The Patriarch

by Cynamin

Disclaimers: Oh, I wish he were mine!

Spoilers: Nothing specific

Rating: PG, I guess

Content: B/A implied, character death (but it’s not a sad story, really! Or at least, it’s not supposed to be – but I managed to get teary writing it, which is a first.)

Author’s Note: Another one of those highly rare short stories! Wow… Anyway, someone wrote a story a while ago where at one point Buffy begged Angel to stay alive for their children, grandchildren, and all the generations after that. I haven’t read the story in quite a long time, but that’s where the idea essentially came from.

Distribution: Anyone who has any of my stories. Anyone else, just ask please. My fanfic can be found at http://www.ficgoddess.com

Feedback: Questions? Comments? Criticisms or snide remarks?

 

 

 

 

I can clearly remember the first time I really met him. I’d seen him, and I knew the family called him Grandfather, but I’d never really met him before. Mom and Dad had separated me from the huge family party full of people I did not know and escorted me to a quiet area of the house. I didn’t like the house, then. It was big and dark with only the barest nods to modern technology. It was like living in a castle, and not the type made up for tourists. A real castle – dark and ancient with the feel of centuries etched on its very walls. I didn’t like the house, and I was nervous, clutching the newest family photograph to my chest as I trailed behind my parents.

 

I don’t remember what they said, but they left me alone with him. I was thirteen years old, and I had no clue what was going on, except that it was some sort of big deal for my family. Not just my immediate family – all the aunts and uncles and cousins and ‘twice-removed’s that gathered in the main room and out on the lawn had watched me leave as if something momentous was about to happen. Once alone in that small, quiet room, I could not speak. I approached the chair near the window on shaky legs, the portrait held out before me like an offering. He was already an old man, then, his hair fully gray and his face lined with years. He’d always been on the edge of any family gathering I could remember, but I’d never been this close before. I held out the picture to him with shaky hands, and when he took it gently from me, he smiled.

 

That smile was all it took to make me relax and grin right back. He was transformed in a moment from a terrifying figure (okay, maybe not terrifying, but certainly mysterious) to something like an old-fashioned Santa Claus without the beard.

 

“Come, Caroline,” he said as he stood from his chair, “Why don’t we put this in the Memory Room together?”

 

He did not wait for an answer, but led me through a simple door on one end of the room. There were no windows in the second room, and it took me a second to make sense of what I was seeing. Photographs. Hundreds…no, thousands, of old-fashioned photographs. They were framed on three of the four walls, stacked in photo albums, propped up on tabletops and corner shelves and every other bit of available space. There was an old, worn couch in the center of the room with a blanket thrown over the back that looked well used. A place where one was meant to sit, unlike how I’d felt in other parts of the house. The Memory Room, he called it.

 

What caught my attention the longest, though, was a family tree painted along the length of the fourth wall. I’d learned about family trees once in school, but I’d never seen one this detailed. From one point on the far wall, it spread into myriad complex branches. The writing was small, almost hard to read, but that was the only way to fit so many generations onto the wall and have room to spare for the future. I walked past it slowly, my hand a centimeter from the paint, looking at the long sequence of names and the dates of birth and death. Centuries – this represented centuries.

 

After a dazed moment I was aware that he was watching me. I glanced back at him, and he grinned. “Would you like to see your name?”

 

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. He led me along the wall again to the newest section, where the branches were the most complex and spread apart. He scanned the section slowly with one hand, much like I had done. “Here,” he said at last, and there was my name and my birthday. I could follow the web of lines now, and find my brother, my parents, my grandparents, and the generations before that I had never met.

 

“Where are you, Grandfather?” I asked quietly.

 

He smiled even brighter. “You do speak!” he teased.

 

I giggled. I couldn’t help it.

 

So he led me along the wall again, and my eyes went wider and wider as I saw the centuries pass. And then, at last, he stopped at the very head of the tree and let his hand hover over the one name, amidst all those generations, where the date of death was conspicuously absent. Just ‘Angel.’ “I was born in 1727,” he said slowly. “I have seen more time than any other living being on this planet.” He smiled at me, and it was a sad smile. “Would you like to hear the story?”

 

We sat for hours upon hours after that, and he wove the tale of my family for my imagination. He told me about vampires and demons and Slayers. And any moment where I did not believe him, I had only to look at the photo albums filled with pictures of him, centuries without aging. Centuries of darkness and interior photography.

 

I traced my hand over one of the older photographs of him. “I kinda look like you,” I said.

 

He looked at me and smiled. “You look like my sister,” he said instead.

 

Then, suddenly, there was the introduction of sunlight to the pictures. That, he told me, was after he, my great-great-aunt Silvia (the last Slayer), and others of my family who felt the calling of a Warrior had fought and defeated the hosts of the demon dimensions for good. Soon after sunlight entered the photos, age began to touch him. I saw gray turn his brown hair, and the first of the wrinkles, until he resembled the kindly old man I was getting to know now.

 

We were still talking when my parents came to take me to the hotel. I fell asleep quickly that night, and my dreams were filled with the wonders of centuries.

 

I did not see him for several years after that. I found myself thinking about him often, though. When I studied American history in college I found myself tempted to call him time and time again, to ask him for his first hand observations, or simply wondering where he was and what he was doing in any given year. Time seemed to have new meaning for me.

 

When I saw him years later, he had visibly aged. His smile was still the same, though, even if it was lined by deeper wrinkles. Once again we spoke for hours. I vowed not to let so much time go by before I saw him again.

 

I remember that once I’d told my mother that I despised being around old people, but it was different with him. Maybe it was that there was no dread of death in his presence. He looked forward to an end, but he also lived every moment to its fullest. Around him, I felt more alive, because he was alive. A living history.

 

I had a whole new image of my family, and a legacy that stretched back longer than any but he could remember.

 

I asked him once if he had any idea the information that would be lost when he died. He frowned at that, one of the few frowns I ever saw. “I’ve seen more blood and death than the history books could ever record,” he said. “It’s best for all if that dies with me.”

 

In time, I stopped calling him ‘Grandfather.’ He wasn’t my grandfather, after all, and as I got older and visited him more he laughed when I said it.

 

“You need way too many ‘greats’ on there for that to be true,” he chuckled.

 

So, he was Angel. And for all that he had lived over five centuries, he still regretted the first hundred of darkness and death. Most times, though, he didn’t talk about the years before the first family (as I came to refer to his wife and children). We walked the house together, and I learned that it felt old because it was old, the house that he had bought with his wife. There were rooms upon empty rooms where children no longer lived.

 

“This is a house for family,” he said once. “It’s too quiet now.”

 

But it was a house filled with treasures galore. He showed me an old plastic mug, its writing long since worn away to a few colored specs, and told me proudly that it had once said ‘World’s #1 Dad.’ It had been a present for Father’s Day from his first-born. He showed me art projects and school papers, the things doting parents keep and treasure. It thrilled me to no end to be shown these personal things.

 

“There’s usually one per generation who wants to know,” he said. “I hoped it would be you.”

 

And I did want to know. Yet somehow I knew no matter how much time we spent together I would only scratch the surface of everything he’d seen. In time, though, that didn’t matter. He went from being living history to being family and a friend.

 

It was when I introduced him to my husband to be that he finally really told me about his wife. “Never pass up a chance for love,” he said. “We were lucky to have as many second chances as we did. Not everyone has that.” And so he told me about the small blond Slayer who was the other half of my family’s beginning. He told me how they met, and he told me of their many partings. “True love isn’t easy,” he said, “but it’s worth it. If you even suspect you have it, don’t let it go.”

 

He told me about how they finally got back together and how many trials it took for them to fully trust each other again. He told me about their three children, each one a miracle no one had ever been able to explain. And, when the story was done, he told me about her death. How she, at the age of sixty-three, had defended her granddaughter to the death from a demon.

 

“It’s how she would have wanted to go,” he said, though his eyes were sad. “Fighting. She never expected to die peacefully in her sleep, and she didn’t.”

 

I watched his health decline in later years, but his spirit never waned. When one family reunion came around he walked stiffly with a cane. Several years later it was with a nurse and wheelchair. His intelligence never faded, and still he told the children old enough to understand about the incredible family they were growing up in.

 

The last time I saw him, it was to tell him I was pregnant with my first child. Angel smiled at me, but he knew he would not be there to see her born.

 

“Will you add her name to the wall for me? In the Memory Room?” he asked.

 

I promised I would.

 

We buried Angel today, next to his wife as he wanted. There, around the new grave, lie his three children and his seven grandchildren, all with their husbands and wives. If future visitors wonder at the new headstone erected amongst the old, or the years carved into it, let them wonder. My family, his family, knows the truth, and that’s all that really matters.

 

There will be no grand memorial erected in his honor, his name will never appear in any history books, and the world will never know what it has lost. No obituary can ever do him justice. My family has lost its patriarch, but not its legacy. I’ll be there, to tell my children and my children’s children the wonderful history of their name. I will keep the family tree until I can not hold my hand steady enough to do so. One day, one of them will take up the past, and stare in wonder at the things Angel kept in the Memory Room.

 

Life and family will continue on.

 

 

 

The End



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