The next part of the tale is very boring because all Dawn and I did was sit in the car, but I'll tell you what happened anyway. The events to follow our car discussion were quite exciting.
Dawn started the conversation first. As a person who deals mainly with dead or grieving people, I very rarely spoke to teenagers, and I could hardly consciously remember my own teenage years without cringing.
Granted she didn't start with the most inspiring statement, but hey, she at least thought of something to say.
"So, um, you're the funeral director." She sat behind the wheel, gripping the circle firmly and staring at the mansion as if she expected the group to come back out any second. They had only gone in a few minutes ago.
"Yeah, and you're Buffy's sister." So my statement wasn't particularly brilliant either.
"Yeah." She chose that moment to gracefully sweep up her hair in a bun on the top of her head. I decided that she would be a real beauty one day. Her hands automatically returned to their position on the steering wheel.
"So what's it like to have a sister like Buffy?" I wondered aloud.
She shot me a quick glance and ducked her head to her lap. "Sometimes very wonderful. Sometimes not easy at all."
I nodded even though she wasn't watching. "I understand that."
Dawn started again in a gush, and I was so startled that all I could do was listen. "Buffy's great, but sometimes she's so distant that I wonder if she sees me at all. And sometimes she's really there, and I know she's with me. A-and I really worry about her. I worry about how she's feeling, what she's thinking. I worry that she's not really living." She bowed her head a little lower. "And I worry that it's my fault."
My stomach turned over. Here was a girl who blamed herself for her sister's unhappiness. I said what I would have said to Amber. "It's not your fault if your sister's not having the best time right now. She's got a lot on her shoulders, and you are definitely not at fault for that."
Dawn looked up with eyes wide and soft with unshed tears. "But I wouldn't even be here if Buffy wasn't the slayer. She only has to worry about me because she is the slayer."
I opened my mouth to say something but found I wasn't sure how to reply.
Suddenly, a blinding flash of brilliant red light shot out from every window of the mansion, saving me from having to answer her. Straightening in the seat and feeling all my senses rise to hyper-alert, I gripped the ax that I'd forgotten I was holding in my lap.
"What the hell was that?"
Emotional revelation forgotten, Dawn grinned at me. "Willow."
"Willow?" I was confused.
"Willow's a witch. . .an extremely powerful witch."
"Oh." And I'd thought Willow could perform a few spells. . . not almost level a house!
The front door to the mansion burst open, and two figures rushed toward us surrounded by a haze of red smoke and crackling electricity. One was leaning heavily on the other. Reacting to my instincts, I jumped out of the SUV and scrambled to open the back door.
Buffy's features clarified from the jumble of leftover magic, and I saw that she was relying on Spike to move. I wasn't sure what was wrong until they got even closer, and when I hurried toward them to assist, I noted that Buffy's right leg dangled at an odd angle. . . no doubt broken. A red stain was rapidly saturating her shirt.
I took the burden of the slight figure on his arm, helping Buffy to the back seat of the car and gingerly helping her position her leg into a more comfortable position. She slipped into unconsciousness as soon as she sank against the seat. Dawn crawled back beside Buffy and stroked her face tenderly as she inspected her for wounds.
Spike's face was disfigured with bruises and blood, and his clothes were ripped in several places. He leaned against the car and placed his hands on his thighs, attempting to catch his breath. . . although from what I'd heard, vampires didn't need to breathe.
He cast me a sideways glance. "The witch and the boy are still inside."
"I can't get both. You up for coming with me?" he asked next.
"Um. Sure." I held up the ax.
He waved his arm at the weapon. "You won't need that. The bad guys are all dead." He turned to a worried Dawn. "Be back soon, bit."
Her eyes not moving from her sister, she said, "'Kay."
I set the ax aside and trailed the vampire to the house. In the back of my mind, I wondered why the neighbors weren't the least bit curious about the hubbub.
As we reached the front door again, he warned me, "Get ready, there's still magic hanging in the air here, and you might find it a bit hard to breathe."
Steeling myself for discomfort, I plunged into the house after the vampire and promptly almost stumbled over a demon carcass lying in the front hall. My stomach tightened as something I'd never felt before rolled over my skin and filled my lungs with a searing, burning sensation.
A firm hand grasped my elbow before I fell, and through the haze I caught Spike's eye. "Careful, Sam."
Scarlet sparks sizzled over my skin, singing the hairs, and I forced back the decision to cry out in pain. After a few seconds of wading through the remains of demons and magic, I adjusted and ignored the lingering discomfort, focusing on the mission. The mansion was larger than I remembered from earlier tonight. Demon bodies lined every room, every hallway. How did they all fit in here? How could they possibly all live here?
"Do you know where they are?" I asked at one point. A wave of fire swept over my lungs, and I touched a wall to steady myself.
"I have an idea," he responded, continuing to pick his way through the mess.
I was better prepared to speak the second time. "An idea?"
His voice was slightly muffled as we rounded a corner. "Yeah. I follow the magic to the source. And I can hear heartbeats."
My hand went to my chest to feel the steady thrum against my fingertips.
A trace of humor laced Spike's response. "And no, yours isn't too loud for me to hear the others."
Several minutes later and deep inside the mansion, the magic became thicker and heavier against my lungs. Spike deftly leapt over a large demon blocking a doorway and offered me a hand as I struggled to climb over the same hulking form.
As soon as I've made it to the other side, a coughing fit struck me, and I bent at the waist as I attempted to catch my breath. Spike clapped me on the back a couple of times to make sure I was taking in air before he left my side to move aside the demon. When I recovered enough to wipe away stray tears and stand halfway straight again, I observed Spike gathering the slight form of Willow into his arms on the other side of the room.
"She's unconscious," Spike informed me. He tilted his head toward a semi-conscious Xander who was slumped in a corner. "Can you help him? I think he's okay enough to walk on his own if he has support."
Afraid to open my mouth and utter words, I nonverbally signaled my assent and headed toward Xander who lifted his head on my approach. Spike was right, and I was able to bring him to a standing position without much effort. Together, we half-limped, half-shuffled back the way we'd come in.
When we reached the fresh night air, Xander was recovered enough to move without my aid. He patted me on the shoulder. "Thanks, man." His words were hoarse.
I bobbed my head and gulped in the air like a fish that had been out of the water too long.
Bringing medical supplies and an extra set of wheels, a repentant Giles had arrived since our entrance into the mansion. Within minutes, we were all bundled safely inside one vehicle or the other and were whisked back to the Summers' home.
After that final experience, I pretty much decided that it was time to leave Sunnydale. Turned out that the reason why no one came out of their homes to witness the disturbance was because most people in Sunnydale were fleeing town. Wealthy families had abandoned the city first.
Before I left, however, I decided to do something for Buffy and Spike as a small gesture of thanks for their protection. . . .
Arriving at my apartment at exactly seven in the evening, Buffy was on time, her long blonde hair freshly washed and curled. I'd never seen her with her hair down, and she was stunning. She wore a simple black dress and long silver earrings that matched the silver accents on the straps across her shoulders. She was less like a slightly damaged, tireless slayer and more like the young adult she was. She also bore no traces of a broken leg. . . nor bruises or cuts. Apparently, Slayers heal quickly.
Embarrassed by her appearance, she smiled a bit shyly at me with shining eyes. "I don't ever dress up anymore," she explained.
I gave her a valid compliment, "Well, you look lovely."
Her eyes immediately searched the living room behind me, and I allowed her to slip past me and into my home. Most of my belongings were packed away, hidden in squares of brown cardboard that I'd finagled from the one grocery store still open in town. Therefore, the walls were bare, and the shelves contained no pictures or knickknacks.
But Buffy wasn't examining the contents of my home.
"He's not here yet," I interjected into her investigation.
Buffy's shoulders dropped just slightly. "Oh. Well, I haven't seen him all day."
"But he's coming. He wouldn't miss the thank-you dinner I've planned for you. He R.S.V.P.'d. Why don't you have seat." I gestured toward the sofa. "Would you like some wine?"
Her expression revealed the hesitance of one who wasn't used to drinking. Then, as she lowered herself onto the sofa, she cautiously asked, "What kind do you have?"
"I'll pour you a glass of the Riesling. It's got kind of a fruity aftertaste. How's that?"
She was relieved. "Sure." Before I could leave, she pointed at my electronic keyboard that remained on its stand across the room. "You play?"
"Yep. I do."
I laughed lightly. "No, not at all. Actually, I play, write songs, and sing them."
"Really?" She sounds amazed as if she couldn't believe that a funeral director did something so creative.
I headed to pour the wine. "Yeah. I'll play for you after dinner if you like."
"That'd be great!"
Entering my tiny kitchen, I grabbed the chilled bottle and filled us each a glass of the white wine.
Buffy's voice rose from the adjacent room, "So when are you moving back to L.A.?"
"In a couple of days. I have a couple of friends, Lisa and Jim, coming in town that are going to help me load up."
As I re-entered the living room, I handed Buffy her wine, which she briefly cradled in both hands before taking a tiny sip. "Thanks. Are your friends from L.A., too?"
"Well, they've been vacationing in Florida for the last month or so. Sunnydale's only a little out of the way on their way back to L.A. I guess to answer your question, they are from L.A." I perched on the couch next to Buffy, making sure she had plenty of personal space.
"That's cool. I have some friends there. . . and some family." The way she said friends and family made me wonder about her personal history with them. . . if they'd hurt her somehow.
Before I could ask her about her hesitation, the doorbell rang followed by a sharp knock. Buffy's head shot up with mine, and eagerness lit her face before she hid it away.
Balancing my wine glass on the coffee table, I rose and opened the door for the only other person I was expecting. . . Spike. He wore the outfit I'd provided him earlier that day because we were the same height and build. He'd managed to iron the pants and seemed freshly showered like Buffy.
"Good evening," I greeted.
Spike shoved his hands in his pockets and proffered a slight smile. When he hadn't moved after several seconds, I stepped back to make him more room.
Buffy giggled from the sofa. "You have to invite him in, Mr. Fisher, because he has to have an invite into people's homes."
"Sam," I reminded her.
"Sam," she repeated.
"Come in, Spike."
Spike stepped into the living room with a grin. "Actually, I don't need it, pet. The earlier invite from Sam was enough."
"Earlier?" Buffy asked.
Spike tugged at the shirt he was wearing. "The clothes."
"Sam loaned them to me earlier today," Spike admitted. "Thanks," he told me for the fourth time.
I smiled. Part of me still couldn't believe I was putting trust in a vampire.
"Well, you look nice," Buffy conceded.
"Thanks. You look. . ." Spike studied her with obvious love. ". . . beautiful."
She ducked her head as she'd done with me. "Thanks."
"And you're drinking wine," he commented in a way that I knew I was missing something.
She raised her glass playfully. "Yep."
"Would you like some?" I offered.
"I'd love some." His eyes never left the young woman on the sofa.
The oven conveniently went off in the kitchen.
"Well, that's actually dinner. Why don't you go ahead and sit in the dining room while I get the chicken out."
"Let me help you," Buffy suggested, avoiding Spike's gaze as she stood and self-consciously smoothed her dress.
"No, no," I insisted. "You two go get a seat." Before Buffy could insist, I hastily exited into the kitchen to shut off the shrill timer.
After I'd arranged everything on the kitchen counter, I discovered I couldn't possibly manage everything by myself with any speed.
"Actually," I called, "I could use some help in here after all."
The pair appeared in the kitchen doorway at virtually the same time so that their arms brushed. A palpable current spun through the air, and I smiled happily to myself. I was silly to play matchmaker for a vampire and a slayer, but as I was learning, love didn't take into account such rules.
They parted when it became obvious they were touching, and each grabbed a dish to bring in the other room. Together, we handled everything in one trip, and I chose specifically to sit across from them so that they had to sit next to one another at the rectangular table.
Raising my glass, I cleared my throat and announced, "You probably know the reason I asked you here tonight. Well, I just wanted to officially thank you both for saving my life more than once since I've been in Sunnydale. If it hadn't been for you two the first night at the funeral home, I'd be long dead by now. I might even be undead. . . no offense to present company meant."
"None taken, mate," Spike said kindly.
"And I know I don't have blood for you, but I didn't know where to procure any."
"It's okay. I enjoy these sorts of meals just the same." He glanced purposefully at Buffy, and she smiled at him.
"So, anyway, thank you for your protection. Dig in. The one thing my ex-wife loved about me was my cooking."
With that, dinner commenced. Throughout dinner and small talk, the pair snuck glances at one another, and when they were sure the other wasn't watching, their expressions were tender and loving. I watched enthralled and took note because I wanted to find that kind of connection one day.
After dinner was over, Buffy and Spike assisted me in cleaning the kitchen despite my protests. When everything was neatly put away, I entered the living room and switched on my keyboard.
Spike raised his eyebrows at me.
"Buffy wanted me to play after dinner," I clarified.
He exchanged a look with Buffy. "You did?"
Buffy lowered her eyes. "Yeah."
"Don't worry, I won't scare you off with my singing," I joked. "I'll just play you a few original instrumental pieces. How's that?"
"Sounds great!" Buffy responded with enthusiasm.
Positioning myself on the small stool, I closed my eyes, blotting out the two curious figures before me. Within seconds, I was lost in the ebb and flow of the chords and rhythms. I wasn't half bad, and I knew it, but I was still curious about my audience's reaction. Halfway through my first piece, I opened my eyes.
What I saw didn't surprise me. I didn't know if their actions were to be taken as an accolade to my work, but I knew it pleased me.
Spike held Buffy fast against him as they moved to the slow, flowing music. Her head leaned against his chest, and her eyes were tightly shut as he rubbed her back softly and held one of her hands in his own. His cheek rested atop her head, and his eyes matched hers.
While I was watching, she opened her eyes and moved her head. Startled, his eyes flew open at her gesture, alarm painted on his features. She brought her other hand to his cheek then and smiled, and relief pulled itself over his face. In reassurance, she moved her arm from his face to his waist and drew him closer. As she repositioned her head on his chest, he resumed his with a contented expression.
She caught me studying them, and with the comfort she had always shown around me, she smiled before closing her eyes again. Somehow, I knew she didn't display this sort of behavior in front of most people. Happy with her trust, I threw myself into the music wholeheartedly, determined to make their moment extra special.
Without break, I launched into my second piece even though my fingers were tiring because I hadn't played in a while and hadn't warmed up. At an easier section of the music, I turned my attention to the pair again just in time to witness something that had to be historic for them.
Buffy gently pulled Spike's lips to her own and stared into his eyes with a smile before kissing him softly. Spike seemed absolutely shocked but didn't let grass grow under his feet. He was soon kissing her back with a slow enthusiasm, mindful of where he was.
Allowing them a moment, I returned to the music and ended after the second song, partly because I was drained and partly because I didn't have anything else decent to play.
They drew apart reluctantly, told me how beautifully I played, and bade me good night. As they exited, Buffy handed Spike the dinner leftovers, which I'd given her because I wouldn't have time to eat them. Without reservation, she threw her arms around my neck and hugged me briefly.
"Take care," she whispered in my ear. "And thank you for tonight."
Spike, of course, heard everything she thought was inaudible, and he added, "Yeah, thanks."
As they headed down the stairs together toward Buffy's vehicle, she called, "Be careful in L.A. and stay in touch!" She bounded down the stairs, seeming lighter than I'd ever seen her.
Spike followed more slowly and nodded back at me before he reached the stairwell. "Night."
I merely lifted my hand in goodbye.
And that was the last time I saw them. They were happy; they'd danced, although more deliberately and gently than the first time I'd seen them. I'll never forget them. I don't know if they shared anything remotely similar after I left Sunnydale, but I felt a certain peace, knowing that such love and mutual respect was. . . is possible.
How was I to know that L.A. was worse off than Sunnydale in the evil department this spring? I didn't, but I'm coming to you because Buffy gave me your card that evening when they came to dinner and told me to look you up if I ever needed help.
Were you close to Buffy, Angel? From the look on your face, you don't seem too happy to hear this story. Well, you don't have to answer, but I'm sorry if my tale bothered you in any way.
Aside from that, I do need your help. You see, Lisa and Jim have this little problem with the demon who lives across the hall from them, and Amber said that there's a scary monster living in the girl's restroom at her nursery school. . . .
Hope you liked the ending.. .sorry it took so long to post it:o)