Summary: Someone is determined to perform one last service for Buffy.

Disclaimer: All of these characters remain the property of their owners/creators. . .

Rating: PG-13, for themes.

Time Frame: Four days after the battle with Glory in "The Gift." (spoiler warning).

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.


VIGIL


The last hint of sunlight had disappeared below the horizon, and Oakwood Cemetery was dark and quiet. The black clad figure slipping between the trees like a phantom did little to change that as he approached a small group of willow trees, and the grave next to them.

Spike looked down and read the inscription on the gravestone and smiled ever so slightly. * It suits her * He sighed, then checked the razor sharp broadsword that he had brought with him. Satisfied, he sat directly in front of the grave, placing the sword across his lap, then waited.

No more than twenty minutes had passed when the vampire felt the subtle vibrations of someone quietly coming up behind him. He waited for the vibrations to become stronger, then leapt to his feet, bringing the broadsword around in a lethal arc. . .

. . .only to see the startled features of Xander Harris. Spike stopped in mid-swing, the blade only inches from Xander's throat. Spike tensed, waiting for chip pain to kick in, but he had immediately retracted his intent to kill upon recognizing Xander: the chip remained inactive. Spike glared at Xander and snapped, "Damn it, Harris! I could have killed you just now! Don't you know by now it's not smart to sneak up behind people unless you mean to kill them?"

Xander had paled for a moment, but his color returned quickly as he replied calmly, "Sorry. . .I was on my way to find you. Dawn was worried that you wouldn't feel welcome at the gathering at the house after. . .after Buffy's funeral. She said for me to tell you that you were invited back in, if that was the problem."

Spike looked down and whispered, "That wasn't it. . .Buffy-" He paused, then looked down at the ground as he finished,"-she invited me back in while we were getting supplies for the attack on Glory." He looked back up at Xander, then added, "I had something that I needed to do tonight. . .so you can go back and tell the Nib-. . .tell Dawn that I can't be there tonight, and that I'll be by tomorrow night if I can."

Xander was startled by Spike's tone of quiet determination, then remembered where they were standing. He turned and looked quietly at the inscription for a moment, then turned to Spike and asked, "You're going to let Dawn worry about you so you can sit here all night with a big sword? Spike, believe it or not, I'm carrying around just as much guilt about letting Buffy die as you are. . .maybe more, but she's dead. What is sitting here going to do for her?"

Spike blinked, then leveled an angry glare at Xander for a moment before remembering that, for all the young man had been through in this town, he still didn't know all of the risks that it concealed. Spike blinked, then replied, "There are things that prey on the corpses of the newly buried, Harris. Most of the time, it's just the occasional ghoul, but there are certain demons that can use the corpses for far more terrible things: Buffy's body would be a grand prize for one of them. The proper rituals will keep them at bay, but from what I heard, there were too many people not in the know at the service for the Watcher to have performed them. Also, even a properly consecrated and warded grave is vulnerable to certain demons from dusk until dawn of the first night after the burial. I am going to sit here at vigil until just before dawn, and kill anything that tries to take Buffy's body-or die trying." He locked eyes with Xander and suggested, "Why don't you run along and tell the Watcher what I just told you? He can come by in the morning and call up the right mojo to ward the grave, and you won't have to deal with me sitting next to the Slayer's grave every night from now on." He turned away, and was preparing to sit down when he heard Xander quietly utter a single word. He turned around and snarled at the young man, "What did you say?"

"I said, 'No,' Spike." Xander's voice was calm, and he did not flinch at the visible outrage on Spike's face. After a moment, Xander sat down next to Buffy's grave, facing the opposite direction from where Spike had been looking, then reached into his coat pocket to pull out a stake. He sat quietly, scanning the trees for movement and ignoring the vampire staring at him for several long seconds. Abruptly, he looked up at Spike and asked, "What?"

Spike set his jaw and replied, "I don't need a babysitter, Harris. . .I'm perfectly capable of dealing with anything that comes by myself. There's no need to get your ex-demon sweetie, Red, and the others all worried about you getting yourself killed here. . .I'll handle it."

Xander smiled coldly, then responded, "Dawn sent me to retrieve you, Spike. . .and if you weren't doing something important, you would have come back with me even if I had to kick your ass halfway to Oxnard to do it." Spike saw the glint of menace in the dark eyes, and he nodded in acknowledgement as Xander continued, "But you're doing something that needs to be done, and I don't see any reason why I shouldn't help you do it." Xander blinked, and Spike could see a flicker of raw anger in his eyes as the young man concluded, "Besides. . .I don't see why you should get all of the enjoyment of kicking the crap out of anything that tries to mess with Buffy. I can give Giles the 411 when we're done in the morning."

Spike looked at Xander, then nodded at him before bringing up a more practical matter: "Harris, if anything comes it probably won't be a vampire. . .that stake isn't exactly going to do the trick."

"How fortunate that I happen to have a couple of extra weapons with me, then." The dry comment came from behind Spike, and both he and Xander reached for their weapons before they recognized the familiar accent. Giles stood ten feet away, carrying his bag and looking at both of them with a darkly amused expression. He reached into the bag and pulled out a small axe, then tossed it underhanded to Xander, who caught it effortlessly. Giles shook his head, then walked over to the grave and began pulling out supplies.

Xander watched Giles for a moment, then asked, "You knew about all of this?"

Giles looked back at Xander and replied, "Xander. . .I know the Council comes off as a bunch of bloody fools, but they do stress the value of education in these matters. . .I am fully aware of the threat that Spike so succinctly described." Spike raised an eyebrow at the semi-compliment as Giles continued, "I expected to serve the vigil myself, and was surprised to see Spike already here. I was about to approach him and ask him about his intentions when you surprised him."

Spike gave Giles a disgusted look and retorted, "I was sitting there with a sword in my lap, Watcher. . .what in the hell did you think I was doing?"

"Either keeping vigil. . .or preparing to commit ritual suicide at Buffy's grave." Spike looked outraged at the second option, and Giles added quietly, "Though I tended to discount the possibility of the latter: most methods of ritual suicide using a sword would not kill a vampire, though they would probably leave you helpless to escape the sunrise. . .I assumed that if you intended to make some sort of dramatic gesture, a stake would have done the job nicely."

"Damned right it would have! I can use a stake just as well as the next bloke! Why, I-" Spike paused abruptly, noticing the mildly amused expressions of the two other men, then turned to the grave and muttered, "It's a shame you couldn't be here to see this, love. . .you'd be having a rather good laugh at my expense about now." He paused, then turned back to the two men, expecting to see outraged expressions.

To Spike's surprise, he saw that both men had faint smiles on their faces, and Xander looked at Spike for a long moment before commenting, "Yeah, she would have."

Spike looked down for a moment, then looked back up and commented briskly, "Right, then. Rupert, I gather you have the stuff for the rituals. . .we should do that before we start keeping watch. . .might make things more workable should anything particularly big and nasty show up."

Giles nodded in agreement, but Xander interjected, "Uh, guys. . .I just thought of something. Dawn is still expecting me to come back with Spike, and everyone's probably expecting you back, too. Aren't they going to come looking for us if we all stay here?"

Giles nodded, then replied, "That had occurred to me." He reached into a pocket, and both Xander and Spike blinked and stared as Giles pulled out a cell phone and hit the speed dial button. After a moment, Giles began: "Hello, Willow? Yes. . .I'm fine. . .I've called to tell you that Spike's in the middle of something that will require his presence elsewhere. . .yes, Xander is here too, and he has volunteered to help with it. . .no, he's fine, Willow. . .he just thought it was something worthwhile to get accomplished. . .I'll be assisting as well, and by the time we're done Xander and I will be about ready to call it a night, so we'll all see you tomorrow. . .thank you, we'll all be fine. . .take care, and say hello to everyone for us." Giles turned off the cell phone and put it away, then noticed Xander and Spike looking at him oddly. He raised an eyebrow and asked, "Yes?"

Xander shook his head and commented, "You mean aside from seeing you step into the nineties with that cell phone?" Giles gave him a dirty look, and Xander continued, "I always wondered how you managed to get me excused from as many classes as you did without keeping me from graduating on time. . .Rupert Giles, you are a cunning, devious soul who will undoubtedly come to a bad end."

Giles sighed, then turned back to the grave and looked at the headstone for a moment before turning back to Xander and replying, "Almost certainly. . .but not tonight." He set his jaw and looked at his two companions for a moment, drawing looks of equal determination from them before he sighed again and concluded, "All right, let's get started."


* * * * *


Willow replaced the receiver, then walked back over to where Tara, Anya, and Dawn were standing, away from the small number of other guests who still remained at the Summers residence. Dawn, who still looked worn from her ordeal, visibly shook off the cobwebs and met Willow's eyes with a concerned look as she asked, "So, where are they?"

Willow smiled sadly and replied, "Giles just spent about a minute giving me what had to be the biggest runaround ever. . .but he said that he, Xander, and Spike were doing something important. Unless I'm seriously mistaken, they're about to spend the night watching over Buffy's gravesite in case something tries to do something really horrible."

Tara, Anya and Dawn all looked at each other, shuddered, and nodded. For completely different reasons, each of them had good reason to know the horrors that could be visited upon Buffy's remains unless the appropriate measures were taken. Anya frowned, then commented, "Well, that's a good thing. . .but shouldn't we be going out there to help them? I mean, they could get into big trouble out there."

Tara and Dawn nodded in agreement, but Willow shook her head and smiled again as she replied, "With Spike, Xander, and Giles deeply pissed off and ready to kill anything that gets near Buffy? I think we've killed everything in this town that they couldn't handle. . .and they need to do this. . .they're all feeling really guilty about Buffy dying: this might help them a lot in dealing with it."

"And what do we do about those feelings?" Dawn's voice was barely audible, but everyone could hear the despair in the young woman's voice.

Tara squeezed Dawn's arm, and Willow walked forward and looked into Dawn's eyes as she replied quietly, "This is still Sunnydale, Dawn. . .there will be plenty of opportunities to work through our feelings in a way that would make Buffy proud of us, and I wouldn't dream of leaving you out of those opportunities. . .but the guys have this one covered, and I think that's for the best." Willow leaned forward and kissed Dawn on the forehead, whispering, "Our time will come, and soon." Willow straightened, then turned and looked at the remaining visitors before commenting in a darkly humorous tone, "Besides. . .we have the hard job right now. . .making idle chitchat to people we hardly know about someone we can't imagine living without." She turned back to her friends and inquired, "Are you with me?"

The response to her comment was three sighs, and Willow turned and led the others back to the guests, hoping that she was right and that they would not lose any friends in the shadow of the willow trees before the night was over.



As always, comments are welcomed and desired