A perusal of the old basement under the high school showed no signs that the seal over the hellmouth had been disturbed, and after looking around carefully for any sign that there had been visitors to the area, Buffy and Spike made their way back out through the well-hidden tunnel entrance.
“Tell me again why you know how to do this?”
“Lucky guess, pet. Plus, a look at a town map and a less-than-fun time being crazy down here and having nothing else to do. Didn’t spend all my time hiding in one room before you found me. The rats and mice didn’t come to me, so I had to go looking for food, didn’t I?”
“Ugh! And yeah, I guess you did have time to figure out how to get in and out without going through the school.”
“Wanted no part of being around people. Visits from the First in the form of dead ones was more than enough socializing for me.”
Buffy shifted the scythe to her other hand. Since getting it out of the winery, she hadn’t let it out of her sight except to put it under the bed when they were sleeping. She knew chances were pretty slim she would find anything requiring that kind of a weapon, but having to fight a Turok-han so early in the year had spooked her more than she wanted to admit. Spike of course, saw right through her.
“I suspect Winnie’s right, love, and that ugly bugger had been snoozing away for centuries waiting for someone to try to take that shiny new toy of yours. You aren’t going to need that thing for a good while…. or if ever…. if we’ve done our job.”
She sighed and gave him a smile, sending a mental I love you even as she shook her head. “I hope you’re right,” she said. “But Caleb is still out there killing girls, and the Bringers are still running around killing potentials, so I think we have to be ready for anything.”
“We–you’ve got a lot more muscle on your side this time, Buffy. I’m not dancin’ to the First’s tune this time around, and you’ve got Winnie… and probably Max if we need him. For all we know, the bloody LAPD will do its job and arrest Caleb before he can do too much harm or get powered up.”
“According to Faith, the First has accomplices in prisons… which make sense, I guess. Evil—evil-doers, kind of go together, don’t they?”
“You’re right, pet. We need to be prepared.” He gave her a sideways look and nodded at the scythe. “But if you think you’re carrying that thing down the aisle when we get married, I’m callin’ it off. Don’t care how shiny it is.”
Buffy laughed. “Note to self, ask Mom to hold the scythe… or maybe Abby. I wonder if she can feel the power or if it’s just activated slayers?”
“Spike, honey, sweetie…. you know I love you, right?”
“Uh oh. This doesn’t sound like a conversation I’m going to enjoy….”
“I just… I mean… you are who you are, and I do love you… but I have this amazing dress and—”
“And you don’t want to be embarrassed by walking down the aisle to a man who looks like he’s there to cut the grass?” He gave her a disappointed head shake. “Do you think I’m that stupid, love?”
Buffy sighed. “No. I don’t think you’re stupid. I know you wouldn’t do that to me, but…” She waved her hand around the very small bedroom with its tiny closet. “I don’t see anything for you here.”
“Do you trust me, sweetheart?”
“Yes….” Knowing she sounded dubious, she quickly flashed him a warm of course I do! before he could take offense.
“Then trust me that when you come out of the house on Saturday and walk toward me, you won’t be embarrassed. Alright?”
“All right. I trust you. I’m sorry I mentioned it.”
“No worries, love. I’ll have on my best clean tee-shirt and jeans.”
“Very funny… not!”
He just laughed and waved her out the door. “You go to your mum’s and finish whatever planning has to be done, and don’t worry about me.”
When Buffy got to Joyce’s she saw that her “wedding committee” as she referred to them, were already gathered and working out last minute details. She watched with bemused affection as everything from seating the small number of guests to who was in charge of which refreshments was given to someone who dutifully made note of it on small pads of yellow paper that Willow had brought with her and handed out along with colorful pencils.
“So, you don’t really need me here, huh?” Buffy teased, causing everyone but Anya to look embarrassed.
Anya simply nodded and said, “That’s right. We’ve got it all under control. All you have to do is show up on time.”
Joyce broke in with a warm smile. “I’m hoping you’ll at least want to get dressed here. Is that all right with you?”
“Absolutely, Mom. I was already planning on it. I’ll bring the dress and veil over tomorrow and they can just be hanging in my old room, waiting for me….”
Joyce beamed and turned to Dawn. “You see, Dawn? She’s way ahead of us.”
“Shee-ah,” was the disbelieving reply. “I’ll bet she just thought of that now.” Dawn snorted and stuck her tongue out at Buffy.
Who retaliated with her own tongue, leading Willow to remark that neither of them seemed old enough to be getting married. There were giggles all around and Buffy found herself basking in the sounds and wondered what she’d done to be allowed such a moment of complete contentment.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Willow asked, her small smile making it clear she had a good idea what they were.
“I was just thinking how perfect this is, and how nothing could spoil it for me.”
When even her mother gaped at her in amazement and apprehension, she realized what she’d done. Turning her eyes skyward, she gasped, “I didn’t mean that! I really didn’t. It’s all awful! I don’t know how I’m going to cope!”
Everyone shook their heads in dismay, while Buffy just repeatedly smacked her forehead on the kitchen counter, but no one actually answered Joyce’s “Buffy? Who are you talking to?”.
“Well, let’s hope that worked,” Anya said briskly. “It never has before, but hey, the Powers really like you and Spike, so who knows?”
Changing the subject, Dawn asked, “Um, Buffy, did you talk to Spike about….”
Willow answered for Buffy. “Xander says he and Spike have it all under control, so we’re not to worry about them.”
Buffy nodded. “Yep. I did and he pretty much told me the same thing, so….”
“I presume we’re talking about Spike’s normal manner of dressing… which is wildly inappropriate for a wedding,” Anya said. “Giles might have been a better choice to help him with that, but Xander may be able to be useful.”
Willow stood up for her best male friend, glaring at Anya. “Xander will be just fine. He knows about things like wedding suits.”
Anya gave a dismissive sniff, which was followed by silence as everyone absorbed her complete lack of interest in her former fiancé. Joyce struggled to get the meeting back on track before it deteriorated any further.
“So,” she said brightly. “Are we all squared away now? Everybody knows their job, and everybody who needs to be there has been told what time it will be and where, right?”
There were nods all around, as the very small list of people to be invited was outnumbered by the participants.
“Where are you going….” Spike mumbled from where he had a light-blocking pillow over his face.
“I’m going to my mom’s,” Buffy said as she pulled the scythe in its new case out from under the bed. “Remember? I’m going to help with any heavy lifting she needs with furniture and stuff, and then I’m going to have a relaxing bath, wash my hair, and get myself all dressed and pretty for our wedding.”
“Oh yeah. That’s today, isn’t it?” He sent her a warm vision of herself modeling one of the veils to take the sting out of his words. How could I forget?
“It is today, smartass. See that you and your best man show up when you’re supposed to. And don’t spend the day drinking beer!”
“Oh ho. I see how it’s going to be. I’m not sure I’m going to like this marriage thing.”
His laughter was silent, but the amusement came through the claim loud and clear.
“Tough luck, for you. It’s going to happen. At six this evening, to be exact. So be there.”
Looking much like she was a musician carrying her instrument, Buffy took her scythe and walked out the door into the sunlight. In spite of Spike’s desire for more sleep, it was actually already noon and she hastened to her mother’s home to get there in time to be useful.
After being chased out of the downstairs and yard by her mother and Dawn, Buffy took herself up to her room and stretched out on her old bed. She contemplated the familiar ceiling for a few moments, wondering idly if she was going to be able to keep if from collapsing with the rest of the city this time around.
Wow. That puts this into perspective, doesn’t it? If we fail this time, the whole world might go down with us. No amulet means no burning up Spike’s soul to close the hellmouth forever. And no house full of potentials means no army of girls to empower if it comes to that. This could actually be worse instead of better….
No sooner had she had that thought, then Warren Mears suddenly appeared in her room.
“You think you’ve got this, don’t you,” he sneered. “Little miss goody-two shoes and her tame vampire, getting into everybody’s business.”
Buffy’s heartrate went up until she realized what was going on.
“Take a hike,” she said, sitting up and slowing her breathing. “You’re not gonna make it out of there this time either.”
Warren frowned in confusion for a second, causing Buffy to take note that the First apparently didn’t know where or when she was from. She smirked at it and shook her head.
It hesitated, then continued in Warren’s smarmy way, “I can do this the hard way if I have to. I can pick those wannabe slayers off one at a time until you’re the only one left. And then I’ll get you. I might even give your boyfriend a little nudge and he’ll do it for me. Poetic justice. You spread your legs for him, and he bites you until you die.”
“You let me know how that works out for you, huh?” Buffy said, getting to her feet and moving in its direction. “In the meantime, get the hell out of here, I have to get ready for a wedding.”
As she reached it and waved her hand in front of its face, it disappeared with an audible popping noise. She shook herself and debated about calling everyone, then decided she’d just wait until the wedding was over to remind everybody that the First could appear to them as anyone who was or had been dead.
She didn’t enjoy the hot bath quite as much as she might have if she wasn’t spooked by the idea of the First peering in at her. But she scrubbed and exfoliated and then moisturized anyway, prior to doing her make-up and hair. When she looked to herself as good as she thought she could, she went downstairs in her bathrobe to make sure everything was all right.
“It’s all fine, Buffy, we were just getting ready to come upstairs to get ready ourselves. And Willow is here to help you get dressed.”
Buffy smiled at Willow who was holding her own bridesmaid dress in one hand, and a small cosmetic case in another.
“C’mon up. We need some best-friend time.”
As Willow followed her up the stairs, she said, “I kinda thought Spike was your best friend now?”
Buffy halted at the top and turned to stare at Willow’s frowning face.
She started to deny it, then sighed. “I’m sorry, Wills. I guess it seems that way now. And to be honest, he is my best friend, as well as my partner in slaying and my lover. But, he’s a guy, you know? It’s not the same, trust me.”
Willow’s expression brightened. “He is, isn’t he? A guy I mean. Just like Xander’s my best friend, but also a guy. And guys like guy things.”
“They do. I just hope they don’t get so busy liking guy things that they forget to get dressed and be here on time.”
“I’ll turn them both into frogs if they do,” Willow vowed. “Stupid, ugly, little frogs.”
They giggled together and then went about the business of getting dressed. As they stepped from Buffy’s room, they ran into Dawn, who was wearing a blue version of the soft green dress Willow had on. In order to blend with Buffy’s gown, their own dresses were knee-length sheaths of slightly less amazing fabric than Buffy’s body-hugging, yet modest gown. Courtesy of Mrs. Johnson and her shop, both girls had been fitted with dresses appropriate for an outdoor evening wedding. Similar in style and fabric to Buffy’s white, full-length gown, but less gasp-inducing, the dresses had both Dawn and Willow agreeing that they loved them, and that they didn’t look at all like ordinary bridesmaid wear.
At the last second, Buffy told Willow to go on and ran back into her room to grab the scythe. She frowned for a second, then picked up an old sword that she hadn’t taken with her when she moved into the apartment. Carrying her weapons, she walked down the stairs slowly to be greeted by rolled eyes.
“What? I just want them close by,” she said. “It’s Sunnydale. You never know….”
She set the scythe case down by the kitchen door, flicking the clasp open as she did so, and then put the sword on top of it. She walked back to where Anya was waiting impatiently for her.
“You stay here until Giles comes for you,” Anya demanded, taking her self-assigned job as wedding coordinator very seriously. “Willow, you’ll be in front of her, and Dawn will be first in line.”
She bustled outside to check on the guests, all of whom seemed to be present and accounted for and already seated on either side of the short aisle between the back porch and the small tent at the end of the yard. There, Spike and Xander, backed up by Clem, were waiting with a justice of the peace, who was half-demon and quite comfortable with the unusual wedding party members.
The tent was unneeded on the lovely late fall day, but they’d decided to use it just in case anyone was watching who might wonder why Spike wasn’t on fire from the just-setting sun. The caterers had delivered and set up the buffet dinner before Clem or Spike arrived, so they weren’t around to remark on the bridegroom’s pallor or the other attendant’s unusual skin condition.
Buffy peered around Willow, trying to see who was there. Of course, her mom was seated in the front row, with Winston sitting next to her, Buffy noticed with a small sigh. Max was seated on the other side of the make-shift aisle, talking to someone it took Buffy a moment to realize was Wesley. Behind them were Abby and Lois Anderson, looking somewhat bewildered by Clem, but gamely smiling and nodding when anyone spoke to them. Behind Buffy’s mother were two chairs, one of which Anya was sitting down in while gesturing for Giles to go into the house.
He entered the kitchen, his eyes going immediately to Buffy. His “You look lovely, Buffy,” was almost whispered and she blushed as she waved him to her side.
“I think you’re doing the honors,” she said softly. “If you don’t mind, of course. I mean, if you do, I can walk just fine by myself and—”
He stopped her before she could work up a good babble. “Of course, I don’t mind. I’m honored to be the one you chose.”
Anya put her head in the door, hissing, “You were supposed to tell them to start out now. Come on, Dawn, You’re first.” She ran back to her seat and nodded to the officiant.
Dawn came out on to the porch and walked carefully down the steps and across the grass to stand opposite where Spike, Xander, and Clem stood in a line. Willow came next, staring straight ahead and avoiding eye contact with anyone except Xander.
Then, at a signal from Anya, Buffy and Giles began their own short walk down the steps and across the lawn. There was a collective gasp as everyone saw Buffy in her non-traditional, but still obviously a wedding dress. She felt it flowing around her legs as she walked, marveling once again at how something so delicate could feel so much like it was sewn onto her body, almost like beautiful armor.
They reached the tent and Giles took the hand that had been resting on his arm, handing it to Spike.
“Take good care of her,” Giles was able to get out before succumbing to his emotions.
“I’ll do my best,” Spike replied, taking Buffy’s hand and raising it to his lips. “Forever.”
Giles turned away and went to sit beside Anya, dabbing at his eyes with his handkerchief.
The officiant had just begun to read from his book when there was a muffled shriek. Everyone spun around to see Abby being dragged out of the yard by a Bringer, while other Bringers blocked her mother’s valiant attempt to rescue the struggling girl by hitting them with her folding chair. Buffy abandoned Spike and her veil to bolt for the kitchen where her weapons waited, but Winston got to his feet first.
“I’ve got this,” he said with a gleam in his eye. Although no one had seen him do anything other than stand up, the Bringers were now frozen in place. He walked up to the one holding Abby and stared into where it should have had eyes. “Let her go,” he said quietly.
The Bringer gave a moan of distress, but immediately released his hold on the girl who ran back to her mother. With a wave of his hand, Winston forced all four of the attacking creatures out of the yard, down the driveway, and into the street. Ignoring all the people now trailing him from the back yard, he muttered something they couldn’t hear, then turned to go back to the wedding, making shooing motions with his hands. Behind him, the unfortunate Bringers burst into flames and quickly burned down to piles of ash.
As if nothing had happened, he settled down next to Joyce and smiled at her. She gave him a tentative smile in return, but her eyes were troubled.
Everyone returned to their seats or positions in front, but with nervous glances around the yard. Buffy looked from Winston to Max, and watched them nod at each other.
“Does that mean we’re okay now”? she asked, holding her veil in one hand until she was sure it was safe to put it back on.
“Indeed it does,” Max said with a sigh. “And my apologies for not reinforcing the wards before the event. I had assumed those left in place from years ago would be sufficient.”
The justice cleared his throat. “If we can assume that will be the only interruption, shall I continue?”
“Let’s get on with,” Spike growled, taking Buffy’s hand again. “And make it quick.”
Knowing an order when he heard one, the man immediately began to rattle off the expected vows to which they were expected to swear. He paused and turned to Buffy, “Do you, Buffy Anne Summers, take this… man for your lawful wedded husband, to have and to hold as long as you both shall live?”
“I do,” Buffy said, meeting Spike’s eyes and seeing the tears just lurking there. “I do, and I will.”
“And do you, William Pratt, take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold as long as you both shall live?”
“I do. With all I am and have, I promise.”
I love you.
I love you more.
“I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride,” the JP said with a sigh of relief.
Spike lifted the front of Buffy’s veil to indulge in a kiss that lasted long enough that spectators began coughing and muttering.
I guess we need to stop kissing.
Fuck ‘em. I’m kissing my wife. They can just wait.
Buffy gave a mental giggle, but pushed him away gently. They turned around and walked into the yard to be greeted by hugs and good wishes from everyone there.
“Thank you, Mom,” Buffy whispered as she hugged her mother so tightly that Joyce had to remind her that she wasn’t a vampire. “I love you.”
“I love you too, sweetheart.” Joyce turned to embrace Spike. “Take good care of my daughter, William.”
“You’ve got my word, Joyce. Would do it even if you didn’t ask me.” He grinned at Buffy and whispered, “What is it with all these people asking me to take care of you? Don’t they trust me?”
“They don’t know you like I do,” she replied, nudging his chin with her nose. “And anyway, I think that’s just something you say when somebody is marrying your daughter.”
“Should I be offended that nobody worries about if you’ll take care of me? You’re the superhero in this relationship.”
In spite of Buffy’s concerns about Anya’s obvious preference for being with Giles, Xander seemed reasonably content to hang out with Abby and her mom, doing a good job of seeing that Lois didn’t feel like an outsider in the small group of close friends and family. He spent time with Willow, chatted with Joyce and even attempted to follow Abby and Dawn’s example when they demonstrated the latest high school dance fad.
It was only when he was briefly alone, with no one to talk and laugh with, that it was clear he was well aware of the true situation. Buffy found him leaning against the kitchen door and staring wistfully at Anya as she buzzed around the yard, still making sure things were going the way she planned.
“She’s not coming back, is she?” he said as Buffy stepped up beside him and gave his arm an affectionate squeeze.
She sighed, letting her silence answer his question.
“I’m sorry, Xan. I know this sucks.”
He shook his head. “Hey, it just means I’ll have more time to spend shooting pool and drinking beer with Fangface. And hitting on women. He can be my wingman.”
She just rolled her eyes at the idea that a consummate flirt like Spike would make a good choice as a wingman, but refrained from saying so, just grateful that what could have been a really awkward situation seemed to be under control. The only time she saw Anya and Xander actually speak was a very animated conversation near the driveway that ended with Anya pointing and Xander throwing up his hands in defeat before disappearing around the side of the house. Buffy frowned and wondered if she should go after Xander, but he was back before she could decide, so she shrugged it off as none of her business.
Spike joined her in staring in that direction, saying “It’s going better than it could have, yeah?”
“I guess so. But where to you think she sent him? And why?”
Spike growled. “I think I know. Told him we didn’t want—but I guess he’s still used to following orders from her…”
He didn’t explain what he was talking about, and Buffy’s attention was drawn away as Dawn began demanding more picture-taking.