The Candle That Burns So Brightly

The Candle That Burns So Brightly

Giles looked up into the darkness of the library. A moment ago he thought perhaps he'd heard something, but no. The once Watcher scanned the interior of the room, looking for anything he might have missed before. There was nothing there. Not anymore. Not ever again.

Setting one smaller book apart from all the rest, he picked up the short pile and brought them to the create in his office. The delivery men would arrive tomorrow to pick up all his books, now bound back to London, and his flat there. Emerging from his office with a cup of tea, his final task of the night completed, he sat down at the table to reflect upon his tenure here. That's when he noticed the book was gone.

He was probably still in the room.

"Angel, I didn't…" Giles trailed off, the tears that came so easily these days beginning to well up and into his voice. The silence was so complete after he composed himself, the younger man wasn't sure if anyone was in the room after all.

"It's a Watcher Diary," he began, referring to the book that was now in the possession of the vampire. //When will I ever stop thinking of him like that? Buffy obviously didn't. Her mother doesn't. Willow doesn't. And even now, after all he's done for all of us, all I see is his darker side. Perhaps it would help if I could see the bastard emit one particle of emotion.// Instantly Giles chastised himself for thinking in such a way. //His loss is as great as mine, if not more. I should not judge. And just because he does not allow me to see it… Buffy was the only one he let that close.//

"It chronicles a Slayer who died…" He couldn't bare to think of his horrible, life ending mistake yet again. But he always managed too. "God, I didn't know, I didn't know. I thought she'd just…" //Just died. But then if she had, then Buffy wouldn't have, now would she? She would still be here. Laughing, talking, slaying, and enjoying the first few months of marital bliss. But no. My stupidity, my arrogance, led to her death. Just died. No one just dies.// "There were so many diseases going around, medical science being in it's infancy, I thought she just…"

He couldn't bear it anymore. Giles' head drooped slowly into his waiting hand. When he looked up an eternity later, there he was. Her Angel. Her vision in black. //He once told me he wore black for the remembrance of all those he'd killed. Now… Now it's for her. I wonder how long this period of mourning will last.//

Giles looked tentatively up, into the shadows, into the haunted face of his Slayer's love. He looked gaunt, and his color, not that Giles had ever realized he'd had any, was off. //He hasn't fed,// Giles realized with a sort of detached interest. //And what blood he had he's cried. Well, that's something.//

He looked into the man's unnaturally red eyes, wondering what brought him out of the shadows. Only once had Giles seen him since the wake at her mother's home. Oh, he'd heard from others that had seen him, in fact, everyone else had seen Angel at one point. Or at least, he'd seen them. But only once had Giles caught a glimpse of him unawares, and even then, only from afar, passing through the cemetery, showing the new Slayer and her Watcher the more activity prone spots of town. He'd seen him, sitting next to her grave, talking softly to her. He'd avoided the area. He'd meant to anyway.

Finally speaking, the dark shadow's voice was even, betraying no emotion. "She wanted you to have this." He paused, and pulled out a large silver cross by its chain, dropping it into the waiting hands of her Watcher. "When I gave it to her," he began, large blood tears beginning to form in the corners of his eyes. "She made it part of her, to protect her, especially when I wasn't there." He paused, perhaps feeling the cool slick blood streak its path down whitened planar cheekbones. "She wanted you to have it," again he paused, then resumed. "To make it apart of you, to protect you when she… When she cannot be there."

Giles paused to stare at the chilled silver cross he held so gently in his hands, before clenching his eyes tightly against all else, trying to forget the pain, forget the past. By the time he'd opened his eyes, he knew he was truly alone.

*

It had hurt, but he'd seen them all. Even Xander. Giving them each a message, or token, or sometimes just understanding silence embodied in a chilled embrace to somehow ease the pain that refused to go away.

With Willow, he'd cried as she held on to him, silently sobbing herself. They'd stayed like that for quite awhile, just sitting on her front porch. Of all the one's he'd had to see, the energetic little red head reminded him the most of Buffy. Her life, her vitality, her youthful candidness were all so similar to that of his young wife. It hurt just to be around her friends, but in a way, it was coldly comforting as well.

//I know I carry a piece of her inside of me. But these are her friends. They do as well.//

With Joyce, he'd sat on one end of the couch, watching the woman who had all but adopted him as her equal and her son, as she curled up into a little ball, just like Buffy had so many times before. Sometimes silent, sometimes laughing through her tears, she remembered Buffy younger, and told him of all the things her little girl would have been embarrassed that her husband knew. All the time, she held the wedding picture, an identical one to his own, not taken by a photographer - for some reason, his image wouldn't be captured by film - but by an artist, one who sketched life into his features and her own. They were perpetually happy. Full of love, full of life.

In the deep of the night when there was still a few hours till morning, when she was fast asleep by his side, he'd often toyed with the idea of taking her over, then reensouling her. It was something he knew at this point, she would have vehemently opposed, but later on perhaps… But no. There was no later now. There had been a time limit. Nineteen years, and two weeks. Nineteen years to live. Two weeks to die. As long as any Slayer has.

They had gotten married while she was relatively young because they knew they didn't have forever. Nearly nineteen, and it had been hell to get her father's blessing. But after awhile, even he came to understand. No one has forever to live, and she had less time than most, everyone knew it. But not a single person was prepared. Everyone thought that it would be violent, at the hands of a monster. And Angel was there to protect her. With him around, he could hear them say, she'll out live us all.

No one thought that perhaps the candle that burnt so brightly was never meant to burn long. And if she wasn't killed off by her natural predator, then to uphold the cycle of life, her own body would betray itself, upon its nineteenth year just cease functioning, little by little, organ by organ. Until one day, her heart simply stopped.

And it had happened once before.

But he didn't blame Giles. Giles fill that capacity enough. No one knew. And all the researching in the world wouldn't have helped, not really. Giles couldn't have protected her against this any more than he could have. And in the end, they'd both failed her. Her watchers. Her protectors. They couldn't protect her against herself, they couldn't reverse the damage her body had done, not at the rate it was destroying itself. And before he really knew what was going on, she was gone. Now, of course, he knew exactly what had happened. He had a copy of her medical charts. They couldn't deny him. He had been her husband.

But what to do with them, with the knowledge he now had, Angel didn't know. All he wanted to do was lie on her grave and wait for the cleansing rays of the morning sun. Deliver his miserable soul to whoever would have it, and end this torment he was in. Even if he had to begin a new one.

Even so, he had two more people to see before any decisions could be made. He looked forward to neither.

Empty handed, he knelt down beside her grave and with a small smile noted the carefully placed items in front of it. His own fresh red rose, lying in the center of the small shrine, to either side of it lay a mug from the Bronze, filled with rainwater and tears, a knarled and twisted wooden stake, a small golden ID bracelet, a small colored computer disk containing the secrets and feelings of a young girl who'd lost her friend, a large wooden cross, that, as he ran his hands just on the air surrounding it, Angel could tell had been blessed by someone who truly feared God, a smallish stuffed pig that had always been a source of comfort, and a pair of car keys, the wedding gift of a father who'd missed out on everything that had ever mattered to him.

As he thought of all of these things and those who had left them, Angel didn't even notice the tears flowing freely down his face.

He missed her so much. There was an empty hole in him where she had been. It would never be filled, either. That much, if anything, he knew from all the years he'd been existing. Oh, the hole wouldn't always be raw and bloody like it was now. It wouldn't always feel as if his heart had been torn away to leave the gaping, weeping vacancy that there now was. It wouldn't always feel as if his soul had been rent in two, leaving one part shocked and alone, and hiding the other part in a place that never in a thousand years of penitence and remorse he would ever be able to reach. No, it wouldn't be like that forever. One day, when his wounds had been sufficiently cauterized and numbed off, he might be able to think of her and smile, remembering her laugh, remembering how she would babble when she was nervous, remembering the times he would comfort her after her prophetic nightmares, remembering their nights of love so sweet it would almost warm him to just think about it. He would smile at her innocence, her grace, her gentility, her strength, her imagination, and her capacity to love. One day.

Now, he could only mourn for her. He would mourn for her forever.

"I don't know what to do, Baby." He looked down into the grass, down where her body lay, not being able to raise his bloodstained eyes to meet the words of her gravestone. He didn't need to. They were etched into his heart as surely as the stone before him. She'd taken his name at marriage, though he hadn't pressured her to. Now, it was all her former class mates could do to actually find the grave. He could hear their ghost-like whisperings even now, echoing in his head with a thousand other voices.

**Dude, she's married? Like, when did that happen?**

**No way. Just a couple of months? Wow, that really sucks.**

**Yea, so where is he? That's him? Nah, don't know him.**

**I've seen him around. Saw them together at the Bronze that one time, don't you remember?**

**Yea, him. That's him. Her husband. Looks older doesn't he? Last time I checked, they were just going out.**

**Nah, she never really talked about him in school. If you were at the Bronze though, sometimes you'd see them dancing.**

**Not surprising, really. I mean, she was always kinda weird. No, I wasn't invited. Though, I heard nobody was. Only like, her closest friends and her parents. Though I heard some of the teachers went or some weird shit like that.**

**Kinda scary looking, isn't he? Well, yea, I guess it could just be that too.**

**Freaky how many people are here. She wasn't that popular. Wonder why we bother?**

//Because every single one of you owes your life to her, several times over, and deep down something inside of you knows that. That's why, you annoying little bitch. She was a hundred times the woman you are, but you couldn't even deign to say hello to her in the halls. She envied your innocence, but hated your indifference…// Angel caught himself and his hatred towards Buffy's classmates. They didn't deserve it. They were children who knew no better.

He silently brought himself back to the painful task at hand.

"I talked to everyone. I started with the new Slayer and her Watcher. Giles hadn't told them about me, so it was a bit difficult, but I managed to make them understand." He paused, thinking about that encounter. "She's not as strong as you, by the way. I think her Watcher knows that too. It's sad. She's only fourteen. I don't think she'll last the year, though if she trains hard, she might. She's not too bright either. But it would be better for her to train than study.

"I talked to Xander. He's still a prick, and I still don't like him, but I promise he won't die because of me. But he does miss you. That's his only redeeming feature at the moment.

"I talked to your father. I don't think he's ever really gotten used to me. I know he resents me. Yea, I won't go into details. I'm sure you can imagine why.

"Talked to Will. All of this has made her think about going into medicine. I think she should, don't you? The computer world will have lost a genius, but medicine will have gained a miracle worker, I think. I'll keep tabs on her, don't worry. Make sure she gets through without owing her body and soul to a bank or institution." He paused, thinking about the young friend. "She misses you. I think she always will.

"I talked with your mother. We sat on the couch and she told me about the time when you were five and you peed in the garden. She looks just like you, did you know that? She does. And she acts like you as well. I see her, and I see you, how you might have been in twenty years. Yea, it hurts like hell.

"I…" he began to falter. "I haven't talked to Giles. I will. I'll give him the cross. But… I… Just haven't gotten there yet. I think he hates me. I really think he does. I know he blames himself for not being able to save you, for not knowing earlier, but how he must hate me. I was there, your self appointed protector, and yet I could do nothing." Angel sighed, not really knowing how to go on. "But then, I suppose I deserve every ounce of anger, hatred, and resentment that he has. After all, he has to direct it somewhere.

"I'll go to him. Soon. I promise. It's just… After that. I don't know. What do I do, Baby? Should I stay and help this one? Like I said, my help or no, I don't give her much over two years. But even if she does, by some miracle, last longer than that, she's just going to die. Just like you."

//Don't let this happen again,// a small voice chimed in above the din in his mind. Angel couldn't be sure who'd said the words, but the essence was that of his lover.

He looked up into the night sky, bright with the stars and moon, but obscured by the red haze welling in his eyes. The blood gathering in the back of his throat made speech difficult. "How? How can I possibly stop it?"

//Don't let this happen again,// the small voice pitifully repeated, seemingly filled with tears.

He was openly weeping now, ragged breaths shaking his pale mourning frame. He let out a howl of pain and despair as the blood poured from his body, never noticing the echoes from his growling sobs resonating off the monuments they had once walked through.

Angel collapsed in a heap when he heard the words repeated yet again, sounding even more like his forever gone love. "I won't," he managed to get out between heart wrenching sobs.

"I won't."

*

Epilogue:

Willow hadn't been here for awhile. Giles was gone, back to England, though he'd given her his address. She'd tried to become friends with the new Slayer and her Watcher, but they had such an attitude. Like it was some exclusive club, and she wasn't allowed in. Even though she'd been there, done that, and gotten the t-shirt and emotional scarring to prove it. So instead of trying to prove herself, she'd moved on.

She'd begun the first semester of University life at the local state college, but was thinking of transferring to an east coast school for the next semester. All her reasons for staying had faded away, though medical school was still looking very much like a good option, and she might even be able to get early admittance.

Reaching the gravesite, she sat down in her customary spot, ready to regale her friend with the latest and greatest of what was going on. Willow set one of her two tall mochaccinos next to the head stone and caught her attention at the flower that always had a station directly in the center of the space in front of the stone. The fresh red rose that had always been there, was now wilted. No one ever was seen to replace it, no one ever seemed to touch it, but every morning for the last six months there had been a fresh red rose in the same place. And no one she'd talked to had ever claimed it. And for that very reason alone, she knew exactly who'd placed it there. And she knew now, exactly who'd gone.

"I wonder if he'll return."



Title: The Candle That Burns So Brightly
Author: Sare Liz Gordy TeknoVamp@yahoo.com
Archive: Email me and it's yours
Disclaimer: Writing this sort of thing, I really could be Joss, but I'm not. And they are characters from his sadistic fantasies, not my own loving ones. I promise that if I were ever to be given the chance, I would be sweet and kind to them, never putting Angel in this sort of situation ever again, instead having him fuck Buffy to incoherency. I swear.

Author's Notes: I finished this one in one relative sitting and only three hours, with an overabundance of tissues. I do believe that is a record. The idea hit me in the shower, thinking of the average lifespan of a Slayer and such. I sat down to jot a few ideas so I wouldn't forget, and ended up writing the whole damn thing. I'm thinking of a sequel, but I'm not really sure I want to go there. I'm not the Queen of Angst, this does not come naturally to me, and this was concieved with much pain on my part.


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