D M Evans

Disclaimer - nope, not mine. They belong to Mr. Whedon but I'd kidnap a few of them if I could.

Rating - PG-13

Time Line - Post Not Fade Away

Feedback - yes please shovel a little on the mushroom.

Summary - Angel reflects on his losses and gains of the last eight years

Author's Note - This was written for the First Line challenge. This first line belongs to SJ Smith

I fell apart today. I wasn't alone. This could have waited, should have waited until I was stronger. My wounds were still trying to knit together, not an easy task since there was more torn flesh than not. I was still getting used to being alive and I owed that to Faith and Buffy, both of whom had those prophetic Slayer dreams of theirs.

An army of Slayers had joined the battle against Blackthorn but that didn't keep us from losing Gunn. Blackthorn meant to wipe everything about me off the face of the earth and had sent cadres after Lorne and Connor. Lorne died. Connor, well he was the reason I fell apart.

He made it through the battle just fine. I couldn't be prouder of how he handled himself. I just wished all the death around us hadn't put Cordelia in his mind. I should have just kept my mouth shut, waited until we were healed up. Instead I told him where to find her grave, hell I drove him to the cemetery. I needed to know as much as he did, if her grave had been damaged by all the battle. Large hunks of L.A. were still smoking.

The cemetery had a serene air about it, like nothing bad could possibly have happened. I led Connor through the garden of mournful angels to Cordy's grave. The headstone wasn't ready yet; engraving took time. There was just the cheap, cheesy metal marker. Cordelia would probably be mortified.

One day I'm going to learn how to do the Dad thing right, learn when to say yes and no. This should have been a no; we were too raw. I was okay until my son hit his knees, the flowers we had brought to plant for her spilling on the ground. I had meant to hang back and let him grieve. I had already said my goodbyes to Cordelia. All I wanted to say that Wes and Gunn would be joining her; Lorne, too. She wouldn't be lonely here any more. Sometimes I worried about that, as silly as it was. I knew there was nothing of her here but her grave was lonely. After she passed away, we tried to find her family. They had gone to Europe to live. Cordy had never told us. Her father put me in charge of taking care of things and no one bothered to come back to the states.

But this I couldn't just take care of. My son was lying in pieces on the ground. I never knew just how much he was like me, taking on guilt that wasn't his to bear. He hadn't killed Cordelia. Let Jasmine take that burden but I knew there was no way to tell him that so he'd hear me. I tried to break into his gut-wrenching apologies to her but I couldn't talk. He laid his soul out, covered with the stains of what he and Cordelia had done, wanting to take it all back, wanting for anything to have happened other than a belated death in childbirth.

All I could think of was what I could have done, should have done differently so this would never have happened. If I hadn't thrown Connor out, I would have known he was being seduced. If I hadn't let Cordelia just walk out, frightened and confused, maybe I would have seen the changes in her and saved her from the evil that took her. If only I had acted when I knew they were sharing a bed instead of assuming it was platonic, I could have stopped this. If I had just manipulated Connor into being in the room with us without tipping our hand, he could have seen for himself that something was riding Cordelia, making her do terrible things. If I had done that then maybe he wouldn't have snatched Cordelia away and done whatever it was they had done to bring about Jasmine's premature birth. If I had only been a better father, I could have stopped Jasmine from killing Cordelia and Connor from killing Jasmine. If Jasmine hadn't died, Connor wouldn't have gone mad. If I hadn't had to give him up, we would never have gone to work for Wolfram and Hart. If we hadn't done that, then maybe Blackthorn wouldn't have come. I would still have a prophecy to look forward to, my friends would be alive and I wouldn't be on my knees in the damp grass, laid low by all the 'what if's' of my life, the beautiful rose bush I had come to plant lying on its side next to me.

I have fallen apart once or twice before, when Darla had driven me out, when I left Buffy, when she died, both times I lost my son but never in public. Men don't cry; I remember my father telling me that as a boy. It's a lie. Oh, I've shed tears in public before, just a few, just those that escaped my control but not like this. If I actually breathed I doubted I could now.

I wasn't crying for Cordy, or even Connor, in spite of how much I wanted to crawl to him and just hold on and never let go. For once, I was crying for myself, for my losses. I was tired of being strong. Everyone needs to let go, to let the poisons out or the wounds will never heal. Two generations of my family lay crumpled and miserable in a cemetery with the moon watching over us.

I barely even jumped when hands touched me. I hadn't smelled their approach through my stuffed-up nose, hadn't heard them over our tormented cries. I found myself swept up in Buffy's arms. She rocked me, whispering soft words of comfort. Over her shoulder I could see Faith and Dawn had Connor caught between them. There was a soft glow bathing us and out of the corner of my eye I saw Willow surrounded by foxfire. The women had come to the rescue once more.

Finally, Connor and I were both emptied. I should probably feel embarrassed or like I needed to explain but I didn't. With these ladies, I wouldn't have to. Buffy helped me to my feet. Her little hand pressed against my chest, reminding me again of how I always tended to see her, fragile, doll-like, needing my protection even though I knew she didn't need it. Was it just old-fashioned of me or a disservice to her? Both? Neither?

"Thank you," I said softly, to all of them.

"Everyone needs a little down time," Faith said, giving Connor's back a rub. My son looked utterly raw. I doubted I looked any better. We were both shrouded in the greys of the night, of our pain.

"We were going to..." Connor trailed off, waving a hand at the flowers and the two trowels he had gotten from wherever the flowers came from.

"We can help," Willow said.

And they did. Together we transformed the area into something alive and growing. I'm not sure I had ever done that before, made something more alive. Well, outside of Connor and I hadn't done a good job of that. But now, I had time to work on that, to make things right with Connor at last. Standing all together as family, I could see hope, even here in this saddest of places. Together we would heal, grow, maybe even grow apart once more, but still stronger for having each other. There may be more days of wearing mourning grey but we would make it through, even if we had to come apart and be put back together. That's what family does.