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Three Lions
By Lesley

Part 10. Picture This

Picture this - late afternoon at a municipal crematorium, three men sit in the uncomfortable chairs at the front. There are other men there: the faceless lackeys of the Council who've carried the coffin in, and which are now standing at the back, desperate only for a fag break. The men at the front don't really take in their presence. Their attention is focused only on the contents of that box. It's a cheap one. The Council has its faults - both of the men in tweed jackets know that only too well. Anya would dispute that being careful with the cash is a fault, that why should they spend more than the bare minimum on a box that is about to go up in smoke. The oldest looking of the three can't help remembering how Buffy took such care to give her mother a nice home for eternity.

There's no service. This isn't the usual scene the room usually witnesses. There's no man or woman in collars mouthing the usual platitudes. No room of those who loved and or hated, or those only there because it was the done thing. There are no flowers. The only thing remotely ceremonial was the opening of the coffin before placing it on the platform. Even that was only meant to be businesslike. A quick confirmation that it was the right body for disposal. The Council, for all its adherence to form and precedent, is a pragmatic body. It has to be. It's why its survived the millennia, whilst the Empires its manipulated, and benefited from, have risen and fallen around it.

The three men at the front made it a ceremony of sorts.

The oldest looking man in tweed was first. He kissed her forehead, and said, "I'm sorry, so sorry. I hope you're at some peace now." The young looking man with ancient eyes gripped his shoulder, even as tears fell from blue bloodshot eyes.

He was next. He wasn't as well dressed as the other two. His black wool jacket swam on him, and was clearly borrowed for the occasion. He stroked the soft strands of red hair that lay on the cheap nylon pillow. Some tears splashed onto the pillow, staining it. Not that it would matter soon. He was barely audible, his voice cracking, and all that could be made out was, "My fault, sorry pet, my fault. Buffy, Tara, Nibblet, my fault, I'm so sorry."

The oldest man led him back to the chair, leaving the young man in tweed at the coffin. His face was frozen, stricken, but his body wasn't. Moving like an automaton, he rearranged the disordered hair, whispered, "Sorry it had to be this way" and closed the lid.

As he rejoined the others the curtains closed and the coffin moved to the fire.

Picture this - much later on the Thames, three men in a small boat. The oldest man is reciting a prayer in one of the many languages and faiths he knows and respects, though he has no faith left for himself. There's a small container in front of him. The white haired man can't keep still. He paces, hands moving, desperate for the familiar comfort of nicotine, any comfort in fact, but unwilling to profane this moment. The other man sits apart, his face in his hands, unable to do anything more right now.

The recitation finished, the oldest man takes the container and moves to the side of the boat. The boat is still, small and low in the water. He's close to the fast flowing tidal river. The white haired man joins him. The other can't seem to be able to move, though he looks up, his face a mask. The older says to the younger looking, "Thanks, but this is my responsibility. My last but one, and I'm doing this." His voice cracked, but he continued, "Go with love, Willow. May you find Tara again, and I'm sorry I failed you. I'm going to do better."

With that he opened the container and scattered the contents on the fast flowing river. The river grew as it also received the tears of the two men at the side of the boat.

Picture this - much, much later, back home in the little house. Three men sit looking at a mobile phone. There are three mugs of tea on the table, each liberally laced with whisky. There's no music. There's no heart for it. All heart has been ripped out of each of the three men, at least right now. All three drained, nothing left. But there is one more thing that has to be done, one of the hardest, in a series of so many hard choices.

The Embassy had told her parents. They weren't even going to curtail their research trip to fly to London. They would be back in Sunnydale in a week's time anyway. She'd be back then, or so they thought. So why interrupt important research to come back sooner. It was one less potential problem, but both the oldest and white haired man had been horrified. The younger man in tweed had just looked ruefully understanding.

The oldest looking man picked up the phone and pressed the buttons for America.


Continued in Part 11. Won't Get Fooled Again


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