As soon as I saw Willow's face, I knew. The moment those words came out of my mouth, I wanted to turn around and run back out into the night, or what was left of it. Instead I walked down the steps, crossed the lobby and stood while Willow told us the news.
She talked mainly to Wes and Cordy, but I saw the way her big, scared, inconsolable dark eyes kept flicking back to me, waiting to see me crumble when she said the words.
But I didn't. I just listened, as if she was talking about the weather, and nodded my head at appropriate moments. I watched the tears well up in Willow's eyes when she made the official announcement. I saw how Cordelia gasped and fell into Willow's embrace as tears of her own began to flow. I saw how crushed Wesley was, how his knees wobbled when he sat suddenly down.
Wesley wasn't with the Slayer long, but he knew her well enough to understand how special she was.
I turned to Gunn, who was right behind me, waiting to catch me when I fell.
But I didn't fall.
"We'll be okay," I assured him. "Maybe you need to spend time with your homies, help them with their loss." I saw surprise in his eyes, mixed with suspicion. I shrugged, nodded back toward the others. "All of this was before you, Gunn. It's going to take a little while, and I know your other family needs you right now."
He nodded. He didn't have time to deal with his own personal loss before charging off to Pylea to save Cordelia with the rest of us. Now, it appeared, was the time.
"Check in when you're ready," I told him. "I think we'll all be busy with personal agendas for a while. Maybe the Powers That Be will give us a break."
The look of disbelief was clear in his eyes, but he eased quietly out the door without further urging.
Which brought me back to the scene at hand. My friends were hurting, clinging to each other as the sharp pain of loss sliced through them. I listened to Wesley's voice break as he asked for details, heard Willow bravely staunch her tears as she answered.
But I didn't feel a thing.
I scanned back in my memory, looking to see if I could pinpoint the moment Buffy was gone. I figured it was sometime during the walk back to my car, after all the rescuing was done in Pylea, after Cordelia had established the new world order there.
Queen Cordelia, of Sunnydale High.
Who'd have thought she'd actually rule a world?
I almost smiled, thinking about that little irony.
Then I remembered Buffy.
Gone. Gone forever.
The Powers That Be might choose to snatch someone like me from Hell to act as their minion here on Earth. I didn't ask to come back - at least I don't think I did. Parts of Hell are hard to remember, especially the last few hundred years. But only the damned deserve a second chance at life, at correcting their mistakes. Buffy was a pure heart, driven by her love to protect the rest of humanity from things like me. Buffy went to Heaven, and even the PTB won't call her back from there.
She's gone, and she won't ever be back. I'll never be able to drive back to Sunnydale on a slow night and stalk silently behind her as she works, watching her back in secret. I'll never catch her in an odd moment as she thinks of something that makes her smile. I'll never see her grow old, never…
Why don't I feel anything?
Willow eventually said goodbye and returned home. Cordy and Wes offered condolences, and I assured them that I'd be all right, but I could see the worry in their eyes. They're afraid for me. I told them I'm okay, that I always knew it would happen someday.
And I did. More than any of my mortal friends, I know how short their time is. That fact eats at me every day as I watch them wither and die. Mortals never think it will happen to them. They live their brief lives believing they'll never die while they're young, but when they get old and feel the weight of all those years and how aged bodies suffer, then sometimes it can't come soon enough. Only I don't get to make that trip.
It was a shock, seeing my own face in Pylea. I looked so young… like someone Buffy could love, like someone not that much different from her. Inside, though, it's a different story.
She made me feel young again. She made me feel good. She made me feel…
Why can't I feel now?
She was the love of my unnatural life. There will never be anyone else for me. Why don't I feel sorry that she's gone? Was I so jealous of Riley that I'd rather see her dead than with him?
No. I love Buffy. I will always love her. I wanted her to live and be happy, and if happiness meant Captain Farmboy, then I wanted that for her.
The Powers That Be lied to me. They told me that, if I remained a vampire, if I fought for them, she would be safe. They said that I couldn't help Buffy if I was mortal. And I wasn't even there when she needed me the most. The PTB didn't tell me about that.
Screw them. Screw everybody. Life sucks, and then it never ends.
I saw the body at the funeral. I touched that cold flesh, and knew Buffy wasn't in there anymore. She was beautiful to the end, and I've tried to capture that on paper and canvas since, but it's no use. There's no life in the pictures. They're just images, memories, dreams that can't go anywhere.
I'm numb. Nothing matters. I'll go on with the fight, like I'm supposed to. I'll get the job done, because in the end, I'm not important in the equation. I'm just a tool. And if I make it to Judgement Day, if I help the Good Guys win and my heart starts to beat again, I can look forward to only a handful more decades of solitude, and maybe some wrinkles and gray hair.
In the blink of an eye, it'll all be over. Then I can go quietly back to Hell, where I belong. Maybe then I'll be able to feel something.
Anything would be better than this emptiness I feel right now.
Maybe then, I'll be able to cry for her.