Beauty Effulgent

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Sunday Morning Coming Down


Xander eased silently back into his apartment, sighing with relief when he found the living room empty. He felt closer to human, if a bit like an idiot in the too-short sweat pants and two-sizes too small Sunnydale High t-shirt he was wearing. First item on the agenda: finding clothes that were roomy, manly and didn’t bind and…accentuate so much. Even though Willow’s appreciative snicker had been weirdly flattering.

He started toward the bedroom and then stumbled to a halt when he saw the brightly colored tote bag open on the table, its smiling daisy pattern seeming to mock him with its cheerfulness. He took a deep breath and then choked on it as Anya walked out of the bedroom, her hands full of shampoo, lotion and all of the pastel bottles that had made the apartment smell like her. A sudden pang of sorrow struck him as he pictured his store brand shampoo and shower gel standing lonely on the shower ledge.

Anya had come to a sudden stop, a few of the bottles falling from her hands to bounce against the carpet. As she stooped to pick them up, Xander moved forward quickly to help her, rocking back on his heels as she jerked the bottles away from him and stalked over to the table to shove them into the bag.

Xander got to his feet, eyeing the stiff set of her shoulders as she kept her back to him, mindlessly packing. “Anya,” he began, stopping when he saw her stiffen further, her hands stilling inside the bag. She turned slowly to face him, her mouth in a tight line but her expression otherwise blank.

“Where did you go last night?” he asked finally.

“Home, Xander,” she said, turning back to grab a pile of lingerie and throw it on top, the zipper rasping loudly as she angrily jerked the bag closed. “You know – to the rooms you insisted I keep even after the big speech about getting this place for me?”

Xander winced, watching as she strode quickly into the kitchen, cabinet doors banging as she opened them at random and tossed things out onto the counter.

Stopping with a bottle of Flintstones vitamins in her hand – hey, those are mine – she turned back to him. “Where did you go last night?”

Xander cleared his throat, his hands rubbing nervously against his thighs. “Wha-what do you mean?”

“I mean, Xander, that I came back. I realized that I hadn’t given you time to finish. I accepted the possibility that you had meant to say, ‘Anya, I can’t…because of the romantic surprise get-away I have planned.’”

She looked down at the bottle in her hands and then tossed it into the sink when a grimace. “So I came back to an empty apartment and realized that no, that was just me being an idiot.” She pushed the cabinet door to and then slammed it viciously when it refused to close. “Again.”

They stared at each across the expanse of the room and then Anya left the kitchen empty-handed and walked back over to her bag, fiddling with the handle.

“I sat here all night waiting for you. Just…waiting,” she finished quietly. She looked up then, tossing her hair back. “So I figured you’d gone to Willow – where else – but you weren’t there, Xander. I might have used a few of the more colorful human expressions to convey my shock at that. Willow said she’d tell you that I came by.” Her mouth twisted bitterly. “She managed to suppress her dance of joy until after I left.”

“Anya, Willow doesn’t feel that way…” Xander stopped, holding his hand up as she started to protest. “It doesn’t matter what Willow thinks. I realize that I…screwed up last night. Massively. The term ‘shithead’? Not uncalled for. You were right to want to leave, but I was wrong not to stop you.”

Anya’s expression softened slightly. “So…what are you saying, Xander? Are you...are you telling me you can ask me now?”

Xander swallowed several times, his throat tight. He took a death breath, meeting her eyes regretfully. “No, Anya. I’m not.”

Anya exhaled sharply, ducking her head as she bit her bottom lip. “I didn’t think so.” She looked back up at Xander, tears glittering in her eyes. “I don’t know what to do, Xander.” She gasped a little, jerking as she laughed harshly. “I feel sad, but I feel so angry, too. And the angrier I get, the less sad I feel.” She reached a hand up, brushing tears back with an irritated motion. “Is this right? Am I doing it…right?” her voice broke on the last and Xander moved forward quickly, pulling her into his arms.

“I don’t know, Anya,” he felt her shake against his chest and he tightened his arms around her. “I can’t tell you what you should feel.” He closed his eyes, his throat working as he swallowed his own tears back. “This doesn’t mean…I love you, Anya. I didn’t mean that we were…we’re not over,” he said desperately. “We can still date and we’ll take things slow and maybe, someday…”

Anya was shaking her head, pulling out of his arms. “No, Xander,” she said, crossing her arms across her chest and stepping back. “This isn’t just…the ring I can’t wear or the apartment where I’m just one drawer. You haven’t…” she sighed, “since Buffy…it’s not like it was when Joyce died. You cried and I didn’t understand, but you let me see you, let me hold you, and I felt all of that through you. But you don’t let me, now. Before, I knew you weren’t listening sometimes, but now you’re not even talking and you don’t want me to be there, even if it is just to say the wrong thing. I even tried to say the wrong thing, so that you’d notice I was there, that I was trying, but you don’t, Xander. You don’t see me anymore…not for a long time.”

Xander stood looking at her, hearing the silence between them and knowing that he was supposed to be filling it with…something. All of those things he was going to say about why and regrets and how he’d felt since…he felt so cold and more afraid than he’d ever been in his life. Afraid of watching her walk out that door and afraid of what it would mean if she didn’t.

He didn’t understand how they’d gotten here. All he remembered was a beautiful girl, her dress sliding down her naked thighs to puddle at her feet, her hand held out, offering him everything. He felt the tears in his throat and managed to choke out, “So…what now?”

God, that was fucking pathetic, he thought, seeing the hurt flash in her eyes and knowing that he had put it there just by…going along. Going along like he always had and saying nothing until it was too late.

“I’m leaving,” she said simply, picking up her keys and slowly twisting the triangle shaped one off, placing it gently on the table as she reached for her bag.

He nodded slowly, his hand reaching up to push his hair back. “Right. Um, I guess I’ll see you at the Magic Box, and stuff, and I know that’s gonna suck for a while, but whatever you…”

“No, Xander,” she said quietly, her shoulders squared as she steadied her bag and took her purse. “I mean I’m leaving. Sunnydale.”

Xander froze, his fingers tightening in his hair. “You’re leaving leaving?” his voice cracked and he shook his head. “To go…where? Anya, you know like, six people in the whole world, and…”

“And maybe it’s time that changed,” Anya said, walking toward the door as Xander stood there staring at her.

“You’re leaving?” he realized he was repeating himself and groaned in frustration. “How? Wait…Anya, this is…this is way out of control. Stop. We can just…”

“Just what, Xander?” she asked, her hand on the door. “Walk around each other not saying anything? I can’t do that anymore. I have money, and thanks to Giles, I have career experience that can be parlayed into more money. I also have a broken heart, which I understand is an excellent means of starting a new life.”

Xander flinched and Anya opened the door, looking back at him. “I know why I stayed here, Xander.” Her eyes met his in silent acknowledgement. “Do you?”

The door closed behind her and Xander stared at it for a long moment until the burning in his eyes blurred it and the roaring in his ears screamed at him to call her back. But he stood there in the empty apartment, with the burning in his eyes and feeling hollowness beyond despair when he realized he didn’t even have the courage to cry.

Xander let himself into the Summers' house later that night. He’d ignored Willow’s phone calls all day, finally answering to tell her to leave it alone for a while, only to find Giles at the other end, requesting his presence at yet another post-Slayer Scooby summit. His attempts to bow out with references to finding someone else to pun badly and go for pizza had been met by Giles’ unyielding response that he was needed. Something was up. Again.

He walked toward the living room, finding Giles standing in the center of the room, Tara and Willow on the couch with Dawn sitting at their feet and the Buffybot standing behind Giles with her arms crossed, mimicking Buffy’s take charge pose.

Xander stepped into the room, receiving matching looks of concern from Willow and Dawn while Tara’s eyes almost swallowed her face as they radiated quiet distress.

Xander groaned inwardly. He couldn’t take an entire evening of this – all of them rushing to soothe with quiet voices and soft, squeezing girl hugs. Willow and Dawn thrusting the blame onto Anya and then comforting him for being the world’s biggest jerk.

Willow was rising from her seat, her lips trembling in full-blown empathy mode and Xander shook his head slightly, knowing he’d break if she so much as touched him. She sank back down with a concerned frown, her hand automatically seeking Tara’s.

Xander turned to face Giles. “So what’s up?” he asked, turning the attention back to the center of the room.

Giles nodded, tapping the stem of his glasses against his lip before sliding them back into place. “As you know, I’ve mentioned the possibility of returning to England, now that Buffy is…gone,” he said quietly, with a tender look toward Dawn.

Xander wondered how long they would go on saying it like that, with the hesitant pause and then the vaguest euphemism possible. Gone. No longer with us. Passed from this existence. How long until they could say, ‘Now that Buffy is dead and life sucks…?’ He closed his eyes briefly and then turned his attention back to Giles.

“I’ve been in contact with the Council and, well, you know how much of a muck they enjoy making even the most ordinary of circumstances, so it’s only been recently that we’ve been able to reach an agreement. I’m going back to England where I shall remain…indefinitely.”

Xander snorted, dropping his head and shaking it in bemused disgust.

Willow was there ahead of him, though, leaping in with, “What? When?”

Giles turned to look at her and Willow continued, “I mean, yeah, I knew you’d said it was a possibility, but I always thought that was just the…shock speaking, and once you had a chance to get used to the idea of, well, not being a Watcher, anymore, we’d just kind of go on. Figure something else out.”

“I’ve done what I was assigned to do, Willow. There’s no reason for me to stay in Sunnydale any longer.”

There was a moment of silence that was filled by Dawn’s quiet sniffles as Tara reached down, running her fingers through the younger girl’s hair as she looked up at Giles. “Will they…will they give you a n-new assignment?”

“No,” Giles said, crossing his arms and studying the carpet pattern for a moment until he looked up to meet their eyes. “And I won’t ask for one. Faith is, of course, the current Slayer and until her rehabilitation, if one can be hoped for, or her death she remains the Slayer, albeit inactive and unable to fulfill her duties.” Giles paused for a moment. “That’s another reason I’m going back. To act as counsel as we attempt to decide the future of the Slayer line and what, if any…action we should take.”

That statement hadn’t quite sunk in when Xander laughed suddenly. “So, let me get this straight. You’re leaving an active Hellmouth in the care of two untrained witches, an abandoned teenage girl with mystical powers we don’t even understand and a carpenter with commitment issues? Sound plan, British guy. The Queen must be proud.”

“And there’s me,” the Buffybot spoke up suddenly, “with all-slaying action and an ingrained desire to send forth the forces of darkness from the face of the earth,” she finished with a wide smile.

“Oh, that’s right,” Xander said nodding in false relief, “and the oddly speaking robot who gets lost in her own backyard. Sorry I questioned the reasoning.”

“Xander!” Dawn gasped in a hurt voice, looking between him and Giles.

Hey,” Willow said, with a censoring look at Xander, before she turned back to Giles. “But, I can’t say I totally disagree here. How are we supposed to handle this by ourselves, without a Slayer? A few vamps, yeah,” she said, gesturing among them, “but something like the Master…or Glory? We’ve barely averted the occasional apocalypse, even with Buffy.”

Giles sighed, looking toward a grim faced Xander before turning back to Willow’s wide, frightened gaze. “Have you noticed that since Buffy closed the portal we’ve seen a decrease in demonic activity?”

Willow frowned in concentration for a moment, turning toward Tara who nodded back slowly.

“Yeah,” Willow said, shrugging lightly, “but it’s summer. It’s always slower in summer. You know, kind of a yearly break from all the wacky hell-raising. Why? Are you saying that this time it’s different? Something else?”

“The Hellmouth, as you know, has its own energy that draws the demons to it,” they all nodded at him impatiently, and Giles cleared his throat and continued, “Buffy’s arrival in Sunnydale changed that energy. What had once been a haunt, a sort of feeding place for demons, took on a deeper quality, the Slayer’s own inherent mystical abilities acting as sort of a focal point for that energy, not only drawing demonic presence, but helping to create it.”

“Did Buffy know that?” Dawn asked in a horrified voice.

“No,” Giles said, “how could I tell her that the very act of her being called was exacerbating the evil she was born to combat?”

“So, it’s like a paradox,” Willow said slowly. “The Hellmouth was using the Slayer’s power to recreate itself? That’s…”

“…fucked up,” Xander finished with an apologetic look at Dawn. “Okay, so, no Slayer – no apocalypse? I’m sure Buffy would have liked to have known that a long time ago.”

“But…no apocalypse, no really Big Bad, so no reason we shouldn’t be able to handle it,” Willow said.

“Or any reason why we should still have to,” Xander said under his breath.

“And, there’s always Spike,” Giles added, “not our most trusted ally, to be sure, but still a worthy….”

“Oh, come on, Giles,” Xander said impatiently, “How long do you think we can really count on Spike to fight the good fight, now that Buffy’s not here to impress?”

“I think we all may have…misjudged Spike’s commitment to Buffy,” Giles said tiredly, “and with the chip, I think we have reason to believe that his reliance on our goodwill will continue. In any case, I’d hate to think of leaving you all here without someone like him on your side.”

“So don’t go,” Xander said shortly. Giles started to explain again, and Xander held his hand up. “Look, guys, I can’t right now, okay? I just need to…”

“Xander,” Giles interrupted softly. “There’s something else you should know.” Xander stopped, looking back at him. “I had intended to offer Anya a partnership in the shop and leave it under her management when I left. However, after she tendered her resignation and explained her desire to leave…” Xander chewed the inside of his cheek, waiting for Giles to arrive at his point. “She’s coming back with me. To England,” Giles finished.

Xander felt his body flush and there was a sharp ringing in his ears, and then suddenly he found himself with his fists clenched in Giles’s shirt collar, Dawn crying and tugging at his arms as Willow tried to force herself between them, commanding him to stop.

“Xander!” Giles said forcefully, pushing him away.

“How long?” Xander choked out, hearing Dawn’s strangled sobs behind him, Tara’s quiet gasps and Willow fending off excited questions from the ‘Bot. “When she started working for you? Since Buffy died? Couldn’t have one hot little blonde, so you’d take another?”

“Never,” Giles bit out, advancing on Xander until they stood face to face, “and, if you will recall, up until yesterday she was your blissfully happy future fiancée. She wanted to leave. I was leaving. I think you know better than to make either of those insinuations.”

They stared at each other for a moment longer, Xander discovering fury in the steel depths of Giles’s eyes that had never before been directed at him. He gently shook off Dawn and Willow’s hands and turned away.

“Whatever,” he said finally, walking toward the door. “Whatever she wants. I can’t…I need to get out.” He reached the door, looking back at them, “Look, I’ll do whatever you decide. It doesn’t matter.”

“Xander, wait – where are you going?” Willow asked, her eyes brimming with tears.

“To patrol,” he answered as he opened the door.

“Take a stake!” the ‘Bot called cheerfully, tossing him one.

Xander struggled beneath the arm of the particularly foul smelling vamp holding him in a headlock, trying to juggle his stake into position and failing miserably. He took a deep breath and went limp, surprising the vampire into loosening its grip as Xander dropped to the ground and thrust his stake up, catching the vamp in mid-leap as it lunged toward him. He stood up, brushing the dust off of his clothes.

He really hadn’t had any intention of going on patrol; it had just seemed like the excuse least likely to encourage discussion when he’d left. It wasn’t the first time he’d gone on patrol alone, although he’d usually had Anya as back-up, which was in essence going on patrol alone, except for the always helpful cries of, ‘Xander, look out!’ as a vamp came at his back.

He heard a soft whump behind him and took a minute to appreciate the irony, before turning to face his inevitable death and seeing…Spike, emerging from a falling cloud of vamp dust. The kinder, gentler vampire was arched gracefully, his stake still outthrust, his duster in mid-swirl. Xander had a brief flash of irritation at Spike’s gracefulness in the fight, compared to his own one-arm-covering-face-repeat-stabby-motion moves.

Spike pocketed his stake, smirking at Xander. “Not fair to have a good time without me, Harris.”

“You weren’t invited,” Xander said shortly, shoving his own stake into his back pocket.

Spike glanced around the cemetery. “Then don’t hold the party in my backyard,” he said, leaning back against a grave marker and lighting a cigarette.

Xander shrugged and started back toward the gate, only to turn in irritated surprise as he heard Spike fall into step next to him. “What are you doing?”

“Escortin’ you back safely to the rest of the Caped Crusaders,” Spike said as he searched the darkness ahead of them for the others.

“They’re not here,” Xander said. He increased his speed and walked around several headstones in an attempt to give Spike the brush off.

“Ah, so they aren’t,” Spike said, gracefully leaping a three-foot high monument to catch up with Xander. “We can have that awkward ‘evening after’ talk, then.”

“I thought it never happened,” Xander said with a glare.

“What – you getting tanked and trying to get me to harmonize on ‘70s radio classics? Sorry, mate, that one’s burned into my retinas. You practically crawling into my lap and pursing those blood-red lips at me like the rebound from hell? Nope, never happened.” Spike stopped, his eyes focusing on Xander’s lips and then rising slyly up to meet Xander’s furious gaze. “Unless you want it to,” he said with a dark chuckle.

“What the hell are you doing, Spike?” Xander asked, shoving the vampire away from him and watching with quiet joy as the other man stumbled back into a headstone, and then fell over it with a marked lack of grace.

Spike leapt to his feet, tossing his bent cigarette away. “What the hell’s gotten into you, Harris? Patrolling alone, no witches whispering spells or Watcher slinging arrows to save your ass?” Spike grinned suddenly, nastily. “Demon girl wouldn’t take you back, eh? So, what? You decided to come out here and end it all, offer yourself up to the dark creatures of the night? Well, here I am,” he purred, opening his arms wide. “Ready to lay you over the sacrificial stone.”

Xander stared at him and suddenly little hints started to drop into place, flashes of memory suddenly painting a picture he should have put together long ago. “Last night at the grave…you weren’t there because of Buffy. You were following me.”

Spike dropped his arms, backing away. “Was not.”

Xander nodded and edged closer to him. “Yes, you were and it wasn’t the first time. You’ve been riding shotgun on me during patrol, showing up at the girls’ house every time I do, offering to follow Anya and me home…I thought it was because you were, I don’t know, trying to be some kind of undead protector. Trying to be my friend. But it wasn’t. Buffy’s gone – so no obsession anymore, right? So you just decided to change targets? And it’s me?”

Xander stopped, inches away from Spike, his chest heaving with anger and disgust and something so dark he didn’t want to look at it too closely. “Why not Willow? Or Tara? Or…oh, my God, all those times we left Dawn alone with you…”

Spike was suddenly right in Xander's face, feeling a warning buzz from the chip and easing off into a still menacing but more distant stance. “Don’t,” Spike growled. “I don’t care what it does to me, Harris, but I will rip your filthy tongue out if you say that I would - ever - do anything to the Bit.” Spike stared into Xander’s eyes for a few tense moments and then stepped back, patting down his coat for cigarettes.

Xander swallowed hard, anger squirming sickly in his gut.

Spike calmly lit up and blew a stream a smoke at him. “And the witches? Couldn’t get between them if I tried.” Spiked smirked, inhaling deeply again, “Although that’s an idea that has a certain…charm.”

“And this is…what?” Xander asked, finally deciding that this was his cosmic payback for Anya. Giles leaving. Learning that Buffy was the unwitting cause of every apocalypse. And suddenly being on the receiving end of stalker Spike. “You’re gonna start making up excuses to drag me out on patrol? Build a Xander ‘bot to…okay, not going there. This is…I know you’re evil incarnate, Spike, but if you tell me this is all a big joke, we’ll just both walk out of here, okay? I can’t take this right now. And you have no idea how much I mean that.”

Spike said nothing, just looked at him over the stream of smoke curling from his lips. Xander stared back, and then decided this was it. He was out. The tower was deserted; the princess didn’t need a white knight anymore. He was cutting his ties and getting out, starting right here.

“Well, you know what, Spike?” he said softly, his tone deep and dangerous. “I’ve got a tree in front of my apartment, too. Gonna find butts under it every night? Find you lurking in the darkness every time I drive up?” He sneered at Spike’s answering glare as he eased closer to the vampire.

“Buffy never wanted what you have to offer, so why would I be any different?” He kept moving forward, forcing Spike back into the side of a mausoleum. “Buffy was the Slayer, but for all of her strength, she was still just a girl. She wanted romance and dreams, the mysterious stranger with the heart of gold. And we both know what you wanted.”

Spike’s arm shot out, catching Xander in the center of the chest and holding him back. He knew that Harris wasn’t afraid of him anymore, and hadn’t been for a while. He also knew that the chip wouldn’t allow him do anything but make a run for it, and there was no way he was running from this angry, hurting boy who was more bravado than balls.

Xander grasped Spike’s wrist, wrenching his arm up to slam against the marble behind him, the cigarette dropping from the vampire’s grasp. “But I’m not Buffy, Spike,” Xander said, still in that low, dangerous voice. “I’m not going to cringe and blush because a vampire has the hots for me.”

Xander leaned closer, bending a bit so that his eyes met the pissed off, shocked, and turned on look in Spike’s.

“I’m a man, and sometimes men just…fuck,” Xander finished, lunging forward and crushing his lips to Spike’s, taking advantage of the vampire’s sharp gasp to thrust his tongue into the coolness of Spike’s mouth. His free hand reached up and grasped Spike’s jaw, holding him there as he deepened the kiss, their mouths diving again and again in a way that was harder, hotter than anything Xander had expected from this little experiment in…control.

Xander squeezed his eyes shut, his hand running from Spike’s cheek to clench in the brittle, yet somehow soft, blond hair. Pulling Spike’s lips closer, he gave all of his pain and anger over to this kiss. Taking control, for once, not accepting anything on Spike’s terms and finding something he hadn’t known was lost in the primal slide of his tongue against the reciprocating thrust of Spike’s.

He gasped for air in Spike’s mouth, moaning a little at that show of human weakness, then getting some of his own back as he felt Spike give an answering groan, the hand that Xander still held pinned tightening on his. Spike’s body arched against him, and he felt a tight hardness press into his own, causing them to grind desperately together for a moment until Xander raised his head, releasing Spike’s wrist and stepping back to stare into the vampire’s dazed face, the lips wet and parted, gasping uselessly as he stared at Xander.

Xander raised a hand to his mouth, brushing the back of it against his own wet lips. “Be careful who you put on a pedestal, Spike,” he said. “You might find they’re not as…deserving as you thought.”

He walked away, leaving Spike glaring after him with a mixture of shock and dawning respect. Spike stood up, touching his mouth gingerly as he watched Xander walk away without a single look back.

Spike straightened his jacket and picked up the cigarette that still smoldered on the ground. He took a deep drag and released the smoke with a satisfied sneer. “Not the way to discourage a vampire, mate.”

Part Six

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