September, 02

Nikapi

Disclaimer: None of the characters who appear in this story belong to me, I'm simply borrowing them for a little bit. If Mr. Whedon or anyone over at Fox or ME would like to sue me, they're welcome, but all they'll manage to get is a little bit of pocket fuzz and a pack of gum.

Author's Notes: As of January 3, 03, 9:24 PM, this is, in my opinion, the best thing I've written -- so, naturally, I'm abnormally paranoid about posting it. There are no demons, spells, or monsters (even the human kind.) As always, reviews are coveted among all else, and I'll love you forever if you leave one. Also, a big shout out to Monkey - who knows why they're getting a shout out, even if I'm too embarrassed to admit it to anyone else.

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There is a streak of white across her forehead.

He isn't sure how it got there, but glancing at her paint covered hands, he can take a pretty good guess. She has no idea, of course. No, she is far too engrossed on her task; pale eyebrows knitting together and mouth screwing sideways in the most adorable expression of determination he's ever seen. Her hand is griping the handle of the roller too hard, and the paint isn't going on evenly, probably because she can't reach the top of the wall, even on tiptoes. She experiments with jumping up and down, arm stretching for that portion just out of reach.

He grins when it doesn't work. He shouldn't find it funny, should probably just tell her to get a ladder. If she doesn't do it, it means he'll have to later, when he's finished with his half. His arms are already sore, probably because he had already finished the primer and half the first coat of white ("It's vanilla," his inner-Willow reminds him) before she turned up to help. It's just more work, but watching her straining for that six inches of unfinished drywall is too cute to put a stop to.

We'll even pay you for it, this time, she had offered, when he offered to help fixed the carnage caused by the Shoas (Shoap? Shoe?) demon from the week before. He had refused, as was normal. It's nothing, he assured her. Some drywall, some plaster, some paint, and your house will be right back to normal -- it won't take more than a few days. After enough rejections she had given up, but the look in her eye anytime the subject was broached was enough to keep him pretending he had no idea where all the food that was suddenly showing up in his cabinets and refrigerator was from.

Truth be told, even before she came to help, he was enjoying himself. Sure, it's not the most fun thing to be doing on a day off, but he likes fixing things. It feels right. Fixing things and helping his favorite girls out at the same time, that's just a bonus.

Somewhere along the line, she must have stepped into some paint, because now she's trailing a single footprint everywhere she goes. They aren't putting the new carpet down until the paint is finished, so it doesn't matter. Most of the prints are only partial, showing only bits of the pattern imprinted on the bottom of her sneaker, but one, near the door, is perfect, so dark and precise it almost looks hand drawn. Impulsively, he's reaching for his box of supplies, digging out one of the finer brushes used for moldings. A quick dip into the paint, and now he's kneeling besides the marking, carefully staining more of the old wooden floor. Buffy, he writes, besides the footprint, and then just below that, September, 02.

She happens to turn and get a glimpse of him bent over the floor, brush in hand, and he can see that for a moment, she's torn between confusion and annoyance, both emotions showing lucidly through her eyes, as they so often do when she's let her guard down. When she's near enough to see what he's doing, however, she laughs out loud, gaze falling towards her feet almost guiltily for a minute. She kneels beside him, examining the hardwood masterpiece with a measuring expression. It looks lonely, she tells him, and the next thing he knows, he's flat on his butt, one foot in her lap as she very solemnly applies the paint roller to the bottom of his boot. It takes some doing, but he manages to stand up and position himself correctly without putting his foot down. Carefully, he presses his foot down, trying to keep the print as neat as possible. He wavers a little when he removes it, balance almost slipping entirely, and the white ("It's vanilla!") edges are a little blurred, his footprint just the slightest bit flawed besides her immaculate one, but he thinks that's fitting, so he says nothing. He's laughing with her now, as she steals the brush from his hand and crouches low, labeling his mark with the same care with which he labeled hers. Xander, September, 02.

It takes them another hour and a half to finish, and he has to do the top few inches of her half the room for her, all the way around, but it passes quickly, because now Dawn and her friends from school are home and they can hear them laughing downstairs. There's a nostalgic air between the two of them, and they're still laughing, swapping stories and memories and jokes from high school, from when they were that age.

When they're finished, she takes a step back, and beams at the finished wall, brushes her fingertips over the spot where, only a week prior, she had been thrown through it. You can't tell at all, she enthuses, and he has a private moment, because he can remember her going through that wall, and not getting up right away, and his heart stopping dead in his chest, and no matter how many times they paint it, he'll always be able to tell. The moment is gone soon, though, because her arms are around his neck and she's kissing his cheek and thanking him, and he's hugging her back, and it feels nice. And then she's gone, downstairs to wash her hands and get the two of them something to eat. He can hear her greeting Dawn and her friends, laughing at the sly comments on her somewhat disheveled appearance.

He moves to follow, and when he turns to get the light, his eyes fall on the footprints a few feet away, bright against the dark wood of the floor. Despite the fact that he knows they aren't more than two hours old, they look ageless against the wood, two foot beside one another; The left small and firm, the right much larger and a little shakier, but no doubt completing the pair. Maybe that pair isn't exactly what he's always wanted, he thinks, but looking at it, he doesn't have a single complaint. He turns off the light, shuts the door, and starts downstairs.

On his way down, he hears Dawn tell her sister, through repressed giggles, that she has something on her forehead.