Spoilers: During S7 'First Date'
Disclaimer: Not mine. We all know that.
Summary: Ready to move on, again.
He bumps into her on the landing, half-dressed and awkward. He's careful to keep his eyes on her face rather than her underwear, and it doesn't seem possible that once she used to stand before him - kneel before him - naked. Did that ever really happen? Maybe he imagined it. He's imagined a lot of things, recently.
She has a date: the new Principal at the school. He feigns nonchalance, tells her that it's okay. That he's okay. It's a lie, of course, but she doesn't call him on it. She clearly doesn't want him, or his pain, on her conscience so she accepts the gift of his lie with grace and a small smile, and goes on her way.
He watches her walk away from him. You'd think he'd be used to that by now, wouldn't you? But no, apparently not. He still can't tear his eyes away from her, can't stop picking at the pain like a kid with a scabbed knee.
This is what he's been brought to, is it? This is how far he's fallen.
Tears prick at his eyes and it just serves to swell the disgust. He can feel eyes on him - Kennedy, leaving Willow's room with an armful of swords and axes, Amanda and Vi behind her. Andrew, coming up the stairs with a stack of books in his hands. The house is full of people, and suddenly he can't stand to have them, any of them, crowding him any more. Can't stand to feel their pity, their fear, their distrust, pressing on him. It's too much, too heavy. He wants - he needs - to get away.
You should try this too. The going out thing, I mean.
Maybe she's right. Go out, take a break, reach for a pretence of normality. But then, what is that exactly? For him, for any of them? He doesn't know.
He goes anyway, but the Bronze is just as oppressive as the house had been; the proximity of so many people who don't know he's alive - well, in a manner of speaking - just serves to bring his mood down even further. What did he do it for, any of it? To sit here on his own, listening to the sounds of other people's lives like a stereo played behind neighbour's walls. Out of reach.
He decides to leave, even at the expense of his untouched beer, but as he starts to straighten up a tall glass full of blue liquid and paper umbrellas is plonked down on the table beside his Bud.
"Spike. What are you doing here?" says Anya.
"I thought I'd stop by for a bikini wax, what about you?" he says, then regrets it as her gaze immediately goes to his crotch. With Anya, sarcasm is not your friend. Nor are hints. If he wants her to go away, he's going to have to tell her that directly.
He sits down again, instead.
"Really? That's very enlightened of you. You must be very secure in your masculinity." She climbs onto a stool beside him and sips at her monstrosity of a drink. "Personally I like the Brazilian, but I'm not sure how good that would look on a man. Your testicles would probably end up resembling parts of a chicken. And not the appetising parts, either."
He hovers for a second between wanting to laugh and commit suicide, but the slight raise of her eyebrow decides him in favour of the former. Most people, even the idiot Harris, take Anya's faux-naïve routine at face value, but he knows better. You don't get to be over a thousand years old in the demon business without picking up a lot more street smarts than the rest of them give her credit for. She wasn't stupid by any stretch of the imagination, so why she was still hanging around that loser was anyone's guess. Couldn't she see that it was time to move on?
That thought kills the laughter. He takes a long pull from his beer and swallows the hypocrisy along with the alcohol. It doesn't taste as good.
He slams the bottle down on the table, and her glass rattles. "Hey," she says, "be careful. I paid six dollars for this drink, it's got to last me at least an hour. Unless someone buys me another one, anyway."
He shakes his head at the hopeful lift to her voice. He heard Harris is also on a date tonight, and he knows just how Anya is feeling. But he can't carry the brittle weight of her burdens as well as his own. "I've had enough, Anya. I've just - had enough."
"Enough what? Beer? Well that's okay, I can recommend one of these things. It's got some obscene name that I can't remember, but I'm sure that if you just ask for any kind of sexual position you'll get something interesting."
That almost makes him smile again, and in turn it makes him harsher than he might have intended. He'd thought that he needed downtime, some mindless diversion, but he was wrong. He needs reality, not escapism.
"No, I'm not talking about beer. I'm talking about hanging around like a lost puppy waiting for something - someone - to pat you on the head and tell you you've been a good dog. About wasting yourself waiting to get something back that you never really had in the first place."
Her eyes flick away and he knows she's taken it personally. He's sorry that it's hurt her, but it's his truth and it's time for him to own it. He can't help it if it's so close to hers.
"It stops," he says. "Right now."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I'm moving on. I'm not going to sit around like an idiot anymore. Waiting for - for scraps from the table. I'm moving on, right here and right now. She got herself someone else, well fine. Good for her. So that's what I'm going to do too."
"Just like that."
"Yep, just like that. Why not?"
She seems to give this serious consideration. "I don't think it works quite like that, Spike. You can't just choose sex partners like soda. You don't get to say 'oh, I'm going to stop drinking Diet Coke and have a Dr Pepper now. It's not that simple."
He has to make a conscious effort to loosen the hand that's gripping the bottle before he shatters the glass. She's right, of course she is - and he hates it. Hates the fact that he understands how infinitely difficult and complicated human relationships are. Hates it even more that he cares.
It all used to be so simple, once.
Does he wish it could be again? But no, he can't answer that question. Doesn't quite dare to ask it.
She reaches across the table, and her fingers are warm against his. "I'm sorry," she says.
She gives him a small, sad smile. "I don't know."
His hand finally gives up its death grip on the bottle and relaxes into hers. "So how do you do it, then? Move on?"
She looks at him seriously. "According to the magazines, you look for mutual attraction, compatible values and common ground."
"Yeah. It seems to be quite complicated. And I think it involves taking quizzes."
He smiles. "I like quizzes."
He realises they're still holding hands. Neither of them really seems to mind.
No, it's not simple. But it has to start somewhere, right?
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