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Sacrificial Stone

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Xander sits on the swings and stares at the sandbox, only peripherally noting the soft whispers coming from the mothers sitting on the benches nearby. He doesn’t even blink as one of them moves in and whisks her child screaming from the sand, his red bucket falling back and dumping the contents all over the wooden frame and the green grass.

“What are you thinking about?” Anya’s voice breaks the silence and brings the eyes of the little blonde girl left in the sandbox up to his for a moment before she goes back to burying her Barbie neck deep in the sand.

“Sunnydale.”

He doesn’t glance back at Anya as she pushes the swing, and he’s careful not think about whether or not he should be moving under his own power. Her voice is strangely far off, but everything seems far away or under water since he woke up, even knowing that the dream wasn’t really his.

“What about it?”

“Why do you stay here?”

The laughter in her voice is almost mocking, but he’s used to it by now. “Am I supposed to say ‘besides you’ and stroke your male ego? I do enough stroking of that, don’t I?”

He smiles and shakes his head and digs his feet into the ground, stopping the swing. His hands grip the chains and he turns himself, listening as the metal clinks and twists as he faces her. “I’m serious.”

“I am too, occasionally.” She smiles and she sounds close again, near enough to touch. “But you’re asking questions that don’t have answers. Why Sunnydale? Why not?” She reaches out and touches the chain just above his hand. “Why do you stay?”

“I don’t have anywhere else to go.” He shrugs as if it doesn’t matter, as if the faint ringing of the ice cream truck’s bell doesn’t remind him of distant places he’s never been with sweat and stench and bodies sticky with stories he’s never learned to read. “Where else would I go?”

“You could just go.” She lets her hand trail down to the back of his fingers and smiles, and it’s real this time, with a hint of teeth and slightly lopsided. “You don’t have to have a destination.” She pushes him back and the swing untwists then twists again, the metal loud in the silence. “I could go with you. It’s not like anyone would notice I was gone.”

“I would notice. If you left. Er, without me.” He presses his feet to the ground again to stop the spinning and tilts his head to look at her. “Come here.”

She does as he asks, which always surprises him, and leans into him. “We’re in a park. There are children.” She laughs as he tugs her closer, pulling her between his legs. She rests her arms on his shoulders. “Not that I mind that there are children?”

Xander smiles and shakes his head. “Where would we go?”

“Somewhere exotic. Somewhere fancy. Somewhere expensive.”

He traces the lace at the neckline of her shirt and brushes her skin, his voice as soft as his touch. “And where would we get funds for such an expedition?”

“You could be a stripper again.” Her eyes light up at the idea, though he sees the jealousy that brightens behind the odd pleasure she takes in seeing him naked. He’ll never quite get used to either.

“I don’t know, might not make too much money if you frighten off the clientele.” He brushes a little harder, feeling the silky softness of her flesh, the plump promise of her breast. “You can be scary.”

“It helps, when you’re a demon.”

“Not a demon anymore.”

She shrugs, the movement causing his finger to tug the neck of her shirt down further, expose more skin. “It gets in your blood. They can take away your union card, but they can’t take away the burning anger and violence.” She smiles down at him and catches his chin with her fingers. “You like that I’m scary.”

He laughs softly and tugs the neckline down even further, the satin sheen of her bra glinting in the sunlight. “I do.” He leans in and places a soft kiss on her skin then leans back. The bell of the ice cream truck goes off in the distance again and he nods in the direction of the street. “You hungry?”

Her eyebrows lift slightly and she shakes her head. “Not for ice cream.”

He stands, their bodies too close together for the park and the children surrounding them, their shouts echoing like his past in the distance. “I don’t know. Something cold to cool your temper before I take you out for a driving lesson.”

“I’ve been watching old cop shows on TV. I think I know how to have a high speed chase. Spike told me to watch Bullitt.”

“Spike should be staked to put us out of our misery.” He catches her hand and they fall into step, strangely companionable. “You can’t drive like Steve McQueen. Nobody can drive like Steve McQueen.”

“Steve McQueen did.”

“Steve McQueen wasn’t quite human.”

She nods and watches the kids lining up at the ice cream truck with eyes he can’t read. “Do you dream about the future?”

“I don’t dream anymore.”

She casts him a sideways glance and a smile, and he knows she knows he’s lying, but he also knows she won’t press the issue. He trusts her in that way, in a way he can’t trust Buffy or Willow or Giles. “Did you?”

“Dreams about the future are just dreams. Or they’re premonitions. And those I leave to the infinitely more qualified.”

“You think she’s more qualified than you to have dreams?”

“I think some people realize their dreams and other people just live.”

Anya stops and looks at him, and he wonders, from the look in her eyes, what she sees as she does. “And you just live?”

“Live my life. Live my story.” He shrugs and tightens his grip on her hand, leading her to the ice cream truck and something cold and sweet on his tongue before bitter words and screeching tires lead them to something hot and tart between his sheets.

She follows along and then they walk side by side. He smiles at her and she smiles at him and, for a moment, Xander thinks about his story and her part in it, and he’s not sure he’s quite ready to know how it all ends.