Dallas, Texas – more specifically, just outside Deep Ellum.
8:33 pm: Alone, Anya waves goodbye to Shanice, who’s dropped her off at the curb outside Magic Places. She watches the taillights of the old Cadillac weave into the thread of traffic on their street, listens to the muted blues from the Arcadia a few doors down (not that great tonight-- Lindsey’s not playing), then goes inside the door. She’s tempted to ward the sucker down and give a certain absent partner a nasty magic jolt whenever he deigns to come home, but just because she’s in a horrible temper there’s no need to punish Dawn, currently visiting them from London. (Well, more currently, out on a blind date Anya arranged with Shanice’s little brother Tyrone: 6'3", runner, working on his MBA at UT-Arlington, drives an old Beemer he rebuilt himself, puts himself through school by working as a male model. Anya does believe in hospitality.)
8:35 pm: Anya stalks through the front door of their apartment above Magic Places. The guardian cat, who was sitting on the coffee table washing his butt, lowers his leg like a damn danseur noble and then bolts for his hiding place under Rupert’s desk in the study. "Hello to you too!" she snaps, before sagging onto the sofa and kicking off her shoes.
8:36 pm: She picks up today’s Wall Street Journal and then puts it down. She stares into space. Rupert left the stereo on, she notices, and then must suppress her urge to go over and de-classify all of his CDs. He agonized over the categorizing system for hours, but who cares whether something is "delta blues" or "swamp blues"? He just made up the whole distinction anyway, she thinks. Stupid man. Stupid man who only cares about his stupid stuff. Stupid man who doesn’t care about their anniversary.
8:40 pm: She does go over and move The Complete Blind Willie Johnson into Album Rock. Ha! Vengeance!
8:41 pm: When she flips by her copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours in the CD rack, she pauses. It is a little-known fact that Lindsey Buckingham’s decade-long mid-career slump is due to a vengeance wish made to Anya by one Stephanie Nicks. Vengeance is nobody’s friend, Anya remembers her hard lesson well, and she puts The Complete Blind Willie Johnson back into its place of honour.
8:42 pm: "I am such a sucker," she says out loud, to herself. The guardian cat meows in agreement from the study. When she tells him "No comments from other males!" he falls silent, but she can hear him meowing in his head. Men always stick together.
8:46 pm: Speaking of Lindseys.... she’s back on the couch, booting up her laptop. She’d like to know the replacement value of that Waterford serving dish Lindsey dropped and broke tonight when Angel thoughtlessly de-lurked in his front doorway during his cocktail party. The dish was Lindsey’s mother’s. She hopes tonight Angel gets the punch he deserves for that stunt – after the Barrar demon is dispatched, anyway.
8: 53 pm: She gets the right Google entry for the Waterford, and then goggles. Damn. Angel’s going to be in big trouble, Barrar dispatched or not.
8:55 pm: She checks her email. Nothing but spam.
9:04 pm: After shutting down her laptop, she checks her cell phone. Nothing. She’s beginning to worry more than fume. Rupert (who had forgotten McDonald’s party, apparently, although how he could forget, what with her daily reminders, she doesn’t know, and it’s their anniversary) had set up an early working dinner with Darien Morgan at Southern Methodist University regarding a rare copy of a sixteenth-century mad monk’s prophecies. He never fails to check in when he’s out, though, and if he hasn’t tonight....
9:05 pm: Rupert’s not answering his cell. She leaves a falsely sweet voicemail, telling him to check in.
9:06 pm: Another call, another voicemail. "Oh, and honey, I hope you’re not dead or hurt. If you have gotten hurt somehow and not let me know, I will kill you myself." There. That’s not vengeance, that’s just good policy.
9:08 pm: She gets out the beautifully wrapped presents she got for Rupert and puts them in the centre of the coffee table. It’s that book he wanted, and another vintage tie suitable for his collection and her sexual pleasure. She curls up in the corner and stares into space. Space is not comforting.
9:09 pm: Her cell goes off. Text message, though, which means it’s not from Rupert who claims the keypad is too tiny for his fingers (really it’s bifocal issues and his occasional inability to read the screen, although she knows better than to say that): Dawn, shrieking even through the electronic medium. "O Anya! Ty EEEEEE! :-)".
Well, fun’s all right for some, Anya thinks, and then forcibly pushes her lower lip in. She shouldn’t be pouting when Rupert could be lying dead in a ditch somewhere. Or eviscerated by yuppie cannibals on Greenville Avenue. Or mugged, left for dead but now wandering, amnesiac, on the shoulder of the Central Expressway, while very large trucks almost run him down....
9:10 pm: She begins to hum. "Let the light from the lighthouse shine on me," Rupert’s song. She leans forward and lights the pillars on the coffee table. Come home come home come home –
9:14 pm: The downstairs door to Magic Places opens, she can hear the bell, and then a familiar mutter, and then he calls, "Anya, are you here?"
She doesn’t know if it’s relief or bitterest fury that washes through her so strongly. Whatever it is, she can barely say in return, "Yes. Up here."
9:15 pm: He stalks through the door with barely a hello. He’s carrying his big briefcase, which bulges oddly, and he’s got – "Honey, is that grease on your cheek?"
"I shouldn’t be at all surprised," he says through gritted teeth, and goes without stopping into their bedroom. She’d follow, but there’s the slam of the door between them.
The guardian cat meows from the study. "Another word, and you’ll be going to the vet for a nasty snip!" she tells him, and then vaults over to the bedroom door herself and knocks several times. "Rupert?"
"Hang on. I’ll be out in a minute." It’s his repression-voice, usually tied to anger. Could be bad traffic, could be an ill-judged listener's-choice set on his favourite radio station, could be some other dumb Rupert-thing. He’s mobile, at any rate, which means he’s not hurt.
9:17 pm: She goes to the kitchen, the pride of her heart here in the renovated flat, and from there to the refrigerator. She put a bottle of Mumms (non-vintage, brut, highly recommended) in there before she went to Lindsey’s party – Rupert might not be in the mood for champagne now, she thinks, but she sure is.
9:18 pm: The cork pops with a pleasingly violent sound. Yay.
9:20 pm: The champagne rises, fizzes like her temper, but doesn’t spill over the edge. This is a good omen.
Also, the first sip is heavenly. The evening promises to get better.
9:21 pm: Rupert comes up behind her and slides his hands around her waist. She almost spills the champagne, but doesn’t, so that counts as a win. Also a win is his nuzzling her neck – he smells nice, all fresh cologne and soap – and then resting his head on her shoulder. "Hello, love," he murmurs. "What a sodding horrible evening. Did you pour me a glass?"
"Of course I did, which you’d see if you open your eyes," she says with just a little bite.
When he kisses her neck, he bites a little too. It’s heavenly.
9:23 pm: Before he joins her on the sofa, he takes off his glasses and sets them on the end table. Then he sinks down beside her, falls toward her, puts his head on her shoulder again. She moves him just enough that she can get her arm – the one without champagne flute – around his back and pull him in. He kisses her collarbone, just where her sweater dips open, and then sighs. "Sorry, sorry."
"For what?" she says, but he doesn’t answer.
They sit, entwined, and drink their champagne and look at the lit candles. In between the small happy flames, on the table beside her wrapped gifts, is a mystery present. She likes mystery presents. Surprisingly, she likes the silence with him, the space outside time.
9:28 pm: "A lesser man, my love," he says, "might point out that it’s rather difficult to come up with suitable ways to mark the occasion when one has three anniversaries a year."
Anya privately acknowledges that she might go a little overboard on the question of anniversaries; she is so bone-and-blood grateful to have him, and thus she feels it useful that they commemorate special moments, like the day he returned from Sunnydale forever (May 20), and the day they exchanged commitment bands (December 24, which makes a nice link to that other winter holiday), and of course today, March 22, which is the day he first arrived from Sunnydale and they first slept together and... everything. Still, even on anniversaries he can’t get away with crap like that – "You just pointed it out, honey. Don’t try to wriggle out of it."
"No, I said ‘a lesser man’ would–"
"Rupert Giles, you’re still Mister Dicey Semantics, and it’s not going to fly now any more than it did all those years ago...."
But she stops because he’s turned his face into her shoulder, and he’s giggling in that silly way she adores (although he claims he doesn’t giggle), and it’s tickling and sweet, and altogether too much contradictory emotion for her to handle right now. She takes another sip of champagne, and then kisses his forehead. His skin is clean with a touch of sea-salt. The taste should clash with her drink, but it goes perfectly.
"Only you, Anya my love. Only you," he chokes out before kissing her collarbone again, more seriously this time, and she can feel the pleasure begin to build inside, little waves of it summoned by his tongue on her skin as he forays down toward her breast. Then, quietly: "I’m so sorry I had to go out this evening. And I’m sorry that the car battery failed when I was... out, and I’m sorry I wasn’t there with you at Lindsey’s. What did I miss?"
"Oh nothing," she says airily. "Just Angel showing up because of the Barrar demon threatening Plano and all exurbanites north –"
"What?" He sits up, damn it, but doesn’t spill his drink. "That pillock’s back again? And Barrar demon... oh, that’s what the Blind One meant this morning."
"Yep. Need a champion for that battle, not a Watcher and his partner, so Angel got the call. Of course that makes Lindsey all crazy, too," she says, and they finish together, grinning, "A bonus."
He stops smiling then, however, just gazes at her in that way he has. Once she asked him what he saw when he looked at her without his glasses, and he said, "Truth. Love. Beauty." He didn’t even spoil that wonderful statement with a usual sarcastic follow-up about his need for corrective lenses, for which restraint she would adore him if she didn’t already, which she does. Always. Anyway.
Maybe she’s had too much champagne, she thinks, and she sets the glass on the end table.
"Let’s open the presents," she says.
9:40 pm: Draped in his loose tie (which brings out the green in his eyes) and cradling his book possessively, he hands her the mystery package. "I, er...it’s one for your collection," he says, with more hesitation than usual. "I hope it’s what you’d like."
"Ooh, you got me a robe?" she says, even as her nails rip open the overly taped seam. But her question dies when she touches silk beneath the glittering paper, gets a jolt of something old and powerful and feminine. "Rupert–?"
He sets aside his book, and then helps her open the package the rest of the way. It’s a heavy silk dressing gown, cream, unadorned. "Um, it’s a little more than vintage. Apparently this woman in Highland Park had bought it at auction long ago... anyway, it belonged to Jean Harlow. The film actress? I’ve got the provenance in my briefcase–"
"I know who Jean Harlow was. You know she’s one of my favourites," she says slowly. She almost can’t touch the robe. It’s too pretty, too much, too much.
"I thought so. That’s why.... But I couldn’t pick it up until this evening. That’s, er, where I was–"
She stops his fumbling words with her kiss, tries to tell him how very, very well he’s done. Her energy and love tip him back against the arm of the sofa, and then his hands are in her hair, guiding her deeper, and with the rush of joy and pleasure she almost forgets about the robe.
When she can, she gets herself free, gets herself to her feet. He lies back against the couch, one hand draped casually very near that lovely stirring cock she can see through his dress trousers, his other hand beginning to unbutton that blue shirt she loves on him, but his gaze is intent on her. She makes every movement count – pulls her sweater over her head and then shrugs off the bra he’s somehow already undone. He shifts, exhales, gazes. She reaches behind and unzips her skirt, lets it slide down her body so that she’s standing there in stockings and garters and nothing else.
His voice deep and husky, he says, "Remember, love, that Dawn could come home at any time."
"Oh, I don’t think so. That’s why I chose Tyrone as her date," she says, but perhaps he does have a point. She bends down to pick up the robe and her clothes –
And she feels him, feels his mouth where she hasn’t quite expected it, feels heat and his tongue and his hands, God his hands, and her knees go a little weak. "Rupert," she says. "I don’t even have my present on yet."
Then her clothes are taken out of her hands, and that vintage tie wraps around her wrists, knots securely. "Love, we have time for that later," he says, and surges off the couch, taking her with him.
He’s biting again, gently, as he walks her into their bedroom, and the air and his hands wrap around her like the kiss of a silk robe from one who’s gone.
She finds herself on the bed. It’s her turn to watch her love undress, to speak to him huskily, urge him on. She wants to revel in what she has, the love she can never quite define. When at last he’s naked, hot, and heavy over her, stroking in and out yet never quite leaving her, kept close by her bound hands pressing his head to her, she knows what it is. She has space. They have time.
11:00 pm and beyond: Once they’ve recovered from their pleasure-moments (which isn’t soon), they finish their anniversary by picking up the stray clothes thrown everywhere, blowing out the candles, feeding the guardian cat, greeting Dawn who comes in giddy and well-kissed at midnight, and sharing the rest of the now warm, flat champagne, but the sensations and the private comfort remain.
It’s space outside time, Anya thinks again, and her hand rests in his, entwined on the silk robe of a woman who died too soon yet who still lived on.
Boy, she can’t wait to see what Rupert gives her in May.