"S'where were you for six hours?" Xander asked.
"Gosh, you care now?" Anya turned her back on him to flick on the overhead light.
"You're my girlfriend," he said softly, squinting and blinking as his eyes adjusted. "Course I care."
"I was with my business partner." Anya turned. There were crumbs on his shirt. And something that looked like ketchup or pizza sauce. She stared at him with distaste. "My very attractive business partner."
To Mr Teeth's chagrin, whatever it was that had stopped him from kicking in the door also seemed to be feeding the fire. The flames kept getting bigger and hotter, but the wooden cladding remained untouched. Even the paint still looked white and fresh.
By the time he heard the whine of approaching of sirens, the flames had created a wall of fire all the way around the house that reached almost as high as the peak of the roof.
The spell was holding out far longer than he'd expected.
Mr Teeth picked Rupert up and crouched out of sight between a couple of parked cars across the street. He couldn't stay on the lawn – it was too exposed. Also, too hot.
Just after the fire trucks arrived, but before any water had been sprayed, there was a flicker, as if the flames disappeared and reappeared in the blink of an eye, and then the spell broke with a boom, exploding the trees around 1630 Revello Drive into shards of flaming wood careening into 1628 and 1632, setting them alight.
The protection spell had done its job well. The only signs of damage at 1630 were the scorched earth where the lawn used to be and the ashy smudges on the porch from the wicker furniture that had been used to start the fire.
Anya felt it when the spell broke. She was dizzy and disoriented and nauseous, like the ground was rolling under her feet. She was also afraid. When she realised Xander was still talking, having missed her discomfort entirely, it was easy to go on the attack. "Oh, sure! Blame your drunkenness on me, why don't you! I bet you think it's my fault the laundry's not done and the apartment's all messy."
"You live here, too," he bleated, feeling like he'd somehow lost control of himself and the conversation. "Why shouldn't it be both our faults?"
Mr Teeth grinned, enjoying the chaos of frightened neighbours and the firemen scrambling to switch targets. He moved out of the shadows to intercept one of the larger firemen. After kicking the corpse under the nearest parked car, he shrugged on his coat and hat. Then he started walking back to 1630 with a measured, purposeful stride. There were so many firemen milling about, no one noticed him.
Tara had just reached the bottom of the stairs when Mr Teeth sent the door crashing into her. At her cry of shock and pain, Willow came running down after her.
Time seemed to slow down for Willow. The giant filling the hallway seemed to just stare at her for a while, grinning like a shark. Then he started moving towards the staircase where Tara lay among the debris from the broken door.
All Willow could think of was that he was trying to hurt Tara and she had to stop him. Only Tara saw Willow's eyes flash black and opaque as she shouted an incantation from the stairs: "Vis Zenobiae! Solvere!"
Her spell sent one of the pokers from the fireplace flying swiftly through the air towards the intruder's heart.
He caught it.
Mr Teeth laughed as he grasped the pointy end of the poker and swung it at Willow's head. She ducked sideways to avoid it, but tripped over Tara and the broken pieces of door and fell backwards down the last few steps. She only just managed to protect her head and neck, landing hard on her hip.
No one noticed a small, round, object fall out of the pocket of her robe and skitter across the floor.
The giant watched Willow try and fail to get up as he adjusted his grip, waiting until she had stopped squirming and her eyes held only resignation before bringing his arm back to strike again.
Willow squeezed her eyes shut against the swish of air from the advancing poker.
"It's not my fault because you're the useless one!" Anya cried. She pulled herself up, projecting strength to keep from breaking down. "You know, maybe the reason we have all those sex toys is because you're incapable of giving me orgasms on your own." Her eyes narrowed. "I bet your penis is tiny and flaccid."
Willow tentatively opened one eye – shocked she was still alive. Her field of vision was filled with Buffy's hand, gripping the handle of the poker.
"No more playing with my toys," Buffy said grimly.
Mr Teeth only grinned, leaning into Buffy and opening his cavernous mouth to take a bite out of her. But before he could do more than drool, John's left fist connected with his jaw, dislocating it.
Both of them screamed in pain.
"Fuck!" John shouted, shocked and starting to panic. His head really, really should not be hurting from punching someone.
Mr Teeth swung around wildly, jerking the poker out of Buffy's hand and just managing to land a glancing blow to her weakened shoulder, pushing it out of its socket so her left arm fell numb and useless at her side.
John decided not to risk another punch, and grabbed onto Mr Teeth's poker-less arm, bending his wrist over and holding his elbow against his chest in a restraining hold.
As Mr Teeth struggled to recover control of his arm from John, Buffy kicked out his knee, making it bend inwards with a sickening crunch.
Then she yanked the poker out of Mr Teeth's other hand. He let it go – making her overbalance away from him – and made his now-free hand into a fist and struck out towards John's head.
Without even thinking, Buffy swung the poker backhanded across Mr Teeth's face.
She had never realised before quite how pointy the hook of a poker was. But there was a whole lot of blood coming out of Mr Teeth's neck now – just where she had accidentally ripped out his throat.
"Oops?" Buffy said quietly. She knew she had killed him, even if he wasn't dead yet.
Xander closed his eyes, despair and pain overtaking him in waves. "So did you fuck him?"
"No," Anya said haughtily. "Although maybe I should have. You're obviously not good for anything tonight."
"Bitch!" he snarled. He hurled the beer bottle against the wall, smashing it to pieces.
Anya watched the beer and glass slide down the wall. Then she looked back at Xander, her lip curling in contempt. "You're pathetic."
Something broke free in Xander, then – something ugly and violent. If he could have remembered, he would have recognised it. After all, he'd spent six years trying to convince himself it didn't exist.
Mr Teeth stumbled backwards, shock and blood loss robbing him of his former grace. His heel crushed a small, blackened crystal….
The memory spell broke.
Mr Teeth hit the ground like a felled tree. He took up almost the whole of the hallway.
Buffy didn't think she'd survive the sudden onslaught of memories – of loss. Her entire body felt bowed and broken from the weight. Her knees threatened to buckle.
But the need to deal with the human body at her feet – the man she'd murdered – stopped her from escaping into her mind. She threw the poker aside, no longer able to bear how it felt in her hand.
When Buffy finally found the strength to look up, she found Willow watching her, the guilt so heavy on her face there could be no doubt who was responsible for the spell.
"Get out," Buffy whispered, almost beneath her breath.
Buffy might as well have screamed the words, they hit Willow with such force. Her body felt brittle and fragile, like it was about to shatter, and it took several tries before she could get herself up on her feet.
Not even Tara put out a hand to help her.
Willow made the mistake of looking back when she reached the doorway. The faces of the two people she loved most in the world were white and pinched and hard, while Spike's bile-coloured eyes promised her a slow, painful death.
Heartsick and frightened, Willow fled through the shell of the front door and out into the night.
Xander was shocked into stone cold sobriety. His hands were shaking and he couldn't seem to catch his breath. He flung himself back to the opposite end of the sofa, as far away as he could get from where Anya sat, shivering, knees to her chest, as she tried to wrap a blanket around herself.
She kept dropping the edges of the blanket.
After several moments of staring anywhere but at each other, Xander broke the silence. "Why do you want to marry me, Anya?" His voice was hoarse, haunted.
"I love you." She sniffed back a sob as a watery smile floated over her lips. "And the orgasms have always been excellent."
He slumped further into the sofa and ran his hands over his face. "Have we ever had anything besides a mutual admiration for my penis?"
"But it's such a lovely penis," Anya said, still trying to lighten the mood. She reached out to touch him, but he flinched away.
Staring down at his still-shaking hands, he said, "We only have a relationship because you didn't want the social stigma of going to prom dateless, and you thought I was less annoying than the other twelfth-graders."
She kept trying to catch his eye. She kept failing. "So? That was nearly three years ago. We're at the living-together stage now. It's different!"
"You keep a list in your jewellery box of the stages of relationships so you don't forget the order," Xander said softly.
Anya couldn't decide whether to yell at him for prying or defend herself against the accusation that she couldn't remember the stages without the list.
"I know marriage is next on your list," Xander said. "Are you sure this isn't just another status thing for you?"
"You asked me!" Anya was starting to cry again.
"I know," Xander sighed.
"Do you wish you hadn't?" Her voice was shrill with terror.
It was a long time before Xander spoke.
"I love you, Anya," he said finally. "I don't want to know what my life would be like without you. But what just happened…."
"That's not an answer!" Anya's face was blotchy and puffy and red.
Xander still thought she looked beautiful.
"Did you … did you think you'd never have to go through with it?" she wavered, almost as if she didn't want to hear his answer.
"No!" Xander finally met her eyes. "I asked because I finally got your fear of running out of time. I thought … I didn't wanna wait to be happy."
"So why the hell are we still waiting?" Anger was warring with desperation now.
"Because I wanted our engagement to be about being happy. And I haven't wanted to be happy since Buffy died."
"Why not?" Xander had never been willing to tell her why before. He just kept saying it would be "inappropriate" and got all sulky and sullen when she asked him to explain.
Xander ran his hands over his face. "Look, I know you've never liked them much. But Buffy and Willow and Giles are my family, in a way my blood family never have been. They know me, know all my failings, and they still love me. Losing Buffy was like … it was like losing a part of me. The best part of me."
Anya slumped back against the sofa, suddenly exhausted. "Why didn't you tell me this before? I wouldn't have … I would've—"
"You never asked," Xander said, shrugging. "And you hated that we were hiding our engagement. It felt … I didn't want to make Buffy's death an excuse. She didn't – she doesn't – deserve that."
"I love you, Xander." Anya felt like her heart was breaking.
"Why?" He laughed, a choking sound full of despair. "I don't understand why."
Giles jerked back to consciousness, all of his memories intact.
His first thought was that he had to get back to Buffy.
His second was that the firemen would likely not let him.
In the end, he and several firemen reached the remains of the front door together.
His stomach fell and his heart was in his throat.
So much blood.
"Without my memory, I … I turned into my father. I swore I'd never be like that again, be like him. I … I can't…." Now Xander stopped, frantically rubbing at his eyes, refusing to allow himself to cry.
Anya watched him for a while, wanting to offer comfort, but not sure how to do it without initiating sex. "You're really brave," she said finally.
Xander sat up slightly straighter.
"You have no magic, no special strength. You're not particularly smart."
Anya glared at him. "I wasn't finished!"
Xander slumped back, resigned.
"You're terrified of everything."
Anya scooted closer and grabbed his chin, forcing him to look at her. "But despite your many shortcomings, you keep getting involved in all this scary saving-the-world stuff. Willingly! And you make me want to, too."
Xander jerked away from her. "You say that, but you get upset whenever I spend time with Buffy or Willow. And you nag and complain every time I help patrol instead of spending time with you."
"Only because I worry! I don't want you to get hurt!"
"So you want me to stop doing the only thing you can think of that you actually like about me?"
"No," Anya said petulantly.
"Anya, that saving-the-world stuff is the best part of me. It's the only part I'm proud of."
"I think I get that," she said slowly. She met his eyes again. "It … it feels really good to have someone ask for your help. To be needed."
Xander smiled for the first time since he'd regained his memory. "Yeah, it really does."
Dawn was mortified that she'd let herself get bit. She'd been so sure, she hadn't even checked to see if she had Slayer strength before going off on her own. She could feel heat in her cheeks every time she thought about it.
But mostly she was kicking herself for being so freaked by "John" being a vampire. If she hadn't pushed him away so hard, maybe he would have stayed, and now Spike would be here, with her, instead of with Buffy.
Dawn wasn't sure which scared her more: that Buffy would freak out about all the groin-y-ness with Spike and kick him out of the house again, or that she'd decide to start loving him back.
Either way, Dawn was pretty sure she would lose Spike.
"So why do you love me, Xander?"
"I – you – because—"
"See? Not so easy." She leaned back, smug, folding her arms.
Xander rolled his eyes. "I love how honest you are. I can … I can relax with you in a way I can't with anyone else, because I know you'll always tell me what you want, and when you're not getting it. I know I'm not the best boyfriend, but I … I trust you to tell me how to be better."
"Oh." Anya's brow furrowed. "That's how I feel about you." She moved a little closer to him.
"You worry about being a bad boyfriend?"
"No! About being human. I can relax with you because I know you'll tell me if I'm doing it wrong or badly. And you tell me specifically, so I can improve."
"Is that a basis for spending the rest of our lives together? Trusting each other to say when we're screwing up?"
"What else should we have?"
Xander started looking upset again.
"No!" Anya said, frustrated. "It's a real question. What else should we have?"
Xander stared off into the middle distance for a few seconds. "Something that digs into you and won't let go, no matter what."
"I have that with you," Anya said, torn between glaring and pouting.
Xander stared into her eyes. "When we forgot, I was terrified and you despised me."
"I offered you sex! That helps you when you're terrified."
"No, sweetheart," he said, moving towards her so their thighs were almost touching, and taking one of her cold hands in his warm ones. "It helps you when you're terrified."
"But I thought—"
"I'm a guy. It takes a heck of a lot of fear before I turn down sex." He pursed his lips. "Funny how losing my memory was somehow scarier than facing a hell god."
"Familiarity breeds contempt?" Anya suggested lightly. "You're my best friend," she whined, clutching onto his hands with both of hers.
"I shouldn't be," Xander said gently, squeezing back. "I still don't understand how I don't bore you as much as everyone else my age does."
"Well, you do. When you talk," Anya said.
Xander swallowed a laugh. Or maybe a sob.
That was when Anya finally got it. She felt her stomach fill with stones. "I don't want this to end," she said. "I'm not ready for it to end."
"Me either." Xander let the tears fall this time. "But we can't go back."
"No," Anya said vehemently. Very tentatively, she reached out to cup his face, brushing her thumb under his eyes.
Xander leaned into her hand.
Anya took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "By all rights, I should be wishing bloody vengeance on you right now."
They just looked at each other in silence for a while.
"I know," Xander said finally.
For the first time in their entire relationship, Anya had no lingering doubts about whether he really loved her. She finally knew, absolutely, that he did.
She also knew that it was over.