Title: A Simple Thanks

Author: Dennis Wellman
E-mail Address: merlin.enchanter@verizon.net

Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: None
Keywords: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Chronicles of the Wanderer

Summary: An old man remembers a young girl who saved his life and wants to thank her and her friends for what they are doing for his town.

Legalese: Any characters whose names and descriptions are used are the property of their original owners, and no copyright infringement is intended or meant. No money can be made from this story. It can be distributed freely so long as it is kept in its entirety, with all notices and copyright information intact.

The mention of any other Wandererverse characters are used with permission from Steve Pantovich, as are the character of Ted the Pizza Delivery Guy and Romero's Pizza Place. Steve can be contacted at Steve711@concentric.net
The character of Alison Jarman belongs to Anne Parnell and is used with her permission. Anyone wanting to use her can e-mail me at anne@kayleyangel.com

Author's Thanks: To Steve for creating this world and allowing me to play in it, and special thanks to Anne Parnell for her help and guidance on this and for allowing me to use Alison.

To my editor Howard, who had to put up with my bouncing ideas off him, and my mangling of the English language. This was an idea that came to me watching the preparations for the Memorial Day celebrations here in the US. I just felt that there would be someone who wanted to thank those who were fighting in the darkness so mankind could stand in the light.


A Simple Thanks

Romero's Pizza Place
Sunnydale, California
Thursday May 27th 1999 11:00 PM

Cesar Romero locked up the front of the store, flipping the sign over to where it displayed 'CLOSED Please Come Again'. He moved through the restaurant, checking to make sure that everything was cleaned up and as ready for the next day as it could be.

But he was troubled.

Something he saw on the news was bothering him. All over the country, people were preparing Memorial Day celebrations. It probably shouldn't be upsetting him, but it was. His thoughts kept going back to a time, almost two years ago now. They went back to when the petite teenager saved his life, and changed the way he thought about things that go bump in the night.

*****

Flashback
September 8th 1997
9:50 PM.

Cesar knew he had stayed out too late. Being outside after dark was bad. However, the game had lasted longer than expected, and the betting did get pretty interesting before the Dodgers finally won. He had just crossed the last street and only had to pass the cemetery and he was home. That was when things went from bad to worse.

Three young men crossed the street, and were heading towards him. Cesar was pretty sure that there was no way to avoid them, he just hoped that they wouldn't hurt him after he gave up his wallet.

"Old man," called out the tallest one. "We're hungry, we need to eat!"

"Please, I'll give you all of my money - just don't hurt me."

"You don't understand," the youngest looking one said with an evil grin. "We are going to feed on you!" As he said the last part, his face changed to a demonic visage and he reached for the old man.

Cesar backpedaled, but not fast enough to get away from the thing that was reaching for him, and he found himself being pulled in closer. But before one of the other creatures could grab him, a small blonde whirlwind tore through them.

The young girl had placed herself between the monster that was grabbing for him and himself. Kicking and punching, she drove the thing back. Then, reaching under her light jacket, she pulled out a sharply pointed stick of some kind and drove the piece of wood into the creature's chest.

A soft POOF was heard as the monster turned to dust.

"Nosferatu," whispered Cesar as he crossed himself. Vampires.

The girl was a blur of motion as she kicked and punched her way through the two remaining vampires. All Cesar could do was to stare as she eliminated first one, then the other, both going quietly "POOF" as they were destroyed.

After peering into the darkness for a few moments, the girl came back to him and helped him to his feet.

She asked if he was okay and he nodded his reply, staring at her. She had asked him if he lived far, and when he said no, she informed him that she would walk the rest of the way with him.

At his front door she had again asked if he was okay and when he replied that he was fine, she walked off.

End Flashback

*****

Romero's Pizza Place
Sunnydale, California
Thursday May 27th 1999 11:45 PM

Cesar had closed up the safe, readied tomorrow's bank deposit and lay out clean linens for the start of the new business day. He was still thinking about all the celebrations set to occur on Monday and he was still troubled when the idea came to him.

He remembered getting off the ship that returned him to the United States at the end of World War II, and the parades down the streets of New York. One thing stood out in his mind above everything else.

Two young girls stood watching the parade while holding a large cardboard sign. It read

THANK YOU FOR KEEPING US FREE

He remembered being a little teary eyed when he saw it, and many of his company commented on how it had choked them up.

That's what he would do. His troubled mind at ease he grabbed his coat and hat and headed out to his van and home.

*****

Romero's Pizza Place
Sunnydale, California
Friday May 28th 1999 1:45 PM

After the lunch rush, Cesar drove over to Sunnydale Lumber where he bought a sheet of thin plywood and a couple of boards. Two cans of paint completed his purchase.

Returning to the Pizzeria, he unloaded his purchases in the back room and returned to the kitchen.

The rest of the day was spent as usual, making pizza, spaghetti, calzones and chicken wings, but the time went quickly.

Later that night

When he was done with the nightly clean up, he headed to the back storage room where his earlier purchases were waiting.

The first thing Cesar did was to paint the sheet of plywood a solid ivory white color. Before he left that night he had put 3 coats of paint on it, making sure that the board was completely covered.

In between coats of paint, and while he painted, Cesar's thoughts drifted back over the years, to when other young men, and later on women returned from wars. He remembered his own experiences of being an 18 year old corporal returning from Germany in 1945. The parades, not having to buy a drink for several months, and the girls treating him like a returning hero.

Then, a few years later, there was Korea. He was living in San Francisco then, and when the troops returned from the police action, there were more parades, but they were more subdued this time - after all Korea was a police action, not a war.

In the sixties, there was Viet Nam. The returning veterans were treated like they were outcasts of society. Spit on, insulted and called other names, they were shunned, and they tried to hide. Cesar remembered the sixties as a dark time; one he personally felt was not a good time for America.

In the seventies, there were no wars or conflicts, and it was another dark time for America. Cesar remembered watching television, and seeing young people act like they were ashamed to be Americans, and ashamed of our country. People who were in the Military tried to not wear their uniforms off base, and were shunned by the people whom they swore to protect.

In the eighties, there was Grenada and Panama, and our service men and women were once again under a microscope. This time, things were better for those in Military service - more of the public supported what they were doing. Even though the big parades of World War II didn't happen, returning veterans were welcomed home.

Cesar sealed up the paint can and took the brush to the sink where he washed it. Once again his thoughts wandered. The nineties brought the Gulf War, and patriotism sprung up with a vengeance. When the troops returned, the parades and honors were heaped on them.

America had finally come full circle.

*****

Romero's Pizza Place
Sunnydale, California
Saturday May 29th 1999 5:00 PM

The Saturday night crowd filled the Pizzeria. Cesar, Tony, Lynne, Alison, and Ted were kept running. Both Alison and Ted were running deliveries tonight, so Cesar was working the counter with Lynne off and on.

He had just taken a pizza to table three and was heading back to the kitchen when he heard the word "Buffy". Stopping and pretending to wipe down a table, Cesar listened to the teenagers.

"I don't care what Detective Stein said it probably was, I am not telling him Buffy Summers was involved," one of the boys said.

"Yeah," joined in another one. "I don't know what it was, but it wasn't no gang banger on PCP."

"Me neither," replied the first one. "All I know is that Buffy and her boyfriend sure chased them away."

Cesar turned away, smiling to himself. \\ It was always good to know that they were still keeping a close eye on the town. //

The rest of the evening, he pretty much stayed in the kitchen making pizzas. Alison and Ted ran the front of the store and took turns making the deliveries.

Ted, returning from one delivery, came in through the back door and walked up to Alison.

"Ali, do you know what that big board in the back is for?" he asked as he put the money in the cash register.

"No, I don't, it was just plain wood yesterday when I got here. I guess the boss painted it either last night or early this morning," Alison answered.

"Hmmm. Wonder what he's going to do. Oh well, not our business," Ted replied, turning to answer the phone.

Alison pondered the sheet of plywood for a few minutes, then forgot about it as she readied an order for delivery.

*****

Romero's Pizza Place
Sunnydale, California
Saturday May 29th 1999 12:00 AM

Cesar had finished the close up chores and had returned to the back room a while ago and was almost done with the lettering when he heard a key in the lock of the back door. He set the paintbrush down and grabbed a baseball bat from a shelf.

"Cesar? It's Alison. I forgot one of my books, and I need to finish up my homework tomorrow."

Letting out a breath that he wasn't even aware he was holding, Cesar lay the bat down and answered her.

"Come in, Alison, come on in. I was just finishing up a project when I heard the key in the lock."

Alison entered and her eyes immediately turned to the sheet of plywood. What she saw caused her to gasp slightly.

In bright blue letters the newly painted sign read;

To those who fight the enemies of our country, and humanity,
in the shadows, without a uniform, and receive no recognition:

The people of this community say THANK YOU!

As she stared at the sign, her mind raced. < How did Cesar find out about Section 7? >

As if reading her mind, her employer spoke.

"It was about two years ago when I learned about the things that are out there in our town. Three of them attacked me on the street. It was then I realized that the stories my grandfather told me about the Nosferatu were true, and that I was going to die. Out of nowhere, this tiny slip of a girl appeared and defeated them in minutes." Cesar paused, a shine appearing in his eyes. "Then, after seeing if there were more of them around, she offered to walk me home."

Alison watched the old man as he gathered his thoughts and composure.

"Alison, here was a young girl who was fighting Vampires, alone. And she was worried about me, about how I felt. Well, that night changed many things for me. I now pay attention to what goes on around here, and let me tell you, I have heard some things that no one would believe. But they are all true," Cesar said, pausing to take a sip of water.

"In the last year, unexplained deaths in this town have dropped sixty four percent. And that girl, Buffy something or other, now has a bunch of friends helping her fight those things. Even many of the police officers of this town are grateful to them. This was just my way of telling them that I think of them, worry about them, and want to thank them," said Cesar waving his hand at the sign.

Alison felt a lump in her throat as she thought about some of her own experiences. And she reached out to the old man that she had come to respect and even love.

The two hugged for a few minutes, sharing silent tears for those who had been lost.

When they finally separated, they could not look at each other, and looked at the sign instead.

"It needs some shadowing to make the lettering stand out," stated Alison quietly.

"Yes, yes, it does. You have a good eye for detail Alison," Cesar agreed as he reached for a can of black paint.

The two painted in quiet togetherness, both lost in thought. And when the sign was finally done, they cleaned up in silence.

As they were leaving, Alison turned to her employer.

"When and where are you going to put it up?" Alison asked.

"In Fairhaven Cemetery, where they have all the Memorial day ceremonies."

"Okay," she replied. "I'll get Ted to help you put it up, as long as it's before dark."

"We close at eight tomorrow, so we have over an hour to get it put up and get home. I will have everything ready to go then," Cesar replied.

The two friends left the restaurant parking lot and headed their separate ways, friends of different ages and different backgrounds, but friends nonetheless.

Once Alison was headed home, she pulled out the cell phone that her father insisted she carry. Punching in a preset number, she waited as it rang.

*****

"Ted," she said when it was answered. "It's me. Yeah, I just left a couple of minutes ago. Look, you are going to have to be late for that party tomorrow night. Yeah, I know, but it is for Cesar. He made a sign thanking the "People who fight in the shadows" and I told him we would help him put it up. Fairhaven Cemetery. As soon as we close. Thanks, Ted, I knew I could count on you."

Alison put away the phone and drove the rest of the way home in silence.

As she drove in silence she thought about what she and Ted had learned about those who fought against the vampires and demons in this town, and wondered if they should go ahead and tell Cesar about them. She couldn't make up her mind, so she decided that she would talk it over with Ted.

*****

Romero's Pizza Place
Sunnydale, California
Sunday May 30th 1999 8:00 PM

Cesar and Ted loaded up the sheet of plywood that had become a sign and put in some tools to use in setting it up. Cesar drove the company van, with the sign inside. Alison drove her car, with Ted as a passenger, after having promised to take him to the party when they were done.

At the cemetery, there was no indication of anyone around, so they drove right in the front entrance. They parked next to the big sign placed by the local VFW chapter, honoring the men and women in uniform.

After looking at the way things were arranged, the group decided that they could use plastic zip ties to tie one end of Cesar's sign to a fence post, and using some light rope to tie the other end to a nearby tree.

Working quickly, the three got the job done with plenty of time to spare.

Cesar pulled out a camera and snapped a couple of pictures of the sign by itself, and a couple more with Ted and Alison standing at each end. Ted insisted that Cesar have one taken of him as well. Then, wishing each other well, they headed out for whatever they had planned for the evening.

Cesar thought for a few minutes about circling back to the cemetery, to watch and see if anyone noticed the sign, but decides against it as he remembered the look of the vampire that had attacked him two years before. He headed straight home, thinking about a glass of wine before bed.

*****

Fairhaven Cemetery
Sunnydale, California
Sunday May 30th 1999 11:45 PM

Buffy had just chased down and dusted her second vamp of the night and found herself standing back up, right in front of Cesar's sign. Reading it, she found herself choked up and unable to answer when Steve called her.

"Buffy, what's up? Didn't you hear me calling you?" Steve St. Wolf asked as he walked up to her.

She slipped her arm around her boyfriend's waist and pointed at the sign.

Steve St. Wolf, hard as nails ex-Green Beret, member of the Knightly Order of the Grail, and Immortal Demon Hunter, found himself unable to speak as well.

"Where did it come from Steve?" Buffy asked. "The people who know what we do wouldn't do something like this."

"I don't know sweetheart, but obviously someone does, and they appreciate what we are doing. C'mon, let's call the others I want them all to see this."

Pulling out their cell phones, Steve and Buffy started calling the rest of the gang, getting them down to see the large sign thanking them for their efforts.

Over the next hour, every member of the Scooby Gang stopped by to look at the sign. Willow, Oz, Cordelia and Xander were the last to leave.

"Cordy, wait," Buffy asked. "Give me some dark lipstick."

The former cheerleader pulled out a dark red color and handed it to the Slayer. Buffy then walked up to the sign and before anyone could say a thing wrote, 'You're Welcome' on the white paint in big red letters. She handed the Amazon back the badly mangled lipstick and grabbed her honey.

"Let's go home," she said.

"Hey. Someone owes me a new lipstick!" Cordelia called out to the backs of their leaders.

"Let it go, Cordy. I like you better without it - you have a wonderful natural taste and lipstick just covers it up," Xander said, kissing her.

"Good save, doofus," Cordy grinned, kissing him back.

And they left with the other two couples.

*****

Fairhaven Cemetery
Sunnydale, California
Monday May 31st 1999 7:30 AM

Sunnydale Police Detective Stein was on his way to work when he saw several police cruisers parked in front of the cemetery. Swinging around, he pulled up behind the cars.

All of the officers were gathered together, looking at a sign placed near the gate.

To those who fight the enemies of our country, and humanity,
in the shadows, without a uniform, and receive no recognition:

The people of this community say THANK YOU!

Detective Stein stopped, read it, and then launched into a rage of anger.

Flinging himself at the sign, he grabbed it, pulling it loose from both the tree and the fence post. After flinging it to the ground, he jumped on it, pulled at it and just plain tore it apart. Stein ranted and raved, generally acting like a crazy man, and only stopped when the sign was in pieces.

He looked at the officers standing and looking at him, daring them to say anything.

"Aren't you supposed to be patrolling? I suggest you get out there and earn your pay," Stein said as he walked to his car.

*****

Romero's Pizza Place
Sunnydale, California
Tuesday June 1st 1999 12:00 PM

Cesar was feeling good today, and had ever since he had placed the sign in the cemetery. Whistling softly, he carried the two meatball sub sandwiches to the two officers who were having lunch.

"I tell you, Jim, that Stein is a fruitcake. Tearing up that sign in the cemetery like that was not the actions of a sane man," said one officer.

"No shit. I'm not the brightest cop here, but even I know, that some things out there at night are better left alone. Now, I don't know who is taking them out, nor do I care, as long as they are helping out the people of this town. Whoever it is, deserves to be thanked," the other officer said.

"I wonder who wrote 'You're Welcome' on the sign, and with lipstick?" pondered the first.

"I don't know either, but I would like to thank whoever made that sign. I just hope the people who were supposed to see it, did," the second one said, as he was stood up.

The two officers threw a few dollars on the table and returned to their duties.

Cesar was sitting behind the counter with a strange smile on his face when Ted and Alison came in.

"Hey, Cesar, what's up?" asked Alison.

He turned to her and, with a kind smile, spoke.

"There were two officers in here for lunch today. They were talking about our sign."

"It was your sign, we just helped you," Ted told the old man gently.

"No matter. I overheard them say that Detective Stein saw it and broke it into kindling," Cesar said.

Alison gasped slightly and put her hands to her mouth.

"Don't worry Alison, they also said that 'You're Welcome' was written on it in red lipstick. I think that they all saw it. I just feel like they did see it, and what I wanted to accomplish was successful," Cesar said smiling. "Now, let's get to work."

*****

Romero's Pizza Place
Sunnydale, California
Tuesday June 1st 1999 5:30 PM

Ted was making a delivery, Alison was doing some cleanup in the kitchen and Cesar was replacing cups and other supplies at the counter when the door buzzed, signaling a new customer.

When Cesar looked up, he had to struggle to keep from jumping over the counter and attacking the man who entered. It was Detective Stein.

"Good evening, Detective Stein. What can I do for you today?" Cesar asked with a straight face.

"Just a Spaghetti Special tonight, Cesar. I've got to get to a stake out soon," Stein answered.

"For here or to go?" Cesar asked.

"Here is fine. And give me a beer, too," ordered the detective.

Cesar handed him the beer and went into the kitchen to prepare the rest.

Alison looked through the doors and was shocked by whom she saw sitting in the front of the restaurant. She then looked at her smiling employer as he scooped out several ladles of spaghetti sauce into a small bowl. She was even more confused when he sat the bowl down on the prep table and went into his office.

When he returned, he was carrying a somewhat small brown bottle. He opened it and poured a generous splash into the sauce.

"My god, Cesar, you can't kill him, whispered Alison.

Cesar handed her the bottle, as he added some extra garlic and onions to the sauce and mixed it well.

Alison had to put her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud. The label on the bottle read 'PentaLax,' a powerful laxative.

"Alison?" asked Cesar. "Could you get a couple of pieces of Garlic bread ready for our customer, please?"

Alison nodded, still unable to speak.

Cesar took the plates out to the detective and returned to the counter.

Stein ate in silence, reading an old paper he found in another booth, and when he was done, he returned to the counter to pay for his meal.

"Excellent as usual, Cesar, how much do I owe you?" he asked.

"It's on the house, Detective Stein. Just my way of saying thanks for doing a good job," Cesar said.

"Well, thanks Cesar, I appreciate that," Stein replied as he was walking out.

"Oh you will," Alison said softly, her mouth curving up in a big smile.

Ted returned from making his deliveries to find both Cesar and Alison laughing their heads off.

"What did I miss?" he asked.

Alison put her arm around him and led him into the backroom.

"Ted, you have no idea. But listen to this," Alison said as the doors swung shut.

The End.

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