DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to Joss Whedon, UPN and Mutant Enemy.
SPOILERS: Up to "Wrecked"
The floor is hard under her knees, and feels cold even through the cotton of her pajamas, and even though this is California and floors don't get cold here, ever. Her fingers travel quietly up the jamb of the doorway that leads to the living room, but she remains out of sight, stealthy, invisible, terrible, *the Slayer!* She smiles at their predicament, the situation clearly in her favour; the vampire's toast, done for, has no chance to speak of. Caught. Ha!
He has this bag, it's ridiculous - and she thinks that if it were red, she'd laugh outloud - that he's fishing things out of. He's holding up the edge of it in his hand, while the other fetches brightly wrapped boxes with mismatching bows. It's a little absurd, the image he creates, with the lights of the tree twinkling calmly off his face, hair, leather. It's even prettier against black, under cat-like movements used for silly things like this.
He swears under his breath when a bow falls off of one of the presents and back into the bag. He drops the whole thing and gets down on his knees to go through the bag with both hands. The look on his face is serious, focused, intent on his task, as sticky things stick to his fingers and sleeves. She stifles a laugh and crouches further, watching from the shadows that don't really hide anything, not for him nor for her, but they're the kind of things - shadows are - that you crouch in when you don't want to be seen. And she does not, in fact, want to be seen. Not yet.
And so she hides and watches the spectacle he presents, this non-Santa with a bagful of presents for the poor little Summers girls with no mum or Watcher or dad, for that matter, so their Christmas tree's underbelly is pretty sorry-looking, sparsely strewn with girlie sister gifts. He probably thinks they need sturdier guy presents, the kind you need a kitchen knife to unwrap and often have the price tags still on them. Or so she imagines, but her experience is limited and full of baggage she's not particularly inclined to dredge up.
But the boxes he carefully spreads out are small things, and definitely not wrapped in aluminum foil and masking tape, but still put together a little awkwardly and with too much adhesive. It makes sense, she supposes, for this snarling boy - he's all show, they both know it - to give delicate presents to his girls, something she's sure betrays his origins as a hopeful poet and generally well-met fellow.
She squints her eyes and imagines the duster to be an extravagant overcoat instead, something this blurry William would wear only on Christmas Eve. The warm glow could be that of oil lamps or the fireplace, making everything cozy and warm. His hair is a tad longer and the same colour as hers, she imagines, and maybe a little curly around the ears. She likes William, this version of him she can summon with a mere squint of the eyes. But then the vision runs his hand under his nose and sniffles loudly, breaking the spell. The tails change back into worn flaps of leather over worn boots, and the young man becomes her accidental lover again. She smiles and peeks a little out of the shadows, still out of sight.
He's on all four now, his butt in the air, rearranging the gift display like it matters. Green needles stick in bleached curls, the whole tree moves, jerks a bit to the right, and a few colourful balls plop down on the rug around him. She can't see his face, but she imagines him biting his lip in concentration, or more embarrassing yet, sticking his tongue out like a pre-schooler connecting the dots. She should find out if he does that.
But she keeps quiet, still, because they are in an uneasy truce, pushed together by good ol' fashion lust but kept apart by conflicting issues, hers with the bitterness she can always taste on her tongue, and him stuck with its aftertaste. But the violence with which they wrench themselves from each other has always been almost as addictive as the giving in, which is why she's fine with giving him a hard time, and he's okay avoiding her other than when they... well, you know. And he keeps doing this, these nice things boyfriends do, all the while throwing vague insults at her over his shoulder as he promptly walks out the door, leaving both of them more than a little anxious for it all to be over, for it to give, to bend and snap, to come undone so they can come together. She's reluctant to play tonight, because it's Christmas, and she figures if he wants to do something nice, she should let him. She knows it's hard to be good when people won't let you, and she's willing to cut him a little slack, just for now, and just a little, just as long as he doesn't tell anybody. But he never does. Not part of the deal. He wouldn't break the deal. She breaks his heart daily, but he would never break the deal.
Her knees hurt and so she stands, her hand going up the door frame, the lights from the tree still not quite reaching her. Ordinarily he would smell her near, but he told her recently that he can smell her all the time now, on him, on his clothes, taste her against his teeth, feel her under his nails. She doesn't know why he's not hearing her, but she can speculate about him thinking too much, always thinking too much, about anything, everything, this and that. His brain never stops, she can hear it from where she stands, and it churns, churns, works things out, complicates them, psychs himself up and out all at once, but he never stops. She imagines what it would be like to tap into his mind; it's full of things he's told her, of things he can tell just by looking at her, of things he would never speak of and hates to think of himself. She knows it must be dizzying, all this restless thinking that comes out in burst of vitriol or poetry, depending on who he feels he is that day.
And sometimes he does this, does the anonymous admirer routine, leaving pretty things in her way while he lays wide-awake back in his hole, watching her on the back of his eyelids. She usually doesn't seek him out in those cases - that's not what he wants - but he's in her home tonight, and he hasn't done that in ages, not since she first came back, when he was, incidentally, the only thing she could stand to look at because his light was dim and grey, flickering hesitantly, trying to shine but not quite there.
He jumps and more decorations fall to the ground with muted thumps. Then he's on his feet, shaking tinsel out of his coat with open defiance. She can see the unseasonal comment forming on his lips, but they remain pressed together, his jaw set in that way that makes his cheeks sink in. His Adam's apple bobs once and he still hasn't moved, save for his fingers playing with the wrinkled bow that remained in his hands.
"Now now, Slayer. What are you doing up? Shouldn't you be all tucked in your beddy-bye like a good girl?"
She nods absently, her eyes on his hands, watching the long rounded fingers against this frilly red thing, knowing exactly how it feels to have those half-bitten nails dig into your thighs. She wraps her arms around her middle, moving her feet on the cold hardwood. He looks warm.
Unsettled by her silence, it seems, he stands there unmoving, watching for her next move. "I... I brought you presents. You and the Bit. I thought..."
He stops, and she will never know what he thought, why or how he convinced himself to do this, although she suspects he didn't need much convincing at all. She steps closer and she feels his demeanor change, readying himself for being pulled down, for a harsh meeting of mouths, for being her escape yet again, even if he has to put up a little fight, just by principle. He's not reaching for her, but his arms fall to his sides, leaving him open, available for whatever she feels like doing to him tonight. She knows he's offering himself to her unconditionally, and she feels a twinge of sadness at this. She doesn't want to be this person, playing with a poet's heart, and she hates that it's something she does in spite of herself. She thinks that if he can suppress his demons, she should be able to suppress hers, if only for him and his devotion to her.
Their aborted movements and words hang in the air awkwardly between and around them, and suddenly the whole thing becomes terrifyingly ordinary. Fates and lifetimes fall away and there's this guy, and this girl, just standing there facing each other, with all these stupid reasons to do or not do things, all of which would sound ridiculous to anyone else. She squints at him and her breath hitches, the sudden commonness of the situation blaringly new to her. Why does he make her feel like vampires don't exist, like demons are just stuff of tales and nightmares? Magick and witches and werewolves and Slayers - all made up. She's just a girl with lousy judgment, dancing around this thing she might or might not have for this guy, just a guy, AND IT'S--
"I won't leave, you know."
His quiet words interrupt her train wreck. It's how he comes out with it just like this, just the right thing at the right time, and his voice is hushed with heart-breaking truth. He can't meet her eyes. She notices how easy it would be to just reach out and take his hand, like regular people do - and be regular too. There's enough angst that comes with human relationships, surely they would fill their quotas just as easily--
Her eyes follow the shape of his thumb, the muscles and bones of his hands at his sides.
He's too real. But he won't leave her. Ever. He said.