Title: Respects
Author: gleefulmusings
Beta: mysterious_daze
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel the Series, post-Not Fade Away. Comics disregarded.
Character: Buffy Summers
Rating: FR-13 (T)
Warning(s): Spoilers for the entirety of both series; canonical character death.
Distribution: Please ask first. Please do not screencap this story, save it to hard drives, exchange with others, or translate into other languages without written consent.
Feedback: Con-crit is always welcome; flames are ridiculed and put on display.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, lyrics, etc. are the property of their respective owners. Snippets of dialogue may be incorporated from the original canonical episode(s) and belong to their respective authors/creators. The original characters and plot are the property of the author(s). The author(s) is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended, nor should any be inferred. No profit is being made.

Summary: Once Scooby visits the grave of another.

"It shouldn't be me who's here with you. Hell, you're probably as surprised as I am.

"It should be Xander, of course. Sometimes I think it would have been easier if he had answered the phone when Angel called, then he wouldn't have had to hear it from me. He could just have just yelled and screamed and blamed the big bad vampire instead of listening patiently through my stuttering oration and half-assed eulogy. It had been a long time since I'd last seen that dead look in his eyes.

"Now, it's all I see."

She grimaced.

"His eye. Damn. Sometimes I like to pretend it's Halloween and he's just wearing part of a costume, that his eye is still there and he's just playing with us. Easier than remembering part of him is lost because of me.

"It should have been Willow who told him. It should be Willow who's here with you now, not me. At least you had a history with her. You and I only had three years of barbs, whereas you and she had almost your whole lives. It...shouldn't have come from me.

"You know, they say that if you grieve continually for seven days, you get it all out of your system, and then you can move on. Xander's been grieving for seven years, and I don't think he'll ever stop. He doesn't know that I can see the tears behind his eyes, the ones he never shows.

"His eye.

"The tears I put there.

"He doesn't know I can see them, that I've always seen them; I just don't acknowledge them. If I did, I'd have to admit to myself just how horribly I've failed him, all of them. Countless times. I'm not ready for that, yet.

"I know what you're thinking: it would have been easier for meif he heard had it from Angel."

She sighed.

"You're right, I know. And I bet you're sitting up on a cloud somewhere and just laughing your ass off that I finally admitted you're right about something. You were right about a lot of things. I just didn't want to see it, then.

"There was a lot I didn't want to see. Like how much you loved him.

"I did see it eventually, though, but not until it was too late for the both of you. I saw how much he loved you, and I hated you for that, because he was mine first. He was mine in a way he could never be Willow's, and you took that from me, and I hated you for it. Then Faith was his other first, and I hated her for that, too.

"He's so lost now. I don't know what to do for him. There's no one who can tell me what to do, how to help him, because they never understood the two of you either, just like they never understood he and Anya. Sometimes I think you had your own secret language. Willow has one with him, too, but it's not the same, and different from the one he had with Anya. Now, he's left alone with his memories and his heart in pieces.

"The words are gone.

"Maybe it's him. We all know about the demon magnet thing, but sometimes I wonder if he has some kind of inner mojo that just draws strong women to him like moths to a flame. Me, Willow, Faith, Anya, you. We're all so different, and he loves us all differently. You think it's weird that, with the exception of me and Willow, we all hated each other?

"I never really hated you, you know. Resented you, sure, but never hated. I actually liked fighting with you, because you were a worthy opponent. When Willow and I have words, it's only a matter of time before she gives me the quivering lip and the soft eyes, and then I'm done; it suddenly doesn't matter that we've tried to kill each other before.

"It's painful with Xander because his words always hit a little too close to home; what makes it worse is that then he feels guilty, because he never intends to hurt me. You did, though, and you didn't care. I respected that.

"I miss that.

"It was hard watching him grieve for Anya. We couldn't help him; he wouldn't let us. He knew we never liked her. The fact that she never liked us seems to have escaped his attention, but grief works in mysterious ways.

"Maybe we never gave her a reason to like us.

"We all grieved for her, though. At the end of the day, she was one of us, part of the whole, and she died so that we might live. Part of us died with her. She deserves to be remembered and honored.

"Now he grieves for you and, though he won't say it, I think it's worse this time. He and Anya at least had some measure of closure. But he looked up one day and you were gone, and with Angel, and I think he just pushed all of the pain and hurt he caused you into the back of his mind, letting it sit there and fester for five years. He never really got over you and, from what Angel's told me, you never got over him, either.

"It makes me sad. I can't be with Angel, and I should never have been with Spike. But you and Xander could have been together. Maybe not forever, but at least for a while, longer than the time you had. You could have been happy. You both deserved that.

"I'm not trying to make light of his relationship with Anya. He loved her and I know she loved him. Sometimes though, it all just seemed so convenient, like they just kind of fell in together, whereas you and Xander had fought everything and everyone for your relationship. A love like that shouldn't have ended over one stupid kiss.

"When I think back at that night at the factory - well, when I think about what I was told - I don't know who to be maddest at: Xander, for breaking your heart; Willow, for instigating it; or you, for leaving him. Maybe I did hate you for that.

"I'm sorry we left you alone in the hospital."

She cleared her throat.

"I know he'll come when he's ready. I just don't think he's able to face the finality of it yet. For five years, you remained Queen C in his mind, frozen, and he's not ready to let that go. He's not ready to think of you as anything other than young and beautiful and vibrant. Alive. There's precious little he has left to hang on to.

"Sometimes I want him to leave so he can save himself. If he ever did leave, I would die. So I do nothing. I ignore him and pray that he won't go away.

"Willow's trying too hard, naturally. Sometimes it really shocks me how well he knows her, when she doesn't seem to know him at all, what he needs. I know she's sad that you're gone, and she wants to grieve with someone who understands, but she'll never understand what your loss means to him, and he can't explain it, and she just makes everything worse. He had needed her with Jesse, but she wasn't ready. So he learned to suffer alone and in silence. It was that way with Jenny, and then with Kendra. With my mom. With Tara. Now, it's all he knows.

"Am I babbling?

"I don't think it really hit Giles until I told him everything Angel said you had been through. For him, it's always been 'out of sight, out of mind'. Not that you meant less, but I think he took for granted that Angel would protect you from everything. When I left to come here, Giles was locked in his room playing Jefferson Airplane and mumbling. I smelled the cigarettes and the bourbon. I left him alone. I hope Willow does, too.

"I heard it in his voice when he called. Angel was in love with you. I don't know what to feel about that. I'm not mad. It's this weird mix of happiness, envy, and sadness. I'm glad he was able to move on, I'm jealous that it was with you, and I'm sad that you couldn't be with him any more than I can. He'll always be alone.

"Sometimes I wonder if that's all of our destinies.

"Giles never got over Jenny, even though I think he later fell in love with Mom. Then she was gone, too. Willow will never get over Tara, and eventually it will drive Kennedy away; the scary thing is, I don't think Willow cares. I think Xander will probably just give up. I know Faith has. Maybe Dawn can find some nice Normal to settle down with, someone who can deal with the in-laws.

"I could have had that with Riley, but he didn't hurt me enough.

"I can hear you rolling your eyes.

"So, I guess here come the regrets. Not all of them, of course, because there are far too many, but just the ones that have to do with you.

"I'm sorry I didn't try harder to be as close to you as I was – am– with Xander and Willow. I'm sorry if I ever made you feel like you were the lesser member of the team, because you were just as integral as any of us. I'm sorry I didn't come and see you when you were in the hospital.

"I'm sorry that for some stupid reason I thought getting Oz and Willow back together was more important than doing the same for you and Xander.

"I'm sorry I didn't thank you for saving me from that vampire during SlayerFest, and for not telling you how beautiful you looked at Prom.

"I'm sorry I didn't thank you for fighting your ass off at graduation. I'm sorry I never took the time to really sit down and talk to you the few times I went to L.A. I'm sorry for not keeping up with what was happening down there. I'm sorry I didn't have Giles do the research thing.

"And I'm so damn sorry you died the way you did.

"I'm sorry I took so long to tell you, but I have to believe you can hear me now."

Buffy gently traced with her fingers Cordelia's name engraved on the stone.

"You were my friend."

Reverently, she laid the bouquet of orchids against the marker.

She again got to her feet, blinking back the tears, as she absently wondered why they had taken so long to come. Slowly, as she began the trek back to her rental, her face was overtaken by a small smile.

"My friend."