Acknowledgements: Thanks to my merry band of beta readers: Julia, Elfgirl, and Annie Sewell-Jennings, for helping me improve my work.
Thanks also to the FicVerts, for their constant encouragement and inspiration, and to the LJ community, for encouraging and constructive feedback.
Xander wakes at 2 AM, like always. Well, always in the sense that itís been happening for a really long time. He isnít actually sure when he stopped sleeping all night. Knows it was after Jessie. A long time ago, anyway.
He glances down at Anya, asleep on his shoulder. Sheís snoring softly, her mouth open just the tiniest bit, her face relaxed. He closes his eyes and tries to slide back into dreamless sleep. He has to be at the jobsite early, canít afford to be sleepless tonight. But the blanket itches, and his arm is going numb where Anyaís lying on it, and he suddenly has to pee. Hell. He might as well get up.
Pads in and out of the bathroom, then back in again. Has to remember to put the seat down; Willow hates it up. Oh. So does Anya.
The living room is dark, only the faint glow of streetlights provides any illumination. Right Ė nightly ritual commencing. Goes first to the window, scans the street below. Heís careful to stand against the wall, so nothing can get a glimpse of him as he peers through the blinds. Thereís nothing there, though. There never is. So far, so good, for this apartment, but thereís always a first time.
From there, he moves to the door, then the windows, checking each lock. Peers out the security peephole into the empty hallway. Empty, just like last night. Just like every night. The weapons next. Buffy has most of them, but heís managed to collect a few over the years: axe and crossbow and baseball bats in aluminum and sharpened wood. Keeps a stake on the bedside table, too, but he already knows itís all right.
The weapons closet is undisturbed, though Anya has started storing things in there, right in front. He moves them out, piles them on a chair, muttering under his breath. She doesnít understand that you have to be able to get them quickly. He clears the path once more, and stands in the doorway, staring. Wonders why he thinks like this only at night. Thinks maybe, just maybe, heís thinking like this all the time. Itís just that he drowns it out with jokes in the daytime. He closes the closet door and leans against it. Suddenly, heís very, very tired.
He tries to go back to bed, he really does, but his mind is off and running and wonít let go of the worst-case scenarios waiting just around the corner. Some nights are just like that. Lots of nights, actually. So he gets back up and wanders aimlessly around the apartment. Finally finds himself in front of the fridge, feeling the cool air on his face. Scans the shelves with a tired eye. Thereís really nothing there. Out-of-date yogurt, spaghetti from last week, some fuzzy-looking fruit (kiwi, maybe?), and, dear god what is that? He really needs to stop letting Anya do the grocery shopping. Sigh. He could try the green cheese-like stuff, maybe. He shudders. Maybe not. Heís really not feeling adventurous tonight. Peanut butter it is.
Two peanut butter sandwiches and a tall glass of milk later, he sits in the darkened kitchen, eating. Itís familiar, comforting. Maybe heíll get some sleep after all. He can remember doing this before, sitting up late nights with his mom, sharing ice cream or marshmallow fluff or peanut butter smeared on apples, telling stupid jokes while he pretended not to notice that sheíd been crying.
The bite heís swallowing turns to lead in his throat. His sandwich drops to the plate below. Why arenít any of his happy memories really happy?
The worst part is his sneaking suspicion that this is a constant. Will these memories be the crappy excuse for happiness he remembers from his childhood? He should be happy now, but... Sitting in his bright apartment, all chrome and glass and newness, Anya snuggled up safe in the next room, he wonders when the other shoe will drop. Things canít be this good, not for very long. Thereíll be a fight, a family reunion, an apocalypse. Eventually, someone will dó He shuts the door on that thought before he can finish it. Bad luck to even think it. Not that heís superstitious, or anything. He laughs to himself, suddenly. Heís engaged to an ex-vengeance demon, and yet he canít be superstitious. No, he doesnít have issues, why do you ask? He takes another bite of his sandwich, chases it with milk. Gonna be another long night.
Heís still sitting at the table when the first light begins to creep across the living room. Crap. Another sleepless night. He might as well get to the site early. At least heíll look eager that way. He pauses on the way to the shower, staring at Anya sprawled across the bed. She takes all the room if he gives her half a chance. Not exactly a surprise. She always did.
The end of the day is always nice, work done, Anya to look forward to. Heís partway up the street when he sees her through the lighted window of the Magic Box. Sheís ringing up a customer, smiling, happy. So beautiful heís just struck, staring. Mesmerized by her bright face and changeable hair, and how she vibrates with energy and purpose, and heís filled with a kind of desperate happiness. It staggers him, frankly. How in the hell did he wind up with this? He used to wonder why girls didnít look at him; now he wonders why she does. Doesnít know how long he stands there, basking in the happiness. Itís not a frequent visitor to Casa Harris, after all.
Not so struck that he doesnít check passers-by for evilness, though. He glances back at the elderly couple coming out of the restaurant behind him, then back to the staring. Yeah, heís got it bad. Just wishes Ė the guys from the site wanted him to bring Anya, meet them for dinner and drinks. He wanted to go - didn't get enough chances to just be one of the guys, but heíd said no. How many minutes could Anya last without saying something embarrassing? Without asking stupid questions or talking about weird stuff? He loves her so much, but canít stop himself from thinking Why canít she just be normal?
Heís so lost in thought that heís startled when the old woman catches his sleeve. "Are you all right?" she asks. He blinks down at her concerned face. "Oh! Uh, yeah, Iím ok, sorry, just..." he stammers.
The man beside her follows Xanderís gaze across the street, and smiles. He elbows his wife gently and says, "Pretty girl, dear," with a little laugh.
Xander can feel himself blushing. Busted. "Yeah," he says sheepishly. "My girl."
Theyíre both smiling at him now, their hands clasped tight together, and, for a minute, he gets it. Really gets it. The woman pats him on the arm, says "Lucky girl, then," and they move past him. And the little old man, white-haired and paper-skinned, takes a last look at the shop window and says with a wink "No, lucky you."
Yeah, he thinks. Yeah, lucky me.
Half an hour later he comes through the back door of the shop, tools in hand. "Ahn," he calls, "Iíll be down in the basement."
Fifteen minutes after that, he hears her heels clacking on steps. "Xander? A deliveryman just dropped off Chinese food. Why didnít anybody tell me there was going to be a Scooby meeting? There are some things I need to put away so they donít get food spilled on them. And you didnít order enough, anyway. This wonít beó" She pauses at the foot of the stairs, peering at where he's kneeling on the floor. "What are you doing?"
He looks up from his work, surrounded by lumber, tools in hand, to where sheís silhouetted against the stairwell light, and bites back a sarcastic remark. What does it look like heís doing?
"Hey, Ahn. I just thought - Iím fixing that set of storage bins you were talking about."
"Oh!" Her smile transforms her entire face, like a child receiving an unexpected present. Sometimes sheís just ridiculously easy to please. "You were listening!" she grins. "I assumed you had chosen to ignore that conversation in favor of the television show, as you so often do."
He winces imperceptibly; her delivery is malice-free, itís just that, well, sheís right. He ignores her way too much.
She bustles over to kiss him, leaning perilously over the barriers heís erected around his workspace. "Thatís so sweet, Xander," she murmurs. Her eyes take on a familiar, mischievous look, as her hands leave his shoulders and trail down his arms. "When is everyone supposed to get here, again?"
Her kiss knocks the answer right out of his head, for a moment. He grins. "Theyíre not. I just thought...youíre working late tonight, itíd be nice for us to eat together." He reaches up to tuck a stray hair behind her ear. "I missed you today."
She smiles again, that brilliant, wide, Iíve-got-a-fabulous-idea smile. "Theyíre not?" She stands up, smoothing down her skirt. "Take off your pants. Iíll go lock the door."
She comes back down the stairs with the same measured tread as before, saying, "I put up the sign saying Iíd be back in an hour, so we canítĖ" Frowns when she sees that heís still dressed, and then her eyes take in the little picnic-y nest heís made. The plywood leaned against the wall, tools out of the way. An old tablecloth that Dawn spilled slushie on is laid out like a blanket, with the food set out around a flickering candle. Her mouth twists in a puzzled expression. "Xander, youíre still dressed. I told you, we have less than an hour." She crosses her arms impatiently, waiting, he guesses, for him to start taking things off. Instead he moves to embrace her, wrapping his arms tight around her, nuzzling into her hair. She smells like book dust, and it makes him smile Ė all the expensive perfumes she wears, and itís the books he smells.
"I figured weíd eat first, Anya. The foodíll get cold." He kisses her softly, and feels her melt against him; she always does what he wants. He knows how to work her now, to get the right reactions. Sudden resentment springs out of nowhere, bubbling up inside him; frightens him for just a moment. He resents how needy she is, how odd she is, how she lets him tell her what to do, makes him responsible for her. The intensity of it is staggering, and thenĖitís gone, and he just feels a little bit sick. He closes his eyes and searches for a joke to make it go away. Comes up empty this time.
"Well, all right, Xander." Anyaís eyes sweep over the makeshift table, and back to him. "This does look nice." He smiles, in spite of himself. She's so cute and transparent when she's trying to be all sexy.
"I hope youíre hungry, then," he counters. "If you eat all your Chinese, maybe thereíll be a Xander-sicle for dessert." Oh. Eyew. "Never mind, that was gross. Letís eat. The food."
He helps her onto a crate, and dishes up her plate, trying not to cough. Hers is so spicy he's surprised it hasnít eaten through the styrofoam. His is more Ė well, she says Ďblandí, but he prefers to use the term "edible". He passes over her pair of chopsticks and digs out a fork for himself.
Anya nonchalantly lifts a dumpling to her mouth. "Why donít you use the chopsticks? Theyíre more traditional."
"Because I actually prefer for the food to reach my mouth, Anya," he grins.
There's silence for a moment, facing each other, candlelight and quiet, Anya eating daintily, her legs tucked up underneath her skirt, staring at Xander as he digs into the carton of noodles. "What?" he asks, nervously. "Have I got lo mein on my face?"
"No," she says, smiling. "I just can't remember the last time you came over here to eat with me without everyone else along. It's nice. You know, just you and me."
He feels a tightness open in his chest, as if he's been holding his breath all this time and just now thought to breathe. He smiles back, and reaches across the cloth to cover her hand with his own. "Yeah, it is, Ahn."