Xander & Anya LIFE


Princess Dress

It's hanging from the branches of a dying tree, my princess dress. Ribbons and bows and something tough and scratchy underneath so that you never forget what beauty is. It's hurting, all these things in my head when I sleep next to him, burning up still with unfamiliar body heat and jolted with strange urges like ice cream and aching bladder and the feeling that I might have just stepped on a nail, even though I've been asleep.

I've forgotten things. My mother's face, her name, her smell, her eyes. I'm older than the oldest vampire, yet I'm still lost in the woods. At night I wander through bramble bushes of some ancient forest I think I grew up by but can't be sure. A horn sounds the Wild Hunt, and I turn to run but can't think where the path might be, or if there was ever a path to begin with. Now, do you hear that thunder? And wolves too, skinny and yellow-eyed, seeking out my skin to pull from my bones. A carriage passes, rocking through the underbrush and I call out for it to wait, to stop, and it does.

The door swings open, and me in my tattered princess dress. Inside, Buffy and Willow in rich silks and velvets, delicate hands on delicate crossbows pulled back with silver bolts. Silver for the wolves. I sink into the cushions across from them. Thank you Mademoiselles, I was beginning to fear for my life.

Yes, yes, says dream Willow. No time for thanks now. We must be on to the village. A toss of pearl-threaded red hair. My own hair matted with leaves and twigs. Pardon my appearance.

Dream Buffy taps the roof and we're off. I want to tell them, you shouldn't be here. This is my forest. This is my carriage. But they're so beautiful, and I know they must be keeping him somewhere. Xander. Hurry, before the glass coffin shuts and I can't breathe.

Goods and or services, Buffy sneers. It's no wonder you can't pass for human. You talk like robot. You follow me around in stores and buy the clothes I pass over. You take pictures of food from magazines to the grocery store, ask the clerks what is butternut, what is creme de menthe. He's going to snap out of it. He's going to know.

I don't remember my princess dress being so tight. Maybe in the village I'll go in for a fitting. Maybe I'll buy stockings and garters for Xander. The carriage lurches over a fallen branch, I tumble into Willow's lap. Get off of me, she hisses. Haven't you taken enough?

Outside the sun is slipping, but everything looks brown, like a photograph in sepia. Russet treetops, amber grass, everything muted except me and these women, these fine ladies in their fine clothes. I should point out; yes I should, that I didn't take Xander. Not from you, anyway.

From the driver's bench Giles leans over and barks through the port glass, all you think about is yourself. Look at you in that horrible dress. You think this fairy tale is for you, Anyanka? Filthy little maid from Siberia. Even the wolves would bathe you before eating.

I help you - I pull a snarled lock out of my eyes - I keep the store. Yes, and I help with prophecy, and with research.

Buffy snaps open a painted fan, giggles behind the thin paper. You think you have prophecy? You're an accident, unmade by foolishness. Your vengeance was pithy. Your scope was small. Even Willow could do better than you.

But I have morals. Little redhead winks at me. Isn't that right, Anyanka? I have self-control, I have decency. Xander deserves that.

Yes of course he does. And the village is in sight. I don't wait for the carriage to stop; I leap to the ground, trip and fall in a patch of soft mud. I can hear them laughing, but I run on. Past the well, the smithy, the inn and the stables. Where is my love?

I call his name, I call loud and long until my throat burns and the tears are coming like rain over the steppes but these people, these children don't understand. What it was like so long ago, when we would take down the hide tents in summer to move to the villages for winter. How sometimes we wouldn' t make it, how sometimes we ate the dead, and sometimes couldn't wait for the dying. How men in bright armor came streaming from the hills with crosses held high and said repent, heathens, repent!

These things never leave you, even with the years flicking by like the sputter of a dying candle, even with the growing hollow somewhere in my demon form that ate away at me, that demanded I take vengeance not for poor crying girls, but for myself. I had a sister. I think.

He emerges from behind the halo of a bonfire, dressed in a huntsman's leathers and carrying a longbow over his shoulder. Dark hair falls over one eye. Love, love, I knew you wouldn't leave me. I fly to him, mud-covered rag girl that I am. Don't let them drag me back, don't let them take me from you.

No, he whispers, soft against my cheek. You're safe. The wolves are miles from here.

When I wake he's usually snoring very softly, as though he's having trouble breathing. I wonder what he dreams of. Maybe when his beautiful black eyes open I'll curl into his arms and ask him, and maybe when I kiss him I'll forget the cutting edge of Buffy's fan and the sharp heel of Willow's slipper.

My princess dress is hanging from the branches of a dying tree. The ribbons and bows are faded, caked with dirt, but my Prince is handy with a needle and thread.