Anya kept an obsessive eye on her calendar when it came to holiday cheer. It was important to know when annoying tourists would show up in the Magic Box looking for mistletoe around Christmas, or frustrated witches would need potions to mildly poison their annoying relatives over Thanksgiving, or (and this one was the currently relevant holiday) lovelorn teenagers would be coming in for love spell ingredients on Valentine’s Day. She had to knock up the prices just a little, after all.
“Oh, for—Anya, we’re making a tidy profit as is,” said Rupert with exasperation, removing the sticker sheet of price tags from Anya’s hands. “There’s no need to bleed unlucky teenagers dry.”
“Quite frankly, I’d think you’d want to put up more of a fight when it comes to teenagers and love spells,” said Anya doubtfully. “Didn’t Xander cast some disastrous enchantment that ended with half of Sunnydale trying to kill him?”
“Yes, well, none of these children have enough magical ability for me to be concerned.” Rupert placed the sticker sheet on a shelf out of Anya’s reach, responding to her glower with a small, smug smile. “I’m sure we’ll manage without your insane prices for one holiday.”
“Rupert,” said Anya with frustration, “money means a lot to me! It’s how I pay for our romantic excursions!”
“If I remember correctly,” Rupert countered, “I pay for our romantic excursions. You claim that the height of romance is my paying for things and allowing you to hoard your wealth like a dragon.”
Rupert caught her gently by the waist, dipping his head down to kiss her on the cheek. “An adorable dragon,” he added.
“You are on thin ice, mister,” Anya informed him, but she couldn’t hold back her smile. “Now. May I please have my price tags back?”
“Absolutely not,” said Rupert warmly. “What on earth makes you think that anything has changed?”
“Hm-mm,” said Anya, looking up at him through her lashes, and draped her arms around Rupert’s neck. She tilted her head back, bit her lip in the way that she knew drove him crazy, and then stood on tiptoe to bite his lip. Gently, but still a little bite-y—she was turning kissing this man into a science, in her opinion. Rubbing her nose against his as she pulled back, she murmured, “Dearest and most adorable Rupert, may I please have my price tags back?”
“Counterpoint,” said Rupert, his voice low and gravelly in a frankly delicious way. “I give you nothing, and we kiss until it’s time to officially open the shop without exploitative prices that take money out of the pockets of unfortunate children.”
“You make it sound like I’m some kind of unfeeling monster!” huffed Anya, stepping out of his arms to give him another patented Anya Glare. Most of them didn’t work all that well on Rupert unless things were actually serious, but it was the thought that counted. “These children are going to be misusing magic and you’d just hand them the potential to do so?”
“Well, you would too if they were giving you a bit more money,” Rupert pointed out.
“…that’s so beside the point,” grumbled Anya, but another smile was stealing across her face. Arguing with Rupert felt kind of fun now that they were dating. After another few seconds, she added as casually as she could manage, “So is that kissing until the shop opens offer still on the table?”
“For you?” Rupert leaned down, brushing his lips tenderly against hers. “Always.” He kissed her again, then stopped with a small smile. “Oh—goodness, Anya, in all our arguments about pricing—”
“—is this your way of saying that you’ll give me back my price tags?”
“—I’ve forgotten why we were arguing in the first place.”
“Really?” Anya cocked her head at him. “We’re arguing over the price tags. You literally just said that we were arguing over the price tags. Are you going senile already? We’ve only been dating for about three months, Rupert, and I will be quite miffed if that’s what’s happening not two months into such a solidly wonderful relationship—”
“We are arguing,” said Rupert, who still had that soppy smile on his face, “because of Valentine’s Day prices. Who would I be if I didn’t wish my lover the happiest imaginable Valentine’s Day?”
All conscious thought flew out of Anya’s head. “What?” she squeaked.
“Well,” said Rupert, looking somewhat amused, “traditionally—”
“No, I know about tradition!” said Anya in a high-pitched voice. “I was there when they were inventing tradition, mister, there’s no way I wouldn’t know about tradition! Flowers, candy, little teddy bears holding anatomically inaccurate hearts—”
Rupert now looked somewhat concerned. “Darling, are you quite all right?”
“Of course,” said Anya, tugging herself free from his arms. “Listen, I have to go run five to seven errands. Can you open up the shop?”
“Love you bye!” chirped Anya, standing on tiptoe to peck him on the lips again.
Rupert looked positively thunderstruck when she pulled away; she couldn’t imagine why. She had more important things to deal with, anyway. Pressing things. Terrifying things that really, really demonstrated how bad she was at being a human. Waving at him (and trying not to look too suspiciously panicked), she all but sprinted out of the store, then down the street, ensuring distance between herself and Rupert were he to try and follow her.
About two blocks away from the Magic Box, she finally stopped running, leaning against a wall to catch her breath. She did know about tradition. She knew about every single part of Valentine’s Day tradition. What she’d entirely neglected to remember was that Valentine’s Day, far from being solely a justification to knock up prices on love potion ingredients, was also a day to celebrate the romantic love in your life—through gifts, food, or alternative means of financial/sexual placation.
“Oh my god I am the worst girlfriend ever,” Anya wailed, and buried her face in her hands.
Anya looked up, feeling a surge of relief. “Xander!” she said, and hurried over, grabbing him by the sleeve before he could walk past her. “Xander, you have to help me.”
“Is this about you and Giles?” said Xander uncomfortably. “Because that’s honestly none of my business.”
“Consider this a job offer, then, because I need manly assistance,” said Anya firmly.
Now Xander looked even more uncomfortable. “Are you…is this you propositioning me?”
“What? Oh my god, get over yourself,” said Anya impatiently. “I have questions about Valentine’s Day, that’s all!”
This seemed to relax Xander greatly. “Thank god,” he said. “It’s bad enough that Giles is dating my girlfriend—”
“Ex-girlfriend,” Anya reminded him.
“Ex-girlfriend,” Xander amended, looking a little sheepish. “Point is, I didn’t really want to know about your dirty laundry if some of it is Giles’s boxer briefs, you get what I’m saying?”
“Absolutely not,” said Anya. “Never attempt metaphors again. Xander, is it…” She trailed off, unsure how to phrase her question. “How important is Valentine’s Day to a relationship?” she finally asked. “Is it absolutely necessary for a girlfriend to give her boyfriend a gift on Valentine’s Day?”
“Oh,” said Xander sagely. “I see why you’re asking me this one. You’re not a big V-day gift-giver, are you, Ahn?”
Anya blinked, blushing. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” Xander began, “when we were dating, I got you all the classic Valentine’s Day stuff—you know, roses, chocolate, the whole shebang—and you gave me some long spiel about how Valentine’s Day is the biggest vengeance day in the business and how you didn’t see what was romantic about that. And then you got upset for giving me gifts.”
“I remember,” said Anya impatiently. “Largely, it was because I didn’t want any gifts. What I’m asking is if you think it’s necessary for me to give gifts on Valentine’s Day.”
Xander’s smug little half-smile flickered a little. “Look, Ahn, I don’t feel comfortable giving you advice about what to do and not do in your relationship with Giles—”
“Xander, everything I learned about being a human, I learned from you,” said Anya with frustration. “Are you telling me that your advice is conditional and I’ll have to sleep with you to get it again?”
Xander let out an indignant huff. “Clearly you’re pretty bad at being a human if you’re asking me questions like that,” he shot back. “You honestly can’t understand why I wouldn’t want to give you advice about how to keep your relationship with Giles going? Seriously?”
“Well—you still love me, don’t you?” Anya was extremely confused. “And when someone loves someone else, they want the other person to be happy—”
“Yeah, well, I’m not there yet.” Xander looked positively incensed. “So why don’t you just let me have my crappy Valentine’s Day without rubbing your new relationship in my face?”
But Xander was already turning and storming off in the opposite direction. Away from the Magic Box, Anya noted. “Give me some time,” he snapped without turning around to look at her. “Then maybe I can go back to being your little information boy.”
Anya let out a frustrated breath, watching him go with a mixture of anger and shame. Clearly she’d done something wrong, again, and she hadn’t meant to! The rules just always seemed to be changing, with Xander and the children—especially now that she was seeing Rupert. And she couldn’t ask Rupert for help; she didn’t want to make him feel like a now-irate Xander.
God, he probably was expecting some gloriously cliché Valentine’s Day gift. Not roses, obviously—he’d told her very early on in their professional relationship that he couldn’t abide them, and it was only recently that she’d found out why—but the other things. Chocolate. Sex. Flowers of a less bloody sort.
With an unsteady sigh, Anya readied herself to make some dubiously last-minute purchases on the one day that everything would be utterly expensive.
It was fun to jack up the prices when you yourself were exploiting carelessly impulsive humans who hadn’t had the foresight to shop before the holidays, but it was significantly less fun to go shopping and know that you had to buy these ridiculously overpriced items for someone you cared very deeply about. Worse still was the fact that Anya’s options were extremely limited: all the teddy bears were gone, the only chocolate available was either a laughably small amount or deplorably expensive, and the only flowers available were those damned red roses.
Well. Though Anya was clearly a terrible girlfriend, she wasn’t a terrible enough girlfriend to ignore Rupert’s stated preferences for the sake of getting him a socially-approved Valentine’s Day gift. He could do without flowers, she decided, and knelt down in front of the row of stuffed animals, scanning the leftovers. Llama—a spitting asshole of a llama had ruined her favorite hat back in 1869, so that wasn’t happening. Crocodile—nothing vicious or toothy seemed to really fit Rupert’s marshmallow-soft core. Owl—no, that was too on the nose, he always hated when people thought of him as just a Watcher. All of them were terrible, Anya decided, and grabbed one from the back, hoping that it would be slightly less bad.
A sloth. Who gave their boyfriend a sloth on Valentine’s Day? God, Anya missed being a vengeance demon. Romance was so much easier when you could just give your significant other the intestines of someone who had wronged them a century or two ago, but she got the sense that the entire Scooby Gang would frown on a gift like that. Tucking the sloth under her arm, Anya headed towards the chocolates.
“God, this is awful,” she muttered, wincing at the price tag. She was either going to have to buy Rupert a paltry little bag of candy hearts or a fifty-dollar box of medium-quality chocolates. The candy hearts would be less expensive, technically fulfilling the candy quota; they were probably the better choice for their sentimental traditional-ness, and much easier on her bank account.
“Oh my god, I love him more than I love money,” Anya realized aloud, and tugged the fifty-dollar box off the shelf, tucking it under her other arm and heading over to the checkout lane.
“Wow,” said the cashier, raising an eyebrow at Anya’s fifty-dollar box of chocolate. “You know those would’ve gone for, like, twenty dollars less if you’d bought them yesterday, right?”
“Sir, please just take my legal tender and hand me my overpriced garbage,” said Anya with as much dignity as she could muster.
When Anya got back, Rupert was still standing at the counter where she’d left him, looking somewhat starstruck. Upon seeing her, he said in a slightly shaky voice, “I love you too, you know.”
Occupied with trying to hide a very bulky shopping bag behind her woefully small frame, Anya almost missed what he’d just said. When she did hear it, she very nearly dropped the bag. “Wait,” she said. “What?”
“You, um,” Rupert moved forward, a misty smile on his face, “you left before I could…tell you. That I love you too. Have for a while, as it happens.”
And then something else caught up to Anya: in her panicked hubbub, she’d let something slip that she hadn’t quite intended to tell Rupert just yet. She’d told Xander much later, after all, and it had taken him quite a long time to warm to even the idea of being her boyfriend. Most men turned tail and ran when it was the woman who said I love you first. Most men—
“Let me help you with that,” said Rupert suddenly, and before Anya could stop him, he’d taken the shopping bag from her, glancing curiously down into it.
Oh no. “Oh no,” said Anya miserably. “I didn’t even have time to wrap them, I just ran over and got them from the grocery store on Main, Rupert, I’m so sorry, I know that Valentine’s Day is important to humans—to me, I guess, since I’m a human now—and I just love you so much and you make me so happy and I want you to feel as happy as I do when I’m around you—”
“You bought me fifty-dollar chocolate?” said Rupert, sounding a mixture of amused and touched. “Anya, really, I don’t understand what would have you so spun out—”
“Xander always—Valentine’s Day meant a lot to him, I think,” said Anya, sniffling. “A-and I just—I know I’m not very good at being a human girlfriend—”
“No, you’re not,” said Rupert. His smile had faded into a genuinely concerned expression. “Why do you think I would want that from you?”
“Because I’m human now!” Anya burst out. “Because human people have human expectations and Valentine’s Day is a human tradition—”
“Darling,” said Rupert, setting down the shopping bag to take her hands in his, “I think you’re looking at this a tad too logically.”
“I have to,” Anya countered. “I don’t understand it!”
Rupert hesitated, then leaned in, pressing a gentle kiss to Anya’s forehead. After a moment, he said, “I will concede that you were a human once, and that you are—biologically, at least—a human now. But Anya, being a human now doesn’t erase the thousands of years you spent as a demon, nor should you expect it to.”
“Human men want human women,” replied Anya with slightly weepy frustration. “If I’m not Anyanka, I have to learn how to be Anya, don’t I?”
“You can still be Anyanka without your powers—”
“No one wants a vengeance demon in your little club, Rupert!”
“I beg to differ,” said Rupert softly, and kissed her, and that was the exact opposite of what Anya had been expecting him to do. Warmth bloomed in her chest as she cuddled into his arms, his fingers tangling in her hair. Grounding her. He pulled back, just a little, just enough to whisper, “I love you, Anya, all right?”
“And Anyanka,” Rupert continued steadily. “And any other names you might have had—all of them. Every last one.”
“You can’t,” said Anya, but she didn’t sound as certain as she’d meant to. It was hard to be certain when he was looking at her like that. “I-I totally ruined Valentine’s Day—”
“Well, yes,” said Rupert affectionately, “but only when you got it into your head that Valentine’s Day was supposed to mean something that it didn’t to you.”
“What do you mean?”
Rupert bumped his forehead against hers, smiling. “Frankly, Anya,” he said, “I’d rather argue with you about the ethics of overpriced love potions than watch you make yourself miserable because you think you’re not being a human correctly.”
That rang true in a weird, warm way—in a way nothing that Xander had said ever seemed to. “What if I never figure out how to be a human correctly?” said Anya unsteadily.
“What makes you think that you need to?” said Rupert softly. “I love you. I love every impossible part of you. I love you best when you know that you don’t fit into this world as a human girl in her mid-twenties, because you’re not a human girl in her mid-twenties. You’re—lord, you’re more of a cradle-robber than anything. Your thousand-odd years to my forty-something?” He gave her a silly little grin that surprised a smile out of her in return. “You’re Anya,” he said. “Never feel as though you have to change who you are.”
Belatedly, Anya realized that she was kind of crying. “Okay, that was a pretty good Valentine’s Day speech,” she informed him somewhat tearfully. “I think I know what I’m giving you as a present.”
“I really don’t want the sloth,” said Rupert tenderly. “It’s a horrible sloth.”
“Oh, no, we’re absolutely tossing the sloth,” Anya agreed. “My present to you…” She bit her lip, then said with great effort, “My present to you is that I concede.”
“Concede?” Rupert looked slightly confused.
Anya sighed. Then she said, “That fifty-dollar chocolate was an easy purchase to make when I realized that I love you more than I love money, and that I’d pay anything if it meant you had chocolate on Valentine’s Day like all those couples on the Hallmark Channel. And if that’s how people feel when they’re buying stuff on Valentine’s Day, I don’t think I should like to contribute to that, because it’s absolutely a double-edged sword. What if I end up having to pay exorbitant prices for things that will make you happy just because I haven’t timed my romantic gesture correctly?” She shook her head. “No sir. Not happening in this store.”
“I think I am keeping this chocolate,” said Rupert.
Something in his voice caught Anya’s attention. She took a closer look at him. “Sweetie, are you crying?” she murmured.
“Coming from you,” said Rupert, sniffling somewhat ungracefully (not that she minded), “the sentiment of being willing to pay anything means…quite a lot, as it happens.”
“Anything within reason,” Anya corrected hastily. “Don’t think I’ll shell out millions for you, mister—”
Rupert looked up at her, green eyes all wet and smitten, that sappy smile on his face that meant that all he was thinking about was her.
“Oh, crap,” said Anya with a whole lot of feeling. “I would shell out millions for you. Are you serious, Rupert? How dare you compromise my financial integrity like this! You have a lot of nerve, mister—”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, my love,” said Rupert.
“…oh!” Anya blushed, then beamed. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Rupert.”