Okay, I kinda hate my muse right now. Instead of helping me write the next chapter of "Worlds Apart" or the next episode of "Season 9" or even the next chapter of "The Slayer and His Vampire", she gave me this. Which I adore in spite of the annoying lack of help with the other three stories. But at least it means the muse and I have both recovered from the crazy stress induced by potential tuition evilness this past week, as that has now been resolved and all is right with the world. Anyway! This is another one in the same sort of vein as "Destiny Thwarted By a Wish", since it focuses on someone dearly (though only temporarily) departed. Initially set in between seasons five and six. Enjoy! Also, I thought the whole "nothing has form" thing about the way Buffy described Heaven was kinda lame, but I sort of stuck with it.
Disclaimer: Nope. Still not mine.
By the way, this chapter is supposed to be called "In Memoriam", since I'm really having fun with the whole Latin thing at the moment, but you won't be able to see the chapter title until I post chapter two, so I thought I'd clear that up now.
Heaven was beyond anything Buffy could have imagined. Not that she'd really ever given it much thought, strangely enough. Everywhere she went, she felt the kind of comfortable warmth that only seems to exist in front of merrily lit hearths on Earth, and the beauty of the place was beyond description. There was no threat of danger here, no press of urgent responsibility. That was over. She was safe. She was finished.
She had been welcomed back into her mother's arms. She had seen the grandparents who had passed away before she could remember, and the ones she had known, and cried about for days when they were gone. She had seen her cousin, Celia, who was amazed and delighted to see her so grown up.
It was a long time—years perhaps—that she wanted nothing more than to remain here with these people she loved and who loved her. With them, she was content; at peace; home. But eventually, the love she felt for others who were yet among the living tugged too insistently at her soul to be ignored. She needed to know that they were well.
This desire was no secret, though she had expressed it aloud to no one. Strange how speech didn't seem to matter as much here. She didn't know what she needed to do, but a young girl—no older than Dawn, it seemed—was waiting to show her. There was something vaguely familiar about this girl, but Buffy would have time to figure that out later. For now, she needed to see the ones she had left behind.
The girl took her hand, and then they were there. In Sunnydale. The hearth-like warmth had come with them, surrounding them like an invisible blanket—or perhaps it was coming from them? Either way, it was a great comfort. Buffy didn't want to be reminded of how cold and harsh it could be there.
The scene she saw surprised her. Much more time had passed than this, surely. She was looking at her own funeral. There were no other graves in sight; it seemed that they were burying her in a forest clearing, rather than a cemetery. She let out a merry laugh when she read the inscription on her headstone. The strangely familiar girl who had brought her there smiled.
Six mourners remained. With more difficulty than she had anticipated, Buffy moved her gaze to each of them in turn. The tears on the faces of everyone she cared about were the closest thing to physical pain she had experienced since jumping into that portal. She wanted to tell them that she was right beside them, but knew they would not hear.
Dawn shook with silent sobs. Giles had his arms around her in place of the father who should have been present but was not, but he seemed seconds away from breaking down as well. Willow and Tara were on their left, crying and holding each other. Xander and Anya stood to their right, Xander's arm around Anya's shoulders. Anya was staring at the mound of earth so hard that it seemed she thought she could force an explanation out of it. The corners of Xander's mouth were twitching, as though he was remembering the good times and laughs against his will.
Buffy wanted to know if she could do anything to comfort them. A touch on the shoulder? The girl beside her nodded. Buffy took her time, moving slowly among them. When she reached Xander, she saw his resolve break for a second, and a genuine smile broke out across his face. It was gone as soon as her fingers left his shoulder. Dawn and Giles also seemed less anguished when she was near them, and she lingered at their side for several long minutes. Like the other three, Willow and Anya appeared to be slightly less miserable while still oblivious, but Tara drew a sharp intake of breath that was mistaken by the others as a sob, and her eyes passed exactly over the place where Buffy stood. She gave a watery smile, then twined her fingers more securely through Willow's and returned her gaze to the grave.
Though they could not see her and only one of them seemed to know she was there, she could not bear to leave yet, so she stayed. The sunny day passed as if in a trance, and eventually they had all gone except Dawn, who declined all of their offers for a ride home—a home that was empty now, apart from her. That thought saddened Buffy more than anything else had that day, but she knew the others would not leave her sister alone in that place.
The sun set, and Dawn was still there, as she herself had still been there long after their mother's funeral. It was strange to remember how sad she had been, how afraid and alone she had felt, now that she had been reunited with her and knew that all was well. And then, just like that day, the final mourner was joined by another who could not have come sooner, and the almost-pain in Buffy's heart intensified tenfold to be so near and yet so far from these two dearest and most grief-stricken loved ones.
After a moment, Dawn looked around and saw Angel. Many different emotions flickered across her face, and then she flung herself towards him. For a very long time, they hugged tightly, holding each other up as they shook with grief and tears. Buffy looked at the girl still standing at her side, and was slightly surprised to see the same sadness she herself felt on her face as she looked at Angel. It struck her then how very similar this girl's features were to his, and how their eyes and hair were precisely the same color. More than ever, she wondered who this girl was. It was easier to think about that than the man she almost gave her life for and the sister for whom she had succeeded in doing so.
After the hug ended, they still clung to each other, and eventually they broke the silence with halting conversation. Dawn spoke words of gratitude that he had come and he attempted to offer words of comfort, but mostly they just held onto each other without speaking, until night truly fell, and Dawn went home. Buffy took her place at Angel's side and willed with her entire being that he would know she was there. She stood on the tips of her toes and kissed him on the cheek, thanking him for what he did for Dawn. She was tempted to think about what her final two years might have been like if he had remained in her life, but she forced that thought away. She had wondered that too many times already. It was always both painful and fruitless, and often caused her to think ill of him, which was the last thing she wanted now.
Though that particular train of thought had been successfully derailed, she could not stop herself from boarding another; one almost as full of wistfulness and regret as the first. She had only known him for four and a half years, including the two they had been apart. How well had she really gotten to know him? Everything had always been about her. It suddenly occurred to her how many opportunities to learn more about him she had wasted. She had only been on Earth two decades, so why was it that her life was the one that had always seemed to come up in their conversations? Her worries about school, her goals for the future, her grief for her mother. And when it was about him, it was only about what he was; the things he had done without a soul—how none of that mattered to her no matter how much he thought it should. But what about the rest of it? Why hadn't she asked him?
The girl who had guided her there was watching her now, rather than Angel, who she so resembled, and she seemed, as before, to know exactly what she was thinking. Buffy was struck by a sudden idea. Was the present the only thing she could see here? Did time really matter anymore? The girl smiled and held out her hand. Buffy looked at Angel, then back at the girl, and placed a hand in hers. The cemetery vanished around them.
A light, warm breeze ruffled the leaves on the trees around Angel. His forehead creased slightly in confusion, and he touched his left cheek, which somehow didn't feel as cold as the rest of him.
I nearly cried writing all of that grieving there. It seemed fitting to me that Tara would be the one to sense Buffy's presence, because she's amazingly empathetic and in tune with things like that, which is one of the things I love best about her character. But after I wrote that, I wondered what that would mean about Tara's participation in the resurrection spell, but then I figured that after a summer of seeing Dawn hurting so much from the loss of her sister, and being the empathetic person she is, she'd still want to bring Buffy back for that reason, if she could. And I totally got the idea for Dawn and Angel's shared grief from one of Kairos Impending's most recent fics, but go read everything else she's written while you're at it, since it's all awesome. Anyway, the first one to guess who the girl accompanying Buffy is gets an imaginary cookie, as does the first person to guess where they've gone. Also, any guesses on what the story title translates to in English?