A View of the Woods by Djinn

The last bets were in, the cards were down, and Anya won.again. Willow threw in her hand with a sigh. "Explain to me why we like to play this game cuz I'm forgetting."

"You say that every time you lose," Anya pointed out as she pulled the chips toward her pile. She turned to Xander, a proud smile on her face. "Why can't we play with real money?"

"Because we don't want to give you all of ours, Ahn." Xander shook his head indulgently as he dealt the next hand. "I think that greed is a good sign. More human."

"Demons are often greedy," Tara countered gently as she tossed in her opening chip.

"And it's not human the way she wins all the time." Willow observed.

"Hey I'm sitting right here, people." Anya scowled then looked at the cards Xander had dealt her. A big smile transformed her face.

"Ok, I'm out," Xander threw in his hands.

"Me, too." Willow and Tara said together.

"But I want to win more chips. This isn't fun anymore."

Willow got up and walked to the kitchen. "Who wants more Coke?" She looked at Tara first and was rewarded with a fond smile and slight nod.

"I'm good here." Xander leaned back on the couch, pulling Anya with him.

"I guess this means the game is over?" She sulked for a moment then chuckled as he blew in her ear. "That tickles."

"Guys, please, we're impressionable young women." Willow handed Tara her drink and sat down next to her on the floor. They leaned into each other slightly.

"Oh, yeah, real impressionable." Xander laughed.

They fell silent for a moment, two couples enjoying the evening together. Tara was the first to speak. "It'll be weird. Not having Riley around I mean. It was always the six of us."

Anya's expression darkened. "Buffy will be depressed and we'll have to be nice to her all the time." She yelped as Xander swatted her arm. "What? I remember how boring and sad she was after Parker. Like I didn't get enough of that working for all those centuries with scorned women?"

"But this time she was the one who did the scorning," Willow corrected.

"A technicality. On the other hand we won't have to babysit Dawn." She cuddled up to Xander. "That could be a very good thing."

"I don't know. I'll miss the Dawnster."

Tara looked at Xander. "I'm still not clear on why Riley left?"

"Things weren't working out with Buffy." Xander took a quick swallow of his soda.

"Well, how could they? He was paying vampire women to suck his blood. Not good for the relationship." Willow shook her head.

"Why would he do that?" Tara grimaced. "I mean that's so skanky."

"Men are skanky," Anya said knowingly. "Be glad you're with her."

"Objection." Xander replied hotly.

"She rests her case," Willow said rolling her eyes.

"Was that an insult?" Anya looked at her intently.

"Whoa," Tara put her hand between the two. "Getting back to Riley. Why did he do that? I mean really."

"He's been under a lot of stress," Willow said thoughtfully. "The whole initiative thing was hard on him. Then losing his super powers. I think he thought he was going to lose Buffy too."

"He knew she didn't love him." Xander's face became sad. "He loved her so much. I mean she was everything to him. And he was just so resigned about it. So matter-of-factly certain that she didn't love him."

"You mean like she loved someone else?" Tara looked confused.

Willow pursed her lips, nodded sadly, "Angel."

"Angel." Xander repeated with a sneer.

"Well, and Spike," Anya threw out innocently.

"What?!" three faces looked at her incredulously.

"You mean you haven't seen it? He's always at her house, or with her. They were out the other night at the Bronze. I dropped by with some mugwort and damiana for one of the waitresses, and I saw them there, playing pool, being all rough with each other. It was pretty obvious what was going on."

"What was the waitress going to do with mugwort and damiana?"

"Will, let's stay on topic, huh?" Xander turned to Anya. "And you didn't tell me this why?"

"Why do you care what Spike and Buffy do? And when did you and Riley become such good pals anyway?"

"I liked the guy."

Willow shook her head.

"What? I did."

"You just liked him better than Angel."

"I'd like Jack the Ripper better than Angel, Will, that's really not relevant."

Willow looked at Tara. "This all goes back to when Xander had a crush on Buffy, but she liked Angel instead."

Tara nodded knowingly.

"You liked Buffy?" Anya did not sound happy.

Xander closed his eyes for a moment. Then he leaned in and whispered something in her ear that caused her expression to change from mild irritation to satisfaction. He turned back to the other two. "We were talking about Riley."

Tara smiled mischievously, "Actually we were talking about Spike."

Xander scowled at her. "I have two words to say on that. No. Friggin'. Way."

"That's three." Willow laughed.

"The middle one doesn't count, it's a swear."

"Word. That's three."

"Ok, three." Xander shook his head in disgust. "Buffy and Spike? Uh-uh. Not gonna happen."

Silence fell again. Tara looked at Willow, whispered a little too loudly, "They'd be kinda cute together."

Xander pushed Anya away, rose quickly. "Ok, it's been great seeing you two. So sorry you have to be going."

Willow rose, held out her hand to pull Tara up. "If there's really something going on, not talking about it isn't going to make it go away."

"Doesn't have to go away because it hasn't happened. Nothing has happened."

Willow nodded, leaned in and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "If you say so. And you're being a spaz again. You wanted me to tell you if you started acting all spazzy."

"Ok. Thanks." He picked up their glasses. "This was fun. Let's do it again real soon. And when we do let's not talk about our friends, ok."

"Then what will we talk about?" Anya asked with some concern.

"Other things. You know. Current events, foreign affairs."

"Well this would be.a foreign affair I mean," Tara grinned at him. "Spike's British."

"We're going now," Willow laughed as she scooped up their jackets and pulled Tara toward the door. "Say goodnight, Tara."

"Night."

They could hear the two witches laughing as they walked down the hallway.

Xander walked back into the living room and started picking up the chips. Anya joined him.

"You really are upset that Riley is gone?"

He shrugged nonchalantly. "Doesn't matter to me, right?"

"It does though. Why?"

"I just think she threw away a good man. Threw away the right man."

She looked at him seriously for a long moment. "What if she wasn't in love with him?"

He looked very grim. "What if she doesn't know what love is." He put down the chips and walked into the bedroom.

Anya stared after him. "What if you don't?" she whispered. She thought for a bit, then picked up the glasses. The sound of the ice cubes chinking against each other rang out in the silent apartment.

He called to her from the bedroom. "Leave that stuff, Anya. Come to bed. I need to hold you."

She stood, considering, looking at the front door then back at the bedroom door.

"Anya?"

She walked to the front door. Her hand gripped the handle. Stopped.

"Anya, everything ok?"

Her hand let go, moved up to the deadbolt. She set the lock, turned off the lights. "Yeah," she said softly, a wistful expression on her face. "Everything's fine."

FIN