Way Beyond The Pale
by Jennifer-Oksana

"and if I'm hanging on to your shade
guess I'm way beyond the pale..." -- Tori Amos

"It hurt," Anya says, tracing the laceration, the mortal wound, with her finger. She's sitting balanced on the edge of Giles' bed, her eyes very wide and alive and human. Which, of course, she's not. "I wasn't expecting it to hurt so much. They tell you that death is quick. Painless. Mine was quick -- one second I was alive, the next it was all over -- but it hurt like a son of a bitch, Giles."

"Oh, Anya," he says softly. They are in his flat in Bath; he has been here a week, trying to secure some of the Watcher money for Buffy and the rest of the girls. There was so much of it, and he's as close to being head of the Watchers' Council as anyone. Who else? Everyone left is a rogue, a liar, or Wesley. "I know."

He does know. Anya has been visiting for a month now (whether dream, hallucination, or genuine haunting, he's not sure), telling him things with that open, ridiculous frankness that he now misses. Dying hurt. She misses Xander. She's glad that they made it out of Sunnydale before it went up. The insurance covers Acts of God (or Hellmouth), so make sure to call the nearest agent and use the money wisely.

"They're being difficult about giving you authority over the accounts," Anya says, tilting her head and nodding sagely. "Bankers are always like that. I knew a whole group of Venetian bankers in the sixteenth century who had instructions to only allow this one guy access to his vault after they'd examined his mole."

"That doesn't seem so -- where was the mole, Anya?"

Anya looks at him, completely oblivious to her apparent joke. "On the right side of his nose," she says blankly. "Where did you think it would be, Giles?"

He laughs, a bittersweet sort of rumble. "I do love you," he says, the twinkle still in his eye. Even now, looking at her, the quirky crinkle of her eyes, the uncertain smiles on her face, Giles cannot help but be a little gladder. Her presence lightens the room, and she's dead.

"Good," Anya says with a short nod. "I was beginning to worry at the end. Because you didn't say anything when I had post-break-up sex with Xander. You hardly looked at me after we had to make that ridiculous, unnecessary journey to prove you weren't the First."

"Yes, well," Giles replies, rubbing his head. "That was quite your fault. You could have told them that you'd touched me."

Now Anya laughs. "But you told me not to," she points out. "That you trusted that I could be sure to keep our affairs private. So I did."

"Bloody literal bird," he says fondly, wishing he could ruffle her hair. "You could have mentioned that you'd touched me without mentioning the affair."

Anya smiles sheepishly and looks away from him, her fingers tracing patterns on the bedspread. "I couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't let the cat out of the bag," she admits. "I touched Rupert! Right before he kissed me and I pulled off his shirt and we made passionate love on the couch when Buffy was out training the cannon fodder. Things like that. And you wouldn't have approved."

If he could, Giles would reach out and reassure Anya that he very much approves of her. But he's tried before to touch her, and she melts away like smoke and fog when he makes the attempt. He wants her to stay a little while longer, so he keeps his hands to himself.

"I suppose I wouldn't have, but it doesn't matter now," Giles says.

"No," Anya agrees. "It doesn't. Xander will be all right eventually. I think that he and Andrew are good for each other. And I always knew Xander was interested in men ever since he spent that whole night describing what he wanted to do to Angelus. It was all violence and petty mischief, but I still knew. You just don't think that much about another man unless you also want to have sex with him."

Giles laughs again. "I rather thought Andrew fancied you."

"Of course he did. I'm his perfect woman," Anya says proudly. "But not in a sexual way. After all, Andrew's gay, so he wouldn't be interested in having sex with a woman. I can't even imagine him with a girl, can you?"

This is why he loved her, Giles realizes as he moves closer to her remnant. The blunt edges. The confidence. The absurdist commentary on life that she provides without even realizing how human she truly is. It's something that was hard to see at first. Honesty looks like cruelty when it's unapologetic, and part of him wishes so very much he'd realized earlier how rare Anya is, and how precious.

How rare she was. Because she's not really here. If she were, Giles has no doubt he'd have her in his arms by now. Giles is very clear: he wouldn't waste a second chance, no matter how corrupt or diluted it was.

"No," he says, the sweetness of her presence rapidly turning painful. It never fails. He loves her, he always will, but if she lingers too long, the regret takes hold. If only he'd realized how very much he loved her. "Most certainly not."


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