Something was different.
The air…? Yeah, the air smelled funny. Like honeysuckle? And something else, something distinctive, something….
New car, realized Cordelia. She loved new car scent.
But there were no cars around.
No cars! That was it! There was no such thing as a day in L.A. with no cars. No matter how expensive gas was, no matter how many "Spare the Air Day" radio spots played, Californians were permanently attached to their cars, and Los Angeles made the rest of the state look like amateurs. But there were no cars in sight, and people were…walking. And smiling—as if they liked it! Which meant this wasn't real, 'cause no way was that happening.
Oh crap, she was in a parallel universe. Great, just great, Cordy thought irately. And those gorgeous Manolos she was wearing were probably just an illusion. Dammit.
"Mind if I sit down?"
Well, what was it this time? Being tempted with her ideal life? Impregnated by some demon? Mocked by—"Anya?"
Anya sank into the chair opposite Cordelia and signaled to the waiter. "A large mocha, please. With a great deal of sweetened cocoa powder on top, and a generous amount of whipped cream-like substance."
Irritation speared through Cordelia. "What are you doing here?" she demanded irately, not especially sure of why she was outraged.
"Oh, I live here. Well, not here—this isn't a late-'90s sitcom about the serial relationships of a group of twentysomethings with implausibly large apartments. And we're probably not really friends, for that matter."
"No," Cordelia snapped. That had been a long time ago. And she and Anya had really only been friendly for a few days when Anya had abruptly lost interest in their friendship—due the whole losing her demonhood thing and consequentially the raisin d'whatever of their friendship, which Cordy didn't find out the details about until some time later, when she barely cared anymore. It wasn't really much of a loss as far as she was concerned, except that former demon friend or not, you're not supposed to go to the prom with your ex-friend's ex-boyfriend. That was just Faithishly stank. Cordy in no way cared by that point what Xander Harris did or who he did it with, but it was stank. And it certainly didn't bother her any longer.
"Whydid you go out with Xander?" Cordy demanded.
Anya looked at her blankly.
"I mean, there were plenty of guys at Sunnydale High, and most of them had achieved at least a minimal level of social competence. But you chose Xander Harris. Xander. Harris. What did I ever do to you?"
Anya blinked. "And they think I'm self-absorbed," she mumbled.
"Cordelia, it didn't have anything to do with you. He was there, and I enjoyed looking at him, and he enjoyed looking at me, or at least parts of me, and obviously there was something there or we wouldn't have almost gotten married."
"Almost—what? What are you talking about? You almost got married on prom night?"
Anya rolled her eyes. "Don't be ridiculous, that would have been illegal. My ID said I was 17, and even if I wanted to I couldn't have gotten my parents' permission due to them being dead for a thousand years. I mean last year. Or maybe it was two years ago—I lose track of time these days," she said airily, accepted her mocha from the waiter.
Cordelia squinted at her suspiciously. "You almost married him?"
"Almost married him."
"You keep saying that. Are you experiencing some sort of a brain event? Is it—oh god. It's because we didn't send you an invitation, isn't it? I told Xander we should invite you, but he was all, oh my god, that will be so uncomfortable, blah blah blah—"
"I did not want to go to your wedding," Cordelia informed her indignantly. As if she just sat around hoping for invitations from her castoffs and their runner-up girlfriends! "I didn't even know you'd seen him after graduation!"
"Oh. Well, I understand; you had things of your own going on. Auditions and manicures and answering the phone must take up a lot of time. But yes, we saw each other. His proposal was very beautiful, and not at all prompted by the fact that we were facing yet another in a long line of apocalypses and weren't sure we'd still be alive the next day."
Oh. "Guess some things never change," Cordy muttered.
Cordelia was silent for a moment, thinking back to being trapped by a bug man and sharing an ill-advised kiss. That man hadn't just been a bunch of bugs, he'd been a slippery slope that slid her all the way to Xander Harris. "Well … he does tend to act rashly when he's upset."
Anya rolled her eyes. "Tell me about it," she agreed. "He asked me to marry him on impulse, he left me at the altar on impulse, he … did many other things on impulse that I can't remember but are right on the tip of my tongue … and he usually cared more about what his friends thought than what I did."
"You don't have to tell me about that one," Cordelia assured her, looking off into the distance. She'd been so angry with Xander once upon a time. But now it seemed like so long ago, and so many worse things had happened. And being an adult made all those stupid, hurtful things they'd done as children seem so unnecessary. "But he was kind of sweet sometimes."
"He is sweet," Anya agreed softly, looking down at her mug. "Sometimes I didn't always appreciate him." After a moment she looked up, decisively putting the regret behind her. "Of course, sometimes he treated me like I was an idiot, and it was an act of kindness of me not to make use of the many items in the Magic Box that would render him limp, odorous, or uncomfortably warm."
Cordelia suppressed a sympathic smile. She should have trusted her instincts where Xander was concerned; she had fought against the relationship as hard as she could, but his surprisingly awesome kisses and equally surprising sweetness had conspired against her. They'd been a mistake from the start. Even if they hadn't been such a mismatch, she wasn't a Sunnydale girl at heart. She always wanted something more. Besides, a guy who couldn't keep his lips off some other girl just because they were imprisoned by a drunken vicious vampire wasn't the guy for her, because that kind of thing tended to happen a lot in their world.
"Did you ever wonder if you'd made a mistake—breaking up with him?" Anya asked quietly.
Cordy shook her head. It seemed so long ago, and it was hard to remember how innocent she'd really been. "Don't worry, I'm not suddenly going to show up in Sunnydale and steal him away him away from you," she said, blinking rapidly to clear her eyes of what were not in any way, shape, or form tears. She'd found other men she'd loved deeply, even if she'd lost them.
But nothing was ever as simple as puppy love.
Anya's smile was sad. "I wasn't worried about that."
Cordelia began to feel uncomfortable under Anya's wistful regard. It didn't matter where she was or why she was there; she just had to get away from Anya. "I really should be getting back to the Hyperion," she said a little busily, reaching over to grab her smart little handbag. Ooh, Kate Spade.
"Cordy … do you know where you are?"
Cordelia froze. Maybe Anya wasn't such a flake after all. "Not L.A."
"No. Not L.A."
"An alternate reality?"
Anya considered the question. "I guess you could call it that. Most people would call it something else."
Cordelia felt a chill go down her spine. "Can I get back?"
"No. Well, I know one person who came back. But she didn't get herself out; it was … other people. Jury's still out on whether that was a good thing. Anyway, you can try if you want, but there wouldn't really be a point. This is where we're all headed anyway. If you're lucky."
It was a long moment before Cordy spoke again. "How'd you get here?"
"Helped save the world."
"Bad luck. At least that's what I heard through the grapevine."
"Bad—" After all she'd been through, what she'd suffered, what she'd survived, what she'd given up, and it was bad luck? Bad luck?!
"You're upset," noted Anya with a trace of surprise. "That's interesting. I wasn't, but then I went into it knowing that might happen. I mean, you can't fight evil forever without evil finally taking notice of you."
"I thought you said it was bad luck!"
"Well, bad luck that was the result of evil. Evil gets around, you know. It doesn't just rest on its laurels. If it did, it wouldn't be evil, just annoying and full of itself."
Cordelia signed in disgust. "Great. So much for fighting the good fight."
"Oh, I'm sure you did a lot of good. I mean, if not, you would have ended up, you know, somewhere else. I certainly know I did many amazing things for which I never received nearly enough credit. At any rate, I think you'll enjoy it up here," Anya concluded blithely, signaling to the waiter for another mocha.
Cordy regarded her skeptically. "You do?"
"Beats Comaville or Possessiontown—those were the last places you lived, right? Anyway, you should really be going now. There's a lot to see up here. I believe that young man down the block was hoping to show you around."
The glare of the sunlight impeded Cordy's view out the window, and all she could see was a blur. She glanced at Anya questioningly.
"Oh, the one by the corner, slouching and acting all casual. A rather ineffective attempt, if you ask me."
Cordy squinted. When the man came into focus she gasped. "Is that—Doyle?"
Anya shrugged. "He didn't tell me his name. Incidentally, you should tell him that shifting from foot to foot like that really isn't an attractive look. More of a woman deterrant, I'd say. Unless ants in the pants is suddenly a desirable attribute in the opposite sex, which I'm fairly sure it isn't."
Cordelia wasn't listening. She ran out the door and into Doyle's arms without even remembering her purse. It didn't matter, Anya knew; it would find its way back to her. That was just the way things worked here.
Anya felt a little twinge of jealousy as Cordy and Doyle disappeared from view. It was fine, really; Anya didn't mind. She'd be welcoming Xander soon enough—well, not for years, but there was a lot to do in the meantime. She'd dated Xander for almost the entire time after she gained her humanity; she had some wild oats to sow.
But it was good to see Cordy again. She'd have to set aside some time, so they could have lunch.
But not for a while. Wild oats took time.