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Bridal Procession

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“I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your lovely bride.”

Buffy joined in the applause and cheers as Xander sheepishly bent his head to kiss Anya. The music swelled as the newlyweds turned to receive the good wishes of their guests before processing back down the hall to disappear into the entryway, leaving their attendants at the altar.

Buffy was surprised to find tears standing in her eyes. She dashed them away carefully, not wanting to spoil her makeup. She didn’t usually cry at weddings, but they had had so few good things happen lately that this was a little overwhelming.

It almost didn’t happen. Xander and Anya had had an enormous fight three weeks before the wedding, and Anya had moved out of the apartment and into the training room at the shop. This lasted for about a week before Mom and Giles stepped in and made them work things out. Neither one of them seemed to mind afterwards, although Anya was none too respectful of Giles’ lineage and ancestry at the time.

The catering crew was now moving the chairs out of their neat rows to circle them around the tables that were quickly being erected and laid out for the reception. Buffy smiled as another guest came up to shake her hand and comment on what a lovely service it had been. She agreed warmly, her eyes drifting over to the reason for the wedding’s success.

Mom, Giles and Ethan all stood together off to one side, talking quietly, but Buffy could see her mother’s eyes smoothly flowing over the room, assuring that the caterers were doing their jobs. She looked beautiful. Buffy couldn’t think when she had ever seen her mother wear her hair up. With her thick curls, it must have taken a million bobby pins to hold the smooth twist in place, baring her neck except for a few soft tendrils that softened her face. Ethan reached out to tangle one long strand around his finger before tucking it back behind her ear. It was such an unexpectedly gentle intimacy that Buffy felt the need to avert her eyes. But not before she saw the soft blush and happy smile on her mother’s face.

Music started filtering out of the deejay’s speakers, signaling the transition from ceremony to reception. A few minutes later, his voice came up over the music. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I present for the first time Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Harris!”

Xander and Anya reappeared, both looking a bit mussed, Anya’s train now bustled up behind her so as not to be in her way. They both looked shell-shocked. And very, very happy.

The meal went relatively well. The bride’s table was made up of all the Scoobies save for Halfrek, so they all worked doubly hard to make her feel included. She and Dawn seemed to really hit it off, although Buffy had to keep kicking Dawn in the shins to keep her from thoughtlessly wishing for things. Fortunately the only wishes today seemed to be for every happiness for the bride and groom.

Curious, Buffy glanced over at the table where D’Hoffryn sat. All the good wishes seemed to be making him a bit surly.

Buffy couldn’t help noticing that sitting next to him was Spike. He looked really good. He hadn’t put off the ubiquitous duster, but apparently he had had it cleaned, for it glowed with an unusual luster. Underneath he wore a crisp white tuxedo shirt and a black silk tone on tone vest, making him look almost respectable. He looked up, catching her watching him, but his face remained neutral, neither smiling nor frowning. He seemed to be gauging her reaction instead.

She looked back down at her plate.

The meal and the toasts over, it was time for dancing. Anya and Xander turned about the floor slowly to an old John Lennon tune, and then Xander danced with his mother while Anya was partnered by Giles, who had been the one to escort her down the aisle. After that the dance floor was open.

Xander danced with Willow and then Tara, who was then claimed by Spike. Giles and Mom turned slowly around the floor, occasionally glancing over at Ethan who was flirting outrageously with Xander’s cousin, Carole. Buffy was curious to see the interest Halfrek was showing in Spike. Spike noticed it, too, and was doing his best to avoid her. D’Hoffryn even invited Mrs. Harris out on the floor as well. The damage inherent in an accidental wish on Mrs. Harris’ part was a frightening prospect, although Buffy was inclined to think Mr. Harris deserved having a little vengeance inflicted on him. But in the interests of preserving the happy day, she went and cut in. “Anya won’t be happy to find out you’ve been working at her wedding,” she chided him, although she was surprised to find him an excellent dancer.

“Not working,” he denied, “simply networking. Such a fascinating combination of resentments and frustrations in one room.”

“See, now you’re making me have to think about work.”

He studied her for a moment. “I should try to find someone to wish vengeance on you, you know. You being who you are, me being what I am. The vampire, maybe?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Try it and believe me, killing you won’t feel like work.”

He shrugged. “It would be redundant, anyway. Dying did to you what being Chosen couldn’t. It isolated you, separated you from everything you love. You’re in the world but not of it anymore. I can’t think of any vengeance I could wreak on you that would be quite as painful as that.” He dropped her hands with a polite bow. “Thank you for the dance, Miss Summers.” And he strolled casually away.

She stood there, stunned by his words, uncertain of whether to go over and snap his neck or to find a bottle of wine and try to drown herself in it when Xander breezed over and swept her into his arms, swinging her around twice enthusiastically before falling back into the steps of the dance. “Have I told you that you have the coolest mom ever?” His voice was giddy, matched only by the enormous grin lighting his face.

It would have taken a harder heart than Buffy to resist his enthusiasm, so she let herself relax into his lead. “Only every time you ever invited yourself over to dinner.”

“And I stand behind that!” He spun her out to arm’s length and then back with surprising grace. “We never would have made it through this if it weren’t for her. Ahn and I would have killed each other over something stupid like napkin color or something.”

“Well, I can’t argue with you on the mom love,” Buffy admitted. “Did you see the bridesmaids dresses Anya had picked?” She shimmied, drawing his attention to the simple ivory sheath she wore, covered by a sheer taupe floral overlay that fell in a loose handkerchief hem below her knees. “This may be off the rack, but at least I can wear it again. Mom convinced Anya this was a better compromise to burlap than the green monstrosity she had picked out.”

The song ended and another started, and Xander tried to continue dancing, but Buffy begged off. “Can we just sit? I’m tired of dancing right now.”

“Sure,” he answered solicitously, guiding her over to the side. “Not quite your old party self, huh?”

“I think I left my dancing shoes in the afterlife.” She smiled, taking the sting out of her words.

Xander snagged them both champagne as they settled at one of the tables. “You know,” Buffy acknowledged, sipping at her drink, “I didn’t really expect your dad to be on such good behavior.”

Xander chuckled. “That’s because he’s had Giles riding him like a two dollar pony all afternoon. Every time he goes anywhere near the bar, Giles is right there. He never says anything, but Dad just turns around anyway. I think Giles must have cornered him beforehand.” He shuddered. “Not a conversation I’d have wanted to see. Getting cornered by Giles is not my happiest thought.”

Before Buffy could agree, they were interrupted by Willow and Tara coming up hand in hand, Willow bouncing with excitement, Tara just glowing happily. “There’s a party going on!” Willow chided them. “What are you doing sitting around?”

“We were just talking about how much the grownups have done for the wedding,” Xander said, kicking out a chair.

Tara sat down in it. “Did you hear about the gate crasher Ethan kicked out?”

Xander and Buffy looked at each other questioningly, then shook their heads.

Willow grabbed her own champagne from a passing tray and threw herself into the story. “There was this little old guy, said he was looking for you, only nobody knew who he was, right? But Ethan could tell something was weird about the guy, so he starts escorting him out. The whole time the guy keeps insisting that he has to see Xander, has to talk to him, but Ethan just wasn’t buying it. But just before Ethan can throw him out of the hall, bam! Little old man turns into great big ugly demon. The guy tries to bully his way back in, but Ethan bound him and pushed him out the door, then warded him out of the whole building. It was very cool.” She drained the last of her champagne and plopped down on Tara’s lap happily.

“Me thinks the Willster’s had a little too much to drink,” Xander teased.

“Nah, not me!” She waved his comment away, promptly sliding off Tara’s lap onto the floor. Her eyes widened in surprise as they all snickered, then with her own giggle she slid back between Tara’s knees and rested her head on Tara’s thigh. Tara began stroking her hair gently.

“Can you imagine what this would have been like without them?” Xander mused thoughtfully.

“Fugly dresses,” Buffy listed.

“Drunken parents,” Willow added.

“Gate crashers. With unknown intentions,” Tara amended.

“There probably would have been a brawl.” Buffy took another sip of her wine. “I hate fights at weddings.”

Xander studied his own drink. “Who knows if I even would have shown.”

The girls all looked at him sympathetically. “Was it that bad?” Willow asked gently.

He shrugged. “Only in my head.”

“Then we’re lucky they were here to help.” Willow saluted with her empty glass.

All four of them looked over to where the three grownups stood talking again. Ethan was behind Mom, his arms wrapped possessively around her waist as she held Giles’ hand, smiling brightly as they talked.

“They really look happy,” Tara said softly.

“That’s what happens when you’re in love.” Willow turned her head to smile fatuously up at Tara.

“It’s just weird to think of Giles as gay,” Xander said thoughtfully.

“He’s not,” Tara corrected.

“I hate to disagree, but you know, the whole sleeping with Ethan thing kind of proves you wrong.”

“Don’t be dumb, Xander,” Willow sighed. “If he was gay, he wouldn’t be interested in Mrs. Summers.”

“Fifty percent of any population is straight,” Tara explained soothingly, “and ten percent is gay. The rest are all somewhere in between.”

“Could you really imagine Giles with any guy other than Ethan?” Willow asked.

Xander shuddered. “Would I really want to?”

Willow rose to her feet gracelessly. “Come on Xander. Come dance with us so the three of them can dance together.” She took both Xander’s and Tara’s hands, pulling them up out of their chairs. “It’s the least we can do for them.”

Buffy watched as they moved out onto the floor, making a show of dancing together. Noticing, Ethan bent his head to speak in Mom’s ear. Giles turned his head to see the trio when she looked up, then shook his head negatively. But Mom ignored him, taking his hand with a teasing smile to draw him out onto the floor, with Ethan following after. They quickly found a configuration that suited them and began moving together in time to the music in a rhythm that flowed so naturally it seemed practiced. Despite his resistance, Giles seemed just as content as the others. Anya came and claimed Xander out of the other threesome. Buffy just watched them all, each couple so happy being together. Her eyes continued around the dance floor. Cousin Carole was now dancing with Anya’s friend Krelvin, while Uncle Rory had somehow coaxed Halfrek into taking a turn around the floor with him. Even Dawn had found a nice seeming demon boy to sway gently with in the corner.

It shouldn’t be this easy. They should be questioning, uneasy, distrustful. But here they all were, just having a good time. Her best friend was in love with a beautiful young woman. Her other best friend had just married an eccentric former demon with a generous heart. And her Watcher had put aside old hurts and insecurities with his rival all for the love of her mother. Demons and humans mixed without discord. The most dangerous thing in the room were the demons within each of them. It should be harder than this, but it wasn’t.

Tinny electronic piano harmonies started up from the deejay booth, and Buffy finally realized where her thoughts were leading her. As Bette Midler’s voice started crooning softly, Buffy searched the room until she found Spike standing over by the bar, deep in conversation with Clem. She knew she could ignore it, but instead she took it as a sign. Her heart pounding in her chest, she summoned up her courage and went over to him.

“Excuse me, Spike, but I think they’re playing our song.”

He faltered, turning to look at her in confusion. “It is?”

“Oh, come on, don’t tell me you forgot. You me, a cozy little tomb for two. Mr. and Mrs. Big Pile of Dust.”

“I remember,” he said, sounding puzzled. “Just didn’t think I’d ever hear you admit to it.”

“So, are we going to dance or what?” she held out her hand to him with a smile.

Looking even more mystified, he took her hand and let her lead him out onto the dance floor.

She surprised him again by curling her arms around his neck instead of putting her hand on his shoulders. She could feel his uncertainty as he rested his hands on her waist. It was kind of fun, keeping him off balance like this. And, she had to admit, it felt nice to just be held by him.

“So what is all this, Slayer?” he asked finally.

“Well, I told you I needed to think. So I’ve been thinking. A lot, really.”

“Thought I smelled smoke.” She stuck her tongue out at him, making him laugh. “You suss anything out?”

“I think so.” She met his eyes, and for a moment she was struck dumb by the uncertainty she saw there. She couldn’t say this with him watching her like that, so she stepped closer to rest her cheek on his shoulder. “I don’t love you.” She felt him tense, so she hurried on. “But just because I don’t now doesn’t mean I never could. We just kind of went about this all wrong, you know? Maybe we just need to, you know, go back to the beginning and do the stuff we missed.”

He snorted. “You asking me to court you, pet?”

“No! Not really. Well, maybe okay I am.” She looked back up at him sheepishly. “Is that too impossibly cheesy?”

He smiled, and for the first time she could appreciate what a beautiful thing that was. “I don’t know. It’s something we never tried before. Might make a nice change.” He held her close. “Hope I remember how. Haven’t actually courted a woman in a long time.”

She relaxed in his arms, surrendering to his lead. “You’re actually a pretty good dancer,” she acknowledged.

“Lot of things you don’t know about me, love.”

She looked up at him. “Like why Halfrek is so interested in you?”

He rolled his eyes with a groan. “If I have anything to do with it, that is one story you won’t ever hear.”

“Oh, come on!” she teased. “Now you’re just making me curious!”

“Tell you what,” he replied, studying her calculatingly, “I’ll tell you all about it when we get to our tenth anniversary.”

This was surprisingly fun. “Anniversary of what? Our first fight? First kiss?” she dared risking their gentle peace. “The first time we brought the house down?”

His expression grew unreadable, and he drew her close, resting his cheek against her hair. “I’ll let you know when we get there.”

Relaxing in his embrace, she let him turn her slowly around the floor, for once not worrying about right and wrong, but just thinking about what made her happy. He was a balm to her, had been since she came back, and she had fought against it, lashed out at him, because of conventions that she really wasn’t even answerable to anymore. She was beginning to wonder if they were ever there in the first place.

She felt someone watching her, and opened her eyes to see her mother on the far side of the room, standing by herself for the first time all night. She looked deep in thought as she watched them dancing, but when she saw Buffy looking back at her, she smiled that smile she got whenever she was proud of something Buffy did. Ethan came up at that point and took her hand, distracting her. She squeezed his hand, and with a last, quick nod to Buffy, let him lead her into the dance.

Buffy closed her eyes again, content. Mom at least understood.