Angel had a flood of memories and feelings hit him as he looked down at the younger Summers child. He couldn't believe how much she had grown over the past several years. He couldn't believe she'd never get older now, either.
He and Dawn had always been close for as long as he could remember. Until he and her sister split, anyway.
He could hardly believe her young life was taken from her. He'd watched her get sick, get better, and repeat many times... but there was still no preparing for this.
Angel forced himself away. He turned around, sucked in a breath, and walked over to the fallen girl's family.
Joyce sat on the edge, Buffy was holding her hand. Parker sat beside her. Then was Hank's new wife, someone half his age, and then Hank himself.
Angel bent to hug Joyce, who let go of her daughter's hand to grab him and hold him tight. "Thank you for coming," she whispered, crying harder.
Angel kissed the older woman's hair. "Of course I came, Joyce. And I am so, so sorry," he told her softly.
"She'd be so glad you were here."
Angel pulled back. "I'm just sorry I wasn't here earlier."
Joyce continued to hold his hand.
"Is there anything I can for you, Joyce?"
She shook her head. "Just stay for a little while, if you can."
He bent to hug her again. "Of course."
Angel stayed until about thirty minutes until the visitation was meant to be over. He took a seat on the other row of pews, sat in the middle-back. People from his past would float in, some saying hi, others sitting down to talk for a few minutes. But for the most part, he was left alone with his memories.
When he did get ready to leave, he wanted to let them know but there was a big group gathered around the family. Buffy had noticed him though, and silently the message was told. She whispered into Joyce's ear, who then turned to wave at him.
He returned with one of his own, gave Buffy another look, then turned around and left.
That night, Angel found he couldn't fall asleep again. He paced around the hotel room, several times over, tried to read, tried to watch some random things on the tv, but he gave up. Sighing, he grabbed his jacket from one of his bags and went to go drive around for awhile.
It had sprinkled just a bit earlier. Everything had a nice, wet shine to it.
Angel drove around town, not really caring of what roads he took or what direction he'd go in next. He stopped to get a cup of coffee and a donut, then drove some more.
He ended up a little outside of town, pulling into the large parking lot of the fairgrounds. He wasn't exactly surprised to see another car it the lot, nor find her seated on a bench just outside of the gate.
Angel sighed, parking his rental. He got out, locked it up, then walked over to her. Buffy's head turned and she looked up at him, but nothing was said. He sat down beside her and reached for her gloved hand and they just sat there.
Angel didn't know how long they'd sat there, but the sun started to rise, and they remained.
"She loved it here," Buffy finally spoke.
"Every time, it was like the first with her. From the screaming, the joy of riding the rides, walking around... just taking it all in, the look on her face when you gave her cotton candy... it was always... just pure joy."
Angel felt tears stinging his eyes. He knew exactly what she was talking about. He'd seen it, more times than he could count.
"She missed you, you know," Buffy spoke again after another long bout of silent sat between them.
"I missed her too. I thought about... many times... it just never felt right."
Buffy looked down at her hands. "That's what she'd say. She missed you before that though, too. When you'd be away. She always did."
He remained silent.
"I'm never going to see her after today," Buffy whispered. She began crying and Angel wrapped his arms around her.
"I should go, get ready for everything."
Angel nodded, joining her in standing.
"I'll see you in a few hours then?"
"Yeah. I'll be there."
Angel had a hard time still falling asleep, but he managed to sneak in a few hours.
When he woke, he dressed for the funeral, then went to the diner across the parking lot to grab something to eat before heading back to the funeral home.
He felt his left hand start to shake as he went through the door, re-entering the room from the night before. He clenched and unclenched it several times.
There were tons of people already here. Music was playing. The number of flowers had tripled, at least. He could see his at the end of the casket.
Angel took several deep breaths as he walked by the pews again, and on up to where the young lady's body slept. He had tears falling as he looked at her.
"Hey, again, Dawnie," he whispered.
The ceremony was nice he thought.
Joyce had insisted he sit in the row behind them.
A video had played over Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" of Dawn and her family. For once, he didn't mind the Titanic theme. The photos left not a single dry eye in the room.
Beautiful words were spoken, songs were played. Goodbyes were said.
They went to the cemetery in a long train. Police had even escorted them.
It was cloudy, but the rain didn't fall.
The casket was closed as it sat, awaiting to be lowered.
More words from the preacher were said. The family all put a single rose on top of the casket. Dawn's best friend, Janice, grabbed a handful of dirt as her friend started to go.
Halfway down, Joyce had let out a strangled cry. Angel had barely made it to her in time before she hit the ground. He held her as she screamed for her baby.
It all seemed like a blur to him from there.
He held Joyce, even lowered both of their bodies to the ground, keeping his arms around her. She screamed, she cried. She cursed God. Her hands slapped at him, the gripped him. She cried until her voice was raw.
Parker had helped him get her back to the car when it finally felt right.
He'd left, ended up back in the hotel room somehow. He didn't quite remember.
Angel stared at the walls, feeling numb. Seeing her... for the last time... it hit him harder than he'd even thought. It made all more real somehow.
Angel woke up to knocking on his door. He woke up, rubbed his eyes. He was sideways across the bed. He didn't remember falling asleep.
The knocking came again so he forced himself up to answer it.
Buffy stood on the other side. She was drenched and muddy. The two stared at one another for several minutes before he stepped out of the way to let her in.
Angel shut the door, then turned. Buffy stood in the middle of the room, dripping.
"She looked beautiful."
Angel leaned against the door. "She did. She always did."
"Mom's falling apart."
"Can't blame her for that," he said softly.
"I'm trying to be strong for her."
"Nobody expects you to be, Buffy. You lost her, too."
Buffy remained silent. Just standing. Then she crossed the room to go use the bathroom.
Angel knew something bad was going to happen.
And sure enough, when she finally came back out, Buffy's wet and dirty clothes were no longer on her body. Instead, she was wrapped in one of the towels from the bathroom.
Angel looked away from her. "There's a laundry facility somewhere here. I can go put your clothes in the wash if you want. I have some extra clothes, too, if you want to put something on in the mean time."
Buffy tucked a strand of hair behind her ear then stepped forward. She was biting her lip as she got closer.
When she reached the bed, she untucked the towel and let it pool down to the floor.
She climbed onto the bed.
"What are you doing?"
"Come here," she whispered.
"I can't do that."
"Yes you can. Come here."
He wasn't joking. His legs wouldn't let him.
Buffy climbed back off of the bed and walked over to him. Her hands slid up his shirt, began unbuttoning it. She slid it off of his shoulders, down the ground. Next, she began on his belt.
Before he knew, Angel stood naked before her.
"You're married now, Buf," he reminded, her hand reaching back out to him.
"He's not what I need right now, Angel."
"We can't do this."
Buffy kissed him. She started tugging him towards the large bed.
Angel knew better, he knew he'd never recover if he went with her, but he also couldn't help himself at the chance.
She was gone when he woke up. She was, her things were. There was hardly a sign she'd been there.
He wasn't ready to face the day, or himself, just yet so he closed his eyes and let sleep take him under once more.
The next time he woke up, he stood, went to the bathroom, showered and got dressed. He repacked his things, returned the key to the managers office, grabbed a quick something to eat.
Angel drove through the cemetery but didn't go in. He could see the area where Dawn had been laid to rest from the graveled road. He sat staring at it, saying another silent goodbye to the young girl.
Checking his watch, Angel knew he needed to go. He had a flight to catch.
But on his way, he ended up taking the opposite direction.
"I need to talk to you," he said once the door opened.
She swallowed then stepped back.
"I think this needs to be more of a private discussion."
"Nobody else is here, Angel. It's just me right now."
He hesitated then entered.
"Are you here to tell me last night was a mistake?"
Angel looked around. It was slightly different in here than he'd remembered from years before.
His eyes landed on several framed photos of Buffy and Parker.
"Why did you do it?"
"I already told you... I just... last night..."
"No. Not last night."
"Why did you leave me?"
"Let's not do this, please?"
"I don't deserve to know?"
"It doesn't matter now, Angel. What's done is done."
"It matters to me. I've spent years wondering."
"Why? Because I was in love with you. Because I was planning to spend my life with you. I got sent off overseas and the only good thing I had to look forward to was as soon as my boot touched back down on US soil, I was coming home, for good, to you. You and me were going to get married, start a life, have a huge family. And you just suddenly decided to take that away from me. And I never knew why or what the fuck I'd done."
"You didn't do anything."
"You and me were happy, Buf. We survived deployment before. It was hard. Me being stationed out of state was hard. But I did my damnedest to make this work. You know I did. And this was the last of it. I was going to come home, be free to live our life. You'd be out of school, I'd have money saved up, I'd go back to school. We had a plan."
"I wrote to you. Just about every day. I sent you presents home whenever I could. I called you any time that I could. Then, one day, out of the goddamn blue, I'm calling my girl. She answers and tells me that it's over. She ignores me as I call and call her, email her, write to her. A month and a half later of stalking the piss out of her, she tells me again it's over. She tells me I need to get over it and move on. She tells me to move on because she has. She asks me to leave her alone. I don't listen. I continue to try and get in contact with her any which way I can. Fuck, I have my parents get involved. You won't ever answer me but they... they find out the whole story. You sure as fuck were moved on alright. You were already engaged, and then on down the aisle two months later. So excuse me, but yes it still bothers me. I don't know what the hell happened."
"It was a complicated time, Angel."
"You think that I don't know that? You think it wasn't for me too?"
"That's not what I'm saying."
Angel sighed, running a hand down his face. He leaned down until he was sitting on the stairs. "Just tell me, Buf. Please?"
"I don't know what to tell you, Angel."
"Why did you leave me?"
"Because... I was lonely. And you weren't here. And someone else was. Is that what you want to hear?"
"How long were you seeing him? After I left? Before?"
"After. I only even met him after."
"What happened, Buf?"
She sighed, sliding down the wall to the floor. "I don't know. Angel, I was young. I was still even in high school. You and me... we've been together as long as I can remember. I don't even know how we got together, I'd just been your girlfriend for forever. My first memory that I can bring up is of you and me. You'd been half of my life, half of me. And then you joined up... and you weren't there anymore. And it was hard. Really hard. Especially this last time, though I don't know why. Maybe because I'd gotten used to you being gone. Maybe it was things with my age. Maybe it was how long you were going to be gone. I just... I missed you. And I needed to live a little. I wanted to be distracted. I wanted to go out and have fun, not sit by the phone night after night in case you might call. I didn't want to stare at the television all day and night wondering about you, worrying about you. I didn't want to be sick and dazed all day as all I could think about was you."
He set his jaw. "Okay. Fine. You wanted to sew some wild oats. You were having a hard time. Why not just tell me that?"
"Because I felt ashamed about it."
"It was hard. And I know it had to be on you. But we could have worked it out."
"And a maybe wasn't even good enough to even chance it? And hell, Buf. Fine, you wanted to try something else out for awhile. Okay. Did you have to marry the douchebag?"
"Things just happened, Angel. One day I met him. He spent weeks chasing me. It felt nice. To be chased, not just had. And it just kept spiraling into one thing after another. And he was like you in a lot of ways... with the sweet gestures, the showing up at midnight, the jokes. And he was here. And it felt nice. And I was stupid."
"He make you happy?" he asked after a long pause.
"Sometimes?" he asked with a snort.
"So glad you threw us away from someone who makes you 'sometimes' happy. Such a smart choice that was, Summers."
"She hated me because of it. Dawn did. God, you know how much she loved you. She'd spent the last few years telling me how much of a mistake I made when it came to you. Hell, that last thing she said to me was related to it. Of how I should have never hurt you."
Angel's hand floated above the doorknob.
"You made the wrong choice. You came to me last night, Buffy."
"I know," she whispered.
"He's not what you want. He never will be. He never even was. And you know that. You should have waited for me. I would have given you the fucking world."
"I know," she repeated.
"Dawn wrote me a letter. She told me she didn't have long. Her dying wish was for me to forgive you. And I wish to hell and back that I could."
"Maybe I will someday. Maybe I'll find it in me to. But that day isn't today. I do wish you the best, Buffy. I still believe you deserve it, even after all you've done. Maybe I'm not the one for you, but I would have tried. Parker's not. Maybe someone else is out there. But you need to cut this settling for less than you deserve shit out. He either gets on the ball or you leave him, you understand? You don't get to go on having left me for this bullshit. You leave me, you had better make it the best thing this word has ever seen for it."
With that, Angel opened the door and headed for the rental car.
"Is it too late?"
Angel sighed, shutting the door he'd just opened. "For what?"
He sighed again. He placed his hands up on the hood of the car and leaned his head down. "I told you I would wait until the end of time for you. So far, that still remains true."
"And if I ask you to stop?"
Angel sighed. For a second there, he almost had hope.
"I have to go, Buffy. I'm going to be late."