Dawn had chosen the spot, beneath the willow trees. It was romantic and quiet and empty.
It would be empty no longer.
And now she sat next to the casket, staring at Giles' hands, who sat next to her. Those hands had nailed the casket shut. Those gentle, well worn hands. She could scare conceive of these strong and confident hands, accustomed to turning old pages-- she couldn't think they could do anything so unnatural.
And Giles watched them dig. Xander and Spike, under the trees and the moon. And he waited while they dug.
Xander dug with a violent intensity, never looking up. He was covered in earth, the smell of it in his hair. It was a smell full of life and growth, soft and organic. It seemed so soon, he had thought. But it had to be fast, secret-- it had to be silent-- under the cover of night where no one would see or know.
And he cringed as he buried his spade into the ground once more-- for they had to move fast. Or the faint perfume of the night would fill with rot and decay. He continued, thinking the movement of it, the rhythm and the pure virtue that is hard labor-- that these would drive the thoughts from his mind.
He wondered why it was he felt this way. Nothing was real. It was almost a sick joke. He felt-- or thought he should have felt-- a tinge of guilt, knowing he'd imagined this a thousand times. It was a matter of time. She could have gone out any number of nights and been killed, she lived in danger every day. He imagined how they'd have done it-- flowers and loving words and music. There were none of these here. And he stood beside a monster, with whom he felt, as they worked, a sneaking sense of kinship-- he stood beside this creature, and they dug.
He remembered, oddly, one of his first nights then. How beautiful, how beloved. She had lead him to a basement room in some dark street, and kept him there the first few days, like a small child. Feeding him, singing him strange songs. And the sight of that room was like the beauty of her dangerous and unhinged mind.
She always collected things. At the time she had turned him, it was jewelry. She hung diamond rings, wedding bands, jewels and baubles on silk strings. She tied them up, hung them on the ceiling. Each night she returned with a handful, rubbing the blood away so they would shine brightly.
And the room was filled with them, dangling in the moonlight, shimmering as she twirled elegantly through them, jingling in an odd accompaniment to her tragic songs. And she'd stare at him, as if fascinated by his features, and come to him, offer her neck and blood and body to him. And he'd take her-- take her blood and body and bury all thought into the wonderful beauty of her dark and demented heart.
He loved her for it, so much.
Strange that the thought would come now.
It seemed so far away. Perhaps it was the proximity to the fresh grave that reminded him. As long as he dug, these strange memories of his early days filled him. Separated-- remote.
And then they dug no more.
He climbed out of the grave, pulling himself up onto the dewy grass. He offered his hand to Harris, who stood dumbly in the grave, staring at his spade as if unsure what to do next. Harris looked at him, his eyes red, and took the extended hand. He pulled the boy out, and somehow, as they stood together, didn't release the firm grip as soon as he'd intended.
He saw Dawn, hugging her knees, staring in the distance. She'd insisted on coming. He bit his lip, feeling what he felt only for her. Compassion.
He gave her his coat, wrapped it around her shoulders, and stepped back against a tree, into its shadow. The rest stood around her. Tara knelt beside her, stroked her hair. Willow looked at her shoes, her hand on Tara's shoulder. Giles stood, looked at her gently.
"It's time... uhm, well that is-- if you're ready."
She looked up, spoke in a measured voice.
She did not cry. He admired the purity of her strength, and wondered at the glaze in her dry eyes with some unease.
And he felt different-- different in an indescribable way. It was the worst pain he'd ever known. It burned. But somehow he felt it was also a liberation. He'd had a reason before. Drusilla was a reason to exist in herself. But she was a pale shadow, a lie. It wasn't real. It was an amusement-- a toy to her-- though she'd loved him in any small way that she was capable of. No, somehow he felt a vague notion forming, that-- well, simply-- that it had never been real.
It was so terrible now-- the pain- that he knew-- simply *knew* there was a reason to exist. He embraced that pain with a savage intensity. She had given that reason to him-- unwittingly-- only a little while before.
She'd died and yet they lived-- Dawn, himself-- all of them.
Dawn kissed the casket gently. The rest stood back. And then it was time. He and Harris went to lift the thing gently. It was a heavy burden.
And it was lowered-- left in the ground. And he looked down at it, and whispered the old words quietly.
"Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world."
And they covered the box with earth, under the clear sky.