A Better Fate

"my blood approves,

and kisses are a better fate

than wisdom"

[e.e. cummings]

You think you're safe. You think that a man at your age with your past would walk unaffected on these paths, not falling into the traps. I'm too old, you assure yourself. I'm through with this sort of play. Because you know the trite lines by heart now, know that everything you touch fall apart.

Like Jenny.

Like Joyce.

Like Olivia.

Of course, solitude gets dull after a while, but you've never intended to change. They need you to stay firm and solid in the ground, prepared for even the most hopeless apocalypse. A Watcher's duty, a sacrifice of certain things in favour of a successful battle against darkness. The words of your father ring in your ears even at this very day: 'plight and work must come before frivolous life. There is nothing more important than being a Watcher, Rupert. Not girls, not Oxford, and certainly not your music!' You always let your father be right. It was easier. It's still easier.

For every part you play you pay a price. And really, this one's a bargain.

At least you used to believe that.

There's a depth in her eyes that you explore this ordinary day behind the counter. You see a small, flickering light far behind her charming shell, as if she had put it back there for no-one to see, and eventually you start to wonder why. Supposedly it's an effort to adjust to modern human mores that don't include eleven hundred years' wisdom. Can it be something else? Fear? That's when your discussions begin and expand so quickly that magic and money and customers become secondary. Suddenly you find a riddle, a complete enigma right in front of your eyes, and obsession sets in. You want to know her. The real her. You must find out who she was all those centuries ago before the demon master D'Hoffryn discovered her lust for vengeance and employed her.

She's not willing to tell you.

I don't remember, she says stubbornly. It was so long ago.

You must recall your birth name, at least, you insist when her roaming eyes fall upon everything in the dusky room but your face. And when you were born?

Does it matter?

You say it doesn't, of course it doesn't, but somewhere inside you there's a curiosity her avoidant answers can't satiate. Nothing remarkable about it – you never give up until the mystery is solved. Resistance means nothing. In the end – and this you know for a fact – every wall can be broken. There's a subtle joy in reading the books that will scheme out her past. You haven't thought of it before, but now, your entire life is knitted closely around this one wish – her. You need to know why Xander left, why Spike seduced her, why your own treacherous mind can't clean itself of her presence, and you think these answers live in her past.

Her skin, you notice another day, is mildly scented with tangerines and citrus. It's ironic, because you didn't know you considered it before, but your mind had somehow formed an opinion, a thought that she would have a sweeter flavour. Now that you know her better, you realise tangerines are her skin. When breezes from outside are let in, you watch them play with the small hairs on her arms, teasing them to stand upright in the cold. Your breath would warm them. If you bent down, carefully touching her softness, tickling her body heat until it heated up again.

When you realise what you're thinking, you march out to the storeroom, with the strong impulse to crash your head against a suitably rough surface. You don't even pretend to hear her voice calling for you, as you bury your face in the neutral texts of maiming vampires and ancient prophecies.

Ulrich the Rapist, born in Prague during the Black Death…

Well, you think, this should do.


Your own eyes, you've been told, possess a certain hardness, as do the lines in your forehead. Time has never dealt an easy hand to you. Seen too much, read too much, heard too much, loved too little – nothing's new about it. Nothing's new until the shape of vengeance made human ripples under your skin that all of a sudden feels too tight.

Weary to the bone from this situation, you seek shelter in your home, the one place you imagine to be free from her presence. Of course you're wrong. She invades your life little by little until you find that even your last resort, your locus ameoenus bears her mark. You play up, but it doesn't help. She is in every part of this existence. It's ridiculous to see her in the steamed bathroom mirror, in the water, in the bloody depth of your own eyes – as if the erratic impulses and desires that have been loose for more than half your life finally found the one goal they were meant for. And there is no place to hide. No more, you tell yourself repeatedly. No more of this. Yet you find yourself incapable of proper, balanced reactions of the sort you used to be so good at. You used to be a sexless British tweed-man among vulgar Americans- that was to be your cover and excuse. A dusty, crusty stranger with prissy accents and no sexual drive, and while they may have bought it for years she doesn't. She's smarter than that.

She's wearing out your chastity.

At times you wish, of course, that you could say she coaxes your subconscious or find an equally intellectual analysis of why you're in this situation. But lying was never a virtue of yours. You allow yourself to be carried away by her from that day when her eyes gave you vertigo, and that's the truth. It's a blushing truth, a cracked dream and a feverish mirage built on too many lonely nights and that one misdirected spell of Willow's, but nonetheless true.

The torrid rests of your garden mock you. It's so infernally hot here. Many gurus have expected a change in the weather for tonight, but at this point, hope has left you for longing. Longing for anywhere without a Californian climate, where it's actually possible to keep a garden growing instead of burning up. You're reminded of the orchard you keep in Bath and suddenly every part of you aches for England. Why don't you return? Why do you let these daft, primitive forces keep you grounded here?

Or perhaps it's magic?

I don't remember where I was born, she echoes in your head. I was a vengeance demon, I am a vengeance demon. If you need to know more than that to run this store…

You can't reply to that.


The first time you dreamt about her you woke up panting, twirled in your sheets and with a throbbing, unfulfilled itch inside. You sat up jerkily, didn't want to move, didn't want to in any way touch the spot where you – the two of you – had been.

That was the first recognition. You remembered it sometime the following day, but Buffy (or someone else, you don't keep track, you don't care) needed you then and it made you put it away where you thought it would be safe. For days, maybe weeks, you maintained this refusal of crawling deeper through the significance of this dream. After that came dismissal, your parade number - nothing to dwell upon, merely brain dump, a meeting of two acquaintances during a night when it so happened that they walked the same dream landscape.

Shortly thereafter the peaceful, more dangerous dreams started to show up, sometimes causing your heart to beat so fast you mistake it for an impending attack and feel, for second, a great relief.

But it was a dream. One single, silly dream. And then a whole series of them.

You fight with her presence at work ever since. That tense muscle on her neck when she is bent over the book-keeping, a twist of a hand, wavering away dust or a fly… She's so full of moves and none of them pass you unnoticed. They flood into you.


She doesn't stop by the kitchen but proceeds quickly up the stair, which is bathing in absolute darkness, until she finds her way through the corridor where she's going to open the door to your haven. This is what scares you numb – her way of silently threading into your life as if you were a supporting character with no will of your own. You swallow the last of your drink. Its ice cubes have sharpened to razorblades and just as you hear her footsteps outside, one of the edges slices a little cut in your palate.

Blood, you realise, is the colour of her lips as well. Or is it ruby?

Anna Darja. She says it slowly, stressing each syllable with a foreign voice. An-a Daa-rja. You repeat it, awkwardly at first, but with her help the Russian language lives on your tongue as well after a while.

That's her birth name. The one she was given on the ship that became her home for the first two years alive. Born somewhere on the Baltic Sea, longer ago than you thought, but otherwise fairly comparative to your guesses. Eventually you will draw the details out of her mouth, place them in your many history books and find the final pieces of this puzzle. It fills you with great confidence because it de-demonises her, if only temporary.

The moonbeams on her limbs, lingering around her in a dance. An elf dance. No, that's not right. It's not elves, it's more of a demon charm – like when she raises her arm to push back a streak of hair and it looks as though she can bind the beams to her wrist. She's spinning but standing still, and you're at a loss of how this can happen before you see she's leaning over you, whispering something in a language you have a vague recollection of knowing. It could be Russian, you think incoherently. It could bloody well be any language in Europe for all you know right now.

Anna Darja, you mumble and her teeth glitter so you understand she's smiling.

Do you like it?

It's beautiful.

A last attempt of sensible logic hits you. This is impossible. The girl is broken even without your clumsy desires and failures; she doesn't need yet another mistake. Future is nothing the two of you have; you get reminded of it as good as hourly. She's looking for the popular version of adulthood – children, marriage and a little dog. How could you offer her that without being dishonest? You cannot live with her. You cannot even imagine it. Her human form is too young and her original form very much too old.

You mean to stop.

You do.

But that's when her fingers travel through the dusk to land at the collar point of your shirt and you draw a breath, sharply. You look down, you discover the pale stones of her fingernails that are painted with transparent varnish as usual, moving over what little cloth that separates you two now. She unbuttons the first button, then the second, then…

She devours the light in the room when her contours cover every particle of the moonlit window and her face is the only thing you can see. Then a stroke of her lips over the back of your hand puts you off your stride again. In her eyes, shaded by charcoaled lashes, you see a world so profound and infinite that it swallows your faint protests. Darkness and light, past and present, black and white – her essence holds it all. Every shade and paradox live in her. Looking into it feels like being pulled down through a black hole and falling a little further from right for every second you don't stop. Intemperate hunger screeches for you the closer she gets and no decision of your Slayer longer shocks you, because what she is – pure, honest lust – that's matchless. You have wondered many times what could possibly draw a beautiful, brilliant girl to undead creatures, why she wouldn't respect herself enough to choose life before death. Still you're not certain you have her sussed out, let alone your own reactions to her but it doesn't feel significant at this moment. Her eyes burn. Her fingers in your hair now, quickly down toward your cheeks, removing your glasses with a sigh. You clasp hold of her wrist.

Anya… Maybe you shouldn't?

And that's when she kisses you.