A/N: Thank you loverswalk89, Bridget, Fallen Priestess, and Jeremy Shane for your reviews! This chapter is about half-and-half Xander focused and Spike/Buffy focused. Oh, and I named the tentacle demon 'Mel' because the actor who played him is named Mel Fair. Random trivia!
Chapter 2: Lesson in Contrasts
- - And it was like slow motion - -
"Toast!" shouts Xander's father, clanging a fork against his glass.
Xander blanches, already overwhelmed by the Greek chorus of people and problems badgering him from every side. His parents were told to sit the third row instead of the first... Dawn is griping because Halfrek gets to be a bridesmaid, and something about a squiggly present... and now this bizarre old man claims marrying Anya today will be the biggest mistake of his life. Surely this is a nightmare. Surely he's about to wake up in his pjs, still squished in his apartment playing host to his immediate family and a slew of out-of-town demons.
"A toast!" Tony Harris repeats belligerently.
"I swear I told that guy no drinks before the ceremony," Xander moans. He should have known the rented teenage bartender wouldn't have lasted long against the intimidating father of the groom.
"Toast! To the Harris clan," drawls Mr. Harris. "I know in the past we've had our problems, but by golly, we're a damn sight prettier than half the folks in here. And... to my wife, Jessica. Where are you, honey?"
Mrs. Harris blushes, shoulders slumping in embarrassment as more and more of the guests in the lounge area fall silent and stare from her to the drunken dirtbag at the bar. Even Spike pulls his face away from the Goth girl's sloppy kisses and glances pityingly at the middle-aged woman, the Victorian gentleman inside him bristling at her husband's insolence. No one notices an old man in a tan trench coat leading Xander into a side room.
"There she is," grins Mr. Harris, the last person in the room to spot his wife. He raises his glass. "To my wife. What would I do without you, beautiful?"
Caught off-guard, Jessica Harris smiles at his tone of sincerity.
"Well... for starters I probably wouldn't need to drink so much, would I?" he sneers mercilessly, wiping the smile from her face like he's slashed her with a knife.
Xander's mom blinks, a little choked up but still holding her head high, his jibes nothing new after twenty-five years, just amplified by the supposedly happy occasion and the audience to her humiliation. Some of the silent guests look all around, trying and failing to offer her privacy, but Spike glares straight at Tony Harris, wishing for perhaps the ten thousandth time in the last three years that he wasn't shackled by the chip.
"On the brighter side," Mr. Harris continues glibly, "marriage has probably saved me from a nasty dose of the clap!" He chuckles, holding up his refilled shot glass. "Here's to ya!"
"Does this jerk ever shut up?" mutters floppy-eared Clem, standing with Mel, the Tentacle Demon, a few feet in front of Spike.
"He's starting to make my suckers twitch," agrees Mel, holding up his hands as evidence.
"And a toast," Tony Harris continues, scowling, "to the bride's dermatologically challenged family shrub!"
"Sit down!" shouts Mel, losing patience. His command earns a rumble of approval from the other demons, all annoyed with both the direct and implied disgust Mr. Harris has levied at them during their stay in Xander's apartment.
"Hey! I paid for all this," counters Xander's father furiously. "You want me to sit down, you cough up a couple of grand, Squidly."
Mel's chest inflates, his eyes wide in rage as he steps threateningly toward the groom's father.
"What did you call me, you drunken piece of sh–"
"Mazel-tov!" squeaks Buffy, appearing almost out of nowhere. She swoops between Mel and Mr. Harris and seizes the latter's arm, drawing him away from further alcoholic enticement.
"Hey, what's this?" slurs Xander's dad.
"You must be so happy for Xander on his very special, once-in-a-lifetime day, huh, Mr. Harris?" Buffy says in an overly cheerful voice, loud enough for Spike to hear as she approaches. The black-garbed girl notices the intense look in Spike's eyes and slides her hands up and down his chest, trying in vain to recapture his attention.
Mr. Harris also has eyes only for Buffy, but his interest is much more crude.
"Nice chassis," he nods at the top of her bridesmaid's dress. "What's under the hood? Rrowr!"
"You know, I could use a strong cup of coffee. Hey, let's get you one too, what do you say?"
Chipper little bint, Spike thinks, swallowing hard as she passes right by him. Cor, she's so beautiful...
Buffy's eyes only flit across him for the briefest second – taking in the ho-bag on his arm, fingers exploring places that had so recently belonged to her. One hand is on his black dress shirt, thumbing the top button and threatening to expose more of his alabaster chest, the other hand hidden by the duster, but from its trajectory probably clenched on his ass.
Doesn't matter who's feeling him up, she lectures herself. He was never mine, just... convenient. I can't love him. Ever. Shouldn't be jealous... shouldn't care at all... shouldn't hurt even if I do care...
"Did you used to own a little square pinkish purse?" Mr. Harris asks blearily, disrupting her conflicted Spike-centered thoughts.
"I did," Buffy sighs, remembering the disaster that was the wedding rehearsal.
"I thought so. Hey, what do you say we slip in the back room and I show you my –"
Buffy cuts him off, buoyant attitude replaced by a glare. "You finish that sentence and I guarantee you won't have anything to show."
They continue walking, and Spike stares after her longingly, a knot in his throat. Sweet, lovely thing. Didn't think anything could make her more stunnin'... seems bein' all stalwart for her mates could do it right quick. God, Slayer... why can't you let me love you?
The Goth girl suddenly licks Spike's neck, attempting to replicate the seductive moves he had used on her at the Fish Tank, since apparently groping him is having no effect. Spike hisses at the unexpected warmth applied to what had once been his pulse point.
"Wanna kiss s'more," the girl entreats, finally working another of his buttons loose and fingering the loosened collar of his dress shirt.
Reluctantly, Spike tilts his head within her reach and lets her slip her pierced tongue into his mouth.
Utterly consumed with horror, Xander gasps as the orb's light fades and stares into the eyes of his older self.
"I'm so sorry," the old man murmurs. "I didn't want to show you."
"What happened?! What was that?!"
"A glimpse of your future. Harnessed... by magic."
"Is she okay?" Xander demands in a panic, terrorized by the last image the orb had projected to him... of himself in a furious rampage, bearing down on a sixty-year-old Anya with a frying pan. "Is she okay, what did I do?!"
"Listen. I don't have long here. The spell that brought me back, it won't last. But you can change things. It doesn't have to go like this. But you can't marry Anya."
"You'll hurt her less today than you will later," the nursing-home-escapee insists. "Believe me. Sometimes, two people... all they bring each other... is pain."
To be continued...