All About Spike - Print Version
[Back to Main Site] [Back to Story Page]

Afterglow
By HarmonyFB

Acknowledgements:

Thanks to my merry band of beta readers: Ginmar, Telaryn, Julia, 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.




Chapter 1

He’s momentarily spent, lying sprawled across her sweat-slickened body. Her skin’s so flushed, heat rolling in waves from her body, that he’s surprised there’s not a haze rising from where they lie.

If he cared to raise his head, he’d see the windows of his crypt fogged, from her alone. After all, he adds no heat to her fire. Makes him think of steamy car windows on lovers’ lanes, the sign of passion that he and Drusilla had sought out, the signal for inattention and the smell of sex that drove Dru wild. He smiles faintly, remembering. Fond memories. Delicious memories. A sidelong glance reminds him that those memories have no place, now. They’re nothing to her; she wouldn’t like them. Wouldn’t like him pining for those days. He sighed. He’s not sure she likes anything about him besides this.

She shifts a bit, her moistened skin slipping against him, and he stills, waiting to see what she’ll do. A moment of tension, and then he feels her subside beneath him, relaxing into sleep. Breathing slow and steady, and he gently lays his hand along her breast, feeling the rise and fall of her chest. There’s still a novelty there, she’s alive, and she moves and breathes, and her heart races whenever he touches her. He’s not used to it, so he takes the stolen moments when she sleeps near, to wonder at it, ponder it.

He relaxes too, just a bit, still touching as much of her as he thinks she’ll allow. But he doesn’t sleep. She might need...something. Might want him in the night. She might wake, and though he’ll pretend to be asleep, he wants to see when she goes.

She does, of course. Wakes an hour later, confused, from a dream she can’t recall. Slips from his bed with a troubled look, dresses, and runs out into the dark. He sighed, closing his eyes on her departure. And sleeps at last.

***

He’s standing outside her house when she gets home, next night. Fixes him with that look of mock disgust, the one she’s been so good at counterfeiting recently. A smirk’s the only answer that look gets; hard to convince him of how much she loathes him when she’s got her hand down his pants. She takes one, two quick steps, shoves him against the tree.

He opens his grinning mouth to ask what’s on her mind — as if anything else would be — and she mutters, "Shut up" before stopping his mouth with her own. Her kiss is greedy and rough, and she’s pressed so hard against him he wonders if he’ll bruise in the shape of her body. She yanks down his zipper, and he grabs her wrist tight before she can go any further.

"Rough day, love?"

She pulls back, peevish expression in place. "It totally sucked. Of course." Leans back in again, and he pushes her gently away.

"Buffy, pet..." He gestures towards the house, lights blazing and curtains wide. Doesn’t have to look to know the old biddy across the street is already peeping through the blinds. Doesn’t mind her getting an eyeful, himself, but the Slayer would care, if she weren’t so tired. "Maybe we could…"

She sighs, then moves away from him, her head slumped downward, taking the first step towards his crypt.

"Buffy." Dead weight against the tree trunk; Slayer’s going nowhere. He pulls her, unresisting, into his embrace, rests his head atop her hair. She’s trembling, desire and exhaustion in equal parts tonight. "Too far back to the crypt, love," he murmurs. Strokes her hair, gently, till she gives a little sigh. "Tell me - hard day behind the counter?"

Her voice is a whisper of warmth against his chest. "It was just…long."

He can almost hear the desperation welling up out of her, the unspoken litany that he knows is going on inside her head: I have to open tomorrow because Rosita quit, and we’re out of laundry detergent; don’t know how I’m gonna get my uniform clean, and I’m hungry and I’m too tired to fix anything, and I don’t even know if Dawn made it to school today...

"God," she murmurs weakly, "my feet hurt."

It’s the crack in her voice that undoes him. She’s so strong, hates so badly to be weak. He grasps her tightly for a moment, then lifts her away from him. He pretends not to notice that her lip is shaking, grabs her hand and starts moving. "Come on, then," he says. He leads her around the back of the house, up to the steps where they’ve sat so many times before. She jerks away from him, scowling. "I’m not going to do you on the back porch, Spike," she says flatly.

He doesn’t bother to say what he’s thinking – that she’d have done him in her front yard a minute ago. Just pushes her towards the steps and tells her, "Sit."

She’s so tired she doesn’t argue, only stares dully as he kneels in front of her. He knows her heart is pounding, can see the pulse quicken under her skin. Knows she’s getting turned on by the danger, by the thought that he’ll fuck her right here on the steps of the house. Knows, too, that she’d hate him, after. But that’s not what he wants – at least, not tonight.

She won’t take his money, won’t let him shoulder her burdens, stopped letting him take care of Dawn…at least he can do this for her, tonight. Gently, he unlaces each of her tennis shoes, placing them carefully on the deck behind her. They were probably expensive at one time, but now they’re brown with stains of dubious origin, mud, and blood, and who knows what, and they are woefully inadequate for long hours of standing in that hellhole where she works. Peels off her socks, and her toes wiggle happily in the cool air as his hands cover them, thumbs rubbing gently up the arch of each foot. He grasps them firmly as he feels her begin to flinch away.

"Spike, don’t. My feet are…sweaty."

"Don’t care." He smiles at her, lifting one foot to his lips for a kiss. She shifts uncomfortably, but doesn’t pull away. "I don’t mind you a little sweaty, love," he grins. "Now be still."

She snorts, but settles back onto her elbows, watching him carefully. Doesn’t know what she expects – well, all right, yeah, he does. Smiles at her surprise when he begins to slowly massage her feet. Pressing and kneading, drawing out her soreness and her tension. His eyes unfocused, fixed somewhere beyond her as his fingers search out each knot, each sore spot, discovering how best to soothe each one in turn.

Press and caress, drawing sighs from her as he works his way from toes to ankle, her unshaven legs prickling his palms. Sweeps down the top of her foot again, working each individual toe, flexing and massaging. Her toenail polish is chipped, the white of her nails peeking through the crimson. They look like a bit like his nails, and he smiles, charmed by the comparison. Until he realizes why.

She hasn’t tended to herself in a while: nails left undone, legs prickly instead of bare. Like she doesn’t care, like it’s not important. He suddenly frowns; the Slayer never just doesn’t care. When she went out to stop a bloody apocalypse, she went coiffed and gowned. This lack of attention makes his heart sink. He sneaks a glance at her, lying half-asleep against the porch rail. Exhausted. She’s beginning to wear thin, like a handkerchief that’s seen too much washing. Circles under her eyes, and bones beginning to thrust up beneath her skin; she’s not eating. What softness she had carried over from girlhood is being sloughed away, bit by bit.

Spike sets her feet gently on the deck. She doesn’t stir until he slips behind her, winding his arms around her waist, his legs around hers. He pulls her against him, gently. Kisses her hair, ignoring the smell of grease and despair. She’s limp in his arms, leaning back against him so comfortably. He whispers, "Better?"

"Mmm-hmm. My piggies thank you."

"I’ll remember they’re in my debt next time I’m feeling peckish for bacon."

Buffy leans her head back to laugh at him. "Bacon? Spike, that’s just...was that supposed to be sexy? Cause it was just bizarre."

He gapes at her in mock offense. "Not sexy?" He chuckles softly. "Think you might change your mind, next time I’m in the mood for pork."

"Pork? What the hell is that supposed to–?" She pauses, mouth open, for a millisecond, then flushes crimson under his gaze. She got it. "Eyew. No, don’t say it - my mind already traveled there without you."

He squeezes a little closer, brushes his lips against her ear to say, "Well, you usually get there first, don’t you?"

She pushes him playfully, and says, "Pig." They stare at one another for a measured moment, their lips twitching, before dissolving into laughter. Spike leans forward, nearly close enough to kiss her laughing mouth, and–

From inside the house, there’s the sound of a door slamming, and Dawn’s heavy tread down the stairs. The moment’s broken. Buffy springs from his arms, and he swears he can hear her heart ratcheting up to record speeds. You’d think Joyce had caught them starkers on the couch, or something. God forbid Dawn should catch sight of them spooned up together, laughing. The bitterness twists in his belly, rising up in his throat; he’ll choke on it soon if things don’t change. He tilts his head to watch where she’s gathering her socks and shoes, and the words are almost to his lips when he sees her face. He swallows his bitterness one more time, because she’s gone. Gone again behind that shell she shows to everybody but him. They stare at one another for a long second, and then she slips inside the door.

"Dawnie?" he hears her call.

He rises from the steps in stiff, jerky motions, and reaches for a smoke, turns to watch for her shadows on the blinds. Seems like he’s spent a lifetime watching her move away from him.

***

It’s almost a week before he sees her again. Well, not strictly accurate, because he’s there almost every night, watching through the blinds of the house, catching glimpses of her behind the counter, skulking in the doorways across from the Doublemeat Palace. The few times she’s seen him, he’s watched the metaphorical shield snap into place, cutting him off, shutting him out. He only comes when she calls, these days.

On Wednesday, he goes somewhere else, to remind himself that he has an unlife outside this painful feedback loop. Finds a bar that’s not too choosy ‘bout its clientele, or its health rating, for that matter. Sits for hour after hour, drinking cheap-ass beer from the filthiest glass in the place. He’s not sure if it’s a subtle comment on who he is or just that he’s lucky. He asks for the bottle on the next round. It doesn’t look much cleaner. Thinks about ordering something to eat, just to give him something to do with his mouth, till the kitchen door swings open. The stench turns his stomach, and that’s saying something. Too much work to go elsewhere, though. At least here they ignore him, no superior glances, no open threats. He picks at a peanut shell littering the bar, slugs down the rest of the bottle. Fuck. He’s horny, bored as hell, and all he can think about is…her. She’ll be getting off work right about now, covered in a film of grease and sweat, stinking so bad that every cat, dog, and demon in a ten-mile radius will be able to smell her. His hand hovers above the bottle for a moment; she’ll be walking through the cemetery, alone, and maybe he could get her to say two words besides "Shut up", and there might be things to kill, and he’ll be…

He snatches up the bottle and pitches it in the corner. It breaks with a satisfying crash, splinters of glass spewing out around it. Spike orders another beer.

***

It’s Friday. At least, he thinks it’s Friday. He used to keep a calendar in his crypt, but it had naked women on it, and he figured it’d piss Buffy off. Some nights he wishes he still had it, though. Like now, when she’s standing there expectantly, waiting for him to confirm or deny, because whatever plans she has can’t take place on Saturday. No calendar, though. He lies through his teeth and hopes like hell it doesn’t come back to haunt him. "Yeah, it’s Friday." He turns to fix himself a drink. If she’s leaving, he doesn’t have to see it this time. "You got somewhere to be?"

He hears her shifting awkwardly, her shoes scraping on the dusty floor. "Um….it’s just that Dawn’s going to her friend’s tonight, so I don’t…"

A slow smile spreads over his face, and his shoulders relax. She’ll be staying.

He glances behind him, gauging her mood. Angry, excited, mean? These days, it pays to check before he opens his mouth. She looks…almost shy, uncertain, like she half-expects him to show her the door. It stops him cold; that look of insecurity she so seldom wears for anyone, but never for him. He sets the glass down, reaches for a second one. Maybe… "D’you want a drink?" he asks, more for form than anything; he already knows the answer.

She laughs uneasily. "I think one evening of puking up whiskey is my lifetime limit, thanks." She keeps standing there while he fiddles with the bar glasses, lights a cigarette. He can almost hear her wringing her hands.

He searches for something to put her at ease, decides the truth is about the closest he’s got. "I was going to watch a movie. There’s a Hitchcock marathon on tonight, thought I’d catch ‘Notorious’. Ever seen it?"

He doesn’t have to look at her to know she’s frowning, hell, far as she’s concerned cinema probably bloody started with "Star Wars".

"That’s the one with Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant, right? Where she’s forced to go be a spy, and Claude Rains falls in love with her? I’ve seen that one; it’s nice."

Well, color him surprised. "Be on in a few, Slayer. Feel like seeing a show?"

She hesitates for a moment – was that sexual innuendo? – and then says, "Ok."

He moves over to the couch, pats the seat beside him. "Have a seat, love, it’s hard to see the TV from the doorway." He turns nonchalantly towards the screen, takes a drink. The whiskey slides like fire down his throat, distracts him momentarily. He needs the distraction. Finally, whatever internal war she’s waging is decided, and she lowers herself gingerly to the seat. They sit in silence for a minute, Spike’s arm flung across the back of the sofa close, but not yet touching. After a long moment, she settles back, gives in, lays her head back to touch his arm.

He curls his hand around her shoulder, shuts his eyes. So bloody normal, this is. His girl coming over to watch movies, just the two of them, no hateful words or painful fists. This, he likes. Doesn’t mind the other so much if this comes along with it. He glances at her out of the corner of his eye; she’s watching the screen, the faintest line scoring her forehead. "I don’t think I’ve seen this one before," she says.

"That’s ‘Secret Agent’. Good movie - got John Gielgud in it back before he was knighted. Don’t bother trying to figure out what’s going on - there’s only ten minutes left, you’ll never catch up. Nazis, spies, that’s all you need to know." She nods, and smiles, just a bit. And he relaxes, too.

Half an hour later, she’s curled up against his side, her feet tucked underneath, and head resting on his chest, his arm draped round her. She’s complaining about the film; he’s missing dialog, which usually infuriates him, but she’s talking, and it’s happy, meaningless chatter, and, truth be told, he’d rather listen to her.

"God, I mean look at her - she’s out carousing all night and gets rudely awakened and she looks even more beautiful? Where’s the bed hair? The puke breath? The pasty skin? It just sets up men everywhere for a rude awakening."

"No more rude than usual, ducks. The paint, the powder, hell, the bustles and corsets and hairspray! Women have always given men a rude awakening. Doubt Ingrid Bergman’s makeup artist was responsible for the concept."

He ignores her snort of impatience; it’s a staple when he’s right and she doesn’t want to admit it. "And anyway," he says, warming to his theme, "it really doesn’t matter, does it?"

She throws him a sour look. "Right, cause men never care if women are all nasty and greasy and stinky. It’s the hot, new look for summer! Eau de hangover!"

"Some men might, yeah. But if it’s their woman?" His fingers brush the side of her face lightly, and her cheek colors under his hand. When she turns her face away, he can’t stop the thread of pain that runs through his heart.

Odds are, whatever comes out of his mouth next is going to make her run. Then, if he’s lucky, she’ll storm back in a few hours from now, angry because she can’t keep away, fuck him raw, kick him in the teeth, and stalk out. Either way, the evening’s ruined. Might as well not hold back, now.

Hears himself saying "Hell, I’ve seen you covered in demon guts and peanut butter and still wanted to shag you six ways to Sunday. How much worse could you look in the morning?"

He touches her again, slowly slides his thumb across the corner of her mouth, and braces for her retreat. And then, the impossible happens: She laughs.

It’s so unexpected, he actually startles, his hand jumping away from her skin. Not the nervous patter of make-believe laughter she trots out for the Scoobies, but real laughter, her shoulders shaking against his. She untucks her feet, stretching out her legs in one smooth motion, and lets her head fall backwards ‘til it slides down his chest, coming to rest in the crook of one arm.

"You know what I think?" she asks, smirking. "I think you’re just perpetually horny."

He grins down at her, laid across his lap like it’s the most natural thing in the world. God, he loves her. "When it comes to you, Slayer?" He brushes his thumb over her lips, lets his hand follow the curve of her neck, draws it down between her breasts, till it stops, splayed possessively at the swell of her belly. "Always."

His fingers twitch, inching up her shirt, stroking the smooth, taut skin beneath. He can feel her blood rising, warming under his hand. "Must admit, love, with you, I’m eternally ready for a go." Always has been. Even when he was itching to feel her throat in his hands, she had sparked a terrible lust in him that had nothing to do with blood.

"You are?" Her voice is breathy, quiet, barely audible under the hum of the television. In it, he can hear the first tremors of desire. Not yet, not yet. She’s in a rare mood; he’s going to make it last.

He pulls his hand from her belly, raises one of hers to his lips. "You can’t imagine, love. You walk in the room, and it’s like my whole body’s on fire. Your scent all around, and all I can think about is—" He traces his tongue along her palm, and begins to stroke her arm, long, slow gestures that send gooseflesh racing over her skin. His voice gets lower, dreamy, drowning out everything else. "All I can think about is touching you. You’ll put your hand on your hip, and I can feel you under my hands, riding me all night. You’ll bend over the table, and I can almost feel your nipples brushing my chest, your wet little mouth against mine, and feel the way our bodies slip over each other. Then you’ll say my name, sweet, and I nearly come right there."

She’s breathing a bit harder, but still manages a sarcastic look. "Even if I’m saying ‘Spike, shut up’?"

He grins back at her. "Well, usually, it’s ‘Spike, are you listening?’, not that it makes a difference." Could be saying ‘Spike, you’re on fire’ and it’d still make his dick jump. He laces his fingers through hers, presses his lips to the back of her hand. Hard to believe that she works so hard, fights so hard, when her hands are this soft. "But you don’t have to say anything. I can feel it, anytime I’m around you, this thing between us; crackles over my skin like heat lightning. I can feel it when you walk in the room, pet."

He’s lost in his thoughts, his fingers dancing over her skin; sometimes it was hard to believe that this wasn’t just a dream. He’s had plenty of those in the past, dreams of sweat and skin and blinding pleasure that melted into nothing when he opened his eyes to an empty bed. But now, now she lets him touch her, and kiss her, and hold her and sometimes it isn’t quite like his dreams, but times like tonight? He smiles, lists all the ways he sees her, feels her, thinks of her.

It isn’t until she starts shifting nervously that he realizes where he’s headed. Any minute he’ll be spouting endearments, and she’ll run for the door. That’s the one thing guaranteed to make her fly, because listening to him say I love you would mean it’s real, that what they have together is real. She’s not ready to admit that yet, still wants to pretend that she doesn’t feel anything for him, but he knows different. He can feel it, when they’re alone, naked, together. The way she clings to him, cries out for him. The way she blushes when he whispers her name after. He knows. And someday she’ll know, too.

But not tonight.


He’s pretty sure he knows what she wants tonight. His smile grows predatory, his eyes narrow. Does an about-face from the hopeful, loving things he wants to say, to the raw truth of his physical need for her, the things he knows she wants to hear.

He traces his fingers over her nipples, catching at them through the thin cotton – no bra tonight – smiles at her gasp. The straps are tiny things - he could snap them with one little tug, and she knows it, too. God, she must have a whole wardrobe bought just for shagging. He kind of misses those little dresses she wore, once upon a time. Snap-kicks must have laid her bare for the neighborhood to see. He faintly regrets, now, being focused on killing her more than on appreciating the view. Lost opportunities, ah well.

"And when you’re fighting?" He licks his lips, eyes firmly fixed on hers, one hand tugging at her breast. "You almost glow. All that heat, all that fury. Nothing sexier in this world, love, than watching you kill. Makes me harder than granite."

She’s breathing harder, now, hypnotized by the dark murmur of his voice, and his pulling hands, and her own dark, hidden desires, and fuck waiting. He can’t wait too much longer now. Pulls her closer to his mouth, drops his own dark little fancies in her ear. It’ll turn her on, and who knows? Maybe one night on patrol…

"Want to bend you over a tombstone, press you down, let you slide over the rough stone," he says, rubbing roughly across her nipples, slipping his other hand between her legs. "We’d give the ghoulies a show, wouldn’t we, love? Let ‘em watch me fuck you like a wildcat, bring you off howling right there in front of everyone, let them see what they’re missing before we kill them together." He traces his tongue down the shell of her ear, insinuates his hand inside her shirt. "You’d like that, wouldn’t you? For them to see who’s got the power, mmm? Show off your pretty cunt that’s made a slave out of the big bad?" Punctuates his words with strokes from his fingers, and he can see she wants to be disgusted, wants to be all offended, but all she can do is press back against him, moaning.

It hits him suddenly, a desperate wave of desire, and he’s fumbling with her zipper, then his own, shoving the pants down carelessly, fondling and kissing. Pushes her onto her hands and knees, fingers trembling as he takes hold of her hips. She looks back at him, that smoldering look which makes his knees turn to fucking jelly.

"I thought you wanted to watch the movie," she teases.

"Sod the movie," he growls, and shoves inside her.

She’s warm and soft, and incredibly wet; she’s as turned on as he is. It wrings a groan from him; he’s never imagined she could meet him there, be turned on by all the fantasies he’s spun about her over the years. But one by one, he’s pulled them out, and she’s responded to each in turn, like a flower opening. She bucks hard against him; he’s gone silent and still and that won’t do.

Grips her tight with one hand as he moves inside her, long, slow strokes. Reaches beneath to tweak her nipples, slides his hand along her belly, pulls her even closer. "Feel me, love?" he whispers. "Feel how just being near you makes me hard?" His fingers caress her hip in time with their rocking, echoing their rhythm. "Now you know, don’t you, Buffy? The next time you see me staring at you across the room, you know I’ll be thinking about this–" He thrusts hard against her, smiles at the low noises she’s beginning to make. She loves it. Slides his fingers between her legs, where she’s all soft and swollen, hovering there, just brushing the delicate skin. "You’ll see me tap my fingers on the table, and you’ll know I’m imagining how wet you were the last time I did this." He drums his fingers down the length of her clitoris, and she’s moaning loudly now, yes, yes, god, Spike, please. "I can’t wait to see how wet you get the next time I see you, because you’ll know, and you’ll want it. Next time, you’ll be thinking about it, too."

He lays the flat of his hand on her back, can feel the power lurking under her skin. Strong, and lean, and hard as iron, yielding under his touch. He spares the merest thought of triumph at this wonder, thinks of her friends who don’t know how she opens every time for him. His voice grows lower, more insistent, pulling her further and further into his fantasy, closer and closer to him.

"Sweetheart, do you know what I think about? Hmn? Think about stripping you naked, bending you over the table right in the middle of them, fucking you over and over while they watch you twist and howl and call my name." He’d thought about it for years, back before he ever felt anything but hate for her. Sometimes, in his fantasy, they were tied to their chairs, and he killed them all after, sometimes only Harris. Once upon a time, he’d imagined killing her, too, but that was before.

He knows he’s lost her by now; she isn’t listening anymore, can only hear the throbbing of her body. Doesn’t matter. "Want to show them all, show them you’re mine," he murmurs. "Want them to know that I have you, all of you, can have you whenever, wherever I want you. However I want you." Wants them to see that she belongs with him, see how they fit together, make a whole. Wants to hear her admit in front of the whole fucking crowd that she’s so godamned afraid of that she wants him, needs him, loves him.

From the sounds she’s making, he knows it won’t be long, and he’s right behind her. Leans forward, covers her body with his own, her skin hot against his chest, wet with perspiration. Opens his mouth near her ear, and can’t help it: the words come tumbling out of him like water, can’t stop. Can’t stop, even though he knows she’ll run, after. "God, Buffy, you make me crazy, I love you so much, fuck, sweetheart, yours, always yours, anything for you, Buffy, lover, love, yeah, oh, god, yeah." She hears him, he knows she hears him, because she jerks against him, low moans and shivers, and it’s like a live wire touching his skin; he explodes. Clutches her to him while he empties himself into her, hears her answering cries muffled beneath him. She’s the best fuck he’s ever had.

He lies spent atop her for a moment, pressing kisses into her neck, until she lifts herself up. Sighing, he falls to one side, ready for her departure, feeling his heart sink. Can’t just keep his mouth shut, can he? He’s resigned, already looking away, when she turns on her side, cheeks all flushed, to settle back against him with a sigh. A fringe of hair obscures her features, but he could swear she’s smiling. Makes his heart stick in his throat, and he buries his face against her to keep from – crying? laughing? The flicker of the television washes over them for a moment, where they lie in silence, quiet and hopeful.

Buffy turns her face towards the screen, and says "So what did I miss?"



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.




Chapter 2

Xander wakes at 2 AM, like always. Well, always in the sense that it’s been happening for a really long time. He isn’t 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. She’s 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, can’t afford to be sleepless tonight. But the blanket itches, and his arm is going numb where Anya’s 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 – nightly ritual commencing. Goes first to the window, scans the street below. He’s careful to stand against the wall, so nothing can get a glimpse of him as he peers through the blinds. There’s nothing there, though. There never is. So far, so good, for this apartment, but there’s 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 he’s 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 it’s 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 doesn’t 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, he’s thinking like this all the time. It’s just that he drowns it out with jokes in the daytime. He closes the closet door and leans against it. Suddenly, he’s very, very tired.

He tries to go back to bed, he really does, but his mind is off and running and won’t 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. There’s 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. He’s 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. It’s familiar, comforting. Maybe he’ll 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 she’d been crying.

The bite he’s swallowing turns to lead in his throat. His sandwich drops to the plate below. Why aren’t 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 can’t be this good, not for very long. There’ll be a fight, a family reunion, an apocalypse. Eventually, someone will d— He shuts the door on that thought before he can finish it. Bad luck to even think it. Not that he’s superstitious, or anything. He laughs to himself, suddenly. He’s engaged to an ex-vengeance demon, and yet he can’t be superstitious. No, he doesn’t have issues, why do you ask? He takes another bite of his sandwich, chases it with milk. Gonna be another long night.

He’s 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 he’ll 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. He’s partway up the street when he sees her through the lighted window of the Magic Box. She’s ringing up a customer, smiling, happy. So beautiful he’s just struck, staring. Mesmerized by her bright face and changeable hair, and how she vibrates with energy and purpose, and he’s 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 didn’t look at him; now he wonders why she does. Doesn’t know how long he stands there, basking in the happiness. It’s not a frequent visitor to Casa Harris, after all.

Not so struck that he doesn’t 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, he’s got it bad. Just wishes – 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 he’d 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 can’t stop himself from thinking Why can’t she just be normal?

He’s so lost in thought that he’s startled when the old woman catches his sleeve. "Are you all right?" she asks. He blinks down at her concerned face. "Oh! Uh, yeah, I’m ok, sorry, just..." he stammers.

The man beside her follows Xander’s 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."

They’re 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, "I’ll 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 didn’t anybody tell me there was going to be a Scooby meeting? There are some things I need to put away so they don’t get food spilled on them. And you didn’t order enough, anyway. This won’t be—" 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 she’s silhouetted against the stairwell light, and bites back a sarcastic remark. What does it look like he’s doing?

"Hey, Ahn. I just thought - I’m 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 she’s 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, it’s just that, well, she’s right. He ignores her way too much.

She bustles over to kiss him, leaning perilously over the barriers he’s erected around his workspace. "That’s 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. "They’re not. I just thought...you’re working late tonight, it’d 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, I’ve-got-a-fabulous-idea smile. "They’re not?" She stands up, smoothing down her skirt. "Take off your pants. I’ll go lock the door."

***

She comes back down the stairs with the same measured tread as before, saying, "I put up the sign saying I’d be back in an hour, so we can’t–" Frowns when she sees that he’s still dressed, and then her eyes take in the little picnic-y nest he’s 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, you’re 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 – all the expensive perfumes she wears, and it’s the books he smells.

"I figured we’d eat first, Anya. The food’ll 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 then–it’s 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." Anya’s 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 you’re hungry, then," he counters. "If you eat all your Chinese, maybe there’ll be a Xander-sicle for dessert." Oh. Eyew. "Never mind, that was gross. Let’s 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 hasn’t eaten through the styrofoam. His is more – well, she says ‘bland’, 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 don’t you use the chopsticks? They’re 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."