X Miles To The Rest Stop
Princess Twilite

Damn it all to hell.

Anya shifted uncomfortably between Dawn and Andrew. She was cramped into the middle of the back seat, with the belt buckle digging into her hip and two brats on either side of her, tossing insults back and forth. Or Dawn was tossing insults; Andrew seemed to be making random comments about "Star Wars." And the stuttering, oh God, let the stuttering stop.

Fucking road trips.

She could remember a time when she would have been long gone by now. In Tahiti, or better, Brazil where she'd convinced a few locals that she was God. Now that was a good time. Constant adoration, sexual pleasures that she'd never known since, generally a fun way to exist---that was, until they'd tried to kill her. Still, it was great while it lasted.

This, well this was torture just as good as any she'd dealt out. And she was really beginning to regret her life choices.

She shouldn't have given up being a vengeance demon… again.

Staring resolutely ahead and trying desperately to ignore Andrew humming in the back of his throat, Anya focused her eyes on the road. It was nothing but a long, dark length painted by white and yellow lines. How many miles were there left before they reached Los Angeles? It felt like they'd been in the car forever. And if there was one thing she understood, it was just how long forever could be.

"Shut UP!" Dawn practically yelled at Andrew, reaching an arm around Anya to slap him upside the head. Which, of course, ended with an elbow in Anya's nose. Delightful. This was why she'd never had children. Well, it wasn't the actual reason. Which was something along the lines of falling in love with men who couldn't seem to love her long enough to give her a CHANCE at having children --- but it was close enough so as not to matter.

Who was she to nitpick?

"Dawn, I've noticed you being more mature lately," Anya said succinctly. "A mature person doesn't hit ME in the nose!" Dawn winced in sympathy when Anya rubbed a hand over the sore spot.

"Sorry. I was trying to hit Andrew," Dawn glared around Anya, and Andrew pushed himself closer to the other side of the car, shifting his eyes from the road, and turning his back to the Slayer's murderous sister. Hadn't he overheard that they shared the same blood?

"You failed," Anya muttered disdainfully. "Next time, I'll hold him for you."

Giles looked around from the passenger's seat just as Anya grabbed onto Andrew's shoulders and Dawn plowed a fist into his belly. "What may I ask is going on back there?"

The three froze, each turning to stare at the blank-faced man in the front seat. A big grin, admittedly a little devious, appeared on Anya's face. "Nothing. I was only holding Andrew still so Dawn could hit him." Giles merely raised his eyebrows toward his hairline and then sighed, turning back around. Xander chuckled a little, behind the wheel. "I don't know why I'm stuck riding with you guys," Anya complained, unable to stop now that she had begun speaking. "I should be able to ride in the other car, with the strong almost-slayers."

"There wasn't enough room, Ahn." Xander replied, his eyes briefly meeting hers in the mirror.

Anya shrugged off a sense of deja-vu and turned her gaze out the window. Things were difficult between them lately. Even more so than before. They never should have had goodbye-sex. It had only complicated things.

"Besides," Xander continued, "we're the cool ones. We've got chips--"

"Ah," Andrew spoke up, his voice a little hesitant. Anya and Dawn both turned to look at him. He swallowed hard and smiled slightly, his lips shaky. "Actually, about having chips? They're kind of gone."

The car went quiet for a few very tense seconds.

"Dammit, nerd-boy!" Anya growled and wrapped her hands around Andrew's throat. His arms waved around as Anya throttled him, helpless choking sounds rising from his throat. Dawn looked on, grinning like a banshee. Andrew's hands flailed against the window, making sharp slapping sounds as though he was trying to climb out of the car. "Those were MY CHIPS!"

"Please! Stop! Choking! Me!"

Giles turned around again, staring as though bored by the scene before him. He sighed, scratched the side of his head and at last gave in. "Anya, would you please refrain from throttling Andrew? We can't afford to have a dead body in the back seat of this car. Do think, what would we tell an officer if we were pulled over?"

Anya frowned, choking Andrew one last time just because she could. And then she let him fall back against the seat, breathing hard. Pouting slightly, she sat back in her seat and met Giles' eyes.

"I suppose you're right," Anya conceded, crossing her arms over her chest. "Plus, we'd have to deal with the smell the entire ride, which is unnaturally long." Giles smiled at her, just a small crook of his lips, and then settled back into his seat. Anya blinked and then shook her head, shooting a glare at Andrew. "Watch your back."

Andrew swallowed hard and rubbed a hand over his throat. And then began to ponder how one really watched his own back ANYWAY. In the driver's seat, Xander rolled his eyes and reached a long arm out to turn the radio on.

It was going to be a long ride.

 

Anya wondered if annoyance was enough of a reason to call upon a vengeance demon and make a wish or two. Oh, she knew it wasn't, but it was a nice fantasy. Because if so, she could definitely have Andrew doing the dance of no longer having a voice to annoy her with. And that would be terribly fun.

But they probably wouldn't come to her aid anymore, and she didn't really want to be anywhere near them ANYWAY. She'd have her revenge on them, one day, when the time was right. Halfrek had been her only friend for centuries. Maybe not a constant, talk-on-the-phone-all-night friend, but a friend no less. And they would pay for killing her.

Anya was good at waiting.

Andrew had fallen asleep on her shoulder. Again. Anya sighed in irritation, wiping a drop of sweat off of her temple. Humans exuded so much body heat, sometimes she felt like part of a herd, sweaty and wearing unnatural smells like a fur pelt. And a fur pelt smell too pretty either. She should have killed Andrew after all. She was sure he would smell just as bad dead as he did now.

For the millionth time, Anya shoved Andrew's head off her and scooted closer to Dawn, hoping the move would keep her from contact with the odd child-like man. Just when she had relaxed against the seat and was considering using Dawn's shoulder for a pillow herself, Anya heard Andrew give a soft snuffle and fall against her, snuggling into her side like a baby bear to its mother. In that moment, she really wanted to be one of those mothers that ate their young.

Andrew was drooling on her boob. Disgusted, Anya stared down at him. His lips pouted loosely on his face, making him appear almost like an infant. Oh yes; now she was certainly thankful she'd never had the opportunity to have children of her own. Half the time they cried, the other half they spat up on you.

Not so gently, Anya slapped Andrew's cheek. He came awake with a jump, reflexively moving back to his side of the seat, banging his elbow on the window.

"I didn't do it!" he yelled into the silence of the car. Dawn jerked from her sleep, blinking to peer blearily at him, face cross. Xander flinched, his shoulders curling forward, but he didn't swerve on the road. Andrew slowly calmed enough to rub a hand over the side of his face, where a palm print was outlined in red, by the blood surging to the surface, just beneath his skin. He glanced at her warily and Anya graced him with a slow, dangerous smile.

The type of smile that said: you look pretty in red.

Satisfied that she'd instilled into him enough fear that he'd avoid her even in slumber, Anya settled back against the seat and stared off into the distance. By accident, she happened to look into Giles' mirror and found his eyes on her. Her gaze met his for just an instant before Giles pulled his eyes away and softly cleared his throat.

The smile faltered on Anya's face, and it was only with supreme effort that she was able to keep it from falling off completely. It slanted oddly, an expression that was an obvious lie. She hated how everyone else could lie with their faces, but she was stuck being brutally honest with every quirk of her mouth.

Anya tried not to think about how she'd caught Giles looking at her more and more as the days passed. Like he was always on the verge of saying something that shouldn't be said. Sex was one thing. She was good at it and found pleasure in acting out many interesting fantasies.

Love was an entirely different matter.

Forcing her heart into the quiet zone of denial, Anya didn't allow herself to dwell on it any longer.

 

The radio was fazing in and out. One minute it would be playing alternative rock to which Dawn would bob her head, and the next it would be creaking grouchily from the speakers. Like a fickle hearted man, Anya liked to think.

Andrew was actually being quiet, staring out the window like he was looking at a different world. Something sad haunted his face, making Anya feel a little contrite for being so irritated with him today. He wasn't all THAT bad. Just strange. And she could understand strange. Usually.

There was something about riding long distances in a car that Anya despised. Maybe it was because she had so much time to think and no way to really escape it. Until they arrived in Los Angeles, Anya was trapped in a prison of her own thoughts. They bounced around from the meaning of bumper stickers to the blood her hands had shed.

In the early eighteen hundreds, she'd committed a particularly brutal vengeance involving a man's heart being tied around his groin, quite literally. The prospective husband of the woman who requested the action had been cheating on her. Anya remembered that the man had probably deserved it, but watching that woman as she had laughed herself into delirium had nearly driven Anyanka to regret the entire thing.

Every now and then, it still popped into her mind. But her heart was too sore already to regret anything else, so she pushed it away.

The radio began to crackle again, this time in earnest. It hissed around them, like the blast of a wind on a snow-driven day. Wrapping them in a haze of white sound. Anya listened to it, closing her eyes to bring the noise into focus. She let it cool her ears, where thoughts drifted back and forth dangerously, brought on by whatever stray motion or words were spoken around her.

It didn't take much to start her mind on a tangent. When you'd lived as long as she had, there was a memory stored up for every occasion. Even those she was beginning to forget. The memories faded, just like the music had from the radio, with a solid, white hiss.

"I wish I had my guitar," Giles murmured quietly, as though the silence was a difficult thing to break. It had been quiet in the car for a long time, nothing but the breakable music and the hum of the car in their ears. "I'd forgotten how hard it is to catch a good radio station signal in this area. We won't have another one for another hour or so."

Anya opened her eyes slowly, looking at the back of Giles' head. Silver strands threaded through his dark hair, interwoven and catching in the sunlight. Shifting just enough to the side, she was able to glance peripherally at his hands tucked calmly together on his lap. Occasionally, a finger lifted and tapped out a gentle rhythm. Anya brought up a memory of those hands stroking over the strings on a guitar, firm but careful, always sure but never careless.

Without conscious thought, Anya let out a soft sigh that traveled through the confines of the car. Giles seemed to stiffen for a moment, as though the sound had done something to make his muscles harden, but he found relaxation again almost immediately. Anya's heart jerked sharply when she felt Dawn's elbow nudging her side. Turning her face toward the teenager, she was surprised by the knowing expression she received.

Dawn raised an eyebrow, tucking her mouth into the start of a smirk and hummed. Anya frowned at her and nudged her back, a little more firmly.

"Ow," Dawn complained, rubbing a palm over her abused side, but she stopped making silent insinuations. Except every now and then, the girl smiled in a way that meant: I know something's going on there. I don't know what, but it's a definite something.

Anya wasn't one hundred percent sure the brat was wrong, but it wasn't a notion she'd allowed herself too much thought about. There had been occasional sparks, sure, but nothing to start a fire with. Until recently, when he'd leaned over her shoulder to look at what she was reading, and his nose had brushed accidentally through her hair. He'd pulled back, apologizing profusely, but she'd just waved it off. Waved HIM off. Anya had learned her lesson after having sex with Spike. Well, mostly. It would be easy to hop back on THAT train again, but only because she'd done it before.

She wasn't looking to add another one of Xander's group to her list of men she'd slept with. Even though that brief, electric moment had lingered in her mind enough to give her erotic dreams for a week.

So, although things were now heating up, it had always seemed like they both rushed away from the flame, afraid of being burned. Anya stared hard at the back of his head, wondering what he could possibly be thinking, when just a sigh from her had him tensing like a bull scenting a cow.

Well, that wasn't exactly a sexy way to put it, but the truth just the same.

Feeling trapped in the road trip from hell, Anya clasped her palms tightly together and tried to think of something besides sex with Giles. In fact, she tried to think about something not related to Giles in any shape or form. She didn't need that temptation looming over her shoulder.

The music on the radio came back to shaky life and everyone gave a collective sigh of joy. Or maybe for a selective few, it was a sigh of relief. It was country music now, but Anya had been around long enough to enjoy most types of music, excluding rap, because that wasn't music at all in her opinion.

Anya nearly laughed as she thought of a time when they would have all been accused of witchcraft for having music that came from a box. But with that memory came others, of different times and a different woman than she was now, so the laughter was easily quelled.

"Can we stop for popcorn?" Andrew asked from her right, and Anya glanced at him. He peered at her cautiously, looking strangely innocent.

"We have to stop soon for gas, anyway," Xander replied from the front, shifting gears smoothly and turning the radio down a bit. Anya guessed that meant they would all start talking again. Maybe she could keep herself quiet long enough to make Giles forget all about her. Things were much easier that way and somehow she just KNEW she was the cause of his discomfort.

"You ate all those chips," Anya found herself saying immediately after she'd told herself not to speak. Grimacing, she admitted defeat and blamed it on Andrew. "You're so skinny. Where do you put all that food?"

"Uh--I-in my mouth," Andrew answered, smiling nervously.

"Call Buffy," Giles said seriously, turning to look at Xander. "Or she'll think we're getting murdered. We'll all stop at the next convenience market."

Xander nodded and reached for his cell phone. In the back, Anya realized she couldn't feel her thighs anymore. So it would probably be a good thing to stop and stretch her legs. And maybe escape from the whole atmosphere of boredom and secrets.

Everyone had them. Dawn had a crush on Andrew. Xander and she carried the recently-had-sex problem. Andrew was gay. And Anya had a sneaking suspicion that she and Giles were attracted to each other. It was hard to breathe when she had to worry about spilling these secrets and turning a tense environment into something more lethal. Oh, and the country singer on the radio was crying about his 'woman getting gone.'

Sometimes Anya wished she was still the type to run away from her problems.

 

While Xander gassed up the car, a group of potential slayers and a few rag tag individuals here and there stretched their legs out, walking around the parking lot of the half-assed store called 'Last Stop.' Anya wondered if by that, it meant the last stop until hell. Because that she could easily believe.

Buffy and Willow sat on the hood of the van, staring uneasily at the sinking sun as it crawled slowly toward the horizon. They were talking about something important, but Anya was too far away from them to hear. It was clear from the looks on their faces that whatever they were saying, it wasn't anything pretty.

Keeping to herself, Anya kicked a stone that skidded along the pavement of the lot. She kept to herself quite a bit these days, wondering if anyone even really noticed her or if she was just kidding herself into believing these people gave a damn whether she was dead or alive. Why would they? She'd never given them a reason to.

Blowing out a breath, Anya turned in a slow circle, surveying the landscape. Everything was flat, like someone had taken a bulldozer over the entire area, left to eat itself to dust.

Dawn and Andrew were in the store, which probably meant they were fighting again. That's all they EVER did. She could almost deal with Andrew drooling on her breasts again, as long as both he and Dawn went to sleep and didn't bicker back and forth like an old married couple. Then again, maybe she couldn't deal with it after all.

Lost in her thoughts and more than a little frustrated, Anya kicked a stone again. Because she hadn't been paying attention, it scraped over the pavement toward the front of the car where Giles had a map lying across the hood. Hitting him in the shoe, it ricocheted off the rubber soles to strike him in the leg. He frowned deeply and looked down at the small pebble that had nicked his ankle, hissing between his teeth as if stung. Covering her mouth in shock, Anya ducked quickly behind the trunk so Giles wouldn't see her.

Maybe she was still the type to run from her problems, after all.

She closed her eyes in defeat when she heard his footsteps moving around the side of the car and heading toward her. When Anya opened them again, he was standing tall, looking down with bemusement at her in a crouched position. Anya tried smiling widely, because it really HAD been an accident, just like everything that had ever happened between them seemed to be.

"Anya," Giles began, head tilted to the side, eyebrows drawn into a tight knot. "Did you just kick a stone at me?"

"No," Anya said and it wasn't a lie. Not really. Because she hadn't been aiming for him when she kicked it. This was just nature's fucked up way of saying she was going to pay for all the bad things she's done, by constantly falling into uncomfortable situations with Rupert Giles.

Giles looked at her in impatient disbelief. "Anya, you've been kicking stones. I was watching you." He blinked, pursing his lips as if he wished he hadn't said that last bit. "And here you are, hiding behind the trunk of the car."

Realizing that she was indeed still hiding, Anya rose from her squatted position. At least she'd given her legs that much needed movement.

"I didn't mean to kick it at you," Anya finally admitted. Giles nodded as if he had known that all along, but didn't move from in front of her, just stood and stared like there was something left to say. Her throat tightened around any words that she might have wanted to speak.

Oh God, Anya thought. The fire was getting closer, wasn't it?

"I WANTED white-cheddar," Dawn whined from behind Anya. She looked over her shoulder to see that the girl was following Andrew out of the store, a seriously pissed off look on her face. "But NO! You had to get weird-healthy-"

"It's good for you!" Andrew muttered in his defense, holding a paper bag closely to his chest. He kept walking, with Dawn hot on his heels. "You don't want high-cholesterol! There is no such thing as a super-hero with bad health. You want to set an example for future super-heroes don't you?"

"I'm NOT a super-hero," Dawn hissed, then jerked the bag from Andrew's arms. He stared down at his empty palms for a minute before chasing after her. Dawn, however bitchy she was acting, had a huge grin on her face.

Anya wondered if there was a kind way to break it to Dawn that Andrew was firmly Betty Crocker and not at all an Olaf. But then, some of the best relationships in history had been between a gay man and a straight woman, so why not? When Anya turned her gaze away from that train-wreck of a crush, she realized that Giles was no longer beside her. He was back at the front of the car, shaking his head over the map directions. He looked as tired of this trip as she felt, and as eager to have it over with.

There had been no way around it. They needed the people in Los Angeles, friends of Buffy and gang, to stop the end of the world. Anya yawned and had to blink hard tears from her eyes in reaction. She'd seen several ends-of-the-world in her lifetime; it was never quite as exciting as it was made out to be. They were always anticlimactic.

"Okay guys," Xander yelled when he came out of the store, cupping his hands around his mouth. Everyone turned to look at him, boredom apparent. "We have food, gas, not necessarily in that order, so let's hit the road."

Anya smiled slightly at him, then glanced in Giles' direction. He folded up the map, raising a challenging eyebrow at her. Anya blanched, and Giles smiled tightly, tucking the map in the back pocket of his pants, walking around to get back in the front of the car.

Maybe Dawn was right. There was a definite something going on there.

 

"We should sing songs!" Andrew said abruptly, clapping his palms together sharply as if to wake up the rest of them. Anya's head rolled against the back of the seat as she stared up through the rear window. The night sky met her eyes, pinpricked by stars. They'd been in the car for three hours. Three long hours. They had been following Willow, who got lost and they ended up going in the wrong direction. In fact, they ended up driving an hour and a half out of their way and were now behind on their schedule.

"Start singing and I'll chop you up into little pieces," Giles said from the front, his voice a low growl. Anya's head jerked up sharply, making her wince as a stiff pain struck the side of her neck. Too much of one cramped position. If she'd been magical at all anymore, she'd just teleport herself to L.A.

"I'll help you bury him," Xander said lightly as he pressed his foot down on the gas, steering the car so that he could pass the vehicle ahead of him. Buffy and potentials were now behind them, because none of them were eager for a repeat performance of circle-the-state. "There must be a shovel in the trunk."

"Yeah," Dawn chimed in sarcastically. "What car doesn't come equipped with a murderous shovel? That'd just be wrong."

"That's a good idea Dawn," Anya said to her, nodding succinctly. "You should go into advertising. 'Look at this pretty car you could buy. And it comes with a shovel with which to hit people repeatedly over the head.' I think you have a future in it."

Dawn blinked at her. "Huh?"

Anya's eyebrows drew together. Tilting her head to the side, she was about to answer when Andrew interrupted her. "I'm not very c-comfortable with this," he stuttered out unevenly, swallowing with difficulty. "You're talking about how to bury my body. I should be in w-witness protection, or something like that."

"I believe you must have some useful information in order to warrant that type of protection," Giles said calmly, but Anya could see a slight glow of mischief in his face. The headlights of a passing vehicle illuminated his expression. "And as far as I know, that is not the case."

Andrew coughed uneasily and fell back into silence. Amusement was a color of quiet and Anya smiled into it, thinking that her companions may not have been her friends exactly, but she liked them more than she liked her enemies.

"Have you ever been to Los Angeles, Anya?" Giles asked out of the blue. Anya blinked, turning her wandering gaze to him, as he leaned around the seat to look her in the eye. The glare of light off his glasses distracted her for a moment, and Giles raised an imperious eyebrow.

"Of course I've been to Los Angeles," Anya replied briskly, waving a hand, as if the suggestion that she hadn't was silly. "I was there before it had a name."

"Older women," Xander muttered dryly. "Gotta love them."

"Have you been there since?" Giles inquired, ignoring Xander's remark, while Anya glared at the back of his head.

No, she shouldn't have had sex with him again. But at least they had put it all behind them now.

"If not, there will probably be a lot of change to take in," Giles continued.

"I'm not a child," she snapped and immediately regretted it. He was only being nice. Giles was ALWAYS nice. Clearing her throat, she added, "the last time I was there was in the early seventies."

"The seventies. What an interesting era that was," he said softly, a far away look in his eyes. Anya wondered who he had been in the seventies. Giles had the type of personality of the self-repressed, so she couldn't help but think of who he had been before he closeted himself away.

Sadness, Anya thought. There was so much sadness in his face.

Giles seemed to shake himself out of a daze and gave her a hesitant smile. "It's odd that you were alive then, at times you seem so much younger than that."

"It's my sparkling personality," Anya stated bluntly, meaning it. Giles chuckled, deep in his throat and righted himself in his seat, shaking his head as if she'd said something outrageous. Shrugging to herself, she settled back and stared at the stars again. Listened to the silence. If Anya closed her eyes and focused, the only sound was the hum of tires against pavement.

The sound of time passing slowly, as it had for so many, many years.

 

Nightmares were swathed in a brilliantly white wedding gown. Anya pressed her palm against the cloth, amazed and disturbed. Turning her head to the side, she found Xander standing in a tuxedo, looking more mature and sad than he should.

"I'm finally ready, Ahn. I finally understand," he smiled and held out his palm. "Now all you have to do is say yes."

Anya's mouth worked over the word: "Yes. Yes. Yes." But it didn't taste right. Somehow, the word itself moved stiff and fake from her tongue. She was never very good at lying.

"I don't..." The phrase left her lips before she could stop it and she slapped a hand over her mouth, shocked.

Murmurs erupted from the crowd. Some from horror. Some saying: "I always knew she was bad for him."

"You what?" Xander gasped, eyes widening. With growing unease, he reached for her fingers. Tried to pry them from her jaw, but she backed away. He tried to take them into his palm and grasp them tightly. Followed her.

Confused, Anya pulled away again. Tears stung her nose, biting behind her eyes. What was she doing here? This had already happened and not THIS way. Frustrated and lost, she dragged her gaze around the church. They were all watching her, waiting for her to make a decision. A decision she had already made, but without telling anyone. Much less herself.

"I don't love you," she whispered, in a horrible voice that made Xander's face long and white. "Not anymore. I'm so sorry."

Xander stepped back, turning his face away.

"I'm so sorry," she repeated, with nothing else to say. A million apologies formed in her throat, beneath her heart. But only that one would come out.

The crowd suddenly hushed, as if a hand had wiped them clean of noise. The hairs on the back of Anya's neck stood on end; slowly she turned to face the church doors. A man with large shoulders stood there, the sunshine behind him making his face a halo of light. Blinding her. She blinked as he began walking forward, his stride sure, with the confidence of age.

"Giles?" Anya whispered, eyebrows drawing together in a frown of bemusement. Strangled by the sight of him, the pure intention on his face, she brought a hand to her throat.

"It's time to grow up," Giles said firmly, walking right up to her and taking her by the shoulders. "It's time to move on to places you know are waiting. You never know what you might find there."

Still confused, she struggled against his grip. "What are you doing here? You're not supposed to be at my wedding."

His eyes were infinite and tender. "This isn't your wedding day, Anya. Let it go. Wake up."

 

"Wake up. Come now, it's time to rise and shine."

Hands. Shaking her.

Gradually, sleep left her. She paddled easily from sleep to the shore of reality, blinking lazily and stretching. Even her muscles seemed to yawn in something that was nearly peaceful. Anya's fingers brushed against the cool, damp glass of the rear window and she found herself disoriented, staring at a sky that seemed unfamiliar.

"Anya," she heard again. "You should stretch your legs."

Confused, Anya flopped her head to the side and stared at the shadowy figure looming over her. It was Giles, wearing a worried look on his face. A blue light splattered across his face, made him appear incandescent. The door was open and cool air blew in, lifting up chunks of his hair, strands fighting with each other on his head. Still half-asleep and caught inside her dream, Anya reached out her fingers and tenderly traced the line of his face. His eyes widened imperceptibly and his breath caught on a harsh sound, as he froze, no longer shaking her.

Abruptly, she came to full awareness, the world shifting from a hazy imitation into crystal sharp clarity. Burned, Anya pulled her hand away, realizing what she had been doing and that Giles looked like someone had hit him in the back of the head with a sledgehammer.

His eyes cleared when she coughed and sat up straighter, by default nearer to him.

"You should get out," he muttered, looking anywhere but at Anya. "Stretch your legs a bit." Giles shifted back from his half-kneeling position on the back seat and got out of the car, slamming the door behind him. The car shook from the force.

Anya watched Giles stalk off with his hands shoved deep into his jacket pockets, and his head down. And then she forced herself to look away, to not feel an odd twinge of guilt for that short misleading moment. Startled, and more than a little shaken at the near miss, Anya sat very still and stared down at her palms, remembering a dream that wasn't really hers anymore.

When she couldn't take the silence of the car any longer, her thoughts ran rabidly over each other, Anya also left the confined space. She stood by it, looking around. The parking lot was yellow from the streetlamp and blue from the Pepsi sign that blinked down at her, buzzing just above quiet.

Anya realized quickly that they were at a rest stop, which meant she'd probably been sleeping for an hour or so. There was a cabin with a porch a few hundred yards away, where the bathrooms and snack machines probably were, and six picnic tables spread out beside the tire-tracked parking lot.

Leaning back against the car door, Anya spotted Willow and Kennedy kissing quietly in front of the van. Gently, as if it was all still slightly new to them. Anya shook her head. That wasn't a couple she had expected to pop up, but they looked okay together. The other potentials, and really they were all one mass inside her mind, were going through quick exercises on a large area of grass, shouting through their choreographed sets.

'Well,' Anya thought with a scowl, 'we're all going to die a very painful death.'

Ignoring the pangs of trepidation in her gut, she gathered her arms around herself, and followed in Giles' footsteps. Her stomach was growling and she was more than a little uncomfortable waiting while everyone else worked as a unit, getting something to eat, training, kissing. It seemed she was the only one left on the outside.

The chill slicked its way up her pant legs, biting the skin of her shins. Anya picked up speed, hurrying toward the closed off area of the porch. California usually didn't get this cold. Then again, nothing was normal about California these days. It was all the end of the world this, the end of the world that. A girl couldn't get a decent nap these days that wasn't interrupted by strange images that made absolutely NO sense.

Pounding up the stairs, Anya shoved pen the door to the porch with great relief. It wasn't exactly cozy under the tin roof, but the chilly breeze had a screen to break through before it hit her. Her eyes lit up when she spotted the snack machine. And then she saw the man standing wearily beside it, counting change patiently, and pushing silver coins around in his palm.

"Bloody-" Giles cut himself off, closing his fingers tightly around the change and letting his head fall back on his neck. His eyes were closed in silent frustration.

"How much do you need?" Anya asked, voice hard and unexpected in the relative silence. Giles startled, jerking where he stood and dropping his change down onto the wooden floor. It made loud pinging sounds, several coins rolling beneath the snack machine itself. Anya covered her mouth with the back of her hand, pressing her knuckles against her lips to keep from laughing.

Shoulders a tense line, Giles watched the coins roll away. He was like an exclamation point standing there, Anya thought, like some great big sign saying: "Just bloody great!"

When he turned to face her, Anya had her face marginally unruffled, though she knew it was noticeable that she wanted to fall down and die with laughter. There was just something about the cool and composed Rupert Giles growling at a snack machine that caused a few chuckles. Or maybe Xander Harris had rubbed off on her after all.

The smile fell from her face.

"What do you want Anya?" Giles asked, obviously irritated at her presence. Lines fanned out around his eyes and he looked older than usual, lips pursed tightly together as he waited for her answer.

"I was getting out of the cold," Anya explained, gestured over her shoulder where the potentials shivered on the grass, steadfastly ignoring the weather. It couldn't deter their training. "And the dark, because you never know when a vampire is going to stumble upon me and mistake me for a tasty treat."

Giles sighed and turned away from her, unmoved by her attempt at humor. Licking her bottom lip quickly, a nervous tick, Anya tried again. "Do you need some change? I've had some money saved up for quite a while, so I doubt a few dollars less would hurt me. Only a few dollars, you understand. Money doesn't grow on trees. Well, unless you live in-"

"Anya!" Giles interrupted, slicing off her words with a wave of his hand. Anya stepped back, a little surprised at the display of angry emotion. He stared at her for a moment, eyes vivid behind his glasses, before he blinked and turned his back to her, facing the snack machine again. "I apologize. I'm just very tired, with all that's been happening lately. I'd really appreciate some alone time."

Anya nodded and was about to leave when she paused. Giles watched her curiously. She dug her hand into her rear pants' pocket as she walked over to him. As if revealing a rabbit from a hat, she handed him a crisp dollar bill. Giles' eyebrows hiked up on his forehead, and he stared at the money uncertainly for about half a minute. It was her serious face. The lines of sincerity on her forehead made him reach out and take the money with scissored fingers, watching her eyes dip below his own as she turned away to give him privacy.

It was a form of apology for the moment in the car.

"Wait," Giles said quietly, clearing his throat around the word. Anya stopped walking away, smiled in victory, and then wiped it from her face, pivoting to face him somberly. He studied her for a moment, lips a flat line of consideration, and then he nodded his head toward the machine. "Are you hungry at all?"

Anya sighed in relief and placed a hand over her stomach. "Famished."

"Yes, well then." Giles handed her the dollar bill back. "You choose something. We'll share."

Anya glanced from his face, down to the money, and then back up at him. "I think we're going to need more than a dollar's worth. I remember a time when potatoes cost a penny. And now you pay a full dollar for a small bag of them all dried up!"

Chuckling slightly, Giles shook his head and took a seat at the inside picnic table. Waiting for her. Life was so odd sometimes, Anya thought as she was searching for something mildly GOOD in the machine. A few months ago, her entire life had revolved around the marriage to one man. And now, her life revolved around finding herself and being a little scared about the end of the world. But there was this new addition that was slightly disturbing, but more than that, it was intriguing. This tentative friendship with Giles, who she had so annoyed while working with him, seemed out of place. Friendship and … now she was going to wonder about him. Like that.

Men. She either hated or loved them, with equal opportunity and passion.

When Anya had finally made a choice and settled on two bags of Smartfood Popcorn, she walked over and took a seat beside Giles, instead of opposite to him. Her ankle brushed his knee as she straddled the bench. Giles shifted marginally on the rectangle of wood, giving her some space, or maybe doing it for himself. Without looking at him, Anya handed him one of the bags; it crinkled as he palmed it loosely, seemingly distracted.

Anya looked out toward the horizon; a silver line mapped the nowhere place where the sky and earth met. Large old trees obscured her view, branches hanging low with their centuries of weight. Somehow, she felt all the more tired just for looking at them. Stars peeked through the leaves, always there, even when no one was willing to see them, past the streetlights and the city smog.

"You've been quieter than usual today," Giles observed near her ear. Not realizing he'd been so close, Anya's heart hopped in her chest, but she calmly turned to him. He was opening the bag of popcorn, gingerly lifting a piece out and placing it in his mouth. Giles watched her closely as he chewed, wearing the serious-mentor face. "I've noticed that you and Xander seem more uncomfortable than normal around each other. It must be hard to be stuck in a car with him all day. Especially since we shouldn't have been in that stuffy car so long in the first place!"

Anya rolled her eyes and patted his thigh. "We had goodbye sex. That's all."

Giles blanched and dropped his popcorn. Anya, expecting that reaction, caught the bag deftly before it could tumble to the ground. Pinching the edge of the wrapper between her fingers, she offered it to him. Giles seemed to struggle with a lack of breath for a moment, trying to take in this new information. Anya waited patiently, perfectly tranquil. His eyes suddenly narrowed, as if someone had pulled a switch inside his head and it all became very clear.

A slow pulse began at his temple and Anya casually, she hoped, pulled her arm back toward her chest, taking the popcorn with it. He wasn't taking his glasses off and wiping them. That wasn't a good sign.

"You're all done with the popcorn?" she inquired nervously, waving the bag in front of him. Giles' jaw clenched in response. The dull edge of panic flitted across Anya's face as she watched him take a deep breath. Whatever he was going to say, she wasn't going to like it. Meaning she wasn't going to stick around for it. "Well, there's always other processed foods waiting to be bought, digested, and tear up your stomach lining. I'll just… go get some!"

 

"Sit," Giles said firmly, taking the bag of popcorn from her hand and tossing it onto the table. Frustrated, she watched kernels fall across the wood and through the cracks. Knowing a futile battle when she saw one, Anya sat back down, feeling like she'd done something wrong even though she KNEW she hadn't.

His face was set into hard planes. "Stay still. Listen to me for one second before you run off and have sex with someone else."

Anya's cheeks began to burn so she brought her fingers up to feel them, shocked to find her skin hot to the touch. Furious because of it, she glared at him. So she had sex a lot, and often without any real emotion, at least she HAD it. Anya was about to open her mouth and share that exact sentiment, but he shushed her with only a glance.

"Do you realize," Giles began, his voice strangely strained. "That every time you two do something like that to each other, with someone else, just to hurt one another, all you're doing is making it harder to let go? You're always going to one-up each other. You'll try to make it hurt a little more the next time."

Anya shook her head. "You don't know what you're talking about. It was goodbye sex, that's all. We both knew that. I HAVE let go."

Mostly.

Giles eyed her skeptically, a curl of his brow highlighting his disbelief. "If you believe that man who has been driving us to Los Angeles today is really saying goodbye to anything, then you're not as smart as I thought you were."

"We're not hurting anyone," Anya pointed out, shifting uneasily on the bench. She didn't want to be having this conversation. "Nothing's wrong with having sex. I don't know why everyone is always so uptight about it."

He moved so that she was forced to look him directly in the eye; he took hold of her chin so that she couldn't move her gaze away. Giles' fingers were gentle but firm on her skin. The touch reminded Anya of someone who wanted something, but didn't know how to deal with the desire. He was always careful, but never really did anything at all because of it. It was probably the look in his eye that did her in. Guilt swam up from her stomach, as if a cork had been popped, and suddenly the emotion could fizz inside her heart.

Pop. Something bursting. Spreading.

She wasn't about to let him make her feel ashamed.

"He's hurting right now. It's quite possible that he's decided he doesn't want to let go of you after all. You two can't keep doing this to yourselves. And I can't keep watching and doing nothing about it."

"Then don't watch," Anya suggested archly, tugging her chin away from his grip. "I didn't ask for a lecture. I only wanted something to eat and someone to speak to. Let's forget I ever tried."

Giles stopped her from rising again, this time with his hands on her shoulders, forcing her roughly back into her seat. Anya's nostrils flared, air bursting in her throat. She held herself stiffly, untouchable even by the hands on her body.

"What exactly ARE you trying to do?" he asked, so close to her that she could see her own reflection in the lenses of his glasses. Anya leaned back, straining her body away from his grip. He wasn't letting go. "Things have been tense enough lately without you being a tease."

Something was definitely bursting, and maybe it was him. A satin flush of color slid across his cheeks.

"A tease?" Anya's mouth fell open at the accusation. Anger burned the guilt to ashes. "What have I teased about? You're not acting like yourself."

Giles studied her face carefully, eyes flickering with something red and slippery like silk. And then he let her go. Anya almost fell to the ground, but she caught herself at the last moment, scrambling up and away from him. He made no indication that he was going to come after her, so she stood at the end of the table with her fists on her hips and glared at him. "You haven't answered me," she pointed out defiantly, tipping her chin to the side.

"You've haven't exactly been kind to me in the past few weeks," Giles responded carefully, as if the wording was important. Anya pressed her palms flat against the picnic table, leaning her weight on her forearms. She waited impatiently for him to continue. "You've barely spoken to me. Two years working together and all I get is a few grabs in the desert when you think I'm the First!"

"We're not really…" Anya struggled for the words. How could she explain how uncomfortable and off-center she'd felt around him since his return? They'd had a brief connection when Willow nearly ended the world and it had thrown her off kilter around him ever since. "Friends. We never have been, although I think we could be."

"Yes," Giles agreed, nodding as if to emphasize the possibilities. "But that's not what I mean, and I'm sure you know it. Recently, I've been having a hard time not watching you. I have to force myself to focus on other issues, just to keep my mind off the choices you're making for yourself. Who you're making them with." He swallowed, resting his arms on the table and picking uneasily at his cuticles. "There was an attraction when we worked together, am I right?"

Anya didn't answer, unsure what to say. But when his eyes turned up in question, she found herself nodding. There had been an attraction, but it was sublimated. She was with Xander and they worked together. Besides that, they really didn't get along very well. So any attraction had seemed silly and insubstantial, only rising up occasionally, when their fingers brushed or they found themselves close together. And it was always immediately squashed like a bug. Never considered, or allowed to flourish into anything more than a quiet itch.

"I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed it." Giles blew out a breath, seeming to collect himself. "It's become more serious for me. I've been feeling the attraction more acutely. The woman you're becoming… she's exceptional. You're exceptional."

Anya's stomach turned on its axis.

"What are you saying?" she asked tentatively. She wasn't sure if she really wanted to breach these waters. She'd learned, many times, that the truth wasn't always--if ever--pretty.

"You must have noticed," he said, voice tinged with irritation as he sat straighter. "I've tried to be delicate about it, but you've caught me staring at you a few times."

Oh yes, Giles had been looking at her. Brief moments when she would glance up distractedly because she felt the sensation of being watched. And the look in his eyes hadn't been altogether friendly. It had been curious, afraid, and interested.

"Yes," Anya replied simply. "I've wondered what you were thinking. You never stared at me before. You looked through me."

"I never looked through you!" Giles denied, shaking his head as if the notion was absurd. "But I wasn't allowed to look very closely."

Anya stepped away from the picnic table, trying to contort her face into something other than surprise. It didn't work. She wasn't good at facades. "And now you are?"

"No," Giles admitted, and then shrugged, wearing a guilty look on his face. "But my feelings are stronger. They're beginning to interfere with my work. I can't focus very well when you're near. It's as if things are becoming clearer. Last summer, when I was hurt and you held my head in your hands… you don't realize how beautiful you were to me, do you? I haven't been able to get you out of my mind since."

"You haven't been around," Anya muttered, rubbing her elbows to chase away the cold. "You left again." An accusation, even if she wasn't sure why she was tossing it at him. Smiling ruefully at herself, she conceded that that wasn't entirely true. She knew exactly why she had said it. Delaying the inevitable. Giles had started this dangerous conversation for a reason. "You always go away."

"I couldn't stay." Giles eyebrows drew low over his eyes, and he couldn't seem to look at her. "Things were difficult enough, without dealing with my impulses when it came to you."

Anya frowned. "Things aren't any easier now. In fact, they're worse."

Giles stood from the bench, a sigh of breath leaving his lungs. His leather jacket pulled taut over his shoulders. She thought he looked like a different man when dressed as casually he was, with a cotton shirt and blue jeans. Anya's heart beat anxiously in her chest as she watched him approach, his expression weighted with resignation.

Everything about him said with quiet authority: "I'm a man. You can look if you like. I'm not afraid of you."

Off kilter again, Anya had to force herself not to back away, surprised and mortified when tears blurred her sight. Everyone was afraid of her. He didn't have the right to be the only one who wasn't.

"Things are much worse. That's why you shouldn't tease me. I'm not in the mood to do nothing and live with it," Giles said, voice striking a low timbre that she hadn't heard from him before. Deep inside, between her belly and heart, Anya shivered. And this time, it wasn't because of the cold.

"You still haven't explained how I've teased you," she shot back defensively, biting her bottom lip after speaking. Giles loomed closer, exuding heat in waves. His physical presence was enough to overwhelm her, flooding her senses with sight, smell, and the sound of his slightly unsteady breathing. She didn't know how to deal with this side of him.

"Standing too close, touching me low on the stomach that night in the desert, looking at me when you think I don't notice, that little move in the car, wearing jeans tight enough that you might as well not be wearing them at all, flirting with me… shall I go on?"

"None of that is about you at all! And that is the most chauvinistic thing I've ever heard you say. I thought you were above that attitude. You seem like the only man who is." Anya took a deep breath, but her lungs clogged with the hot scent of him and she immediately released it. Had to keep it out.

Giles nodded, as if he had expected that answer. "I appreciate your high opinion of me, but you don't really know me all that well." Stepping back, he shoved his hands into his jeans' pockets. Tilted his head to the side. "I'd like to let you get to know me. If you'd be willing to take the chance with someone again. I know things won't be easy, especially with Xander, but I'd like to be the man you take that chance with."

And there it was. A flat out request. Suddenly, she couldn't get enough air INTO her lungs, no matter how hard she tried. Giles, old fashioned as herself, was stating his intentions. She recognized the act from days long before and suddenly wondered just how well matched they might be.

"This is crazy," she hissed between her teeth. "You just said that we don't know each other. We don't even LIKE each other. If you were asking to have sex with me, that's another story. But…" Anya couldn't finish, her facial muscles jerking as she tried to bring herself under control.

"I never said I didn't know you. I only want to know you more. In a different way." Giles rubbed a hand over his eyes, lips pulling taut. "Look, I'm not suggesting some sort of commitment. Yet. But I'm not the type of man to be with someone simply for sex anymore. If you don't want me, just say so, and I'll never speak of it again."

'Could she say it?' his tired eyes asked her.

"Where did this come from?" Anya asked, avoiding answering. Giles gritted his teeth and took another step toward her before stopping in his tracks, standing rigidly.

"I've told you already. I was always attracted to you. Over the past few years, I've grown to genuinely like you." Giles smiled, very slightly, lips upturning at the corner of his mouth. When he stepped forward again, his face was lost in the shadows. But he was so close she could feel his breath brushing across her forehead. "And this summer, quite honestly, I've decided I want you for myself. I just wasn't sure until earlier, when you said my name in your sleep, if you had any feelings for me yourself."

Horrified, Anya covered her mouth, staring at him with wide eyes. "I said your name?"

Giles' smile stretched wider, encompassing his face. "Yes, you did. I was shocked myself, and a little flattered."

Anya, without anything left to say, shook her head. There was no way to deny her attraction to him when she'd already admitted it, and although there were reasons for them to leave these feelings alone, she couldn't seem to dig them up from her fatigued brain.

"The world may be ending," he whispered, closer this time, past the shadows and right in her face. He was as blunt and hard as the truth. "I'd like to kiss you again, before we die. Consider it. I have. What if the world explodes and we've never even given this odd connection a chance?"

Yes, she wanted to say sarcastically, because that kiss ended so well last time. Seeming to hear her thoughts, his eyes slashed at her darkly, and then he was kissing her. Anya inhaled through her nose when his lips pressed gently onto hers, shocked by the action.

She registered sensations: dry, firm, and thin. Utterly still.

His breath splashed across the skin beneath her nose, and then his bottom lip slowly caressed hers, as if he was waiting for her to shove him away. Instead, her fingers balled into fists at her side, and she guardedly began kissing him in return. In the back of her mind: 'This won't be about sex. You know it won't be. He's not going to let you feel nothing for him.'

But in the forefront of her thoughts, it was another story: 'He tastes so good.'

Giles kissed her more firmly. Pressing his mouth fully onto hers, he reached up to block sound from her ears with his big palms. Stroked the gossamer strands of hair and slipped his fingers through them.

Still gentle, still careful, but he kissed her with confidence. Like he hadn't done this in a while, but could never forget how. Anya felt herself sliding, falling, and had to grab his shoulders to keep herself upright.

It was familiar. His kiss was a minor explosion in her brain. She recognized it from when he had first kissed her, while under the influence of one of Willow's backfiring spells.

When she touched the tip of her tongue against the corner of his lips, Giles' fingers tensed in her hair. Anya waited. Holding her head tightly, he slowly opened his mouth. He was scalding, Anya realized when she slipped her tongue deeper and ran it along his. He tasted of white cheddar, from the popcorn.

Beneath her palms, Anya felt a groan rise from him, and suddenly he wasn't being gentle. Instead he was struggling to drag her tightly against him, fitting his thigh into the notch of her pelvis, and hugging his arms around her waist. Anya could hear again, but she still couldn't think. Giles moved against her roughly, stored passion bursting out of his body and submerging itself into her mouth, as he pushed his tongue inside.

Elated with a sudden wave of arousal, she ran her fingers through his hair and gripped his skull, maneuvering his head so she could harden their kiss. Widened her jaw and let what he was feeling pour into her, surround her, drown her from any common sense that a thousand plus years had taught her.

Relationships never worked out. And in that moment, Anya didn't give a damn.

It was Giles who broke away first. Gulping in air, he grabbed her shoulders and shoved her away. He held Anya at a distance as if he was afraid she would punch him in the mouth he'd used to kiss her. She sucked in air through parted lips, her entire body flushed and hungry for something that neither of them was ready for.

Oh, well maybe she was ready, but it wouldn't just be sexual intercourse, and that was something she'd have to think about. When it became apparent Anya was too winded to lash out at him, Giles relaxed minutely, releasing her shoulders and running his fingers down the back of her arms to grip her elbows. Anya shivered again. Embarrassed by her obvious reaction to his touch, she dipped her eyes down to her throat. Watched him swallow.

"I hope you'll allow that to happen again sometime," he said quietly, and Anya's stomach jittered as his throat worked over the words. "But before we take this too far, we should speak with Xander."

Speaking with Xander meant this was serious to him. Anya stared at her shoes, where they fidgeted against the wooden floor. It would be so easy to give into whatever Giles was trying to create between them, and yet so hard to just let herself go with someone again. It was too soon.

It might be just as hard to stay away from him now.

"I'd like some time," Anya answered eventually, when his fingers had begun to tense again and she could hear him struggling not to speak. She looked up, locking eyes with him. Giles stood very still, as if this just might mean something. "That sounds silly, doesn't it? We could all be dead tomorrow, when we confront Angelus, but here I am saying that I'd like some time." She shook her head. "But I'd like some anyhow."

A door opened near the snack machines, breaking the moment as cleanly as a ragged blade slicing through bone. Giles and Anya jumped apart, hearts beating painfully as they both stared guilty at Dawn, emerging from the bathroom. She saw them looking anxiously at her and raised an eyebrow of curiosity as she passed.

"I know the weirdest people," Dawn muttered, just loud enough for them to hear. And then she was gone down the steps. Giles let out a heavy breath, blinking a few times and staring ruefully at Anya, who had a similar expression on her face.

"She's a very annoying teenager," Anya stated, shifting to stare out through the screen of the porch, where Dawn walked across a puddle of streetlight and toward the car. When she opened the door, a light popped on inside, and Anya saw that Xander was back in the driver's seat. For a moment, she worried her lip over the fact that he might have seen them, but he didn't look like he was overly upset about anything, so Anya dismissed the possibility.

"On this, we agree," Giles said into her ear, and Anya realized he was standing at her side. She glanced over at him and smiled sadly. He returned the gesture, and then shifted his gaze toward the sky, where far off a streak of lightning cracked through the sky. "I think it's going to rain. I've felt the chill all day."

Anya nodded absently, following his eyes toward the sight. Electricity snapped out, gaining a life of its own.

"You'll give me time?" she asked. Giles didn't look at her, but nodded solemnly, not saying a word. A pressure that had been tightening around Anya's heart loosened. She didn't have to have all the answers right away.

"We should leave," Giles began, still staring at the horizon. His words were very quiet, as if he was unwilling to break the gossamer thread that had begun winding between them. "They're waiting for us, and we should be in Los Angeles in less than an hour."

Still watching the lightning strike with fascination, Anya reached over and took his larger hand into her own, entwining their fingers together in a sign of friendship and something more. Giles' fingers trembled finely, but held on for all he was worth.

"Soon," she whispered. Lightning flashed again, blue and wild. A roll of thunder beat against the clouds. "Soon."

Giles gave her fingers a squeeze of agreement. Their fingers were still linked when a cool gust of air moved across their legs and the rain began to fall.

 

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