. . .and a Dollar Short

Summary: Xander goes to talk to Anya at the end of "In the Woods", and finds her missing.

Disclaimer: All of these characters remain the property of their owners/creators. . .I'm just borrowing them for a spell. . .

Rating: PG-13, for themes.

Time Frame: In and around the time frame of "In The Woods" (this is your spoiler warning, folks).

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.


Xander walked quickly towards Anya's department, cursing inwardly at not having had his car nearby when he ran into Buffy. *I could have dropped her off to catch Riley, then made it to Anya's by now. . .great planning, Harris * He dismissed the thought savagely and picked up his pace.

A few minutes later, he was running up the stairs to Anya's apartment building, a strange sense of dread growing within him. He opened the security door with his key and dashed up the two flights of stairs to Anya's apartment. He knocked on the door, waited for about a minute, then let himself in with his key.

She wasn't there. Xander frowned with concern: Anya was almost always home at this hour, as she knew better than most how really dumb it was to be out and about alone in Sunnydale at night. He went to the phone and dialed his own phone number, hoping she would pick up. When the answering machine picked up instead, he pressed the button to bypass the message and called out, "Anya, pick up if you're there. . .damn it, Anya, pick up. Pick up!" There was only silence, and Xander fought down panic for a moment before continuing, "Anya, if you get this message, stay put. I'm coming over right now." He hung up the receiver and bolted from the apartment.

Twenty minutes later, he was back in his apartment, and there was no sign Anya had been there in the last few minutes: Xander's message remained unchecked. Xander felt frustration, then fear: * I blew her off when she wanted to get together earlier. . .she might have been pissed off and not worried about the danger. . .oh, crap *

Ten minutes later, he had left his apartment and gotten into his car, having been assured by both Giles and Willow that they had not seen Anya. Both of them had been annoyed at being awakened, but the note of panic in his voice had quickly moved them to reassure him that Anya was almost certainly all right. He knew better: something was very wrong.

For the next hour, Xander checked various places still open at that late hour: the Bronze, a couple of coffee shops on Main Street, even the all-night donut place where Sunnydale's finest stopped in between their shifts of not noticing the supernatural occurrences that were the Hellmouth's stock in trade. Anya was not in any of them, and no one had seen her. He had also called both his and Anya's apartments twice during that hour, only to receive no response. At this point, Xander had ceased to be in a panic, and had gone into crisis mode. He ticked off the actions he had already taken in his head, and pondered what his next stop should be. He came to a conclusion, then spent the next two minutes trying to come up with any possible alternative to it. Failing, he sighed and drove to a certain cemetery.

He parked and jogged over to a certain crypt, pulling open the door and moving inside without knocking or looking first. He began, "Spike, I can't believe I'm coming to you with this, but I have a pro-" He looked up, blinked, willed himself to go blind, then took in the scene before him when that wish went unanswered.

Spike was sitting in a corner of the crypt, shirtless and giving Xander a smug look. Anya was sitting on the slab that Spike generally used to sleep on, buttoning her blouse. She looked over at the doorway, saw Xander, then shrugged and commented, "Oh, it's you. Close that door, it's cold out there." She then returned to the task of putting her clothes back on.

Xander was in shock, but his mouth was still on automatic pilot, and he mechanically recited the phrase he had been rehearsing in his mind for when he found her: "Anya. . .I've been out looking for you. . .it was late, and I was worried."

Anya frowned, shrugged, and replied, "Oh, you needn't have worried. . .I was here having sex with Spike." Ignoring Xander's wince, Anya turned to Spike and commented, "You really should have a phone put in. . .it helps avoid needless walking around to find people."

Spike nodded absently, and Xander counted to ten before asking, "Uh, Anya. . .I don't suppose you'd mind telling me what you're doing here fooling around with the evil vampire, would you?"

Anya seemed to ponder the question for a moment, then replied, "Well, I was mad at you for ignoring my suggestions and blowing me off, so I went out for a walk, and I saw Spike fighting with Harmony. After a few minutes, * poof * Harmony gets staked, and I was bored, so I walked over and asked him what had happened. He got all snarly and told me to go away, but I was still bored, so I kept asking until he told me. Spike's been all hot and bothered over Buffy-"

Xander blinked and injected, "WHAT!"

Anya snorted and retorted, "Oh, please. . .anyone with a brain has seen that one coming for months. Anyway, he thought that Riley skipping town would maybe get her to at least notice him, but Buffy managed to catch up to Riley before he left, and they had a weepy reunion scene, and Spike saw it and got pissed off. Harmony saw it, and she's the jealous type, and she had a hissy fit, leading to stakage."

Xander absorbed this, not without a little relief at the thought of not having to deal with Harmony again, then nodded for Anya to continue. "Anyway, Spike starts yelling about how pissed off he is at Buffy for being spineless and running back to Riley, and I started yelling back at him about how mad I am at you for the way you've treated me, and then I looked into Spike's eyes, and the next thing I knew we were back here having lots of sex. . .it was fun."

Xander flushed angrily and was ready to stalk out of the crypt; abruptly, he remembered how badly he had hurt Cordelia by cheating with Willow, and how desperately he had wanted to be forgiven. He looked at the calm young woman sitting in front of him and realized he was still very much in love with her. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and forced himself to look directly at Anya as he replied, "All right, Anya. . .I get it. I was a jerk, you were pissed, and I know from experience that two people screaming at each other can lead to spontaneous groping. Why don't we go back to my place, and we'll talk about it in the morning?"

Spike smirked again, and Anya walked over to the vampire, taking his arm as she responded,. "Thanks, Xander, but I think I'm going to stick with Spike. I'm not going to get killed tonight, so you can go now."

Xander was silent with sheer incredulity for ten seconds before he asked, "You're going to stay with him? Anya, he's a vampire. . .an evil one, you know, no soul?"

Anya shrugged and replied, "As long as he has that chip thingie in, he can't kill me. . .and at least he's not judgmental about my past. Plus he doesn't make fun of the way I talk and think like you and your friends do."

Xander rolled his eyes and retorted sardonically, "Yeah, hanging out with a nutcase for a hundred years does wonders for your tolerance level."

Spike tensed and growled, but Anya turned to him and interjected, "Shhh, I'm breaking up with my boyfriend now." Spike subsided, and Anya turned back to Xander and continued, "I don't care why he does, he just does. . .and the sex. . .you're good, Xander, but you can't compete with a guy who's been at it for over a hundred years, and who doesn't get tired. . .sorry."

The panic that had left him earlier returned in full force, and Xander had to fight to keep his voice level as he locked eyes with Anya and whispered, "Anya. . .you don't understand. . .I was coming to your apartment tonight to tell you that I loved you."

Anya blinked and looked startled for a moment, then she laughed bitterly before retorting, "Oh, please! Xander, do you know how many times I've heard that line in a thousand years? In how many languages? It was usually the last thing some guy would say to his ex-girlfriend or wife before the wish I granted did something really disgusting to them."

Xander recoiled at the harshness of her response, and he strained to his utmost limits to convey his absolute sincerity as he insisted, "Damn it, Anya, I really was! I've loved you for a long time. . .I just never said so."

Anya studied Xander's expression, then walked up closer to him. Her own expression changed from contempt to something approaching sadness, then she replied, "Maybe you are, Xander. . .but we've been together for over a year. You could have said it a long time ago. . .you could have even said it this morning, but you didn't, and I'm moving on." She walked back to Spike, and there was implacable finality in her voice as she concluded, "Good-bye, Xander."

Anya's last words struck Xander like a gut punch, and he mechanically complied with her request, slamming the crypt door behind him, then blindly running away, thinking of nothing. His foot caught a rock, and he stumbled to the ground and into darkness-

--and then to dim light as his eyes snapped open and he sat up in bed. He was still in a state of terror, and it was only when he heard quiet breathing to his left that he felt his heart rate slow somewhat, and looking down to see Anya sleeping next to him caused his rationality to slip back into place.

He remembered now: he had made it to Anya's apartment, he had told her how he felt about her, and her reaction had been to cry with happiness. He had come back to his apartment that night to find Buffy waiting outside, dull-eyed and needing a friend. They had talked until dawn, and she had seemed somewhat better by the end of it, but he knew that she would be hurting for a while. * I should have known all along it was a dream. Spike's never been quiet for that long in his life. * Xander shook his head at how his insecurities still ate away at him, whispering that he would lose everything. Disturbed by Xander's unrest, Anya opened her eyes and grumbled, "I have to be up early, you know."

Xander smiled, relieved, and replied, "Sorry, just had a cramp in my neck." He leaned down and kissed her on the forehead, and Anya smiled softly and drifted back into sleep. Xander watched her and a feeling of warmth filled him, driving away the remaining tension from the nightmare. He blinked and thought of Buffy's sadness, then of Riley flying off to face danger in faraway places while being totally screwed up over losing Buffy and other problems. * I'm damned lucky. . .now all I have to do is believe that I deserve to be. * With a sigh, he settled back into bed, and was asleep in a few moments.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired