Summary: Between the dawn and the dark of night.
Ships: Xander/Anya, with a smidge of Xander/Buffy and Buffy/Spike
A/N: Many thanks to soundingsea for making this better. Set post-"Chosen." No comics spoilers. Approx. 1,500 words.
Someone – most likely Willow or Dawn – had shoved Anya's duffel bag under a seat toward the back of the bus, probably hoping that Xander, in his exhaustion, would forget its existence, or not look too hard for it when he discovered it wasn’t with the rest of the luggage.
But he remembered, and he found it without much effort, and as he carried it up the stairs to his motel room, he thought that as bad as this was going to be, it would have been worse if they'd just left the bag at one of the gas stations they'd stopped at on the ride from Sunnydale. The big crater that had until recently been Sunnydale. This way, there was something of Anya's that he could hold; the proof of her existence wasn't limited to his memory.
A breeze flicked the collar of his jacket. Moths fluttered around the dim bulbs that that lit the concrete staircase, their wings a pale blur. Occasionally, one would strike a bulb with a tiny ping. Comforted by something so commonplace, Xander paused at the top of the stairs and turned to look back at the motel parking lot. Apart from the school bus, there was a dented blue pickup and a motorcycle. Xander hadn't seen the owner of either vehicle, but they'd pulled in pretty late.
Beyond the parking lot, he could see the beginning of the road and little else. Clouds blocked the stars, so he couldn't tell where the desert ended and the sky began. It was like standing on the edge of a vast nothingness and Xander couldn't help thinking that if something had crawled out of ex-Sunnydale and followed their tire tracks…no one would know.
Or care. Considering how many teenage girls there were in residence, the motel was surprisingly quiet. They were probably all asleep. Xander hoped they were all asleep; most of his companions were Slayers, but they'd all fought their limit...that morning. He strained to wrap his head around the fact that they'd fought the First Evil that morning, but gave up quickly. That was something that could wait for the next day.
But first, there was Anya's duffel bag.
Back in his room, Xander unzipped the bag and dumped its contents unceremoniously on the bed. Like all of them, Anya had packed in a hurry, but she'd remembered her second-favorite pair of pants – the jeans with the pink lace on the back pockets. She'd died in her favorite pair. She'd also packed about a week's worth of panties – many with which he was intimately familiar - two bras, two t-shirts, one oversize cotton sweater, her pink silk pajamas, her curling iron, a small plastic case of toiletries.
And her wedding veil.
Sometime between that discovery and Buffy's discovery of him, he must have slumped to the floor and dropped his head into his hands. But he had no memory of doing so.
"Xander," Buffy was saying, and the anxious note in her voice made him jerk his head up. "Xander. Um, are you okay?"
"Yeah," he answered automatically. She didn't look convinced so he shook himself. "No," he admitted. "I will be, though. I just need…"
Anya's veil was crumpled in his fist. Slowly, Buffy knelt and touched his knuckles with her fingertips.
"I'm sorry," she said. "Xan, I'm so sorry. I wish I could do something."
"What's there to do?" Xander asked. "It's not like there's any b—" And there he had to stop.
Buffy stroked his knuckles and somewhere in the back of his brain it occurred to him that she'd lost a lover too. At that point, he couldn't bring himself to offer her condolences over Spike, but he promised himself that he would find something to say when his own grief was a little less raw. Meantime, he was able to give her a wan smile, and at length he said, "Couldn't sleep either, huh?"
"I'm keyed up," she said. "I kind of slept on the bus. I keep thinking."
"About what to do next. I need a plan. I have all these girls, and you and Will and Dawn and Giles and Andrew. I don't know what to do."
"Any word from Faith on Principal Wood?"
"No. But I don't really expect her to call me from the hospital. For one thing, she doesn't have my cell phone number and even if she did, we're probably way out of range. For another…she's not exactly Miss Reliable."
"You don't say."
Buffy's grin was half-hearted.
"Care to join me on this nice, comfy shag carpet? You can share with me your thinky thoughts and I'll try not to be too miserable and pathetic."
"You're not pathetic." Buffy sat down beside him and rested her head on his shoulder. "So," she sighed. "My thinky thoughts." But she didn't say anything else and after a few minutes Xander realized that her breathing had become slow and even.
"Night, Buff," he whispered.
Xander closed his eyes, thinking that he wouldn't be able to sleep, but he must have drifted off because when he opened his eyes again, Anya was sitting cross-legged on the floor just a few yards away from him, her back against the door. She waved. "Hiyee!" she sang. "It's me! I bet you weren't expecting this."
"If you're the First," said Xander, "you win, because I just can't—"
"I forgot to pack socks," Anya cut him off. "Can you believe it? They were on my list, between toothbrush and condoms. I can picture it. I used blue ink. And there were disgustingly cute, anthropomorphic rodents on the paper. I can't believe I forgot my socks."
"I can't believe you packed condoms."
"Why not? I intended to have a lot of victory sex after stopping the First. You would have been involved," she added, almost as an afterthought. "I miss orgasms. I've been dead less than a day, and I miss orgasms. At least you can still have them. Maybe with her." She jutted her chin in Buffy's direction.
"I don't want to dream about you saying stuff like that," said Xander.
"Well, anyway, watch her." It sounded almost like Watcher.
"Yeah, I will."
"Why are you holding onto my veil?"
"Because you were holding onto it."
"Oh." She looked away. "What are you going to do with it?"
"I don't know," he said.
"If I were alive, we'd probably be having hot, sweaty victory sex right now."
"Please don't do this to me."
"This is your dream. Technically, you're doing this to yourself."
"I'm always doing it to myself. And – can I just say," Xander went on quickly, "that because this is my dream, there were absolutely no potentially embarrassing double meanings in that last sentence?"
"You can say it," said Anya. "That doesn't make it true."
"I love you." The words fell between them like a gauntlet.
She looked up. Holding her gaze, half-forgetting that even in his dream, Buffy was a dead weight against his side, he opened his mouth to say more.
But the words didn't come. And a part of him was glad, and thought that it was probably for the best. He had a tendency to bungle things, and if the last words he ever said to her were I love you…that would be all right.
Anyway, sunrise was approaching. For all his fumbling, he'd been unaware of the passage of time. But the first pale rays lightened his windowsill. So he looked at her and never said a word, but let the sight of her and the memory of all he'd had and lost fill the crater that had opened in his heart.