Concept: AU - What if Willow had made a different choice at the end of 'Something Blue'?
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Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.
Willow stared at the mystical vision of the Scoobies fighting off the onslaught of demons.
"Oh, God," Willow exclaimed. "But I didn't...I didn't know that I could...."
"But you did," D'Hoffryn replied. "And you can. I can give you power. The limitless power of the Wish. I am Vengeance. You will be my instrument. Impose the will of those who are wronged, and the power is yours."
Willow closed her eyes. She felt...different. She'd floated pencils. She'd restored Angel's soul. But never anything like this. She could feel the power coursing through her. There was so much she could do. So much she wanted to do.
Memories of weakness rushed upon her. The fear she'd had in high school. Always on the outside. Always afraid.
She had learned so much. The slightly larger world of college, which had seemed so liberating, now felt small, confining. Magic had made her powerful. It could make her even more powerful. No one could ever hurt her again. Not the way Oz had....
Willow took a deep breath, met D'Hoffryn's gaze and said:
"Two beers. That'll be six dollars."
The young man handed a ten dollar bill to Anya. She grabbed four singles out of her apron and gave the change to the man, who returned a dollar. Anya pocketed the tip and walked back to the bar.
"Slow night," Ernie said, clearing an empty glass from the bar.
"Very," Anya responded, leaning against one of the bar stools. "Of course, it's Tuesday. This is Santa Fe. What can you expect?"
"I still don't know why you bought this place," Ernie said.
"Oh, I dunno," Anya said. "It seemed like a good idea. It appealed to the entrepreneur in me. Lately though, I just can't seem to get into it."
"Yeah," Ernie agreed. "I remember when you first bought the joint. You were booking bands, putting up flyers like crazy. What happened?"
"Nothing happened," Anya replied. "I mean, business was good. I made money. Good money. But...hey, Ernie, have you ever asked yourself what the point of it all is?"
"Well, for me, the point is feeding my family," Ernie said. "Look, I don't mean to sound sexist, but has it occurred to you that you haven't had a boyfriend in the three years I've know you?"
"Oh, that's just what I need," Anya said, rolling her eyes. "Because everyone knows that dating can be soooo uplifting."
"That's a bit cynical," Ernie observed. "I guess you've been burned, huh?"
"Once," Anya said.
"So he pretty much put you off relationships?"
"No," Anya responded. "I mean, for awhile, yes. A long while, actually. But then I met a guy. A really nice...but it didn't work out. Something...happened."
"Jeez," Ernie said, "you sound like Miss Lonelyhearts."
"The girl at the corner table," Ernie said, pointing toward the far end of the bar. "Her name's Paula. She's been in here every night this week. Cries in her screwdriver about some guy who dumped her. She's sitting with some redhead tonight. You know, that redhead's had her eye on Paula since Friday. I think she bats for the other team, if you know what I mean."
Anya didn't respond. She looked at the far table and listened to as much of the conversation as she could pick up over the noise of the bar.
"I can't help it," Paula sighed. "I just feel so...so...."
"I know," the redhead said. "It's painful. Sometimes, don't you just wish he'd...I dunno...explode? Or melt away?"
"I guess," Paula said. "I just don't know if I....."
Paula's head fell as she started to cry. The redhead looked up at the Budweiser clock on the wall and rolled her eyes.
"Be patient," Anya mumbled under her breath through clenched teeth. "I did it for a thousand years. You have to take your time."
"Huh?" Ernie grunted.
"Ernie," Anya seethed, her hands balled into fists. "I've got to go make a call. Keep an eye on the redhead. Make sure you don't let her leave your sight."
"Uh, OK," Ernie said. "But I don't see what the big deal is. I mean, I'm not the most enlightened guy in the world, but it seems to me that the girl's got as much right to make time with Paula as any of the guys in here who...."
"She's not a lesbian, Ernie," Anya interjected. "Trust me, she's many things, but a lesbian isn't one of them."
Anya walked behind the bar, through the kitchen, and into her small office. She got out her address book, looked up a number, and quickly dialed. After four rings, she heard:
"Hi, you've reached the Bludd residence. Please leave a message after the beep."
Anya drummed her fingers, and as soon as the tone sounded, she exclaimed:
"It's Anya. Willow's here. We've got to get everyone together. This is our last chance."
"If you'll just sign here, Mrs. Bludd," the bondsman said, "they're bringing him out now."
Buffy pulled a pen out of her purse. She sighed, looked over the papers, and then signed 'Buffy Bludd' on the bottom line.
"This is your copy," the bondsman said, tearing the yellow carbon sheet from the bottom of the form. "Of course, you know that. You're one of our best customers."
"Thanks," Buffy said. The bondsman walked out of the police station lobby. Buffy stared at the clock for a few minutes until she heard:
"We've got to stop meeting like this, luv."
"Yes, Spike, we do," Buffy said. "Let's get out of here."
Spike and Buffy walked out of the police station. They climbed into the car. Spike threw the manila envelope that said 'Personal Property, detainee #4B300235, Bludd, William' onto the back seat.
"I suppose you got fired," Buffy said as she started the engine and pulled away.
"Couldn't be helped, pet," Spike said, rolling down the window and lighting a cigarette. "Stupid git of a night foreman made some crack about me loafing. Found out he was half Burganti demon last week, so I had to give him a few digs. Got all pissy when I broke his nose."
"That's it!? He made a wisecrack, and you found out you could hit him, so you just had to? God, I'm sick of this."
"You knew what I was when you married me," Spike said. "Don't start complaining now."
"I had to put up the house as security for the bail bond," Buffy protested. "It was my mother's house. My father's already giving me trouble about keeping Dawn. What will happen if we lose the house?"
"We bugger out of town," Spike replied. "Like I've wanted to do all along. Hit the road. The Little Bit will love Tijuana."
"Spike, we're not going anywhere," Buffy said. "I work like crazy during the day flipping burgers just to keep up the mortgage. I spend most of the night out patrolling. The least you can do is keep steady work at night to help out."
"Enough about money," Spike said. "I can get money. Any amount of cash is worth paying if it will stop your incessant nagging."
"Oh, and how will you do that? Steal? That's a great example to set for Dawn."
"I'm not a bloody role model! Christ, you can get annoying."
"We're not discussing this," Buffy said, pulling up in front of the house. "I'm not bailing you out anymore. Next time you pull something, you can just stay in jail."
"Really," Spike said, raising an eyebrow. "Are you saying you wouldn't miss me?"
Spike slid his hand up Buffy's thigh. Buffy closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
"Stop it," Buffy said. "You can't fix this just by...."
"By what? Doing this?" Spike asked. He moved his hand up farther. "Or this?"
Buffy's jaw trembled.
"Don't," she whispered.
But Spike did. He always did. And it always worked.
Dawn had run to the window of her bedroom when she'd heard the car pull up to the house. The phone had rung about a half hour after Spike was supposed to be home from the loading dock, and Buffy had left quickly with her purse. That meant only one thing. Buffy and Spike were still in the car five minutes after parking. That also meant only one thing.
Dawn walked over to her computer, sat down, and signed on to the internet. She and Janice had snuck out for a movie, and when Dawn returned, there was a message from Anya. She'd saved the message, hoping that it would spur Buffy toward action. The time for hoping was over.
Once her account had logged on, Dawn pulled up her mailbox and clicked on 'New Message.' She typed in the address, and wrote:
'It's Dawn. Anya found Willow. Meet her in Santa Fe, a bar called The Whistle Stop. I'll get Buffy to go. You'll need to take care of the rest. Hurry.'
Dawn hit 'Send,' and once the message had gone through, she logged off. She then put on her bathrobe, sat on her bed, and waited for Buffy and Spike to finish...reconciling.
Xander watched through a crack in the boards covering his only window as the SUV pulled up the winding dirt road to the front of his cabin. The driver got out, opened the back hatch, pulled out a brown paper bag, and walked up to the door. He knocked. Xander's grip tightened on the twelve gauge Winchester in his hands. His finger dropped to the trigger.
The delivery boy looked around. As usual, no one answered his knock. He placed the bag on the doormat and grabbed the envelope that was taped to the door. He opened it, counted the money, and began walking back toward his truck. As he opened the driver side door, he looked at the symbols drawn on the ground in sulphur. He shook his head, climbed into his truck, and drove away.
Xander opened the door. He cautiously looked left and right, then quickly grabbed the bag and slammed the door shut. He locked the deadbolt, dragged the heavy wooden crate back to its blocking position in front of the door, then brought the bag to the kitchen counter. He opened it and made sure all of his order was there. Coffee. Powdered milk. Oatmeal. Dinty Moore. Everything he'd ordered was in the bag. He rested his shotgun by the door, put the food in the pantry, then walked over to the only chair in the cabin. He sat down and grabbed the printout he'd downloaded of the prior day's 'Portland Daily News.'
He'd circled three ads. Two of the cabins were more than he could afford. The third was for a small, one room cabin about twenty miles outside of Salem. It had no electricity and no hot water, but the owner was willing to rent it for six hundred dollars for two months. He'd been at his current location for six weeks. It would only be safe for another two weeks, tops. Xander had learned from bitter experience that it paid to make arrangements in advance.
Xander looked down at the boxes on the floor. Two thousand envelopes. Two thousand coupons for Arby's. Two thousand coupons for a ten percent discount on an oil change. Nine other boxes, each containing two thousand coupons for just about anything else one could imagine. If he could finish stuffing the envelopes by Thursday, he would have enough money to cover the cost of the cabin in Salem, plus enough for provisions until spring.
He sighed. The routine was familiar, but no less painful. As he walked over to the pantry to grab a can of beef stew, a crash sounded through the cabin. Xander looked over toward the window. A slimy green...something...had broken through the boards. Xander lunged for the Winchester. The demon crawled through the broken boards as Xander fired a shot into its head. The demon continued to move as it dropped to the floor. Xander fired a second shot into its chest. The demon lay still.
Xander cautiously approached the demon's body and poked it with the barrel of the gun. Porangi demon. Most demons avoided the high altitudes and low temperatures of mountain climates. Porangi were an exception. Xander had seen four of them in the three years he'd been on the run. Porangi were loners. It was probably the only demon on the mountain. But it wouldn't be that way for long.
Xander walked over to the table and opened his laptop. He took the cell phone out of his pocket and connected it to the computer modem. There wasn't much time. The runes he'd drawn on the ground would only hide his presence from demons for a limited time, and once the dead demon's scent permeated the air, the magic symbols would provide no concealment at all.
He logged onto his email account. There was so much to do. He'd need to contact the envelope company and get the next batch forwarded to him. He'd also need to pay his cell phone bill online, or he'd be completely cut off. The internet, which had been at best a novelty to Xander in high school, was now his only contact with the outside world. He relied on chat rooms and online newspapers to maintain his sanity...well, what was left of his sanity.
Xander read through his messages quickly. Mostly junk. One email offered him a free life insurance quote. That had stopped being funny. Then he opened a message from firstname.lastname@example.org:
'It's Dawn. Anya found Willow. Meet her in Santa Fe, a bar called The Whistle Stop. I'll get Buffy to go. You'll need to take care of the rest. Hurry.'
Xander read the message over and over again. He'd waited three years for this. There was a time when three years away from Willow would have seemed unthinkable. They'd been best friends. Now....
Xander walked over to the mantle, grabbed two shotgun shells, and reloaded. He then yanked the cell phone from the computer's modem cord and scrolled through his speed dial. The call would probably cost him five dollars, minimum. Important money. But it was worth it.
He found the number and hit 'Send.' He put the phone to his ear, then heard:
"History department, UCLA. How may I help you?"
"It's Xander, Maggie."
"Mr. Harris," Maggie said. "We haven't heard from you for so long. I know he's missed talking to you."
"Is he there? It's important."
"I'm afraid not. He's teaching a class today. He'll be out around noon. Would you like me to have him call you?"
"Can't," Xander said. "I'll be...out. Just leave him this message: Anya found Willow. We're meeting in Santa Fe. He'll know what it means."
"So as the findings by Dr. Marshall demonstrate," Giles said, "the artifacts discovered at this particular tomb show that the village was not in fact destroyed by an earthquake as was originally believed. Further research will be required to ascertain the actual cause of the destruction. Any questions?"
"Yes, Mr. Winslow."
"I'm curious about the pictograms found on the pottery discovered by Dr. Marshall," Winslow commented, arising from his seat as the rest of the students in the auditorium looked on. "If you look at the depictions, you can see that...oh, I mean...um....."
"That's quite alright, Mr. Winslow," Giles said. "I'm familiar with Dr. Marshall's description of his findings. Continue."
"Well," Winslow continued uncomfortably, "it seems that the natives were attacked by a neighboring tribe. But there were no other indigenous people in that area. It was fifty years before the region was explored by the Spanish. The pictures seem to suggest that the attackers were...well, cannibals. There are images of people being fed upon. Of course, there were no cannibalistic tribes in that region either, so...."
"There have been theories that it might have been a pack of wild animals," Giles stated.
"But enough to kill over six hundred people? Besides, the attackers are portrayed as bipeds. It almost looks like they were saying they were attacked by...monsters."
"Never underestimate the tendency of fear to affect perception," Giles stated. "It is natural for people to try to explain that which cannot be explained by resorting to superstition."
At that moment, a bell sounded through the lecture hall. Giles reached over to the kitchen timer on his desk, and said:
"It seems we are out of time. Please read the article by Smythe for class Tuesday. You are dismissed."
The students filed out of the classroom. Giles, with typical English concern for appearances, waited for the footsteps to stop, then reached out a probing hand toward the side of his desk. When he felt the long narrow cane in his grasp, he stood up, and with a steady 'click, click, click' he started walking toward the door. He felt for the doorknob, opened the door, and then cautiously began proceeding down the hallway toward the faculty offices.
Giles counted the steps. It was exactly thirty-three steps to the end of the hall. Then a left turn, and another fourteen steps to the door of the faculty offices. At step fourteen, Giles stopped and felt left and right for the door. The knob was only about a foot to his right. He was getting closer and closer every time. He recalled Buffy's blindfolded training sessions. You never know when the enemy will be clouded in darkness, he'd warned her.
Now, for Giles, the enemy was the darkness.
Giles walked into the office.
"Good morning, Professor," Maggie said.
"Good morning," Giles replied. "Has the braille edition of the Swanson text arrived?"
"Yes, it has," Maggie said. "Also, you have a message. From that nice Harris boy."
"What did he say?"
"Let me see," Maggie said, searching her desk for the pink memo slip. "Oh, here it is. He said 'Anna found Willow. They're meeting in Santa Fe.' He said you'd know what he meant."
"Could he have said 'Anya?'"
"Yes, I suppose."
"Maggie, if you wouldn't mind," Giles said. "Please call the travel agent we used when I went to London last summer. I'll need to be on the next flight to Santa Fe. Also, ask Dr. Morris to cover my classes this week."
"Yes, Professor," Maggie replied. "I'm sure Dr. Morris won't mind. But what do I tell him? Are you going to see a friend?"
Yes, Giles thought. If all goes well.
"So, when are you leaving?"
"Oh, I don't know, Dawn," Buffy replied. "Things are just so crazy around here. Warren and his nerd friends are still making all kinds of trouble. And I really can't miss work."
"Fine," Dawn said. "That's just great. Xander has been in hiding for the past three years because he attracts demons like flies. Giles is blind. And you're going to hang around here to play a live version of Dungeons and Dragons with a threesome of wanna-villians, and work overtime to cover your husband's bail. You're some friend. When I grow up, I want a friend just like you."
"Dawn, stop it. I'm doing what I have to do. I'm the Slayer. I have to keep an eye on the Hellmouth. And I didn't notice you complaining about Spike when he was helping me save you from Glory. We both nearly died trying to protect you."
"I wish I had died. It would have been better than this."
"Dawn, don't even joke about that!"
Dawn bit her bottom lip. This was going to be difficult.
"Look, Buffy," Dawn said. "Doesn't this seem...wrong? Don't you see that it's not just Xander and Giles?"
Buffy scowled. "What do you mean? Do you think Willow's spell affected someone else?"
"Oh, forget it," Dawn said. "Look, I've had a long talk with Dad. He says I can come stay with him. His girlfriend doesn't mind. Well, she does, but she'll go along with it. When they're traveling, I can stay with Aunt Arlene."
"Dawn, you are not leaving! I can't protect you if...."
"Buffy, you're not protecting me. You're...you're...oh, I don't know what you're doing."
"Dawn, I know it's been hard since Mom died," Buffy said, panic creeping into her voice. "But it will be different. I promise. We can...we can...."
"Go to Santa Fe," Dawn said. "You go to help Giles and Xander, and I'll stay."
"You're blackmailing me?"
"Call it whatever you want. If you don't help them, I'll tell the social workers all about Spike's little trips to the pokey. I'll tell them he steals my stuff. I'll tell them he has a drug problem, and that's why he can't keep a job. I'll tell them that, sometimes, when you're not home, he looks at me funny, and one time when I was coming out of the shower...."
"Dammit, Dawn! Stop it!"
"Pack your bags," Dawn said, her jaw set. "You're going to Santa Fe."
Xander pulled over to the side of the road. He checked his map. He'd stayed off the interstate so far to avoid any populated areas. He looked around, rolled down the window of his truck, and when he heard and saw nothing, he popped open his laptop, connected his cell phone, and logged on. He had one message. It was from Dawn. He read:
'Buffy's coming. She'll meet you at Anya's bar. I still can't get through to Buffy. I did everything I could, but I had to pull every trick I knew just to get her to go. She may still give you problems. Good luck.'
Xander removed the modem cord from his cell phone, and dialed. After two rings, he heard a young woman's voice say:
"It's me," Xander said.
"Oh...hi," Anya replied.
"Yeah, hi," Xander said. "I got the message from Dawn. I should be in Santa Fe in about twelve hours. Buffy's coming. She still doesn't know that she's under Willow's spell, so she may not be cooperative."
"Maybe we can reason with her," Anya said. "Make her realize that the thing with Spike is just magic."
"And that we're trying to undo the magic? That may not make her more helpful."
"Oh, yeah," Anya said. "Well, we still need her. Willow's still coming by the bar every night. Sooner or later the dumped girl's going to make a wish, so I don't know how much longer we have. Once we're all together, hopefully we'll be able to persuade Willow to undo the spell."
"Yeah, persuade her," Xander said, looking over to the passenger seat. The long vinyl sheath that covered his shotgun reflected the sunlight.
"We're meeting at the bar," Anya said. "I'll give you directions off the interstate."
"No good," Xander said. "I'm still demon bait, remember? Santa Fe isn't Sunnydale, but there are still too many creepy crawlies around for me to be in public. You'll have to find someplace out of the way. Someplace we can protect."
"I know a place," Anya said. "I think I can make the arrangments."
At that moment, a thud sounded on the roof of the truck. Two long strips of suction cups slapped down on Xander's windshield. A high pitched whine sounded. Xander turned on the ignition and shouted:
"I'll call you once I'm close! I've got to move! S'borgon demon's after me!"
Xander pressed 'Stop' on his cell phone and punched the gas. The tires squealed as the truck sped forward. The whine turned into a howl as Xander zig zagged from one side of the road to the other until the tentacles finally ripped free.
"So, this is it, huh?"
"It's the best I could think of," Anya said. "The water tower's been abandoned since they dug the reservoir. There's only one way up."
"Perfect," Xander said, looking out over the railing to the town below.
"I drew runes at both the base of the tower and the top of the ladder," Anya said. "You know, those one's I found in the Grimaldi Tome? They should keep the demons off your scent for awhile."
"Thanks for sending me information on those concealment spells," Xander said. "They've helped."
"How long do they last?"
"A couple of months in unpopulated areas," Xander replied. "In a city, maybe a day. Two, if we're lucky."
"I wouldn't count on us being lucky," Anya said. "I mean, we've never been before."
"Yeah. Look, Anya, I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault," Anya said. "Willow's the one who did the spell."
"Not for that. I mean, for leaving. Well, I had to leave, but...."
"You didn't even say goodbye."
Anya swallowed hard. She couldn't look Xander in the eye.
"If I'd said goodbye," Xander said, "I don't know if I could have handled it. I might have done something really, really selfish. Like asked you to go with me. We'd only been dating a month. I didn't have any right to ask you to make that kind of sacrifice."
The wind whistled through the night as Anya and Xander stood at the ledge.
"You'd better go," Xander finally said. "I'll wait here while you get together with Buffy and Giles. When you have a plan, call me. I'll see if I can help."
Wordlessly, Anya walked to the ladder and began climbing down.
Xander walked over to his duffle bag. He opened it, and began looking for the breakfast bars he carried with him to sustain him while he was on the run. The raspberry ones weren't so bad.
Xander turned toward the voice. Anya stood on the second rung of the ladder. Only her upper torso was visible over the platform.
"Yes," she repeated. "If you'd asked me, I would have said yes. I would have gone with you. That would have been my answer. And it's my answer now. I'll go with you. No matter how this turns out."
"Anya," Xander said, walking to the ladder and kneeling down to look Anya in the eyes. "You can't mean that. We haven't seen each other for three years. You don't know what it's like. Always running. Always scared. And there's me. I'm not the same. I'm...different. I...."
"I'm different, too," Anya said. "I've gotten into quite an un-demonly routine. I've got a business. I pay taxes. I watch TV. I get junk mail. I'm a real, genuine member of the human race. But, while I've been human for four years, the only time I ever felt like a person was when I was with you."
Anya released one hand from the handle of the ladder and grabbed Xander's neck. She pulled him towards her, and kissed him. The high winds pressed against their bodies, but no force could separate them.
"So, have you been OK?"
"Oh, yes," Giles said. "Quite well."
"Your drink is right in front of you," Buffy said as she observed Giles' hand probing for the glass.
"Thank you," Giles said. "But I really do need to do such things myself. It helps if you think of the table as a clock. Just remember that you set things down at two o'clock, four o'clock, and so forth."
"Does it work?"
"Well, daylight savings time tends to pop up when you least expect it."
"Can I get you folks anything else?" Ernie asked as he approached the table.
"I think we're fine," Buffy said.
"Anya should be here any minute," Ernie said, dropping a full bowl of bar nuts on the table. "She said she just had to make a stop on her way over."
"That's quite alright," Giles said.
"Hey, listen," Buffy said. "Maybe there's something you can do for us. We're looking for a girl. Red hair. We were told she comes in here regularly."
"Oh, her," Ernie said. "She usually comes in here with Paula. You probably won't see her tonight, though. I doubt Paula will come in after what happened to her ex."
"What happened?" Giles asked.
"Well, it's a little gruesome," Ernie said. He looked around the bar, saw a newspaper that had been left behind by one of the patrons, and dropped it on the table, saying:
"Read for yourself."
Buffy snatched up the paper and read the front page to herself.
"What is it?" Giles asked.
"A guy died," Buffy said. "According to this, he was coming out of his new girlfriend's apartment, when he was attacked and devoured by wild dogs. I guess Paula finally made her wish."
"So why exactly are we here?"
"Willow," Anya replied to Buffy's inquiry. "She'll want to see her handiwork. She won't leave town until she's visited the grave."
"Speaking from experience?" Giles asked, holding Buffy's elbow for guidance through the cemetery. Of course, in the darkness of the night sky, Buffy's eyesight was only marginally better.
"Well, yes," Anya admitted. "There's no point in delivering vengeance if you don't see the results. Willow will definitely want to catch a glimpse of the wronged woman putting flowers on the grave of her abuser. Paula said she'd be out here visiting the grave tonight. She didn't want to go to the funeral and run into her boyfriend's relatives. They don't know about the wish, but family have a way of instinctively knowing things."
"I guess she'd feel pretty bad," Buffy observed. "Wishing her boyfriend would be eaten by animals, and then it happens. Even if she doesn't know about magic, it would still be pretty weird."
"I don't think it's hit her yet," Anya responded. "When I talked to her, she seemed pretty upbeat. We're here."
The three gathered around the headstone.
"So what's the plan?" Buffy asked.
"We wait for Willow to show up, and then try and talk her into undoing the spell," Anya said.
"Are we sure she will be...receptive to such a suggestion?" Giles asked.
"Probably not," Anya said. "After three years of being a vengeance demon, I doubt she'll be inclined to actually undo magic."
"Well, then, I'll force her," Buffy said. "All we have to do is smash her amulet, right?"
"That will undo the effects of her wishes, and take away her powers," Anya said. "But it won't help us with our problems. Willow did the spells before she became a demon. She'll have to undo them with ordinary magic."
"Where's Paula?" Buffy asked.
"I'm not sure," Anya said. "She should be here."
"Well, we'll have to wait for both of them," Giles responded. "We don't have much more time. Xander's hiding place won't keep him safe much longer."
"He was really angry he couldn't be here," Anya said.
"It's not safe," Giles said. "If we'd arrived in town before this Paula girl had made her wish, we could have lured Willow to a remote location. As it is, it's not wise for Xander to be here, given his...problem."
"It's not wise for you to be here, either," Buffy retorted. "You should have stayed behind."
"Buffy, Xander's presence would endanger us all," Giles said. "My presence only endangers me, and that's a risk I am quite willing to take."
"I'm not willing to take it," Buffy said. "You could get hurt. Anya and I can deal with Willow. You could have stayed...."
"Buffy," Giles interrupted. "She blinded me. I couldn't read for a year while I was learning braille. I couldn't help you. I couldn't do anything. I'm going to be here when Willow arrives."
"Where is she?" Anya asked no one in particular. "And where's Paula? They should both be here by now."
"Anya, look at the ground by the grave," Buffy instructed. "There's something there. The grass is...dead."
Anya stooped to the ground to check the grass.
"I don't like this," Buffy said. "Dead vegetation usually is a sign something's up. There's something very wrong here. If something is killing the grass...."
"It's not dead," Anya said. "It's burned. If I didn't know better, I'd say...."
The three turned to face the voice. Willow stood before them. She wore a dark flowing gown, and purple veins bulged from her face.
"Willow," Buffy said, trying to regain her composure. "Um..how've you been?"
"Demon," Willow replied. "What are you doing here?"
"Um, Will," Buffy said. "Remember that spell you did just before you...well, you know. Um, well, Giles would like to see again, and Xander's been living like the Unabomber, so we were wondering if...you know...if you're not busy...."
"Sorry," Willow said. "Can't. I had to swear off doing ordinary magic to get my wish powers. Anya can tell you. Rules are rules."
"Oh, please," Anya said. "C'mon. Everybody cheats a little. It's like taking home post-it notes from the office. You're not supposed to, but no one cares."
"Love to help," Willow said. "But I really can't risk it. I've really taken to this job. You know, you even get a Sam's Club Card?"
"Willow, please," Giles said. "I-I-I can't see. Anything. I'm sure your...employer would understand if you...."
"Yeah, you can't see," Willow said. "That was a good one. I must admit, even before I was a demon, I was awesome."
"Willow, this isn't funny," Buffy said gravely.
"And I'm not laughing," Willow shot back. "You people and your perfect lives. Too busy to care about me. And now you want me to come running to your rescue? I don't think so."
"Look, Will," Buffy said. "You were hurting. Maybe we should have helped more. But if that's all you remember about our friendship, then I'd say you've been a demon too long."
"What are you going to do about it?" Willow asked. "I'm more powerful than you can possibly imagine. So what are you going to do?"
"This," Xander said, leaping from behind a tree. He leveled the shotgun at Willow, and fired directly at her chest. Willow was thrown back three feet, and landed on her back.
"Xander!" Anya exclaimed.
"I had to," Xander muttered. "You don't know what it was like. You don't know...ugh!"
Xander looked down at the metal blade protruding from his chest. Suddenly, the blade disappeared, and a river of blood gushed out of his shirt. He dropped the shotgun and fell to the ground. Behind him, a demon raised his bloodied sword and lunged for Buffy. Anya ran to Xander's side as Buffy kicked the demon in the chest.
From the woods, another demon lunged for Buffy. Giles instinctively tried to swing for the demon. The demon responded by lifting Giles from the ground by his neck.
"Giles!" Buffy screamed. She moved to help, but the first demon kicked her legs out from under her. As she fell, she heard the bones in Giles' neck snap. His attacker dropped Giles' limp body to the ground, quite dead.
Buffy sprang to her feet. A viscous attack ensued between her and the two demons as Xander gasped to Anya:
Xander reached and grabbed his shotgun. A look of terror covered Anya's face. She reached out to grab the gun away, but with the last of his remaining strength, Xander pushed her away. Anya sat up, and saw Xander put the barrel under his chin. The sound of the shotgun blast was almost drowned out by Anya's shriek:
The demons looked to Xander. The removal of their attraction to him caused them a moment of disorientation. Buffy used the opportunity to grasp the first demons arm, and maneuver the blade into the second demon's chest. It howled, then fell dead. The first demon grabbed Buffy with his other arm, lifted her from the ground, and threw her against the headstone. A crack echoed through the night sky as Buffy's skull struck the granite.
The demon turned to face Anya, who had crawled to Xander's side. Through her tears she saw the demon approaching her. She grabbed the shotgun and pointed it at the demon, who, no longer compelled by magic to attack, made a hasty retreat.
Anya looked down at her hands, and realized that the gun was covered with Xander's blood. She screamed, dropped the gun, and collapsed into tears.
"That was stupid."
Anya looked up. Willow stood before her.
"He should have known a gun couldn't hurt me," Willow said, as she faded into mist.
"I think you've had enough."
"I haven't had nearly enough, Ernie," Anya said, sitting at the bar. "I own this place until I drink myself bankrupt, so don't tell me when I've had enough."
"Look, Anya," Ernie said. "I don't know what happened last week, but this has got to stop. You'll drink yourself to death."
"Promises, promises," Anya said.
She turned around on her barstool, and saw Willow facing her.
"You," Anya spat. "Get the hell out of my bar."
"I know you hate me," Willow said. "But you have to understand. This is what I am now. You were like me, once."
"Fine," Anya said. "You've said your piece. I can't kill you, and I don't want to see you, so get out."
"Look, I feel really bad about how this ended," Willow continued. "I can't leave things this way. So I've come up with a solution."
Anya was suddenly sober. Willow had power. It would break every rule if Willow used her powers to fix things. D'Hoffryn would almost certainly take away her amulet. But she could do it. Once.
"I'm listening," Anya finally said.
"I've talked to D'Hoffryn. If you want, you can have your old job back."
"He said he's had a few years to think it over, and the whole smashed amulet thing really wasn't your fault. He'll bring you on part time. And if it works out...."
"You monster!" Anya exclaimed. "You wicked....evil...!"
"Hey, Anya," Ernie said, walking over to Anya's end of the bar. "You want me to call the cops on this girl."
"I'd like to see you try it," Willow growled.
"Hey, lady, drop the attitude," Ernie said. "What you do is your business, but don't force it on someone who isn't interested. So why don't you go hit on some other girl?"
"Oh, for god's sake, Ernie, she's not a lesbian," Anya exclaimed. "She's a demon. Her boyfriend dumped her and she became a demon. Trust me, things would have worked out much better if her boyfriend had dumped her and she became a lesbian, but that's not how it happened."
A voice from the back of the bar called out:
"Is that what you truly desire?"
Anya, Willow and Ernie looked toward the voice. A tall woman stood before them. She would have looked beautiful, were it not for the purple valleys running down her face. She wore a gossamer wrap and a flowing gown. At the front of the gown hung an amulet with a dark stone at the center. Willow saw her, and called out:
"Is that your desire?" Paula repeated.
Anya, realizing the opportunity that had presented herself, said:
"Yes. That is my desire. That is my WISH!"
"Done," Paula calmly intoned.
Willow gasped as white light enveloped the bar.
Anya grabbed the mail from the box at the door of the apartment. Xander had called The Magic Box to say that he'd be running late that night. That left Anya to fix dinner for herself.
She unlocked the front door, and thumbed through the mail as she entered the apartment. It was mostly wedding related. The bill from the florist. Confirmation from the reception hall. And a response to one of the invitations.
Anya opened the stationary envelope first. So many of the guests hadn't responded to their invitations. Time was running out, and the caterer needed a final head count. She pulled out the reply card first. The box marked 'I will be unable to attend' had been checked. That was one less dinner they'd have to pay for. Then Anya saw that a note had been stuffed in with the reply. She took it out, and read:
Thank you for the invitation. While you're the only one who remembers how we met, I think you'll agree it's best that we not push our luck. Besides, I'm still backed up from Valentine's Day. As you probably remember, it's a vengeance demon's busy season.
I'm really sorry I can't come. I kind of feel like I was the matchmaker (which is ironic, when you think about it). Best of luck on your special day.
p.s. I'd send a gift, but I think the gift I've already given you is quite enough!
Anya walked to the bedroom. She placed the reply card in the 'no' pile on the desk and dropped the note in the garbage. Anya wasn't a terribly sentimental woman. Besides, there would be too much to explain if Xander found it.
Anya went to the kitchen to throw together a quick dinner. She smiled.
Yes, Anya thought, quite a gift indeed. A gift that keeps on giving.