Disclaimer: Yes, I AM Joss, nice to make your aquaintance. . .whaddya mean he's a guy?

A/N: Thanks again tospikeNdru for the fantabulous beta! Couldn't have done it without you, hun! smooches

Also: I am a feedback whore. Please, feed my addiction...

Chapter 17

Dawn was feeling pretty good about this wedding. Yes, she had to wear possibly the most disgusting bridesmaid dress in the history of the world, but, hey, at least she got to be a bridesmaid. Still…green? What was Anya thinking? And the ruffles…

She'd been a little anxious that morning. Buffy had looked all weird while their dad was away on business, but he'd come back right when they were about to leave for the wedding. Dawn had to admit that she couldn't help the little internal voice from saying, "Is he coming back?" but she also trusted her dad now…which was weird. She hadn't trusted him in a while. She hadn't actually trusted any guy but Xander and Spike in a for some time, because after what guys put her sister through, who wanted one? So, trusting her dad…it was a new thing.

Dawn watched her dad try to make conversation with one of Xander's relatives, and smiled. Things were almost as good as they had been before her mom died. Buffy was doing better, even if she had a ways to go on learning how to let Dawn grow up. Eleven o'clock curfew? Puh-leeze. But Buffy had gotten a phone call this morning: a second interview for a job as a receptionist, and the happy was contagious. It had been too long since Buffy had genuinely smiled. It was nice to see.

Giles walked in and her smile faded a bit. She didn't know what to think about him. Intellectually she knew that she should forgive him and move on. He did what he thought was best, even though it was incredibly stupid and jerky and. . .she'd work on it. She was still mad and he still had ground to make up.

Dawn couldn't help but feel like Giles had left her too. Fine, Buffy needed to stand on her own feet, but. . .Dawn was. . .still a minor! And. . .her sister had been all depressed and not ready to take care of a minor! Why didn't he think that someone other than Buffy looked up to him? Giles had been the closest thing Dawn had to a father for a long time, even if he was technically Buffy's watcher and probably didn't think of her as anything other than Buffy's annoying little sister who made him angry and disappointed and. . .on second thought, maybe it wasn't surprising that he left. Dawn forced that thought away. That stuff didn't matter to family, did it? She'd been annoying to Buffy plenty of times and Buffy had stuck around. And what about Willow? She hadn't been annoying and she'd needed Giles and he hadn't been there. It was Giles' job to take care of them! The day the Scoobies had formed he'd ceased to be just Buffy's watcher.

A small part of Dawn thought it wasn't fair to lump all that responsibility on one man. He wasn't related, he wasn't beholden, but he was loved. Maybe that was why it had hurt so much.

She saw Spike swagger in and turned her thoughts to more weddingy stuff. She could sit down with Giles, yell at him, rant at him, be sullen at him, and then hug him later. Today was Xander's day and she'd promised him she'd keep Spike from doing anything too "Spike-ish", since, according to Xander, Spike was able to spontaneously ruin things simply by being there.

Spike stood just inside the entrance to the Bison Lodge where Harris' wedding was being held, and why was he here again? He saw the bar, which Xander had said was open. That'd teach Xander to try to keep information from interested parties while the interested parties were in the next room and had vampire hearing. Well, that was one reason, at least. The second made itself known when Dawn came over and smiled.

"Spike! So, your hangover didn't prevent you from coming to this part of the wedding, then?" She was grinning.

Spike raised an eyebrow.

"C'mon!" she said. "Lets go get some food. There's a whole table of these little crab things."

Spike scanned the room for Xander. "Sure, bit. I'll be right there." His eyes finally landed on Xander talking to an older man. "I just want to give my congrats to Harris first."

Spike sauntered over to Xander. The boy looked upset, which Spike couldn't blame him for, considering the guests.

Xander shook his head at the older man and looked ready to snap. Spike had an internal battle with himself over whether he should let Harris go ape in front of all his guests, or intervene, when the boy pushed away from the older man. Spike came up next to him and stood a little awkwardly, wishing he had a wall to lean on.

"Congrats, Harris. Try not to bollocks it up."

Xander was preoccupied. "Yeah, sure."

Spike rolled his eyes at the response. "Harris, some free wedding advice…"

Xander shook his head frantically and looked horrified.

Spike sighed. "Not that kind of advice, you twit. Anyanka's already told me you're a Viking in th' sack." Spike smirked as Xander's face became even more horrified.

"Look, my advice: don' piss off any of Anyanka's side of the family. Like that old guy you were talkin' to. They're vengeance demons for a reason. Of course, whatever they did to you would make this wedding a lot less boring."

Xander looked as if he were about to say something sarcastic and then he stopped, frowning. "Wait…you know that old guy?"

"Him?" asked Spike, gesturing to the man Xander had been talking to. "No. But all the demons are on Anya's side, right?"

"Wait…he's a demon?"

Spike gave him a blank look. "Yeah."

Xander looked furious. "He said he was me. Tried to get me to go into the back room with him. I don't even want to know…"

Spike cocked an eyebrow. "Right. Wanted to get in on your last bit of bachelor freedom."

Xander grimaced. "Just get Buffy to toss him out, alright?"

Xander turned to sort out two of his cousins who were fighting over the last crab puff.

Anya was in the back room, getting ready. Xander had to cling to that, as he roamed the room, trying to sort out the various fights that were breaking out all over. "Carnies" versus the Harrises. Xander had a twenty on Aunt Flora.

They should have eloped.

Xander suddenly went cold. Why did that thought chill him to the core? No family, no fights, no drunken speeches from his father. And yet. . .

Xander's eyes landed on Hank. What if he turned out like that? What if he became the guy who left? He looked at Giles. The man had once been a kind of role model, although Xander would never have admitted it in high school, because librarians? Not up there with secret agents on the cool meter. But he'd turned out to be no better than Hank. He'd been a father and he'd left. . .unlike his own, who'd just stayed, bottle in hand, his whole life. Xander looked at his Dad, standing by the bar. The epitome of everything he feared becoming. What if he ended up treating Anya the way his dad treated mom?

He felt trapped, like the walls and the guests were closing in. His tie felt like it was choking him, his cummerbund like it was a size too small (which technically it was, but he'd been ignoring it nicely until now). His eyes darted to a door. He didn't really care where it led. It led out.

He cut across the floor towards his salvation. Hank stepped in front of him. He reached out a hand.

"I know you're not my biggest fan, Xander, but I still want to say congratulations. Anya's a wonderful girl. You two will be very happy."

Xander was speaking before his brain caught up with his mouth. "This from the guy who left his wife and kids?"

Hank paused and Xander flinched internally. True as it may be, starting an argument wouldn't help him get to the door.

Hank flinched a little himself. "Marrying Joyce and leaving her were two different things. Even though I left, I don't regret. . . Things change and there's never any guarantee that the person you started out with is the one you'll be with in the end, but you'll never know if. . ." Hank petered out again. He looked like he was having a hard time finding his words. "We had a lot of good years together. Sometimes I wish we could have made it work." He smiled. "God, I'm starting to sound like a sap. Congrats again, Xander." He clasped Xander's shoulder for a moment before moving on.

Xander took a deep breath. 'Thought of the Day' care of Hank Summers. Nice. He began moving towards the door again. Something else blocked him.

"Xander, can I have a word?"

Xander sighed. "Sure, G-man." The door never looked so far away. The room never felt so small and crowded.

Giles pulled him into an out-of-the-way corner. "Is something wrong?"

Xander felt even more like a caged animal. 'Yes!' he wanted to shout. 'Get me the HELL out of here!' But he knew Giles wouldn't understand.

"What could possibly be wrong? Best day of my life." Xander knew he wasn't convincing. He just hoped that his assurances were enough for Giles.

Giles regarded Xander for a moment. Sweating, nervous twitching, darting eyes. Xander was trying to find a way out, and Giles knew that if he did he would have nothing but regrets later.

Mr. Harris stood up again to make another toast, this one harder to understand than the Ode to Mrs. Harris. Giles noticed Xander's eyes fix on his father, fear and resignation on his face. Ahhh…

"Xander," he got the boy's attention. "You are not your father. It's remarkable that you turned out how you did with him raising you. You will make mistakes, as the past illustrates nicely, but don't let this be one of them."

Xander looked guilty for a second. "But what if we end up like them?" His eyes turned to his mother, embarrassed, weak, hurt, and on her sixth drink herself. Anya should never have to experience that.

Giles sighed and hoped he could get through to the young man. "Look, Xander, it may not work between you, but you'll never find out by running."

Giles turned and made his way to the center of the room, glancing back to see what Xander was doing.

Xander's face showed the battle raging within. After a few moments a look of determination settled on his features, and Giles was completely disappointed when Xander turned and walk purposefully to the door.

Xander had made a deal with himself: he needed a sign. Nothing fancy. Any sign would do at this point. So he'd decided. . .the door. He didn't really know where it went. In his panic he could have picked the door to any part of the building. So, if the door led to unobstructed freedom he was going to walk through and never look back. If the door led elsewhere. . .

He reached for the doorknob. Moment of truth. He paused for a moment. Was he ready for the answer? What if the door led away from all this? Could he really leave Anya? He loved her. . .and he would end up so very smite'd. Her entire guest list was in Vengeance.

He took a deep breath and turned the doorknob.

A broom fell out and hit him in the head.

He laughed. Janitor's closet! He turned back towards the room full of guests, ignored his father, and tried to calmly talk with Krevlin, who was determinedly avoiding Aunt Marge. He still had doubts. He was still nervous. He still wasn't sure he was doing the right thing. . .he was still. . .new line of thought time, he decided. It was time to see what was next.