Challenge Fic: The Gift Revisited part 3/3

The Aftermath...

It had only been a week but it felt like an eternity to Giles, held prisoner in the hospital as mortal vampires drained him of his blood and his soul. After all the tests were done and the insurance claims were filed, they set him free into a harsh reality no longer blessed by the presence of his reason for living, his Buffy. He'd been so close to death, so close to following his love into forever but fate had another plan for him. Yet again, he'd managed to cheat death, or did death cheat him. Regardless, he remained alive and lonely while his heart lay rotting in shallow soil. They put her to rest in one of the cemeteries she used to patrol, marking her grave with an almost perverse but fitting phrase. "She Saved the World A Lot." It was unimpressive, almost humorous to the unqualified eye but her friends knew and would never forget. He hadn't visited the site yet, that was why he made his way through the darkness on a cool, misty evening.

Giles wandered the shadows of the northern cemetery, heading for the uppermost fence. Money was scarce; they were forced to settle on a substandard parcel of land in which to bury her. It pained him to think he hadn't gotten a say in her funeral arrangements. But then again, he was on the brink of death. The group probably thought they would need to add another plot to the bill. Giles cursed the fates for punishing him with his life.

It had been an hour already with no sign of Buffy's final resting place. Giles was about to give up for the evening when he spotted a single white rose place purposefully on an ordinary headstone under an oak tree. As he approached the site, he felt echoes of his heart chiming on the wind. He'd found the spot, he sensed it. Sure enough, the almost comical phrase came into view as he stepped up to the gravesite.

"I found you," he whispered, staring at the chiseled stone and trying to see her image in it. She wasn't there but he felt her, sensed her. He removed a small wadded up cloth from his pocket and began to unfold it, smiling weakly at the headstone for its patience with his nervousness.

"I'm sorry I haven't come sooner. Seems I was detained..." his throat constricted, it was too soon. The sorrow stabbed into him like a dagger. He wanted to leave, to spare himself the anguish of their reunion but it was something that needed to be done. Life at the Hellmouth moved on and now he had to decide, carry the burden of responsibility along with an unlikely band of youths and an impotent and heartbroken vampire or search for a new beginning or end. He knelt down on one knee and placed his open palm on the damp grass, wanting to feel the earth below him, to experience what she was going through.

"I'm sorry, Buffy."

He paused, waiting for a response that would never come. A tear trickled down his cheek and landed on the hand that held the cloth, reminding him of the intention of his visit. He placed the item on the base of the headstone and struggled to his feet, ignoring the jolts of pain from his side. A silent farewell passed his lips and he paused to reflect on their last moment together.

"What is this?" The familiar masculine voice came from behind and Giles sighed at the unwanted visitor.

"None of your concern," Giles answered as the vampire stepped into the dim light cast from the nearby street.

"I'm afraid it is, she made it my concern."

Giles stared at the headstone as a hand took up the token he'd placed there.

"A ring?" the vampire asked softly. "Your ring."

"It has no place with me now." Giles refused to look at the meddlesome intruder.

"I gave her a ring once. What's the story with this one?"

Giles let out an agitated sigh. "It is a Council ring, given only to active Watcher's."

"Last time I checked, Buffy wasn't a Watcher. Why would she need this?"

"It has no place with me now."

"I think we're on repeat here, Rupert."

Giles continued to stare forward as the vampire strolled behind him and took up a position just out of view.

"This ring represents your work, your duty. So why is it you're leaving it here?"

"My duty died with her."

"I think she'd argue that point."

"She can't... she'd dead." Giles grimaced at his the callousness of his words.

"Yeah...she's dead. You're not," the voice grew stronger as an unwelcome arm draped along Giles shoulders. "You took a vow or swore and oath or something right? To defend this sorry world, to protect the innocent, to serve humanity until your dying day?"

"Something like that." Giles couldn't care less.

"Sorry old man, you're not dead yet. There are a few more good years of battling evil in you. Besides, I need all the help I can get."

"Why are you here?" Giles finally looked into the eyes of the old ally who was pestering him. "You left this life behind years ago."

"You can't leave this behind, Giles. It follows you, haunts you. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you remain here. Your heart stays here. She knew it. I know it. You just haven't opened your eyes yet. "

Giles returned his stare to the grave as the vampire's arm slid away and he moved back to the headstone.

"Everything that held me here is gone. My reason for being..."

"So now you blame Buffy for your cowardice?"

"How dare you!" Giles clenched his fist, eager to let go and pummel the brazen demon questioning him.

"Buffy said that the hardest thing in this world was to live in it. She would want you to live, Giles."

Giles felt another tear escape his eye as he looked over at the old acquaintance. "How did you know she said that?"

"She told me." He smiled and tenderly stroked the chiseled stone. "Through Dawn. She needs you here, Giles. Your duty is more important than ever. Buffy can't be here to salvage the ruins left behind by her death. That's your job, your duty... to her."

With that, the vampire carefully placed the ring upon the stone right beside the white rose and departed gracefully into the shadows.

Giles stood in silent contemplation, considering the words of the old ally and sometimes enemy. He remained at the grave, taking in the breeze as his thoughts refused to give him peace.

"I love you," he said softly toward the earth. "I always will."

Giles walked away, leaving a bare spot where the ring once sat.

The end.