1. Ready Position
He’s still there when I wake up. He’s dead to the world, slack in sleep. He looks young and perfect. My hand is on his hip, and he makes a small noise when I remove it. I look down the taut line of his spine and smile, remembering.
His face is pressed against the pillow, his mouth slightly open. Dark lashes brush his cheek and I wish I could kiss him there, just below that crescent shadow. He breathes when he sleeps.
When I come out of the shower, he’s on his back, sheets pooled at his waist, looking at me.
2. While Riding a Horse, Ask the Way
“Hey.” I don’t know if I should smile. A drop of water rolls down my chest and I shiver.
“Hey.” His face is as immobile as mine, and I try to unclench the fingers holding my towel on. I look at the floor. I want to walk over to the bed, drop the towel and climb in on top of him, share the shower-warmth and feel him against me, soft and hard.
“You should…” I look up at him. He stops, clears his throat, shakes his head, smiles just a tiny bit. “You should come over here.”
3. Under the Leaves, Lay or Hide the Flowers
Most nights he follows me home. I don’t even pretend to pause at the door, I just leave it open. He always closes the door and leans on it for a moment, looking around as if it’s the first time. I always wait for him to come to me, and I’m always surprised when he does.
I’m surprised by the surety of his touch, the sweetness of his fleeting smiles and the care he takes, as if I’ll break. I’m surprised that I don’t break; not from his weight, or his touch, but from his kindness, because it hurts more than a fist.
4. Wild Ducks Come Out as a Herd
He talks. His chin latched over my shoulder, hands on my hips, hard, urgent flesh pressed against me, and he talks. I feel his lips move against my jaw, my ear, my hair, my neck. His voice is fevered, anxious, sultry, hot, sharp, soft.
He groans. He pants. He grunts, yelps, sometimes whimpers, sometimes makes noises that are half-sigh, half-sob.
He calls me sweet and stupid, boy, a fool, pet and love, whelp and bastard and child, dream and nightmare, damnation and salvation; words in other languages and words that aren’t words at all.
I take it all; all of his words.
5. Purple Sparrow Threw Its Scissored Tail
I watch the way he watches the others. Dawn gets smiles and smirks, Willow and Tara get sadder smiles and lots of furrowed-brow stares. Giles gets passing glances, as if he’s afraid of what he’ll see if he looks too closely. He catches me staring, smiles and lifts an eyebrow. Sometimes he preens, cocking a leg, canting his hips.
His arrogance is inlaid. He wasn’t born with it. It’s been placed there, on top of and in contrast to that of which he’s made. When I touch him, running a firm hand over his shoulder, his face looks almost pained; the clear grain shows through.
6. Shut the Door, Push the Moon
I see the way he looks at her - at it - in the dark; blue eyes alight with something clean and soft. She’s not real, nothing like the real thing; nothing like the sun. But, for a moment I know that all he sees is Buffy, when all I want him to see is me.
The group disperses and we’re alone in the cemetery, in his dark world. I shove him against cool marble, taking him by surprise, and I feel him slump into me in acceptance, exhaustion or defeat.
“She’s not real,” I snarl, my teeth at his shoulder. “But I am.”
7. Vicious Tiger Comes Out of the Cave
We barely make it to the bed, shaking with fury and need. He makes me bleed. He doesn’t mean to, and it hurts him worse than it hurts me, but that doesn’t stop my tears.
Once I start, I can’t seem to stop. Huge, wracking sobs that aren’t about physical pain anymore shove their way out, through ribs and muscle and flesh, soaking the pillow, making my head spin and ache. The pressure inside constricts my ribs and squeezes my heart. His hand stays in my hair.
When it’s over, I get us both tissues and Tylenol. There are no apologies.
8. Precious Chicken Spreads Its Wings
He stays gone for three days. He doesn’t show up to patrol, and the girls look at me strangely when I ask one too many times if they’ve seen him. My bed, my body, my heart are empty, lonely for him. I have coffee with Willow, take Dawn to the mall, fix a bookshelf for Giles and sleep alone, when I manage to sleep.
I pine like a stupid little girl, not washing the mug in the sink, trying to find his scent on my pillow, pretending my hand is his in the shower.
On the fourth night he’s sitting by my door.
9. Move the Flower, Graft the Stem
I don’t let him apologize, just motion him inside and quiet with the same gesture. He stands there, coat on, like I won’t let him stay. I turn toward him and he flinches. He flinches away from me.
I enfold him in my arms and he slowly relaxes, and then brings his arms up to wrap my waist, lowers his head to my shoulder and clings to me. My heart is breaking, but I keep my voice steady.
“No leaving,” I say. My tone is light, but it’s one of the most important things I’ve ever said.
“No leaving,” he agrees.
10. From Behind the Head, Lift the Crown
Some days being together is too much and I find places to go where I can be alone. I go to the campus, mostly deserted for summer, and sit on a bench in the sunshine and wonder if anything will ever make sense again. I’m lost in thought when she sits down beside me, soft and warm and welcoming and silent.
“You know, don’t you?” I finally say, speaking to the brown-edged grass between my feet.
“Uh huh,” she says, like I’d just asked her if she’d like a mint.
“He loved her,” I say softly.
“Uh huh,” she repeats.
11. Between Your Chest, Hug the Moon
Her warm hand squeezes mine and then scurries away. I don’t lift my gaze from the grass. The blades are green at the bottom, but the slender tips are dry and brown, as brittle as I feel. Bees are buzzing, birds are singing and I’m coming out to my best friend’s girlfriend. It’s a strange world.
“Do you love him?”
“I need him.” It’s true. I need him like I need air, like I need a hole in my head.
“Is it enough?” Her voice is smooth and warm like caramel sauce, and just as sweet.
“Most of the time.”
12. White Dove Shoots Into the Sky
I watch him from the doorway. His body is a shadow in the dim room.
“Sunshine.” He’s half-asleep, mumbling into the clean, white sheets.
I kick my shoes off and sit on the edge of the bed. “What’s that?”
“You’ve been in the sun.” A pale hand snakes out and grabs my wrist and again I’m surprised by the unearthly strength in that slim body. Flat on my back and I’m draped in him, drowning in him. Smelling, feeling, touching, tasting him. Not minding much at all.
Outside, the sun is setting; inside, it’s rising in his cloudy, dozy eyes.
13. White Snake Entwines the Body
I wake with him wrapped around me. His cool body naturally seeks warmth, and he’d sleep directly under me if I would let him. I concentrate on the points of pressure - his heel against the back of my thigh, his fingers clutching the nape of my neck, his knee curved around my hip, the sharp bone of his pelvis digging into my belly, his lips pressed to my throat, the crown of his head under the curve of my jaw.
It takes me a few minutes to realize I’m holding onto him just as tightly.
14. Virgin Donates the Book
I’m drunk. We both are. Pool and beer at the Bronze in an endless whirl of lights and music and laughter and stolen touches and heated glances. He’s beautiful, and I’m so hungry for him that my need overrides my fear and I find the place where I can tell him so, in my own way.
We’re halfway to my apartment when I stop him in the street, pulling him off balance to face me.
“I want you to come home with me,” I say.
“Always do.” A split-second smile.
“I know. But I’m asking.”
15. Grand Mountain Presses on Your Head
It hurts to blink. It hurts to think. It hurts to move and the world keeps on spinning. Too many drinks, too much honesty - they both make me feel kind of queasy. There’s only a cool indentation under my hand. I wonder what I said last night.
That thought propels me to the bathroom on unsteady feet, and my knees crack on the tile as my stomach empties. All I can hear is the blood pounding in my ears and the sounds of my own sickness. When I finally open my eyes, there’s a glass of water on the floor beside me.
16. Black Bear Flips Its Back
Dawn finds some pictures in a shoebox under Buffy’s bed; the Summers women in happier times. Willow and Tara huddle in the armchair, all red-rimmed eyes and clutching hands. Dawnie’s head is on Giles’ shoulder and he looks like he desperately wants to clean his glasses, patting her and murmuring awkward platitudes.
We stand side by side, and I wish I could take his hand in mine and squeeze that cool strength.
He leans in, just an inch or two, and presses his arm into my ribs. I shift so that my thigh touches his, and we both stare straight ahead.
17. Yellow Eagle Claws the Eyes
Later, I find him standing under the usual tree, a pile of cigarette butts at his feet.
The light in Dawn’s window goes out. He sighs and I hear the scrape of flint, see the flare.
“You staying all night?”
“Dunno. Just need to…” His voice is softer than the breeze it drifts away on.
There’s nothing I can say or do, so I simply sit at his feet and lean against his legs, the dew seeping through my pants. He drops a hand to my hair, smokes.
The window snickers open above us.
“Go home,” Dawn says. She sounds like she’s smiling.
18. Apeman Picks the Fruit
“D’you think they know?” His voice is quiet, looking at the clutch of girls across the room, his fingers tracing abstract patterns on the tabletop.
Blue eyes go wide and pink lips narrow. “You told her?” His tone is one part curiosity, one part incredulity.
“Didn’t have to. She told me.”
Those lips twitch into a sly smile that vanishes before it has a chance to settle. “Smart girl, that one.”
19. Apeman Sits on the Cave
It’s late and we’re in bed, a warm tangle of limbs under clean sheets. His toes trace up and down my calf, drawing lines. I can’t keep my hands out of his hair, it’s silky and a riot of curls that he no longer smoothes ruefully each time I touch it.
“Love your hair.”
“Love your hands.”
“Love the way you touch me.”
“Love the way you feel.”
“Outside or inside?”
We’re quiet for a while, and he lets me roll him so his back is against my chest and wrap my arms around him.
20. Half-Dragon Half-Lion Vomits the Book
He has nightmares. His legs make all the motions of running, his hands reach out, but he falls. The sounds he makes - heartbreaking whimpers; soft, sharp cries of desolation and failure - tear at me. Without waking, he won’t be comforted. He curls into a tight knot of misery, his back shuddering under my hand.
Other times, he speaks; says names and “I’m sorry” and “please forgive me,” and he cries perfect, crystalline tears that shatter in my heart.
Every night he saves her.
21. Flying Sparrow Plays in the Water
Some mornings he joins me in the shower. Some evenings, in the bath. The morning is all about waking up - shining eyes and hard flesh and slippery hands and mouths.
The evening is for fun - shampoo horns and water fights and easy smiles and full-body laughs. Sometimes we rest in the tub, working the complex equation of letting cool water out and hot water in without using our hands, letting the heat soften our bones and steal the hours, sealed in the steamy little room that smells of mint and sandalwood.
I fall in love with him in the bath.
22. Trace the Candles Across the Sky
Dawn makes us come out to watch the fireworks. When we scoff, she pouts, and that’s how we wind up on a blanket under the stars, the five of us huddled together. There are beers and snacks, and too many Pixie Sticks to count. My knee is bouncing from the sugar; I’m drunk on his proximity.
“Ooh. Ahh. Oh.” We do sarcastic deadpan harmony, and stifle giggles at the three reproving looks we garner in return. We do it again, just for the hell of it.
The night is on fire. His hand brushes mine and I’m on fire, too.
23. Black Dragon Entwines the Waist
There are still a few, last fireworks in the night sky, brilliant bursts of color outside the blinds; brilliant bursts of white behind my eyelids. This time he doesn’t speak, simply holds me down, holds me still and shows me how much he wants me, how much he needs me in his own way. He’s everywhere and nowhere. I’m burning inside, reaching out, grasping at the headboard, the pillows, the wall, his hands; trying to hold on, hold back. He tears me apart and puts me back together and there’s nowhere to hide. He’s there. With me.
24. Walk the Horse, Fix the Saddle
He’s hungry all the time. His eyes sharpen and shine and he watches everything. He’s hungry for blood, for food, for affection, for sex. He’s hungry for smiles and nods and acknowledgements of small kindnesses. He’s hungry for laughter, for belonging, for sounds and silences. He’s hungry for experiences, sensations, joy and pain, touches, kisses, time, attention. His hunger is a living thing - it fills a room, a house, the world. His hunger ignites my own, but I’m only hungry for him.
25. Walk a Step and Brush the Shirt
We get careless. We sit too close and smile too softly at one another. Accidental touches go on for too long, we have too many private jokes. We finish each other’s sentences too many times. Dawn beams. Willow looks confused, Tara smiles softly. Anya doesn’t care and Giles cleans his glasses.
We get careless on patrol one too many times and I get hurt. Not too badly, but badly enough. Spike is tight-lipped and angry, more so when I say it isn’t his fault. I spend two days in bed in a painkiller haze.
26. Push the Mountain, Enter the Sea
I dream of holding him down. I dream of seeing a look of shock on his face, surprise in his eyes. I dream of making him mine the way he has made me his, with power and sweat and blistering looks and inescapable touches. I dream that he’s beneath me, covered in me the way I am covered in him. I dream the line of his back, spine bowed, muscles stretched, forehead against the mattress, sheets clenched in sweaty hands. I dream he is me and I am him.
I wake, and I’m his. Always his.
27. Bat Falls to the Ground
When I wake, he’s asleep, sprawled in a kitchen chair beside my bed. His head is back and I try to focus on the long line of his throat. My body aches; I can feel the itchy track of a fine line of stitches up the back of my arm, the pull of adhesive bandages on my skin in several places and the blue-black pain of bone-deep bruises.
I need to pee, I need something to drink, I need to hold him against me and reassure myself that I didn’t get dead this time. I need some more pain pills.
28. Apeman Steals the Peach
When I wake again, he’s gone. I make a small, experimental sound and he’s at my side before I can turn it into his name. It’s dark outside and he hovers by the bed until I pat the blanket to make him sit. He perches gingerly, as if I’d shoo him away.
“You OK?” he asks, and I’d almost swear that his voice breaks.
I nod once before figuring out how bad that hurts. “I’ll live,” I croak. “You?”
“No, thanks,” he says. “I’ll stay dead if it’s all the same to you.”
It hurts to smile, too, but I do it anyway.
29. Apeman Donates the Fruit
We speak together, both wanting the same thing. I open my arms carefully and he fits himself to my chest, light as a feather. I lean my cheek against his hair and he murmurs something, too low for me to hear.
Holding him is like heaven - safe and warm and peaceful and perfect.
He looks up at me, his eyes shining a little more than usual. “No leaving,” he says.
I have to close my eyes as I answer. “No leaving.”
30. Big Bird Spreads Its Wings
The next day he’s sick of me. Sick of helping me up to the bathroom, sick of making me soup, sick of dosage schedules, sick of sleeping on the couch. I beg him to put me in the tub and leave me alone, and he does just that. It takes me an hour to get clean, and I find that I can’t stand up.
He appears like a wisp of smoke and silently washes my hair, then hauls me back to bed before grumbling his way back to the couch. He changed the sheets while I was in the bath.
31. Cross the Hands, Move the Stairs
He won’t touch me. That’s not true - he touches me to help me walk, to clean me up, to fluff my pillows, to soothe. I lean into his hands and he backs off; I kiss him and he turns my hunger to sweetness. I don’t have the strength to hold him, and he slips through my fingers like water.
I wait until he’s asleep and I touch his body, his skin like silk over steel. He stirs and I pull my hands back, not willing to risk the gentle rejection. I burn for him.
32. Following the Circumstances, Receive the Clothing
He’s still there in the morning, watching me as I wake. He’s curled around me, protecting me. I feel him against my hip, his body insistent. He notices and moves away.
“Don’t go.” My voice is thin and reedy, a fragile thing.
He looks torn. I run a hand down his chest and his eyes slip closed as he arches up into my touch. His skin is whisper-soft, warmed from contact with mine. He swallows hard and slides away again.
33. Horizontally Sweep a Thousand Armies
He reaches out a hand and I grab it, pressing it to the heat and hardness between my legs.
“Want you,” I say. “Don’t say no.” I’m on the cusp of begging and I don’t care. He’s in my blood; he’s my oxygen and I can’t breathe without him. His eyes are sad, and he tries to pull back, but I can’t let him go.
He pulls his hand back and cups my face, and he’s looking at me - looking into me and I know he can see everything. He kisses my forehead and then my lips.
34. Dove Flips Its Body
He’s sweet and gentle, touching me as if I’m far more damaged than I am. It feels good, but I need more from him.
I ask. He refuses, staring at me with worry-wide eyes. I move his hand to my mouth, and sink my teeth into the base of his thumb, my fingers marking his wrist. The sound he makes is pure animal, pure sex, and I drink it like water after a day working in the sun, soaking him up through every pore.
“Need you,” I gasp.
“Don’t want to hurt you.”
“Don’t care. Need it; need you. Now.”
“Missed you, Xan.”
35. Rhinoceros Looks Up at the Stars
He’s gentle, rocking into me with infinite care, our hands twined, his lips on the nape of my neck. He barely touches me and I’m mindless with want, helpless with need, arching back against him.
“So good.” His voice is muffled by my hair.
“Missed this.” I’m breathless, so close.
36. King of Heaven Holds the Pagoda
I never though I’d have this. I’m always the one who takes care of others, but he takes care of me. He cleans us up and holds me in his arms, petting and soothing me. He’s asked me if I’m OK a hundred times. I tell him a hundred and one times that I’m fine, great, better than OK, wonderful, fabulous - and he laughs. I’d tell him a thousand times more to hear that sound. His hands feel so good on my skin that I’d give anything to stay like this forever. If this isn’t love, then I don’t know what is.
37. White Snake Picks the Mushroom
He’s livid. I’ve never seen him angry in quite this way. The scowl on his face occasionally drifts into a smirk, then a smile, then he shakes himself, frowns and stomps around the room some more.
I choose to flip the channels. It’s safer that way.
Finally, he flops down on the couch with an exasperated sigh and his hand falls to its customary place, cupping my kneecap.
I don’t look at him. “What is it?”
He doesn’t look at me. “Watcher,” he huffs. “He asked me my intentions.”
I can see his smile out of the corner of my eye before he hides it again.
38. Lion Hugs the Ball
“What did you tell him?” I flip the channels: Gilligan, game show, news, religion, Gilligan.
“To bugger off.”
Home improvement, religion, sports, news, sports, Gilligan. “Yeah?”
Fingers trace the edge of my patella faster, friction heating denim and skin. “Yeah.”
Game show, nature program, brain surgery, sports, Gilligan.
He grips my knee hard. “Wouldn’t hurt you. Giles knows that.”
I set the remote aside, glance over at him. He’s looking at me intently; his eyes are clear, ocean blue. “I know it, too.”
The remote gets stuck under us. Gilligan, game show, news, religion, Gilligan, home improvement, religion, sports, news, sports, Gilligan.
39. Lion Flips the Ball
“He’s leaving, you know. Going back to England.” We’re still smashed onto the couch, half-dressed, completely sated.
I drag my fingers through his hair and down his neck. “He’s got no reason to stay.”
“Balls. You lot need him.” His feet move against mine, telling silent stories, emphasizing certain words. Mine talk back; petting, easing.
“He needs her; he always has. We remind him of too much.” He nestles his head under my jaw. His hair smells of my shampoo, our shampoo. That simple thought paralyzes me.
His foot prods mine. “What?”
I kiss the top of his head, amazed. “Nothing.”
40. Lion Dribbles the Ball
We have shampoo. We have our own sides of the bed. We have rituals, routines. He squeezes the toothpaste in the middle; I leave my socks on the floor. He’s in my life so firmly that I can’t remember what it was like before, without him. He’s in my house, in my bed, in my heart, in my dreams and I couldn’t get him out if I wanted to. I don’t want to.
I need him. It scares me how much. Without doing anything at all, he makes me desperate, makes me ache and sweat and want and need. He buys my soul with a single smile.
41. Lion Opens Its Mouth
It’s so hard not to tell him. The words push at my teeth, trying to get out. They torment me all the time, trying to escape, to be free.
Not just in bed, not just in the bath, not just when he’s so far inside me I feel like he’s my heart, and I know that I’ll die when he leaves me empty.
In the kitchen. At the Magic Box. In the cemetery. On the sofa. On patrol. Over the phone from work. Telepathically when I’m staring at him while he sleeps.
It’s killing me.
42. Lion Flips Its Body
“You need to tell him.” Tara’s voice is soft, but I can hear the reproof.
“We agreed not to,” I say, deliberately misunderstanding.
She takes my hand and makes me look at her, and I can’t lie to her soft, sad eyes.
“I’m scared.” It’s true. I’m terrified.
“We’re all scared,” she says.
“I can’t compete with a ghost; her ghost.”
I know she’s right.
43. Heavenly Horse Walks the Sky
I want to be there when he wakes, be the first thing he sees, get that first, sleepy smile. I walk faster.
I make it in time and lose myself in his arms, in his words, in his touch. I stay in the bed after he gets up, touching the shape his body made in the covers, wishing for more time and less turmoil, more of us and less of the world.
Thirst finally motivates me, and I sit on the couch and drink a soda and listen to the shower run and wonder what happens next.
44. Spread the Bow on the Back of the Horse
I flip the channels, but I don’t want TV. I don’t want to read; I don’t want to listen to music. I don’t want to think or dream or believe. I don’t want to need or want. I don’t want him to touch me or kiss me, distract me or soothe me. He sits beside me, and I shrug off his hand.
I get up and go to the kitchen, staring at the contents of the refrigerator unseeing. He comes in and I leave, brushing past him. I make it almost to the bedroom before his voice stops me in my tracks.
45. Golden Snake Entwines the Weeping Willow
“What do you want from me, Xander?” His eyes flash with annoyance from across the room and his posture is closed, strong, alpha.
“Nothing. Everything.” I wrap my arms around my own body and meet his stare, anger and want and need rising up in me like a wave, threatening to pull me under.
“Which is it? Tell me what you want.” He stalks forward, one short, sharp step for each word.
I can’t look at him when I say it, can’t bear to see the sneer, the disbelief. “Want to make you mine.”
He drops to his knees. “Done.”
46. Wild Horse Crashes Through the Stable
Struck dumb, I shake, and then move instinctively. He is everything I thought he’d be - soft and cool and needy and perfect. I’m lost in him, fingers and lips branding pale skin, searing words branding both our minds. This is my last chance to stake my claim, my last chance to make it real. I’ll not fall without a fight.
He doesn’t know, can’t know, won’t know. Sealed together in the night, for a single, perfect moment we’re complete. We fall into the embrace of the bed, sheets tangled with sweaty limbs.
“Mine,” I whisper, a benediction.
“Yours,” he says.
47. Sea Bug Teases the Locust
This is the last day. He doesn’t know it, but I do. He looks at me strangely, because I’m watching him too much, touching him too frequently, following wherever he goes with eyes or steps. In the late afternoon, he gives in. With an indulgent smile he tangles his body with mine on the wide sofa, drowsing in my arms as I ignore the television and concentrate on learning the pattern of his curls and the line of his neck and the texture of his skin, committing to memory his feel and smell and taste.
This is our last day.
48. Giant Python Flips Its Body
It’s done. She’s back. She’s not herself; she’s dark - nothing like the sun, but she’s back. He sat on the table and held her hands and spoke to her in the tone of voice I thought was for me. They didn’t see me, but I saw them and I saw his eyes. She will never love him the way he loves her, and he will never love me the way I love him.
I made this choice; there’s no one else to blame. If I had the chance, I’d do it the same again. On my knees in my room, I mourn, finally.
49. Black Bear Stretches Its Paw
I hear the door, hear his footsteps. I wipe my face on my sleeve and sit back on my heels, waiting. He’s in the doorway, arms crossed, staring.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” His face is a mask.
“You would have stopped us.” My voice hitches.
“True.” He nods.
We stare at each other across the room, and his eyes are clear, his demeanor calm. I wipe my face again and try to speak, but I can’t. He crosses the floor and crouches in front of me, a hand rising to smooth the hair back from my forehead.
“Still yours, love.”
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