Xander stood at the bakery counter, staring through the glass at the cakes on display. Big sheet cakes with cartoon characters, small ones with generic sayings, personalized ones waiting for pick up... a case full of happy.
"Are you ready sir?" the girl behind the counter asked a second time. Or maybe for the third time. He hadn't really been paying attention. He looked up, finally acknowledging her existence.
"Um, yeah. Hi. I need that one." He pointed to the second shelf.
It wasn't like there was a choice in the matter. The perfect cake caught his eye the second he got to the counter. It was covered in truly obnoxious pink and green flowers, with ribbons and lace and those little fake pearl things.
Exactly the kind she would have wanted.
"It's discrimination. Discrimination against ex-demons. I deserve parties, too. And cake. And presents. Lots of presents."
Xander blinked. This was coming out of nowhere. Something that he was getting used to. "Uh, Anya, you've lost me. Why exactly do you deserve a party?"
Anya gave him the "why don't you get it yet?" look, which was starting to happen daily. "Did you see that girl at the pizza place last night? They were celebrating the day her mother bore her. And there were presents. And cake. I want cake."
"That's easy to fix'" Xander laughed. "When's your birthday?"
Anya looked abashed. "I don't know."
"You don't know? How can you not know your own birthday?"
"We didn't keep track of things like that a thousand years ago. It wasn't important. We had other celebrations, having to do with seasons and harvests and phases of the moon. And vengeance demons don't celebrate human natal traditions."
"Okay. So... how exactly is this discrimination?"
"I should just have one. Ex-demons don't have birthdays, so they can't share in the celebration that regular humans do. It's wrong."
"Gotcha. Wrong. Okay, I'll keep that in mind."
Xander could hear Anya's footsteps as she trounced down the stairs. "Okay, I'm here. Your mom let me in. Are we going to have sex now?" The footsteps stopped. "Xander, where are you? And why do you have a cake on fire?"
He stepped out of his hiding place. "It's for you. Happy Birthday. Or, as close to it as I can get, anyway." He grinned at her.
A small, supermarket-fresh cake sat on a beach-towel-covered t.v. tray, with white frosting and "Happy Birthday Anya" written on it. The flame on the birthday candle danced as the air from the house above swirled around the basement.
"Birthday?" Anya looked confused. "How could you... wait, did you have Willow do another spell to find that out? The girl doesn't know what she's doing, and if she's still auditioning for D'Hoffryn, she could get you hurt. And me hurt. And..."
Xander jumped in to derail that train of thought before it went any further. "Wait, no. Nothing like that. No, the way that I figure it, you became human again about a year ago."
"A year ago last week. December 8th."
"Right. Well, I was close. So I thought maybe that would do okay as a birthdate kind of thing. So, Happy Birthday. Blow out your candle."
"Why? It's pretty. Makes your basement less dreary."
"It's tradition. You blow out the candle and make a... oh, wait." Xander stopped abruptly. He hadn't made the connection until just then.
"Wait? Why wait? I am looking to embrace these human traditions. Well, at least the good ones. What does a birthday-celebrating human do at the time the candle is blown out?"
"They, uh... they make a wish. They blow out the candle and make a wish."
Anya blinked. "I don't know of any birthday wish-granting demons. Vengeance demons are need-based. Then there are the jinn, but their wish-granting can happen any time. And they have that three-wish-per-person limit, which I always thought was ridiculous. Who grants the birthday wishes?"
"Nobody. They just are wishes. Hopes, really. And secret. You can't tell anybody, or it won't come true."
"So they do come true? How can they if nobody grants them?"
"They just do. Sometimes. But it's just how things happen. You wish for something you really want, and sometimes, maybe, you actually get it. So... make your wish."
"And I can't tell you?"
"Not as a rule. But you'd better do it soon, or there'll be no candle left."
Anya nodded, and blew out the candle. "I'm going to tell you anyway. I want a better cake. This one's too plain. I want flowers and ribbons and lots of frosting. And what's the beach towel for?"
"I, uh, it's supposed to look like a tablecloth, I guess. I was trying to dress it up."
Anya nodded. "That will work as festive decoration. For now. But you got the cake wrong. Because you don't actually know what my date of birth is, do you?"
Xander shrugged. "No, I don't. But I'd hoped I could substitute in the day of your turning back to human. It's sort of close, right?"
"No, those are two entirely different things. The correct term for that would be "Anniversary of Being Newly Returned to Human Day, wouldn't it?"
He laughed. "How about just Human Day? That'll take up a lot less room a the cake."
"Human Day. Yes, that's appropriate. Happy Human Day to me." Anya seemed very pleased with herself.
"Happy Human Day to you." Xander embraced Anya and kissed her, then stopped. "Wait. I don't have to sing, do I?"
"Is that expected of you?"
"Let's just say no. Cake?"
"Yes, cake. And then sex."
Xander grinned at her. "Who am I to argue with that?"
"I want a party this year. Am I getting a party? Tara got one."
Anya had started talking about her Human Day weeks before, but this was the part Xander had been trying to avoid. "An, I still think tomorrow's more of a just us day."
"But I get less presents that way. She got presents. Not very good ones, but I'm sure your friends will do better when they buy presents for me. You can help them."
Xander shook his head. "Seriously, do you really want a party? Now? With everything else that's happening?"
"Yes, I want one. Streamers, balloons, and presents. And don't forget that I want a better cake this year."
"Look, sweetie, the timing's just not that good right now. Ms. Summers is sick, and the surgery's coming up. We have to think of them. And with the Glory situation and all I just don't think people want to be all celebratory right now."
Anya stood in front of him, looking up accusingly. "Why does that matter? This is my day. It's not like they have to actually do anything except buy me presents. It's a happy thing. They can all use that."
"An, that's not the point. They just have things that they're dealing with."
"You don't care, do you? You don't care that it's my day. "
"An, I care! I care a ton! I made the holiday up, for god's sake! But we have to think about everybody else here." Anya looked unconvinced, so he barreled on. "Look, we'll have a party for you. We will. Complete with streamers. When everybody can enjoy it. But right now, let's just do a you-and-me thing, okay?"
"Okay, fine. We'll have everyone celebrate my anniversary of mortality some other time." Anya took a deep breath and turned away from him. "Besides, except for the presents and cake part, it's a stupid idea anyway. It's just a celebration of being one year closer to death. One year closer to being old and decrepit and having your head cut open and tumors removed."
Anya began to shake. He'd had no idea that Joyce's condition and her surgery was affecting her like this. He stepped around to face her, finding more fear in her face than he ever had before.
"An, no, it's not like that. It's not a celebration of death or mortality or anything like that."
"Then why do you count?"
"Count? Count what?"
"The years. It's like a contest. How high can you count before you die? I've seen it on television. The people who count really high get their names mentioned on morning talk shows. It's like a prize."
"No, An. No contest. That's not the point. Birthdays... they celebrate life. They're for celebrating that you exist. And that's something I want to celebrate."
Anya looked up at him. "Really?"
"Really. I even have proof. Go look in the fridge."
Anya ran over to the refrigerator and opened the door. Inside was a large cake, covered with flowers, ribbons and "Happy Human Day, Anya" in big pink letters.
"You wished for a better cake. That's a wish even I can grant." Xander said from where she had left him. "The guy at the bakery gave me a funny look when I told him the words for the top, but I think I'll survive."
As he spoke, Anya took the cake out and opened the box. Outburst temporarily forgotten, she opened the cupboard and grabbed a couple of paper plates. "Cake?"
"Please. But you first." Xander watched Anya as she cut herself a big slice out of her cake. Someday soon, he should tell her how he felt about her. He'd chickened out so far, but... he was just waiting for the right time. For now, he was perfectly happy to watch her enjoy her cake.
Waiting at the red light, Xander looked down at his passenger seat. The cake sat there, looking far more cheery than he felt.
This is stupid, he thought. What am I doing? But he already knew the answer to that question. I'm doing what I need to. I made a deal with her. So I'm gonna keep it. Even if she can't.
"You don't think I'll get less presents because of the wedding, do you?"
Anya had been looking at yet another wedding magazine, but she was now looking up at him, alarmed.
"Not usually, An. Wedding and birthdays are totally different. People get plenty of loot for both."
"Good." Anya nodded. "So, do I get to have my party on the real day this year, or are you going to do the fake birthday thing with the pretend date again?"
"Sweetie, they think your birthday is in July now, so... they might get confused if we change it on them."
"Yes, but we've determined my Human Day. They should share in the joy that is my life in ways other than pre-wedding bliss. And I want cake."
"We'll see, An. Look, it's nothing against you, but nobody's in much of a party mood after..." Xander shrugged. He didn't understand what Willow had gotten into, but after what had happened to Dawn... and Buffy was in bad place, too. In fact, neither Buffy nor Willow was talking to him much as the moment, which was something that was driving him nuts. Then again, he wasn't talking to them much either these days...
Anya's reply caught him off guard. "Yes, I know. After all that. After Willow got too far into the dark magicks. I know. You keep talking about her and Dawn and Buffy. And I feel appropriately bad for them. But what does that have to do with celebrating me?"
"They're your friends. So we have to think big picture here." Anya wasn't buying it, so he tried a different tactic. "Okay, look at it this way... the way things are with everybody, I doubt if everyone's up for giving you the party you deserve right now."
This made Anya pause. Then she nodded. "That is true. I do deserve a great party, don't I?"
"Of course you do. Like last year, but better. A new and improved kind."
Anya nodded as if this was a known fact. "In fact, I deserve to have everything I've ever wanted." She smiled with her certainty. "I deserve the best."
Xander tried to smile back at Anya, feeling sadder than he thought he should. "Yes, An, you do. You deserve the best of everything."
Satisfied, she returned to the smiling brides and grooms beaming at her from her magazine, while Xander continued to gaze at her. She does deserve the best, he thought. But what I don't know is if I'll be able to give the best to her. The kind that she deserves.
"What do you want, Harris?"
Xander stood at Anya's doorstep, holding a plain cardboard box. "Hello to you, too. Look, I just thought that, today being December 8th and all, that you'd want..."
Anya cut him off. "Today being what? Yes, it is December 8th. So?"
Xander looked at her. "An, it's just... today is your day. Your Human Day. I thought you'd want to celebrate since, you're, y'know, human again and all."
"Today is nothing, Xander. Nothing. It's just a day." Anya shook her head. "It doesn't count for anything anymore."
"Anya, I don't understand."
"You really don't, do you?"
"Anya," Xander struggled for the right words. "I know things are different, but... We've always celebrated today. No matter where we stand, it's still your day."
"No, it really isn't." Anya paused and took a breath. "The thing is, I've only been human again for a month and a half this time. Not a year. So I have a new day. October 22."
"Oh." Xander tried to hide his disappointment. "Yeah, I see your point."
Anya stepped back and regarded him. "Look. I'll make you a deal. If we're still around for the new Human Day date next year, you can celebrate it with me. If I decide to. But today is not a day to celebrate. Not anymore. Please leave."
"Okay. It's a deal. I'll mark my calendar and everything. But, you're sure...?"
"I'm sure. Please leave now." Anya shut the door softly - but firmly - in his face.
Xander stood at the door for a few seconds, not sure of what to do, then wandered back out to his car, tossing the box with the cake in a garbage can as he walked by.
Xander sat staring at the cake on his kitchen counter in all its gaudy glory. He'd been looking at it for a good half-hour. He finally lit the candle, and it was burning down fast.
Five months. She's been gone for five months. The weeks and months had run together... It seemed like that battle had just happened, but it also seemed like she'd been dead for years, all at the same time. The pain still welled up huge and fresh, even with as much time as had passed. He was doing better, and putting on his Happy Face was getting a little easier every day. And today, he couldn't bring the others down into his dumps with him. No way. They were still dealing, too... dealing with the crater-ification of home and all the death that surrounded that day.
Besides, today had always been their day.
He stepped forward and blew out the candle.
"Happy Human Day, An."
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