Title: Holding Out For A Hero
Disclaimer: Not mine, not a one.
Synopsis: Honouring the dead.
A/N: Goddammit! Okay, this is a sequel to ‘Heir To The Heroes’, you know, the sequel I swore just last night that I wouldn’t write. Thanks to all who reviewed, and especially the guys on the Freaks mailing list who carelessly sent me plot bunnies whether I wanted them or not. But this is it now. No more. This doesn’t need to be a series. ::glares:: Are we clear?
BUFFY ANNE SUMMERS
She died as she lived.
He stares down at the simple stone grave marker and is puzzled. It seems a very casual epitaph for someone who had such an impact on the world around her. The Slayer. He is here because others can’t be and every hero deserves someone that will honour them when they are gone. He tilts his head and looks around the sunlit graveyard, watching as the early fall leaves dance in the playful breeze. As a final resting place he supposes it isn’t so bad. Quiet and serene, its own chapel standing in the centre and the final resting places of the dead fanning out in ever increasing circles until they finish against the high, rough redbrick walls. Tall, leafy trees provide plenty of shade and he notes that her grave is placed under the thickest, as though someone thought of visitors that might appreciate the protection from the sun as they looked down upon her grave. Yes, there are worse places to end up.
He looks back down at her grave and his eyes soften as he thinks of the marker he had placed in the cemetery in LA to remember his own dead. There were no bodies for him to bury two years ago, nothing tangible to plant in the ground and give him the sense of finality that other people have when they lose loved ones. Despite weeks of searching and terrorising the shaken demon population he never found even a scrap of flesh that remained of the fallen and finally he had to be content with an empty plot of earth and a stone marker much like this with a list of names that only a handful of people would ever really remember.
He had spent some time in England first of course. People had come looking for Angel and he had answered. At first he was treated with doubt and suspicion and then he had been lauded as a hero in his own right and he had known as he had cleaved the head from a man that had terrified a culture of people for generations that he was where he should be. Helping the helpless.
He had kept the name, he had found it had a power all of its own. Sometimes he had been mocked by those that had known his predecessor, taunted by unclean things that saw him as nothing more than a pretender to the title, but he found that letting his fist and sword speak for him, sometimes even his teeth, tended to stop the laughter soon enough. If only because whenever he left a place that he had cleansed there was never anyone left alive to weep much less laugh.
Surprisingly he had found his own allies along the way. Not in the way He had, but still allies. Perhaps the most surprising had been Fred’s parents. When he had arrived back in LA from his sojourn in England he had visited David Nabbitt and had collected what the man had held in trust for him, and along with the money and property there had been a list of people to notify of the deaths that had occurred. Nabbitt had told him that he could arrange for the news to be passed on by others, people that knew nothing of how they lived and died, but he had shaken his head and said no. If he couldn’t bury them properly then the least he could do was to make sure their passing was told by someone that had known them and their story.
He had gone to Texas and to Fred’s old home and there he had woven a tale made of truths and lies to the grieving couple that held hands and wept in the cool living room of their modest home. Although he had known it wasn’t true, he had told a pretty story of Fred and Wesley dying together in each other’s arms and then he had told them that their daughter had died that he might live, remembering from his psych class that it helped to have something or someone to blame for a sudden death. He had been shocked when Fred’s mother, Trish, had smiled through her tears and stood to cup a dry hand to his cheek and told him she was glad that her daughter had not died in vain. That she had died to ensure what she had loved would go on. Instead of staying long enough to pay his respects and endure their censure and hate, he had stayed a week and had found himself being brought into their family circle and in the end loved for his own sake as well as Fred’s. Now he phoned home to Texas weekly and if possible made the trip there once a month so that Trish could fuss and bake him cakes and Roger could tell him stories of his dead daughter and they can work under the hood of the old car that has stood in their garage for a decade and as far as he knows has never left the property in all that time.
Wesley’s father was more difficult, if only because he fired a crossbow at his head and called him a demon. Once he had disarmed the old man, and refrained from throwing him through the nearest wall, he had told him what he knew of his son’s death and the sacrifice that the quiet Englishman had made for his fellow man. Wyndam-Pryce Senior had been unmoved and uncaring that the son that had always been an embarrassment to him had died so suddenly and finally he had left, ignoring the vicious words the man had flung after him and almost running into the cool English sunlight and away from the place that Wesley had once called home. It was his second time in England in two weeks and this time he did not leave feeling free and settled, this time he felt dirty and wrong and he has never gone back, no matter who called him. Maybe it is wrong to make an entire nation suffer for one man’s coldness, but until he hears that Wesley’s father is dead he will not look on the land that birthed his father’s gentle friend and then turned its back when he died.
Gunn was easier. He had no one but the other hardened young people that he had fought with on the streets of his childhood and one young woman who rescued the forgotten children of the streets. There were no tears shed for the uncivilised urban warrior that had taught him how to work a telephone and played video games with him for hours the summer his father languished at the bottom of the ocean. As one of Gunn’s soldiers said with sorrow in his voice and one wary eye on the perimeter of the drafty warehouse they called home, there were no tears to spare for the dead when the living deserved them so much more. He had approved of that sentiment, knew that Gunn would also, and had returned three days later with papers that Nabbitt had drawn up for him giving Anne permission to house her lost children in the empty hotel and Gunn’s street soldiers a place to call home and that would become infamous as a modern day fortress against the evil that insinuated itself into every aspect of LA life. So now he shares his inheritance with an ever-changing array of the lost and hopeless and when he is called out of town he is secure in the knowledge that the uncompromising army of street thugs will be keeping his city clean.
He had been surprised to learn that his father had never told Cordelia’s parents of her death, puzzled to realise that the vibrant young woman he remembered from the days immediately following his return from Quor’toth had not spoken to her parents since her first year in LA and with Angel. He had met them not far from his false parents’ house and told them their daughter had died, her ashes scattered over the Hollywood Hills as she had requested once of Angel and was met with barely concealed impatience as he had spoken of her bravery and fortitude in all the horror that life had shown her. Then he had clenched his fists and slammed out of the house when her father had asked for control of her small estate and refused to be held responsible for any debts that his daughter might have incurred during her short life.
So, finally, he was left with his own family and the life that Angel had sold all their souls for. He had gone to the Reillys and sat in the home that he remembered growing up in, looking at the people he remembered as the parents that had supported and loved him all his life and as gently as he could told them that college was no longer an option for him and the life they wanted for him would now be twisted and changed into one that not even their worst imaginings could begin to comprehend. He told them the truth behind the latest riots that had rocked LA, but had stopped short of telling them the whole story. The story of his conception and birth was incredible even to him and wholly unbelievable to the woman that remembered feeling him grow inside her and the man that had cut his umbilical cord when he had entered their made-up world.
He had sat through their tearful pleading, endured their frantic begging, and finally held them both as they sobbed and then left to hit the beach in LA and cut a bloody swathe through a nest of vampires that had sprung up overnight and were slowly adding to their ranks by attacking unwary revellers that enjoyed the brightly lit bars and clubs overlooking the ocean. It had gotten better eventually. His Reilly parents had come to tolerate his choice over time, even if they could never accept it, and as the months and then years passed, the bonds that had bound them had loosened and he had come to believe that when the sorcerer that had cast the reality spell died so the effects of his magic had begun to die. He was prepared for the day when he called his mother and she no longer remembered who he was.
And all this had brought him to where he was today. He had been tracking an especially vicious demon through southern Spain when he had first heard the rumours of her death and, after a short, bloody battle with his prey, he had made for her last known location in Paris, France and there had found people willing to tell him of her last hours. He had read of her in his father’s journals and had seen the sketches that had been lovingly created in pad after pad of smooth drawing paper and had wanted to pay homage to the woman that had meant to so much to people he had known. In sun drenched Tuscany he had finally found the quiet graveyard where she had been laid to rest and had spent his morning in quiet contemplation of a girl that had died as she had lived. A lot.
“Hi.” He turns at the sound of the female voice and looked at the young brunette that is picking her way through the graveyard, cradling a posy of fresh flowers in the crook of her arm. She smiles at him warmly as she bends to lay the flowers on the neatly tended grave and touches a gentle finger to the smooth stone. “Hey, Buff.”
“You knew her?” He studies the girl carefully and sees the sign of recent grief in her eyes.
“Yes, I knew her.” Another small flash of white teeth and the girl tucks her hair behind her ears to keep it from blowing into her eyes in the wind. “Did you?”
“No.” He shifts, vaguely uncomfortable as always at the prospect of making small talk, and wonders if it would be rude to just walk away. He thinks it probably would.
The girl looks politely puzzled and nods uncertainly. “Oh. Okay.” She crosses her arms over her chest and darts a look at him out of the corner of her eye. “Mind me asking why you’re here then?”
He stiffens as he imagines he hears some small censure in her voice and then realises she’s just curious. As she should be; if some strange guy was hanging around the grave of a person he loved he’d be asking questions as well. “The people who should be here, can’t.” He keeps his eyes on the grave. “So I am.”
“That’s nice.” The girl nods and smiles tearfully at the gravestone. “She should be remembered.”
He finds himself nodding in agreement, wanting in some small way to comfort her in her grief. “Yes.” He risks a look at her. “She always will be.”
Tears spill from the girl’s eyes and roll down her cheeks but the smile she gives him splits her face and shows him how pretty she could be when she is happy. “That’s all I want for her.” She carelessly swipes a hand over her face to chase away the traces of her tears and then holds it out to him. “I’m Dawn.”
He regards the hand for a moment and then takes it in his; surprised to feel the calluses on her palms that he knows can only be made from competent and repeated handling of weapons. “Angel.”
The hand in his jerks and the girl gasps before she can stop herself. His fingers tighten in reflex to hold her still and then she tilts her head and another sad smile passes across her face. “You’ve shrunk.”
It takes him a moment to realise the importance of those two little words and then he is the one to step back and let go. “You knew him.”
“Yes.” Her eyes become shadowed and she bites her lip as she looks at him. “He’s dead?” Her face pales as he nods and she turns to look down at the grave once more. “We weren’t sure. We’ve been hearing the odd rumour over the last couple of years, but I think we knew when she died and he didn’t come that he was really gone.” She takes a deep breath and steels herself to ask her next question. “How did it happen?”
He copies her movement to stare down at the grave and then in a low, quiet voice tells one more time the story of the heroes in LA that died for glory and the continuation of a humanity that never knew they existed. When he finishes she is silent for a long time and then turns to him with a sober face. “I’m glad. I’m so glad that she won’t be on her own this time. I was so worried that she would be lonely, but Spike and Angel wouldn’t let her be on her own, would they? They’d find her.”
This is a question he can answer with absolute certainty. “Yes, they’d find her.” He looks up at a sky that is reported to hold a heaven he doesn’t believe in and squints at the clouds. “I think they’d all find her.”
They smile at each other and then the girl, Dawn, lets her eyes drift past him to the rest of the graveyard. “So, what will you do now?”
Again, another easy question for him to answer. “Head back to LA. I’ve gotten word that the Circle of the Black Thorn think its time for another comeback and it’s always a good time showing them they’re mistaken.” He takes a breath of the fresh Tuscany air and grins suddenly. “Stomping those guys into putty just never gets old.”
Dawn laughs and tilts her head to the side. “Oh yeah, you’re Angel’s kid, alright.” She frowns in sudden thought and taps her fingers on thigh lightly before nodding decisively. “Want some company?”
Startled, he blinks and the anticipatory grin falls off his face. “What?”
“It’s okay, I can pay my own way, I don’t want a free ride back to the States or anything.” Blue eyes watch him nervously and her teeth worry at her lower lip. “I can help, I have some wicked skills.”
He blinks again. “It’s dangerous. You could die.” He gestures at the pretty countryside all around them. “Do you really want to leave all this behind?”
She shrugs. “Leave what? Buffy’s gone and the others are busy with the other Slayers and a hundred and one other European emergencies.” She lets out a slow breath and looks at him from under her lashes and says simply, “I miss home.”
Now that’s something he can get behind. He shrugs back at her. “It’s your funeral.” And blushes as he realises that isn’t the most tactful acceptance he could have come up with given the circumstances.
Fortunately Dawn laughs and holds out her hand to him once more. “Oh yeah, you and I are going to get on just fine. This could be the beginning of something truly amazing.”
He takes her hand in his and is taken back to another moment two years ago where he laid his hands on an abandoned crossbow and made another life changing decision. The air all around him feels more occupied than it did moments ago and if he really tries he can almost smell the leather of his father’s jacket. “Not a beginning.” His fingers tighten on hers and he smiles into her blue eyes. “A continuation. Let’s go to work.”
And without looking back they walk out from under the shade of the tree, into the sunlight and into their own story.