Plans for the wedding proceeded. As promised, Buffy’s dress and a choice of veils had been delivered to the apartment office and Max smiled as he handed them to Buffy.
“Will you need assistance getting them down to your apartment?” he asked. “Not that they require a great deal of physical strength, but it could be awkward managing a long garment bag as well as this interesting box.”
After Buffy struggled for several minutes to hold the dress up high enough not to drag the bottom of the bag on the floor, and at the same time to hold a lightweight, but quite large box with one hand, she gave up and smiled sheepishly at Max.
“If you don’t mind…. Or, no, never mind. I can just take the dress down and run back up here for the box. I’ll be right back.”
She got herself and the dress bag through the door Max was holding open for her, and carefully made her way down the steps and around the corner to her apartment. As soon as she’d hung the bag containing her dress on the back of the closet door, she ran back out, not bothering to close the outside door, and up the steps to take her box of veils.
“Thanks, Max. I really appreciated knowing there would be a safe place for the delivery guy to leave this stuff.”
“You’re quite welcome, Buffy. If there’s anything else you need from me to help with the preparations, just let me know.”
Buffy bit her lip. “I kinda wish the woman who owns the shop had delivered it herself. I’d like to know how you’d react to her.”
He frowned. “Is there something evil about her?”
“No. It’s just me being all paranoid and slayery. I’m sure it’s fine. I don’t think she’s evil, just… maybe not… as human as she could be?”
“Well, it would be difficult for me to visit a bridal shop as if I was just casually window shopping, but if she worries you….”
Buffy shook her head. “Don’t worry about it. After I pick which of these veils I want, I’ll have to return the rest of them and I’ll have another chance to look at her. Maybe I’ll take Spike with me. He’ll be able to tell if she’s not human, I think.” She looked at Max from the corner of her eye. “I thought she might be magic, you know, a really powerful witch or something like you and Winston, but he told me there was no way she could be like either one of you without you knowing it.”
Max’s brow wrinkled as he started to frown, then changed his mind and shook his head. “I suppose he’s right. I could certainly feel the disruption when Glory was here, and I could sense Rack’s malevolent presence always in the background. Although, it’s not as though I could have followed a trail right to his door. But I haven’t felt anything unusual since he was sent on his way. If this woman does have a magical presence, it must be a benign one that doesn’t call attention to itself.”
“That’s good to know. I don’t have any reason to think she’s evil, she just gives off a ‘I’m more than you think I am’ kinda vibe, you know?”
Max smiled and quirked an eyebrow at her. “Somewhat like yourself, perhaps?”
Buffy blushed and mumbled, “Yeah, okay, maybe like that.”
After Buffy had modeled all the veils for Spike—naked, at his request—and after she made it clear she was not going to wear it while he made love to her until after the wedding, a disappointed Spike still managed to bring them both to a state of mutually satisfied drowsiness. Leaving the discarded veils folded on top of the box they came in, they drifted off to sleep. Buffy had carefully hung her chosen veil, made of soft, draping lace to coordinate with the gown, in the closet before she joined Spike on the bed.
In the morning, she packed up the rejected veils to return them to the store.
“You should come with me,” she said as she got dressed.
“Why? You’ve got everything now, haven’t you? Got your dress, got me to help you decide on the veil…. know you don’t need me to help you pick out shoes.”
“I want you to meet her,” Buffy mumbled. “The shop owner, I mean. I want your opinion about her.”
He frowned. “You want my opinion, or you want me to sniff out if she’s evil?”
“I don’t think she’s evil evil, just maybe not quite as human as she looks?” Buffy bit her lip. “She’s nothing like the Guardian I met in our time. I mean she couldn’t be more different… but it’s almost that same kind of vibe, you know? Like she’s been around forever and knows stuff.”
“All right, love. I’ll come with you to meet the mysterious shop keeper. Did you say she knows what I am?”
“Yep. And she knew about the claim. Recognized the bite for what it is right away.”
“Reckon she does know some stuff, then,” he agreed. “Let’s see how she handles an old vampire.”
Sarah raised a well-groomed eyebrow when Spike followed Buffy from the sun-warmed sidewalk into the shop, but she didn’t say a thing. She just smiled and took the box of unwanted veils from Buffy.
“Just let me put these away and I’ll be right back,” she said, making no attempt to act like they weren’t planning to stay awhile. She handed the box off to her assistant, who disappeared into the back of the store with it, then turned to beam at Buffy and Spike.
“So, which one did you choose?” she asked Buffy as she walked toward them. “Was it the Irish lace with the soft drape?”
Buffy made a face. “Why do I think you already knew I’d choose that one? You could have just said ‘Here, this is the one he’ll like’.” She tried to grumble, but ended up smiling instead as she remembered modeling the veils for Spike.
“Ah, but then your handsome mate wouldn’t have had a chance to participate in the choosing, would he?” Sarah glanced at Spike and winked.
“There is that,” he agreed, responding to her wink and tone with a grin, in spite of having entered the shop fully prepared to appear as intimidating as he could.
Buffy giggled at his immediately obvious annoyance at himself for being so easily sidetracked by the reminder of how he’d helped her decide, but Sarah ignored his soft growl to turn her attention back to Buffy.
“So, you’re all set now? Dress, veil…. shoes?”
“It’s outside, so I’m thinking shoes need to be something that won’t sink into the ground like heels, or get grass-stained. I’m actually kinda leaning toward sandals or even flip flops, to be honest.” Buffy smiled apologetically at having to reject whatever silk or satin shoes Sarah may have had in mind.
“Ah. Well, let me see what I can find in the back. Why don’t you and… William, is it?... sit down? I’ll be right back.”
Neither Buffy nor Spike made any attempt to argue, just sinking into the comfortable chairs located near the dressing room.
“Why are we sitting here?” Spike muttered. “I wasn’t planning to do that.”
Buffy giggled. “We’re sitting because she told us to. Now you know why I wanted you to meet her. What do you think?”
“Don’t know what to think, love. She definitely reminds me of Winnie when he’s charming his way into somebody’s good graces. But… I’m not getting that same vibe that I get around him.”
“You get a vibe from Winston? You never said that before.”
“Didn’t notice it when we first met him. Think he may have been hiding his magical side just a bit until he got to know us better. But now? Yeah, I can feel the magic… and the danger, if I’m honest. Just never mentioned it because he’s on our side.”
Buffy gave him one of her “we’re going to talk about his later” looks before asking, “Can you sense Max?”
Spike laughed. “You know I can’t. I suspect Max keeps his secrets right close to his chest, no matter how much he might like or trust the people around him.”
Their conversation was interrupted when Sarah returned holding a pair of thong sandals on a pillow. Buffy’s gasp of appreciation made both Spike and the shop owner smile.
“So, you like them?” She held the cushion out so that Buffy could take the sandals from her. “Why don’t you try them on?”
Quickly shedding her sneakers and socks, Buffy glanced from her painted toenails to Sarah. “Don’t you want me to put some kind of footies on? So I don’t get them dirty?”
“It’ll be fine,” Sarah said with smile. “I can clean them if need be. They are much more durable than they look.”
Buffy frowned dubiously, but picked up one of the delicate-looking sandals to look at it more closely. The bed of the sandal, while sparkling white and smooth, seemed to be contoured to a foot shape and had actual small tread on the sole. Almost like a dressy version of a hiking sandal. The top, however, was made of a diaphanous white lace strap arrangement that managed to appear incredibly delicate and yet, when Buffy slipped it on, turned out to hold her foot quite firmly. She quickly slipped into the other shoe and got up to walk around the store. The sandals seemed to be fitting themselves to her feet as she walked, and by the time she got back to Spike and held one up for his perusal, they felt like an extension of her body.
Spike’s expression when Buffy held her shapely lace-clad foot up to his face made her blush. She suddenly remembered that his Victorian roots gave him a more than normal appreciation for the sight of a foot or ankle. She heard Sarah laughing softly behind her, even as she brought her foot back to the floor and watched Spike shake himself back to reality.
Spike! Focus. And wipe that expression off your face!
Sorry, love. Couldn’t help it. You put on those shoes and the veil after the wedding, and we’re never comin’ back from the honeymoon!
Blushing again, Buffy shook her head and sat down to take the sandals off. She handed them to Sarah saying, “I guess you can tell we—I’ll take them. How much do I owe you by now?”
“It’s not a problem,” Sarah said as she slipped the sandals into a tissue filled box. She put the box into a small shopping bag and handed it to Buffy. “You can decide what you can afford, and—”
Spike stood up abruptly, suddenly looking much more like the old vampire he was and less like a besotted husband-to-be.
“We can afford whatever it is,” he said, his eyes flashing amber just long enough for Sarah to flinch before she recovered herself.
“Of course you can,” she soothed. “I didn’t mean to imply that you weren’t able to take care of the Slayer’s wants and needs, William. I’ll work up the bill and mail it to you, if that’s all right?”
While Spike looked mildly ashamed of his outburst, Sarah beamed at Buffy. “You’ve made such a wonderful choice for your life partner. So much more appropriate than that other vampire you once dated.”
“Too bloody right!” Spike agreed, his disgruntled expression replaced by a smile.
“Well, I’m sure you two have important things to do today. Perhaps a tour of local wineries? I hear there may be some new wineries and vineyards open since the last time you looked around.” As Sarah herded them toward the door, even though they hadn’t actually intended to leave yet, she smiled at them, saying, “I can’t tell you what a pleasure it’s been to help with this wedding. Please don’t hesitate to call on me if there’s anything else I can do.”
“Well, that didn’t go the way I planned,” Spike grumbled as they walked to the car, still trying to decide if he’d been magicked out of the shop, or just charmed into leaving with Buffy.
“I told you. She’s better than Winston,” Buffy said smugly as she got in the passenger side.
“She’s a lot better lookin’. I’ll give her that.” He snorted. “I’m just wondering what her other secret power is and if it’s as scary as Winnie’s.” He put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb. “And what did she mean by she thinks the vineyard is open now? How the bloody hell does she know we’re looking for a vineyard?”
Buffy shrugged. “I wish I knew, but it could mean she’s on our side and not that she’s trying to send us into a trap…”
“Could be…. or not. You’re not goin’ looking without me. I know you fought your way to that Slayer weapon by yourself in our time, but it’ll be a lot easier with both of us.”
After a couple of hours of looking at perfectly innocent wineries and vineyards, they had just decided to give it up for the day when they simultaneously spoke as they passed a patch of woods.
“Isn’t that it?”
“Where’d this one come from?”
Buffy shook her head. “I would swear we drove right by here yesterday and there was nothing here but trees.”
“Didn’t get out to check, though, did we?” Spike growled, his anger at himself perfectly clear to Buffy through the claim connection. He was already swinging the car into a U turn, heedless of any potentially dangerous other traffic.
“Nope. We didn’t. We just thought it was woods. That was dumb.”
Spike pulled into the now-visible parking lot and stopped the car. They stared at the old building in front of them, remembering the first time when they’d followed a Bringer right into a trap.
“Well, what do you think, love? Is our mysterious shopkeeper trying to help you find your weapon sooner, or is she sending us down to meet the First’s right-hand man?”
“It’s way earlier in the year than it was when we went in here for the first time back then. And according to Wesley, Caleb is still in LA, so I think we should go in. If I can get the scythe now….” She didn’t finish her comment, just pushed her door open and got out, patted her pockets to make sure she had stakes, and hanging a sword down her back.
“Let’s go then.” He opened his own door and stepped out into the fading sunlight.
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