Chapter 27—Shadow

As soon as he was sure she was asleep, Xander gently pulled his hand out of Anya's grip. He watched her for a while, considering what she had said in this most recent conversation, and he made a decision. He was done with all the second guessing and the back and forth and the waiting for her to die. It was time to end the cycle.

"I believe that she's going to live this time," he whispered aloud. He did not really know where to direct this sentiment, so he just looked up. "I believe that the vengeance is over and that this is just real life."

There was another part to this that went unspoken, and it was actually the more important part. It was, so if he was wrong, they might as well take her now. But he did not say that because it kind of negated everything else. And because he wasn't wrong.

With one last look at Anya's machines, Xander left the room to call the others with updates.

A sharp tug pulled Anya out of her dark, empty sleep. She opened her eyes to see a strange woman standing over her. A woman in light blue scrubs, a hospital worker. She was in the hospital; it all came back to Anya now.

The woman leaned over. "Oh dear, I'm sorry about that. I was just checking your vitals, and I must've gotten caught up in the wires."

Anya looked around the room. She still felt a little foggy and out of it from the surgery and Hell and all that, but when she tried to speak now, her voice came out stronger than it had before. "Where's Xander?"

The hospital worker looked confused for a moment, and then she brightened. "Oh, your fiancé?" She shrugged. "I'm not sure where he's gone, but he stayed here in the waiting room all night. I know he's going to be happy to see that you're awake."

The word fiancé struck Anya with a kind of dissonance. Even as the woman kept talking, Anya just kept focusing on how jarring that word was. Fiancé. That was not who he was anymore. Now that she was getting better and remembering everything they were, it seemed like everything was just going work again, like magic. But then that one word reminded her that everything was still so up in the air and that they were starting at the end.

She knew that she should say something to this woman, so she nodded. "Okay."

As she said this, Xander appeared in the doorway holding a magazine in his hand. "Ah, there he is now," the hospital worker said. "I'll let you two have some time alone."

That must have sounded ominous to Xander, because once the woman was out of the room, he sat down in the chair next to Anya, setting his magazine aside, and asked, "Is everything okay?"

"Yes." Anya shook her head. "Or I don't know. She didn't say anything about that." She was still hung up on the word, and she wanted to share her unease. "There was one thing though. She seemed to think we were engaged."

It came out sounding more like a question than Anya intended. Xander got a troubled look on his face. It could have meant anything, ranging from he had no clue where she got that idea to that he also thought they were engaged. Come to think of it, there had been something like that when she first came to his apartment. As she tried now to recall what exactly he had said, Anya decided that if Xander thought they were engaged, she would not quibble on the point that she never actually agreed to marry him this time.

"Um..." As soon as he opened his mouth, it was clear that was not what he was going to say. "I had to tell them that so that they'd let me stay with you. But if you... I mean I just, I didn't want you to be alone, but now that you're awake, it's totally up to you if you want me to stay."

If he had to. That's what he said in his apartment. Plainly, a couple different ways. He would marry her only if he had to. At the time, it seemed like so much, but she understood it better now. He loved her and, if she pressed, he would stay this time rather than lose her, but it wasn't what he wanted. And that was okay for now. Whether he would ever really be ready was a conversation for another day. They were still re-establishing the foundation. So she would start there, with the simplest of sentiments. "Of course I want you here."

Xander sat back, visibly relieved. Anya realized that he did not know how much had changed for her since that night they were together. She could not be sure if she remembered everything, but she remembered much, much more. And he would never know that unless she told him.

Anya did not want to have to talk about the past or how she felt or any of it really. She just wanted to get to the part where they were trying again. But there was no skipping ahead. "Do you remember that time in Buffy's kitchen, when the power was out and we were eating ice cream?"

Xander smiled. "I'm not the one with amnesia."

She knew he would remember; he had already brought it up once before. It was just a way to segue into what she really needed to say. "I thought we were getting back together too—Or I hoped we were. But I didn't want to ask, because if you said no, that would mean it was my fault."

He looked confused. "What was your fault?"

She drew in a deep breath, which caused some pressure in her chest. She knew what it was, healing lungs, but coupled with what she was about to say, it felt like her heart hurt. "Us not getting back together. Because I was willing to put everything that happened behind us and try again. I wanted another chance at a future with you, and that want was stronger than the anger or hurt. So if you said that we weren't getting back together, that would mean that it was the things I did that were keeping us apart. Whether it was Spike or Anyanka, something I did was the reason we couldn't be together anymore. So I didn't ask."

"Anya..." Xander trailed off. He had this sad look on his face, like they were on the edge of something crucial and he was afraid to push. "So we agree that we were getting back together. Back then."

She nodded. "And then I died. And you lived for five years. While I was dead for a thousand."

Xander nodded. Like they had fallen off that edge, just as he expected they would. In that moment, Anya saw the whole last week with clear, new eyes. He expected her to hurt him. Every time they were together, he waited for it and resigned himself to it. She continued in the face of this pessimism. "But I don't think that means anything has to change. I mean, I'm here now. And you're single now. And we're still all forgiven. So I don't see any reason not to try now."

It scared her a little to put it all out on the line like that. For a second, Xander did not react, but slowly his mouth spread into a smile. "You mean that?"

That was not an adequate response, so Anya had to go on. "I know what I said last—" She shook her head. "Or whatever night that was "

"Two nights ago," he filled in for her.

So he knew right where she was going with this, which meant it probably did need to be addressed. "Right. I know that I said that we shouldn't have sex anymore and that I don't want you to be my home. But I was wrong. I just had pieces then; I didn't know..." She thought about how to put it. "I didn't know who you were yet. And I didn't know who I was, not really. And I didn't know what we could be."

"A disaster?" His voice was half teasing, half asking.

"Yes, we could be that," Anya conceded. She did not know why he was making this so difficult for her. "But we could be something else, right? If—if you don't want to, just say so."

Xander got a surprised look on his face. "Oh, I already said... I told you that, didn't I? That if I got you back, I wouldn't let you go this time."

That was a hypothetical, one that ended in a no actually. It wasn't quite enough for her now. "I need you to say it again."

He almost said something, but he hesitated. Anya could not tell if he was searching for the right words or just stalling. With a deep breath, he started again. "I want to try again. Older, wiser, mistakes behind us. Obviously, I want to try again. You came back from the dead; how could I waste an opportunity like that?"

Xander was trying to be upbeat, but he sounded more like he was on the verge of tears. The only times Anya ever saw him cry was after someone died, Joyce or Buffy. Suddenly, she understood his hesitation. "It's not over," she said sadly, knowingly.


She sighed. " The vengeance. You still think that I'm going to die."

"No." He was lying. "Remember, it was the demon magic keeping you alive? And Willow said the magic's gone, and you're still here. So all of that, it's all over."

"You don't believe that."

He was going to disagree with her; Anya could tell. But then he took a deep breath and shook his head. "I want to. I just—I need time."

Anya still did not know what the wish was, and she could only make educated guesses about what it meant that the magic was gone. She could not really say for sure that she was not going to die, but it felt like they had turned a corner. "So you want to wait? " she asked, disappointed. "We can't... until you're sure?"

"God, no." Xander scooted the chair closer to her bed and took her hand in his. "I don't want to wait another minute. It's just going to be a while before I stop expecting the worst."

Anya squeezed his hand as much as she could, even though she knew it would only make her seem weak.. "You'll see. I'll get better fast. I still know how to heal myself. I'll do the exercises, and I'll be fine."

Xander nodded, again making a valiant effort to look like he believed anything was going to be fine. He stroked her hand and up her arm a little bit. "Good, but, um, don't—don't push yourself. You know, things are different now.; there's no need to rush it anymore." He moved his hand over her chest. "Your heart had a lot of damage too, so you shouldn't put too much strain on it."

Through the thin fabric of her hospital gown, Anya could almost feel Xander's warm skin against her chest. It was not the first time he touched like that since she came back; they'd had sex after all. But somehow it was like that night didn't even count, because even though it was good, great even, she did not know enough to appreciate it fully. It was like it was for her the first time, not quite like it was toward the end. Now, she knew though. Now his hand on her chest had meaning and evoked feelings. Before she brought up healing, they had been discussing something, and it was important to get back to that, to make sure she understood. "But so you don't want to wait. So even if it does take a long time for me to get better, we can be—right now, we could be a we again? Instead of you and me, it could be us?"

Xander pulled his hand away from her chest. For a second it felt like he was pulling everything away, but then he smiled. "Yeah. We are together, no matter what happens with your recovery." He put a slight emphasis on the "we." After a second, he added, "As long as that's what you want."

He still did not fully understand. "That's what I've always wanted. This last week... that wasn't me." The final piece came together for her. "It was the vengeance, but you knew that, right?"

Xander nodded. "I knew. " He thought about that for a second. " So you don't have to worry about anything you might have said or done because I don't blame you. I'm just glad it's over."

Anya felt a yawn rising in her chest, and she stifled it to keep Xander from seeing. She knew that he wanted her to rest, but she already felt like she had been sleeping for so long, already wasted so much time. They only had four or five decades left, if they were lucky. "Right, over. So now—"

She stopped because Xander was looking behind her. She turned her head to see another hospital worker in the doorway, a male one this time. He came into the room. "I heard you were awake," he said with a smile. "I'm Dr. Carmona, and I wanted to update you on your condition."

Anya braced herself for bad news, something that would confirm all of Xander's fears, but the doctor was pretty upbeat. Despite catastrophic injuries and major surgery, he said she was healing remarkably well. "Just being up and talking to your fiancé is quite a feat."

There was that word again, but this time it did not seem so upsetting. Now things were more settled, and the fact that "fiancé" did not accurately describe Xander's relation to her was okay because they were not at the end anymore. They were back on a path to the middle. So Anya held the hand of her just-boyfriend and listened to Dr. Carmona talk about recovery plans.

After hearing the doctor tell them how great Anya was doing, Xander felt like things were going too well, and that old paranoia crept back up. He realized that it would help if he could just talk to Calreg one last time, but he doubted that she was going to make any more appearances, especially if she was done with them. So he needed time. But that concept was not so scary anymore. There was actually a chance now that they would have abundant time for him to be sure, and for her to heal, and for them to work things out.

Left alone again, Xander and Anya fell into an almost easy, slightly awkward silence. It felt like everything that needed to be said right then had been said, and Xander did not want to poke at the blossoming relationship too soon for fear of it bursting. So he was a little relieved when the nurse came in to tell Anya that she had other visitors, but she could only see one at a time.

Xander saw an opportunity in this. He did not want to leave Anya, and that was part of the problem. He had not been home since she was first brought into the hospital, and the clothes he was wearing had not been particularly clean when he first put them on. So he told Anya that she should visit with Buffy and Willow and whoever else was there, and that would give him time to run home and shower. Anya agreed that she should let the girls know that bygones were bygones and that she had (mostly) forgiven them for the terrible things they did.

On his way out, Xander passed Buffy in the hallway. "You better be nice to her," he said. "Because she's my girlfriend now."

Buffy smiled. "See, I told you everything was going to work out."

At his apartment, Xander showered and put on freshly laundered clothes, in case he got stuck at the hospital again. Then, remembering what Erica said, he spent some time flipping through his comic book collection to see if he could find that picture of Anya. It bothered him that there was no trace of her left to show that he ever even thought about her in the intervening five years. After a while of searching, he gave up, figuring it was more important to be with the real Anya.

By the time Xander got back to the hospital, it was getting close to the end of visiting hours. He found a nurse he knew was a soft touch and convinced her to let him spend the night with his "fiancée." As scary as that word had been so many years before, now it almost seemed right. Even though they were taking it slow and that was good, on some level he knew, he still intended to marry that girl someday.

In the room, he found Buffy sitting next to a sleeping Anya. As soon as she saw him, Buffy got up from the chair and patted Xander on the shoulder, almost like she was tagging him in. He watched her leave and then turned his attention back to Anya.

A mere thirty seconds after Buffy left, she ran back into the room. "Demon," she said by way of explanation. "We forgot about the demons. Barricade the door." And just like that, she was gone again.

Xander looked around, but there was not much in the room he could use. He slid the heavy recliner over to the door, but he was sure that would not be enough to stop a demon if one really wanted to get in. At best, it would just slow it down. He sat in the chair to add extra weight. He had forgotten about D'Hoffryn, why Anya had needed protection. All her problems had blurred together. So after all that, it turned out he was right the first time. It wasn't over.

Behind him, Xander could hear the sounds of a fight. After a minute, he felt a slight push on the door. And then there was another harder one that moved the door, Xander, and the chair a couple inches. One more push and the demon would be in, but Buffy must have stopped it. Xander pushed the chair back into place and waited for the next assault.

A little bit later, the crashing stopped, and there was a knock on the door. Xander was wary, so he respond with, "Yes?"

A familiar voice came back. "It's Buffy. Open up."

Still cautious, Xander pulled the chair away and opened the door a sliver. Buffy pushed her way in, dragging the demon corpse with her. "We need to find somewhere to put this." She said, propping it up behind the door.

Xander cocked his head to the side. "I don't think that's a good place."

"I know. It's just until I—"

Buffy was interrupted by a nurse sticking her head through the doorway. Xander quickly pulled the door more open to make sure it was blocking her view of the body. The nurse smiled at Buffy. "Visiting hours are over."

"Oh, okay," Buffy smiled back. "I was just leaving." She turned to Xander. "So, Willow will be here in the morning to help with that thing."

"The morning?" Xander repeated incredulously. "This has to wait until morning?"

The nurse had moved on, and Buffy closed the door. "Yeah, but we should move it to the bathroom because they're probably going to check on her in the night." She started to drag the body in that direction. "Help me."

Xander sighed and picked up the feet. He did not like the idea of spending the whole night with a dead demon in the bathroom, but he supposed his options were limited. Once they set the body in the walk-in shower, Xander reflected on the nurse's casual attitude and the general lack of excitement or concern. "So no one saw you fighting this thing?"

"Guess not." Buffy shrugged. "Just got lucky, I guess. It happens." She re-opened the main door to the room. "Well, good night. See you guys in the morning."

Xander glanced back at Anya. She had managed to sleep through the whole thing. Turning back to Buffy, he said, "Yeah, good night."

When Buffy was gone, for good this time, Xander moved the chair back where it was supposed to be and sat at Anya's side again. It was still kind of early for him. Plus, he was not sure how well he was going to sleep knowing what was in the bathroom. So he picked up his magazine from the table next to the bed and began to read.

Author's Note: This chapter was delayed for at least a month because I didn't want to write the demon attack, and then I ended up not writing it anyway. But seriously, sorry it took so long.