Disclaimer and Such: Pablo Neruda, Tipping the Velvet, Jeanette Winterson. Inspiration and sources of much nice writing. Giles and Anya belong to Joss and his gang of writers connected to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I borrow them for non-canon adventures for which I make no money whatsoever.

Many thanks to Libby for beta reading.

one door closed to shadow

[i] listening to whispers

Tie your heart at night to mine, love

She talked to him more frequently now. Almost every night he was there by her side like invisible comfort to reason with her, calm her down, or sometimes even lecture her. She walked around in the ruins of the Magic Box, thumbing through the only book he had forgotten, or left. It had many different symbols and she remembered having asked him before what they meant but never found the time to wait for an explanation. Now, when he was with her whenever she wished, he couldn't answer. Not to this. He talked to her about everything in the world but not this book.

The book was written in Latin. Page after page with little bits of truth on them, constituting a puzzle she yet had to complete. She held the rough paper between her fingertips and tried to recall when she had seen the signs before.

You're not a demon now, Anya. Xander's reminders occasionally flew through her head. Don't talk like one. Why not? Because you scare me.

She didn't know much more than the basics of Latin. A good eight-hundred years ago she had attended a Latin for Demons course in Rome, but got scared off by the first mantras of velle, nolle, malle.

Giles was silent.

I've got my own place again, she would tell him. 34 Hummingbird Drive, can you believe the name of it?

Typical Hellmouth behaviour, he would grin (invisible Giles always smiled) and tell her stories of related places until she fell asleep, safe and sound and not as horrifyingly lonely as before.

He also reassured her when she cried over the squalid rests of the store she owned. The first time she saw it after everything had calmed down, a stab of alarm had shot through her, telling her what she already knew – it wouldn't be rebuilt. She couldn't afford it. It wasn't worth it. He had stayed with her longer that day, walked beside her through the ashes and sometimes, ever so lightly, touched her arm to prevent her from stumbling.

Tonight he was quiet.

And Anyanka was killing.

She was still there, left with the ruins of her store and a fairly scattered collection of friends. Most of them not even her friends but something Xander took with him when he stormed out from their wedding. Their wedding… Anya felt the muscles tense in her body at the thought of it. She had replicated that day and the possible things she could have said or done, so many times that it became hard to tell reality from fantasy.

She knew she had to leave Sunnydale. She was done being an unwanted part of a gang in which her former would-be husband constituted the very core. She was sick of hearing Xander's praise everywhere she went, and sick of feeling broken, as if she had been tested never came out with a label that said "approved" but rather one that flashed "incapable" in red letters. She was. She was incapable. Who had she been kidding when she tried to live as a human? Certainly not the rest of the world, she thought, and swallowed a few indignant tears. Tears were human. Tears were stupid, human tokens and she hated them. She didn't even know why they kept coming now that her powers were restored, but D'Hoffryn had reminded her she used to be emotional for the first year last time as well, when he first found her. Still, this felt different. Disturbing. As if the remains of mortality and weakness would linger on forever. They thought she had been irreparably flawed by being human again, her colleagues. Tonight she would prove them wrong.

She stared out of the window, at the bluish dark sky. It had always made her head spin to look at things that far away, as though she sat on a whirligig. It wasn't until she became human again that she found out it was quite the cliché to associate stars with various feelings of insignificance and overwhelming, but then it was already too late to change her opinion. Tonight there was a whole galaxy of emptiness out there, she thought. Empty streets and empty people, aching for the last hope that Anyanka and her demon family could provide when all else had failed.

After the rainy weather had passed, the streets hazed over insomuch that the neon sign that normally shouted out 'Pizza Hut' disappeared in the grey layers of fog. She had yet to regain her appetite, she realised, when her eyes spotted the barely half-empty plate in front of her. Toast with avocado and lemon used to be a favourite evening snack but it wasn't really the same thing without Xander's scrambled eggs.

Anya shoved it away, the rich scent of butter stinging in her nostrils. This certainly wouldn't do. It was time to work.

The amulet shone brightly as her thumb caressed it in time with her steps on the rain-wet asphalt. She knew; because she had asked, where the idiotic college boys lived and she was firm in her will to give her help when it so clearly was needed. Why wouldn't she?

For more than a millennium deceitful, treacherous excuses of men had feared her wrath, there was no single reason to why they must grow out this satisfying habit now, was it? She was Anyanka and she never gave them a second of mercy. God, she had missed the screaming and the downright panic in their eyes.

Her underwear had been of hand-made, creamy white silk. Too expensive, of course, but worth it, she thought. One further detail summing up the perfection of her clothes. She was beautiful. Tara had said so, and Buffy and Willow agreed. Everyone agreed. They had said she looked like a goddess. She was finally starting to believe it was true, this event, and it filled her with bubbling joy.

And then his eyes.

"I… I'm not. I'm not ready. I can't, Ahn, I'm sorry."

It cracked inside her there and then. Cracked as if she was made of egg-shells that someone incautiously had dropped on the floor and walked right over. Cracked as if she was going to stay irreparably broken.

She didn't understand. The weeks passed by but she didn't understand.

"It wasn't you. It wasn't you I was hating."

Had she made him hate himself? How could he think that was a comfort to her – knowing that she was the reason he loathed himself enough to run out of the church to escape what could be their future? If that was how horrible he found her…

"Ridiculous!"

She would be outstandingly perfect tonight, she could sense it. She felt for the poor woman, like she felt for everyone who summoned her. The woman's anger was her own now. Just like scorned women's causes always had been her most important missions. To give their pain a voice that could break the deadly silence. She would find the cowards; petrify them with fear and elaborated ways of mental torture and physical pain. The thought egged her on. Soon, very soon now, the vengeance would be hers again, like it should be, like it was when she was at her best.

"You have the cutest little birthmark here…"

His fingers wandered over her naked back and stopped an inch or so above her hipbone to draw soft, tickling circles around the light-brown spot on her otherwise white skin.

"I do? Means that I was properly made then, all those years ago."

He kissed her. It felt like being injected with a sparkling drug.

"You were made perfect. You are perfect."

That moment she stopped her worry about mortality and being a fragile human, because she knew so strongly and so powerfully that the eternity meant nothing if it came with the price of giving this up. The only thing, the only reality she cared for was the present right there and then, when Xander's mouth told her she was perfect and she believed him. If only for a second, then that second was the best part of her existence – to be safe in another human's love for her.

"How incredibly naïve!"

She would feed on the fervid grief and pain until it filled her with such strength and joy that nothing was impossible anymore. And she would rise above the petty emotions of mankind and reclaim the throne among the darker, higher beings that were her only family in the world. It thrilled her.

Revenge was forever a force of nature, growing in the darkest parts of hearts where it was pumped, infinitely and steadily out into every vein, every little blood vessel, and infused fury and determination in human beings. It was beautiful. So very cruel and beautiful. She would walk into the bastards' home where they would be, unaffected by the misery their selfish and immature…

"I love you, Anya. In my future, you're the central character. You and a fat dog called Sparky."

…his selfish and immature decision to betray the woman who loved him and wanted to spent the rest of her stupid mortal life with him, no wait – to humiliate the woman who'd, no-

"I…I'm not. I'm not ready. I can't. I can't, Ahn, I'm sorry."

It would be a turn-up for the books. She would cause their bodies to swell till they burst, expand till the skin cracked and the red flesh leaked out by jerks, like ice cream came out of the machine they had in restaurants. When she was done, there would be nothing about them that still resembled persons, she would…

"I love you."

…she would damn well show them who was in charge here!

"I don't have beady eyes…"

His lower lip was irresistible when he sulked, she thought. Irresistible because it became so easy to take between her own parted lips, run her tongue over and suck it until it grated against her teeth and she wanted to swallow him whole, wanted to satiate her desire inside with every little Xander piece there was to be found.

For the sake of all women scorned, he'd be grovelling before her!

"You are perfect."

+ + +

Rupert rubbed his temples. There came a specific moment every night when all the words and encrypted Hebrew texts stopped making sense and begun to eat from the intellectual resources rather than improving them. This was the moment when black coffee and ginseng came in handy. But things were slower than usual tonight, mostly due to an intransigent headache that seemed to be repercussion pains from the unstable weather they've had lately.

He made a mental note to cover the flowerbeds before he went to sleep. If they were expecting more rain, he didn't think the fragile plants would survive another night of floods. Perhaps Bath wasn't such a perfect place after all? But he loved it. The house had been a real restoration object when he bought it, at very low ebb- which was what he searched for. While figuring out what he would do with the remaining years of his life, renovating an estate gave him the necessary diversions of mind.

He was particularly pleased to have a library. After the first month back, during which he became painfully aware that of all his friends and acquaintances, he was the only one who still was a childfree bachelor, the books had constituted better company than ever. Olivia used to tell him that where her books were, that was home. Home is where you are, he had answered, stupidly.

Her eyes had been so sad.

"I wish you hadn't come for me, Rupert. I can't. It will never work."

Nothing had been made more crushingly clear to him before: he should never have left America, abandoned Buffy and Willow and buried himself in literature and a relationship that was doomed from the beginning. He should never have considered it.

Eventually, according as the night stretched out into late night, he thought he heard a noise from the room outside and put down the book. Surmising that it might be burglars, he picked up a sword from Buffy's discarded collection before he walked out to check.

The lights were off, and there was no sign of a break-in. Perhaps someone had got hold of a counterpart to the infamous invisibility gun that the three pathetic American boys had played with, Rupert thought and reached for the switch, only to spot a figure standing in the shadows.

But it wasn't a burglar, or even a bored vampire. It was Anya. Her cheeks were pale and laced with charcoal from a gratuitous eye make-up. When he approached her, he saw that she held the demon amulet in her hand, pressing it so hard between her fingers that they whitened. She didn't speak, or even look at him, but she slowly opened the hand, offering him the pendant before inhaling deeply, finally in his arms.

[ii] silent motions

like twin drums beating in the forest

In the beginning, they didn't speak to each other at all. She had so much to tell him, but couldn't bring herself to form words. And he didn't ask. For days, the only thing they shared was silence. That, and food, he offered handsomely. Anya couldn't eat, however. It wasn't that she wasn't hungry, because she was, but that she felt the bites grow enormous in her mouth, forcing her to spit them out again or choke. She spent the nights curled up in a worn-out armchair in Giles' living room where she was left to herself and the cheesy TV-shows.

She saw her life branched out before her these nights. This was how it would proceed, day after day, year after year. Barely human thanks to hell knew how many years as a creature of the dark, now stuck in this form, with emotions she – no point in denying it – didn't understand. Mostly, and this had hit her only hours ago, the grief laid in being stuck with this face, with this body that contained this and only this rather middling personality. She would never have useful powers again. D'Hoffryn was a great many things, having lived for 5000 years and all, but generous he wasn't. A wasted second chance was equal to a forever-closed door. From now on, she was just Anya Emerson, a recently single hundred-and-twenty-something going on twenty-one, living in exile in a living room in Bath, with a man who only took pity on her because he had been her boss for a couple of years.

Not even a carboy of Provencal wine had been capable of loosen the grip of worry around her heart. It did however, give her mighty head bumps that lingered on even now, as she sat on the veranda. Anya closed her eyes. Halfrek and D'Hoffryn both expressed their disgust over her voluntarily resignation as good as daily – sometimes in person, sometimes through far too many memories stored in her head.

"How often do I have to remind you, Halfrek? You didn't create the Spanish flu! Stop flattering yourself. I heard how you bragged to that Chaos demon last night…"

Halfrek's fingers immediately went up to squeeze her necklace, as to protect it from accusations.

"Yes, and you can talk, I suppose?"

"Meaning what?"

"Tamed by humans, Anya. Irrationally infatuated with that sturdy man who dumped you at the altar and humiliated you beyond words. I'm sorry to say it, since you always were such a good demon, but you shouldn't have been so naïve."

Anya sat quietly. Halfrek had never been mortal; she came from a fine line of pure-blooded demons. She couldn't understand. She knew the human pain and anger because she was taught to, but she had never felt it. No one had liked her, appreciated her, or wanted her as only a human could crave another of her kind. Naturally she didn't see it. She couldn't see it.

+ + +

Rupert stood motionless in front of the sleeping woman, inwardly tracing the curves of her shoulders and arms, down to her hands that dangled loosely in the air. One of them – her left – nearly brushed against the big pod where he grew potions herbs. As he walked closer, he spotted a hibernated fly on the white skin right above her collarbones and stretched out his hand to remove it when she suddenly drew a deep sigh, tilting her head to the other side.

The fly didn't react. Rupert held his breath, kneeled down beside Anya and allowed her face to bleed into his memory the way it was now, naked in peaceful sleep. He was intrigued and captured by the multitude of contradictions she possessed. She was a victim, and yet she wasn't. She was an old impersonation of revenge, but also a vulnerable human with all the unpredictable, emotional decisions of the human mind. She was more than a thousand years his senior, but still needed guidance at times. The girl was badly fractured; any fool could see it, yet she did her best to survive. She hadn't fully learned how to block the blows, though. Even if her intellectual understanding of human emotions grew each day, she needed more field practice to get the knack of them. And there was something essentially touching about the openness and vulnerability, in combination with her powerful anger and capacity to do evil. Anya was a truly unique woman in his – and for some terrifying reason Spike's – eyes, but Xander had wasted her on immature impulses and infamous cold feet. A real man, Giles thought, would have gone through with the wedding regardless of that. He would have spotted a good thing when he saw one.

She deserved better.

The night before, when she arrived, she had been so - he blushed inwardly at the word choice – raw, so primitively emotional without barriers between what she felt and what she showed. When he held her, it had felt like something of her had leaked out, poured inside him through his skin. For one thing, he found it difficult to stop looking at her…

His feelings for the woman had wandered from downright irritation via detached comity to this rather painful tenderness. It bothered him. He knew he wasn't an emotional man. Life in America may have left him a tad more convivial, but the facts remained, Rupert Giles was a middle-aged man who had never got used to families. He was raised largely by women, sung to sleep in their warm laps, protected by their bear-like arms, encouraged to knowledge and broad-mindedness by their soft voices. Despite, or perhaps because of this, he found intimate relations with women next to impossible as an adult. Romantic relationships were exotic to him, and thorough his entire life, he had been a far better lover than a boyfriend. Eventually, this grew to a slight handicap, this lack of bonds and roots. Since his parents died, Buffy and Dawn were the only people he considered family, and not even them did he see very often.

At midnight he thought he could hear the door to her guestroom open and then close again fairly quickly and was plagued by a wish to go check up on her and her whereabouts. He only just refrained from doing it, bearing her demon powers in mind, together with the loath to make her feel supervised at any hour.

But hours later, he lay awake again. The stifled sounds- he interpreted them as sobs- from behind the wall that separated their bedrooms raised a chilling fire in his stomach.

He slept badly all night.

[ iii ] forming words, finally

and both will defeat the darkness

When she decided to speak, she had been in his house for almost a week, not yet even expressing the reason behind her surprise visit. Rupert knew better than to ask. Then, one afternoon as they had taken their tea in the library and he sat with a book, trying to concentrate on it, Anya turned to him.

"I didn't know where else to go," she said, "I'm sorry."

"Why?" He tried to make sense of the shy expression in her face. "Have I led you to believe that you're unwelcome here?"

"I'm not?"

"Of course you're not, Anya!"

"There was this girl…."

Rupert waited for her to go on rather than impinge upon grounds he had no right to be on. And she continued, after a while, unfolding a bloody tale of death and betrayal and actions that drove her away from everyone. Drove her to him, because he was the only one she felt was detached enough to cope. Maybe he wasn't. Maybe he was the opposite, he thought, and counted the sparks in her eyes.

"Xander didn't leave me because he's an idiot. He left because he didn't love me enough." It was said without bitterness, in a very matter-of-fact tone. "Once I thought that if only I changed, he'd be where I was, love me as much as I loved him. But that's not how it works, is it?"

Rhetorical question, Rupert…

"Anyway, I don't want him to die for it. Which doesn't mean," she added quickly, "that I regret what I did to all the other men's fates!"

He smiled. "I think there's a fine line between bloody coincidence and fate..."

Anya's eyes gave him the sensation of being spiked to a wall with blunt nails. "Vengeance is healthy."

"Well, everything is relative…"

She lowered her eyes, in an uncharacteristic moment of modesty.

"Thanks, for you know, helping me… and for letting me stay here."

He nodded. The more perceptive part of his brain considered telling her she could stay, but common sense – the one that helped him draw the line between Supportive Patriarch and Pathetic Sod – refused to listen. So he nodded again.

+ + +

He chose to study human behaviour with a view to outwitting it, just as he hoped he could retard time by learning all about it. Of course, it was infantile.

Facts, if anything, isolated him. All these demarcated sections for history, geography, science, art. What did the separation of the objects matter when the flow between them breathed, powerfully flowing from one to the other? And it was the living essence he wanted to capture. Not the mummification of life. Not the science of things. The core. Presumably, this was why he'd fallen in love with Anya. Or truth to tell, this was why he knew he would fall in love with Anya before he even met her.

Energy precedes substance.

He knew she was there among the dictionaries and inherited volumes crammed with demons and infamous creatures of the dark. Somewhere her name was written, over an endless column of death, massacre and repulsive darkness. He'd never searched them before, held back by reasons he preferred not to analyse deeper. It bothered him. He was a Watcher, the instinct to know ran in his blood, yet this woman, this madness, upset all of it.

And he really wanted to understand. Rupert definitely wanted to be open-minded enough to see behind the demon nature, sense the human underneath: forgive, forget and smooth over. He very much wanted to be this man.

So he never opened the books.

+ + +

There had always been some part of Xander that was ashamed of Anya. He used to tell her to behave in a certain way, talk in a certain way, be a certain person she felt she had nothing in common with. Her knowledge of languages – most of them dead- her experience of ancient mayhem and bloody events, it wasn't 'suitable in the human world' and he wanted to hear as little about it as possible. Anya had, despite herself, let him alter and change until she fit into that model of a normal girlfriend he so badly wanted. Of course, she was never ordinary like the others, not like Cordelia or Willow, but for a moment there it had been okay that she wasn't Miss Sunshine of Sunnydale. For a moment. But not forever.

Nothing was forever.

Sooner or later everything falls apart.

She did, too.

"Where were you born?" he asked one day and she found herself startled, unused to be subjected to an interest, if small, in that piece of her history. At first she hesitated, thought it easier to use the lies and half-truths she knew by heart after all. They had been good enough for Xander, who flunked history and never travelled out of his America. For Giles, however, it wouldn't suffice.

"Tell me about your life," he implored. "Tell me who you were and what happened to you."

"I thought you had everything in those books of yours?" She almost felt hurt now, sensed that his interest had a much deeper, less pleasant source than curiosity. As if he wished to dig into her secrets in order to hold them against her. She saw the questions in his eyes and withdrew. "I know there are entire chronicles about the human hybrids among us…"

"But I want to know how it really was. The truth, Anya. No subjective accounts from people whose lives you ruined. I'm asking for the real version."

She found it hard to deny him this simple little thing when she thought of how he washed and ironed her clothes, fed her and listened to her raving rants about everything that had went straight to hell during the past year.

As far as Xander knew, Anya was born in Scandinavia, dated Olaf the Troll until he cheated on her with a busty barmaid. He never asked for details. As a matter of fact, he seemed relieved every time she stopped talking about it. And she found that the truth, the one Giles little by little tricked out of her, had been better off hidden from the light. There was nothing charming about it. The truth held no pieces of amusing anecdotes of the kind she had told Xander and the others when they asked. The true story swept – not very briefly – over many years, revealing a personage better off unmentioned.

Slowly she became Aud, born in a world where maps were next to unknown but the lands nearby Bjorko home. She was the eldest of nine children in a family without money. Her father was a fisherman. Everything around her smelled of fish entrails. If she lay still in her bed at night, she could sense the familiar scent, as well as the horrible stench of their privy. Sometimes she thought she heard Erik snore beside her, or felt Jorunn's cold feet dig into the flesh of her thighs.

"Was this after Birka was founded?" Giles asked and reminded her anew how bookish he was.

"No," came her answer. "No, I don't think so. There was no need for towns."

"If you want, I've got some books…"

She shook her head. "Nothing's the same in the books, Giles. Nothing at all… not the people, not the weather, not the tools – I mean, they're correct, but that's not how I remember it."

She looked at him. Her eyes were glowing.

"Do you know that I did everything possible to push out the monks when they came? Those Christian crusaders, I hated them. We all did. My brothers burned their ship once. All their scripts and scrolls disappeared in the fire, but it didn't matter anyway. No one could read them before, either. Can you believe how stupid they were, not even bothering to translate their things?"

Rupert smiled.

"And nobody wanted to know of the silly god, but the monks stayed." Anya groaned. They had been so stubborn. Eventually the Vikings relented, constructed the prescribed temples and begun to slowly exterminate the nature-based faith Anya and everyone else was born with in their blood. Their ancient gods and goddesses were losing ground, in favour of something now, some punishing incarnation of all things bad. At least this was how she saw it all those years after it happened; when she had become a demon and dropped the fears for how new influences would affect her home. This was how people explained it to her – stories of the unexpected Christening of the Vikings, long live the Lord. D'Hoffryn did, as a matter of fact, allow Anyanka to spend her couple of decades as a demon inflicting vengeance into the self-righteous males connected to the church. Not all of them, since that would be impossible, but a good deal. She saw it as a decent revenge on the murderers of her people's culture.

It was still with her, the picture of how life once was.

Birches everywhere. Singing birches alongside the corners of the house and the roads, on plain countries and inside forests. The sea, she recalled as well, and the constant smell of mead, fish and entrails escaping from the hunters' caves not far from the market place. Stench of life, her father used to call it, grin widely and look up from the today's haul. You can't escape it, my Aud.

She wasn't eager to talk anymore. Life had been harsh; she didn't have many choices, but got by. It wasn't as if she knew anything else. At twelve she was given away in marriage. Olaf was thirty years her senior, well reputed in their village and with enough possessions to support them all. It was organised to indemnify her family's future and give the wealthy merchant the son he so desperately wanted. This was to be Aud's gift to her parents. Anya shuddered to think about the months spent trying to complete this duty in the marital bed, before it was clear that he was too old to father any heirs and henceforth bitterly left his young wife alone. The remaining years of their life together was strongly characterised by his faltering health. It was around that time, as he suffered his first period of illness that Aud begun exploring herbs and their healing powers. Bored and weary as she was, it didn't take long before she had canalised frustration and fear into enchantments of various kinds.

But before this, there was another man. A man whose name she promised herself never to pronounce again. He had been someone to meet in outmost secrecy, someone to exchange promises with, and dream with.

Someone to trust…

Giles' voice had softened, his eyes had darkened and deeply buried among the thick lashes she thought she could see a hint of something that made quick, flickering motions in her stomach. It hadn't been a matter of course to ask, and it came slowly, almost hesitantly, his question:

"What was the story with him?"

"I loved him," she blurted without thinking, and thereafter couldn't escape a deeper explanation. Or perhaps she didn't want to. Perhaps the long-repressed memory of He Who Must Not Be Named needed to leak out, steadily in time with this man with the warm eyes and beseeching words.

"He said he would marry me when he came back from the sea," Anya told the only person who had been entrusted with this confession. She was ashamed to admit she had believed such a promise, even if it was a millennium ago. But Giles showed no sign of wanting to mock her.

Her illegitimate daughter was born an early spring morning – and drowned only hours afterwards. The screams couldn't be muffled. People knew, people saw and people judged.

Aud was a whore.

Anya summarised the rest of her tale with her eyes lowered to a point where the only thing she saw was the floor. She remembered nightshades and that slow, halting sickness that infected her body due to the lover who certainly had been generous with his affection for women. She was hollow by the time she finally found out what he'd been doing.

"What did you do to him?"

"A lot. Olaf happened to find out, so I had to transfigure him. D'Hoffryn was most impressed."

"I can imagine."

"Anyanka is merely my demon name," she said, suddenly smiling. "It's from the Sanskrit word for dishonesty – anyaya. D'Hoffryn thought it would suit my actions."

Giles – even if he didn't understand one bit – smiled back.

[ iv ] finding paths

that pulls cold stone and shadow endlessly

Love.

And desire.

What was it he and everyone else hoped for when they heated and boiled and repeated this until entirely unreasonable temperatures rose to the skies? In science, Rupert knew, it was a commonly accepted concept that all substance undergo morphing during this heating process, and he sometimes wondered if this also affected humans, and in what ways. If the lovers reached the boiling point inside their hermetically closed prison cells, would that mean they'd dissolve into the primeval forms of life, the simple constellations that built the world? And if the heat increased further, the atomic nucleus should explode. Would this mean those lovers came closer to each other, like invisible plasma? He knew this was the most common state of substance in their universe. Plasma and love.

Perhaps it was about courage. Yes, it most definitely was about courage, he concluded while the bubbles in the dishwater swelled and burst. Perhaps they were only making it harder by resisting, by building defences of logic and sensibility. Because if they'd dare boiling themselves to such an incredible extent that the scattering fissions, disruptions and pains would be over, then they'd win. Wouldn't they? The complicated electro-magnetic powers could unite, as could the lovers who'd forever be flowing into each other, through each other, in a perfect, balanced universe.

There were the thoughts that filled him during the most banal housework. Slippery, but rarely evasive.

And he came home every day to find she had put one more piece of their lives together, without even noticing it. Slowly she was weaved into his daily routines, like a new one. Her hair brushes dropped on the coffee table, tampons in the bathroom, her eternal comments about "scabby foreign food" and the scent, her scent everywhere in the house. At times it got into him that he could smell her skin through the walls, the flowered surface of her body between the structures of the rooms. She was flowers and spices, sometimes red berries with honey, but always something tangible, something haunting that left him sleepless.

It was surprising to learn how quickly and easily she became a momentous part of his life. Nothing that was before her came out as important anymore, as though his life has somehow managed to stay devoid of content until just recently.

She grew into him.

The greyish diaphanous vase in his book shelf suddenly held a deeply red rose, and on the dinner table he saw large daffodils. Her voice was light and gay behind him.

"They sold great flowers and plants on the street today. Did you mind that I bought some?"

"No, not at all."

After that he turned around and saw her face in the light of the lamps, saw the outlines of her thin shoulders, the waist, the radiating heat from her eyes, the soft curves around her hips. It fondled the pit of his stomach in a most disturbing manner and suddenly he understood he was captured. The only thing he'd remember from this was how the candlestick near her left side grazed her white shirt and how she moved toward him as she noticed it; smile expanding at his offer of cooking Asian for dinner.

"We're like one of those odd couples in the sitcoms," she used to say in the beginning, when he served her supper. "Only you're a non-macho, non-jerky sort of guy who brings me food."

"No we're not," he had replied, "because we don't have perky teenagers in the house."

"Oh, I'm still young enough to produce a kid or two."

"Thankfully I'm not."

At that she had observed him, her eyes brimmed with thoughts he wouldn't dare figure out. She stopped with the jokes after a few weeks. Now things didn't seem as morbidly hilarious anymore.

+ + +

As soon as she had recovered from the destruction of her amulet, Giles had given her an assignment - to employ her age and historical knowledge in real earnest. Her first project was to correct and complete Giles' books on demonology with first-hand facts and personal opinions. While he didn't allow any scribbling in the actual text, he did let Anya author her additions on special sheets that he later paper-clipped to the last opening of every book. She knew he only did it to make her feel better, but at times; deceiving one's mind could be of the good.

He had empowered her. Not like D'Hoffryn, not with borrowed powers, but with her own strength and capacity. Whenever she thought of these days that slowly grew to months, she was filled with a radiating warmth and happiness, and longing, because she knew there would come a day when he begged her to leave him alone.

Although, this wasn't something she thought of daily. That sort of pessimism had left her.

Even the flashbacks from life with Xander seemed bearable now. It had been mostly great. Then it ended. What did it help arraigning Xander for it? It wasn't his fault, or her own, it was just the way life progressed. Nothing was forever and it wore people out being hurt all the time.

What was ignited inside her when she begun to love Xander continued to burn, no doubt about it. It had been a resurrection of her range of human emotions and they refused to die. But it was no longer only Xander who made the flames rise. Over the past three years she had found she contained so much affection and love she could share it with many. Her new friends, the old ones, even the unknown people on the street who occasionally did cute things. The past rested, breathing faintly in the darkness of her memory, but it didn't hold her as it used to. She had to reach back, make an effort, to touch it.

She was finally getting a grasp of what it meant to be human again.

+ + +

When he handed her the tickets, she initially thought it was a joke.

A round trip from Heathrow to –here she had to catch her breath – Arlanda Airport, Stockholm, Sweden. Giles smiled at her reaction.

"I thought you needed a bit of a break. Have you been there since you…left?"

She shook her head. "D'Hoffryn wanted to avoid that. He never forbad us, but he said it wouldn't be wise to return to our roots once we had turned demons. Halfrek did that once… not a pleasant memory."

"I want you to see all the changes in your country. I'm positive you'll like them." He smiled at her shocked face. "Don't worry – I can always cancel the tickets if you shouldn't feel like going."

"Oh, no, it's not that! I just… god, you're so nice!" Anya hugged him so hard he thought his ribs would break. For such a small person she had a remarkable strength. Then, as she let him slip, her expression shifted slightly.

He frowned. "What?"

"Why are you being so nice?"

"You make it sound like it's a bad thing. Is it?"

"No…or well, I don't know. If it's because your much-loved former shop assistant and co-owner should travel to broaden her mind, then it's a nice deed that earns you many bonus points." She rubbed out a wrinkle on her skirt with her index finger. "If, however, it's a trick to make her feel better about failing the only job worth keeping because she's a sucky demon and a suckier human, then it's…well, it's still a nice deed but I will have to hate you for doing it. I don't like pity," she added, gravely.

"We wouldn't want to risk you hating me," Giles replied, still smiling. "But don't worry, it's a Christmas gift."

He would have to get Dawn that scanning gadget now, he thought, distracted by Anya's lips that once again curled in a smile. Not to mention how much money he had to spend on Buffy's presents.

But arms around him for the second time in a few minutes, warm breath against his shoulder, happy eyes… yes, it was worth it. A million times over, it was worth it.

+ + +

"I used to talk to you," she said the day he drove her to Heathrow and they stopped on the way, for coffee and tuna sandwiches. "Back in Sunnydale, after you had left again. I talked to you every day."

"That must have been immensely uneventful," he smiled back, not sure of how to meet this new knowledge. Anya was, he saw over the top of his glasses, serious.

"It made me feel less alone. Plus, I could always turn you off when I was bored."

As he followed her to her gate, Anya stopped him, held his arm and lowered her eyes. "Here. I made you this."

He felt her pressing something to the palm of his hand and looked down to examine it. It was a small bag of a rather nice fabric; in fact, it was a very nice fabric. Anya looked awkward.

"Silk," she admitted. "From… well, from a spare item in my wardrobe. I didn't find anything else."

Rupert couldn't hold back a smile. "It's nice. What is it for?"

"Protection," she sighed. "It's a talisman. Nothing big, just nightshade and witch elm and a stone I've kept since my human days. Don't know if there's any significance to it, but it's supposed to ward off evil spirits and I – oh, just keep it for god's sake!" She withdrew her hand quickly, almost causing him to drop the bag. "You're clumsy with the weapons and slow with the running for your life part. And I would be sad if you died."

"Thank you."

He held her gaze until she turned, not willing to strain herself anymore.

Walk with me, she wanted to say. Walk me through my past, from the harrowed "then" to a better "now." Walk with me through shadows and light, through nightmares and wetdreams. Walk with me, beside me, cover me if I falter. She wanted to say. She didn't say.

"Come with me to Sweden," she said, though. "Please? We can share a room and be stupid tourists together."

Walk with me. Hand in hand, telling consoling and frightening stories when no stories can be told.

"Please, come with me?"

[ v ] new worlds, old souls

the grip on life that beats in your breast

In the few hours every night when everything was quiet, they argued a lot. She feared it would be meaningless to continue, having lost so many things already. He said it wasn't. Much like how he'd embraced Willow's shaky redemption, he now found himself whirled around Anyanka's fragile human shell with words and compromises. If you believe there's something worth fighting for, he said, it doesn't matter who you are or what you've done. You're here with me now. I won't blame you.

She shivered in the double bed, on the other side of the restriction. The world outside still slept, but the woman in his bed was curled up, silent and blinking.

He touched her face, grazed the trembling eyelids from where tears begun to well, dripping like water down her soft skin. He wanted to be tender. No more tears now. No more pain over what was already done. But he found it difficult to keep hold of himself, almost impossible to force the wishes and needs to step back, leave her alone.

Rupert Giles was civilised. His feelings were not.

"You're not alone, Anya," he said, his fingers still tracing her facial lines. "Don't ever think you're alone."

"Am I not?" Her voice was bitter. "I'm stuck here, in this country. With…you."

"Yes you are." Warmth gushing out of his hand into her forehead, then her cheek, the back of her neck, her shoulder. "With me."

"I've no family," she rebuffed. "I've nothing."

"See, this is where you're wrong."

Teetering on the edge of sleep, possibly a dream, she rolled over to his side, her whole body open and warm. He embraced her willingly, blamed the still cold outside as he rested his face in the valley around her neck where the skin was so very soft and scented with lotion and sleep. She grunted, but not disapprovingly.

"You smell nice," she murmured. "I guess I've always though you'd smell of dust."

"Dust?"

"Mmm… all the books, y'know."

"Ah." He remained motionless.

Anya shifted position, her back moving closer to his stomach until they were locked into each other, both hearts beating faster.

"Looks like we didn't tip them enough to get the heater turned on," he said and felt stupid the second those words left his mouth. But she chuckled.

"Or we could have chosen a hotel that actually is a part of the star system they have. This probably didn't qualify to the guide at all."

"Probably not."

Rupert smiled to himself with his eyes in her hair, the soft, coloured, well-groomed hair spread out over the pillow. He tried to ignore the growing sensation in his stomach – and further down, for that matter – at the sight of Anya there beside him, her skin so terribly close to his own…

He was successfully interrupted in his thinking when a small hand grabbed his cock, and later, in her arms he was sleepy and shaken, watching the blurry night turn into a very clear dawn.

[ vi ] a dream that replies

with one key, one door closed to shadow

"It's only cat-ice," he said, noticing red spots on Anya's frost-bitten cheeks. Must have been a while since she'd been around cooler climates, he thought, and found the explanation to the smile cracking on his lips at the sight of her in full winder outfit. Frizzy curls of chocolate brown hair stuck out from under the cap she had bought only days ago in a little shop they found while admiring the Royal Library. She had even talked him into paying for it, and without trouble at it. Lately, he found it hard to deny her anything.

They stood on the small plateau that stretched over Malaren, the sea Anya remembered from her ancient past, framed by frost and ice that suddenly didn't seem so cold. Anya rubbed her hands together, groaning slightly.

Rupert picked up a snow crystal and held it up for her to admire it, where it rested in his palm. She stretched out her mitten-covered hand to touch it with her finger before it went away, soaked up by the cotton. A moment passed.

Anya explored the hollow of his hand silently before glancing up, her eyes impossible to read. "Do you know what this is called in Karelian?" she asked. The steam of her breath danced around her features.

"Do you speak Karelian?"

"A little," she smiled and the beckoning fire in his stomach instantly flared up. "I speak a lot of languages."

"So it seems."

"It's called kobra."

"Kobra…" Rupert stroked his thumb over her hand that still rested in his.

When she shivered again he moved a step closer and felt her lean against him in response. It was icy cold. They should go and hide in the shelter of the car. But they were loath to leave the sight of this glittering piece of art – loath too, perhaps, to leave the warmth of each other now that they had found it.

He took her hand. Her fingers, he could feel, were stiff and cold inside the colourful mittens. He placed the hand against his cheek; it didn't warm it. With his eyes all the time on the brook, he pulled at the button at her wrist, then drew the mitten from her, and held her fingers against his lips to warm them with his breath. He sighed, gently, against her knuckles; then turned the hand and breathed upon her palm. There was no sound at all save the unfamiliar rustle as another layer of crusty snow fell to the ground.

Then, she said very lowly: "Rupert…"

He looked at her, her hand still held to his mouth and his breath still damp upon her fingers. Her face was raised to his and her gaze strange and thick. He let his hand drop; she kept her fingers upon his lips, and then moved them, very slowly, to his cheek, his ear, his throat, his neck… And then he dipped his face to hers and shut his eyes.

Her mouth was chill at first, then very warm – the only warm thing, it seemed to him, in the whole of the city; and when she took her lips away – as she did, after a moment, to give a look around- his own felt wet and sore and naked in the bitter December breezes, as if her kiss had flayed them.

He drew her closer to the car, and there they stepped together and kissed again: he placed his arms about her shoulders, and felt her own hands shake upon his back. From lip to ankle, and through all the fussy layers of their coats and gowns, he felt her body stiff against his own – that also had begun to stiffen despite the cold- felt the pounding, very rapid, where they joined at the breast; and the pulse and the heat and the cleaving, where they pressed together at the hips.

She sighed.

"I wasn't going to do this… not now…"

"Me neither."

"Do you want to undo it?"

Rupert felt his knees go soft at the badly hidden concern in her voice.

"No," he replied, and caught a glimpse of a smile before he once more wrapped her up in his arms, kissing what little of her that wasn't covered in clothes.