He looks older, she thinks. Stretched too thin to cover the borrowed power. Will he stay this time? Having taught her the lesson, will he relent? Can he visit some day when there isn't an apocalypse happening?
Sometimes she thinks that if he were to try something she wouldn't stop him. If one long night out patrolling his hand slipped to the small of her back to guide her round a fresh grave and stayed there, rising and falling with the languid roll of her hips, maybe she would let him. Maybe she would turn into the shelter of his tall body and press her breasts against his chest.
What if the next time his long, strong fingers adjust the set of her head, next time he sets her arm just right, what if, instead of sliding her eyes away from his she meets that light steady gaze, daring him to refuse what's in her eyes, her heart.
Maybe one night when he appears on her doorstep, from England or just home from the Magic Box, maybe she'll slip out the door onto the porch where the others can't see. Maybe she'll greet him with a hug; maybe she'll turn her head and press a kiss in the palm of the hand he lays along her cheek.
Maybe he'll turn to her, with some small question on his lips; what kind of robes was that vampire priest wearing? Are you hurt? Who's watching Dawn? Maybe he'll see the biggest question that hovers on hers. The one she stops herself from asking a hundred times a week. Maybe he'll answer, maybe he won't. Maybe he'll say: Yes, now, this instant. Forever. Mine.
A June wedding, she thinks. Full daylight, summer sun. A white dress that doesn't need to be practical. No vampires welcome here.
The groom will stay for this wedding. This bride will not weep bewildered beside a wedding cake uncut. (With my body I thee worship. With all my worldly goods...)
A kiss. They dance. She is cherished, his gentle hands guiding her as they have not done for some time now. Another kiss. Another dance, far older. The tightly leashed rage that has shocked them all on occasion is present in the hands that draw pleasure from her shivering body. She thinks he will kiss each of her scars, silvery white against golden skin. She hopes he will bite, tear, rend at the evidence others have left on her flesh. She wants to remember only him.
A child. She will grow fat, the foetal parasite colonising her flesh. Grown from her body. Flesh of his flesh. Blood of the world's blood, for surely it has never belonged to her. A little girl, she thinks. With fine blonde hair that curls round her chubby face. Maybe she'll grow up to be a Slayer with a Watcher all her own.
Maybe they'll leave Sunnydale. Maybe the Hellmouth will follow them.
Perhaps he'll leave, as her father did. Perhaps he means to keep in touch, but gradually he'll fade from her life.
Maybe one morning the bed beside her will be cold, the nursery empty and she'll stand beside a grave that will never hold mouldering bones only one small and one smaller pile of dust.
Maybe he'll love her the rest of her life. Maybe the next time she dies it will be forever. Maybe one day the Slayer torch will pass to someone else and she'll get out alive.
He thinks sometimes, that if she would only ask there is nothing he could refuse her. Bright and strong and brittle, and he would do anything she asked.
But he can feel the road that stretches ahead. It's long and dark; the shadows loom on either side leaving no room for error. He feels in his bones the price she will be asked to pay; the price he knows she will give without hesitation. Shamefully he doesn't want to live the rest of his life having tasted the fruit then being denied the tree.
She feels good, right, in his arms.
He knows his duty, but sometimes...
"You cut your hair."
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