Beauty Effulgent

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Sunday Morning Coming Down


Anya turned the jeweler’s box over and over in her hands, unconsciously rubbing her thumb against the velveteen. Her fingers tightened around it, her nails digging into her palm. She rose from the couch and looked out the window again.

Xander had eaten dinner and changed clothes after work. She had glanced at the clock as he left. 7:09. Ten minutes to get from their apartment to Buf…the Summers' house to pick up the lawn mower. Five to ten minutes there if he stopped to talk to Willow, which he certainly had, she thought with a brief flash of irritation. Twenty minutes from there to Breaker’s Woods. Five minutes to unload the lawn mower. Ten minutes to mow. Ten minutes more to do that obsessive grass clearing and flower re-arranging. Twenty minutes back to the Summers'. He never stayed to chat after, so ten minutes back to their apartment. Roughly an hour and a half from start to finish, meaning that Xander should walk through the door, sweaty and glistening, at 8:39.

She looked toward the door. It was 9:05.

Anya glanced again at the phone sitting on the table. It was centered exactly, as if someone had picked it up and put it back several times. Her fingers twitched toward it and then she could hear Xander telling her that calling to check on him every five minutes was needy and clingy and not what normal girlfriends did.

Anya wasn’t sure if that was true or not, but it seemed to be borne out by the few female acquaintances she had. Willow was always with Tara, so no need to call there. Buffy had always seemed surprised and belatedly happy to see Riley show up somewhere; as if the thought of calling to check his location had never occurred to her.

But Xander was thirty minutes late and that was really late. Sunnydale call-the-morgue late. Her fingers twitched again. She wouldn’t call him. She frowned in frustration. She should have been using this time to plan what she was going to say. So far she had, Xander, we need to talk, followed by shoving the ring box in his face in case he had questions about the topic.

Xander had proposed in May. It was now almost August. They had buried Buffy, guarded the Hellmouth, kept the Slayer’s death quiet in the demon community, and tried to give Dawn a normal home with two lesbian witch foster-mothers, three cajoling uncles and wacky Aunt Anya.

Xander worked, Giles worried, Willow and Tara spelled, Spike skulked, Dawn grieved and Anya…waited.

As each day passed, their lives had crossed further and further back into normal. Anya had looked at the ring box on the dresser every day, hoping that one day it wouldn’t be there and there would be a suspicious lump in Xander’s pocket. But still it sat there every night, just getting dusty. Anya had tried scooting it closer to Xander’s side of the armoire, but he’d seemed not to notice.

So tonight she was going to ask him. If he was waiting for the right moment, she was going to make the moment. But he was late. Her fingers were cramped painfully around the box and then they were opening and reaching for the phone.

Xander unlocked the door and stepped inside, his t-shirt slung over his bare shoulder, his chest, arms, shorts and legs flecked with grass. He smelled warm and sweaty and like dirt and grass and…whiskey?

“Xander, I was worried,” Anya said, dropping the hand with the ring box behind her back. “It should have been 95 minutes but it was 120 minutes and that’s an increase of twenty-one percent, and I didn’t call, Xander, did you notice I didn’t...”

Xander had his head ducked, toeing off a tennis shoe and shaking it out onto the floor mat. His socks followed, rubbed green around the ankles, and then his hands were at his waist, unbuttoning his shorts and pushing them over his hips and down his legs. Naked, he scratched absently below his navel, brushing off the line of grass that had worked its way beneath his waistband.

Anya stood looking at him for a moment as he piled his grass stained clothes together and stepped over them. “Xander,” she said softly, reaching up to loop her arms around his neck.

He jerked back from her slightly, grabbing at her hands. “Ahn. I need a shower,” he said shortly, backing away. His eyes met the hurt, uncertain look in hers and he smiled tightly. “I’m sorry, sweetie. Sweaty. Gritty. Grumpy. Just let me get clean, okay?”

He turned away from her and walked toward the bathroom, pausing at the door to toss her an apologetic smile.

“Okay,” Anya said softly, nodding to herself as Xander closed the door behind him. She spun the box between her hands. “Xander, we need to talk. Xander, we need to talk…”

Xander stood under the shower spray, the water as hot as he could make it, watching blades of green puddle at his feet and swirl down the drain. His head throbbed with that ache that came when you’d had enough hard liquor to feel it but quit before you got drunk.

He felt a little weak and empty, too, like after a hard cry. He hadn’t cried, though. He’d given Spike a look inside the mind of Xander Harris, but he hadn’t given him that. He’d seen Spike cry, once, the day that Buffy had fallen. They’d all seen it, but they’d turned away from him and to each other, because it had been, well, embarrassing. Embarrassed to think that he cared that much and they hadn’t known, and embarrassed for the vampire at having to reveal that much in front of them.

Xander closed his eyes tightly, letting the water fall full on his face. He’d shared warm and fuzzies, well, more like cold and bitters, with Spike. Sat on the car, talked about the ‘old days’ and shared a flask. Like two guys. He hadn’t felt like calling him 'Fangless' once. And when Spike left, he’d said, “All right, then…Xander.”

Xander turned off the water and stepped out of the shower, wrapping a towel around his waist. He opened the door and walked into the living room to find Anya sitting on the couch, with the ring box cupped in her hands.

Xander cleared his throat. “Um, Anya, I’m just gonna head to bed, okay? It was a long day and we have to be at Dawn’s early tomorrow and -”

“Xander. We need to talk.”

Xander tucked the towel in tighter and edged back toward the bedroom. “Not tonight, okay, Ahn? Tomorrow, I promise we’ll - ”

“Xander, ask me again.”

Xander stopped, his hands tightening on the towel. “What?”

“Ask me again. You promised. You’d ask me again, when the world didn’t end. So, I’m asking you to, Xander.” She looked at him, her lips trembling, but her gaze firm. “Ask me again.”

“Not…just not now, Anya. I…”

“Well, when, Xander? When the Hellmouth opens? When you finally decide that I’m the best that you’re ever going to do? When Willow says it’s okay to?”

“Okay – A? Willow is not the boss of me.” Xander paused. “Not as far as you and I are concerned, anyway. And second? You know I love you, Anya. You are the best. There’s just so much…with Buffy, and patrolling and Dawn.” He couldn’t quite meet the glare in Anya’s eyes. “But soon, I promise.”

Anya shook her head, standing up to cross the room until she faced him. “I’m sorry, Xander. But there’s always going to be a ‘something and a someday.’” She pressed the ring box into his hand. “So I’m telling you it’s now. Ask me.”

Xander looked down at the ring box in his hand, flashing back to the day he had picked it out, brought it home and hidden it. To the day in the Magic Box when everything seemed to point to this and all the answers seemed so easy. To the moment when he looked at Buffy’s broken body on the ground and felt everything he’d ever believed tilt. To the look in Spike’s eyes tonight, that seemed to reflect everything in his. He looked back up, seeing the hope and the fear in Anya’s eyes, and knowing only one of those was in his, and not the one she needed to see. “I’m sorry, Anya. I can’t.”

Anya nodded slowly, her movements jerky as she turned and grabbed her purse and started silently toward the door.

“Anya, wait!” Xander started after her, catching her as she stepped out into the hallway. Anya turned back, her look expectant. “Where…where are you going to go?”

Anya’s face closed and she shook his hand off of her arm. “I doesn’t matter anymore, Xander. Not to you.” She walked quickly away and Xander started after her, feeling his towel slip down his hips.

“Damn it!” he jumped back into the apartment, holding the towel in front of him. He looked around and then walked quickly back into the bedroom, jerking on a pair of jeans and pulling a t-shirt over his head. Dressed, he shoved his feet into shoes and grabbed his keys.

He had to figure this out, had to talk this out, no matter what it cost him or how much…stuff he had to share. His drove carefully through the Sunnydale night, calling himself an idiot the entire way. Even as his hand reached up to knock, he told himself to just let it go, that everything had been said and there was nothing left but to deal with it.

The door opened and a suspicious, hurting gaze met his. “Spike. Can we talk?”

Part Three

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