"Maybe I'm not crazy
Just inconsolable."

"Inconsolable," Jonatha Brooks


Just to make things clear: I'm not going to kill myself. I know that was the first thought on the minds of a half dozen people. Hell, not the first thought, all of them had a lot more to think about. But the moment their brains intersected the thought of Buffy and the thought of me, I could almost see the stampede to keep me from walking into the sun. And none of them even knew about that Christmas morning that I tried it. At least, I don't think they do -- I have no idea what Buffy may or may not have told them at the time or in the two years where I barely saw her.

I considered it almost dispassionately. When the first wild grief passed and I could think again it was a comfort, the bare fact that I could do something. I could make the pain stop.

But I didn't, and I won't. Not because I have so much to do in the world still. I've been around too long to put too much faith in prophecies; too many times, if the prophecy gets screwed up, there's another one to take its place. Take my place. I'm hardly the most important one in the scheme of things.

Not because it would hurt the people close to me -- and damn, that's a cold thing to say. It's funny -- in a strange, non-laugh-inducing sort of way -- to know that. If I immolated myself, staked myself, swallowed a gallon of holy water and imploded... it would hurt people.

The simple reason I'm not killing myself is that it wouldn't do any good. Buffy would still be dead. So what's the use?

They're all in the Summers' house, every one of them. Even Spike, which bewilders me. I want to be angry about that. I was angry for a few glorious seconds when I was prepared to rip Spike's head off and...

But the anger's faded out of reach. Emotions are chancy things. When I felt angry, I didn't feel this soul-deep weariness that's beyond grief.

I couldn't bear to be around them, all of them. They were, to varying degrees, treating me like the most wounded, the most bereaved. As though I wasn't eight generations older than most of them, and hadn't lost more than they could ever comprehend. As if I hadn't left Buffy two years ago, of my own will, on my own volition.

I couldn't stand the pressure of their sympathy, the weight of their pain. So I fled. Ran away. I caught Cordelia's fleeting look of worry and ignored it. I couldn't deal. Didn't want to deal, I admit it. What's the point?

They buried Buffy just after sunset, early enough that it was still light in the sky, but late enough that I could attend. And Spike as well, I assume. I would have given anything, anything at all, if they had just buried her at high noon so I had a good reason not to be there, witness it.

I've seen Sunnydale a few scattered times in the last two years. Tonight, when I walk through it, it's to the accompaniment of memories. I was here less than three years, if you subtract the unnumbered term in hell. In the grand scheme of my life, it's hardly worth mentioning.

That doesn't stop the memories, though. Floods of them, sharp-edged and vivid. Good and bad and every shade in between. All of them cutting through the layer of numbness that I am desperately trying to build around myself.

So it makes no sense that the place I go to escape them all is the cemetery, the freshly turned grave. Although it doesn't look fresh; there's no sign of the clichéd mound of turned earth to mark the spot where the newly deceased has begun her final rest. It's an old-fashioned habit from my day, when flimsy pine boxes or winding sheets didn't support the earth above the decomposing body. With modern mortuary science and structurally sound coffins, they no longer have to prepare for that eventuality. The grave is finished with layers of sod over it to make it blend in with the rest of the cemetery, so it looks like Buffy has always been dead.

"Wow. Brood boy." She sits on her headstone, kicking her heels against her birthdate. Her hair is pulled up in a high ponytail, making her look ridiculously young. She wears a silver cross and a silver claddaugh ring and an expression of mischief.

I lean back against a convenient tree within a few feet of the grave. "Give it up. That lost its sting about the two hundredth time you said it."

She shrugs and hops down, tugging her short skirt over her thighs. "It's true. And I haven't said it in awhile."

"What are you doing here?"

"I'm not really here," she says patiently. "I'm a figment of your over-active imagination."

"I kind of guessed that."

"Then why'd you ask why I was here? It's kind of up to you why I'm here."

I can feel myself helplessly smiling at her. "How come even dead you're annoying me?"

She smiles back, that sweet smile she give when she was trying to comfort. "Because we know each other way too well."

There isn't really much to say to that. She doesn't approach me, and I can't approach her. Even knowing I am imagining this, she seems so real, and I can't bear the thought that I can put out my hand and not be able to touch her. Or is the thought that I can touch her worse?

As if she can read my mind -- and since that's the only place she exists, I guess she can -- she crosses the newly laid grass to my side and takes my hand. Her fingers are faintly cool in the night air, with living warmth under the skin. "I'm here," she says quietly, "because you were there for me when I really, really needed you. I wanted to... return the favor."

"Even though you're the reason?" I ask, an edge of bitterness creeping into my voice.

Her eyes were calm and clear as she nods. "Even though. I did what I had to, Angel. I wish... I wish a lot of things."

My hand tightens on hers convulsively. "What do you wish?"

"I wish I'd been faster, that I'd gotten to Dawn before... before. I wish that Mom hadn't died, that Dawn didn't have to lose both of us so close together. I wish that we'd never had to give back that day in L.A."

"I wish I'd been there for you," I say hoarsely. "Oh, God, Buffy, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, they told me and I didn't listen, but I couldn't let... Cordelia was..."

"Sssh." Buffy stands on tiptoe and lays her finger on my lips. "Angel. Come on, listen to me. There wasn't anything you could have done. I never called you, never asked for help, so how could you have known?"

"Why didn't you call me? You couldn't have known I wouldn't be there, so why the hell didn't you call me?" God, anger, flaring through me until I want to shake the slim body next to me, throttle the non-existent life from her.

Her lips curve again, sadly. "I didn't want to put you in danger."

I shake my head, sure I'd heard that wrong. "What?"

She shrugs, a gesture I've seen a thousand times if I'd seen it once, that defensive admission she'd been wrong.. "Glory was a god. We didn't know if we could stop her. If you'd been here... She couldn't harm Dawn for her own reasons, but she'd hurt you to shake me. Besides, if I failed, I needed you to be able to stop what she'd started." She looks up at me, her neck arching because she's standing so close. "I needed you to do what I couldn't."

I give up, and take her in my arms. She feels real. She sounds real. She even smells real. I can indulge in the fantasy for awhile, keep the pain at bay.

We barely speak through the long night. Just sit, curled together. There were a hundred times that we had done this, mostly accompanied by frenzied lovemaking throughout the night. But this time, we simply are, closer in death than we had been in life. It isn't until about half an hour before dawn that she pokes me in the ribs. "Gotta get going. We don't want you to go poof."

I groan and climb to my feet. With a charming smile, Buffy holds up her hands and I boost her to her feet. She wraps her arms around my neck and rests her body against mine, trustingly, completely.

When I lean down to kiss her, it is like the first time. The question, the hesitation, and then the passion, flaring out of control, burning everything around us.

When I opened my eyes, she was gone.

The cemetery was empty. The grave was full. And there was nothing I could do.

I turned my back and walked away from Buffy's grave. It wasn't hard.

In some ways, it was the easiest thing I've ever done.


"And I'm haunted
By the lives that I have loved
And actions I have hated
I'm haunted
By the promises I've made
And others I have broken
I'm haunted
By the lives that wove the web
Inside my haunted head."

"Haunted," Poe



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