Title: The Perfect Life
Author: Sosa Lola
Pairing: Xander/Spike
Rating: R
Setting: Starts the day after S2 Reptile Boy
Summery: "One day I'll have money. Prestige. Power. And on that day they'll still have more," Xander in Reptile Boy.
Notes: This fic was inspired by the novel Remember Me? written by Sophie Kinsella.

Thanks to ladymerlin, mulder200 and feelsthemagic for being my beta. And thanks to moscow_watcher for reading the beginning and inspiring the ending.


Chapter One:

When the need to sleep in class is irresistible, always sit in the back, specifically the corner. Never forget the best friend sitting in the next chair for warning purposes. And it won't hurt having a hand inside the desk, as if searching for something when getting caught. And most importantly, try never to fall into a deep sleep. Never.

If you do not follow these rules, expect to be subjected to the force of teacher wrath.

In my case, a book-slam.

Slam!

I jump, blinking at my desk, before raising confused eyes at Mr. Payne. The teacher's face clenches, creating yet more wrinkles, it's like watching a plastic wrap scrunching up. His hand clutches the hardcover book pressed against his chest, and I'm hit by sheer gladness that the book didn't smack my head when slamming the desk.

"I'll see you in detention." Mr. Payne's eyes sparkle with a joy that his hard expression can't hide.

I can hear the snickers and whispers around me. A reminder of a recent event a thousand times more humiliating.

I shove the memories in the farthest place back in my head and grab my bag at the sound of the school bell. I hear the students around me chuckling and I can't help but get paranoid. Are they laughing at me? Do they know? Has it already spread around? And who did the spreading? Did the spreader take pictures? Are they up on the net now?

I shake my head, clearing my thoughts, and heading straight to the library. Nothing like a good monster of the week research with the gang to take my mind off the latest humiliation.

I bump into Cordelia's shoulder on my way. Her glare quickly dissolves into a mischievous smile. "Have you heard, girls?" she says, addressing the gaggle of air-heads behind her.

Shit. She knows. I try to move away when I feel Cordelia's hand grabbing my wrist tightly. "Larry's brother went to the party yesterday."

She's eying me with that look. Her friends have mustered the look as well. And my mouth spits out words unwisely, "Gee, Cordy, was his fugliness smitten by the trash whore outfit?" I say my bit, freeing my arm hastily and starting to walk away. Don't look back, keep walking to the library, hide behind Buffy… eh, sit next to Buffy. Get on with the research. I'm not seeing Cordelia anywhere. Going down the hall, straight to 'library, sweet library.'

"Apparently, Xander has a fondness of cross-dressing in fraternity houses."

I spin around in spite of myself as she and her groupies burst into derisive cackles. I'm working my defenses, searching for suitable insults, but as their mouths open wider and their laughs grow into bobcat shrieks, I bow my head and retreat.

Cordelia's cackle snaps in my ear, almost popping my eardrums. I suddenly remember that she was tricked by Frat Boy, drugged, and almost sacrificed. I turn around to throw a sharp remark, but they're already gone.

"Hey, Harris!"

An unmanly moan escapes my mouth - great, one more reason for Larry and the Larryettes to hand me a nice new pummel. I plaster a scornful smile on my lips and face them. Their smirks bring a sour taste to my mouth.

"Lookie here, it's Psycho Miko and his gang." If I'm going down, then I'm doing it with dignity.

Larry tucks on his ridiculous red bandana, and I feel the urge to call Buffy for fashion-victim puns. "I hear you've started pursuing your life dream job as a belly dancer," Larry says, beefy arms crossed on his wide chest. His ass-kisser followers imitate him at once.

Larry's eyes travel down my body with a disdainful leer. "A giant bra," he says in a hoarse voice, gazing at my chest. "And a skirt." His eyes drift down to my jeans, and I force my hands to remain by my sides.

"Shame on you, Harris, showing those talents to strangers. What? Your high school buds aren't good enough anymore?"

My lips are pressed in a thin line. Sarcastic comebacks are dying in my mouth and all I'm wishing for is for this moment to be over. Maybe I'll let Buffy hold a vampire for me tonight. My hands are already fisting.

I freeze when Larry grabs my neck and pulls my face directly to his armpit. I smell his deodorant and thank God that they caught me before they hit the field.

"You know," Larry says to my head, "we've got a beads filled bra and a hip belt from a costume shop just for you."

"That's it!" I push myself out of his grip, and glare daggers at his smug face. "For a guy who's straight, Larry, you sure do know a lot about women's fashion. Something you want to tell us?"

Larry's nostrils flare all of a sudden; my comment must have brought out the homophobic side of him. "Get the girl," he grits out.

I try to run away, but unfortunately, they're athletic sports dudes, and I'm just a lazy never-gets-picked bench guy. So I find myself flailing in the air as they lift me over their heads and walk after Larry. I'm tempted to close my eyes and imagine myself as a famous rock star who threw himself into the crowd, but I can't after hearing Larry order, "Make him feel comfortable," followed by a few ass-pinches.

Students on my left and right point at me and snicker, like I haven't had my fair share of that in the past twenty four hours!

"Put me down!" I yell, kicking a head, then kicking it again, knowing I'll pay for it later. Then I revert to hair pulling; the guy's hair on my left is appallingly greasy, and the one on my right doesn't have enough hair to pull on.

We suddenly stop; I raise my head up to get a good look at what's stopping them. My heart skips a beat with happiness. Buffy, my knight with shiny hair, is looking Larry down, arms folded, sporting a resolved face. "Catching up with your inner hoodlum, Larry?" Bandana pun! "Put him down or I'll gut you where you stand."

"Ooh, I'm scared," Larry says sarcastically. He stands right in front of Buffy, his hand slightly hovering over her hip, seductive body language intact. "Say, how about a show of your own? You're the loser's friend, right? Bet he taught you some danse du ventre."

Buffy punches him in the nose. I cheer her on with a holler and a happy fist in the air, getting over the shocking fact of Larry speaking French. And fluently.

Larry touches his bleeding nose, shocked. "You little bitch." He leaps at her, but she twists his arm and slams him against the balcony. His feet are off the floor and his whole upper body is dangling down the other side of the balcony; if it isn't for Buffy's grip on his shirt, he'll be toast.

"No, no, no, no." Larry's legs wave frantically. "Don't throw me off. Please. I take it back."

Buffy pulls him back, hurling him to the floor.

Terrified, Larry's lackeys take a step backwards, and when Buffy casts them her death glare, they toss me aside and flee. Well, 'flee' is the action I'm hoping for, and obviously wanting to see. It's time I get to do the snickering, but unfortunately, I don't know what happened after the tossing-me part.

All I know is feeling alarmed at the sight of the stairs, getting closer and closer. Pain explodes in my head and shoulder, and I feel myself tumbling down the stairs, hard and clunky.

I slip into darkness before I reach the bottom of the stairs.


Shit, my head hurts. It's banging harder than the Cro-Mags, except without the sheer joy of their hardcore punk music. God, did I get demon-smacked or something? Or did Dad score for the first time, and this is what a beer bottle striking the head feels like?

I try to turn my head a little. Bad move. The bangs grew sharper and I think I'm passing out.


Drum. Bang. Drum. Bang.

Man, I hope Buffy slayed the demon. I've never had a headache this intense.

Don't turn over. Don't repeat that mistake. I can hear the pounding of my heart piercingly inside my head, and there's racing. Cartoon birds are racing over my head.

Stop it. I demand you. I'm looking you in the eye. I'm…

Passing out again.


This headache is one stubborn disease. Don't you have someone else's head to torture? How much time has it passed since I was out? Did Buffy take me to the hospital?

That demon must have pounded me good, because not only does my head hurt, but my whole body is throbbing like a bad version of the Lion King's jungle beat. My chest feels like it's on fire, and I can't feel my left arm. Is this a heart attack? Paranoia pounds into me more painfully than the excruciating pain in my head.

What if I'm lying alone in the cemetery? An easy target for any stray, slimy, gurgling demon. My heart jumps as I hear a sloshing sound mixed with a low growl getting closer, and for a second there, I can smell its stench. I instinctively try to run; small, unnoticeable movements are met with jamming and slamming. Son of a bitch, my head is having its own frat party at the expense of my sanity.

Okay, let's calm down here. First, the material underneath me isn't anything like grass, and the material covering my body feels like a blanket. Second, there's no disgusting odor reeking on the top of my head. I'm home. I'm sure. Mom did throw out that cheap perfume a couple of days ago. Maybe she was so wasted she slipped some of her drink in my dinner. This is what a hangover feels like. I mean, I'm an alcohol virgin –not counting that one time I tried to get a taste of Mom's Cape Cod, but got caught and mocked by Dad, 'cause the drink was too pink, and I'm a man. He made me take a sip of his rum and coke, which I falsely thought would be great because of the coke part, but I ended up gagging before it went down my throat.

Wow, who would've thought that too many thoughts make headaches sharper? It's like Larry is punching the inside of my head at my temples and behind my eyes.

Larry.

Yes, yes, today at school. The jerk-hats pissed their pants at the sight of the Buffster and dropped me like a useless rug. I ended up falling down the stairs. That's what's wrong with me. The lousy rock & roll is the result of my head banging against the stairs, one stair after the other. And there were so many of them!

I want to open my eyes, but even the thought of that hurts. So, I force my hand to make a fist, and I wish I didn't. Because the second my fingers twitched, a mighty shriek sounded. Like Ozzy Osbourne attempting to hit high notes. I start to panic, my fist unfolding in haste. As my ears start to ring, I wonder if I can pass out again.

The horrible sound stops.

I stay stiff for about three seconds, and then I pull my eyes open, and a fog greets me.

It gradually clears, until I'm face to face with a beautiful woman. It's like the scene in The Little Mermaid – which I've been forced to watch, thank you very much - when the prince wakes up after Ariel saves him. Except my mermaid is blonde and has brown eyes and isn't a cartoon.

Suddenly, her eyes widen and her mouth opens, releasing the same bloodcurdling shriek.

"Stop it," I say with a wince.

"Xander, you're awake."

"You know my name?"

"Of course I do. And you know my name, too."

"Ariel?" I venture.

She blinks at me, then turns to the nurse I just notice standing next to me on the other side. "What did you do to him?" she accuses, her expression frantic and scary.

The nurse stares at her in confusion. "What?"

"He called me Ariel."

"That's not your name?"

"Urgh, I want Anna! She's been the nurse for the past five days, and now she conveniently chooses today as her day off. Medical staff shouldn't be allowed days off. You'd think I'd listen to Giles and close the Magic Box on Sunday?"

My head spins a little as I don't follow what they're saying. Larry sent me to the hospital, that's what I can follow. That jackass, hopefully Buffy pounded him to unconsciousness as well.

"Go get me a doctor or someone who understands!"

I glance uncomfortably at the poor nurse dashing towards the hell exit. Then my heart beats faster when I realize I'm stuck with Scary Woman. I look warily at her as she examines me with narrowed eyes. Suddenly, fire flashes out from her eyes, and I shrink with fear.

"Is this an attempt to get out of the wedding?"

"Wedding?" I squeak.

The doctor walks in with his white coat fluttering behind him like angel wings – the power of good quality air conditioning. He reveals his shiny teeth with a trademark smile, and suddenly I feel safe. "Hello, Xander, I'm Dr. Norman. I'm a resident neurologist." He gestures at the nurse next to him, who's casting careful looks at Scary Woman. "This is Julie, a specialist nurse."

I nod at both of them. Don't leave me!

"All right," Dr. Norman says, looking into his chart. "How are we doing, Xander?"

"I've got confusion, a touch of paranoia, and a dash of terror." I glance at the blonde. She appears confused by my words, if a little hurt.

Dr. Norman follows my stare. "Ah, Anya, nice to see you again. I told you, you'll be the first face he'll see." He winks at me. "She never left your side. You're a lucky man."

I look at her, uncertain. "Anya?"

"Yes, Anya," she says, exasperated. "Not freaking Ariel. They're not even remotely similar names, except for the initial capital A. Still, they're phonetically unrelated and are not of demographic classifications." She crosses her arms with a huff.

"Sorry… about the mix up. Anya," I pronounce the name with emphasis, trying to see if it brings up memories, but no, I don't remember this woman. I chew my lip. "Um, uh, who are you exactly?"

Her eyes are as wide as those of Japanese anime characters and I resist the urge to hide under the covers. "Who am I?" she roars.

Dr. Norman frowns. "Isn't she your girlfriend?"

My mouth hangs open. "My… my girl… I've got a girlfriend?"

Anya slaps my shoulder. "You SO do!"

"Ouch! Sick here!" I remind my supposed girlfriend with a glare. Girlfriend. I look her up and down. She looks older than me, definitely not a high school student. "Wait. Is it my turn to date a college girl? You're not a Delta Zeta Kappa by any chance, are you?"

"Is that a reference from your various comic book collections?"

She knows about my comic books. And we're still dating. I found 'the one'! Now wait, you're too young to be saying that. What next? You're going to marry her based on her acceptance of your comic book obsession? Jeez.

"Xander?" Dr. Norman says suspiciously.

I can't take my eyes off my living, breathing, really existing girlfriend. "Yes?"

"Do you know who this woman is?"

I roll my eyes. "C'mon, Doc, you've got a P.H.D."

Dr. Norman almost sits on my bed, but decides against it, seeing as I need all the space to be comfortable. "So, you're saying you don't know who Anya is?"

"I don't."

Anya smacks my arm.

"Ow! Don't slap me." I rub the sting with a glare. "I'm already in too much pain right now. My head is riding a Six Flags roller-coaster at the moment."

Anya stands up, fists on hips, glowering at me. "Why are you pretending not to know me?"

It's the first time I get a glimpse of her body. I lose myself at the sight of her round hips, narrow waste, and then my brain stops working when my gaze hits her boobs. Those boobs are mine. I can have squishy boob-y hugs! And more dirty stuff once we get to second base.

Fingers snap in front of my eyes.

I recoil, and then look up at her, her face about to explode. My girlfriend is moody. I have a girlfriend!

Nurse Julie was silent through all of that, except for the occasional giggles at our couple's quarrel. "What's the last thing you remember, Xander?" she asks all of a sudden.

"The last thing I remember is obviously in that chart."

Dr. Norman nodded. "You tripped and fell down the stairs."

I feel Anya pinching me, but the knife-like pinch is nothing compared to the anger blasting inside me. "Tripped?" I repeat indecorously. Typical. Jocks always get alibis. "I didn't trip. Some students pushed me down the stairs."

Anya pinches me again.

Dr. Norman flips back two pages in his chart. "It says here that you tripped." He frowns at me. "Students? Where did you meet school students at night?"

Anya pinches.

"Night? No, it was morning." I finally cover my arm protectively and scream at Anya, "Stop doing that! What the hell is wrong with you?"

She stares at me, speechless. It's such a pleasure to see her scared face for the first time. I turn my attention to Dr. Norman. "I was at school. Sunnydale High?"

Silence overtakes the room. Everybody is staring at me like I said something retarded. I look between their stunned expressions and an overwhelming feeling creeps inside me. "What?"

"You were at the abandoned school and saw some students there?" Julie asks carefully.

"Abandoned?" I feel something tightening in my chest. "How many days passed since I was out?"

"Five days, sweetie," Anya says, running a comforting hand over my arm. I relax to her touch only to tense again when I look at her worried face. Who is this woman?

"How can a high school be abandoned in five days?" I ask, returning my gaze to Julie. Her furrowed eyebrows make my heart sink.

"Xander," Dr. Norman says slowly as if he's afraid he's going to break me. "Sunnydale High exploded two years ago."

"What?" I exclaim, jerking Anya's hand away. "That's impossible."

"Yeah, it happened during a graduation ceremony," Julie says.

"But, two years? How can that be? I was there five days ago, according to you. I was out cold for five days, and five days ago I was studying there. I was a student there. How…" I cut my panicked babble and a chuckle bursts out of my mouth as realization hits me. "Is this some sort of prank? Did my friends put you up to this?" I tilt my head to peer at the door around Julie's body. "I figured it out, guys. Gotta say, your Candid Camera is really impressive."

Dr. Norman examines me silently before he asks, "Can you tell me what year this is, Xander?"

I turn my attention to him, confused. "Year?"

"Yes."

I nibble on my lip, scared to answer. I'm already anticipating that this is going to turn out badly. "It's 1997."

Anya jerks up with a gasp. "Oh, no! You broke his brain." Her eyes shoot daggers at the doctor. "Fix him. Right now."

Dr. Norman ignores her, not breaking the eye contact with me. "Actually, it's 2001."

I feel my eyebrows climb up over my forehead and halfway into my hair. I glance at the door again. "Guys, this is not funny anymore," I call, waiting for a blonde head to pop out with a mischievous Buffy face.

"It's the truth," Dr. Norman says gently.

I shake my head. "No, this is a joke. A mean-spirited, unfunny joke. It's 1997." I look around the room, as if searching for anything that proves that I'm in the future, but everything looks 1997-y. I look hard at the window, I spot no flying cars. Yep, it's still 1997.

Julie comes inside the room with a newspaper in her hand. I didn't notice her leaving. She approaches my bed and points at the dateline at the top of the Sunnydale Press. "This is today's paper."

I feel numb all of a sudden when my eyes catch the date: Aug 10 2001. No, this is a prank. Willow can do that; she knows her way around computers. Buffy and Willow want to mess with me; they printed a whole newspaper just to do that. Very impressive, considering that this is their first prank ever. We never really do pranks. There isn't time for that what with spending our days in classes or researching and our nights patrolling or watching foreign movies.

"Xander?" Anya's hand brushes tenderly against my shoulder. I look into her brown eyes filled with love, concern, fear – all for me. She has true caring feelings for me. And it's… making me feel nothing. If "nothing" means weird and uncomfortable, 'cause that's what I'm feeling right now.

"So, uh, what you're saying is…" I swallow heavily, unable to look at them. "I… I missed the millennium?"

Anya pats my shoulder. "Don't worry, sweetie. The CD is still there on the top shelf."

I look at her, bewildered. "What CD?"

"This is a rare case," Dr. Norman whispers to Nurse Julie, his cool doctor façade wearing off swiftly. Not comforting. He tries to appear confident when he faces me. "We're gonna run some tests. I'm sure it's a temporary condition. Your head wasn't hit very hard."

Tell that to the razor-sharp headache.

"We'll leave you to rest now." He smiles at Anya, then paces to the door, Julie scurrying behind him.

"Don't worry." Anya smiles reassuringly at me. "Like he said, it's temporary. Soon enough, we'll be back to our place."

"Uh…our place?"

"Yeah, the apartment. Well, technically it's your place. I'm still on the fence if I should give up mine. I know I will eventually, I mean, I'm almost always at your apartment. But I've always thought that we could keep mine for emergency calls, just in case. It's not like I pay rent for it. It's all mine."

My mouth opens and closes like a fish throughout her babble. "I –I have an apartment?"

"Yep. A lovely apartment with a wide space and a great balcony view."

My apartment has a balcony? "How…"

"It happened when you got that big raise as well as the promotion…"

"Big raise? Promotion?" I interrupt urgently. "I have a job?"

"Sure you do, sweetie. You're the head of your own crew in the construction company."

"I'm the what?"

"You get to boss people around."

"Wow…" That's so much to take in. How the hell did all these good things happen to me? A beautiful girlfriend staying by my side since the accident, who apparently has moved in with me to my huge, balcony-installed apartment, which I got from a real job where I'm someone else's boss.

Only four years and I got myself the best future I can ever imagine. I'm what? Twenty? Most twenty year olds are simmering around, partying 'til dawn, still figuring out what to do with the rest of their lives. Me? I'm all settled in. I've got the perfect life a thirty year old is still working their butt off to get half of.

A true smile curls up my lips, and I lift my gaze to Anya, feeling my eyes twinkling. "I've got it all, huh?"

Anya grins, enthusiastic.

"Cool." I bounce a little, which was a bad move; my head isn't sober enough for sudden happy wiggles. Anya notices my distress and plumps my pillows and coaxes me to lie down. I give her a smile of appreciation before I narrow my eyes at her. "Do you by any chance have my high school yearbook? I need to contact all the people in there."


2001. This is 2001. I just can't wrap my mind around it. I've got a bunch of newspapers and medical magazines, flipping through them the entire time. George Bush is president now, and he announced his limited support for federal funding of research on embryonic stem cells. Yeah, not that interesting, but it happened in 2001, and I don't remember it.

I toss the loads of newspapers aside and flop back on my pillows. Where are my friends? Didn't they get the memo about me being awake? Did we grow apart after high school? My heart is pounding fast enough to drive nails at that thought. I can't believe I didn't ask Anya about them. I guess I was too relieved to see her gone. I needed time alone –now I don't. I want my friends. Hell, I even want to see my parents. I want to see people I know. I want to make sure this whole thing is real.

"Xander?"

My head snaps towards the door.

Willow and Giles are standing in my room. I feel the unbound strain of relief winding through my body and I can't help the wide grin from spreading across my face. I almost throw myself at them, regardless of the pain. "Will, oh God, you're here!"

She comes to my side instantly, wrapping her arms around me. I hold on to her, not wanting to let go.

Giles pats my shoulder and I cast him a happy smile, not surprised to see that he's aged a little, even though it's a tad distracting. I notice he's not wearing glasses, and he's uncharacteristically dressed in flannel and sweat pants.

When I gently push Willow away from my embrace, I'm taken aback by her short hair. Last summer, she was so petrified when she trimmed it I thought she'd never get a haircut for the rest of her life. Now it's shoulder length, so not Willow. At least, it's straight. I don't think I'll be able to handle a curly-haired Willow. She's wearing a tight serious-looking shirt and a pair of tight dark jeans. Willow, whose closet is filled with nothing but funny skirts and overalls, is wearing dark jeans? My girl has grown up.

I glance at the door expectantly, but see no one. "Buffy didn't come with you?"

They cast each other uncomfortable fleeting looks.

"What? Something wrong with Buffy?"

Willow looks away, her lip quivering. Panic rising inside me, I turn my gaze to Giles; his shoulders heave as he sighs deeply.

"Buffy… has passed away."

I feel something like a heavy lead ball form in my stomach. "Passed away? No, I performed CPR on her. She was only gone for minutes."

"That was five years ago," Giles reminds me gently. Shit, yeah, future-amnesia. "She passed away a couple of months ago."

Blood suffuses the skin of my face and throat, and my pulse is throbbing at my neck. My gaze lowers to the white sheets I'm almost ripping. "How? Why…"

"There was nothing we could've done. Buffy sacrificed herself to save the world."

That makes sense. Buffy would do that. She's a hero. What doesn't make sense is not seeing her ever again. Heart thudding in my throat, I recall Buffy's obsession with her hair, her mini-skirts, her puns, her perfume, complaining about slaying, complaining about a history quiz, complaining about Giles keeping her at a tight schedule. It's over. Everything. Never again. I don't even know what twenty year old Buffy is like. She's gone before I got to see the older version.

She's gone.

I feel a tender touch on my shoulder. "Xander?" Concern and sorrow are warring together in Willow's green eyes.

My throat closes over any response I can make. I feel my bottom lip beginning to twitch, and bite on it.

"We, uh, talked to the doctor," Giles says. "They're trying to make sense of the situation."

Willow's eyes are glistening at the edges; a sob breaks out of her mouth the second my lips tremble despite my teeth biting on them. I bite harder, feeling the small cut, waiting for the taste of blood.

"Do you want to know how you've gotten here?"

I look at Giles, forgetting he's here, much less talking to me. Anguish flares briefly in his gaze when he catches my broken expression; he rubs his forehead, eyes closed. "Do you want to…?" he trails off, sadness overtakes him.

I try to answer, but the words don't even form well enough to get lodged in my throat. Instead, I give a shaky nod.

"You've been a-attacked by a Neothral demon. This… This type of demon usually lives in a hell dimension, but due to our own… bungling, we've exchanged another demon with this one by mistake."

Demon. I guessed it right before. It was a demon attack… and Buffy wasn't there when it happened. She couldn't slay the demon.

"Neothral demons are completely foreign in our world, so we needed help from the demon community to make sense of what their bite does to a human being. It appears that it carries an abnormal type of poison that produces permanent memory impairment. I'm not so sure how it works exactly, but the only way to cure the victim is taking another bite from the same demon. The second dose of the poison cancels the effects of the first…"

Giles's voice fades when he notices me staring right through him. He places a gentle hand on my shoulder, winning my attention. I swallow through the lump in my throat as I lock eyes with his warm ones. Giles never looked at me this way before. "The doctors diagnosed it as retrograde amnesia," he says softly. "It's the inability to remember events preceding the accident. However, they can clearly see fault in the definition, seeing as you do remember events before 1997. They asked us if they can run more tests; try to figure out what's the problem."

"We were able to convince them to let you out," Willow says in hushed tones. "They'll discharge you tomorrow."

I nod again, licking the cut on my lip, closing my eyes and letting the tears slip. I catch my breath again, feeling the air burning in my lungs. I look at Willow's tearful face. "So, she's…" I can't bring myself to say it out loud.

"Yeah." She sniffles softly.

My heart hurts. It hurts so bad. "I already miss her."

"Wait until it's two months."


"What do you think?" Anya asks.

I stare at myself in the mirror, drinking in every detail, every change. I filled out a lot; I'm as big as my father before the beer belly. I can easily feel my muscles flex when moving my arms, they're more visible now, manlier. I can take Larry in a fight, unless he turned out into a bigger man –another question for Willow later.

My hair is still wet from the shower Anya forced me to take early this morning. It's still short, but it's there. My cousin Tom started to lose his hair at nineteen, just like his dad. Hair loss is a genetic in the Harris clan; early baldness is so common that I've braced myself with major paranoia, counting the hairs in the shower. I had already pictured myself with a cap on my bald head in my mid-twenties. Fortunately, my hair is as thick as it was last year when it was longer. I guess it was, uh, six years ago, if we're going with statistics here. Guess Buffy finally convinced me to use her hair products, and I can't thank her for keeping my hair on my scalp.

I shut my eyes, fighting a sudden headache, almost slipping from the cane I'm leaning on. Anya catches me and steadies me, I hold the cane more firmly.

"Too much handsome for you?" she asks with a warm smile.

I gaze at my face, my features matured a little, but I look so worn out. The spark seems to have died. My face is so dull and random, different, ugly. It's not me.

"I wanna lie down," I say quietly.

Anya helps me to the bed.

"We should get some sleep, 'cause I have to wake up early tomorrow. I'm thinking of heading back to the apartment; I haven't been there since the accident. It's probably all dusty right now. I'll get it all cleaned up and then I'll be back here as soon..."

She suddenly stops babbling. "Aw, sweetie," she says sympathetically.

When I feel her fingers brushing my wet cheeks, I whimper low in my throat. Sniffles I tried to block are dropping like rocks. I lean into her touch, feeling her tender kiss on my temple, and then her other hand massaging my head. My heart throbs for the comfort, love, finally throbs for Anya.