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by Duncan Johnson
This story is a sequel to Finale.
It was as good a night as any to kill a sister.
Angel grunted as he scooped up another clod of earth with the spade. Giles had offered to help, but Angel had insisted on doing the digging alone. Maybe he was feeling guilty about not being here for her. He shouldn't. I had been here and I hadn't been able to stop it. I hadn't even tried.
The business end of the spade struck something solid.
'I guess we've found it,' Angel said.
Xander pushed his wheelchair forward for a closer look. Anya took an involuntary step forward, following him, but she kept a tight grip on Trix's hand. Halfrek put a steadying hand on Xander's chair then glanced back at Anya. Anya managed a weak smile, then stepped back into Trix's shadow.
Giles put a hand on my shoulder.
'You don't have to do this, you know,' he said. 'Let me. She was my Slayer. That makes her my responsibility.'
I ignored him and walked cautiously to the edge of the hole, my sneakers threatening to slip out from under me on the wet grass.
'I'll do it,' Angel said, holding out a large hand for the stake. 'I owe her that much.'
I shook my head.
'She wasn't your sister,' I replied.
Angel glared at me angrily. I couldn't believe we were fighting over this. I almost handed over the stake, but I didn't. If this had to be done then I was the one who was going to do it.
'Open it up,' I said.
Angel lifted the lid of the coffin.
I'd like to say that she looked as if she was sleeping, but I'd seen Buffy asleep and she was never as calm and untroubled as this. It was obvious just by looking at her that she wasn't going to wake up.
I lowered myself into the hole.
'She looks so peaceful,' I whispered.
'They all do,' Angel said. 'It can be deceptive.'
'You're a well of comfort,' I complained.
I raised the stake. My hand was shaking.
Angel put his hand over mine.
'Let me,' he said. 'It's got nothing to do with who has more right here. I just don't want to see you hurt anymore. It's not what Buffy would want.'
I tried to smile at him, but the muscles in my face didn't want to co-operate.
'Thanks,' I said, 'but this is something I have to do. I can't explain it, but that's just the way it is.'
'I understand,' Angel replied. 'I'll be just over there if you need me.'
Then he climbed out of the pit.
The rest of the gang were only a few feet away, but I still felt alone down there with Buffy. With what had been Buffy. I had to keep reminding myself of the difference otherwise I would never be able to go through with this. Buffy was gone. If we were lucky then all that was left was her body. And if we were unlucky? Well, that was why we had dug up her grave in the middle of the night.
I placed the stake, point down, against her chest. I knew I didn't have the strength to force it through her rib cage on my own. That's why I'd brought the mallet.
'I'm sorry, Buffy,' I said, swinging the mallet.
The stake juddered in my hand as it pierced her flesh. There was no blood. The embalmer had seen to that.
I wasn't sorry at all. Not really. I knew that this was what Buffy would have wanted. Since becoming a Slayer, Buffy had had one overriding fear - that she would end her days as a vampire. I wasn't about to let that happen.
I swung the mallet again.
* * *
It had only been hours since the funeral. Giles had made all the arrangements. I wouldn't have known how.
Giles had flown over as soon as he heard what had happened. I think Anya had called him, but I hadn't asked. He had volunteered to take responsibility for me until Social Services came up with a more permanent solution. Apparently, they had found Hank Summers in Spain with yet another secretary. He was engaged to this one. Of all the shameless, despicable things he could have done I was glad Mom wasn't around to see it.
It seems odd to call him Hank. Usually I don't think about him at all and, while he may be my biological father, he lost the right to be Dad some time ago. Giles had suggested we postpone the funeral until Hank got back. I refused. I had been waiting six years for him to come back. That was plenty long enough.
* * *
I swung the mallet again. I could hear the splintering of bone as I forced my way through her ribcage.
* * *
There were more people at the funeral than I had expected.
First, there were the people I'd invited. Giles, obviously. Xander and Anya. Trix, Clem and Halfrek. I had phoned Angel. I'd wanted to speak to him in person, but there just wasn't time. He, Wesley and Cordelia drove down from L.A. the same night. I'd also tried getting in touch with Riley and Sam. They couldn't make the funeral - they didn't say why and I knew better than to ask - but they sent their condolences. No one knew where Oz had gone.
Then there were those who had asked to come. Janice, Drew and Chrissie weren't sure that they would be welcome. They hadn't really been part of the inner circle before. But they owed Buffy their lives and they wanted to be there for me, if I'd have them. I made a point of taking them round and introducing them to the rest of the gang. No more secrets, right? Drew seemed less than taken with Angel, but I don't know how much of that was because he's a vampire and how much because Chrissie was all over him.
The night before the funeral, Giles and I were in the kitchen going over the catering arrangements. I was just agreeing with everything he suggested, but he seemed to think it was important that I was involved. Then there was a knock on the door. Giles shrugged. He wasn't expecting anybody anymore than I was. When I opened the door, I didn't even try to keep the surprise off my face.
Sheila and Ira Rosenberg were standing on the doorstep.
'Hello,' I said cautiously. I still remembered Mr Rosenberg's last visit to the house. 'Can I help you?'
'We came to offer our condolences,' Mrs Rosenberg said.
'The last time I saw Buffy I was less than friendly,' Mr Rosenberg continued. 'That was unforgivable.'
'It was understandable,' I told him, 'given the circumstances.'
'The point is, Buffy was a good friend to our daughter,' Mr Rosenberg explained, 'and I never got a chance to tell her how much I we appreciated that.'
'I'm sure she knew,' I promised him. I wasn't sure at all, but it seemed like the right thing to say in the circumstances.
'There was something else,' Mrs Rosenberg said. 'Would you mind if we came to the funeral?'
I was still giving out surprise-face.
'We just want to pay our respects,' she explained hastily, 'and well '
'Well?' I prompted gently.
'We never got to have a funeral for Willow,' Mr Rosenberg explained.
I didn't know how to respond to that, but fortunately Giles was there to save me.
'Would you like to come inside?' he said. 'I'm just making tea.'
We stayed up late talking about Willow and Buffy, sharing stories (most of which should definitely remain private). I had to skate around the issue of Buffy's slaying or Willow's witchery, but the Rosenbergs didn't pry. I got the impression that they knew that there was a part of their daughter's life that was always going to be hidden from them, but that they were okay about it.
By the end of the evening we were already discussing when I would go and have dinner with them. Suffice to say that they were more than welcome at the funeral.
And finally there were the gatecrashers, something of a new concept for a funeral. Some of the faces I recognised from school, but most were strangers. They were all here for the same reason, though. At one time or another, Buffy had saved all their lives and they felt compelled to pay their respects. I wasn't about to turn them away.
With one exception.
Jonathan was lurking near the back of the hall. He looked nervous. Guilty. And well he might.
Excusing myself from the others, I crossed over to him.
'What are you doing here?' I demanded, keeping my voice low so as not to attract attention.
'She saved my life too,' he pointed out defensively. 'I've as much right to be here as the rest of them.'
'They didn't kill her,' I shot back. Maybe it was harsh, but that was how I was feeling. You try losing a sister and see how sympathetic you become.
'I didn't ' Jonathan began, but, in his defence, he didn't finish the sentence. 'She wanted me to do it.'
'You could have said no,' I replied. 'You should have said no.'
'It wasn't that simple,' he protested.
'Wasn't it?' I persisted. 'You could have stopped her, but instead you let her throw her life away.'
I was shouting now and I didn't care who overheard. But who was I most angry at, Jonathan or myself. I had been all ready to fight with Buffy at the Bronze, to die at her side if it came to it, but then I'd turned my back on her and let her go into the darkness alone. It was what she had wanted, a small voice at the back of my head insisted, but wasn't that the same argument Jonathan had used?
'I wanted to stop her,' Jonathan said softly. 'Really I did, but '
'I don't want to hear it,' I snapped at him. 'Just get out of my sight.'
* * *
The stake slid easily through the softer tissue beneath her ribs. I stepped back, leaving the stake where it was.
'Angel,' I called, 'is that enough?'
Angel crouched down at the edge of the hole.
'That'll be fine,' he assured me. 'If she wakes up a vampire, she'll dust straightaway now. We could wait '
'Bury her,' I said, climbing out of the pit. 'I never want to know.'
* * *
'I feel so useless,' Xander said as I sat down on the grass next to his chair.
'You're not useless, Xander,' I said. 'It's great just that you're here. And you'll be back on your feet in no time, you'll see.'
'That's not what I meant,' Xander explained. 'I knew what she was planning. She told me, when I was in hospital. She told me everything, but I couldn't even lift a finger to stop her. I was supposed to be her friend.'
'There was nothing you could have done,' I told him.
'But it's not the first time,' he continued. 'I couldn't save Willow either. I probably even talked her into killing herself. That's the one thing I'm supposed to be good at, wordplay, but I managed to talk my best friend to death. And then there's Tara. Warren was as close to me when he shot her as you are now. I could have grabbed him. He wasn't super-strong anymore. I could have wrestled that gun off him easy. But I didn't, did I? I just froze and now three of my friends are dead. I guess I just don't have what it takes to be a hero.'
'That's so not true,' I insisted, but I was only half-listening to Xander. There was something in the distance that had caught my eye.
I got to my feet. I could see a light, dancing in the distance.
'Don't go away,' I said.
'Yeah, because it's real easy to roll about in this grass,' Xander complained, but I was already walking away.
Bizarre as it may sound, there was something familiar about that light and I was intent on finding out what it was. I wasn't sensing anything threatening from it. If anything, it seemed warm and welcoming.
I glanced back. I had wandered further from the others than I had intended. They were still busily filling in the hole and hadn't noticed I had gone. The cautious part of me (yes, it does exist) urged me to go back and join them, but my curiosity won out and I hurried off in pursuit of the mysterious light.
The light was growing, taking on a definite shape. The brightness was fading and I could see other colours within the bluish glow. The fairy light was resolving into a figure, a figure I recognised.
'Tara?' I said.
It couldn't be. I was seeing things. Xander's ramblings had brought her to mind, that was all.
But I was looking at her. Not just someone who looked like her, but her her.
I reached for her, but my hand passed through her flesh like she wasn't there. Either I was hallucinating or
'Dawn, look out,' Angel shouted.
The vampire bowled into me. Angel's warning had given me a chance to roll with the impact, but I still ended up flat on my back.
'Not tonight,' I complained through gritted teeth. 'Don't you people have any shame.'
It's telling about my lifestyle that I had a stake ready and waiting in my boot.
The others had already dived into action. Angel and Giles led the charge. Angel had produced a stake from each sleeve of his leather duster and hurled them with devastating accuracy into the approaching vampires. Giles darted forward, tripping an oncoming vamp and embedding a stake in his chest. His time in England hadn't dulled his reflexes any.
Trix had launched himself into the fray and was tearing at the vampires with his razor-sharp teeth. He couldn't kill them like that, but he could slow them down enough for Anya to shove a stake through their backs.
Even Xander was having a go. He had brought a crossbow with him and was patiently picking off vampires like ducks in a barrel. And if a vampire decided to try and take him out? Well, Halfrek was beside him, ready to take them on. There was a gleam in her eye and I got the impression that she was actually enjoying herself.
The same could be said for Angel, who had shifted to his game-face before engaging the oncoming vampires with his bare hands.
I rolled to one side to avoid the vampire towering over me. My jacket rode up under my arms as I dodged, restricting my movement, so I shucked it off. Still on my back, I scrambled backwards like a crab, praying for a free moment to climb back to my feet, but the vampire stalked me relentlessly.
'What is it with vampires and cemeteries?' I asked, panting for breath. 'Feeling homesick?'
'Huh?' the vampire responded. I knew what he meant. There's never a good quip around when you need one.
I dived forward, rolling between his legs and springing up behind him. The move caught him completely by surprise, which was a plus, but had brought me face to face with another vamp, which wasn't.
'You wouldn't happen to be a vegetarian by any chance?' I inquired. Well, it was an improvement. Must be the stress.
The vampire just laughed. He grabbed my shoulder and pulled me so close to him the I could smell his leather jacket and
'Eww, breath mint,' I complained.
'Hey!' the vampire said, offended. Yeah, like he was the one suffering.
Well, maybe he was.
A crossbow bolt struck him in the back. The vampire gasped, cast his eyes skywards and crumbled before my eyes.
I could hear the other vampire coming up behind me so I caught the crossbow bolt as it fell, no longer supported by leather-clad vampire, spun on my heel and embedded the bolt deep into the other vampire's chest.
As he disintegrated, I turned to Xander and gave him a thumbs-up.
'Teamwork!' I shouted at him, but his attention was already elsewhere.
My attention could have been better focussed too. In the heat of the battle I'd lost sight of Tara. She had been right in front of me, but now there was nothing to show she had even been there at all.
The tide of battle was definitely turning. Giles and Angel were fighting back-to-back and the vampires were becoming increasingly reluctant to approach the pair, only doing so to escape Trix's snapping jaws. Xander held his crossbow cocked and ready, but there were fewer and fewer targets for him to shoot.
That didn't mean we were out of the woods yet, though. A pair of female vamps, dressed in ripped jeans and T-shirts emblazoned with the name of some rock group or other, had decided that I presented the most tempting target. They moved to flank me and I drew my stake from my boot.
I couldn't keep my eyes on both of them at once. I had to keep turning my back on one or the other and I knew it was only a matter of time before the pair took advantage of that fact. I really had only one option.
I rushed one of them.
She brought up an arm to block me, but Buffy had taught me to expect that and I was already ducking out of the way. Unfortunately, the vampire was fast. She kicked my ankles. It wasn't enough to trip me, but it did make me stumble and that gave the vampire enough time to dodge my stake.
The other vampire was approaching rapidly. I didn't have a lot of time. I turned, thrusting the stake blindly.
It was a mistake.
The first vamp grabbed my wrist and squeezed. I had to bite my bottom lip so as not to cry out, but I managed to keep hold of my stake. Something else Buffy had taught me. She grasped a handful of my shirt in her free hand and pulled me close.
This time the mistake was hers.
My cross, which I had been wearing beneath my clothes, spilled out in front of my shirt. The vampire recoiled and I pulled my wrist free and lunged again with the stake. This time I struck my target and the vampire exploded in front of me.
The other vampire was still very much active, however.
Her claw-like hand clamped around my throat and she lifted me up into the air. I could smell burning where my cross touched her flesh and the vampire growled something feral. With her free hand she snapped the chain around my neck and the cross fell for the ground.
'Did you know that the young ones taste sweeter?' the vampire whispered in my ear.
'Dawn!' Giles shouted, but his voice sounded faint and far away. Too far away.
The vampire bared her fangs.
'This won't hurt,' she said. 'Much.'
I wondered if Buffy would be waiting for me.
Then the vampire screamed.
She and I both looked down.
There was a coffee-coloured hand protruding from the vampire's chest. It was holding her heart. I had expected it to be warm and fat and red. Maybe even still beating. But it was the heart of a corpse and it was shrivelled and black and very, very dead.
The hand clenched into a fist and crushed the heart. The vampire burst, showering green dust in all directions. With the hand that had been holding me up now blowing in the wind, I fell to earth, the impact knocking the air from my lungs.
My rescuer stood over me. She was shivering. She held her hand in front of her face and looked at it as if she didn't know what it was.
Angel hurried over and draped his coat over the girl's shoulders. She pulled it tight about her, like a comforter.
'Who are you?' he asked. 'How did you get out here?'
Don't ask me how I am, I mentally complained. I sat up. I was no longer gasping for breath and I could now take a good look at the woman who had saved my life.
I couldn't believe my eyes.
'What's your name?' Angel persisted.
'Helena?' I said.
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