Many thanks to Mahaliem for kindly beta reading this.
Giles reached for the digestive biscuit and dunked it in his mug of tea without looking, most of his attention on the newspaper he held. Dunking was an exact science; too long an immersion and you withdrew a semicircle, with the detached half heading south to form an unwanted sediment; too short a dip and you ended up with a bite of dry biscuit, damp on the outside. Skillfully withdrawing the biscuit, he got it to his mouth, bit off the saturated portion and then chased it with the last fragment.
He reached automatically for another, but paused. Someone was outside his door, feet scuffling, and muttering in what sounded like a demon language. Moving with a silent speed he’d almost forgotten he possessed, Giles lifted a sword down from its place on the wall and went over to the door. The bell rang and he blinked in surprise. Most demons just barged on in.
Prudently placing the sword within easy reach, he opened the door. A tall figure, swathed in black robes stared at him and said, “Rupert Giles?” in a sepulchral voice.
“Possibly,” Giles said, eying him suspiciously.
The demon – was it a Thrakar? Or did they have just the one horn? – shook his head. “I have a package for Rupert Giles. I can deliver it only to him.”
“A package? From whom?”
“Are you he?” the demon countered.
Giles sighed. “Yes, I am, but if you think I’m signing in blood, you can think again.”
The demon smiled, exposing serried rows of fangs. “If you are not he and you open the package, you will die in a most creative way, worthy of Anyanka, who set the protection spells herself.”
“Of – is this from Anya?” Giles stepped forward, his face angry. “How dare you! What kind of fool’s trick is this? She died –”
“Seven years ago today,” the demon answered, consulting a clipboard. “Yes, that seems to be in order.” He glanced at Giles and said patiently, “It is a message orb, sealed with the Rite of Erith. She left instructions as to when it was to be delivered. I’m sure the orb will explain it all.”
Giles reached out for the square package, rolled his eyes when the demon’s hand stayed outstretched and fumbled about in his pocket for some coins to tip him with.
“Enjoy your message from the grave,” the demon said pleasantly.
“Yes, thank you,” Giles replied, closing the door firmly in his face and locking it.
Placing the package on the table beside his cooling cup of tea, he waited a moment for his emotions to settle. Anya – of all who had fallen that day, it had been her death he had regretted the most. How could he not? Spike, yes, he’d felt a small pang of guilt- laden sorrow that the vampire had sacrificed himself, but they’d not been friends. Besides, he hadn’t stayed dead.Giles felt his lips thin as he remembered the chaos that had followed that little bit of news...
Anya was different. They’d spent so many months working together in the shop that it was no wonder he’d accepted they were a couple under the influence of that bloody spell of Willow’s. She’d annoyed him, infuriated him, irritated him – in short, she’d been as dear to him as any of them.
Pouring the tea away, he got himself a glass of whisky and settled down to read about the Rite of Erith before attempting to open the box. Curiosity outweighed by caution. He must be getting old, he thought regretfully.
An hour later he had the information he needed – and a dozen questions. Easing open the box and fending off the inevitable explosion of plastic packing chips, he pulled out a dull- blue orb. He hefted it experimentally, to judge the weight, and then threw it at the nearest wall. It exploded into shards that melted like snow and Anya stood before him.
“Hello? Rupert? Can you see me? I’m not going to start talking until I know you’re not sitting in the wrong place so all you can see is my back. Though that wouldn’t bother you as you always did seem to like staring at my behind. I’m not complaining; I’m glad that you thought it was attractive.”
Giles watched the pretty, animated face and blinked away the sting of sudden tears. Ridiculous to be so affected by this. It wasn’t her, not really.
“That should be long enough. Now, if I know you, you’ve probably found out all about how these work – ”
He had, but he listened as she told him anyway, letting the familiar cadences of her voice awaken a score of memories. Odd how she was smiling in all of them.
The orb was set up to do more than record a message. Anya would have walked into the office of the demons who held the franchise, paid a staggering amount of money, and been left alone to say whatever she wished. Part of the spell was a guaranteed delivery at a specified time and a memory wipe. People used them to store secrets, often mailing them to themselves in the future. Giles shuddered at the implications and possibility of misuse inherent in such a device and hoped they never became widely available to humans.
“You’re probably wondering a few things. Why I’m doing this, why I’m sending it to you, when I did it...you’re pursing your lips up, aren’t you, and frowning. I can just see you.”
Giles watched Anya take a deep breath. “When. Well, I can do this, if that narrows it down.” Her face transformed from human to demon and Giles bit his lip. After the wedding, then.
“It’s about a week after Xander – well. You know what he did and you can guess why I did this. It’s strange; I don’t feel as I used to. I’ve been human for a few years and demon for a thousand but it’s the human that stuck. I still feel. I shouldn’t, but I do.”
Her face changed again and she looked at him with a searching, puzzled expression, as though the answer was right there in front of her, neatly printed, but written in Greek.
“I’m setting this up to go to you seven years after I die. That’s to make sure I am dead – the way people pop back and forth, you’d think death was as permanent as wash in colour.”
She patted her own blonde hair and Giles reflected that he’d preferred it brown, softly curling around her face.
“It’s also very likely that you’ll die a long time before me and never get this, in which case I’ll get a partial refund. As a demon I’m practically immortal and as a human you’re considerably older than I am.”
“Thank you, Anya,” Giles muttered, but there was no heat in it. More than twenty years difference allowed her to think that way. He knew he would have at her age.
She dimpled at him, that sunny beaming smile that was so like her. “But that would mean I’m spending an insane amount of money for nothing, even with the refund, so let’s just pretend I’m dead and you’re not, unlikely though that is. How did I die? Was it horrible? Was I brave? Did everyone cry?”
“Oh, dear Lord...” Giles didn’t want to miss a moment of looking at her, so he didn’t close his eyes, but he wanted to. She’d died apart from them and Andrew’s account had been embroidered so often, possibly from the best of motives as he’d made no attempt to embellish his own part in the fighting, that none of them really knew exactly what had happened to her.
“You were brave. I cried,” he said, knowing that his words were pointless. The tears had come many days later and had hurt. He’d gone back to London with some of the others, and mail from America had caught up with him; paper work for the long delayed insurance payments on the Magic Box. One of the forms had Anya’s signature on it and he’d stared at the familiar squiggle and that, just that, had been enough to bring him to his knees. Xander had found him, huddled beside his bed, shaking, teeth chattering and had looked after him with a silent, rough, sympathy. They’d all gone through it, he suspected, all had the moment when they paid their dues for the victory.
Anya nodded as though she’d heard him. “I wish I could have seen it...never mind. I’m going to get to the point. I bet you’re really busy, lots to do, thinking, ‘That Anya! Always so tiresomely chatty!’”
Giles stared around him. Busy. He liked to think he was but the truth was that he was bored.
“I wanted to give you something. Something to say ‘thank you’. You were the only one who gave me something and didn’t take it back. You gave me a job. You left me the Magic Box. It means I still have something, something left. I have a choice. I’m still eager to dispense justice, of course.” Her face hardened. “I’d forgotten how much I was needed, how much it hurts to be betrayed –”
Giles remembered lying in the ruin of his – their - shop with Anya by his side. He’d thought he was going to die and she’d been there, her eyes going from his face to the mess around them, as though she couldn’t decide which distressed her the most. The destruction of that place, with all its memories, had been one thing he’d never really forgiven Willow for. Silly, really, to care about that, and now it scarcely mattered, but the grudge was still there.
She’d broken his toy and never really said sorry. Apologies for a score of other sins, yes, but that particular one? No.
Anya’s face brightened again. “But I don’t want to get like Buffy, all work, work, work, so the shop will be a pleasant hobby. It’s thanks to you that I have something to take my mind off things, so I’m sending you a present. That’s correct, isn’t it? It’s what humans do in these circumstances?”
Giles shrugged helplessly. “I suppose so,” he murmured, wondering uneasily what she would have thought suitable at that point in her life.
“You get to relive a memory, Giles. One with me in it, of course. I don’t have access to anyone else’s mind. One before this moment too, because, hey, not a miracle worker! Can’t go into the future! Say it aloud and the spell will activate.” Her face sobered. “Does it seem like a weird present? Would you have preferred some of the alcohol you like, or maybe a book? I just thought if I was dead, you might be missing me. Just a bit, anyway. I miss you. I know it was always Buffy who was the important one, and I get that, I really do...but she wasn’t there when we decided to put the candles in alphabetical order and you said essence of slug should go under ‘e’ and I said that would confuse people and it should go under ‘s’, now was she?”
“Thankfully, no,” Giles said. “And I still maintain that – ”
“And I can’t help thinking if you’d been at the wedding, you might have persuaded Xander – oh, it doesn’t matter.”
Giles rather thought it did, but it was too late now, like so many things. Why hadn’t he come back? Might he have seen the path Willow’s feet were on, have helped Buffy recognise the threat those boys had posed? Saved poor Tara?
“So, go ahead and choose! Have fun!”
The image in front of him froze, Anya’s face caught in a sparkling smile. Giles stood and walked to her, seeing the tear marks on her face beneath the careful makeup. She must have shed so many then...
He stepped back and took a moment to think. It was an offer he didn’t plan to refuse. He found himself so awash in unaccustomed sentiment that he craved the icing on this particular cake, no matter how he might regret the indulgence later when old scars began to bleed.
Anya...he’d known her for so long as Xander’s love and he wasn’t inclined to pick any memory with that connection. Not when she stood there, like ‘Patience on a monument, smiling at grief’. He frowned, trying to pin down the context of the quotation, and then dismissed it.
Neither did he want anything mundane. He could recall a dozen morning smiles, a score of dramatic squabbles that left both of them invigorated and unresentful, but no.
The moment he chose was unique; the only moment where she’d been his and his alone.
“I choose the time we kissed, Anya,” he said softly, and the room vanished.
“Don’t leave me, Rupert.”
Her eyes were soft with appeal, her face pleading with him and he felt all his irritation vanish in a moment.
“Oh, Anya!” He walked towards her, towards a future, towards an embrace that left him tingling, a mouth that yielded under his and then responded with a fervour that made him want her so much. Her kiss felt as new as springtime and she smelled faintly of flowers....
Giles gasped as his body remembered - and cried out as Anya, past and present, disappeared, leaving him standing alone in a quiet room, on a quiet street, in a sleepy town.
Hours later, when he’d made guarded, careful calls to the others and found he was the only one to have received a parcel, he went to bed. Sleep seemed impossible given the jumble of regret and longing tangled up in his head, but the darkness helped him to think. As his mind slipped gradually into sleep, he remembered the rest of the quotation,
“she never told her love,
But let concealment like a worm i' th' bud
Feed on her damask cheek; she pin'd in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sate like Patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?”
“Oh, Anya,” he murmured. “I wish...” He stopped. Not aloud. So he wished silently and dreamed of her.
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