They Just Fade Away

Summary: A summer vacation begins with a history lesson – but you won't see this one in a schoolbook.

Challenge: personal to honor my great-uncle who is the 'star' of this story.

Warning: only for those who don't like the idea of Sam not being married (nothing against his wife…I just need him to be the romantic lead here).

Timeline: AU NCIS: LA because Sam never married or had kids

Thanks to my betas: no

Disclaimer: BtVS characters belong to Joss Whedon / Mutant Enemy. NCIS: LA characters belong to Shane Brennan, Shane Brennan Productions and CBS. I claim no rights to any copyrighted material. Please do not copy or take this story without my permission.

Ontonagon, MI

June 5, 2014…

Buffy watched her kids – and wasn't that a kick in the teeth that she was a mother – walk along the shore of Lake Superior, barely getting their feet wet. Given the size of some of the waves, she would be concerned about them swimming except the water was so freaking cold that the kids wouldn't go past their ankles. She also knew that between their swimming lessons with her hubby, and the fact that Sam was watching them as closely as she was, they'd be okay if a wave managed to pull them further into the water.

Still, she kept her eyes on the pair of pre-teens while she asked, "Are you sure you don't mind spending the first week of our family vacation coming up here? Especially for a relative of a relative? Mike was Celia's uncle on the other side of her family. Technically he's nothing to me, blood-wise."

"If he was 'nothing' to you, why did you agree to come when his half-sister asked you to visit?" Sam replied with a knowing look.

"Because the two summers that I came up here with Celia before she died were some of the happiest memories I have of her, and Mike was a part of that. When you see his place, you'd never think I could be happy there…what with the outhouse and other semi-creepy aspects of the house. But for us it was an adventure. Probably helped that we only stayed for a week each summer," she admitted.

Sam smiled widely at the idea of his city girl wife dealing with an outhouse. "Probably," he agreed cheekily. Then he grew serious and asked, "Do you know the significance of tomorrow?"

Thinking about the date, Buffy couldn't come up with a personal tie she had: it wasn't a wedding anniversary or birthday of anyone she knew. She shook her head.

"Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of D-Day. I checked into Mike's records when you told me he was fought in WWII. He was one of the soldiers that landed on the beaches of Normandy. Those men faced incredible odds, and too many paid the ultimate price, but it helped change to course of the war. There's no way I could pass up the opportunity to meet such a hero," Sam explained with his usual level of passion when he spoke of those who honored the uniforms they wore. It was almost like he held them in the same regard as SEALs, or possibly higher regard.

His obvious respect for a man he didn't even know kind of made Buffy feel a little guilty for thinking that Mike was a little strange at times. Between his confirmed bachelor status and a couple of his trinkets around the house were…to put it politely, manly?

Mike's Bootjack Camp

June 6th

Mike's much younger half-sister warned Buffy as they approached the bedroom, "He's starting to go, and sometimes his mind slips. He might think you're somebody else when he sees you."

"Hey, Mike," Buffy greeted the elderly man with false cheeriness. The selfish part of her wished she was in the sauna with her husband and kids, but that part was quickly shut up by the rest that demanded this man be honored for his service, as well as the fond memories he helped created for her. "If you wanted me to visit, you didn't have to wait so long, you know."

His tired eyes fluttered open part-way before he gave a soft smile and whispered, "Celia…my darling! I thought you were still angry with me over Jack's beer stein."

Buffy was confused for a second, then realized that Mike had indeed mistaken her for somebody. At first she thought it was her cousin, but his tone suggested a different kind of love between them. Deciding to play along, she said, "I could never stay made at you, Mike – especially over a beer stein."

The old man breathed a sigh of relief and reached for her hand. When Buffy gave it to him, he lifted it to his mouth and kissed it. "I knew you'd eventually understand why I couldn't get rid of it," he replied gratefully. "It's a tasteless mug, I know, but Jack was so proud when he won it in the poker game, and when he died…" he choked up briefly before continuing, "I just had to keep it to remember him."

With a moment of clarity, Buffy knew exactly the mug he was talking about. Downstairs, on the fireplace mantle, there was a beer stein that had a topless woman as the handle. It was one of the 'manly' knickknacks he had that made her feel a little uncomfortable as a child. Knowing the story behind it, she could honestly respond, "Then you should keep it in a place of honor, Mike."

As the next few hours passed, Mike kept talking to his beloved Celia, never realizing that the woman he poured his heart out to was 70 years younger than him and married to another man. He explained that he planned to go home to the UP (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) and live a simple life instead of being ambitious. With all the filth and death he was surrounded by in war, he felt that having material things – aside from a few precious sentimental pieces – were a waste of time and energy. If his fellow soldiers could life without the modern conveniences, so could he. Didn't matter if it was wartime or peace, he would keep his life as uncomplicated as possible.

Then he broke Buffy's heart when he asked his sweet Celia why she had to leave him. He loved her with everything in him and when she died, he didn't think he could love another woman again. Just before he fell asleep, he whispered, "I'll be true to you until we're together on the other side, my love."

Buffy leaned over and kissed him on the cheek and answered, "And I'll be waiting for you, my love." With tears streaming down her face, she ran her hand over his heart one last time and walked out of the bedroom.

"Thank you for letting him believe she was here with him," his sister, Martha, said. "I always believed there was a reason why he asked my son to name his daughter Celia, but I never knew what it was."

Shortly before midnight, Sam and Buffy were just settling down in front of the fire after checking on their kids when Martha joined them with a sad smile. "He's gone," she announced softly. "He's with his beloved and his comrades once more. Only fitting he should get to rejoin them on this day. Thank you again for making it a happy death for him."

Buffy stood up to hug Martha and Sam quoted, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away."

A/N: Thanks to all those who served, are serving or will serve in the military. They deserve our respect and admiration for living a hard life that asks for many sacrifices on their part, sometimes even the ultimate one.