: Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. Anita Blake belongs to Laurell K. Hamilton. No profit has been made from this fic, and the only benefit to me is personal satisfaction and the creative process. I hope you enjoy.Notes
: Originating from a FFA entry entitled Over Flame, this story has expanded and is a sequel/sister story to Mind the Gap.
Begins after Buffy leaves the hospital in Mind the Gap chapter 8.1. As with MtG, spoilers for all of Buffy and Angel, and Anita Blake to Incubus Dreams
Buffy lit a taper and used it to light candle after candle at the alter.
One for Mom. One for Tara. One for Anya. One for Kendra. One for all of the other Slayers, dead in their graves.
She hesitated, then lit two more candles. One for Angel and one for Spike. God wouldn't mind. God didn't hate.
The melting wax from the taper slid down, onto her fingers. It hurt, but then, everything always hurt. She didn't let anyone know, but what she had said to Spike, that day behind the Magic Box, was still true. Too bright, too loud, too hard. All pain.
She blew out the taper and watched the smoke curl up into the air, up to heaven. The taper went back on the ledge.
Buffy turned, slowly, because she didn't want to leave here. Maybe it was only a placebo, but she felt calmer here than she had since... Since.
There was someone watching her. Midnight in the church, only the candles moving, and there was someone watching her from the third pew.
He felt strange, not human, but not evil. Buffy could have walked past him and out into the night, but she wanted to stay in this place.
The longer she stared at him, in the oppressive silence, the more unreal he seemed. Even sitting, Buffy could see he was tall. Black hair, tanned skin, eyes deep as pools.
Then his lips parted and his tongue slid over his lips. The sheen of the moisture was startlingly bright in the candlelight.
In a heartbeat, Buffy lived a life with that man. Ate breakfast with him, made love to him, had children with him, paid bills with him, grew old with him.
Then time stepped forward, and they were back in the church at midnight, alone but for the burning lights.
She should leave, go back to her hotel room and wait, to go pick up Dawn in the morning, take her to wherever home was.
But instead, she walked slowly up the aisle and sat in the pew beside that man.
He watched her silently, as she sat down and pulled her coat tighter. The look he gave her was too intimate, too familiar. So she gave him the only response she could. She smiled.
They both watched the candles burn for a while. It was easy to pretend, in the stillness, that the flame would go on forever.
"Why did you light so many candles?" His voice wasn't anything she was expecting, but it felt right, as if she had waited for years to hear that voice.
"For the people I've lost." Buffy's eyes slid past the cross on the alter and went to the nativity scene, already displayed at the side of the church. Never too early to think about love, she supposed.
She had felt loved, once. She had been finished. No longer.
"My condolences," he said.
"You didn't know them," Buffy replied, softly. "Sometimes I wonder if I remember them at all. If I forget them, will they exist any more?"
"What do you think?"
"I think they do." Buffy sighed and rotated her neck. "They have to. Otherwise, I have to live forever so someone remembers."
The man was silent for a long time. Candles guttered and died.
"I think that you mean that."
"Of course I do," Buffy said.
"Who are you?" he asked, turning to look at her. She was suddenly aware how close they were sitting, only a hair's width between their bodies. She could feel the heat from his body like candy on her tongue.
"I'm Buffy," she said, because it was the only answer she had. It felt like a lie, but there was no one to tattle on her.
"Why are you so sad?"
Buffy reached up and traced her fingers along his cheekbone, down to his chin, then across his soft lips. He shuddered under her touch. "I think I forgot how not to be."
He moved suddenly, caught her hand in both of his and firmly kissed her fingertips. Then he moved her hand lower, until it was pressed against his chest. Through the fabric of his shirt, Buffy could feel his heartbeat, firm and steady.
"Does it feel strange?" she asked, caught up in his eyes and what she saw there.
"Living." Buffy slid her hand down to his arm, where she had seen a hint of something she needed to know. His breath quickened as she slid his shirt sleeve up, to expose the brand. It was a rough, four-pointed crown, an old burn. "Who are you?"
"Rafael," he told her, pulling his arm back and straightening his sleeve. He didn't move away from her, on the pew.
"What are you thinking about?"
He caught her hand back up, and stroked her fingers. It was an intimate touch, the touch of a lover, and it didn't seem strange or wrong.
"Once, I was married and had a son. My wife... she couldn't deal with what I was. She made my son afraid of me."
"And what are you?" Buffy asked, her curiosity light and far away. The here and now was his touch on her hand, the gently touch of his thigh against hers on the bench.
His fingers stilled. "Wererat." Voice so soft, she needed Slayer hearing to make out his words.
Buffy pulled her hand out of his grasp, and he let her. Buffy felt him pulling way from her, folding in on himself, and her heart ached.
She laid her hand on his forearm and the burn mark, hidden by the cloth.
"Someone once told me that the hardest thing in this world is to live in it. I often wonder if she was right. But it's not about living for yourself, it's about living for other people."
Nothing made sense any more. She'd almost lost her sister, like she had lost so many others. She didn't know what she wanted any more.
"I have people depending on me, all the time, and it makes it easier," Rafael said, his deep voice sounding like velvet.
"Me too," Buffy said. She licked her lips, watching as Rafael's gaze focused on her mouth, like a dying man looks at his last drink.
"I want to ask you to marry me, but I don't even know you," Rafael suddenly said.
"So get to know me, then ask," Buffy replied. This whole thing was crazy, but she was used to crazy. Life was crazy.
Rafael reached up and pushed a strand of hair off her cheek. His touch was hot on her skin, and it made her close her eyes. Craving more.
"This can never work," Rafael murmured.
"Nothing works. Nothing lasts. All we have is what we try. It may take us days to break, or maybe years, but I want you to be the one to break me." Buffy opened her eyes. His face was close, almost out of focus.
"You're very strange," he whispered, lips so close.
"I've been told that," she said, then closed the last gap and kissed him.
His mouth tasted like cinnamon, hot and moist and silky. His arms slid around her body, so careful. She knew he didn't want to break her. Luckily, she was hard to break.
Later, reluctantly, they broke apart, breathing hard. When she wasn't touching him, it hurt again, so Buffy entwined her fingers with his, just so she wasn't so very alone.
"I need to leave," Rafael whispered in the hush of the church. But he kept playing with Buffy's hair, stroking her cheek with his thumb.
"Come with me," he asked, and she knew that this impulsiveness wasn't normal for him. She wanted to know his normal.
"Okay," she said. Somehow, as they stood up, hands still entwined with the promise of what was to come, life didn't hurt as much.