Disclaimer: Joss Whedon...etc., etc., etc. ... Mutant Enemy... so on, so on, and so on ... Bottom line: not mine.
Author's notes: All my Buffy/Angel work (fiction, collages, and episode snaps from *every* episode of both shows) can be found at my site: http://members.xoom.com/vesparys/

A Shade Too Precisely by Nynaeve

I was holding a sweater, staring at it without seeing it at all. But I could *feel* it. It was like my fingers were observing the details my eyes couldn't seem to. It was cotton and knitted, not hand-knitted, of course. I could hear him telling me that, with that edge of ... I don't know the exact word, but it's not a good one; it's like scorn or impatience ... whatever it was, his voice was like that. My hands told me the sleeves were too long because they were rolled up in cuffs where my hands would stick out. I realized it's the sweater I wear if it's cold in the mornings when I get to the shop.

I also realized how angry I was. And how much I was hurting. I wanted it to be because Joyce is dead, because that's why everyone is hurting right now. I imagined that if I told Xander I was hurt he would think I was selfish. If Willow found out, she'd roll her eyes and probably tell them, when I'm not there, 'I told ya so'. It made me angrier.

I sighed and slipped the sweater on. The weatherman said it would be cool this morning and I told Giles I'd open up the shop today, stay there, and that he shouldn't worry. We'd been at Buffy's house, comforting Buffy and Dawn, although I don't know if any of us helped much. After I'd told Giles that, I'd gone into the kitchen because I'd promised Dawn a glass of juice.

I'd heard Willow say, "You can trust Anya to think about the money."

"Willow," Giles had said, his voice lightly scolding, "the shop is a business and I appreciate that Anya is willing to look after things for me. It means I can better look after Buffy and Dawn."

I didn't hear what Willow had muttered in reply. Giles' words had made me smile, a little bit anyway.

From the kitchen I'd seen Tara, standing near the back door. She had been looking down at the carpet. She had turned when she heard me.

"Do you where they keep the towels," she had asked me.

I had shaken my head in reply. "Is it important?" I had asked. "If it is, maybe we could look for some."

She had come back into the kitchen. "It is important," she'd told me. "It looks like - um - well, I think Buffy threw up. I thought I'd clean it up...you know - so she doesn't have to worry."

"That is kind of you," I had said to her. We had opened some drawers and finding the towels had not been difficult. Tara had taken a few out. She had run one under the kitchen tap until it was extremely wet.

"Do you want help?" I had asked her.

She'd shaken her head. "I can get it."

I had smiled. "All right. I told Dawn I would bring her juice."

"You should do that," Tara had agreed.

Tara had gone back toward the door. I had gotten Dawn her juice. I had stopped and looked down at Tara, scrubbing at the carpet, doing what she could to help Buffy and I had envied her. She knew- knows- what to do. No one has to tell her these things. She doesn't have to ask.

I had started to speak, "Is that very-". I had broken off, suddenly feeling my question would not have been the right one to ask.

Tara had looked up. "It is what?" she had asked, her face as open as always.

I had shrugged, unable even to mutter the 'nothing' that had come to my lips.

She had met my eyes and I thought I had seen in her own some sort of understanding. Softly, she'd said, "Is this common?"

I had nodded.

She had nodded in reply. Then, aloud, she had added, "I think so anyway." She had paused. "It's like the world has fallen away and you are falling after it. Or - or- like your whole life is empty and ..." she'd finished with a shrug.

"Oh," I had said. "That's - I didn't know that."

She had looked back down. "It's not something you really know unless you've gone through it."

I had said 'Oh' again and had taken Dawn's juice into her.

Dawn had had her juice and gone up to bed shortly after that. I had explained to Xander that I was leaving.

"Are you sure?" he'd asked, his eyes on Buffy, who sat with Willow and Giles on either side of her. "I mean - I can't leave. Not right now."

"I know that," I had assured him. "It's all right."

"But, Ahn, Buffy needs -"

"-her friends around her right now," I had interrupted him.

"Yeah. She does. So, why are you - Oh. Look, this is not the time to talk-"

I had interrupted him again. "I know that, Xander. It's OK." I had looked down and noticed, for the first time, that I was wringing my hands. "I just don't want to - Buffy needs her friends." I had already said that, but it was the only thing I could think to say then.

Xander had nodded. "You know, I might be home kinda late - like in the morning, to change?"

"I'll be at my place," I had informed him.

He'd looked at me, seeing me for the first time in this conversation. "Anya, please don't do this."

"I'm not doing anything, Xander," I had said with as much calm as I could. "You won't be home, so it makes more sense for me to be at my place."

Xander had stared at me, his mouth compressed and his eyes flashing. I had kept breathing, steadily, rhythmically, keeping a hold on the tears I wanted to cry, making my face a mask of grief and sorrow for Buffy, hoping he would not see the agony that pounded its way through my stupid, mortal heart.

After what seemed long a very long time, he had looked away. I had let out the breath I'd been holding, exhaling quietly so he would not hear it, would not turn and see the tears I knew had been in my eyes. I had gone over to Buffy.

"Buffy," I had said.

She had looked up. "Anya? Are you - leaving?"

I had nodded.

"Thank you," the Slayer had said to me. "You are good to Dawn. I - I appreciate it."

"I will miss Joyce," I told her, aware of Willow's daggered eyes knifing my words into meaningless shreds of useless sentiment.

"Thank you," Buffy had said again. "And thank you for helping Giles."

I had nodded at her.

"Will you - tomorrow, after closing ... Dawn ... and I," she had added quickly. "We'd like it if..."

"I'll be here," I had said uncertainly.

I walked to the shop, looking at the trees, the lawns, the cars that passed me. I wept softly for Joyce, who would never see these things again. I still didn't understand how the tumor, that the doctors had removed, had been what led to her death. It was wrong. They had fixed her head, but it hadn't stayed fixed. It had broken again. Worse than before. And now she was not part of the world anymore.

The jingling of the shop bell, after I unlocked the door and opened it, comforted me. Not, as Willow might have said, because I thought it soon would signify customers and their money, but because it was one thing in my life - in all of our lives - that was still the same as yesterday and would be the same tomorrow.

Perhaps the customers knew that was a bad day to leave me too much alone with my thoughts. There was a steady stream of people. The browsers, the dabblers, the serious Wiccas, even the tourists and the delivery people came that day. There were, gladly, no trolls, renegade goddesses, or chip-brained vampires however. Only at closing time, as I locked the door behind the last departing patron, could I think of my anger. Then, without allowing myself to relive any of it, I pushed it away, buried it under my love for Xander, my desire to be Anya, his girlfriend, not Anya, his girlfriend-the-former-vengeance-demon.

A knock on the door, soft but insistent, made me jump. The history of this place made me wary. After hours business in this shop tended to be fatal and usually in a bloody sort of way. I grabbed a ceremonial dagger from one of the display shelves and walked slowly to the door.

"Anya. It's me," Xander called out. He must have seen my shadow approaching.

I hid the knife behind my back and unlocked the door for him. He kissed me lightly on the lips as he came in. He looked around. "Everyone gone?"

"Yes," I told him.

"How was it?" he asked.

"Busy," I told him, nodding, realizing I was nervous and awkward, hoping he would still be too distracted to notice. "It helped me - not think about Joyce." I stopped. "Well, I don't mean I didn't think about her, because - I did!"

He smiled at me and pulled me to him. "I know what you mean and I'm glad. Glad you were able to do this for Giles and glad you didn't have time to dwell."

I returned his smile, resting my head against his chest. We were close enough to the sale table, that I could slip the dagger onto it without his seeing. "How are you?" I asked.

He sighed. "It's um - been rough. Buffy had to think about arrangements today. Giles and - well, Tara actually - are taking care of a lot of that. I think we could all do with seeing a face that didn't spend the day in the trenches," he told me.

I nodded, wondering how I would get through that evening, wondering how I would deal with the weight, not of Buffy and Dawn's grief, but of Willow's hostility and Xander's oblivion. Then, like the anger, I pushed those things down deep too. I realized this is what mortals do, lock up the things that hurt and hide them from themselves. I understood why so many of them -us- ended up with guns or drugs or alcohol or something else. I used to think, in my days as a vengeance demon, that people did the most awful things to one another. I was starting to realize they do far worse to themselves.

I excused myself for a moment, getting my sweater from the storeroom, turning off the lights, and checking that the cash register was secured, before returning to Xander. He was holding the dagger I'd put down, his face puzzled.

"Doesn't this belong there?" he indicated.

"Yes," I said, taking the dagger from him and replacing it, making a mental note to myself to dust tomorrow. "I thought you might be - well, something evil," I told him with a sheepish smile.

He smiled back at me. "Given this place, not a bad thought," he agreed.

Dawn returned to school about a week after her mother's death. Buffy started attending classes again and taking up her patrolling duties. Giles returned to work as well. Dawn usually came to the store after school, unless Buffy knew she would be home. Often, Buffy was at the store though anyway, training. She had told Giles that she thought Glory would use this opportunity to attack. She'd also told him it kept her mind away from everything. She'd said 'everything' after a long pause and with a bleak expression on her face. Giles had handed her his handkerchief.

It was another week before Giles stopped me one morning. It was just the two of us in the store. He was researching something the Council had sent him about Glory. I was doing inventory. It startled me when he spoke.

"Anya?" he asked. "What's the matter?"

I turned and gave him a blank look.

"Something is wrong," he stated.

I shook my head.

He stood up and came to face me. I backed away, brushing up against the shelves behind the register. I couldn't look at him.

"Anya, you have been - different, not yourself. Please tell me what it is?" he asked.

"I am sad, for Buffy and Dawn," I lied.

"We all are," he agreed. "But this is more." He was very insistent. He looked at me, saying nothing. I turned around, trying not to be rude, but needing to escape the piercing look in his eyes. I had been successful in keeping my feelings locked inside and I was not ready to let them go.

"We need more hens-"

He interrupted me, "Anya, are you worried about your own mortality?"

I tried to agree. It was a way for me get out of this. No matter if he was likely to tell Buffy and all of them of this. No matter if Willow would snort and remark how it was typical Anya, only worried about herself. It would keep the tears burning my eyes, keep the furious words traced on my heart exactly where they belonged. Inside. I tried to agree.

Instead the words I planned, inside my head, to say- the nice, safe 'Yes, that is it exactly'- stuck on my tongue, crawled back down my throat, taking my breath with them, leaving me to gasp for air and then start sobbing.

I felt Giles' hands on my shoulder and heard the soft susurration of his murmured comfort. Gently, yet allowing me no option, he turned me around and gathered me into his arms. His hand was soft against my hair and his voice was kind, understanding, when he spoke. "We're all, in some way or another, afraid of dying, Anya. It's - well, it's human."

I pulled away and looked up at him. I waited for the new words, the ones I'd chosen after the others had betrayed me, waited for them to fall out of my mouth and assure him I was fine. Apparently, my brain was determined I not say any of these nice, bland, pleasing-to-mortals phrases. Why should it? My brain is still, in far too many ways, accustomed to being a thousand year old demon. Wouldn't they all agree? I dried my eyes against the back of my hand and said the last thing I expected to. "I will miss you."

Giles smiled at me. He meant to be comforting. "Anya, I'm not... well, I suppose we never can be certain ... but really, I like to think I'll be here for a long time to come."

I sniffed. My voice was small, reminded me of so many of the girls I had "helped" over the years. "I won't."

Giles' face grew instantly concerned. "Anya? Is there something - have you seen a doctor?"

I took a deep breath. I had started this conversation. I owed it to Giles to finish. I shook my head. "I am leaving," I told him.

His mouth dropped open for a moment. Then, his jaw clicked shut with a funny snapping sound. He opened his mouth again, but nothing came out. His hands dropped from my shoulders and his eyes became veiled against me.

I looked up penitently.

In growing horror, he whispered, "Has D'Hoffryn approached you - are you-?"

"No!" I exclaimed, letting loose just a bit of the anger I felt. "I could *never* be that way again. Ever!"

"Then, why?" he asked.

I sighed. My breath seemed stuck in my throat. The words, words I had planned to leave in a note for Xander, rushed out of me. "Because everyone still sees me *that* way and I need to -" I was crying. Choking on my tears, I continued, "-I need to - I need to be somewhere - else."

Giles looked at me and I detected in his eyes the comprehension of what I'd found myself unable, in the end, to say. I watched him and sensed his struggle, his efforts to find the words that would change my mind. Words I do not think he would have looked for if he'd seen the bags packed and waiting at my apartment or the bus ticket in my purse. "Anya, it takes time."

"How much time?" I demanded, aware of the anger and suffering in my voice.

Giles heard it, too. He flinched.

"I've been trying for - a long time now - to be what you all want me to be, what Xander wants me to be. And it's not enough. Joyce's death showed me it is never going to be enough. I can never be more than what I was if I stay here."

"Xander loves you," Giles tried.

That brought my hand to my eyes, wiping away a fresh spate of tears. "So he tells me." I was shocked at the bitterness in my voice. "But he will always love *her* more and he will always see me through her eyes. I thought that had changed, but it has not."

"Buffy?" Giles asked, perplexed.

I shook my head. I expected her name to tumble out in a furious hiss, the sibilant sound of jealousy and pain. Instead, I barely managed an agonized, stammered whisper. "Will - Will - Willow."

Giles said nothing. I saw the truth in his eyes. I waited. With quiet deliberation, he told me, "If you leave, you can never prove yourself wrong, Anya, can never prove that *Willow* is wrong about you."

I hung my head. To the floor, I muttered, "I can never do that, anyway." I looked back at him and shrugged. "She wins."

He challenged me. "You can live with that?"

It made me angry, which I understood was his intention. It didn't make me angry enough to change my mind though. I nearly spit at him, "No, I can not live with that. But - but - I am afraid of what will happen if I stay here, not being able to live with it." I paused. To hells- all however many there are -with it I decided. "I hated being mortal. Hated it at first. Then, I fell in love with Xander. I know everyone thinks it was about sex. Maybe it was for him. It wasn't for me. I finally understood *centuries* of misery and pain and how you can say you hate someone so much you want to hurt them, but it's all really because you can't stop your heart from loving that person! I ended up liking - no, loving - being mortal. And I'm trying! Dammit, I am trying! Do you have any idea how hard it is to learn all this -" I closed my eyes and stopped.

"Go on, please," Giles said, his voice soft, furred with compassion.

I looked at him. He nodded. I continued, feeling calmer. "It's hard, very hard, to learn everything - you all assume it's completely normal. All the things you say, the ways you behave. For over a thousand years, I wasn't a part of that. Maybe," I sobbed, "maybe if I go somewhere else, somewhere they don't these things about me - it can't be any worse than it was when Joyce died."

Giles just looked at me.

I felt compelled to add, "Giles, I'm not trying to be selfish. I haven't said anything to Xander about - anything. I can't do this anymore. I can't try to be something I never will be."

"And you realized all of this because of Joyce's death?" he asked, genuinely confused.

I nodded. "I could never say, or do, the right things." It was a simple statement. "I didn't know what to do and no one would tell me. Everyone thought it was - morbid - of me to ask."

He stared at me, hard. "Willow is not everyone, Anya. And no matter how much you love him, neither is Xander."

I looked away.

"Buffy appreciated your concern, your words."

"They weren't the right words."

"Anya, there are no *right* words! You were there to say kind words, any kind words, to Buffy - and to Dawn - and *that* was what mattered." He stopped and rubbed the bridge of his nose, taking his glasses off as he did so. It was an action I associated only with times he was concerned for Buffy, or that the end of the world was imminent. "You - you and Tara - you were the ones who really reached Dawn. I don't know if Dawn could have gotten through it without you two. And, believe me, that meant more to Buffy than any words could ever express. You ran this place - beautifully, I should add - for me. That allowed me to stay with Buffy, to help her. And don't you dare think I ever *once* thought you were doing it because of the money."

I realized I was crying again, calm, miserable tears.

"Anya, you did what everyone in this situation does. You did the best you know how to do. There's no - manual for it."

"But it wasn't enough," I protested.

"For whom?" Giles asked. "For Willow? For Xander? That only matters if you were doing it for them. Were you?"

I shook my head.

"Then, it was enough, Anya. It was enough for Buffy, for Dawn, for myself." He stopped again. I saw him look up and his face changed. I assumed there was a customer, but I found it odd we hadn't heard the bell. "Please, don't go."

I heard a step behind me. Then, a voice, stunned, soft, was speaking. "Yes, please, don't go."

I turned and felt all the color run out of my face. The mortal expression 'A deer in the headlights' suddenly made perfect sense to me. It was myself in that moment, as I tried to face Xander. I had no idea how much, or little, Xander had heard. I didn't care. I only knew I had to get away. Giles could finish explaining.

My mind focused on the fact that my purse was in the storeroom. The bus ticket. It was for later tonight, but I'd never told Giles how I was going. I could - everything else could wait. People sent for their belongings all the time, didn't they? The important thing was to escape the look I would see in Xander's eyes when he understood all of this. I fled.

"Giles?" I heard Xander ask.

Through the door I had left open I could hear Giles. His voice was deliberate, angry and he clipped the words as he spoke. "You are going to lose her, exactly as Buffy lost Riley, if-"

I didn't hear any more, having found my purse and slipped out the back door. I looked around the alley wildly, checking anything I could block the back door with. The delivery men who had come the day before had left some wooden pallets. I dragged a few of them over, hurrying. Then, I ran.

I sat, staring at a magazine article about new hairstyles, a cup of bus station coffee growing cold in my other hand. I had used the cash machine in the bus station to get out money for traveling across country. I had still heard *her* voice in my head. 'Nice to know your priorities haven't changed', it said. I promised myself it would change when I got where I was going. No one would think it was a sign of anything other than good sense to have cash for these situations.

I stared down at the pictures that I had technically been looking at for the last - checked the wall clock - thirty minutes. I wondered if Xander would like any of them. I sighed. It didn't matter.

I checked the clock again. There were still forty minutes until my bus would leave. The station was fairly empty, this late at night. I'd seen a vampire or two and Spike, who had chased them out. Still trying to earn Buffy's love, I supposed. I found myself, silently, wishing him luck in that area, knowing how useless it was for him and he'd only end up hurting himself more. I'd also more or less hidden in the restroom while he'd nosed around, after running the first two off.

Someone sat down next to me. I felt an irrational irritation. There were plenty of chairs. Then, I worried it was a vampire or demon. I realized I didn't really care. I wasn't it the mood to fight anything that might happen to me.

"I don't even get a big time-bomb clock? You know, the kind with red numbers, counting backwards. No chance to cut the yellow wire, no wait, the red one?"

I looked over. I saw myself in Xander's eyes and it was the first time in a very long time that I had seen myself there.

Despite the pounding of my pulse, I managed to sound diffident, at least to my own ears. "How did you find me? I didn't tell Giles about *this*."

"It's Sunnydale, Ahn. Not too many-" he stopped. He looked down at his hands. "I got desperate and asked Tara to cast a spell to find you."

I nodded. "How much did you hear - before?"

"Pretty much everything after 'Then, I fell in love with Xander'," he told me.

I looked down at my own hands. "That much?"

I sensed him shift in the chair, felt his hand come up underneath my chin. I resisted as he tilted my head up to look at him. I knew there were tears in my eyes again. "Ahn, why didn't you tell me any of that?"

I shook my head and pulled away from him. I saw the hurt bloom on his face. I wanted to be glad of that, wanted to be glad he felt some of the ache I'd lived with was his, but I couldn't. I loved him too much, always would, to want him to hurt at all. Besides, I had kept the hurt inside, I reminded myself mentally. I tried, then, to be angry with him. Angry he hadn't noticed, angry he hadn't listened when I had told him *this*, because I had. I couldn't be angry with him. He'd been too caught up in his own pain. If I thought forgiving him would make me feel better, it failed. I still felt empty inside. Emptier than with the anger I'd been clinging to.


Quietly, barely speaking above a whisper, I said, "I did tell you. The day - the day it happened."

He looked down again.

"Yeah," he said. "You did, didn't you?"

He looked up at me. We stared at one another for a long time. I almost thought I could hear the time ticking away on the clock above us, but, of course, that is not possible.

"Ahn, I'm sorry," he said at last, taking one of my hands, holding it as if it were precious, or he was frightened I would pull it away from him.

"It's all right," I told him. "You were hurting."

He shook his head. "Not for that ... well, not just for that. I tell you I love you, crazy, scary love and then -" he stopped. "I didn't do a very good job of making you feel loved."

"I'm not an easy person to love," I admitted to him. "Olaf-"

"-was a huge fool who deserved to be turned into a big, stinking, hairy troll. Pretty much like I do right now."

That made me smile, a tiny, hurt smile. I detached my hand and said, "No, you don't, Xander. You just need to be with someone you don't have to defend - or worry about embarrassing you - or - whatever."

"Anya," he said.

I shook my head. I looked down at my hands again. I think I would have recognized my own fingerprints by then, so much time had I spent looking at them lately. "And I need to be somewhere -

" - where you feel accepted for who you are, no strings?"

"Yes," I whispered, wiping away the tears that had sprung to my eyes.

"That's right here, Ahn. I promise."

"You can't promise that, Xander. Your friends ... they'll never accept me, never see me as anything but - I can't do it anymore."

"I promise you. *I* love you for everything you are - and aren't. Even if sometimes I'm too stupid to see it."

I stood up as an announcement was made. "That was my bus. I have to go, now."

He rose shakily. "But...?"

I let the tears trickle down my face as I took one last look at him. I wanted to remember him smiling, laughing, making love to me, but if this was all I was going to get, I'd take it. "One thing I *did* learn in - all those other years? Sometimes loving someone isn't enough."

I turned and began to walk toward the busses. I rummaged in my purse, finding my ticket, knowing I needed to have it out.

"Anya?" he called. I kept walking. "Do you think Tara did that spell alone?"

I turned.

"Do you think I drove myself here? I was half crazy - strike that, I was pretty much all crazy - couldn't have kept the car on the road."

The few people in the terminal had begun staring. Xander looked around, his features desperate. Then, I saw, over his shoulder, a scene I knew he didn't know about. Willow. Xander saw me staring and turned around. His shoulders slumped. He looked back at me and I saw the defeat in his eyes.

I started walking back to him. His eyes opened wider and the questions rose in them. He moved toward me more quickly than I could get to him. He put a hand on either side of my face and kissed me.

"Why?" he asked, laying his forehead against mine.

"She helped you."

"Big time," he admitted.

"She's been crying," I added.

He grinned at me. "Giles - um - kind of made us both cry. Oh, and let me tell you, that Dawn - champion scolder in the making." He closed his eyes, then kissed me again. "Seems like pretty much the only two people who couldn't see you were trying were the two people who really should have seen it first. Or rather, we saw it and just didn't get it."

I nodded.

"Can we go home, now?" he asked. "Please?"

I looked into his eyes. Without words he promised me the things I needed. I knew he couldn't make promises for anyone else and I didn't need him to.

"Yes," I said.

He sighed. We were walking toward Willow, who was smiling, when he said, "Oh, yeah. Um - since you'd given your landlord notice, we - um, Buffy, Giles, Dawn and Tara were kinda gonna move the rest of your stuff to my place."

"All right," I agreed. "There was not all that much left there anyway."

He laughed. I heard relief in it.

"Xander," I said, stopping for a moment and looking at him. "You know, I still have a tendency to choose my words a shade too precisely."

He smiled hugely at me. "Some of us guys *love* that."