AUTHOR: Lex, firstname.lastname@example.org
DISTRIBUTION: Anyone is welcome to it, as long as you let me know.
DISCLAIMER: The characters used here do not belong to me, with one rather obvious exception. To say more would spoil the story. But suffice it to say that the characters that are NOT mine belong to Joss Whedon and Crew.
RATING: PG (No one pass out from shock, okay? <G>) A tissue warning may be in order for this one.
SYNOPSIS: A visit to the cemetary. By who, you ask? Read on.
FEEDBACK: If you would be so kind, it would be greatly appreciated.
The man clutched the little girl's hand as they made their way across the cemetary grounds, carefully avoiding the upset graves. She raised her head, dark hair falling into her clear hazel eyes. He stopped for a moment, taking the time to brush the errant strands out of the way.
"Are you frightened," he questioned, stooping down to her level.
She looked at him, wide eyes serious. "No, Uncle, I'm not. I want to see. You said I could see once I turned eight. You promised."
The man nodded; indeed he had promised that very thing. "Very well then, off we go. It's just over that rise, underneath the big tree.
They continued on their journey, his long stride hampered by her tiny legs. In his mind, the trip took eons. He did not want to be there, headed for *that* plot. In fact, he would have preferred to be anywhere else on earth at that particular moment, but then there they were. In front of a grave he had not set eyes upon since the day its occupants were lowered into the ground, taken from him forever.
"Here it is." He motioned to the stone in front of them, all the while watching her like a hawk. He didn't really know what to expect of her, she *was* unbelievably mature, but then this was death and children rarely reacted well to death, particularly when the dead in question were their parents.
She stood still for several moments, so still that he began to grow uneasy. "Faith...?" His question died on his lips as she stepped forward, to the headstone.
Tears, unbidden, rose quickly to his eyes as she traced her mother's name, little fingers brushing away the accumulated dirt. First the "B", then the "u", and then the rest. Bringing up her other hand, she encountered her father's name, clearing away the offending leaves and branches. Only his first name was etched into the stone; his last name remained a mystery.
"Mommy loves you."
He was shaken; his heart, still unhealed from /her/ loss, fractured anew. "What? Faith, I...I...there's no way for you to know, your mother died when you were very small..."
Turning to him, her forehead wrinkled, a mutinous expression on her face, she said, "I do *too* know. I can hear Mommy sometimes. I can hear her real good here. I can even hear my daddy. He says he's sorry. What is he sorry for, Uncle?"
Jerking his head to the side, the man waited for the hot tears to subside before he spoke. Voice rough, he whispered, "He's sorry for letting your mother die."
"It's not his fault," she nearly shouted.
Her uncle looked at her; her voice so reminiscent of her mothers he had to smile. "You're right," he agreed, "It's not his fault. No one ever blamed him."
"He blames himself. But Mommy is mad at him. She says he's stupid and he's wasting time. She's tired of his Cryptic Brooding Guy deal."
His jaw dropped. There was no way the girl could know her mother's unique way of speaking. He dropped to his knees in front of her. "Faith, look at me."
She obliged, solemn faced. "What is it?"
"Now answer me truly, can you honestly talk to your mother and father, even though they are..." he paused, to this day unwilling to admit that /she/ was gone, "Dead? You can communicate somehow?"
She nodded. "Sometimes."
"Why have you never told me before now?"
"Mommy said you were never ready to know before now. You hurt too much. But now, now you are okay."
//Okay? This is okay? This ache I contend with on a daily basis is okay? I think not.//
"Yes, you are okay," she continued, stubbornly shaking a finger at him. "Mommy says she loves you and you need to get off your butt and start living again. She wants to me to -- oooh, wait, Daddy says that you can talk to them too."
"Poppet, I cannot --"
"Yes, you can. Close your eyes and think of Mommy."
He closed his eyes, not believing that he was actually attempting this. //Buffy,// his soul cried out, //I'm sorry I failed you and Angel.//
"It wasn't your fault, it was never your fault. It was no one's fault."
Rupert Giles jerked his eyes open, amazed at the sight before him.
There stood Buffy Summers, a calm smile gracing her beautiful face. She appeared as she did the day before she died, clean, untorn, unbruised. Her body, when found, had been brutally beaten. He was momentarily thankful that he did not have to face her looking like that; he didn't think he could have managed it.
But now, now she stood before him, seemingly vibrating with health. He lurched forward, intending to snatch her up in his arms. His heart sank as he passed right through her. "Bu..Buffy? How is this possible?"
She smiled her I-know-something-you-don't-know smile, crossing her arms in front of her. "I'm the Slayer, Giles. I get special boogedy-boogedy powers."
"And since I'm, well, I'm me, I guess I get them too. Either that, or even the Fates didn't want to chance separating us for eternity." Angel stepped from behind the tree, wrapping his arms around her.
But Giles' attention was on Buffy, her apparent happiness. She was radiant.
Buffy noticed his rapt stare. "I can finally be free, Giles. Angel and I can finally be together. No prophecies, no sacred duties, no interfamilial conflict." Then her face clouded. "But sometimes, sometimes I miss holding my baby."
Angel tightened his grip on her. "Where's Faith, Giles?"
Giles turned his head. Faith was standing beside the apparitions of her parents, tears streaming silently down her little face. Buffy gasped, a hand flying to cover her mouth.
"Faith," she whispered, face flooding with tears. "Oh, baby." Buffy crouched down in front of her daughter. Her brow furrowed. "You got so big, princess. So grown up." Her voice broke. Angel laid a comforting hand on her back.
Eyes huge in her face, Faith looked at her mother. "Hi, Mommy." Buffy closed her own eyes, savoring the sound of her daughter's voice. Hesistantly, Faith stuck out her hand. Buffy mimicked her motion, not knowing if her daughter's flesh would pass right through her own.
And then their hands were touching and Buffy was grasping Faith's hand, pulling her into a desperate embrace. Buffy wrapped her arms around her daughter, clinging as though no matter what, she was never letting go again. They were both crying, sobs tearing out of them. Shifting slightly, Faith freed a hand, reaching for her father. Angel swooped down, enveloping both his lover and their daughter within the shelter of his arms.
Giles stood to the side, marveling at how right the scene before him looked. //They should have never died that night. It was wrong, so very wrong.//
Buffy raised her head from her daughter's. She looked at Giles. "We died too soon, Giles. But it cannot be changed. We saved the world, and we have to be content with that."
Angel nodded his head in agreement. "There's no use trying to relive the past. We're gone. Buffy's body is rotting underneath us; my body is a fine dust covering her."
Wincing, Giles ran a trembling hand over his face. "I shouldn't be raising Faith. Maybe Willow, or Xander and Co..Cordelia should instead -- "
Standing up, Buffy strode over to her Watcher. Angel followed closely, his daughter held securely in his embrace. Buffy cupped Giles' cheeks in her hands. Eyes sliding shut, Giles covered her hands with his own, marveling at the feel of her flesh touching his after all this time.
After a moment, he met her gaze. "How is this possible, when just before you weren't solid?"
Buffy shrugged. "I don't know. Business left unfinished and all that." She watched as he winced, his gaze slipping away again. "Giles, look at me." She shook him, calling his attention to her. The tears streamed unchecked as she whispered, "There is no one else on Earth I would trust more with my baby, Giles. No one. No one who would love her as much as you do."
Answering tears clouded his vision, Buffy's face becoming hazy. "I would defend her to my dying breath."
"I know, Giles, I know."
Suddenly, Angel touched her back. "Honey, it's almost time."
Raising sad eyes to her Watcher, she hugged him one last time. He knew it was the end and pressed her to him, imprinting the feel of her in his arms for the rest of his life. Carefully, she wiped at the tears covering his face. "I never said it when I should have, but I love you. I love you so much. You're the reason I made it as long as I did. You saved me in so very many ways, and I'll never be able to repay that."
Giles stroked her hair, feeling for the last time the silky blonde strands under his fingertips. "There's nothing to repay, Buffy. Nothing. I did it all out of love. Every single thing. It killed me a little inside each time I sent you out, knowing you might be killed and how would I live then? A Watcher isn't supposed to love his Slayer; it meant too much emotional involvement. But I loved you from the first. And I love your daughter with everything I have in me."
Buffy's smile was nearly blinding. "I know. And I thank God for it." Turning to Angel, she lifted her baby out of his arms. "Faith, Mommy and Daddy have to leave now. We have to go back."
Faith shook her head. "I wanna go with you and Daddy."
Buffy shook her head in return, kissing her daughter's hair. "No, sweetheart, you have to stay here. You have to stay here and grow up and take care of Uncle Rupert."
Angel caressed the back of Faith's head. "You wouldn't want to leave your uncle all alone, now would you?"
She looked at her father, seemingly ancient eyes staring at him. "No, I can't leave. I'll stay. I love you, Daddy." She leaned forward, wrapping her little arms around Angel's neck, pressing a kiss on his cheek. Angel hugged her, patting her back. Then she turned back to her mother. Buffy was trying to stifle her sobs, afraid of startling her baby. Faith pressed her forehead against her mother's. "I miss you all the time, Mommy. But I understand. And I love you too."
The sobs erupted as Buffy pressed kisses all over Faith's face, mouthing tiny "I love you"s the whole time. Then, with a bracing breath, she straightened her shoulders and handed her daughter over to Giles.
Faith clung to her uncle; the only familiar thing in her world. He clung to her just as hard.
Angel stepped forward. "Now, love." She took his hand, and with one last look at what she was leaving behind, they disappeared.
The Watcher and the daughter of the Slayer and a vampire watched the couple disappear, trying to absorb what had just happened.
Long moments later, Giles looked down at Faith. "Shall we go home."
She nodded, hair falling back into her eyes. "Okay. But I get to pick the radio station on the way home."
He laughed out loud, the weight normally bearing down on his broad shoulders conspicuously absent.
For the first time since Buffy Summers' death, Rupert Giles felt whole.