It was considered, by all, to be 'the Slayer Wedding'.
And not just because all the Slayers at the Institute were invited.
family?" Seo whispered, at the formal dinner gathering two nights before the ceremony. It was supposed to be a family gathering — and while Seo could see Mark's family, Ria's family appeared to just be… Slayers.
"She doesn't have any," Dawn admitted. She looked away from her best friend. "Ria came from a real stay-in-town kind of family. They were all together when the vampires attacked. Ria was the only survivor."
"Yeah, but we're
her family, now!" Amanda insisted.
"And having all the Slayers as your family makes you have the coolest family ever!" Mindy added.
The two high-fived each other, across the table.
It became even more apparent as the preparations and everything continued. Particularly at the dress rehearsal for the wedding — which Dawn dragged Buffy and Seo along to.
Robson, one of the only Watchers to survive Caleb's attack back in 2003, had volunteered to be the one to escort Ria down the aisle. Dawn was Maid of Honor. Willow and Kennedy had gotten roles as the secondary bridesmaids. And… much to her horror…
Faith was a flower girl.
"Don't say a word!" Faith hissed at Buffy, while dressed up in her lacy pink dress for the wedding rehearsal. Her eyes were bitter and glaring.
Buffy had to hide her face not to crack up.
"Seriously," said Faith, bracing her bouquet in the air. "You wanna find out how hard I can hit someone with this?"
"Who's the other flower girl?" Buffy asked, pointing at the small child-sized outfit still hanging up beside Faith.
"A Graske," said Faith, shrugging.
As it turned out, the Graske and Faith weren't the most surprising choice of role for the bridal bunch.
"This new model — it's got this thing it does called 'apps', and there's an app for everything
!" said the small demon, Yulch, as he showed Seo his iPhone. "It's the latest model, and only just—"
"I know," Seo cut in. "My friend Alison has one."
Yulch flipped through screens. "So far, I've got a Hellmouth Opening app, a demon lexicon, the necronomicon, an app that describes the best way to demon-style butcher a large groups of humans, and Frogger!"
Seo nodded, slowly.
Yulch was dressed up in a little-boy tux, ring-bearing stuff on the seat beside him. However, he seemed far more interested in his iPhone than in the wedding.
"Why are you
part of the ceremony, anyways?" Seo asked him.
Yulch looked up from his iPhone, almost offended. "She had
to include at least one demon," he said. "After all. It's the Slayer Wedding."
"Yeah, one demon and one alien," Willow told Buffy, in the back room. "Politics. You know. Ria's trying to juggle all of her alliances. Keep everyone happy."
"Even on her wedding day?" asked Buffy.
on her wedding day," Willow muttered.
Willow was in charge of seating arrangements.
Which, you'd think, would be boring.
But you'd be wrong.
"See, I can't put the Ogron next to the Vertuniptus Demon," said Willow, tapping her pencil against the desk, "because the Vertuniptus Demons can't stand the Ogrons. There'd be entrails everywhere before we got to the first course."
"I thought Vertuniptus Demons can't stand anyone
," Buffy pointed out.
Actually, she was pretty sure most of the species Ria was inviting to her wedding were massively hostile.
"Yeah, and that's why our alliance with them is so important," Willow replied. She stared down at the seating plan, her face bent into an even deeper frown. Then scribbled something in pencil. "I guess I could seat the Ogrons at the Traditional Demons' table. I mean, Ogrons aren't great at conversation anyways. I don't think anyone will get too offended."
"Ria's inviting the Traditional Demons to this wedding, too?!" Buffy cried. "But they're her enemies!"
"Yeah, trust me, we know," Willow muttered.
Another odd thing about the wedding was that… despite the large number of people who were scrambling around, trying to make this wedding happen… Dawn had nothing to do.
Which, to Dawn, was just… weird!
"I thought I was supposed to be Maid of Honor or whatever!" Dawn insisted. "Bridesmaid in Chief! There has to be something I can do!"
But all the jobs had been assigned elsewhere.
"That's what happens when you wear a perception filter for a year," Dawn huffed, sitting down on a bench beside Buffy and crossing her arms. "You get mega ignored, until… you're just not even part of people's lives anymore."
"I thought you said Ria hadn't been ignoring you," Buffy pointed out.
Dawn stared into the distance, at Ria — who was desperately trying to juggle the wedding rehearsal, the barrage of complaints from Mark's parents, and the Graske, who kept trying to cause serious mischief when no one was looking.
"She's got enough on her plate already," Dawn sighed.
Ria turned to them. "Dawn," she called, gesturing beside herself. "I need you here."
For a moment, a grin lit up Dawn's face, as she raced over, ready to make herself useful. A grin that died, as Mark's parents came up to Ria, once more, shouting that they felt absolutely affronted by conducting a wedding ceremony — in a church — that featured both a Graske and a Hell Demon! And this was accompanied by Faith kicking the Graske very hard with her high-heel, before the Graske could sneak off and tie Mark's shoe-laces together, and…
Dawn was forgotten, once more.
The seat beside Buffy was quickly filled, and Buffy glanced over to see her daughter. Who was sitting forwards, studying the scene in front of her intently.
"I thought you'd be with the Graske, stirring up trouble," Buffy muttered.
Seo had a deep look of intense concentration on her face. "Aunt Dawn," she said, softly. "She's… like me, right? The seventh segment of the Key to Time. An unstable element of the universe."
Buffy glanced over at Seo. "Huh?"
"I know the reason I'm
stable is because I don't belong in this universe," Seo continued. "An independent element. But Aunt Dawn isn't." Her frown deepened. "So… why's she
stable, right now?"
"The Doctor just said as long as she was on Earth, she'd be stable," Buffy provided. "He never gave a reason." She looked Seo over, even more curiously. "Is this important?"
Seo said nothing for a long moment.
"Have you ever seen someone so unhappy," Seo whispered, at long last, "that you just know… you need
to make things better for them, again?"
Buffy looked at Ria.
"Yes," she said.
Buffy felt for Ria.
Really felt for Ria.
Watching as Ria tried desperately to juggle way too many responsibilities at once, as she attempted to please everyone she allied with, attempted to please every human and alien and demon — no matter how hostile.
And then… Ria would catch a glimpse of herself in the mirror, sometimes.
And turn away, sharply.
"Yeah, I never knew she was so vain," Kennedy agreed, when Buffy pointed it out. "I mean, they're just battle scars. We all get them."
Buffy shook her head.
That wasn't the point. And Buffy knew it.
"I think it's like… my running for Prom Queen, back when I was in high school," Buffy tried to explain to Xander. "Doing a job like being President of the Slayers — you've got to have something
in your life that's normal. I guess for Ria… since she wasn't a Slayer… it was her ability to kind of blend in. Look like everyone else."
But Ria never would, again.
From now on, everyone would know — just by looking at her — that she was different. A survivor. A fighter.
"Yeah, that's great, Buff," said Xander, getting up from his computer. "But the leader of the Traditional Demon army just called and had a problem with the menu for the reception dinner, so I need to find a demon caterer that isn't a mass murderer pretty fast."
Buffy stared at him. "Couldn't you just not
invite the super-hostile demons and aliens?!"
"We have to!" said Xander, racing off. "Very complicated!"
"Ria's fine, Buffy," Willow insisted, when Buffy told her about her worries. "She's got tons of attachments to normal human stuff. I mean, she's getting married to a human, right?"
"Yeah, in a wedding that's become a crazy demon-alien-alliance nightmare!" said Buffy. She shook her head. "I mean, geeze! This is supposed to be Ria's special day. And she's going to spend it trying to please the garggledome's exiled emperor or something."
"Gargadon," Willow corrected.
Buffy gave Willow a pointed stare. Crossed her arms.
Willow sighed. "I know, I know!" she said. "We're just doing our best."
"Your best for whom?" said Buffy. "It's Ria's wedding. This is all about her and Mark
"But it isn't!" Willow cut in, sharply. Turning on Buffy, a fire inside of her. "Don't you see, Buffy? It can't be! Ever! And it's all Saxon's fault."
Buffy frowned. "What? Why…?"
"Because of those scars!" Willow snapped. A look of pure frustration washing across her. "Don't you get it, Buffy? Saxon — who didn't even get past the planning stage of his apocalypse scheme — managed to shoot Ria down. Injure her. That means
a wedding," said Willow. "Can't be. Not anymore. It's a show of strength. From Ria. And the Slayers."
Buffy felt the horror flooding over her. "A… show of strength…"
"It has to be," Dawn agreed, coming into the room. She put her hands into her pockets. Slouching, a little morosely. "If these guys think Ria's injured or unable to defend herself, they're gonna turn on her. Every single group of aliens and demons. All at once. She's gonna die."
"And so's the world," Willow added.
"You saw how it was before, Buffy — with all those demons and aliens always trying to end the world, all the time," said Dawn. "Ria's stopped most of that. And she's done it by showing her strength — muscling tons of adverse alien and demon races into allying with us."
"But that only works while they're scared of her and the Slayers," Willow said.
"And since the Master managed to sabotage the plane…" Buffy began.
Dawn nodded. "Yeah. He ruined her wedding."
Wow. That sucked.
But the explanation did made a whole lot of things make more sense.
It explained why Ria was shoving her fiercest warriors and most powerful people up front, at the wedding ceremony, even when she had to stick them into flower girl outfits to do so. Why Ria was inviting so many hostile races that were a lot more inclined to wipe out humanity than to make peace with it. Why Ria wanted someone legendary like Buffy floating around, and why she'd called the Doctor over to pick up Buffy's wedding invitation.
A show of strength.
To make sure everyone — both alien and demon — knew who they were messing with, if they went against the Slayers.
(What a way to kill the romance of a wedding!)
"Ria wasn't kidding when she said this wedding had to go perfectly," Buffy muttered. Shook her head. "God, I hate Saxon. Even more than before."
Willow and Dawn looked at one another.