AN: First and foremost, it is important to remember that no matter how this begins, this story is AU. That will become glaringly obvious soon enough, but just be forewarned. Second and final, this was written last spring, around the time of TDOU, and was left mostly unfinished and unedited until a few days ago when I came across it and felt the urge to finish. I hope you enjoy it or are open minded enough to read it through to the end before making a decision.
Disclaimer: I do not own HSM.
Lay Him Down To Sleep
"And now I'm glad I didn't know; the way it all would end; the way it all would go."
-The Dance, Garth Brooks
Gabriella Montez's last day in Albuquerque had perfect weather. Lying on her stomach, her face buried in her folded arms, she felt the sun burning into the skin on her expose shoulders. For once during the last few months, her thoughts were clear and while grief still wrung her heart, her soul was at peace with her choices. A slight breeze swept across the open area and rustled the blades of grass beside her face. A small smile flitted across her lips and she bit her lip as she turned her head to the side and opened her eyes.
Golden beams of light spread and danced along the lawn, the sunlight broken by the shadows cast by rows of headstones spaced evenly around her. Tilting her head, her eyes caught the inscription engraved in the granite stone nearest to her. Twisting so she could prop herself up on one hand, Gabriella brought her other hand to rest, feather light, against the smooth surface. Her fingers traced the name and the words below. May the angels take him home, she read for the hundredth time, her gaze dipping to catch the date of death that was less than a week ago.
It pained her to think that he was truly gone. She was past the stage of denying it. She was no longer shocked to enter the house and not be greeted by him from the couch. When her phone rang while she was at the grocery story, she didn't answer it thinking it was him only to be greeted by someone else. Instead, she tried to move forward. The passing months hadn't prepared her for the finality of his death. It had seemed sharp and sudden; ripping the air from her lungs when his brother had told her. Even now, no longer angry or in denial, she mourned her loss.
Her fingers brushed against the petals of white roses left by another as she memorized every detail of the grave marker. Closing her eyes, she leaned her forehead against the cool surface and sucked in a trembling breath. Footsteps sounded behind her but she stayed the way she was. Seconds ticked by before she turned so that her cheek rested against the headstone and her eyes opened to give her a view of the road several yards away. The rusted white truck sat on the path beside the wrought iron fence, the sun glinting off the faded paint and curved hood. The person behind her shifted, anxious and unsure.
"You're going to miss your flight," he told her, his voice catching on the last word as he followed the movement of her fingers against his brother's name.
"You don't have to drive me," she said softly, her mind on other things, "I could have taken a cab to make things easier."
"Nothing is going to make this easier," he replied, swallowing the lump in his throat and willing himself to stay strong. "Please let me do this, Gabriella. Give me one more hour."
Still sitting, Gabriella turned to look over her shoulder and found herself looking into eyes the color of sapphires. They were so clear she could feel herself falling into their depths. Her gaze danced along the familiar lines of his jaw and forehead. The perfect cheek bones and the lips she had kissed countless times. That thought had once made her giddy all over, but time had wrought it into a feeling of guilt for what she had dumped on his shoulders. Sadness washed through her as she realized he was her final connection to this place and the boy in the ground.
"I told myself I wouldn't cry if I saw you today," she told him with a watery smile as she dashed a hand across her damp cheeks. "I don't deserve to cry for you."
Sighing, he dropped down beside her and used his arm to pull her to his side where she let silent tears escape and dampen his shirt. She had broken his heart a thousand times over and yet he loved her still. She loved him too, he knew, but it was flawed and stretched beyond repair. They had been happy once, cocooned in their private life thousands of miles away at college before one phonecall ended it all. She had sacrificed what lay between the two of them to make someone else happy and he wanted to hate her for it. He wanted to, and he would have, had the other person been anyone but his brother.
"You made him smile even on his last days," he insisted, letting his fingers play with her curls as he remembered, "No one but you could do it, and for that you deserve to cry for whatever you want."
"God, I miss him," she whispered harshly as if other visitors could overhear her. "So, so much."
"I know," he replied, letting his chin rest on the top of her head as she stared across the cemetery lawn towards the white truck he had driven to retrieve her. "I do too."
"Do you ever try to make sense of it all?" she asked, trying to ignore how he knew all the right things to say. His brother was dead. It should be her comforting him and not the other way around.
"I thought you believed in fate and destiny; that everything has a purpose or some higher meaning," he answered, looking down at her and feeling his chest hurt at the thought that she was leaving within the hour. "Are you second guessing that?"
"No," she said quietly, shaking her head, "But sometimes I'd like to know what the deeper reason was for all of this. Did I meet him to meet you? Or did I meet you to bring me back to him? Or was it something bigger than me finding someone to love? Is it to show us something so much bigger than that?"
"There's nothing bigger than love, Gabriella. He used to tell me that all the time and I know now he was right." The wind teased at a strand of her hair and she reached to tuck it behind her ear. The spark that used to be there when they touched was gone as her skin rubbed against his.
"How can you not hate me? After everything, how can you stand to talk to me?" she lifted her face to watch his and she gasped at the amount of emotion in his eyes as he tried to think straight. Sighing, he looked away, over her head, towards the truck.
"You loved him. Stop thinking I could ever hate you for that," he told her, running the back of his hand along her cheek for the last time. "I could never hate you for anything, but especially not for that."
"Sometimes I want to hate him for leaving; for not fighting harder," she whispered, "But I just can't."
"Me too," he agreed, letting the silence seep in around them.