Disclaimer: Joss and David G. (and now Marti Noxon) own all these characters and storylines, you know the drill. Joss, Joss, Joss—what's the Numfar of it all?
Note: Normally, I let Joss and Co. clean up their own messes, but I've just got to contribute to the post-"Gift" angstfest. Joss made me cry like a little girly girl. Be warned: this fic is plot-free angst, angst, angst, angst, angst. You should get out now, while you can. Really. I'm not kidding.
Note II: Fine. Be that way. Just remember: I warned you.
Note III: Many, many thanks to Tanja Kinkel and Gyrus, my betas.
Elegy for a Fallen Heroine
Willow had been sure she'd run out of tears. There had been so many since that moment when she and the others had seen Buffy's body lying broken on the ground. It was an image that would forever be seared into her mind, like so much over the past few years.
Only this one was worse. So much worse than anything else.
It was a tableau, like the kind her drama teacher taught her: Buffy's body; Giles, looking at his worst nightmare come true (a father lost his child); Xander, in total shock (failure to receive data; please re-send); Anya, cradled in his arms, too dazed to understand (but she did later, and how she cried); Spike, howling, howling like someone had ripped his heart out (it doesn't beat, but it just broke); and little Dawn coming down from the tower, stumbling, soaked in her own blood, wailing and calling Buffy's name like she was trying to wake her sister up . . .
And Willow had cried. Cried so hard Tara had to hold her up. Cried until she threw up, and she couldn't even stop then.
She thought she'd cried all her tears out.
But now, she saw Angel.
He saw her.
She heard her name.
And just like that, the light in his eyes was gone. He had known someone, perhaps even Willow, would be here someday to tell him exactly what she was about to. They'd both known, but it didn't make it any easier. Not for him, not for her.
"I-I'm sorry," Willow stammered as she stood. "I'm so sorry, Angel. I'm so sorry."
Angel gave a minute shake of his head, as if refusing to hear.
"She's dead, Angel." Willow heard herself say the words, and then the tears started again. Sobs shook her body, and suddenly, it was only Cordelia's arms that were holding her up. Willow pressed her face into a velvet-covered shoulder and cried so hard, so hard, like she would never stop . . .
"Bad things happen here, too," a soft voice with a Southern accent said.
And Angel just stood there.
When the tears finally stopped, Willow was back on the couch. Cordelia was with her, her own face wet with tears, and the two girls were literally holding each other up. Willow wondered abstractedly what Cordelia's harem girl outfit was all about.
Angel was there beside them, not speaking, not crying, just staring.
"What . . . how did it happen?" he asked in a rough voice. "Tell me everything."
Gunn appeared, bearing a glass of water for Willow. She murmured a thanks and took a few sips, then set the water down. Gunn was looking at Angel, eyes clouded with worry. So was Wesley, standing by Angel's side. Angel didn't look like he saw anything.
Angel knew of Glory and of Dawn's true nature, so Willow began her story with the Hellgod's torture of Tara. Gunn brought in a box of Kleenex to help the young witch through that portion of the story. After she pulled herself together, Willow told as much as she could of the flight from Sunnydale, Glory's kidnapping of Dawn, and the final battle. Cordelia rubbed Willow's back a little as the witch spoke, and the Seer's heart was in her eyes.
When did that happen? thought Willow
"The funeral—it's tomorrow night," Willow told them at last. "We knew you'd want to be there, Angel, and Spike's gonna be there, too, but I hope that won't be a problem, because he really did help us. Please come."
"I will," Angel said, voice soft and hollow.
"How's—how's Dawn?" Cordelia asked. Dawn had once spent a weekend with the group she called the "Fang Gang," and she and Cordelia had become friends.
"She's . . . not okay. She only talked once, when Giles was talking about Buffy's h-headstone. She said she wanted it to say Buffy saved the world a lot. Now she's not talking, or crying, or anything. We don't know what happened to her up on the tower except she was hurt, and she's not talking, and none of us can help her." Willow made herself stop talking before she could start crying again. After a moment, Wesley spoke up.
"We'll start out," and he looked outside at the growing morning light, "this evening. Wait for sunset." Angel looked at him. "I knew Buffy too, Angel. So did Cordy. We should go, too." Willow realized they weren't going for themselves; they were going in order to take care of Angel. "Gunn can take care of things here for a few days. In the meantime, Willow—why don't you rest?"
"She can use my room," said Angel, still hollow. "Take her up there, would you Cordy?"
"C'mon," Cordelia ordered gently, helping Willow to her feet. The young women went upstairs together. Willow was so tired she could barely move, but when Cordelia made her lie down in Angel's bed and pulled the covers over her, the witch didn't sleep. She laid there shivering and occasionally dozing off. Every time she did, she would see Buffy's body again and wake.
One of those times, she opened her eyes to see Angel, freshly showered and tugging on a shirt, in the room with her.
"Angel?" she called.
He turned around, looking at her, eyes dark. "Willow. Are you okay? Do you want anything?"
All Willow's pain suddenly overflowed at those words. "Yeah, I want something. I want to wake up and find out this was all a bad, bad dream. I want Buffy to be alive and slaying, and Dawn to be just a normal, sweet kid, and Joyce to be alive, and Xander to have his job and his girl, and me to have my schoolwork and my girl, and Spike to be obnoxious but helpful, and Giles to—to not be all dead inside, the way he is now. That's what I want. Can't I just order it up? Can't someone please just make all this go away? Please?" She was crying again.
Angel moved a little, as if he wanted to comfort her but couldn't. Willow sat up, pushing the covers off and wiping away her latest tears.
"I want that, too, Willow," Angel whispered.
Willow suddenly felt awful for speaking to him that way. "I'm sorry." She stood up, crossing to the vampire. "I'm really sorry, Angel."
He shook his head, telling her it was all right. "Thanks for coming, Willow."
"I just . . . I just thought, you know, that you should hear it from a friend," she said.
As she looked into his empty eyes, her mind suddenly flashed to Cordelia, lying impaled on the floor of the old factory. Angel's eyes had the same look Cordelia's had then: something so bad had happened that his brain couldn't go anywhere near it for fear of realizing how badly he'd been hurt.
Without thinking, Willow put her arms around him. After a moment, Angel hugged her back just a little. Willow held onto him as tightly as she could, fearing that if she let go, he would fall apart.