And They Danced

by Sandy S.

Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: All belongs to Joss and UPN.
Spoilers: Through season 7 of Buffy. The scene in Los Angeles is set prior to the beast's arrival and the meat of the story is set after "The Killer in Me."
Summary: What does a funeral home director in Sunnydale see? S/B as usual. . .
A/N: This story is based on a conversation with two friends, Lisa and Jim, over lunch. We were discussing how the vampires could survive the embalming and burial process and the mortality of the funeral directors of Sunnydale. This story was inspired. Thus, the story is dedicated to them.

* * *

"I've watched the sun rise in your eyes
And I've seen the tears fall like the rain
You've seen me fight so brave and strong
You've held my hand when I'm afraid

We've watched the seasons come and go
We'll see them come and go again
But in winter's chill or summer's breeze
One thing will not be changing

We will dance
When the sun is shining in the pouring rain
We'll spin and we'll sway
And we will dance"

--from "We Will Dance" by Steven Curtis Chapman (2003)

* * *

They always danced, no matter the season. They taught me more about love than I ever learned in my short marriage that ended a year ago. They were one of the many curiosities I witnessed in my six-month stint as Sunnydale funeral home director. As if the graveyard was the stage for their relationship, sometimes they danced fast and furious in the battle for their life or out of joy, and sometimes they danced with tenderness weighted with love or sorrow.

However, my story requires an introduction before I can delve into whom they are, so please bear with me. . . .

* * *

Over dinner at my favorite Italian place in Los Angeles one evening, Jim and Lisa warned me not to move to Sunnydale. The conversation went a little something like this:

Taking a mouth full of my chocolate mousse pie, I casually mentioned, "I'm thinking about moving to Sunnydale after the divorce is final. The funeral director there died recently, so they have a job opening. I interviewed over the phone. It's mine if I want it. At least, when I'm able to move in a few months."

The couple in front of me exchanged knowing glances. Then, Lisa asked with concern in her voice, "Why Sunnydale?"

My curiosity was piqued by their evident alarm, so I explained, "Well, I was thinking that being in the same city as my ex wouldn't be too healthy given that we hung out in the same social circles. And Sunnydale's only two hours away. It'd be a short trip to visit Amber on the weekends. And she could come to Sunnydale on holidays." Amber is my six-year-old daughter and the reason I got married in the first place.

Jim cleared his throat. "Well, we've heard recently that Sunnydale isn't exactly the ideal place to live. Last time we spoke with Matt and Sherry, they complained about the high death rate."

"They have more than a couple of pages a day dedicated to obituaries in the local paper," Lisa added, sipping her coffee.

"Well, that will keep me busy, I suppose." I would do anything to get my mind off the divorce and the recent tumult in my life.

"They didn't say anything specific, but apparently, there've been several strange occurrences around the city," Jim continued.

"Strange?"

"Like I said; they weren't specific. Maybe the deaths are inexplicable. Maybe the crime rate's high. I don't know. They just didn't seem to feel safe much of the time. . . especially at night."

I sighed. "Well, that doesn't sound terribly different than living here. And I like the idea of living in a smaller community. Less traffic. Less pollution. Less apathy about other people."

"True."

Then, Lisa changed the subject to something about the utility of cast iron in cooking. I didn't think much of their concerns about Sunnydale at the time, but later, I'd look back with renewed understanding.

* * *

A few months after my conversation with Jim and Lisa, I decided to have movers store my belongings in Sunnydale while I took some time to adjust myself to the divorce. I visited family and friends across the country. Finally, I moved to Sunnydale over a weekend in early February, so I'd have plenty of time to unpack and get settled in my new apartment before going to work on Monday. No one was available to introduce me to my place of work because the receptionist had moved away, and a lawyer had mailed me the keys to the funeral home the previous week.

On Monday morning, I bought a newspaper at a local bookstore to check out the obituaries over breakfast in the nearby coffee shop. I noted that as per Lisa's observation, the list of recent deaths took up half the first section of the paper.

I pulled into the empty funeral home parking lot at half-past eight and approached the front door, enjoying the feel of the empty briefcase in my hand and fishing for the lone key that I had pocketed because I had yet to put it on my key chain.

Turning the lock and pushing open the door, I fumbled for a light switch. After finding the switch and meandering through the usual entrance and formal rooms, I found my way into the basement room where most of my work would take place. A small, plainly decorated office was arranged to my right, and I entered to find an inexpensive desk made of particleboard, not wood. The desk was clear except for a phone, answering machine, and a long metal box. Behind the desk a fairly standard computer was set up. . . not new by any means but not out-of-date either.

The tiny red light on the answering machine was blinking furiously, and I settled onto the chair to listen to the messages while I explored the drawers of my desk. Finding them empty except for some computer papers and a few mechanical pencils, I wondered where the records were kept. Perhaps the prior funeral director had entered them into the computer and kept electronic records.

After jotting down notes from the messages, which turned out to be fairly routine, I turned my attention to the box on my desk. Fumbling with the latch, I threw back the lid easily so that the metal clunked on the desktop. Inside was a single item. . . a computer disc. The label on the disc was penned in a shaky hand and read, "To whom it concerns: Make sure to examine this FIRST."

Curious about the emphasis on the last word, I spun around and turned on the computer. The screen lit up quickly and in a few minutes, I'd slipped the disc into the computer and opened the directory to view a list of the files. A word processing file was the only file listed, and I clicked on the title, "IMPORTANT.doc."

My eyes read steadily at first, but by the time I finished the fifteen-page instruction manual, my eyes were wider than an owl's, and my heart was pounding. I now knew exactly why there were so many deaths in Sunnydale and what I had to do. . . what I would be forced to do. That is, if I decided to believe what I had just read.

* * *

Yes, yes, I'm getting to the two main characters of my tale. I just need to give this background, so you understand where I'm coming from. In fact, they're in the next section. . .

* * *

A bit bewildered after the revelations on the disc, I chose to leave my new place of employment in favor of doing something to calm myself down.

For some reason, I'd always felt a sense of peace from taking a walk through the cemetery next to wherever I worked. The graves were often beautifully adorned with flowers, other plants, and decorations. I enjoyed reading the names and dates of birth and death and imagining what that person must have been like in life. Often, I also used the time to sort through my thoughts about various issues.

Well, let me tell you that sorting through the notion that vampires and other demons might actually exist was not an easy task.

I rolled the thoughts and arguments for and against such an idea so many times in my brain that I didn't notice where I was going, and I ran smack into a young, red-haired woman who was sitting on her heels before a beautiful headstone, which bore the name, "Tara."

"I'm sorry," I apologized, regaining my balance by clasping the marble marker she had been surveying with what I now noticed was intent, steady sadness. After years of witnessing people in graveyards, I could usually read how people were feeling. There were degrees and variations of pain.

"I-it's okay. I'm fine. I-I was just leaving anyway." She gave me a shaky smile, and I saw the remnants of tear tracks on her fair cheeks.

Feeling a wave of compassion for her, I asked a question I might not normally pose to a stranger, "Whom are you visiting?"

The young woman nervously tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, and her eyes flickered from mine to the graves behind me. "A friend. . . a very close friend whom I love. . . loved very much."

"Her death must have been hard on you," I observed whiled mentally kicking myself for making such an idiotic statement.

She lowered her head and studied her hands. "It was. . . is." Then, her eyes found mine. In them was painted a wariness and uncertainty but also a deep strength that often marks youth who have been through many difficult experiences.

To ease her mild alarm, I offered her my hand, which she made certain to grasp firmly and hold for a heartbeat longer than most people. Her eyes bore into mine then as if she was searching for something. She must have found what she was looking for because she sighed and released my fingers.

"I'm Mr. Fisher. . . Sam Fisher, the new funeral director."

"Oh." Some realization must have hit her then because she repeated herself, "*Oh!*" Then, she shook her head as if storing away the information. "I'm Willow. . . Willow Rosenberg. What happened to Mr. Turner?"

She probably met him at her friend's fairly recent funeral. "He passed away. Didn't you know?"

"Oh! No, I didn't know! I'll have to tell Buffy." She must have noted my confused expression because she attempted a clumsy clarification. "Ehm. . . I mean, she met him, too, my friend, Buffy, did. . . meet him. At our friend's. . . burial. . . um. . . her service. She'd probably like to know. Not that she 'likes' to hear that kind of thing." She changed tactics and turned to tables back to me. "Did you know him?"

"No, I didn't. I just accepted the job through a phone interview. I'm pretty new. Just got here a few days ago."

Willow nodded. "It's nice to meet you."

"You, too. Well, I must get back to my walk. You have a good day."

"Thanks. Bye."

As I meandered away from Willow, I noticed how she gently caressed the headstone and whispered a few words before she headed in the opposite direction.

TBC. . . there's definitely a lot of S/B stuff in the next part. . . which is already written! This is just setting the stage! ;o)