Fic by Author Era Pairing Rating Title
Title: All of This Dust
Disclaimer: As IF!
Pairing: Angel/Dawn, heavy B/A undertones
Content: Graphic sexuality, violence, bad language, drug use. Angel/Dawn sex. *shudder* DARK imagery!
Timeline: Distant Future
Spoilers: All and sundry are (is?) fair game.
Summary: When everything is broken.
Dedication: For girlflesh, by request for the Angel Ficathon. And to Angel, who will Always be my hero. Thanks to amorousfear and flurblewig for the excellent beta!
A/N: Inspired by the song "All of this Past" by Sarah Bettens. Requirements are listed at the end.
Buffy's funeral is a masterpiece.
The plot is picturesque - a gently sloping hilltop overlooking the village of New Sunnydale, on the lip of Sunnydale Canyon, with four ancient oaks at the cardinal points standing guard over her resting place as she had stood over the world for almost thirty years. The grass is natural (he'd insisted on it), lush and green and dotted with random patches of wildflowers. He's happy that this time, at least, her burial isn't a dark secret. Her life's work is not shoveled into a backlot somewhere and kept from the public eye. This time, she is the centerpiece of the cemetery, and the mourners not invited to the graveside gather around the entrance, clinging to the wrought iron fence and watching as the endless procession crawls by.
He watches the faces: young, old, men, women, all ages, all races, their expressions of grief as individual as the people themselves, who run the gamut from the uniformed soldier standing in stoic salute to the young girl on her knees, keening at the top of her small lungs as her heroine's hearse crawls by.
So much grief. He wonders who is feeling his share, now that his heart has finally crumbled to dust and he feels nothing at all.
The service is lovely as well - music and words of celebration chosen by Buffy herself, years ago. She was never much for formality or tradition - so there's poetry and singing, and the one-by-one litany of memories from her family and friends in their own heartfelt, sorrow-soaked words.
The heavily-endowed New Slayers' Council paid for her casket this time, so instead of the usual, cheaper-but-still-respectable woods like cherry or oak, the greatest Slayer who ever lived is going to her (hopefully) eternal rest in fine, hand-carved mahogany. Protective symbols, blessings, and passages from the sacred books and oral traditions of a thousand spiritualities and philosophies decorate its glass-smooth surfaces, covering every visible inch.
She had lain in state for two days while seemingly endless black-draped rivers of friends, family, students, associates, and dignitaries shuffled past, crying or praying or bowing their heads, paying their last respects to the woman who saved the world more times than anyone could count.
He'd gone with Giles and Willow to the funeral home to make the decision, but in the end, he'd had to make it alone. The finest that money could buy. A fancy box to put nothing -- the end of his everything - in. The family are the only ones who know there was never a body in this coffin. Buffy had understandably demanded cremation, and that her remains be scattered over the Canyon. The clutch of broken-hearted kin: Giles and Willow, Xander, Faith and himself -- had done it silently in the dead of night hours after the last mourners left the wake.
She could never bear enclosed spaces after…
But the public needed their own chance to grieve for their favored daughter. So, the casket, the headstone. Visual closure for the masses, while the heart wounds of those who loved her best went on bleeding without end in sight.
There are so many people at the funeral service, it takes him a while to find even a familiar face in the crowd. Dawn is thinner now, pale and trembling in much the same way her sister had been when she came back from the dead a million lifetimes ago. Delicate. So frail that a strong gust of the autumn wind might blow her away like so much fine dust.
He approaches her slowly, like an injured animal he's found hurt and bleeding on the side of the road. The circles under her eyes belie the bright smile she gives him a split second before she heaves herself into his embrace.
There's no sign of the too-wise little girl he once knew, unless the echo of ghosts in her blue eyes counts.
Her arms are like sticks, her skin dry and parchment-thin. He imagines he hears her creak as those brittle limbs wrap around him, and she burrows into his silk shirt very much like a lost little girl. Her hair smells like a bizarre blend of burnt baby powder and cheap French perfume, and he can feel the ridges of her ribcage against his torso.
"God, I'm so glad you're here," she cries, and bursts into tears.
All he can do is hold her and hope that the fragile body in his arms doesn't shatter as she soaks his shirt into an expensive silk rag.
He takes her to dinner after the funeral, and Dawn is as she's always been: energized, almost hyperactive, careening from one topic to the next like a pinball on speed.
Of course, he can't be sure that one of the pills she's gobbled in place of the expensive dinner she hasn't touched isn't a stimulant of one kind or another. He hasn't been able to bring himself to ask, and one white pill looks the same as another, to him.
But he was certain the alcohol she'd consumed would have counteracted the effect somewhat. Not so, it seemed.
"So Bernie - he's the one with the Harley and the brass knuckles? - he gets right in Rico's face and starts like, screaming at him, ‘You fucker! I'll cut you, man!'"
She waves a martini glass with one hand, one of those long, obnoxious French cigarettes in the other, and punctuates the chapters of her stories with regular kicks to his shins. She apparently has a veritable stable of lovers, no shortage of trouble because of them, and some compulsion to tell him every sordid detail about every one.
He hasn't known this much about Dawn Summers since she was 12 years old and the love of her short life was a pop singer she'd never met.
That was well over twenty-five years ago.
He understands what she's doing. He can smell her misery and desperation over the drugged stink of her sweat, even though he's not supposed to be able to do that anymore. He's found that his senses are almost as sharp as they were when he was a vampire, when he concentrates hard enough.
He's found it less of a convenience than he thought he would.
"It sounds dangerous," he comments when she's done, keeping his Disapproving Big Brother frown firmly in place. He became mortal less than ten years ago, making them roughly the same human age. She is very obviously not the adoring pre-teen girl she'd been back then, and still... he can't help the attitude.
She laughs, uncrosses her legs to reveal a vista that Big Brothers should never get from their Little Sisters. The sordid gesture reminds him momentarily of what he did to his own sibling, and then he thinks: Jesus. She couldn't even be bothered to wear panties to her sister's funeral?
"What would be the point if it wasn't dangerous?" she purrs, snapping her fingers absently at a passing waiter. "Get me another double martini, please. And keep them coming. Thanks." The waiter is gone in a blink, and she's back to her ranting. "The only thing that separates the living from the walking dead is the ability to enjoy it."
He doesn't bother pointing out to her that this doesn't make sense, or that it's absolutely untrue, or that she's wasted to the point where he can't take a word she says seriously anyway.
"Maybe we should think about getting you home," he suggests. Each moment that passes when she's sitting like this, giving him drunk-sultry looks as her mascara runs down her flushed cheeks, brings him that much closer to losing what last small sliver of sanity he's managed to maintain since...
It had been so much easier, the last time. The last time, he hadn't gotten to spend three years living with her, making love with her, dreaming and laughing and crying and getting to know her all over again. Last time, the slap had come from a distance, the gutting secondhand, and he'd never gotten the chance to see her body or hold Willow as she fell apart and Giles left the room and he had to choose the coffin because Hank didn't care and Dawn had vanished the day she got the news.
If she doesn't stop being this broken, sad caricature of Buffy's sister, he's going to snap.
He can't be sure he's spoken aloud, as she hasn't broken her stride. "... and Dennis is doing 2-4 for assault, so I think that's one for the 'Over' colu--"
"DAWN!" He slams a fist on the table for emphasis.
The restaurant's low background buzz goes silent, and every eye in the room falls on them: the tall, dark gentleman in the custom cut, black Armani and the ragged waif with the long, ratty hair and a burn hole in the arm of her jacket.
She gapes at him. "I don't..."
He stands, throws a pile of bills on the table, takes her arm and drags her none-too-gently from the booth and out the door before anyone has the opportunity to do so much as gasp.
"Sorry about the mess," Dawn mutters, kicking away some crumpled newspapers from the veritable sea of garbage on her apartment floor. "I just haven't had time to..." she trails off with a shrug.
"It's an emergency. Her sister's been in a car accident, and it's imperative that I speak to her."
"Look buddy, I told you. D's gone to Sydney, and I don't feature her back until the Fall. Our Fall, I mean. Not their fall, 'cause... that's like, next year now, and she should be back way before--"
"Don't you have some way to get in touch with her? Some idea where she's staying?"
"Um... the guy's name is Milbow, I think. Like the hobbit, only with an M. Or maybe a V."
"Last name or first?"
She'd shown up at the house day before yesterday. Buffy had been dead for almost a week, and in the hospital for three weeks before that.
It's October 24th, less than three months from what would have been Buffy's 42nd birthday, and the air is crisp with the overripe scent of autumn.
"Do you want some coffee?" she calls from somewhere in the musty darkness. He takes a seat on the couch, unwilling to navigate the refuse littering the floor.
"Sure," he calls back. He hasn't had a cup of coffee in almost five years. Buffy had talked him out of his addiction by recording his snoring, and telling him in no uncertain terms that it was his precious java or her. Caffeine was the #1 culprit in sinus problems like his. So he hadn't touched a drop since.
There are a lot of other things he hasn't done in a lot longer than five years. Like cry. He keeps thinking he should cry. He didn't shed a tear in those weeks when he sat there in the intensive care unit, holding Buffy's unresponsive hand, listening to the beeping and whirring and clicking of the machines, knowing she was already gone and there was no more reason to hold on, yet still not being able to let her go.
"I don't have any milk. Or sugar. Just Equal." Dawn sets the china tray down on the coffee table and sits too closely beside him on the couch. Her toenails are painted green. "I wasn't really expecting guests."
Buffy had tried to get Dawn to move in with them when they first built the house. There was more than enough room for her to live on the property and not have to see them at all if she didn't want to. But Buffy would at least have the comfort of knowing where her sister was.
A state of things that currently didn't exist 9/10 of the time.
"Fuck that," Dawn had said.
She chose to spend $985 a month on this rat infested closet fifteen minutes outside LA proper instead.
Not that she was ever here.
"It's okay. I take it black." He shifts - he hopes imperceptibly - away from her.
"It's my favorite way to take it."
There's no change in her cold, bitter tone, no hint of whether she's teasing to lighten the mood, or if she's really that... bitter. Or if she's simply talking about coffee. Her affect is so flat, he can't tell.
He sips his coffee - notes that it's bitter too -- and lets it go.
She's slaughtering some abominable pop tune at the top of her lungs when she hits her rock bottom. He watches it happen like a scene from some B horror flick, distant and unrealistic to the point that he doesn't respond at all for a full five seconds after her eyes roll back, her mouth drops open, her skin turns grey, and she flops forward, vomiting all over the dingy carpet.
She's overdosing or something, his mind registers absently. And no wonder, after all the pills she washed down with straight vodka.
It's only when she convulses, her body snapping back and jerking wildly against the couch that he remembers he has to move.
Two hours, CPR, Essence of Ipecac to make her vomit, a frigid cold shower to shock her back into consciousness, and she shuffles stiffly out of the bathroom, dripping hair beneath a towel, bare, frail body under a too-big terrycloth robe.
The makeup is gone, her color has started coming back. Now she looks young as well as sick and lost. She sits down beside him on the bed, chagrined, and wipes at the ends of her hair.
"I am so very fucked," she mumbles to her lap.
She sounds so much like Faith did once upon a time that Angel's tempted to call his closest friend, just so he can remind himself that strong women do come back from this ugly a place. They can even thrive.
"No, you're not. You're just having a hard time right now. No one can blame you for falling apart a little. She was your sister."
She stops, looks up at him. Sighs. "I was screwed up before Buffy got hurt, and you know it."
He knows it. Buffy told him all about it - three arrests, two stints in rehab, an abortion. And that was only in the year since they'd been back in the States.
"Screwed up is not the same as 'fucked'," he points out, fairly certain that she won't have thought about it this way. "Screwed up can be fixed. You're never truly fucked until you're dead."
"And even then..." she reminds him, and manages a wry hint of smile.
Now she looks really young. Far, far younger than her 36 years. He's known this woman since she was a little girl. Only... he hasn't, has he? He's only just known her for a few years, and she's not really Buffy's sister...
He squeezes her hand and tries to force a bit of his own smile forward as he shoves that line of thought aside.
She winces at his sad attempt. "Don't. You don't have to pretend for me."
"I put the kettle on." He gets up, away from her grieving eyes. It's easier and far more pleasant to wade through the garbage. "I'm thinking a demolition crew might be next on the agenda."
She says nothing. He turns quickly to make sure she hasn't lost consciousness again, and finds that she's simply sitting on the couch, staring into nothing. He can trace every line of her facial bones with his eyes.
"Are you hungry?" he asks, resuming his trek.
He opens the refrigerator to take inventory anyway. A rotten head of lettuce, 3/4 of a case of beer, and a moldy bagel are all that meet his gaze.
How has she not starved to death? No one can live like this. How could things have gotten so bad, and Buffy not said anything to him? Had she not known the extent of it? He couldn't imagine she would have had any idea and done nothing. She would have dragged Dawn home with her bodily, if she had to.
"I'll go to the market for you later," he offers.
He prepares the tea and brings the fixings back on the same tray she'd used for the coffee earlier. She watches his face as he sets it down on the table before her, waits for him to sit.
He takes a deep breath, holds it for a moment before turning to look at her. "I don't know what to do for you, Dawn. I never have. Tell me what you need, and if I can, I'll give it to you."
Her gaze doesn't waver, nor does she hesitate. "Make love to me."
Angel blinks very slowly as time crawls to a stop, and the speech center of his brain malfunctions completely. It's as though she's been waiting for him to ask.
"What?" he whispers, unconsciously moving further away from her. "You don't mean that. You're just upset."
She doesn't look upset as she shifts closer, capturing him with the pain in her eyes. "I'm not. Not anymore."
"Of course you are." He jerks to his feet, desperate to get away, away from even the thought of this. Far from the part of his own broken spirit that actually gave the abominable suggestion a moment's thought.
No. She's Dawnie. Buffy's baby sister. His sister-in-law. They buried his wife not six hours ago. Even entertaining the notion is so wrong on so many levels that any small measure of forgiveness he might have given himself would be wiped out by its very presence in his mind.
"Angel, there's no reason why we shouldn't. Buffy's gone, and she's not coming back. We're here. We're alive. We should act like it. We're practically the same age now, after all." Her voice breaks. "I feel like I'm dead too. I'm so cold and now I'm alone… I need to feel something. I need you."
As he stares into the galaxy of fear and loss he can see behind her eyes, he's suddenly consumed by the surreal sensation of falling, like he just leapt off a tower into a swirling vortex of destruction. She reaches out, one long-fingered hand coming to rest on his belt buckle. Her green nailpolish is chipped, and the contact registers in his brain like a backhand across the face, leaving him reeling.
"What's to stop us, Angel? Why shouldn't we get some comfort from each other? Nobody else knew her the way we did. Nobody else... needed her the way we did. Nobody else can understand."
He still can't seem to move, nailed in place by big, haunted blue eyes and three badly manicured fingernails. "Why would you think that?"
"We're both here because of her. We both still exist because she loved us. The others can't say that."
Her words snap him back to the reality of the situation, and he steps away, inadvertently dislodging her hold on his belt. He can imagine the looks on the others' faces if they ever found out: the censure on Giles'; the smug, ‘I-told-you-so' satisfaction on Xander's; the disappointment on Willow's; the amusement on Spike's. Just another half dozen reasons: "This isn't going to happen."
She folds her hands demurely in her lap. He sees the scars on her lower arms - battle wounds from learning what it meant to be human. He would have his own much more extensive set, if vampires could scar. As it stands, his skin from head to foot is clean and smooth, unmarred by any of the vivid, painful 250 years worth of existence he carries in his photographic memory.
He feels like a doll of himself. A human doll, magically animated and filled with his true essence. Like a wolf's spirit in sheep's clothing. Not human at all, in spite of what all the doctors say.
He doesn't have to ask or wonder if Dawn feels that same sense of betrayal. Of loss. If she's disappointed by the hand she was dealt, or angry at the way the Fates tossed her from hand to hand and back again. He knows too well exactly how she feels.
But in her case, he thinks the resentment is justified. After all, she is an innocent in her twisted Big-D Destiny, just like Buffy was in the beginning. Whereas he...
He hadn't been the best man to begin with, had he? Everything he suffers is far less than his due, now and forever.
"I need you," she repeats softly, the gravel edge of smoke roughening her voice. "You were the only thing that ever made her happy."
Those broken eyes plead with him to do the same for her.
"Dawn... I can't. "
With a speed that takes even his keen reflexes by surprise, she is on her feet, hands fisted around the collar of his jacket, screaming in his face before he can do so much as blink.
"YOU MEAN WON'T! SHE'S DEAD, ANGEL. SHE DOESN'T CARE WHAT YOU DO ANYMORE! OR WHO THE HELL YOU DO IT WITH!"
He stands ramrod straight, holds his ground. "You know that's not true."
She crumples before his eyes, lip wobbling, eyes tearing up. Her nose turns blood red in an instant, and he's reminded yet again of a small girl, tagging along after her heroine and her heroine's vampire boyfriend as she sags back to the couch with a sniffle.
"No. She can't see me like this." It's denial of the worst, lowest, most pathetic kind. Buffy had told them both over the years how she had felt, what she had seen when she was in the afterlife. How she had looked down on them and laughed and cried along with them as their lives went on, such as they were, without her. It was a peace, she said, like nothing they could ever imagine. "She doesn't know."
They both know the truth of it. And Angel is certain beyond any shadow of doubt that she is not happy. He's letting her down yet again.
"You're just screwed up, remember? You're not fucked," he repeats as he sits down beside her, lets her slide back into his arms. "You'll be okay. We'll both be fine."
"No. I don't think we will," she cries, giving up her last shred of dignity as she falls into his lap, lets him run his fingers through her hair as her body shudders with sobs. "We'll never be okay without her. We weren't even okay with her."
She's right, of course. As much as Buffy had given them both over the years, they had never let it be quite enough to make them really whole. Even renewing his bond with her hadn't healed all the wounds he'd acquired after leaving her. There was so much time in between then and now, lost and never spoken of again. Only walking, living, breathing reminders of what happens in the silence: her sister, his son. The twin elephants in any room Buffy and Angel occupied through all of the time they had spent together.
There had been so much dishonesty between them, even when they shared every thought, every breath, every moment from the one that reunited them to the one in which he felt her life slip away.
He cradles Dawn against his chest and kisses her damp forehead, meaning it to be a tender gesture like a million he's made toward her before...
But her hot, swollen lips interrupt his own on their way down, and when her minty-sweet tongue flicks between, seeking his, teasing it with long, smooth strokes... he forgets about resisting at all.
Wesley once told him that all men were driven by the biological urge to procreate, to claim, no matter how buried in their DNA that urge was now, no matter how big their brains had become. The sensation so many describe, of their brain clicking off and their penis clicking on had a literal and physical antecedent. Angel had always dismissed the notion. They were civilized, evolved beings, after all. Not animals. His body does only what he allows it to do.
But he hears that sound now - the click, then the sensation of blood racing southward, his heart stampeding into overdrive as his hands tangle in her still-wet hair to pull her closer.
He thinks how touching a woman is like a jungle adventure... in some twisted Hell dimension where bliss and agony are inexorably entwined. Hot and soft, wet and giving, treacherous. So easy to get lost.
Every part of him but his body and will object to what is happening. But the two dissenters are the ones who ultimately decide where the whole goes, and in a moment, he is crushing her to him as fiercely as she is clinging to his neck.
His reality becomes surreal, time speeding by as if pummeled by a gale storm wind as he lays her down beneath him on the couch, his hands rushing to pull the robe away from her hot, damp flesh to give him access.
She's larger than her sister. Longer; fleshier in some places and leaner in others, and those contrasts turn him on to the point of acute pain as he tears away her panties and plunges face-first into the heat between her legs. Like he can consume her musky fever to defrost his insides again.
He feels her... but he can't feel her. He doesn't know her. Not the way he could touch the very foundation of Buffy when they so much as breathed the same air. Did so little as hold hands.
He snarls in frustration, lost in the increasing downward spiral, her legs clamping down so hard on his head that his ears ring as she comes in his mouth.
He devours her because he'll drown if he doesn't. He slides up, slides in, because he'll be devoured by the pain if he doesn't pour it into her.
"Yes. Fuck me, Angel. Fuck me," she howls, spreading wide, draping her legs over his locked arms, exposing herself to him utterly.
He drives into her like he can break through to Heaven on the other side. "Yes."
He spent the moment after Buffy died begging God to take him with her. He'd sobbed so hard he'd made himself sick, and after a while could only draw breath with a great, hitching wheeze. The doctor had to sedate him because he wouldn't let go of her hand. He'd crushed the tiny bones of hers in his fist, and the mangled digits were bent around his in a grotesque mimicry of the wedding photo he carries in his wallet.
Now he feels himself plummeting straight into Hell, driving hard into sulfur and brimstone, into all-consuming fire, feeling the emptiness sucking him in, taking him, ripping him apart and he knows all that's left is this pain.
But it's been a long time coming, so he's not surprised.
"Please!" Dawn begs beneath him. "Please take me. Take me!"
Her throat is long and pale. The big artery thump-thumps with her heartbeat. He forgets he no longer has fangs, and tears into her neck with blunt teeth. She screams and her blood gushes in torrents onto the sheets. She dies quickly, goes limp and pale beneath him like a candle snuffed out. He watches her flesh turn grey and then he thinks about walking out into the sunrise and then he does exactly that. He feels himself explode into warm, vital dust before he blows away in the wind.
The orgasmic delirium passes like the end of a hurricane - a sudden, complete stillness, both within and all around him. He withdraws from her with great care, and sits up next to her feet. Presses his fingertips to weary eyes and wishes himself a million miles from there.
At least there isn't really blood on his tongue.
Dawn curls into herself on the other end of the couch and says nothing.
"I wish I could help you," he whispers, and gently reaches out to caress her hip.
"Don't touch me."
The words have no bite, no strength at all, but he still moves his hand. "I'm sorry. I just want to -"
"Help me. Yeah, got it," she snaps, staring out into the cloud of dust they've kicked up with their activity. "You can go. Thanks for dinner."
He gets up, tugs on his pants and the remains of his shirt. He looks down at her, curled up on the sofa, and the look on her face reminds him of...
More faces than he can remember anymore. Darla and Drusilla and Buffy and Nina and Cordy and so many other broken hearts he's left in his wake. So many regrets, and so few second chances. He's suddenly very tired.
"I'm sorry," he tells her.
She shrugs, closes her eyes, and dismisses him.
Angel turns to leave, the scent of sex, desperation and disillusionment seeping from his every pore. He adds Dawn Summers to his endless list of regrets, and hopes that next time, he can refrain at least from destroying someone who asks for his help. That someday, the dead end he'd been as a man would stop tainting his every gesture. That he really can stand on the right side without Buffy's existence as a beacon.
"I'm sorry," he repeats, and shuts the door behind him.
All of this dust
All of this past
All of this over and gone
And never coming back
All of this forgotten
But not by me
I can see myself
I look peaceful and pale
I can barely inhale
I can hear myself singing that song
Over and over until it belongs to me