Chapter 1: Grave

Chapter 1: Grave

                Xander wished that he couldn't remember everything that had happened.  Some stuff stood out, and other stuff was vague, but he remembered, flashes and snapshots that hurt too much to examine closely.  

                Getting down off the tower - a nightmare.  Spike was barely able to walk.  Soaked in Doc's black ichor and his own blood, slipping and staggering and wincing from constant, accidental touches of the rising sun on his skin.  Oz stayed in his wolf form and the scent of death was almost overpowering to his senses.  Dawn was nearly catatonic and Xander half-carried her down to the ground, her tearing grief like acid in the link, and Spike too weary to even explain.

                Off the tower, finally, and Xander's legs ached - his back ached, and he stung all over from numerous glancing blows; from splintered wood and flying chips of concrete.  Oz trotted away, nose to the ground, and Spike huddled down into the deep shadow of a pile of bricks and lumber, gathering Dawn close and closing his eyes. 

                *Anya.  Help,* from Oz, and Xander found Oz standing over the ex-demon who was half-buried in rubble, bleeding from a dozen tiny cuts, unconscious.   And Oz changed, human and naked and bloody, ruthlessly and silently stripping down a dead body and pulling on jeans and a t-shirt three sizes too big, wrenching the belt tight around his waist.  They dug Anya out and carried her to Spike - went out again, searching for the rest. 

                Tara found them, clambering awkwardly over a haphazard mound of bricks and sheet-iron, her cast half torn off her arm, dust and blood on her face.  She beckoned frantically and they went to her - followed her over and around and there was Willow, sobbing, and there was Buffy...  Xander had to take a moment to force his rising gorge back down - to take a hard, hard breath.  And then he went to Willow and urged her up - got her to stand and handed her off to Tara, and she and Oz led her gently away. 

Xander just looked at...her.  At the body.  Small, and broken, and nothing, nothing like his friend.  Nothing like the blonde whirlwind that had changed his life so dramatically and so completely.  Just a shell covered in brick-dust and blood, looking awkward and misshapen; one shoe off, mouth a little open, an obviously broken arm crooked along her side.   He gradually became aware of Giles, kneeling to one side and silently weeping.  Blood on his cheek and down the sleeve of his jacket.  His glasses half-crushed in one hand, his eyes riveted on his Slayer.  Xander slowly walked over to him and coaxed him to his feet - held him as he swayed and nearly collapsed.  When Xander tried to tug him away, Giles' hand had closed down with bruising force on his shoulder.

                "I won't leave her.  I'm not leaving her," choked out in a tear-raspy voice. 

                So Xander stood there, bracing the swaying figure, desperately glad to see Oz's van inch carefully around a corner.  Spike inside, and Dawn, and Xander and Giles carefully wrapped Buffy in a blanket and lifted her inside.  Giles climbed in after and settled at her feet.  Tara and Willow were waiting at his truck, crouched in the back with Anya between them, also blanket wrapped.   Xander wanted to scream.

                The drive to the Summers' house was...surreal.  Pink and lemon-gilded clouds, early-morning traffic, school-buses.  Xander drove on automatic and stopped with a jolt of surprise behind Oz, staring at the familiar house and not even knowing, for a panicked moment, what the hell he was doing.  Then Tara and Willow were standing up, and Anya was awake and they were helping her, and Oz was walking around the back of his van, shoulders slumped and his hair matted to his head.  He opened the van doors and after a moment Spike came crawling out.  Xander went - in slow-motion, it seemed - to help him.  Dawn like a zombie under the blanket with him, in that fucking dress and Xander wanted to rip it to shreds.  Giles climbed out stiffly, showing every single year he'd lived on his face, and stood vacant-eyed as Oz and Xander slid the blanket-wrapped body out of the van and got it inside.  Xander didn't even spare a thought for what the neighbors would think if they saw.  They lay Buffy gently down in the dining room, stretched over four chairs.   The others huddled in the living room; Willow, Dawn and Spike on the couch, Giles in an upright chair near the door.  Anya hovered by the stairs, looking dazed, and Tara slipped upstairs.  Xander and Oz both just flopped down on the floor, too tired - too hurt - to do much else.

                 The link was like an endless knife-stroke going over and over the same raw flesh, and Xander couldn't understand how it was Dawn until Spike finally showed them what had happened up on the tower - relived the fiery absorption of Dawn's blood and the three of them just stared at each other, utterly at a loss. 

                Tara came back with some left-over sleeping pills of Joyce's and coaxed Willow and Dawn into taking one each.  Willow's face was red and wet, her mouth in a rictus of a sob that simply would not end.  Anya shook her head at Tara when she offered a pill and went away upstairs herself, and after a moment they heard the shower starting up.  The two girls collapsed finally on the tangled pile of blankets that hadn't been moved from the living room floor and the acid-sharp sense of loss went out with Dawn. 

                *Need to clean you up,* Xander thought, looking at Spike and the smears of blood on the blanket he'd been using, and Spike nodded wearily and pushed himself to his feet.  The link flared and burned, and Xander realized Spike was just too tired to control it.  

                "There's a f-first aid ki-kit under the stairs.  I'll g-get it," Tara said softly.  Xander glanced distractedly at her, letting Spike lean on him a bit.  Giles watched them shuffle away and got up from his chair - followed after, looking lost.  The five of them went slowly into the kitchen and Spike got up on the counter by the sink, stripping off the rags of his shirt.  Xander wet a dishtowel under the faucet and cleaned blood and ichor off Spike's body and then bandaged the deep wounds in his sides and back.    Then he went rapidly outside to throw up in the bushes, the combined assault of what was in front of him and what Spike couldn't keep out of the link too much.  He came back in and rinsed his mouth - leaned next to Spike, who reached up and stroked his hair, knee nudging into Xander's ribs. 

                *Doing all right, love?*

                *I'm all right.  I'm - fine. Oz?*   The werewolf was hunched in the corner between door and refrigerator, and he looked pleadingly over at Xander and Spike, showing them *forest,* flooding them with his need for a stretch of silence and separateness to let everything...settle. 

                *Whatever you need, wolf - we'll be here.  Love you.*

                *Pack.  Love you both.*   Oz wiped his hand over his eyes and opened the door - changed and was gone, streak of russet fur and anguish fading into the morning.   Spike just sat and looked at Xander, red-rimmed eyes and haggard face. 

                *Love you love you, Xander...should go home, take the Bit and...*

                *We can't, we can't, love...we have to...*

                "What next?"  Xander asked, thinking of when Joyce had died - all the details and phone calls that he simply didn't think he could face right then.  That any of them could face.  Tara sighed, picking at the remains of her cast and Xander blinked at her - went over and hugged her hard, guilt washing over him.

                "I'm sorry.  You're back and nobody's said anything - are you okay?" he whispered into her hair.   

                "Fine.  I'm f-fine," she whispered back, and wiped her eyes and smiled at him, shaky smile and dirty face, and Xander hugged her one more time.   He reached down and split the last bit of plaster holding the cast on and Tara eased it gratefully off her arm.  Anya came in then; clean, pale, t-shirt and sweats, band-aids and gauze patches stuck all over her.  She stared at all of them for a moment and then got a pot of coffee going - got water boiling on the stove.  Xander just watched her, his mind a comforting blank for the moment.  Anya turned from the coffee pot, frowning.

                "You're acting like zombies.  You have to wake up!  We have to - to bury her.  We have to get started on all the - the things!  Like when Joyce died, there's so many things to do and you're all just sitting here!"

                "Anya -"   Tara started, but Giles interrupted, his voice so calm and quiet it was nearly inaudible.

                "We can't call anyone.  If word gets out - if the demon population knows the Slayer is dead...  The Hellmouth is - is too vulnerable.  We have to - we have to pretend that Bu- that she is still alive."   Dead silence, and then Spike was climbing stiffly down from the counter and crossing to the kitchen island to stand next to Giles. 

                "He's right.  What are you thinking, Watcher?"  They all saw the flinch when Spike said that word, and Giles drew a deep breath and looked at the glasses he still held in his hand, as if surprised he'd kept hold of them.

                "We need the 'bot.  And - somewhere to...bury her...that's private.  Safe from - prying eyes."  Another silence, while Xander's brain ratcheted up a notch to something like thinking, and Tara hesitantly spoke up.

                "There's a place - Breaker's Woods? W-willow and I have gone uh-up there.  It's like a little ss-secret spot..."  Tara looked anxiously at Giles and he nodded, rubbing his forehead.

                "Yes, that would do very - very nicely."

                "Do you think the 'bot can really - pull it off?" Xander asked quietly, stepping up next to Spike and Giles sat up a little straighter and put his ruined glasses on the counter.

                "She - it - will have to.  Willow has been programming it with - a number of - things..."  Giles seemed to run out of energy and slumped again, and Tara went quietly over to the stove, getting the pot of boiling water and shakily making three cups of tea.  Anya poured coffee into a mug and offered it to Xander, who shook his head.  He was pretty sure if he put anything into his stomach right then he'd be sick again.

                "We'll n-need a c-c-coffin," Tara said softly, putting a cup in front of Giles and one in front of Spike, and Spike touched her hand with his, holding it for a moment, and she smiled at him.

                "I can...do that.  Let me do that, okay?" Xander said, and Giles nodded distractedly.

                *You sure, love?*

                *Yeah.  I am.  I can.*

                "Giles?  Please - l-let us do this and y-you go lay d-down, all right?  Just - for a l-little while."  Tara held her hand out, one of Joyce's sleeping pills in her palm, and Giles looked at it for a long, long moment before taking it and putting it into his mouth.  He drank a mouthful of tea, grimacing, and then looked up at them.

                "I'm - I'm so sorry I - I'm not -"

                "It's all right, Giles.  We can do this.  We'll need you to be...when we..."  Xander didn't know how to say 'We'll need you to be strong for when we put your Slayer into the ground,' but that's what he meant, and Giles seemed to understand it.  Spike did too, and his hand squeezed briefly on Xander's wrist.

                "Yes.  Yes of course.  I'll just..." He stood up, wobbling, and Spike - Spike put out his hand - took the other man's arm and steadied him.

                 "C'mon, mate," his voice so utterly weary, and Xander could feel Spike's exhaustion in the link - blood loss and the burns and coping with Dawn all having taken their toll.

                *Gotta lay down love - gotta sleep.*

                *It's all right.  I'll - Manny can help me.  We can trust him.  You rest, love...*  Spike leaned over and gave him a soft kiss, taste of blood and ashes in his mouth, and then he gently guided Giles into the living room and got him settled on the couch - curled up next to Dawn and out, like flipping a switch.

                "What - what can I do?  Is there something I can do?  I feel all - nervous.  Like I might break something or - throw up."  Anya was turning her cup of coffee around and around in her hands, and Xander put his own hands gently on hers, stilling the cup.

                "I'm going to make a coffin, Anya.  I'll be back in a couple of hours.  You can -"   Xander didn't know exactly what Anya could do, and sighed with relief as Tara moved to her side.

                "I helped m-my Gran lay out...some of th-the family.  I know what to d-do.  I need you to f-find something clean for B-buffy to wear, Anya, and some towels and soap ss-so we can make her re-ready.  Okay?"

                Anya sniffed - wiped at her nose with a crumpled napkin.  "Yeah.   I can do that.  I'll - go do that."  She nodded to herself - squeezed Xander's hand and marched away.  Xander put the cup into the sink and then stood there, clutching the sink edge.

                "You'll really be - okay, doing that?" he asked Tara.

                "Oh - yes.  We'll get her cle-cleaned up and make her p-pretty for D-dawn.  We can lay her ow-out in the dining room if you'll h-help me move the ta-table over."

                "Okay.  We'll do that before I go...  God, Tara...she's really...she's really dead."  Xander's voice cracked, and he heaved in one hard breath and then another, his knuckles going white, and Tara put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed tightly.

                "I know.  I know, Xander.  But we h-have to do this.  We have to pre-pretend and we have to be ss-strong for Dawn.  It's going to b-be all right.  It is."  Xander looked over at her, at blue eyes filmed with tears and he nodded, pushing back the welling grief that was ready to swamp him - put him flat on his face.

                "Okay.  Okay.  Let's - go do...what we gotta do."  Tara smiled, just a little, and they went into the dining room.

               

                Driving back through early-morning Sunnydale to the tower, the bright, busy streets were like a mockery and Xander hadn't realized until he'd caught a glimpse of himself in the rearview mirror that he looked like a victim of...something.  Dirty, bloody, and haggard, he stared at himself for a split second and then looked away, hoping that no police would stop him.  He got to the tower, cringing inwardly, and gathered up the 'bot; three heavy pieces of machinery that thankfully looked nothing like Buffy at all.  He saw shadows scurrying in the tail of his vision.  Scavengers, coming out to pillage the dead - or worse - and some of the crazies stirring.  He didn't know if they were better or not, but he dumped the 'bot into the back of his truck and used a payphone to call the police.  He told them that people were milling around a dangerously unstable site and some looked like they were hurt and no, he'd rather not leave his name.  Then he drove to Manny's house.

                The restored Victorian sat at the end of a long, tree-lined drive on the outskirts of Sunnydale, and Xander just sat for a moment when he pulled up to the door, looking a the peaceful slope of lawn and the house that was painted in shades of blue and green and gold.  There were several cars parked along the drive - the whole family over for Saturday breakfast.  He hated to do this - hated to drag Manny and his family into this.  But Manny had tools, and a workshop, and lumber - he could build a coffin here, and know that it would be kept secret.  Finally he got out, and went up to the door.  Manny's wife answered, a plump and smiling woman whose dancing black eyes went immediately wide and troubled when she saw him.

                "Xander!  Credo!  What has happened?"

                "Oh - Rosalina...it's..."  Xander couldn't say it - didn't know what to say, and Rosalina drew him inside, towards the kitchen.  He could hear laughter - voices - and he clenched his teeth, hating it more by the minute.  When he and Rosalina came through the doorway there was - something.  A rapid flutter of light and color that made Xander blink for a moment.  The palely green, blue, yellow and salmon dapples and stripes that marked over half the family shifted rapidly away, leaving them all in the camouflage of ordinary skin.   *Like cuttlefish, that's what Manny said...* Xander though inanely, and took a hard breath, trying to calm himself.  Manny put a small granddaughter down and rose from his seat - came over to Xander and put his hand gently on Xander's shoulder.

                "Filho.  Come with me."  They went through the silence to the back of the house - to the back porch, where the lawn ended abruptly with rocks and the sea, and gulls screamed and chattered, diving along the cliff-face.

                "Manny, it's - I'm sorry, but I don't have any other - any other options, I just -"   Xander gulped for breath - fought a sob down, his throat so tight he could barely speak.  He was hazily aware that Rosalina was in the doorway behind them, silent.  Manny just stood there, thin and gnarled as a piece of driftwood, dark as old planking.  His shock of snow-white hair lifted and flattened with the breeze and Xander pressed his hands hard into his eyes.  Fixed his gaze on the blue *Spike blue* sea, and told Manny quietly, quickly, what had happened - why he had come.  Manny listened in silence, and when Xander finally stopped he put his arm around Xander's shoulders and hugged him for a moment.

                "Filho da puta...  That's bad, Xander.  Of course, we can make what you need.  You come with me.  Everyone else is - all right?  Your family?"

                "We're - as good as we're gonna get, Manny.  Thanks for this."

                "Of course, filho.   Of course.  I'm glad you came to me."  They went across the lawn a little way to Manny's workshop, and he hauled out planks of creamy-gold pine and dark red cedar, and they began.  The sharp, clean scent of the cut wood, the soft fur of sawdust and the gradual warming of strained muscles lulled Xander a bit, muffling the sharp edges of memory so that for a little while he was only his hands, his back, his eyes, turning possibility into solid reality.    Manny had a box full of wooden pegs and they fitted the coffin together with that.  He found a paper bag of old horse-shoe nails and put them in Xander's hand, and Xander looked at them blankly for a moment and then tucked them into this jeans-pocket, nodding. 

                *For closing the coffin.  God...Spike?*  But Spike was too deeply asleep to hear him, and Xander went back to work sanding the lid, smoothing the rough spots and rubbing out the hard edges, watching Manny's hands do the same.  Thin, big-knuckled hands with the words 'Hold Fast' tattooed across them - legacy of Manny's days at sea, years ago.  Xander watched those hands move gently over the wood - hold fast, hold fast echoing in his mind, and there were dark spots on the coffin lid.   Xander finally gave in and laid his head down and cried, the muffling drape of routine utterly stripped away by that little bag of iron spikes.

                The coffin was the color of milky honey, lined with fragrant cedar and smooth as glass and Xander wasn't sure he ever wanted to touch another woodworking tool in his life.  He and Manny wrapped it in an old quilt that Rosalina brought, and loaded it into his truck.  The whole family stood on the porch, a silent show of support, and Xander just stood for a moment looking at them.  Then he nodded, and hugged Rosalina, and climbed into the driver seat.  Manny leaned in the truck window, his eyes grave.

                "We won't talk about this, filho.  And if any rumors come our way, we'll be sure to squash them.  Take all the time you need, eh?  Don't worry about work."  Xander nodded, and scrubbed his hands back through his hair, his mind still numb and working at half-speed.

                "I think - I'll need to talk to you, in a couple of days.  I'll...I'll be around."  Manny patted his shoulder and stepped back, and Xander started the truck - backed and turned and gave a small wave, and then he was heading back to the Summers house and starting to think vaguely about a shower and clean *not bloody* clothes.  It was just noon.

 

                Spike woke already in motion, drawing frantically away from the knife that was slashing towards him.  He backed up and was abruptly halted by the couch-arm connecting solidly with his spine and he looked around wildly, trying to find his attacker.   After a moment he remembered where he was and slowly relaxed.  The bandages on his torso pulled, and he looked down at them for a moment.

                *Dreaming.  But that wasn't my dream.*  He eased forward and stroked the curtain of hair out of Dawn's face - rubbed her shoulder, whispered to her - and her fretful motions gradually calmed and she sighed into heavier slumber. 

                *Fuck.  That's not good.  What the hell gave you THAT idea, Slayer?*   Spike could just see the edge of the blanket Buffy was wrapped in, and he got up slowly and went towards it.  Coming into the dining room he saw Tara on her knees, and Buffy laid out on the floor on what looked like every last sheet the Summers' house possessed.   Tara had a pot of water, and a pile of towels, and was carefully washing the filth out of Buffy's hair.  The front of Tara's shirt was splashed with pinkish water, and there were smears of brick-dust and dirt on her face.  She looked utterly exhausted and glanced up as Spike came in, her eyes swimming.

                "Oh!  Ss-spike.  You startled m-me.  I'm just - just t-trying to f-f-."  Tara sputtered to a stop and bit her lip, and Spike knelt down beside her, smelling tears and sweat and the first faint wisps of corruption from Buffy's body.

                "Here now, Glinda, it's all right.  Everybody run off, then?"  Tara sniffed and wiped her cheek with the back of her hand and shook her head, twisting a stained towel in her lap.

                "N-no, they j-just...  I asked An-anya to go to the M-magic Box and get some herbs a-and things and Xander is get-getting a coffin..."  Tara sniffed again, and Spike looked at Buffy.  She was naked under the blanket, the clothing Tara had cut off lying in a heap near the kitchen doorway.  She was clean, but her broken arm was still crooked, and her legs weren't right. 

                "I'm just no-not strong enough," Tara whispered, and Spike smoothed his hand over her hair.

                 "That's all right, love.  I'll lend a hand and we'll soon have her right."  Tara nodded and inched over, moving the pot of water away, and Spike took Buffy's arm in his hands - set it straight with a quick jerk and a muffled snap, and then moved to her legs.  They were a little more difficult but he had them straight after a moment, and he tucked the blanket back around the body.

                *Sorry, Slayer - not very dignified, bein' dead, is it?*

                "Now, let's finish this and get her dressed."  Spike moved around Tara and lifted Buffy's head, freeing her hair and making it easier for Tara to finish washing it out.  The matted strands finally came clean, glowing mellow gold, and Tara dried and combed them, and then put a clean towel under Buffy's neck, tilting her face up.

                "I think I'll l-let Anya or D-dawn do her makeup.  I'm not very go-good at that."

                "Have you picked out a dress, love?" Spike asked, and Tara nodded and stood up stiffly.  She unfolded a pale summer dress, something all lavender and salmon and creamy white; a watercolor of a dress, and Spike nodded approval.  She'd be pretty, laying down for her final rest, and that would help Dawn and maybe Giles as well.  Show them how peaceful she looked, so they could have that small comfort.  And it was a comfort.  While they got the dress on, Spike let himself think for a moment about Cousin Frieda and her first-born girl. About how pretty seven-year-old Jane had looked, dressed in lace and wearing a flower wreath, laid out on a bed of petals in a snow-white coffin.  'Like a sleeping angel,' Frieda had husked, handkerchief pressed to her mouth, and a ten-year-old William had agreed, thinking Cousin Jane the prettiest little girl he had ever seen, and wishing they didn't have to put her away in the ground.

                *God...Spike...  You all right?  Is Tara -?*   Xander back in the link, somewhere in his truck, and Spike closed his eyes for a brief moment, letting the *love you love you miss you* wash over him.

                *We're fine, we're -*   Spike sent brief images - Buffy being tended, Tara's exhaustion.  *Coming back?*

                *Almost there.  Tara needs to rest.  Get her to lie down?*

                *Yeah.  Hurry.*   Spike looked down at Tara's bowed head and he reached and gently pulled the soiled towels from her hands - urged her to her feet.

                "Listen now, pet - you go upstairs and get clean, and change out of these things.  You'll feel better for it.  And then you need to take a rest.  Xander's coming back and wolfling will be here soon, and you can let us sit with her for a while, yeah?"   Tara swiped at her nose - took in a long breath and looked down at Buffy. 

                "You know wa-what the worst part is?  The w-worst part is th-that I didn't get to ss-say thank you for helping me - f-for helping Wha-willow.   When I - came ba-back, she was already up o-on the tower.  I never ss-said th-thank you."  Tara shut her eyes, and tears welled from under her lids, and for a moment Spike just stood there, looking at her.  Then he folded her into his arms and held her, *pack* so softly from the demon - from Xander, who was somewhere up the street.  Tara shuddered, breathing in gasping pants, and for a moment she simply clung to him.   Then she pulled away and rubbed her face.

                "When d-did you start be-being my friend, Spike?" she asked softly, and Spike tucked a lock of hair back for her - wiped a stray tear.

                "When you told Xander you were happy for us."  Memory flitted across Tara's face, and she smiled then, and Spike felt himself smiling back, the 'real smile' that Xander liked so well - the one he'd only ever had for Dru, for so many years.

                *Poor little thing.  Barely got herself together and she has to deal with all this.*   "Go on, Glinda.  I'll stay here."  Tara nodded and touched his arm, squeezing gently, then she slipped past and wearily climbed the stairs.  Spike looked down at Buffy - picked up the blanket and draped it over the chairs, and then carefully picked her up and laid her across them.  It wouldn't do for Dawn to wake and see her sister on the floor, on wet and dirty sheets.  He arranged her carefully and then tucked the blanket around, leaving her face free.  Then he bundled the sheets up and took them to the basement door - tossed them down the steps.  He could hear the rhythmic chuk-shush of the washing machine and whirr of the dryer. 

                *No wonder the witchling is so tired - she's been working for all of us.*    There was a faded zip-up sweatshirt hanging on the back of the basement door and he shrugged it on, feeling chilled.  It held the faint scent of Joyce in it still, and he stood for a moment, just breathing.   Then he went back to the dining room and leaned against the wall, sliding down until he was on the floor.  The sound of the shower coming on was the only sound at all, until he heard the truck, and a moment later Xander was coming in, walking silently around the sprawled figures in the living room and sliding down the wall to sit next to Spike.  He smelled, as always, of clean wood and sweat - familiar and comforting.  But he also reeked of blood, and for once the demon didn't rise to that.   It only wanted family - wanted pack - wanted safety and quiet and no more upset.  Spike hushed it, leaning his head on Xander's shoulder, shifting a little when Xander wormed his arm around behind and hugged him close.  Spike could see the coffin in Xander's mind - could see Manny and *hold fast* and he kissed Xander's neck and jaw and cheek - sighed and settled again, letting his eyes drift shut.

                "Buffy looks -"   *Dead.  She looks dead.  They always do and she doesn't look any different than the rest.*

                *I know, pet.  Don't look, then.  Just rest a bit.*

                *Can't.  Have to get the coffin in, have to-*   Spike lifted his head and put his arm across Xander's chest, gripping his bicep and holding him hard.

                "No, love.  You need to just rest.  Nothing to be done that can't wait.  She won't mind."  Xander just stared at him, his eyes so wide and wounded, and then he nodded and let his head fall back against the wall and they sat there for a while, both of them drifting in and out.  The shower cut off and after a bit Tara came down, and she folded silently down beside Willow, her breathing evening out in minutes.  Silence again, and the thickening air as the sun beat onto the back of the house.  Spike listened to Xander's heartbeat, and carefully shielded him from the nightmare images that Dawn was bleeding into the link.   An hour or more passed, and then the front door opened and Anya walked in, bags swinging from her hands.  She stood for a moment in the foyer and Spike raised his head, looking over at her.  Xander stirred next to him - opened his eyes as well, and Anya walked over, her face unusually somber.

                "I got what Tara wanted.   And I had to walk around for a while before I came back here.  Oh.  Buffy looks - nice.  But she needs makeup.  Some blush for sure and some lipstick."

                "Sure, Anya.  Let's see what you brought."  Xander scrubbed his hand over his face and sat forward, his arm still around Spike and Anya knelt down opposite them, opening bags and showing them bundles and jars of herbs; things Tara had wanted for Buffy. 

                "Is there - did you get a coffin, Xander?"

                "Yeah - it's out in my truck.  I'll need some help to get it in - it's kind of heavy."

                "Oh.  Well, I guess we'll have to wait for Oz.  I'm going to - to go through Buffy's makeup and see if she has anything suitable for being dead."  Anya gathered up the bags and dumped them by the kitchen, then went away upstairs, and Xander sighed - slumped over and twisted around until his head was in Spike's lap.  Spike began a slow caress of his hair, gently working out tangles and smoothing the long strands until Xander closed his eyes again.  He was trembling ever so slightly, *hurt* in the link like a broken bone, insistent and marrow-deep.  Spike leaned down and kissed his temple - petted and petted his hair, willing him to sleep again, to forget, for a little while.

                *Can't forget, Spike.  I'm sorry...I can't stop -*

                *Shhh...  No apologies.  You're allowed grief, pet.  I just want you to rest, is all.*

                *Feels like I shouldn't.*

                "I know, love.  But you can."  Xander sighed and burrowed a little deeper, and they had five minutes of merciful blank and then Oz was there, fading into consciousness, *Pack - all right?  Coming...*

                *All right,* Spike sent, vision of the silent house, and Oz's van and another vehicle stopped outside.  After a minute the back door opened and Oz slipped in, and Derio.  Then two women.  Spike lifted his head, looking towards the doorway, scenting sachet and peppers and meat, scenting flour and fabric softener and age.

                *Wolfling, what is it - who is it?*

                *Abuela Consolata.  Derio's granny.  She's...priestess.*   Spike shook Xander's shoulder.

                "Love, wolfling is here.  He's brought - someone."  Xander blinked up at him and then slowly pushed himself upright as the others filed into the room.  Oz was clean, bandaged over one eyebrow with a patch of gauze.  Derio was behind him, looking a little shaky, carrying his fiddle case.  And behind him were the women.  The first Spike dismissed - thin and sour looking, iron-streaked black hair bundled into a net and a dowdy dress swathing her.  The other -

                "Spike, Xander - this is my Aunt Gechina Padovani and my Granny, Consolata Padovani."  Auntie looked them over with a critical gimlet eye and then looked away, studying the walls.  Granny...

                "So this is your family, Dan-iel?" she said, and Spike shivered all over.  Xander was getting to his feet, stiff and sleep-dazed, and Spike stood up as well, fighting the demon.   The waves of power coming off Consolata were like static, building higher and higher, deafening him.  He shook his head fiercely, keeping to his human face with desperate effort, and Xander's hand clenched down hard on his forearm.

                *Spike!*   Abruptly the power was gone, and Consolata was just - a woman.  Silver-white hair held up with sticks, a heavy, slightly bent body in a dull-purple dress and cardigan.  Spike growled ever so softly, and she smiled at him.

                "Dan-iel told us - about your friend.   We'd like to help you."  Oz had edged over towards Spike and Xander, looking a little wary, and Spike reached out and touched his shoulder.

                *You all right, wolf?*

                *Yeah.  She's all right.  No harm, Spike.*   Derio looked nervous as well, and he glanced between Spike and his granny, looking like he might want to step between them.

                *Pet?*

                *We need - something, Spike.  I don't mind.*   "It's - nice to meet the both of you," Xander said, coming forward and offering his hand, and then snatching it back when he saw the blood that still grimed it.

Consolata just smiled at him.

                 "Yes - I've been wanting to meet the both of you.  You need to wash, nino.  Go on, the both of you.  You've done what you can for the dead - let us do for the living, yes?"  Xander hesitated and then nodded - turned to Oz.

                "I - I went out to Manny's house.  We made a coffin.  It's in the back of my truck." 

                "Okay," Oz murmured, and Spike edged forward and took Xander's hand.

                "Let's go up, pet.  Get you clean." 

                "Yeah."  Xander squeezed his hand and they turned away.  Spike breathed a sigh of relief as they left the dining room, and he could hear Oz asking Derio to help him get the coffin - Consolata telling Gechina to get some water boiling while she found a chopping board.

                *Guess there'll be food.  Hungry, love?*

                *I - don't actually know.  Hard to say.*   They went slowly upstairs, bringing their pack from the front hall and going into the bathroom.  Spike got the shower started while Xander rooted out their toothbrushes and the last of the clean clothes and then helped Spike peel the patches of bandage off.  The bleeding had stopped but the wounds were still raw. 

                *Need to hunt,* Spike thought, and shook his head no to the brief image of Xander offering his throat.  *No love.  Need more than you can give me.  I'll be all right.*

                  A few minutes later they were slipping gratefully under the hot, pounding spray, soaping and scrubbing and generally trying to shed a layer of skin.  When the last of the grime was rinsing away, Xander suddenly turned to Spike and leaned hard into him, locking his arms around Spike's waist.  He was crying, shuddering, and Spike held him as tight as he dared.

                *Put her in the ground, don't want to, why did she DO that, Spike?   Spike, why did she - should have done something, should have -*

                *No, no, NO, love.  No should haves, no whys.  No changing what she did and no regrets.  You did everything you could.  EVERYTHING.  You did good.  It's just...*

                "Way of the world, pet.  Way things are.  There's no blame, love," Spike whispered, wishing he could do something to ease the broken-glass sharpness of the sorrow Xander couldn't keep back.  Xander kissed Spike's shoulder - turned to the spray and held his face under it for a moment, sluicing away tears and wiping his nose.  Then he turned back to Spike, blinking the water from his eyes.

                "You're not actually - sorry - that she's dead," Xander said softly, and Spike leaned back against the tiles behind him.

                "Be lyin' if I said I was.  She's - the Slayer.  Born to die, just like you all are.  Only she had less time than most.  What she was.  She fought hard, and she did what she thought was best.  She died saving her sister - saving the world.  All she wanted, right then, and she died happy.  Nothing to mourn, love, and the only pain I feel is yours."   Xander's eyes were so dark - so hurt.  Spike hated to see that look.  But he wouldn't lie - couldn't, really.  And he did ache for Xander - for the wolf and for Bit.  He was happy Glinda was back to herself, and sorry that she was sad.  But that was all.  Willow's grief - even the Watcher's - was incidental and counted only where it added to family grief.  And Anya's was too oblique to even consider.  It wasn't in him to care for not-pack, and he wouldn't even try.  But he wouldn't make it worse, either. *Don't mean to hurt you, pet...just can't be any other way.*   All those things, a fraction of a moment in the link, and Xander nodded slowly.

                "I kinda figured."  He leaned into Spike again and kissed him, *Love you, vampire mine,* and then he was turning off the cooling water and getting towels, and Spike followed him out.  They dried and dressed and spent another moment just kissing softly up against the door.

                *Giles,* from Oz, and they broke apart reluctantly.  Xander smiled at Spike, smoothing his hand over Spike's dark blue button-up.

                 "Guess we'd better go down.  You gonna be okay with granny?"

                "Long as she doesn't do - anything.  Derio must be crazy -"

                "Whoa - no.  Don't.  Oz needs him, and if Oz says it's okay, it is.   And Derio is...family.  He's family, Spike."  Xander said that with a sudden certainty - a sudden surge of agreement in the link, soldier and hyena rousing themselves from whatever stupor the long night and day had put them in. 

                *Family*  

                *Pack*    Spike agreed with that, because Derio was Oz's, and whatever Oz brought in - stayed in.  But granny was not, in ways only the demon could truly understand.

                "Can't explain it, Xander, but she's just - not quite -"

                "Yeah.  I could feel her, through you.  It's a little creepy.  But Oz said no harm, and I trust him."

                "Course, love."  Spike bent and rooted through the dirty clothes on the floor and got his lighter, but the pack of cigarettes was empty and he followed Xander downstairs mentally checking his duster-pockets, wondering if he had any more.

                *Need a bloody carton to get through what's coming.*   Flash from Xander's mind, the old demon's hands, smoothing the wood of the coffin.  *Hold Fast.  Hold on to ME, love.  I won't let you go.*

                               

 

                Xander was actually pretty amazed that the smell of cooking food didn't make him sick.  Maybe, he reasoned, it was because it was so foreign to him - even being a SoCal boy, he'd never seen most of what Derio's granny and aunt were making.  An hour past sunset and Spike was just coming back in, sleek with fresh blood and twitchy as a cat, avoiding granny like the plague.  Willow and Dawn were upstairs getting changed and cleaned up, and Giles was just downstairs from his own shower, pushing wet hair impatiently back off his forehead and walking with measured steps into the dining room. 

                The coffin was balanced on two chairs, and Buffy lay inside, padded with a quilt.  Dawn had brought it out, mumbling something about a hope chest and Willow had hugged her tight.  Buffy's hair glowed against the cedar wood and the deft strokes of Anya's hand had put color into her face and eased the awful rigor of her features.   Tara had put candles everywhere they could safely burn, and the mingled scents of beeswax and peppermint, rue and rosemary, sage and thyme and wormwood seemed to almost swim in the thick, spangled air.  Xander stood next to Giles as the older man gazed down, his expression blank and controlled and awful.

                *She doesn't look so dead anymore,* Xander thought, and Spike slipped into the dining room, putting his arms around Xander's waist.

                *Demon-girl did good.  Everybody up and about, then?*

                "Yeah.  We'll need to - go soon."   *Take Buffy to Breaker's Woods and...*   Xander shied away from that, even as Spike's thoughts turned again to Cousin Jane, and to a slow walk through London streets.  Black horses with plumes on their heads and the silken rustle of his mother's black dress - her hand tight around his and her eyes wide with sorrow and fear.

                *My father was three years dead, then - she was afraid I'd die too, sickly brat that I was.*  Xander fled into Spike's memories for a moment, hoping somehow that, if he went through it in his mind first, when the time came he would be able to - have some dignity.  Have some comfort for Dawn, and Willow.  For Giles, who hadn't stopped looking at Buffy, and who was trembling ever so slightly.

                "Giles?  You all right?" Xander asked softly, and Giles moved - swallowed with a click of his throat and raised one hand to rub wearily at his eyes.

                "Yes I'm - I'm quite all right, Xander, I'm just...a little hung over from that - that pill.  It was very strong."  Giles' voice was thick with unshed tears but his back was ramrod straight and Spike pulled Xander away ever so slightly when he moved to put his hand on Giles' arm.

                *Stiff British upper lip, love - he might not want...that.*

                *Can't hurt to try,* Xander thought, hating to see Giles so...separate.   He lifted his hand again and put it lightly on Giles' shoulder.  Giles stiffened and then sagged a little, his head going down, his hands curling uselessly into fists.  He didn't move away, and Xander didn't say anything.  After a few moments Giles lifted his head.

                "Do we know - where we're going?  And - how we're getting there?" he asked softly, not looking at Xander or Spike.  

                "Tara made a sort of map - it's not too hard.  We're going to use my truck and - and Joyce's SUV.  The van's too low to clear the trail.  Spike and Oz are - are going to go up ahead of us about an hour and...and take the shovels."  Giles flinched ever so slightly at that, but Spike had assured Xander that 'mere mortals', even a more-than-mortal like himself, would be hours digging a proper grave. 

                *God, and I don't want to think about that, a 'proper grave'...*  Cousin Jane's funeral was still stark in his mind and his thoughts skittered away from an image of mounded black dirt, a beetle crawling over the tip of William's boot, and the awful, hollow thud as the first clods were shoveled down onto the coffin.

                *Throw bunches of roses all over my coffin - roses to deaden the clods as they fall...  Now I GET that.  Fuck, don't wanna...*

                *Love, love...it's all right.*   Giles turned finally and looked at them, and Spike's arm tightened possessively around him.

                "Who are - these women?  What are they doing?"  Giles asked, and he voice was so bewildered Xander couldn't help a small smile.

                "Sorry, Giles.  They're Derio's granny, Consolata P-padovani?  Yeah, Padovani.  And his Aunt Gechina.  Oz brought them back.  They - just want to help."  Giles nodded absently, his eyes flickering around the room.  Taking in, obviously for the first time, the banks of candles and the strewn herbs - the Double Wedding Ring quilt, the coffin, and Xander watched him reach out and run his hand gently over the smooth flank of pine.

                "This is - this is quite beautiful, Xander."  Giles gently touched the fold of quilt under Buffy's shoulder.  "She told me about this.  Her grandmother - Joyce's mother - made this for her when she was a baby.   She..."  Giles stopped - took a deep breath.  "Dawn has one also.  Dove in the Window, I think it's called."  Giles reached one more time, slowly, towards Buffy.  He very gently touched her cheek - stroked down to her chin and cupped it, for just a moment.

                "Oh God..."  Giles' eyes were closed, and his hand hovered, trembling, just over Buffy's heart. 

                *Spike -*

                *Let him do - what he has to.  There's no shame in it.*

                *I know, I KNOW...it's just...*   Xander shook his head slightly and felt Spike lean his head on his back, between his shoulder blades.

                *I know you didn't have anything for your friend.  When your Jesse died, you couldn't even - tell anyone.  This is what grief is, love.  It hurts, and it's ugly.  And then it's gone, and things are better.*

                *Really, Spike?*  A long silence from Spike, as Giles hauled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped roughly at his eyes.

                *Really, love.  Look...*   Images then, of Cousin Frieda and her dashing Scots husband, and the squalling infant they'd named Eliza Jane.  The first Jane's picture on the mantel, and the baby held up for inspection, and Cousin Frieda glowing with pride - with joy.  *She didn't forget, and she never stopped missing her.  But it was easier, after a while.   The hurt just...went away.  But the memories stayed.* 

                *But his hurt -*

                *He'll survive it, Xander.*  Spike kissed the back of his neck, willing Xander to come into the living room with him - farther away from the granny - but Xander patted the hands locked over his ribs and reached out again instead, touching Giles' shoulder.

                "Is there anything we should do, Giles?  Since we're not having a - regular funeral, is there anything special we should do?"  Giles shuddered all over - tucked a lock of Buffy's hair aside and then turned to them again.

                "I - don't know.   The Summers' weren't - weren't very religious people.  And - there's no need to stand on ceremony with this.  We can - do as we please.  I rather - rather like this," Giles gestured around them, at the candles and the dim stillness.   "Reminds me..."  Giles stopped and Xander made an inquiring sort of noise.  The older man looked up at the ceiling, and a faint smile crossed his face.  "Oh, years ago.  A - a friend of ours died - nothing awful, just...  Anyway, Ethan and I and the rest of us, we had a wake for him, and it was the seventies, you know, so we had candles and incense and...and The Who.  We all got very drunk and Ethan managed to nearly drown himself in the Thames doing the Lyke Wake dirge..."  Giles blinked, his eyes glittering, and he looked around at Spike and Xander.  "I suppose if I'd like anything, I'd like that.  The Dirge sung for her.  My Great-Uncle Alistair...  He used to sing it at every funeral.  Said we had Yorkshire blood and it was only right...  It always made me feel...better, somehow.   The one - one thing I could count on when everything was..."  Giles stopped and rubbed his forehead - looked up at them with a thoughtful expression, and Xander felt Spike move a little behind him, coming around to his side.

                "Derio can probably give us the tune, Watcher.  You know the words?"

                "Well..."  Giles looked back at Buffy - looked up at a sudden clang from the kitchen.  "I know most of it...  I don't suppose you -?"

                *Fuck.*   "Yeah, I know it, Watcher.  Think I'll go find Derio."  Spike kissed Xander's jaw and retreated to the living room, grumbling in the link.

                "What's the Lake Walk?"

                "Lyke Wake, Xander.  It's - it's a very old song, and it says...  Well, actually, what it says is rather morbid and depressing but the point is...  It's something you do for respect and for - love." 

                "Sounds like a good thing then."  Giles looked once more at the kitchen doorway and then shook his head and went slowly into the living room.  Xander followed, and as Giles settled into a chair in the corner, Xander settled on the couch, draping himself over Spike.  Derio was perched next to the vampire, slowly picking out a tune on his fiddle while Spike hummed it for him, occasionally breaking into a word or two of song.  Oz was on the floor cross legged, looking exhausted.  He'd taken the gauze off his forehead and the wound there was mostly healed; a crusted black line of blood but no swelling, anymore.  Tara still slept, and someone had pulled a blanket over her.   Anya was in the kitchen, washing pots.

                "Think you have it now?" Spike asked quietly some minutes later, and Derio nodded and played the tune through softly.   Giles was nodding, and Oz smiled up at Derio, his hand rubbing absently on a jean-clad knee.

                "'Bout time for me and Oz to go," Spike said then, and Oz's face fell a little.

                *Oz - love you...don't have to go.*   Oz frowned, and shook his head.

                "No, it's all right.  Just - want it over," Oz said softly, and Derio leaned down and kissed him.

                "Go where?"  Dawn, coming into the living room, her hair still damp and her eyes sunk in their sockets, dark circled.

                "Have to get flowers, don't we, Bit?  What kind do you want, eh?"  Xander leaned back as Spike stood up and went to her, and she sniffed and rubbed her eyes.

                "Buffy - Buffy really liked those Star-Gazer lilies.  Could you get those?"

                "Course we could.  Anything you like."  Spike rubbed her back and she sniffed again - looked around as Willow came into the room and took her arm.

                "Let's go sit down, okay, Dawn?"

                "I want to see Buffy," Dawn said, frowning, but the link said *fear* and Xander stood up as well.

                "Come on, Dawn.  We'll both go see her.  And Spike and Oz can get the flowers and then we'll be - all set."   *An hour enough?*

                *Enough.  We'll take the van as far as we can up the trail.*

                *Right.  Love you - love you, Oz...*   Spike and Oz slipped out, Spike shrugging his duster on and Oz getting one last kiss, and Xander got between Dawn and Willow - put an arm around them both.

                "Tara and Anya did a really nice job.  She looks - just beautiful," Xander said, and *fear hurt sad*, raw and uncontrolled and so damn strong that Xander felt his heart thud into a faster rhythm for a moment.  "It's all right, Dawn," Xander whispered, sending *calm, love you,* but Dawn didn't respond.  They walked slowly into the dining room, and Willow's arm was tight around Xander's waist, and he could feel her trembling.

                "Oh!"  Dawn blinked rapidly, looking down, and then she turned to Willow with a small smile on her face.  "She - she looks really pretty, doesn't she, Willow?  She looks -"

                "She looks wonderful, Dawn.  Just - wonderful."  Willow's voice was hoarse and whispery, and Xander hugged her shoulders. 

                "Can I - Xander, can I put something in with her?" Dawn asked, and Xander nodded. 

                "Course you can, Dawn.  Anything at all."

                "Okay."  Dawn slipped away and darted upstairs, and Willow leaned on him, sniffing.

                "She does look beautiful.  Tara really worked hard.  Xander, I - I don't -"   Willow ducked her head, shuddering, and Xander gathered her into a gentle hug.

                "Shhh...  It's gonna be okay, Wills.  It really is.  Shhh..."  He rubbed her back, rocking her a little, and after a minute she straightened and rubbed her eyes - sniffed hard, making an 'eeew' face.

                "Sorry.  God.  I need a Kleenex.  Okay.  I'm okay.  I will be okay."  Willow tried a small smile, and Xander smiled back.  They stood for a few moments, just looking at Buffy, just resting against each other, and then Dawn came back, clutching something, and approached the coffin.  Xander realized she was holding a small stuffed pig. 

                "I don't think Buffy would want to - to go anywhere without Mr. Gordo," Dawn said, and tucked the pig carefully into the coffin, nestling him up against Buffy's neck.

                "You're right, Dawn.  She'll like having him with her."  Dawn was still touching Mr. Gordo, and her fingers moved slowly until they touched Buffy's cheek.

                "She's cold, Xander."   *HURT* like nails through him, and Xander took a hard breath.

                "I know, Dawn.  That's - how it is."  Dawn stroked Buffy's cheek one last time, and then she turned away and went into the living room.  Derio smiled at her, and began to play something low and soft, and Dawn sat down on the couch, watching his fingers move over the strings.  The hurt eased, a tiny bit, and Xander hugged Willow to him and followed Dawn.

 

 

                The mechanics of getting a coffin up a slotted, twisting trail in the dark taxed the last bit of calm that Xander had, and when he and Derio finally entered the clearing where the grave was he could feel his control slipping - could the tremble in his belly and the heat in his eyes as tears threatened.  He'd never been so happy to see Spike.  The vampire and Oz were waiting to take the coffin as they emerged from the trees, and Xander gave up his burden thankfully, easing the coils of rope he carried over his shoulder.  The rest filed in behind them - Giles with a flashlight and Derio's fiddle case, Tara holding Dawn's hand and a bag of herbs, and Willow and Anya with a Coleman lantern and another flashlight. 

                Spike and Oz put the coffin down and stood silently, streaked with dirt.  Spike's duster was draped over an upright shovel like a scarecrow, and Oz had hung another lantern up in a tree.  Everyone gathered in a circle...and Xander wished for it to be over.  He didn't want to hear speeches, or say anything at all.  He only wanted to rest.  To go home and scrub the last two days off of him again and again - to curl up with Spike in bed and lose himself in the taste and feel of the vampire - to make love until he was too tired to think and to sleep until the hurt had eased.  Spike moved over and hugged him close, and Derio did the same with Oz, cupping his cheek and kissing him once, softly, before turning his attention back to the coffin.

                *Oh, please can we just...do this.  Please...*   Spike hugged him again, hard.

                "What do you want to do, Watcher?" Spike asked quietly, and Giles stirred and looked around - reached up to rub his forehead.  He looked younger, somehow, without his glasses on, but Xander could see his eyes better, and the hurt and loss were stark in his gaze.

                "I -I suppose...  I'd like to just say...  Buffy was the most amazing girl - woman - that I have ever known.  She - she carried the burden of being the Slayer on her shoulders and yet - yet she somehow managed to still care for her family and her friends, and to - to fight for every bit of life, and love, and laughter that she could get.  She was...like a daughter...and I shall never forget her, and I shall miss her..."  Giles' voice wavered and he stopped, scrabbling out his handkerchief and rubbing furiously at his eyes.  Next to him, Willow put her hand on his arm and squeezed gently, then looked down at the coffin.

                "She was my best friend.  She helped me to - to be a better person - a stronger person.  And...and I love her, and I can't - believe - she's gone."   Willow blinked, tears streaking her face, and Tara was next, clutching Willow's hand and Dawn's, still.

                "I d-didn't know Buffy for as l-long as the rest of you b-but she...she saved m-my life.  She fought f-for all of us, and she di-didn't ask for any rewards.  She was a beautiful, loving p-p-person and I will m-miss h-her very m-much."   Dawn's eyes were enormous, and she was shivering, and Tara slipped her arm around her shoulders.

                "She was my sister - even when she....found out she wasn't.  She never stopped loving me.  She told me to - to live.  To live for her.  And I promise I will, Buffy!  I promise!"  Dawn heaved in a hard, panting breath and buried her face in Tara's shoulder. 

                *Pain,* in the link, *desolation, anger, fear,* and Xander, Spike and Oz all flinched from the overwhelming hurt.  Spike fought the flow of emotion and narrowed the link to almost nothing, blocking it as much as he could.

                *God, that has to stop, we've got to...*

                *Probably won't last.  Didn't get much blood.  It'll be all right, we'll get through it.*

                *Pack...hurts, she hurts...*   The wolf wanted to kill whatever was hurting the pack, and couldn't, and its frustration seethed in the link, rousing the hyena to irritable watchfulness.  Setting Xander and the soldier both on edge.

                *God!  Just want this done...*   Anya was twisting a Kleenex in her fingers, and she cleared her throat, looking up.

                "Buffy and I weren't best friends.  In fact, we weren't really friends at all.  But she fought for me.  She - she saved the world - a lot.  And I just - just want to say thank you."  Willow smiled over at her, and Anya smiled back - wiped her nose. 

                "She was the toughest lady I ever knew.  And the sweetest.  'Bye, Buffy.  Sweet dreams."  Oz's voice was so low Xander had to strain to hear, and Derio glanced up and shook his head slightly, declining to talk.

                *Spike?*

                *All right, love.*   Spike sighed and looked up at the sky - back to the coffin.  "She never gave up.  It was - an honor, to fight her.  And it wouldn't have been a disgrace to lose to her.  Requiescat in pace, Slayer." 

                *Love you...*   Xander clutched Spike's hand hard in his - looked around the circle, at pale faces, streaked with tears, haggard with grief and weariness.

                "I loved how she never gave up, and how she always had some dumb pun for whoever's ass she was kicking.  And I loved how she always did her best to - do the right thing.  She made the fighting and the - the saving the world look easy, and I'll always be glad that I knew her."   There was a long silence after that, and finally Spike stirred and moved to the side of the grave, uncoiling rope.  Xander moved to stand opposite him, and they laid the two lengths of rope across the grave.

                "How do we do this?"  Xander asked, and Spike looked over at Oz and nodded, gesturing for him to stand opposite Xander.

                "You and wolfling take these ends here.  Watcher - come up here, eh?  Take this."  Spike pushed a rope-end into Giles hand, and he stood next to Xander, winding it around his fist a little.

                "You girls now - you come take this one - Niblet, I need you up here."  Spike hauled three huge garbage bags out from the shadows, tearing them open.  As Dawn approached him, he reached into one and pulled out a rose and handed it to her.

                "You stand ready, all right, poppet?"

                "All right," Dawn whispered.  Spike gestured to Derio and they both walked over to the coffin.

                "We'll lift this and slide it out onto the ropes.  You lot - hold fast, right?"  *Hold fast, love, almost done.*  Spike and Derio lifted the coffin and carried it the few steps to the grave - slid it slowly out, Spike walking around the side and using every bit of his strength to keep the awkward burden from tipping head-first into the hole.  Finally it rested, slung on the ropes, and Derio joined Oz on his rope, and Spike took up a position behind Anya.

                 "Right.  Let the rope go, nice and slow."  They all let the rope begin to slip carefully through their hands, and the coffin went jerkily down, into shadow.  After a few moments it was done - the ropes went slack - and Xander and Giles pulled them from under the coffin and out, coiling them and tossing them away.  Dawn was standing with the rose in her hand, looking confused.

                "Spike?  What - what do I do?"

                "Toss them down, Bit.  Cover her with them."  Dawn looked uncertainly at him, and then pushed her hands into the bag - brought out a huge handful of roses and let them fall.  Anya trained a flashlight down, and they all watched as the coffin became blanketed in red and white and pink roses, until the wood was almost lost to sight.  Tara silently opened the small bag of herbs she had brought and tossed them down as well, adding the sharp scents of mint and sandalwood and rosemary to the sweet perfume of the roses.

                *Roses to cover her coffin...*   Xander thought, remembering, and Spike smiled briefly at him.

                *Heard that...thought it was a good idea.*   When all the roses had been tossed down, Spike got a smaller bag and pulled out a huge bundle of the lilies Dawn had requested.

                "These too, pet."

                "But - but there won't be anything on top -" Dawn said, her voice quavering, and *hurt hurt,* sharp as knives.

                "It's all right, Dawnie - we'll come back.  In - in seven days, we'll come back and - bring flowers and Tara wants to plant a yew tree..."  Willow tried a smile, sniffing, and Dawn looked at her.

                "Why seven days?"

                "So I - so I can sit Shiva for her, Dawn.  I'll tell you about it when we get home, okay?"  Dawn nodded slowly - breathed in the fragrance of the lilies once, slowly, and then tossed them in.

                "Derio?"  Oz said, holding a shovel in his hands, and Derio nodded and bent to his fiddle case.  He drew out the instrument and bow, and after a moment he began to play.  He ran through the tune twice, and on the third time Giles' voice came in.  It was soft at first - cracking and out of tune, but after a moment it steadied and gained strength, and Giles stood up straight and sang his dirge.  Oz and Spike began to shovel the dirt back in, and the sound Xander was dreading to hear was muffled by the roses - drowned by the song.  He hugged Dawn close and pulled her away a little, listening to Giles sing.  The words were old - ancient - and he couldn't understand them much, but he felt calmer, hearing it, and smiled softly when Spike joined in, his voice a little higher than Giles', and less trained, but pleasant.  The hole gradually filled in, black earth into black pit, and the music swelled out softly, drifting away over the trees, carrying some measure of their pain with it.

                "This ae nighte, this ae nighte,

                Every nighte and alle,

                Fire and fleet and candle--lighte,

                And Christe receive thy saule..."

 

 

 

 

 

________________________

Portuguese translations:

credo - loved one

filho - son

Filho da puta - son of a whore

Abuela - grandmother

"Throw bunches of roses..." is from Streets of Laredo by Johnny Cash

The Lyke Wake dirge can be found here:

http://www.informatik.uni-hamburg.de/~zierke/steeleye.span/songs/lykewakedirge.html

and here:

http://members.aol.com/WalkerToys/Childhood_Memories/lw-dirge.htm