The bland and slightly down-at-heel function room was designed to hold maybe fifty people. At most, there were twenty there. The non-denominational stuffed shirt in his forest green K-Mart jacket stepped up onto the raised platform at the front and tapped the microphone a few times. The hubbub died down, but slowly, like in a class where everyone hates the teacher.
“We meet here today to honour and pay tribute to the life of,” quick look at the notes, “West-leigh Wined-ham-Pryce, and to express our love and admiration for him.”
Buffy still wasn’t entirely sure why she’d agreed to come. Willow swore blind that Wesley had changed – that he’d become better-than-competent, even – but Buffy didn’t believe her. Not really. Wesley was just so … so not the sort of person she could imagine ever doing anything useful.
“We have come together from different places, and we are all at different stages on our journey through life. But there is one thing we all have in common: at one point or another, and to some degree or other, our lives have touched the life of West-leigh.”
Buffy had arrived almost-but-not-quite late, and had slipped into a seat in the back row. Most of the other guests seemed to be men, all over-starched and under-emotioned. But there was a serious absence of tweed, so not watchers. Lawyers maybe? She wondered if lawyers were like cockroaches and could survive everything up to and including being sucked into hell dimensions by their bosses. Or maybe Wesley just naturally attracted watcher-types wherever he went.
“We will also try to bring some comfort to those of his famil—” The officiant came to an uncomfortable stop, then cleared his throat. “To bring comfort to those of his friends and colleagues who are here and have been deeply hurt by what I understand was a very sudden and unexpected death.”
Buffy vaguely remembered that Wesley’s dad was supposed to be some bigwig in the Council. He was probably murdered by Bringers – probably everyone Wesley knew back in England had been. No wonder there was no family here.
“I know that today is a sad day, but I hope very much that at the end of this farewell ceremony for West-leigh, you will feel glad that you took the opportunity to do some of your grieving in the presence of others who have known and loved, er, respected him.”
As soon as Harmony heard there was going to be a memorial service for Wesley, she’d wanted to go. Not for him – he was beyond boring and totally un-hot – but because she would have gone to Fred’s and Cordelia’s if either of them had actually had one. And not to grieve, obviously. If Harmony had learned nothing else from growing up in Sunnydale, she at least knew how to run fast and that her face got all splotchy when she cried. Plus she’d definitely read somewhere that sadness gave you wrinkles. The whole point of going to any funeral was to show off, and she’d expected Wesley’s to have guests that would be suitably impressed by the fabulousness of her new unlife. Also, she’d been looking forward to hearing more English accents. Even Wesley sounded interesting and Jude-Law-like if you closed your eyes tight enough. But all she could hear was regular American. And she couldn’t see anyone she recognised.
“Despite the difficulty of the situation,” the officiant intoned, “I know that Ms Winifred Burkle would like to come up and say a few words.”
Harmony’s jaw dropped. Now that the rumpled old guy mentioned it, there was Illyria, sitting right in the front, with Fred’s parents, and wearing Fred’s face. So tacky. Harmony vibrated with the desire to gossip. It was an honest-to-god tragedy Cordelia wasn’t around to see this.
‘Fred’ walked up to the microphone. Her nose and eyes were red, presumably from crying – or maybe fake-crying? Illyria didn’t really strike Harmony as the crying type.
“I have a poem here I think Wesley would have appreciated.”
Harmony sniggered at the old guy, looking nervous and fish-like now that he knew he’d been saying Wesley’s name wrong all this time. What a loser.
Fred cleared her throat, and began to read: “Do not go gentle into that good night.”
Harmony immediately tuned out – ugh, poetry – and started looking for someone cute she might pick up for a bite later on. At least coming here might not be a total waste if she got a good meal out of it.
Drusilla wandered through a darkened alleyway, certain she was exactly where she needed to be, even if she had no idea which city she was in. One was very much like another: full of teeming, pulsing bodies locked away in cages of metal and concrete just waiting for her to free them like sardines. She licked her lips in anticipation of the saltiness.
She heard singing, shrill but sweet, as she punched through the fire door. She looked around for her travelling companions, but found herself alone. She couldn’t quite remember why. Perhaps she’d been naughty again? Drusilla always tried so hard to be good. A fit of giggles silenced the singing. As it should – they hadn’t reached the funeral yet and it was too early for dirges.
Her hands were clean and her nails unbroken, but her skin was singed and blistered in a few places where the nasty sunshine had bitten her. But nothing that a refreshing snack and a lie-down wouldn’t cure. Drusilla started singing again, a three-part harmony, luring all the pretty fishies into her net.
“Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,” the young woman at the front continued, voice high and clear but on the edge of breaking. “And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way.”
Buffy thought she seemed far too wholesome to have ever been in the world-saving business. Willow said there was another girl, besides Cordelia, working with them, but this couldn’t possibly be her, could it? No one knew exactly what Angel and his crew had been doing for the last year, but since the sun was still rising and the dragons were all dead, the Fang Gang were generally assumed to have been trying to save the world, rather than destroy it. Xander had argued that a win for the world said nothing about anyone’s motivations going in, given their individual track records for both incompetence and evil, but Buffy hadn’t been around for that part of the conversation.
Buffy hadn’t been around for practically any conversations lately. She’d been adamant: she was retired from slaying, and unless the problem was Dawn- or fashion-related, she didn’t even want to hear about it. So all she knew was that almost as soon as she’d admitted to being available this week, she’d been bundled onto a plane to LA for funeral duty. When she’d complained, Willow had just said – with that superior raised eyebrow she’d developed since leaving Sunnydale – you know we can’t spare anyone who’s still working right now.
“Rage, rage.” The woman’s face crumpled, and then smoothed out again with effort. “Against the dying of the light.”
Buffy shivered, promising herself she’d tell everyone that she was now retired from funerals, too. She didn’t want to be hearing stuff like this; she was sick and tired of death. Sick to death of it, in fact.
Illyria fled from the stage and into the arms of Fred’s mother. Harmony twitched in her seat again, desperate for someone who would appreciate a blow-by-blow. The nerve of that girl – god – whatever. This was just unbelievable!
“Let’s now spend a few moments in silence, and you can each remember, er, Wesley in your own special way. If you do have a religious belief, you might like to use this time for your own private prayer.”
Harmony stiffened, looking around her to see if anyone was getting out crosses or bibles. Luckily, everyone close to her just looked bored and uncomfortable, although there were a couple people she thought might actually be praying further down the row. Relaxing back into her seat, Harmony started checking her nails – they were looking a little worn, but the new manicure could probably wait until the weekend.
“Let’s remind ourselves; that the dead reside not in the gra— oh, so sorry.”
Harmony tittered again. There was no urn or coffin or anything; Wesley’s body was probably wherever he’d left it when he died.
“Anyway,” another weak smile, “the dead reside in the hearts and the minds of the living.”
“And the undead,” Harmony snarked. She was fairly sure there were at least a few demons and vampires in the room.
“We can share our grief, and I hope that you will not feel ashamed or embarrassed to weep openly if this is a help.” The officiant paused, considering his audience. “Although, of course, there is no requirement to do so.” He clasped his hands together in a vague approximation of prayer. “Now, to help send us on our way to the Acorn Room and the buffet lunch, we have Bette Midler’s ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’, which I understand was a particular favourite. Thank you all for being here today for Wesley.”
Harmony clapped happily as the opening notes started. She loved this song. Maybe Wesley hadn’t been totally boring after all.
“Shhhh!” Drusilla whispered, crooking her finger. “Follow, follow, follow.” And the two receptionists and the concierge did, blankly blissful. She thought the penthouse suite would be delicious, and her tasty morsels agreed with all their pitter-pattering little hearts.
Buffy had already fled to the bar by the time Bette started singing. Holding onto her glass of chablis like a security blanket, she scanned the room for someone, anyone, to talk to. She’d carefully avoided thinking about anything more complicated than fashion and keeping Dawn fed and housed for months, and she had zero desire to break her perfect record. She’d been vaguely hoping to finally meet that green guy Willow had talked about so much, but she could only see normal human colours. Maybe he was dead, too. She clutched her wine glass a little tighter and took an even larger sip.
Buffy got more than enough exposure to the lawyer-cum-watcher type at home, which let out about eighty percent of the guests. But there was one woman with curly red hair hovering by the buffet table, surrounded by heavies of dubious humanity in dark glasses and suits who looked like a possibility. Maybe she was the one who’d worked with Angel? As Buffy got closer, she realised the red-head was semi-frantically stuffing food into her mouth just like Aunt Arlene had done at Mom’s funeral … you could practically smell the grief pouring off of her. Buffy veered as away as fast as she could: she was not up to dealing with anyone else’s angst right now.
It was an outfit that finally drew Buffy in: a very cute black skirt, just tight enough to hinder movement and about an inch shorter than she’d dared wear since her seventeenth birthday. It looked familiar, which probably meant Italian. And, ooh, were those shoes Schiaparelli? No way anyone could run in them, sadly – although that was less of a problem these days. Then the girl turned around and Buffy saw her face….
For a moment, Harmony thought about giving up on the rest of the funeral. Buffy was … not exactly intimidating. Harmony had survived years of being her arch-nemesis, after all. But, being a vampire, she knew she should be at least a teensy-weensy bit careful around slayers. Her whole outfit was designer, after all. It would be a real, live fashion crime to damage any of it. On the other hand, Buffy was probably the only person in the room who would appreciate any of her gossip….
“I’m totally bagging it now,” Harmony blurted. Since that was the only thing Angel had ever seemed to care about, she figured Buffy would be all hung up on it too. And it wasn’t an out-and-out lie. She kept a bag of otter blood in her freezer for emergencies, after all.
Buffy had technically done her duty by showing up and confirming that none of Angel’s crew were there. But talking to Harmony might actually be distracting, and Buffy didn’t want to risk another second alone with her thoughts right now. “I’m retired,” she said with a solid attempt at a reassuring smile, despite inwardly cringing. It was the first time she’d said the words out loud to someone she would otherwise be slaying. It didn’t feel very good.
Harmony glanced over Buffy’s outfit again and felt another pang at the loss of Cordelia: she’d have said something funny and biting about how old and smelly retiree-Buffy was and they could’ve laughed over it for days. Maybe even weeks. “Did you know Cordy died?” she asked, love of gossip overpowering her desire to take pot shots at her arch-nemesis.
“Did you kill her?” Buffy asked suspiciously.
“No!” Harmony cried, drawing back in outrage and sloshing a little wine out of her glass. Attention fully occupied by checking that her beautiful suede belt – in the exact shade of light fawn profiled in Vogue last month – had escaped undamaged, she muttered, “I didn’t even try that time.”
“Just all those other times she fought you off?”
“Well,” Harmony said, shrugging, “her neck was pretty inviting.”
They sipped at their wine, looked away at the same crowd of boring faces, then turned back to look at each other. Still the least-worst option, sadly.
“I’m gonna go grab something to eat,” Buffy said brightly, in a desperate bid to end the silence. Before she could stop the reflex, she found herself asking, “Did you want me to get you something?”
“Oh, yeah!” Harmony replied, beaming. Gesturing imperiously, she said, “I just can’t get enough of those little cake thingies.” She patted her hip with a simper and added, “I can eat anything I want, now.”
“I guess,” Buffy said, hoping there was no double meaning behind ‘eat anything I want’. Then she reminded herself that vampires, even if they ate anything they wanted, were not her problem anymore. She smiled, stretching it out until her cheeks hurt. “That’s … that must be really, um, great.”
It was so weird, Buffy thought, seeing her. The only things that had changed since high school seemed to be dentistry and diet. Harmony wouldn’t have eaten a ‘cake thingy’ if you’d paid her back when she was human.
Miss Susan was insistent that it was time to get out of bed. Drusilla begged to stay longer – it was so nice and snuggly and warm where she was, and she was sure she had turned the doll’s head so she could not see. But Miss Susan would have none of it.
Drusilla rifled through her drowsy young lady’s handbag for a make-up case, and found a fetching shade of lipstick. Sadly, the young lady was too tired to put it on her, no matter how hard Drusilla shook her, so she had to do her best without a mirror.
Drusilla did so hope there would be cakes at the party.
As she shuffled along the buffet table manoeuvring two miniature plates and cursing her own politeness, Buffy noticed a few more people trickling into the room. At least some of them were probably crashers: they were just outside what used to be downtown LA, which meant free food was still a pretty exciting prospect for a lot of people. But every time she heard the door open, she couldn’t quite stop herself from checking to see if it was Angel coming in. Even though she knew it was stupid, the hoping hurt.
He was still missing. No one dared add the ‘presumed dead’ part to her face, but Buffy knew they were all saying it behind her back. She reminded herself for the umpteenth time that it was one o’clock in the afternoon, and the chances were slim that he would show up in this window-palooza of a hotel for someone she couldn’t imagine him tolerating, let alone liking.
Wait a minute – how was Harmony not on fire?
Thirty seconds later, Buffy had dumped the plates on the table Harmony claimed for them – one that looked out over the hotel’s sun-drenched inner courtyard – and was slumped in a really uncomfortable chair slowly and carefully sounding out the words ‘necro-tempered glass’.
Harmony nodded gleefully. “Isn’t it just the greatest?”
“Glad they never had that in Sunnydale.”
She shrugged. “It was easier to heal injuries there – Hellmouth and all.”
“Huh,” Buffy said thoughtfully. “Who knew?”
“The entire demon community, duh!”
They stared at each other incredulously, both amazed by the sheer stupidity of the other.
Buffy drained her wine glass. “Oh look, empty. Guess I better get a refill.”
When the barman asked her “Large or small?” she bit her tongue to near-bleeding to keep from asking for the whole bottle. And yet, she still found herself wandering back to the table where Harmony was waiting. Where else was she going to go?
Deciding to make the most of this, and actually find something out about what had been going on here the last year, Buffy asked brightly, “So tell me, how did Cordelia die?”
“She was in a coma.” Harmony opened her mouth to continue, then almost immediately closed it again. She barely understood what had happened herself, and Buffy was way dumber than her.
“Never woke up, huh?” Buffy mused.
Harmony didn’t quite know how to answer that. “She was, like, up and around for a while, helping us out and stuff, and we were totally gonna catch up over coffee, but then she disappeared and the doctors said later that she never woke up.” She shrugged. “It was way weird.”
Buffy blinked. “Okay.”
“Angel said she, um, she asc-end-ed?” The last word was sounded out carefully. “I think she’s supposed to be, like, some kind of higher power now.”
“No,” Buffy said, shaking her head. “Not possible.”
“Ya-huh.” Harmony crossed her arms. “Totally possible.”
“I shudder to think what that would do to her ego.”
Harmony burst into giggles. “I know, right?”
Sotto voce, Buffy grumbled, “People who get put into comas should just stay there.”
Harmony looked cautiously interested. “You put somebody in a coma?”
“Anyone I know?”
Buffy thought about it. “Faith Lehane? She was at Sunnydale for, like, a week in senior year.”
Harmony frowned, trying to place the name. “Too much make-up, kinda skanky?”
Buffy’s eyes widened. “Have you repressed the way you looked in high school?”
Harmony’s lips twisted into a sneer. “Like your opinion on fashion’s worth anything.”
Buffy was all set to start gloating about her brand new wardrobe, built entirely around well-chosen staples from Italian fashion houses. Then she realised that trying to out-fashionista a Cordette was exactly the sort of thing her mom would have called ‘stooping to their level’. Was this really what her life was about now?
“Besides,” Harmony added faux-innocently, “didn’t you, like, lay more vampires than you slayed?”
Buffy was so very over this particular topic for conversation. Pretty much every baby slayer had come to her with it at least once. She even had a stock response: at a rough average of three slays a night, every night, for nearly eight years, she had slayage numbers Mick Jagger could only dream of for lifetime layage. On the other hand, it wasn’t like Harmony’s description of Faith was totally inaccurate. “Yeah, okay,” Buffy sighed finally. “Too much makeup and kinda skanky.” She looked around, suddenly a little nervous. “God, I hope she doesn’t show up.”
“Didn’t she, like, torture Wesley one time?” Harmony frowned, thinking hard. It looked like it hurt. “I bet they never really got on after that.”
“Sounds like Faith,” Buffy said, before she could stop herself. Because really? It kinda did.
Harmony’s face lit up. If it’d been anyone but Buffy, her hands would have fluttered with excitement. She adored a good trash-talk. She couldn’t remember much about this Faith girl, but then she’d never had Cordelia’s gift for artistic put-downs so that didn’t really matter. She could ‘Oh, yeah, what a total bitch,’ with the best of them.
Just as Buffy was getting to the end of how Faith had staged a coup and turned all of her friends and family against her, she went to take a sip of wine and found her glass empty.
Harmony lifted her glass, similarly empty, and chirped, “Let’s get a bottle!”
“Yeah, great,” Buffy said, more than a little stunned by how much she was enjoying herself. She’d always assumed Harmony’d had sympathy and empathy surgically removed at birth, but she really seemed to get her Faith-issues. Buffy gave herself a hard pinch, but it didn’t make any of the warm fuzzies go away.
While the vampire was off getting them more wine, the slayer intended to liberate a platter each of cheese puffs and cake thingies from the buffet table. She needed stomach lining, and Harmony really wasn’t kidding about loving the desserts. But as Buffy stepped into the line for food, grudgingly making her peace with Harmony being the bearable part of the entire funeral experience, Drusilla came dancing into the function room. Literally.
Buffy abruptly realised her reflex-grab for a stake wasn’t going to do her any good. She didn’t even have a pencil on her. In fact, there’d been no slay gear in her home or on her person ever since Sunnydale fell into that crater. She looked around frantically, but all the furniture and fittings were either metal or plastic. Toothpicks? She scanned the empty plates at nearby tables: plastic fake-swords the lot of them. “You’re all gonna die,” she said, quietly and firmly to the crowd at large.
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November 20, 2020 18:14