the incident that left him with only one eye. He said he did and Dawn thinks maybe he thought he meant it but tension remained and it eventually drove them apart.

For the last few years it has just been Dawn and Buffy. Now it is just Dawn. She swallows the tears that well up in her throat and looks out the window.

It is a short drive to the house. They live in Cleveland now. Xander pulls the car into the driveway. He opens Dawn's door for her and she gets out numbly. They walk up to the house as a group. Dawn hasn't been alone in the house since it happened. She craves the quiet. Everyone feels the incessant need to talk to her. They want her to cry, to scream, to wail at the injustice of it all. They don't understand if she starts she might never stop.

She sits down in the living room by the window and stares out. Willow and Xander are still discussing details on the couch. They think they can chase away the facts with details. They can make the world logical and orderly again that way. Dawn doesn't tell them the world will never make sense again.

"Dawnie, was there anyone you wanted to invite?" Willow asks.

Dawn stares blankly at her. "Do we send out invitations?" Dawn asks.

She's confused. She doesn't remember the details of Buffy's first funeral, maybe because she was younger then, too young to plan a funeral or maybe it was because she was numb from knowing her sister had died to save her life. Giles had handled all the details then. He had been so much more understated and quiet with the details. Willow and Xander seem to be treating this funeral like a party where you make a guest list and a menu, you buy flowers and pick what sort of music to play.

"No, honey, Xander and I will call them, let them know when the funeral is going to be" Willow explains.

"Oh" Dawn says and turns back toward the window. She watches the sun as it bleeds into the night and she remembers.

"We need to call Angel" Dawn says.

"Why? They haven't exactly been in touch the last couple of years" Xander says.

"Because she was wearing his cross when she-when it happened" Dawn says.

"So?" Xander says.

Dawn launches herself off the chair and runs up the stairs. She bursts into Buffy's room and rifles through the jewelry box on her dresser. She grabs a handful of jewelry and runs back down the stairs. She throws the fistful of crosses at Xander. They rain over him and fall at his feet.

"That's why. She was wearing his cross" Dawn says.

"Deadboy won't be able to come anyway. It's in the day time" Xander says.

Dawn stares at Xander and then shakes her head. She wonders if they made the funeral in the daytime for that reason. It could have been a night funeral. She runs up the stairs and shuts herself in her room. Xander and Willow weren't here. They didn't know that Buffy and Angel wrote letters sometimes or that when she slept, Buffy said his name. Sometimes she cried, sometimes when Dawn went in the room to check on her, she was smiling.

A couple of hours later under the cover of full dark, Dawn crawls down the trellis outside Buffy's window. She has a duffel bag over one shoulder and a backpack over the other. She's wearing an ancient leather jacket that once belonged to tall dark stranger and then to a tiny blond. It's a short walk to a main street. Dawn catches a cab there to take her to the airport. She sits huddled in the backseat and watches as the city of Cleveland goes by. It's not fair. They will never know they had a savior and most of them will never even realize they lost her. She'll be replaced by one of the dozens that she made but they'll never know they had the best one of all.

It's late when the plane lands in Los Angeles. Dawn catches a cab outside of the airport and gives them an address Buffy always kept in her bedside table along with a phone number. Dawn isn't sure if she ever called it or not. Angel wasn't something Buffy talked about kind of like you don't talk about air but you still need it to live. Dawn hasn't called the phone number. She doesn't know what she would say to him and she's afraid he'll tell her not to come. Once she's there she knows he'll take her in. He's changed since his last apocalypse so many years ago but not that much.

The cab pulls up in front of the ancient tumbled down hotel.

"You sure there's someone here?" the drive asks.

"Yes" Dawn says even though she's not. If she can't go here she doesn't know where she'll go. There's no place for her in the world anymore and maybe there never was. There was only the place Buffy made for her.

She stands in an overgrown courtyard in front of a door that is so covered in grime that the glass is opaque. Now that she's here she thinks she shouldn't have come but she also knows that she doesn't want to go back so she knocks on the door. She almost gives up when the door opens on protesting hinges.

He stands just inside the door dressed in shadows. He doesn't say anything, just steps aside and allows her to walk in. She walks in a circle around the hotel lobby taking it in. There are very few lights here and the few that shine are so covered in grime they have that blurry look, like soft focus. She wonders why he bothers with them at all. He doesn't need them and she knows he is the only who lives here now.

She trails her fingers over the curved reception desk, making tracks in the thick dust settled there, soaking in the silence he allows.

"She's gone" Dawn finally says.

"I know" he responds.

She turns and glances at him arching an eyebrow in askance.

"I felt her leave" he says.

She nods. He would have, she thinks.

He picks up the bags she dropped by the door and carries them up the stairs. She trails after him. He places them on the floor in a room that looks like it hasn't been opened in possibly years.

"I'm next door if you need anything" he says and then leaves.

She walks around the room looking at the cast off pieces of it. The bed spread is covered in dust but the sheets underneath are clean. She opens the windows but leaves the drapes shut to flutter in the breeze. She unpacks her bags putting her jeans and tee shirts in the drawers. She sits Mr. Gordo on the bed and drapes the leather jacket over a chair. It's funny the things a life boils down to. Buffy's had been a stuffed pig, a leather jacket, a book of sonnets, a ring and a cross, not much for twenty nine years of life.

Dawn watches the sun rise through a small crack in the drapes. The red bleeds over the floor and slowly lightens to a bright yellow and then to a shaft of pure light. The dust motes dance in it and she watches. She is surprised how empty she is, like a shell but of one vacated rather then one waiting to be filled. There is a knock on the door and she knows it's him. Logic tells her this but also something else a feeling, a low key tingle at the base of her spine, an involuntary quickening of her heart, gasp of her breath.

He opens the door but doesn't come in. "I ordered bagels for you. I don't keep food in the place."

She nods. He wouldn't. He turns to go and she follows after him to his room. There is a box of bagels sitting on a low table.

"I keep the rest of the hotel locked up. Your room-Dana is the only one who comes to visit me anymore. After everyone else was killed she remained persistent" he explains.

Dawn nods and glances around the room. It is relatively clean compared to the rest of the hotel. There are sketches of Buffy all over the walls. She nods to the sketches "Are these old or new?"

"A bit of both. I've always drawn her but when I felt her go-"he stops.

Dawn fishes in the pocket of her jeans and pulls out a tiny silver ring. She hands it to him. "Sometimes I caught her wearing it. She always had tears in her eyes. She'd take it off real quick and put it back in this special box beside her bed."

"What happened?" He asks.

Dawn shakes her head. She knows he expects her to tell him about a huge apocalypse like the one that killed all his friends. "It-just a vamp, not even an old one. He didn't try to turn her. I don't think he knew who she was."

"She was sick? Tired?" He asks.

Dawn shakes her head. "No, she just-I don't know what happened. She could have taken him. One of the new slayers got him. She-I don't know what happened, Angel."

He swallows hard and his eyes get a distant quality to them like he's not there. "Eventually the girl breaks."

"What?" Dawn asks.

"In all my years and expertise of torture I learned if you apply enough pressure, enough pain, over time, no matter how strong, eventually the girl breaks" he says.

She nods. "She was wearing your cross, lately she was always wearing it. I-she was-I left it on her." Dawn swallows the tears, fighting them back. She digs her nails into the palm of her using little pain to force big pain back.

He nods. "I was part of the reason she broke. Always wanting more, never being able to have more."

Dawn pauses. She knows he's talking about his soul and how Buffy was the one thing he could lose it over and then she remembers the look in Buffy's eyes when she talked about him, talked about the future they would have some day, always someday. "You were also the reason she lived."

"Twenty nine years old is a long time for a slayer" he says.

She nods. "Not long enough for a sister."

"I'm sorry, Dawn" he says.

She doesn't know why this causes her to break. He is not the first one to say he is sorry. Maybe it is because she knows he is the only one who has lost as much as she has. He is there to hold her when she sobs just as he was there to hold Buffy so many times. He cries silently. She can feel his body tremble with it.

He stands scooping her up in his arms and carries her to her own room. He sits down on the bed and she wraps her arms tighter around him. She buries her face in the crook of his neck. Her tears make slow, warm rivers down his cool skin. She is unwilling to let go of him. She doesn't feel empty wrapped around him. Her hands unwind from his neck and play over his shoulders. She rests one hand over his dead heart. She knows it is truly dead in more ways then one. Something inside of her aches to feel his cool skin against her own hot skin and it is deeper then lust, it is deeper then desire or grief or anything she has ever felt.

"Cold," she whispers "so cold."

He doesn't say anything. He closes his eyes and concentrates on the way she feels, like Buffy, like Heaven, like home. She smells like Buffy. He dips his head, never opening his eyes, and nips at the column of her neck. She tastes like Buffy.

She isn't sure how it happens oh she knows the logistics of it. She is twenty three. She's had other lovers before. She can't explain why it happened though. She only knows that something in her recognizes something in him.

She lays naked on the bed and watches him sleep. They hadn't offered explanations or platitudes of love to each other. There were no words spoken except for him crying out "Buffy" when he came. She trails her fingers over his tattoo and it seems she has done this a hundred times.

She gets up from the bed and puts on his shirt and her jeans. She wanders out into the hallway and leans over the railing overlooking the lobby. She finds a book of matches from the funeral home in her pocket, funny thing for a funeral home to have and then she supposes not. She imagines a lot of people smoke when they are upset or depressed. She lights one of the matches and watches it burn all the way down to her fingers. She drops it. She lights another and this time drops it over the edge of the balcony before her fingers get singed.

She feels him walk up behind her and she shivers. This is a new thing for her but then she supposes it is the first time she has been around him for real. The monks made all the memories she has with him in them. He leans next to her on the railing and watches her light the matches and toss them over.

"You feel like her, you taste like her, you smell like her. If I close my eyes you could almost be her. Why?" He says.

She swallows hard. She has been wondering why he resonates in her. She thinks she has figured it out. "Before she died the second time, Glory hurt me, hurt her and there was blood. Buffy mixed our blood and said it's our blood, Summers blood. I found out there was more to it. When the portal opened, a portal only my blood would close, Buffy's closed it. The monks made me out of her, her blood, part of her soul. That's why you feel right to me because it's not my soul, it's hers."

She trails her fingers over his heart and he stirs. He opens his eyes but looks away.

She asks a question she knows the answer to because she feels it's the responsible thing to do, like asking a guy if he's got protection. "I'm guessing perfect happiness..." she trails off.

"Was her and she's gone along with any chance I ever had at perfect happiness. You may smell like her, feel like her, taste like her but somewhere my soul knows you're not her" he says.

"No, just bits and pieces" she says.

"I'm sorry" he says.

"No, don't be. I'm not. You know why I came here don't you? Besides the whole her soul calling out to yours, you are my last link to her" she says.

He finally looks at her. "And you're mine."

She's been here almost two weeks. Buffy's funeral came and went. She didn't mind. She remembered Buffy's first funeral well enough. She doesn't need another reminder that her sister is dead. It haunts her just like it haunts this hotel and the vampire who lives in it.

"Dana will be here today" he says while he puts his pants on.

"Should I leave?" Dawn asks.

He shakes his head. "No. Dana and I don't have that sort of relationship. She just checks up on me. She says she remembers when I saved her. She thinks she's doing her part to save me."

"She doesn't know you're already dead" Dawn says.

"Exactly" he says.

Dawn gets dressed after he's gone back to his own room. She sits down to read some of Buffy's journals. In a way she feels voyeuristic but she doesn't care. She knows she should send these journals to the Watcher's Council. They could put them to good use but they would put them up on shelves, only interested in how she'd died, never how she'd lived.

Dawn is sitting in the courtyard watching the dying sun when Dana arrives. She smiles hollowly in greeting.

"Sorry to hear about your sister" Dana says.

Dawn nods. "Yeah me too."

Dana looks at her oddly. "I thought you were there."

"I was. I mean-never mind. Angel is inside."

Dana nods and walks inside. A pizza delivery man comes later. Dawn follows him in lured by the smell of pizza.

"I was hoping you'd come in to eat" he says.

Dawn nods and Dana looks between the two of them.

"So are you two..." Dana trails off.

"No, he's with Buffy" Dawn answers.

"Who's dead..." Dana says.

"That doesn't change anything" he says.

The silence lies uncomfortable between them. Dawn eats a piece of pizza and goes up to her room. She waits for him to come to her and she knows he will, not out of want or need but out of desperation. His soul clamors toward hers with an aching that is unbearable. She can feel her soul, Buffy's soul scrambling inside screaming to be allowed to join his. She wraps her self in a ball around a pillow and tears creep down her face.

He comes in sometime later and sits down on the bed. He rests his hand on her back.

"What's wrong?"

"This world hurts so much" she says.

"Yes" he says.

She turns over and curls into him. They sit in silence like that. The pain is bearable when he's there and she wishes it were because she loved him or he loved her. She knows it is only because her soul is not hers. It's his.

"I'm sorry you didn't get to say goodbye to her" she says.

"I'm not. We didn't say goodbye. I'd rather die then hear goodbye from her lips" he says.

She is in the bathroom when he finds her. Blood is already becoming tacky on the tile floor. He pulls her into his arms and she opens her eyes. She smiles weakly at him. He lowers his head to rest against hers. He sits there, holding her, listening as her heart slows and the blood ceases to flow. Finally her breathing stills. Angelus screams and whimpers inside of him. Their last link to Buffy is gone.