A fan fiction story by Melpomene based on the characters and backstory of "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer" and composed without permission. No copyright infringement is intended and no monies have been earned.
NOTE: Lisenka is a Russian form of Elizabeth.
WARNING: There will be mention made of non-consensual sexual assault in later parts of this story. Do not read if this will disturb you, please. Otherwise, consider yourself warned.
Buffy looked up, intuitively sensing something or someone approaching. The sidewalk and street in front of the Magic Box was relatively quiet, the falling rain having driven most of the pedestrians toward drier accommodations, most that was except for the group that walked determinedly along the sidewalk toward the shop. If she didn’t know better she’d have sworn another Council of Watchers was descending upon them, much younger but every bit as morose.
“So what’s with the all dark and spooky brigade?”
Willow and Tara turned from the book they had been perusing to see what Buffy was talking about. By the time they saw them, the strangers were at the door. Black umbrellas were furled and dark hats were removed as the door was pushed open and the seven people, in clothing that would do a morticians’ convention proud, slowly filed in.
Although Buffy’s comment had not drawn Anya’s notice, the jangling bell on the opening door did and she temporarily abandoned the previous day’s receipts in the hopes of adding to the till’s cache of currency. The pencil she had been using for her calculations fell from numb fingers and clattered to the floor, shattering the unnerving quiet that had descended on the shop with the somber group like a suffocating cloak.
“Anyanka.” It was a statement, not a question, and the woman who uttered it stepped forward, leaving her companions where they stood, dripping rainwater on the threshold and staring at the salesgirl.
No one else moved, not the rest of the group of strangers or any of Anya’s almost-friends. Anyone who knew her by that name was never good news.
“What is it with all this running into people who know her as Anyanka? You would think that her old friends would be dead after a thousand or more years.” Willow whispered.
“Shh.” Tara continued to watch nervously as the stranger approached Anya, concerned by the salesgirl's panicked expression.
“Well, you would, wouldn’t you? Like, what are the chances really for us to come across any of the people Anya used to know, something like fifty trillion to one? With her kind of luck she should try the lottery.”
Tara shrugged and shook her head as Willow redirected her attention to the scene that would undoubtedly be played out right in front of them.
The woman stopped just short of the counter Anya stood behind; long chestnut colored hair spilled over the collar of her black leather coat and tumbled down her back in glossy waves and long slender fingers reached up to unbutton the coat as she studied Anya with eyes so dark they appeared to be black, causing her already light complexion to seem almost deathly pale.
Buffy tensed at the motion of the woman’s hands. Anya might not be her favorite person in the world but Xander had become exceedingly fond of her, and after spending so much time with the other girl, she was finding her personality much less irritating; at times her bluntness could be frighteningly endearing. She’d miss her if she was gone and the realization surprised her. Besides, what kind of slayer would let someone simply walk in from the street and off an ex-demon without a fight.
Reaching into her coat the woman extracted a roll of parchment secured with wax and marked with a signet seal. Without dropping her gaze from Anya’s eyes she extended the parchment.
Not much of a threat in a rolled up sheet of paper. Buffy allowed herself to relax again, but she kept her attention focused on the woman. Paper might seem harmless enough, but she'd seen too much to take its benign appearance for granted.
“I’m not taking that.” Anya’s mouth was set in a firm line and she folded her arms across her chest.
“Hey, Ahn.” Xander bounded out of the back room, oblivious to the tension that permeated the shop. “How about cutting out early and going to see that new…” He cut short his suggestion when he saw the frozen interaction between his girlfriend and the dark haired stranger. “Hello. Is there… a problem?”
“I’m not taking that.” Anya nodded toward the parchment the woman still held. She continued to watch her warily, refusing to look away from the paper lest it miraculously find its way into her possession.
Xander joined Anya behind the counter. “Right. I'm all for the denial of gift acceptance thing you've got going here, Anya. Wanna fill us in on exactly what is it that you’re not going to take?”
All ears perked up as Buffy, Willow, and Tara joined the small group at the counter, waiting eagerly for an explanation. Even though she was less than secretive about the people she had extracted vengeance on or her methods of doing so, Anya and her past were mysterious enough without a group of spooky strangers wandering in and adding to the already questionable mix.
No elaborations seemed to be forthcoming, at least not from their resident ex-demon. “Go away now. I’m not taking it,” was all she would say. No one could quite remember a time that Anya had been so mono-sentency; the girl would often, under ordinary circumstances, carry on until she was forcibly shushed, generally by her exasperated and thoroughly embarrassed boyfriend.
“Anyanka,” the woman’s voice gently pleaded, “please. I don’t want to have to-"
“Yes you do. That’s what you do, going around to perfectly innocent people, forcing them to-”
“Wait a sec here,” Xander cut off Anya’s terse reply. “You don’t want to have to what exactly? Force her to take a piece of paper?” his voice relayed the skepticism he felt. “What’s going on here? Who are you? And what is that?” He waved his hand toward the scroll only to have Anya snatch his sleeve, pulling his arm back away from the roll of parchment.
The woman ignored Xander’s interruption, choosing instead to answer Anya’s accusation. “First of all, those I enacted vengeance against were no more innocent than your own victims. But that's beside the point because I don’t do it anymore anyway.” She dropped her gaze at last and set the parchment on the counter while Anya took an involuntary step back. “You’d be surprised, Anyanka. The realm has gone under a lot of changes. Just after you…” she paused for a moment, searching for the right word, “…left… it would seem there was a veritable plague of incompetence. Amulets were destroyed, stolen, and even lost… We have our own opinions about that one though, how could a vengeance demon just misplace the very source of his power? Anyway, quite a bit of death and destruction ensued. You would have been quite entertained; we were.” She shrugged her shoulders delicately as if she had been commenting on nothing any more interesting than the dreary weather.
Anya’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t believe you.”
The laughter startled everyone, even the somber and silent companions who had accompanied the stranger into the shop. A smile lit her eyes and the corners of her mouth turned up steadily until her mouth curved into a full-fledged smile. “You never change, do you? Not even after eleven-plus centuries. And to think that Olaf once believed he could tame you.” She laughed again shaking her head at the very thought of the big oaf. “Unbelievable.”
“Olaf, as in big, hairy, baby-eating, troll-guy trapped in a crystal by witches, Olaf?” Buffy asked.
“One and the same. I can’t say the physical change was too extreme though, it’s not like he looked all that much different when he was human.”
“And the rolled up paper thingy?” Buffy figured they had gotten all the information they were likely to get out of Anya any time soon and since their mystery guest had been willing to answer at least one of her questions, she might as well give it a shot.
“A summons.” Xander, like the rest of them, was confused. “You mean like a court summons?”
As if she had only just noticed the presence of others in the room, the woman turned to face Xander with eyes that were softer than he had expected. No demonic forces seemed to lurk in their depths, just pervasive sadness and the vaguest hint of something that looked like fear. The melancholy fled when she spoke, only to be replaced with humor and sarcasm. “Very like a court summons but you see, Anyanka risks much more than merely contempt of court if she chooses to ignore it. The Higher Council of the Order of Vengeance Demons takes their hearings very seriously.”
“A council of demons?” Willow’s voiced piped up incredulously, “What do they do? Say ‘you’ve been acting too demony these past few centuries so you need to take a time out in happy demon rehab’?”
The stranger grinned. “Something like that, only instead of ‘happy demon rehab’ they get sent to a torturer’s paradise. It would seem that Dante wasn't so far off in his version of hell, he just didn't realize it was only a demonic realm rather than actually hell itself.” She turned back to Anya, her voice lowered and filled with concern. “And you know what will happen to you if you don’t abide by the terms of the summons.”
Xander watched as a shiver coursed down Anya’s spine. Moving closer to her and wrapping what he hoped was a protective and comforting arm around her waist, he confronted the stranger. “But Anya’s not a demon anymore, she’s human. Why would they wait so long to send a summons? What can they do to her now?”
“Plenty," the woman answered. "But this hearing isn’t about Anyanka. She’s only being called as… as a witness of sorts.”
“A witness for what?” He could feel Anya tense in his embrace.
Her eyes dimmed again. “That’s for Anyanka to tell. It’s not my place.”
“Let me get this straight.” Buffy drew the stranger’s gaze away from the clearly uncomfortable Anya. “You're telling us that you demon types have a whole court system worked out with trials and hearings and such? That seems a bit… I dunno, does the term completely whacked-out ring a bell for you?”
“It would be those demon types, and yes they do although it’s mostly bureaucratic politics and similar nonsense. Haven’t you ever heard that everything’s political, Slayer? Everything.”
“Ahn?” Xander turned his full attention back to his girlfriend and what he saw nearly took his breath away. In the time he’d known her, he’d seen Anya angry, happy, sad, confused, upset… he had watched as she struggled with all the normal human emotions, but he had never before seen stark terror in her eyes, even when they’d gone up against some pretty fierce evildoers. Seeing it now scared him more than any of the unknown entities they had ever come up against, it scared him even more than the Ascension had.
“I’m leaving this here for you.” The strange woman motioned toward the parchment. “Anyanka, we’ve known each other for far too long for there to be lies and subterfuge between us. Look at me, look at my eyes. Do I look like a demon to you? Would I try to just hand you the summons if I had any of the powers I once possessed as one of D'Hoffryn's own? I figured the council would have forgotten our complaints when we were no longer participating members of the realm… but I got my summons three weeks ago and was instructed to locate you and the others to deliver the rest. We still have several days before the new moon, please think about this before you do anything rash.” She took a deep breath and frowned at her hands before shoving them into her pockets and turning sadly toward the door. “I’ve known you since we were little girls playing with dolls and whining about having to fetch water, I don’t want to have to stop knowing you.”
“You’re not a vengeance demon anymore,” Anya’s voice was little more than a harsh whisper. Her tone surprised everyone but the dark stranger. The vulnerability of such deeply hidden emotion hardly ever played a role in Anya’s speech pattern, but the stranger vaguely remembered a much more flamboyant, emotionally expressive woman. A woman who fought and argued just for the joy of making her point heard in a time when women weren’t supposed to have such notions.
She stopped but remained facing her companions. “No, Anyanka, I’m not. I’ve been stuck in this plane of existence for seventeen years now. You know, it’s hard to remember exactly, but it seems as if life were simpler the first time we were human.”
The woman nodded thoughtfully and joined her eerily silent companions. “We’re staying at the Northside Motor Hotel should need us or have any questions. The portal will open the night of the new moon somewhere in the vicinity of the hell mouth which is why we're here. I'll be waiting, Anyanka.” As quickly as they had appeared, the group was gone, leaving in their wake palatable uncertainty and unease.
“Anya. You want to explain what that was all about?” Xander gently took her by the shoulders and turned her to face him.
Pulling away from his touch, Anya bent to retrieve the pencil she had dropped. “No.”
“No? What do you mean, no?”
Anya turned her face up to his, her confusion clearly evident. Her brow furrowed when she gazed up at Xander. “I mean, no I don’t want to explain. That is what you asked, isn’t it? Am I supposed to want to explain it to you? To cry on your shoulder and let you tell me it will all be all right? Because I don’t and it won't be. I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to explain it to anyone.”
Suddenly realizing what she was doing, she drew a hand across her forehead, feeling the normally smooth skin gone crinkled with worry. “Now look what you made me do! I’m all wrinkly! And I can’t breathe right. What are you doing to me asking me questions I don’t want to answer?!” She pushed past Xander and fled the shop, disappearing into the heavy rain and leaving her purse, umbrella, and undoubtedly her keys behind.
“Okay, that was beyond weird, and I’ve seen a lot of weirdness abounding lately. This is Sunnydale after all, hell mouth and all.” Buffy reached out and delicately touched the parchment that remained unopened on the counter, it rolled away from the physical contact and bumped against the cash register. “Not so much the Anya part, that was more or less the norm, it was more the gloomy group of ex-demons and the heavily political demonic court system part that was beyond the normal oddness."
Willow watched the vacant sidewalk beyond the front door. "Do you think they were all ex-demons? I mean because, wow, that was a pretty big group of them if they were.”
Tara looked from the door back to Xander. “Maybe someone should go after her?”
“She did seem pretty upset, even for Anya,” Willow conceded. “If we opened the summons it might explain why,” she suggested and met Tara’s concerned eyes. “It’s not exactly breaking a federal law to open someone else’s other-worldly mail. And it would maybe be able to help us find a way to help Anya.”
Xander finally snapped out of his stupor and eyed his best friend suspiciously. As much as he wanted to, it was hard to think that Willow was all that concerned about helping Anya. His girlfriend had been a fringe member of their little group from the start; sure the knowledge she’d gathered during her time as a demon was sometimes helpful but he got the feeling that no one quite trusted her. And her tendency to say exactly what was on her mind and change topics like quicksilver was pretty hard for most people to take, not to mention the fact that she was still seemingly having trouble adjusting to being human again.
The opening door jarred his thoughts. “Anya?” Peering around Tara and Buffy for an unobstructed view of the doorway, he was disappointed to find Giles standing there, shaking rainwater from his umbrella.
“No, not quite. I just passed her by on the sidewalk. Who would like to be the first to tell me what happened?” He strode to the back of the shop and poured himself a cup of tea. His shop assistant was many things, but she wasn’t irresponsible. And ordinarily she’d never do anything she felt would endanger the contents of the cash register, like leaving it more or less unattended before he returned from running an errand.
“Is she alright? I mean should I go after her?” he paused a beat, "I should go after her." Giles slowly walked back to the front of the shop and considered Xander’s questions. Remembering his short, rain-drenched conversation with the ex-demon he shook his head. “No, no, she’s fine, merely distraught. I told her that I would close the shop and meet her at my home. She…” he wasn’t exactly sure how to phrase the next bit but judging from the vehemence he had heard ringing in Anya’s tone, he had decided to go along with her demand, “she doesn’t want any of you there.”
“She said that?”
“Xander, I’m sure it will all work itself out. Perhaps if I knew what happened, it would help to shed some light on the matter?”
It took longer than Giles had anticipated to get the whole story out of the young people and he didn’t find his way out of the Magic Box until an hour past closing time. He only hoped Anya was still waiting for him. He’d never heard of this Higher Council of the Order of Vengeance Demons but that only served to prove how limited his knowledge was about certain aspects of his only recently regained profession. Regardless of the fact that he had reclaimed his position as a Watcher, he didn’t entirely trust his colleagues and he knew Anya would never consent to consulting them; their position on demons worried her far too much. Without the Council to consult, he would have to find out all he could from his former-demon salesgirl herself and hope that, for once, she knew all the answers.
When he arrived at his house he was surprised to find the front door unlocked and slightly ajar. Entering, he called out for Anya only to be greeted by uncanny silence. Surely she wouldn’t have left without first speaking with him, not in her distressed emotional state. Then again, one never knew what Anya was likely to do in a distressed emotional state.
Giles made a cursory search of the house, turning up nothing more than a handwritten note addressed to him. He picked up the missive and stared at the script. He’d dealt with Anya for long enough to recognize her distinctive penmanship.
Before he opened the envelope, he tried to remember what she had said when he had quite literally run into her along the sidewalk. She had been frightened, he remembered, not upset or saddened or angry, as was her usual course of emotions, and he had tried to ask her what the dilemma was but she had been far too distressed to say anything other than ask to speak with him alone. He had then suggested that she wait for him at his home.
Alone. She had been determined on that point, something about not dragging everyone down into hell with her or something along a similar vein of thought and equally as cryptic.
Whatever it was that had scared her so badly had also more than likely been the cause of her sudden flight. And whatever that was she had hopefully written in the letter she had left for him.
Settling his glasses on his nose, he sat down and opened the envelope. Before he could extract the letter, a knock sounded at his front door. He rose and crossed the space between the chair and the door, turning the knob without first looking to see who it was.
“Only in your bloody dreams, old man. Don’t tell me I’ve interrupted a little love nest between you and the little demon.”
Quite definitely not Anya. “Spike. What is it that you want? I am a bit busy.” Giles removed his glasses to confront the vampire who stood on his front stoop.
“Yeah, yeah. Look, not that I care or anything, but I just saw dearie in the cemetery. What is it, is the Slayer contagious now? Sending her little minions out to do her dirty work?” Spike walked closer to the door oblivious to Giles’ unwelcome expression.
“Anya’s had a bit of a fright is all. At the cemetery, you say?” Giles tried to find a reasonable explanation for the young woman to visit such a place and came up with nothing that would make the least bit of sense. Nothing that was except a sudden bout of suicidal tendencies. “Spike, if you wouldn’t mind…”
“Yeah, I know. I’ll show you where I saw her.” Resigning himself to the task, Spike stepped back off the porch and into the incessant rain. “You’ll owe me one for this though, old man.”
“Yes, well alright. But only if we find Anya before one of your friends does.”
“They’re not my chums. Do I try to say that you’re friendly with all humans? No, I don’t. We’d best be off if you want to get to her while she’s still breathing.” Spike stalked away from the inviting warmth of the house, irritated about getting wetter and colder than he already was.
The truth was that he’d tried to convince Anya to go home or at least wait in his crypt but she wouldn’t be swayed, not that he cared about the girl or anything like that. He figured the slayer would be a bit put out if he just walked off and left one of her friends in a dangerous situation, she might even try to pin the blame on him if anything happened to her. Being staked and dusted over misplaced blame was not something Spike wished to experience.
With those thoughts in mind, he led the way to the cemetery, surprising himself by hoping they would find Anya safe and unharmed. It wasn’t just the fact that the slayer would be angry that had Spike concerned; Anya probably came the closest to understanding him of anyone in their little ragamuffin group and it would be a shame to lose that. Not that he and the ex-demon were friends, or even civil to one another on a regular basis, but she was one of the few people Spike knew who was actually older than he was. That alone had to count for something.
Anya paced back and forth in the crypt Spike called home. Chez Spike of the crumbling mortar. She hadn’t wanted to go there but she knew Xander would be waiting at the apartment and, although she hated to admit the peroxide vampire was right, standing around outside in the old cemetery alone was a death wish just waiting to happen. Of course her death would prevent her from having to testify before the council but that did seem just a tad drastic, besides if she were dead that would mean no more Xander, not to mention no more sex, and that simply wasn’t an acceptable alternative. Xander had made the reality of being human again a pleasurable experience and she wasn't in a hurry to end it any time soon. She should have stayed at Giles’ house but all of the old pain and fear came barreling back into her mind and she felt the desperate need to flee.
He needed to dust. She ran a finger across the chipped plaster on the walls. He needed to paint. Spike needed to live in something other than a decrepit, moldering crypt.
Glancing in the less than spotless mini-fridge, she shuddered. Nothing but blood… ugh. She didn’t even go for the blood thing when she was still a demon, never could understand the attraction of blood sacrifices, too messy and sticky, and the smell… Oh yeah, nothing like the earthy, metallic smell of blood to gain someone’s attention first thing in the morning.
She poked a finger at the musty chair that squatted in front of the tiny television, grimacing in disgust. There wasn’t anywhere else to sit unless she wanted to join the scurrying lizards and spiders on the floor. Sighing her resignation, she perched precariously on the cushion’s edge and closed her eyes. She didn’t even notice when exhaustion claimed her and she automatically pulled her legs up against her chest, settling deep into the chair in a restless slumber.
Dreams disturbed her sleep, terrible dreams from which she could not escape. Images of things long past and hidden in the deepest corners of her memory tore through her carefully constructed barriers to torment her again. Things she had no wish to remember, things that she had buried deep within the human body in which she had found herself ultimately trapped.
Memories of the woman who had so easily strolled back into her life also flooded her dreams:
Lisenka the favored.
Lisenka the perfect.
Lisenka the witch.
Lisenka the demon.
Lisenka the friend.
Spike led the Watcher past the headstones to the place he had last seen Anya, cold and alone and standing sad and defiant in the pouring rain.
“Well, looks as if peaches came to her senses and left.” He glared at Giles’ look of disbelief. “If someone had gotten to her then she would still be here, her body would at least. No body, no harm done. Maybe the little rabbit went looking for her mate.”
“Rather unlikely given the current circumstances. She was here? Are you quite certain?”
“Yes. I saw her, I talked to her, I left her. Here.”
“You spoke with her?” Giles pinned Spike with an accusing stare. “What did you talk about?”
“Nothing! Look, she seemed a bit blue so I asked her what the problem was, she wouldn’t say. I told her to go home, she kicked me in the shins. I left.” The condensed version of Spike’s one-sided conversation with the sobbing girl seemed an appropriate choice. Couldn’t let the Watcher think he was getting soft, worrying over some half crazed ex-demon who had been so distressed she hadn’t even known he was standing in front of her until he had spoken her name for the third time and laid an uncertain hand on her shoulder. Maybe she had taken his advice and gone home after all… but he didn’t think it very bloody likely.
“She could be in the crypt,” he finally said, almost sighing in resignation.
“Why would she be there?” Giles asked, intrigued by Spike’s comment.
“Obviously she didn’t want to be around any of you blokes, I told her she could go there if she wanted. I didn’t think she’d take me up on it.” He trudged further into the graveyard.
A scream broke the night’s quiet and Spike and Giles both broke into a run, dodging around headstones in their quest to find the woman who had uttered the soul-aching cry.
Anya jerked awake, still trembling from the nightmarish reality of her dream, if you could even call it a dream. Memory was more likely a better term. Irritated with herself, she sat up and trembled in the cold air. Her skin glistened with a thin sheen of perspiration and she wrapped her arms around her body to fight off the deepening chill. She screamed again when the door to the crypt flew open, splintering against the wall.
“You scared me!” she accused her pair of would-be-saviors.
“We scared you? You're the chit who was screaming bloody murder.” Spike glared back at the girl.
“I wasn’t.” Appalled at the accusation, she stood and drew herself up as tall as her petite frame would allow, still not maintaining a very intimidating presence in the company of the two significantly taller men. Without the benefit of her once wrinkly demon face, she rarely made an intimidating presence anywhere anymore.
“Anya?” Giles approached her slowly, trying to calm his ragged breath. “Are you alright?”
“I was until you two came crashing in. It’s cold in here. I’m leaving now.” She started to walk around the pair but had to stop when Spike blocked her path. “Get out of my way.”
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with that conference of ex-vengeance demons I saw earlier now would it, pet?”
Giles raised an eyebrow. “Spike? How did you know what they were?”
“You hang around a place for a century or so and you’re bound to recognize a few faces every now and again.” Spike shrugged off the question, refusing to explain how he recognized them even though they looked completely different than they had the last he'd seen any of them, and refocused his attention on the girl who was diligently trying to edge her way to the busted crypt door. “So what does the Council of Demons want with you, pet?”
Giles was becoming increasingly exasperated. Spike was much too well informed and wasn’t exactly offering to share his knowledge. He watched as Anya continued to glare at the vampire, refusing, for once, to offer a quick retort to his barb.
“Yes, well, why don’t we go back to my house and sit down and discuss the situation over a nice pot of tea?”
Anya sat wedged into the corner of the couch, a towel draped over her shoulders to catch the water that trickled from the bedraggled ends of her hair and her clothes dripping wetly into the upholstery of the unfortunate piece of furniture. She unsteadily held a cup of tea in her cold trembling hands, sipping and grimacing alternately at the bitter liquid.
Giles sat across from her, his gaze shifting from the disturbed girl to the arrogant vampire who had taken up residence on the opposite end of the couch from Anya. He was going to have to have the poor couch steam cleaned once all of this was over.
“Anya? I was able to gather that you were delivered a summons to appear before the…” He searched his memory for the exact name of the demon council.
“The Higher Council of the Order of Vengeance Demons,” she supplied wryly, leaning forward to return the teacup to its saucer that sat on the table that separated her from the Watcher.
“Yes, the Higher Council of the Order of Vengeance Demons, precisely. I also heard that you refused to accept the summons?”
“You refused the summons?” Spike studied Anya through slitted eyes. “Not a very wise move, pet. You thought being stuck in Sunnydale was bad, just wait to see where they’ll put you next.” He studied her closely, noting her stiff muscles and pointed disregard of his very presence. He wondered what exactly this hearing was about for it to elicit such a response from her.
“Spike,” Giles warned. “Now Anya, I realize that you are a bit… distressed by this recent turn of events, but if you could explain what precisely is going on, I might be able to help.”
Anya scoffed. No human could help her, not even a Watcher. She had been a fool to ask Giles for his help just after leaving the Magic Box, a ridiculous and all too human fool. Giles sat and contemplated the woman before him, easily forgetting that she had lived for more than a millennia. She appeared to be nothing more than a terrified and confused young woman with more worries than any one person should have to deal with. His problem now came with how to convince her that he wanted only to help. Anya wasn’t always the easiest person to handle in the best of circumstances.
“So tell me, luv, did our girl Lisenka get a summons too?” Spike's question broke the silence.
Anya glared at him again.
"I'll take that as a 'yes'."
"Spike, would you care to explain?" Giles pressed the vampire, his expression hard.
"Don't know much, old man. Anya here and Lisenka were friends when they were demons, rumor has it that they knew each other before D'Hoffryn even offered them the jobs, and it would seem that, like ducks, Lisenka is no longer patrolling the highway of vengeance. There were about, oh, seven of them or so, headed toward your shop this afternoon. All former demons, all looking quite pissed off, if I do say so." Spike paused and sipped his own cup, although he had passed on the proffered tea.
"Lisenka?" Giles asked, focusing his attention back on Anya.
"We know each other," she admitted. Seeing the disbelieving look in Giles' eyes, she added, "We grew up in the same village. It was a long time ago, I haven't seen her in a while."
"How long exactly would that be?"
"I don't know, a couple hundred years? Maybe longer. Time is difficult to figure when you're bouncing between here and there all the time."
Giles ran his fingers along the bridge of his nose in an attempt to keep the tension that was building there at bay. "What does this friend of yours have to do with the summons?"
Anya's mouth clamped firmly shut. She turned her head to stare, unseeing, at the far wall, not wanting to elaborate. It was bad enough that she would actually have to testify in D'Hoffryn's realm, she wasn't foolish enough to try to avoid her call, but she didn't think it altogether necessary to enlighten Giles and the rest of the Scooby gang as well, especially not Xander.
"Anya," Giles' voice reached her through the fog of her tumultuous thoughts. "You do understand that whatever this is about, it has nothing to do with who you are now, don't you? It won't change anyone's opinions of you."
'No,' she thought, 'it will just solidify them.' She remained silent and distant, even as Giles moved across the room to sit gently next to her on the couch, ignoring Spike's snort of disdain.
"No, I don't want to talk about it. I was wrong earlier when I said that I did. I was confused. Now I'm not confused and I don't want to talk. I think I'll go home now."
"I would imagine Xander will be waiting for you."
Anya turned to look at him with tired, red-rimmed eyes. "I'm going to sleep here," she stated, easily changing her plans without a second thought to the fact that Giles hadn't actually invited her to stay. It didn't matter, she knew he wouldn't make her leave; he had enough difficulty getting Spike to leave as it was and he was just a neutered vampire, she had control of the paperwork and tax figures at the Magic Box and could do much more damage to him than Spike was capable of if she decided to.
"Yes, then, alright. There are fresh towels in the bath, and a robe in the guest wardrobe. Why don't you relax a bit and then you can get a good night's sleep. We'll talk about this in the morning."
The expression in her eyes told Giles that his assumption of a morning discussion would be no better accepted than the current one. But at least it would give him a few hours to do a spot of research before he confronted her again.
Anya had at last fallen into a restless sleep and, against his better judgment, Giles had asked Spike to stay with her while he left to see what he could discover on his own. The vampire had scoffed at the request, but Giles could see the vague hint of concern that lingered in the man's eyes and knew he would stay regardless of the argument he made against it.
Leaving his house thus occupied, Giles placed several phone calls from the shop, his last one was to Buffy. She arrived several minutes later.
"So where's Anya?"
Giles ran a hand across his eyes before replacing his glasses and returning to the books that littered the table. "She's resting at my home. Spike is with her," he added when he caught Buffy's expression.
"Brave man," she teased but stopped short when she saw the tense lines around the watcher's mouth and eyes. "This is serious, isn't it? I mean, Anya did basically flip out when those demony guys walked in but it's more than a case of Anya just being... Anya. It's even more serious than we thought, isn't it?"
"Yes, I'm afraid it is." He closed the book he had been reading. "You said earlier that this woman who tried to deliver the summons, Lisenka, was staying at a motel here in town?" "Yep, at least that's what she said. Were you able to find out what this is all about?" Buffy walked closer to the table and pulled out a chair to sit down wearily in it. Patrol had been ridiculously busy, it probably had something to do with the portal that would be opening in the next few days.
"No, Anya wouldn't say anything. She's remained disturbingly silent on the whole matter."
"Quiet Anya? There's an oxymoron for ya'." She grinned and reached out to pull the book Giles had been reading across the table, opening it to the chapter he had been studying when she had walked in so that she could read the title. Her brow furrowed at the words as she spoke them, "Trans-dimensional Court Systems of Demon Realms and their Adverse Effects on Human Witnesses." She paused a moment. "That doesn't sound very good for Anya."
"No, it doesn't. But I don't think that's what has upset her. Whatever this trial is about has disturbed her a great deal. What I was able to find out is that she seems quite concerned about our reactions to it."
"She should know we would stand behind her."
"Yes," Giles drew out, "and we've proven our loyalty to her many times."
"Point taken. But this is all history, and who knows how ancient, it's not like we'd blame her for whatever it is."
Giles closed his eyes. The headache he'd been battling all day was only increasing in intensity. "I don't presume to understand what Anya is thinking but we need to find out what the trial is about if we want to try to help her."
Buffy pushed the book away from her and stood up. "So let's go pay a visit to this Lis-whatever person and find out what's going on."
The knock on the motel room door didn't surprise her, the people who stood on the threshold when she swung the door open, however, did. Lisenka looked squarely at them for a long moment, a question hanging in her gaze, before stepping back and allowing them to enter.
Giles looked around the room, noting that the woman was alone. When he returned his gaze to her, he saw nothing that would suggest she was anything more than a twenty-something year-old woman, but then again, Anya didn't look her age either. Perhaps there was just a bit of something indescribable in her eyes. An expression that hinted that she'd done all of this before a thousand times or more; the same expression Anya assumed whenever they began talking about demons and other entities she had once known.
Clearing his throat, he extended his hand in formal greeting. "Lisenka? I was wondering if you might answer a few questions about the court hearing."
Shaking his hand, Lisenka smiled. Anya had truly made a life for herself, complete with protective friends and even a boyfriend, if she'd surmised correctly the relationship between her oldest friend and the young man who had stood next to her that afternoon. "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage..."
"Yes, right. Rupert Giles, I own the Magic Box, and this," he gestured to his companion who stood just within the confines of the room, "this is Buffy Summers."
Lisenka's eyebrow raised a notch. "The slayer? Interesting bunch of friends for an ex-demon to associate with."
"Anya is quite distraught over today's turn of events," Giles began, not wishing to waste time on simple pleasantries.
"I'd be worried if she wasn't. It's not every day you find out you have to go back into a demonic realm and face your old enemies as a human." She walked across to the bed and sat down. "But you're concerned because she won't tell you what it's all about."
Buffy cocked her head at the comment wondering just how 'ex' this woman's powers were.
Lisenka grinned at her. "Nothing to worry about from me, Ms Summers, no hidden demonic abilities lurking here, I just know Anyanka too well. It probably comes from more than a thousand years of friendship although we rarely saw one another after..."
"After the something that Anyanka should tell you herself if she wants you to know about it."
"I am only worried for her safety."
Lisenka nodded. "And I understand that. You wouldn't be here asking me questions otherwise. Believe me when I tell you, I know you only want to help her and I am grateful for that, but..."
"But you still won't tell us what's going on," Buffy finished for her.
"I'm afraid not. I've held her trust for too long to break it now. I am sorry though."
Giles wouldn't be deterred. "You too were given a summons, were you not?"
Lisenka's eyes sparkled, they weren't a dumb as she had feared. "Yes, I was."
"If you wouldn't mind, why are you being called back to D'Hoffryn's realm?"
Spike sat on the couch in Giles' living room, idly flipping channels on the television and sipping his cup of spiked blood. He hadn't heard so much as a peep out of demon-girl since Giles had left a good hour or two earlier to search for more information about what was happening.
With nothing of interest on the telly, he finally shut the thing off and carefully strode to the door of the guest room that stood slightly ajar. Just a quick peek in on the slumbering girl and he would step out onto the porch and calm the nicotine craving that was nagging at him. He wasn't sure which was stranger: his concern that Anya was resting peacefully or the consideration he had decided to bestow on the watcher by not filling his home with cigarette smoke.
Easing the door open a bit more, he peered around it into the dim recesses of the room, seeing Anya's restless form on the rumpled bed. She might not be making much of a fuss vocally, but she'd completely destroyed what order the sheets had once had. He entered the room, lifting the ridiculously fluffy pillow she'd dislodged from the bed from where it had fallen on the floor. Gently easing it back beneath her head, he attempted to smooth the linens over her again.
He was dumbfounded when she grabbed hold of his arm in her sleep, mumbling incoherently, and pulling him closer to her. He reached down with is free hand and tried to pry her chilled fingers from his equally cool forearm until he understood her muffled plea.
"Help me, please."
Resigned to his fate, Spike settled himself on the floor, allowing her to keep hold of his arm while he awkwardly smoothed her damp hair away from tear-stained cheeks with the same hand that had just tried to free himself of her claim.
"Hush now, luv. You've not gone back just yet. You'll need your rest if you plan on facing those blokes again." He kept his voice soft and soothing, murmuring just above a whisper into her ear as her head tossed on the pillow. He considered telling her that everything would be all right, but he didn't know that it would. "Sleep now."
He was inordinately pleased with himself when she did at last seem to relax and drift away from the nightmare that had held her. Slowly easing himself up off the floor, he slipped his arm from her loosened grasp and started to back out of the room. Anya stirred as Spike moved from the bedside and he stayed his movements, humming softly until she was once again still.
Stealthily slipping from the room, he scoffed at his own actions. William the Bloody getting domestic and soothing a sleeping girl? What in bloody hell was the world coming to?
Xander stood up again and resumed his pacing. He hadn't been able to remain still for longer than a few minutes at a time since he'd returned to the apartment he generally shared with his 'newly human and strangely literal' girlfriend. He had never realized how much her essence was in the apartment until he had been shoved out of her affairs that afternoon.
"I... I'm sure she's all right. Mr. Giles will help her sort through this problem with the summons." Tara watched helplessly as he wore a path in the carpet.
"Yeah, Xan. I'll betcha she's sitting in Giles' living room right now sipping tea and reminiscing about her glory days as a demon."
Xander turned his head to face his best friend. He had been more than simply shocked when both Willow and Tara had appeared at his front door less than an hour after he'd finally arrived home. Now he wasn't sure if he could make them leave if he wanted to.
"I should'a gone after her."
Willow looked up at him. He'd been repeating the same thought probably since before they'd arrived.
Xander cut off Willow's assurance. "Yeah, but it should be me. I'm the boyfriend," he insisted, "You know, the big strong manly half of the relationship that takes care of all the problems." Xander paused, a strange expression crossing his eyes while he watched Tara and Willow look at each other. "At least in our relationship."
"Anya just doesn't strike me as the helpless lady in distress, Xander. She is more than a thousand years old, after all. You know, all the hanging out with Dracula, the witnessing two Ascensions, the hurting men in the name of vengeance demonhood, that sort of thing kinda makes her seem a little less vulnerable than say, I dunno, Fort Knox."
Xander turned on Willow. "Did you see her face this afternoon? Huh, Wills? Did you see how terrified she was? Why didn't I follow her? It's a joke, you know..."
Tara waited a moment to see if he would continue without coercion. Looking from Xander to Willow and back again, she hesitantly asked, "Wha-- what's a joke?"
"She scared me when she first lost her powers: 'demon Anya, punisher of evil males'. But she kinda grows on ya' after a while. I remember her asking me to the prom and how confused she was about why she even wanted to go. And when the Ascension was coming, she wanted me to leave with her so I would be safe. And once she came back... It just seemed right."
He walked to the window and drew the curtains aside. She'd spent three days looking for the right curtains for that window, dragging him all over town until he was ready to strangle her and cover the window with aluminum foil. But once she'd found what she'd been searching for, he realized she was right, they were perfect. She was perfect. Sure she had her faults, no one could live anywhere near as long as she had and not have accumulated their fair share, but the whole Anya-package was perfect nonetheless.
"I love her, more than I could have ever thought possible, and she's scared and there's nothing I can do to help her. I know there isn't, and that, ladies, is why I am here and she is at Giles' house."
"Xander?" Willow stood up and walked up behind him. "You're really in love with Anya."
"What did you think?"
"I don't know, she's got that sex kitten thing going pretty strong most of the time. I guess I just thought she was a passing fancy."
"Will, Anya and I have been together for more than two years now."
"Well, a really long passing fancy?" She shrugged her shoulders. "I'm sorry, Xander. Guess I never really thought about it in terms of long term. Huh, that's amazing. Umm, but about the summons thing? I'm sure she'll work it all out and tell you what's going on as soon as she can. It's not like she's the epitome of secret keeping."
"She's scared, Will. Whatever those other ex-demons represented, it terrified her. That's what kept me in the magic shop and not trailing after her in the rain. She's seen so much, not very many things shake her up, but that little roll of paper scared her. What kind of a boyfriend does that make me? Letting her go off to fight her demons alone, no pun intended."
Buffy walked down the sidewalk with Giles at her side. Once they had asked the right questions, Lisenka had been quite willing to talk to them. Now that she and Giles knew what the trial was about, they had to discover a way to help Anya. Much easier said than done.
"I always thought that demons were pretty much, you know... impervious to things like that. What with having their demon powers and all."
Giles looked down at her. He was still a bit shocked himself and understood Buffy's confusion. "Yes, well I suppose we were mistaken."
She continued once they reached his car, "I mean, sexual assault and harassment in the workplace is one thing. But in a demon realm? And to Anya? I never would have..."
He rested a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "None of us would, Buffy. As much as Anya might sometimes grate on one's nerves, none of us would wish her ill. It does however explain why she was unwilling to share this with anyone, especially with Xander."
"We should tell him, ya' know." Seated in the passenger's seat, she turned to watch Giles' turn the key in the ignition.
"No, actually we shouldn't. As much as we might want to, we should let Anya tell him herself. This is quite a personal matter and I'm sure she will be rather upset with us when she finds out we went to Lisenka without first telling her."
Driving down the quiet neighborhood streets in silence, Giles was taken aback by the unmistakable sight of Spike standing on his front porch, cigarette smoke trailing away across the grass. Parking and approaching the stoop, he nodded when Buffy said she wanted to stay to help.
"The chit keeps having bloody nightmares."
Giles looked questioningly at the vampire who was obviously distressed by the fact, regardless of the sour expression he wore. "Wholly understandable given the situation she has been thrust into. Thank you, Spike, for staying with her. You may leave now."
"Yes," Buffy agreed. "I'm sure there are some crime victims out there somewhere with your name on 'em."
"Now just wait one bloody minute. I've spent the last three hours trying to comfort demon-girl, and all you want is for me to leave? No, I want in on the information sharing you two are sure to have going on in a minute or two." He ignored the look that passed between them at his mention of comforting Anya and stared at Giles, daring the watcher to try to deny him.
Sighing, Giles opened the front door just as a shrill cry erupted from his guest room.
"Bollocks," Spike muttered, striding past both Giles and Buffy. He rounded the corner and entered the room again, kneeling next to the bed again and whispering softly to the sleeping girl.
Buffy peered into the dim room, watching in sheer amazement as Spike worked to calm Anya. Her brain was in overload, she decided. First learning about Anya's abuse and now witnessing a whole new side to Spike was sending her right into meltdown phase.
A few minutes later, Spike detached his hand from Anya's and returned to the living room. "She'll be quiet for a while at least. Plenty long enough for you to tell me what's got lovie so panicked."
“I’m going,” Xander decided. He turned on his heel and strode across the room to the counter where his key lay. He had been battling the urge to either drive to Giles’ house or destroy everything in the apartment, and since Anya would probably arrange to have him troll-ized if he so much as touched any of her carefully selected breakables, he decided on the former. Giles would just have to deal with him being there. It wasn’t as if he was a vampire and could be kept out simply by not being invited in.
“Hey, wait up,” Willow jumped up from the sofa, pulling Tara with her. “You can’t drive like this. You’ll wrap the car around a light pole and then Anya will blame me. I’ll drive.”
Most of the ride passed in silence as Willow maneuvered the car through the quiet residential streets. Occasionally she would glance back at Xander, just to make sure he was still in the car and hadn’t evaporated into the night.
“Xander, I know Anya and I aren’t what you would call, oh I don’t know, the best of friends…”
He looked up at her comment. “You and Anya aren’t what I would call the worst of friends, Wills. But, yeah, go on.”
“Yeah, well… It’s just that she’s a little difficult to take most of the time, you know? After the whole Olaf thing I thought we could maybe get to know each other a little better but…” Willow watched the road closely, more closely that was actually necessary. “It doesn’t matter, what does matter is that you’re happy. And that whatever this trial is gets over and done with as quickly as possible.”
Silence fell again, interrupted by a hushed Tara. “I like Anya,” she admitted quietly.
“Tara, honey, you like everyone.”
“No, Willow, it’s just... It's just like we’re both on the outside, you know, not really a part of things unless we’re needed. And once we help, we’re back on the outside again looking in. I know that all of you have this amazing bond with each other, you have to, but even Oz and Cordelia are more a part of you than Anya and I will ever be. It’s not your fault,” she added quickly, “it’s just how it is. You’re the original slayerettes. But Anya and me? We’re just the less favored alternates.”
“Tara… I didn’t know you felt left out.” Willow caught her girlfriend’s eye, reaching out to lay a hand on hers.
“It’s not on purpose, you fight demons and vampires and monsters and I love being able to help, but I do feel kind of left out sometimes. I think Anya does too.”
Giles poured himself another cup of Earl Grey, wondering where they would begin their tale. Thoughtfully stirring the tea, he glanced up as Buffy entered the kitchen.
"No answer at Wonder Boy's place. I'd bet he'll turn up on your doorstep any second now."
"That isn't a wager I'm willing to take you up on."
The doorbell rang almost as soon as Giles had finished speaking and they could hear Spike answering it, not to mention the outraged shock of Xander discovering the vamp in the Watcher's home.
"Guess I'd better go and defend the defenseless," Buffy quipped, strolling off to assure Xander of Spike's welcome presence. If Giles was right about Spike knowing more than he was letting on, the harmless bloodsucker might be needed in order to find a way to help Anya. As much as she hated the idea, they needed Spike just as much as they needed anyone at this point, probably more than they needed anyone save Anya. At least until they'd gotten all the information they could out of him.
"Xan, it's cool. Spike's helping."
"Helping?! How is he helping and where is Anya?"
Looking over her shoulder toward the guest room to see if the outraged cry had woken the other woman, Buffy answered, "She's trying to get some rest so please stop yelling and maybe she'll be able to."
"Glad to see you finally decided to be a man and take care of the chit," Spike muttered, sitting back down on the couch to nurse his emptying cup of libatious blood.
"Xander." Buffy smiled as she caught him before he launched into Spike's taunt. "I just tried to call you, you must be getting psychic on us here."
Xander wasn't in the mood for small talk or cheering up. "How's Anya?"
Before Buffy could answer his question, a soft voice provided the appropriate response. "I'm fine."
"Somehow, Ahn, my Xander brain here just can't quite believe that."
Lisenka sat quietly on the foot of her rented bed. It had been a long time since she had last seen Anyanka, a very long time indeed, she only wished their meeting could have been under much more favorable circumstances. She twisted the ends of her hair in irritation at the whole mess they were in. If she had even once thought the Council would ever take their complaints seriously, she doubted she would have convinced herself to file them, much less try to convince any of the others to do so as well.
Losing her powers and wish-charm had been a big enough blow and having to grow up in contemporary America as an abandoned orphan had not been exactly easy, but this trial would be worse than the nightmares that plagued her every night with vengeance schemes played out in minute detail in her sleeping mind.
She had been more than surprised to learn that the slight blond woman was indeed the vampire slayer. When she had called her that in the magic shop that afternoon she had only intended it as a meaningless jibe. It would appear that her senses weren't completely off after all. That probably had something to do with strolling through D'Hoffryn's realm way too often as a mortal.
Suddenly she found herself longing to be back home. Not in Albuquerque where her apartment and pet gerbil waited for her return, not in D'Hoffryn's realm where she had spent more than a thousand years as a vengeance demon and a number of times as a passing tourist of sorts, but back in the village of her real childhood. Back in the place where she was clueless as to the reality of demons or spells or multiple realms and planes of being. She longed to stand for hours in the sun again while she and Anya threshed grain, or sit in the cool shade of the tree in the pasture and card piles of wool. She longed to be anywhere that no longer existed, and hadn't for more than a millennia. In a place where life was much simpler and living to see your thirtieth year was something to rejoice, not cry over.
Shaking her head over the futility of the desire, she returned her thoughts to the problem at hand. She knew without a doubt that Anyanka wouldn't disregard the summons, the girl had always been brash and outspoken but she had never been outright stupid. It was obvious from the pair of visitors she'd already had, that Anyanka wasn't talking yet. Lisenka only hoped, for her friend's benefit, she would break her silence soon and let them help her in any way that they could. Yes, she had told them what the trial was basically about and her place in it, but only Anyanka could give them the specifics of her own part in it.
Lisenka stretched, suddenly more exhausted than she could ever remember being, and turned down the linens on the slightly rumpled bed. Maybe she could figure out what to do after a decent night's sleep. Too bad she wouldn't be given the chance to find out... She hadn't slept for more than a few hours at a time since she'd gotten her summons and had no reason to think it would change any time soon.
Giles stared at the mismatched group that had infiltrated his home. None of them were happy, especially Anya who had been glaring at him and Buffy both ever since she was told they had paid a visit to Lisenka. Her anger was rapidly growing by leaps and bounds with the discussion that was bouncing around the room.
"So, these folks are all being called in as witnesses for a trial about assault and harassment?"
Buffy gave Willow a sympathetic pat on her shoulder. She understood her friend's confusion, she had been feeling it since she'd heard the news from Lisenka herself. "I guess so, a little weird, huh?"
"Weird is an understatement," Willow agreed.
Suddenly remembering the ex-demon in their midst, Buffy looked up at her, embarrassed to have spoken so openly in front of her. Anya glared back. Talk about putting your foot in your mouth...
"Perhaps Anya would appreciate the opportunity to explain her particular situation herself," Giles suggested.
"Oh, no, don't let me keep you from talking about me like I'm not here. Carry on."
"No, Giles. Isn't that what you have been doing all along? You go behind my back when I decide I don't want to tell you about the trial and you talk to Lisenka, and believe me when I say she's going to have a lot of explaining to do the next time I see her, and then you all sit around and talk about it as if I wasn't sitting right here in the same room. This has nothing to do with any of you. You should just all go away and leave me alone."
"This is my home..." Giles demurred.
Xander tried to pull her close to him but she jerked away from his touch. "Ahn, we only want to help you."
"Oh right, if you haven't noticed, this has nothing to do with killing vampires or demons or any of the things you do. This is about me, and seven others, and a trial I don't want to go to but have no choice about and you can't help so stop trying to get me to tell you about it. Talking about it will not make me feel any better."
Silence again descended and Giles began to wonder how true Anya's words might be. But try as he might, he couldn't convince himself to let the young woman rush off into this trial without at least being aware of the possible consequences. They all deserved to be made aware, to prepare for any eventuality lest something unspeakable and equally unthinkable occur.
"I understand that this is difficult for you, Anya, I believe it is safe to assume that we all do, but we do need to discuss it nonetheless. As much as you are reluctant to dredge up the past, it would appear that you will need to do just that in the near future for the trial. Perhaps if you could tell us what happened, it would at least make it easier for you when you are called to testify? Often, talking about such things will ease the pain they cause."
Anya's disbelieving expression spoke louder than any of her generally acerbic comments might have. She moved to rise from the sofa, only to have Spike snag her hand before she could make it to her feet and she turned to glare icily at him for his actions.
"Now, now, dearie. Nasty looks won't be helping you go up against them, now will they?" Spike pulled her back against the cushions. "I'm not going to let you wander off on this bloody kamikaze mission of yours without bein' in the know."
"Why would you care what I do, Spike?" she spat the words at him, venom lacing her tone. "You're no more a member of their group than I am, even less so actually. Why would you want to help?"
Xander started to offer his own opinion of their part in the group, at least of Anya's part in it, when Buffy caught his eye and silenced him. At least Spike had gotten Anya talking again and he had convinced her to stay if only momentarily.
"D'ya ever think that maybe that's why?" His gaze was steady and unwavering as he watched her eyes. "Why else would I try to get you to leave the cemetery earlier? Why invite you to go to my crypt? Why stay here and try to keep you from bringing down the walls with your bleedin' screams while the Watcher and Slayer ran all over Sunnyhell lookin' for good ol' Lisenka?"
"Because you're trying to convince Buffy you're not as evil as she thinks you are."
"Good point, bobbit, but no cigar. Now, if you wouldn't mind..."
Everyone waited to see if Spike had pushed Anya far enough that she would start talking before her brain could stop her mouth. Silence prevailed for a bare second.
"Fine! You want to know? I'll tell you, and then you can all sit around and talk about me again." She raised her voice a bit, "How could that Anya be so stupid that she got into so much trouble? Why didn't she just use her vengeance demon powers and stop him? What kind of a person would let another demon attack her and not even try to fight back?" Anya paused and turned her glare to each of the people sitting in the room.
"First of all," she began, lifting a single finger into the air, "I only had the power of the wish and an incantation to return to D'Hoffryn's realm. I didn't have any other powers, and even if I could have granted my own wish, I couldn't have done it against another demon. Secondly," she raised another slender finger, "I did try to fight back but he had a lot of power behind him and I couldn't do it. And third," she glared accusingly at Willow who only raised her eyebrows in a silent question, "maybe I did set myself up for it but I didn't know what I was doing at the time. I had only just become a vengeance demon and everything was very confusing. I hadn't had time to learn who I could trust and who I couldn't. I didn't even know that Lisenka was there yet at the beginning of it all. D'Hoffryn's realm isn't exactly the most organized realm in the demonic world, or so I've been told. There's a lot of disorganization running rampant in there."
It took Willow a moment to comprehend the idea that Anya thought any of them would place the blame for the attack squarely on her own shoulders. She had heard that victims often blamed themselves, but she just hadn't thought Anya would do that. She never expected the young woman to do what was normal. She also realized that she was waiting for her to say something akin to 'I told you so'.
Spike watched the red headed witch. He knew Anya was wrong about what the others' reactions would be, but he didn't know that they would be bright enough to confront her misconceived notions before it was too late. With a bit of luck witch Willow would say something, anything, that would at least begin them on the road to reassurance.
"Anya? How could you think that I would hold any of this against you?" Willow asked, her tone somewhat less than soothing and bordering on accusatory.
Spike sighed. Then again, maybe not. He lifted his cup to his lips again only to realize he had already drained it. Disgusted, he plunked it down on the table at his elbow.
"You don't like me," Anya stated, merely voicing the obvious. "But we already went through all of that when Olaf was destroying Sunnydale. And you don't even think of me as a human. I'm just some old ex-vengeance demon who won't 'learn the rules' about being human again. You have no idea what it's like to be newly demonized or newly human. It's very confusing."
"So you already said, pet," Spike muttered. "Maybe you should just start from the beginning."
Lisenka sat up suddenly in her bed. She was covered in sweat and her breathing was ragged. Time to give up on that thought of a decent night's sleep...
Maybe she could go find these worried friends of Anyanka's and see if there wasn't something more she could enlighten them with. She searched the top of the dresser in the dark, feeling for the scrap of paper the man had written his phone number and address on in case she remembered anything else she felt he should know.
Knowing she should probably call first but not particularly caring to be so considerate, she pulled on a pair of dark jeans and a leather top that revealed more skin than it covered and slunk out of the room, heading for her rusting heap of a car as it sat waiting for her approach. Her hair, she decided, was a hopeless cause and she just twisted it up and clipped it haphazardly behind her head as she dropped heavily into the driver's seat.
"Rupert Giles, here I come," she muttered, pulling the car out onto the darkened streets. "Hope you're up and ready for company."
Giles’ home was threatening to become a battleground, but not for a struggle between the forces of good and evil, the fight that was brewing was between concern and fear and the myriad of other emotions that were batting back and forth between the markedly unequally matched ‘armies’. Although Anya was alone in her quest to be left to deal with her problem by herself, she was proving to be a much more substantial opponent than anyone had expected. Not even the pleading of her anxious lover would sway her determination.
They were losing the battle, and they knew it.
Spike had retreated to his corner of the sofa, becoming an amused spectator as the rest of those assembled each tried to convince Anya to open up to them. He suspected they would be fruitless in their attempt, although Red’s girlfriend did show some hope of seeming to be on the right track when it came to dealing with the enigma that was the ex-vengeance demon.
Tara sat quietly next to Willow, watching as everyone nearly physically attacked Anya in their growing anxiety. The harder they pushed, the farther Anya pulled away. Tara could almost see the emotional barriers going up around the other woman, and she could feel her rising apprehension and desperate need to drop the topic. If they didn’t back off soon, Tara was worried that Anya would run away even farther than Spike’s crypt. Finding in Anya a glimmer of similarity with herself, she finally dared to speak up.
“Maybe we should listen to her,” she offered gently, meeting Anya’s relieved expression and seeing the hope that lay there, “I don’t know how I would feel about talking about all this if it happened to me, and maybe Anya knows what’s best for her right now. Maybe talking about it would only make it worse.”
“Yes!” Anya agreed wholeheartedly, “definitely yes. I do know what’s best, I am a thousand years old, after all. And what’s best is that you all go back to wishing I never came to Sunnydale, except Xander,” she turned sideways on the sofa to smile sweetly at him.
“No, I’m right. That’s what is best for everyone.” Her reply was interrupted by the doorbell.
“Who might that be,” Giles asked as he rose to greet whomever had the gall to show up at his house so late in the evening, muttering about how anyone who might do such a thing were already in his living room and showing no sign of leaving any time soon. “Except another ex-vengeance demon.”
Lisenka smiled brightly at him. “Oh good, you’re not asleep. And you have company,” she peered around him into the room, “lots of company.”
“Do come in…” Before he could complete his invitation, or even begin it for that matter, Lisenka brushed past him and into the room.
“That’s the nice thing about being human, or even being a vengeance demon as opposed to some other kinds of demons, you never had to be invited to be able to enter someone’s home,” she paused in her comment when her gaze swept the room coming to an abrupt halt when she spied a particular bleached head, “but you do… Okay, a slayer, a watcher, several other humans, and a big bad and extremely violent vampire? How did you ever manage to make such interesting friends? I am duly impressed, Anya.”
“Don’t be. Spike’s just being nice because he thinks he’s in love with Buffy,” Anya replied, not entirely surprised that Lisenka had added her presence to the assembled group.
“Stop saying that,” Buffy moaned, leaning back into the chair she had been perched on and rubbing her hands over her eyes in an attempt to wipe away the images and memories Anya’s simple and damningly true statement had brought to the surface. What was it with her and vampires anyway?
“Besides,” Anya continued, “Spike can’t hurt humans anymore.”
“Oh?” Lisenka’s eyes sparkled at the news and she elected to sit on the ottoman directly in front of the vampire. “Do tell, William, how can it be that the vampire who killed two slayers is now incapacitated?”
“Bleedin’ bunch of do gooders thought it would be a high old time if they put a little chip in William the Bloody’s brain. Don’t worry though, lovey, I’ll find a way to get it out one day. Then I can go back to feedin’ on humans and not on those little bags o’ blood I have to keep in the fridge.”
Buffy sat up again. “You know Spike?”
“Sure. There are people out there experimenting on demons?” Lisenka’s brow furrowed in concern over the remark. Experimentation was never a good thing, it always led to torture and death and similarly unpleasant things.
“Not anymore,” Buffy answered.
“Good. It must be quite a change of pace for you though, William dear.”
Spike lunged at the grinning woman only to fall back into the sofa, his hands clutching his head in response to the surge of pain he felt because of his foiled attack.
“That’s not very humane, if I do say so myself. Taking away a vampire’s main source of sustenance. Not very humane at all.” Lisenka shook her head sadly, trying to make sense of why anyone would want to torture another creature in such a way. Vampires she understood, various species of demons she understood, but humans she would never understand.
“So, I heard tale that you’ve been put out of the vengeance racket quite like our little Anya here. What’s it like, Lisenka, not being able to wander about and terrorize unsuspecting parents any longer? No more Lisenka as the patron saint and demon goddess of misused children; what a pity.”
“Watch it, William, you may not be able to attack me, but there’s no little chip in my brain that would prevent me from causing you harm. And you know as well as I do that those I exacted vengeance against may well have been unsuspecting but they were never undeserving.”
“Misused children?” Tara asked, interrupting the escalating verbal match Lisenka and Spike had begun.
“Aye, yeah, she used to go around tormenting folks who abused their kids. Had a whole score of little ones who thought she was their guardian angel or something.” Spike glared at Lisenka.
“Oh,” Tara replied softly, remembering Anya’s tales of how she had been offered her own position as a vengeance demon, “oh…” enlightenment dawned slowly, as the pieces of the puzzle began to fall neatly into place. Anya extracted vengeance on her old boyfriend and got D’Hoffryn’s attention and the position as patron saint of scorned women, if Lisenka was the patron saint of misused children… it could only mean one thing.
Shrugging off the changed looks of most of those that now focused solely on her, Lisenka returned to her friend. “So,” she began, “how are you?”
“I could be happier, more at peace with this summons and trial, if certain people would remain quiet. You have some explaining to do, Lisenka. You can’t just go around and tell people things I don’t want them to know. There are rules and expectations and… other stuff. Okay, so forget the rules, but there are still some things you just shouldn’t do. Like hurting humans just because they hurt someone else, that’s bad; and… and other things.” Anya looked around at the people she had come so accustomed to being with on a daily basis. “Being mortal sucks.”
Lisenka laughed, “That it does.”
“Vengeance is bad, and talking about it is bad too, even if it’s in the past. No one ever wants to hear about the things you did as a demon, even if the people who you did it to weren’t very nice to begin with. So you just don’t talk about it, not about any of it. Just like you don’t talk about other bad things,” Anya explained, suddenly sounding as if she were talking to a curious child instead of a grown woman who had long ago been forced to discover for herself the same things Anya spoke of.
“I know, and it isn’t always easy to remember that, is it? But, Anyanka, these things you friends want you to talk about aren’t bad things.”
Anya’s eyes grew round and Lisenka sucked in a breath, realizing too late her mistake. “They’re not bad like you’re saying,” she quickly amended. “Yes, they’re bad, but you didn’t cause them. You were the victim that time around, not the perpetrator of the evilness. It’s different. Anyanka, none of it was ever your fault, or my fault, or Kaimana or Sabra’s faults, or any of the rest. It wasn’t even Varinka’s fault although she crossed the line between vengeance and pure evil often enough. The blame lies solely at Jharahalien’s feet… and on his head. None of your friends blame you. Please tell me that you understand that much at least.”
“You and I still need to talk about your conversation with Giles and Buffy. Maybe I don’t follow all the rules that humans are supposed to follow, but even I wouldn’t have done that.” Anya wasn’t in the mood to listen to Lisenka’s pleading. She remembered all too well how convincing the woman could be when she was determined to get her way.
“Alright,” Lisenka allowed, “I just figured you would want our conversation to be a little more private…” she gestured around the room with a sweep of a bare tanned arm. “But if you’d prefer…”
Giles sat at the table, pouring over several grotesquely huge books and making neat notes on the paper he had pulled from his desk. Thanks to the open discussion at the onset of Lisenka’s visit, he at least had the name of the demon that Anya would be testifying against. He couldn’t be certain, but he did believe Lisenka had intentionally dropped the name at that time considering she had outright refused to do so earlier in the evening at her hotel. Whether Anya would believe it or not, Lisenka played by her own set of rules and dictates.
As far as he had discovered, Jharahalien was a very powerful demon in his own right. At least he supposed it was a he. It was difficult to tell based on Buffy’s retelling of the mixed genders of the group who had descended on the magic shop and the books own description. He was also a very old demon, older even than D’Hoffryn. What he was doing in D’Hoffryn’s realm, Giles could not determine from the books spread out in front of him.
“They’re still talking,” Buffy said in answer to Giles’ questioning expression when she walked into the room. “Anya looks none too happy but at least she’s talking to someone, right?”
“Yes, that is a marked improvement,” he admitted, removing his glasses to wipe a tired hand across his eyes.
“So, what cha find out about the big bad nasty?”
“Jharahalien is a Trothstar demon. Their existence, as far as anyone has been able to discover, may very well predate homo-sapiens. He is also very powerful, I would have imagined he would be more powerful than D’Hoffryn.”
“Then what’s up with the underling crony activity? What, he got bored with the whole ruling his own dimension shtick?” Buffy grabbed a chair and turned it around, dropping down into the seat and folding her arms across its back. “How long do we have until…”
“There are two days before the new moon.”
“I guess we’d better get hoppin’ then, if we’re gonna be able to help out at all.” She reached across the table and pulled a book toward her. “This is kinda weird, ya’ know.”
“Researching how to beat a demon in court instead of how to kill it. Kind of a nice change of pace.”
“It would be all the more pleasant if the well-being of someone we knew weren’t hinging on the outcome of the court case.” Giles slid his glasses back on and returned his attention to the book.
“Yeah,” Buffy sighed, flipping past the flyleaf of her book and wondering what would happen if they did, in fact, loose Anya.
Two days passed in frantic research and numerous phone calls. No matter who they spoke with or what ancient book they read, there seemed to be little hope of Anya’s exclusion from the trial. It didn’t help that the very existence of the Higher Council of the Order of Vengeance Demons was virtually unheard of. Even Spike, who had known something about it, hadn’t known much. In the end, Giles attempted to determine what harm could be brought to his very much mortal sales girl while she was in D’Hoffryn’s realm.
It was highly irregular for mortals to journey into demonic realms and when it did occur it often resulted in serious repercussions for the mortals themselves. Often anyone who attempted such a feat underwent physical harm, not so much from the demons in the realm, but from the environmental factors that had detrimental effects on the humans’ physical bodies.
The knowledge that Lisenka herself had, on several occasions apparently, returned to pay social calls once she had lost her amulet, was a hopeful sign of the outcome of all the witnesses. But the woman had also said that she never stayed long, and never for the length of time the trial would demand their attendance. She was as concerned as the rest of them.
Giles sat down heavily in one of the chairs in the magic shop, his mind reeling from too many days spent bent over dusty books and worrying about Anya. Anya continued her work at the counter, ringing up sales and trying to remember the meaningless but friendly things she was expected to say to their customers.
“Have a nice day!” she called cheerily, “come back soon with more money.” She turned back to the cash register, happily adding up the till’s current total. “If business keeps up, you’ll have enough money to give me a raise.”
Giles smiled. Some things would simply never change.
“Giles, I need to leave early today.”
He looked up at her, noting the seriousness of her eyes. “Alright, Anya. Might I inquire as to why? Unless it has to do with Xander, in which case you can merely say it’s of a personal nature.”
“I want to buy a new dress,” she answered. “Xander’s making me dinner tonight, before I have to… you know. And I wanted to buy a new dress to wear.”
“In which case, I say yes, you may leave early. As a matter of fact, why don’t you go shopping now? I’m sure I can carry on quite well for the remainder of the afternoon on my own. Relax and enjoy yourself.”
Anya silently twirled a pencil in her hand. “Okay.” Setting the pencil down, she retrieved her purse from beneath the counter and walked toward the door. “I really liked working here.”
Giles barely heard the whispered comment. Standing up, he approached Anya before she could open the door. “And I like having you work here, and I will again once this trial is over. You have a style all your own when it comes to customer service. You will come back to us, Anya. I refuse to accept anything less. And I will see you again this evening at the hellmouth, as will everyone else. You won’t have to go through this alone.”
“Thank you,” she said softly before she walked out the door Giles held open for her. He watched her walk down the sidewalk, stopping at a dress shop several doors away. He had not been exaggerating. He refused to believe that she would be lost forever in D’Hoffryn’s realm as a human. There had to be something he could do. If nothing else, he’d find a way to go there himself and bring her back.
In the mean time, there were a few more charms and protection spells he wanted to discuss with Tara and Willow. Every little bit would help, and if it didn’t, at least it wouldn’t hurt.
Anya stood in front of the bathroom mirror in Xander’s apartment. She smiled wanly at the thought: it hadn’t been purely Xander’s apartment for even a second since he’d signed to lease, there were more of her things in it that were at her own place, so many more that she often wondered why she continued to pay her rent each month rather than just moving the rest of her possessions in with Xander. She spent far more time away from her apartment than in it, it really was a waste of perfectly good money she could be saving for something quite interesting, investing and making it double, triple even if she were lucky and wise in her investments.
But with her future outlook was in such a confused and uncertain position, she supposed it didn’t matter how much money she saved, or wasted for that matter, the chances of her returning after the trial were far too slim.
She knew that Giles had tried to find some way to exclude her from the trial, some demonic court loophole, and when he couldn’t, had done everything he could to procure a means for her safe return, and although she had quite a bit of faith in the watcher’s abilities, she was afraid this was beyond anything any of them could manage. No matter how many protection spells they cast or amulets they devised, no matter the number of books they researched or the people they spoke to, she would be completely at the mercy of the realm once she passed through the portal.
She smiled again at the memory of the dinner Xander had prepared for her not an hour before. He had pulled out all the stops, filling the apartment with fresh flowers and candles and destroying the kitchen completely while he cooked. His manic activities around the stove had confused her at first, Xander never cooked; at least he didn’t cook three course meals. She almost asked what was wrong but he answered her before she could form the right words.
“I’ve just gotta do something, ya’ know?”
She stared at him, not understanding in the least, but willing to let him explain in his own time.
“I mean Giles and Buffy have been crackin’ the books and Will and Tara have been casting all sorts of spells and stuff… but me? All I can do is sit and wait and worry. I don’t know what I’d do without you in my life, Ahn. And to tell ya’ the truth, I don’t want to have to find out either.” He had leaned back against the counter and met her gaze, his eyes filled with the tears he refused to shed, the meal baking in the oven and filling the kitchen with savory scents temporarily forgotten.
Anya knew she should say something comforting, at least she thought that’s what people did in such circumstances, but no comforting words were forthcoming. She was as much distressed by that fact as she was about the trial.
“I love you, Anya. I don’t care what you did while you were a demon; I don’t care what was done to you either. Except for this really nasty desire to rip out the entrails of anyone who would even try to hurt you and shove ‘em down his fork-tongued throat. Nothing could ever change how I feel about you right now, in this instant, because nothing else matters. What I said to you before, about how you made me feel like a man? That doesn’t just go away. I love you, Anya,” he repeated.
“And I love you, Xander. You know that I do.”
“I just wish…” Xander stopped himself from saying aloud what would only upset Anya again. As much as he wanted to know what had happened to her, he couldn’t risk alienating her when he could quite possibly be losing her in just a few short hours. Anya looked down at the floor. She’d been doing a lot of that lately, she thought she would probably be able to describe, in graphic detail, the floor coverings of most of Sunnydale by this point. Sighing softly, she knew what she needed to do, what Xander needed her to do.
“You wish I would tell you about Jharahalien,” her voice was steady but hesitant.
Anya hoisted herself up onto the counter next to where Xander stood and folded her hands neatly in her lap, relishing the airy, cool material of the silk dress she had purchased that afternoon. She had bought it because she had never felt anything so light and smooth until after she had accepted D’Hoffryn’s offer. Silk was a big change from the homespun linen and wool she had woven and worn when she had first been human. She had bought the dress because she had desperately wanted to remember how much happier her life had become since those days so long ago. She was happier by far; she could never have imagined a world that accepted women as equals, or a man who could make her feel as wanted and needed and loved as Xander did.
“The first time I ever saw him I was in Ireland, only it wasn’t called that then, but that’s where I was. There was this girl who had been cheated on and I went to give her her wish. I was there a few days, trying to get her to open up and wish something on him when Jharahalien showed up. I didn’t realize he was a demon until later when I saw him with D’Hoffryn. He was just this pushy guy who kept trying to make me copulate with him and I figured I would be away from him once and for all when Siobhan finally decided on what she wanted to have happen to her old boyfriend. She did decide finally, and she was rather creative too, but once I got back to the realm, there he was.” Anya sighed and paused in her telling of the old story.
“It’s true that I didn’t know Lisenka was there then, I didn’t see her until a long time later. Once you’re a demon you don’t really think about the people you left behind. I did a few more wishes and he would bother me when I was back in the realm, but it was nothing big, I figured he was one of those all-talk-no-action types, but then Jharahalien showed up in Bremen.”
“I had been there a month trying to get this girl to talk, she was really hard to get to know, I don’t even know how she ever managed to get married to begin with unless it was one of those arranged things, but one day while I was walking down this street trying to keep from tripping over the cobblestones, they were really poorly laid out and there were these big ruts and missing stones and…” Anya paused again, realizing she was getting off track in her story. “He stepped out right in front of me. I ran into him and ended up falling down into the mud. When I looked up to see what had happened, I couldn’t believe he was back.”
Xander watched her in amazement, not wanting to breathe lest it disturb her from what she was saying. He knew it couldn’t be easy for her to relate and he reached out to place one hand over her folded ones. He was relieved to see her tilt her head slightly and offer him a tiny smile.
Taking a deep breath, she hurriedly described the events that followed, her words tripping over one another in her haste to be done with what she had started. She told him of the curious look in Jharahalien’s eyes and how she hadn’t understood it at the time. She told of how he had grabbed her from where she had fallen and pulled her into an inn and up into one of the rooms upstairs, how she had finally realized his intent and had tried to scream and fight back and chant the incantation that would return her to the relative safety of D’Hoffryn, all to no avail. How she had begged him to leave her alone, to not do what she knew he intended. How she had offered him things she knew she couldn’t give, doing anything to try to appease his building lustful desires.
She told him that by the time he had left her alone in the room, cowering against the straw mattress and pulling the rough sheet across her naked body, she was so distressed, so utterly devastated, that she could barely regulate her breathing through her choking sobs. Never had she been so completely violated, not even when she was a child living on the very outskirts of civilization in the little, and often raided, village her parents had brought her into the world in.
She told how the barmaid had found her there, still crying, long hours later and how she had tried to offer her some comfort. How the woman had suggested she find a man to marry so that she might be protected the next time something similar happened. She also told of how she had gone straight to the woman she had been sent to help and had demanded to know what she wanted done to her husband. How she had left that same afternoon with the scent of burning flesh still in her nose.
“That wasn’t the last time I saw Jharahalien, it wasn’t even the only time he attacked me. He’d just show up sometimes when I was trying to help one woman or another and…” she trailed off. “I tried to tell D’Hoffryn what was going on but he and Jharahalien were too close, he wouldn’t listen to my complaints.”
“I found out a little while later that Lisenka was also a vengeance demon. It was strange to have someone I knew from when I was a human there in D’Hoffryn’s realm with me. I didn’t find out about her own problems with Jharahalien until much later.”
“I’d avoid him when I could and try to ignore him when I couldn’t. Any time I saw him I would just turn around and leave. Lisenka was with me once when I saw him and when she acted the same way, I understood why. I asked her anyway and she told me about the others too. That’s when she decided to make an official complaint to the Council. D’Hoffryn wouldn’t help so she said we needed to go over his head. I told her it still wouldn’t do any good but she wanted to try anyway and said that it couldn’t hurt…” “I guess she was wrong.” She stopped speaking, her shallow panicked breathing reverberating off the kitchen tiles.
Xander stood in shock, watching the tears trail down Anya’s cheeks, dropping darkly on the pale blue of her dress. How she could ever think he would think any less of her for the story she had related, he didn’t know. It only made him want to protect her more, to wrap his arms around her and promise to keep her safe from any more harm.
He had known, in theory, what Anya had, in a manner of speaking, lived through but hearing the specifics made it all that much more unbearable. Pushing aside his own raging emotions, he moved forward to wrap his arms around her waist, standing between her legs that dangled motionlessly from the counter’s edge. She shuddered involuntarily in his embrace and he tightened his hold on her, burying his face in her hair as she pressed her face into his shoulder.
Helping her deal with the past and its horrors would have been difficult enough, but now that her very life was threatened as well, he didn’t know how she could function at all, he knew he wasn’t doing a very good job of it.
“Oh, Ahn,” he breathed into her hair.
“Just hold me now. Okay? Just hold me.”
“Not a problem, not planning on letting you go until I have to.”
Staring at her reflection in the mirror, she smiled back on Xander’s reaction. She ought to have known how he would feel, but she had felt so uneasy about the whole thing and was afraid he would react badly to her telling him about it, to the fact that she had kept it from him for so long. It was hard to know what parts of her past life she was supposed to tell and which she was expected to keep to herself.
Xander had sworn to protect her and although she knew he had no way of doing it, hearing the words still made her feel a little bit better. Dragging the brush through her hair one last time she turned away and walked out to meet Xander where he stood waiting for her by the bathroom door.
They stood nervously near the spot Giles had determined the portal would open, eight very worried mortals trying to mentally prepare for a trip back into the demon realm they had all once known so well. A bit behind them stood Anya’s makeshift group of friends, minus Spike who had mysteriously disappeared that afternoon. After being around him for three days, his absence was blatantly noticeable.
“Do we know exactly when…”
Giles turned toward Buffy and shook his head. “No, although one would assume it would be soon.”
Buffy stared intently at Anya and the rest. “It makes it harder, the not knowing exactly when. Did you give her that protection amulet Willow and Tara whipped up this morning?”
“Yes, yes, I did. She is quite appreciative of everyone’s concern. But…” Buffy smiled sadly. “Yeah, I know. She doesn’t know how to tell us. Honestly? It’s probably more of a shock to her than this whole trial, the way we all banded together to try to help.”
“Hey, demon girl!”
Anya, as well as everyone else who was gathered, spun around to see Spike loping up to them.
He passed through the small crowd and stopped at Anya’s side. “Thought I was going to miss out on all the fun, did you? Not a chance, bobbit. I just had to pay a call on an old friend of mine.” He reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a woven strip of something that resembled hemp and tiny glass beads. Reaching for Anya’s wrist, he fastened it on securely. “He said that it should help you there… if all your other trinkets fail.” Spike smirked and flicked his nails across the amulets Anya had been nearly cloaked in.
“Thank you?” unsure of Spike’s intentions, Anya’s voice wavered slightly.
“Yes, thanks would be appropriate, pet.” He lightly tapped a single black lacquered nail against her temple and dropped his head to look into her eyes. “Just make sure this doesn’t get scrambled and turned to mush and you should be alright. You can’t just leave the boy moping about without coming back to ‘im. I might just have to kill him then, bleedin’ pain or not.” He dipped his hand back into his pocket before turning to face Lisenka.
“Now, dearie, I know we’ve always had our differences, but it would be quite a boring world indeed without you in it.” He tied a similar bracelet around the woman’s tiny wrist. “Besides, who would I have to argue with about the finer points of vengeance once I do finally get this chip out o’ my head?” Patting her hand awkwardly, he added, “be careful, all of you.”
Handing Anya a fistful of bracelets, he added, “For the rest.” Then he was gone, walking back the way he had come.
“So which demon did you off to get those?” Buffy asked when Spike started to stride past her, looking for somewhere to sit and observe.
“Just called in a few favors.”
Buffy watched him move off apart from the group and looked up at Giles. “I’m never going to understand him, am I?”
“It would seem unlikely,” the watcher admitted.
The air around them grew thick with energy, ceasing any conversation, and focusing all eyes on a faint swirling light just a few yards away. Xander stepped closer to Anya, reaching out to take her hand in his own.
“You’re coming back, Ahn. Otherwise, D’Hoffryn’s gonna have to deal with the scoobies tearin’ through looking for you.”
Anya lifted her face to his, leaning forward to crush his lips in a desperately needful kiss, before she pulled away and walked toward the growing whorl of colored light that marked the portal. She looked back over her shoulder for one last look, a tremulous smile on her lips, before she followed Lisenka into the brightening lights.
A fraction of a second later and the portal was gone, Anya’s last spoken words dancing in the dying winds.
“I’ll miss you…”
“Anya!” Xander’s cry rung hollowly in the dark moonless night.
It had been three and a half weeks; exactly twenty-five days since Anya, Lisenka, and the others had walked through the portal to appear at the trial they had been called to give testimony for. Twenty-five days of waiting, worrying, hoping, and frantically trying not to think about how Anya might not be coming back, how none of them might be coming back. Trying not to think about how they might never again hear her half muttered but lengthy dissertations on how stupid mortality, and by direct association mortals themselves, was or listen in disgusted silence as she mentioned various men and precisely what she had done to them in the name of vengeance.
After she’d been gone for two days, the letters had arrived; letters she had written and apparently mailed the day of the new moon. She had remembered to include everyone in her letter writing venture, not leaving out a single individual who had touched her contemporary human life, from Xander to Joyce, and even Spike, although she had ended up mailing his letter to Giles with a request that it manage to somehow get to him. Crypts, it appeared, didn’t have mail slots or even addresses, something Anya thought was stupid and she had told Giles precisely that in the same paragraph in which she had asked him to make certain of the delivery.
Giles had even received a phone call from a highly irritated Cordelia demanding that he explain to her why Anya had mailed her a letter and not just e-mailed or called or done something else less formal and more normal. Once Giles had explained the circumstances surrounding the girl’s departure, Cordelia had quickly ended the call, uncharacteristically walking out of the office in silence to read the missive in the peace of her apartment, leaving in her wake a mystified Wesley, Gunn, and Angel. Anya had forgotten no one.
Giles had been amused to discover that she wrote in the same manner in which she spoke. Although his own letter had indeed been broken down into paragraphs, he found his mind reeling in order to make sense out of the, more often than not, disjointed thoughts and phrases.
The letters had been filled with typical Anya ramblings and half-told stories. But within the strangely precise word choices and oddly phrased comments, she had managed to effectively describe each person’s affect on her human life. On the whole, the letters were very much un-Anya like, but then again, the days preceding her departure had been a new experience for them all, with the exception of Cordelia, but the note she received made up for her lacking most of the experience.
After twenty-three days, Xander had long since memorized what she had written to him and kept the three neatly penned sheets of feminine stationery folded in his wallet and tucked beneath a picture of his missing girlfriend. Although he knew the words by heart and recited them at odd moments during his workday, he still unfolded the letter every night and reread what she had written to him, cursing the demon that had managed to continue tormenting her even after mortality had been thrust back on her, and praying for her safe return.
“We’ve got to do something.”
Buffy looked up from her workout to see Willow standing near the fighting dummy Xander had made for her to train with. Relaxing her stance and grabbing a bottle of water, she cut short the mind numbing exercise and approached her friend. “I know, Will, but we’re doing everything we can. Giles is even talking about flying to England to see if can’t get something out of the Council of Watchers. Unless we can figure a way to reopen the portal from this side…”
“No, that’s not what I meant. I mean, yes, we do need to do something about that too, but I was thinking more of doing something right now about Xander. I’ve never seen him like this, Buffy, and I’ve known him forever. Or if you prefer it in Anya-eze: ‘since we were squalling infants’.” Willow leaned against the dummy briefly before remembering it wasn’t stationary. Regaining her balance before she went sprawling across the mat, she smiled sheepishly at Buffy.
“He is pretty much a walking ad for Prozac,” she admitted. “I don’t know what to do though, ya’ know. I mean, you can’t tell him he’s better off without her because she didn’t dump him, you can’t say that it’ll all be okay and she’ll be back because we don’t know if she can come back or that she’s even okay where she is. Hallmark needs to expand and create a line of sympathy cards for when your friend’s girlfriend is locked in a demonic realm, I think there might be a market for that sort of thing.”
“At least here in Sunnydale,” Willow mused before lapsing back into the depression that had been nagging at her. “I just feel so helpless,” she moaned. “I need to feel like I’m helping.”
Buffy considered her friend for a minute. “Well then, how ‘bout we drag him out to the Bronze tonight? I could use a night away from reality myself. You, me, Tara, and Xander. It’ll be just like old times except with Tara and without Anya. I know, Tara can be our Anya substitute. Maybe you could quiz her on all the spells that do bad things to men. It could be almost like we had Anya back.”
“I want to help Xander, Buffy, not give him my girlfriend. But, hey, we could invite Spike.”
Buffy cut her eyes at Willow. “Why would we do that?”
“Because he’s depressed too,” Willow answered, scrunching her forehead in an attempt to relay her own questionable ideas of how the vampire was handling the situation. “I mean, think about it, he hasn’t been around ever since Anya left, not even to prove to you that he’s busy reforming his evil blood-sucking ways.”
“Yeah, he has been pretty lacking lately, but I don’t know that that’s such a bad thing, Will.”
“Oh, come on, Buffy. I mean, sure he’s scary, and it’s pretty weird with the whole ‘slayer killer in love with the slayer’ thing, but let’s invite him too. He could liven things up.” Willow paused after making that suggestion. Did she really want Spike around to liven things up? Maybe inviting him was a bad idea after all.
“That’s what I want…” Willow’s forced cheerfulness was too hard to ignore and Buffy finally smiled her agreement. “Okay, but I promise you, Will, if he tries to hit on me again, you’re gonna have to answer to the slayer for insisting that we invite him to begin with.”
Anya, exhausted and not a little peeved, sat down against the rough wall of her optimistically named guest quarters. As disgusted as she was, she knew better than to complain, they could have quite simply chained her up to the courtroom’s outer walls like they did most trial witnesses. She hadn’t seen any of the others since they’d first arrived, she didn’t even know how long ago that was but it felt like an eternity. The trial seemed to be dragging on interminably, she only hoped it would be over with before Xander was old enough to draw his retirement check.
Beyond the dank and musty walls of her chamber she could hear the muted sounds that served as a reminder of another life, a life spent terrorizing men, a life where she had clean clothes, or at least if she didn’t, she hadn’t cared…
When she got back to Sunnydale the first thing she was going to do was take a long hot shower, no, first she’d go find Xander, no, she smelled and her clothes were full of dirt and grime and probably little crawling things she couldn’t see, a shower would definitely come first, maybe she could take a shower with Xander… That was perfect, she’d get to be clean and see Xander at the same time, perfect!
At the sound of the door’s creaking hinges, she jerked up to stand unsteadily on her feet. She’d only had one visitor since her arrival; at that time D’Hoffryn had walked into the room and sneered at her, asking her how she liked her newfound mortality. She knew she had surprised him when she asked how long the trial would be and when she could expect to return home. He had received his answer in those questions and had swept out of the room, closing the door solidly behind him, and neglecting to provide her with any answers.
Weak from the lack of an appropriate diet, and tired from lack of sleep, Anya watched the door warily. She wasn’t sure of the specifics of the court’s rules, but she was pretty sure that her visitors weren’t restricted in any way. Anyone who wanted to could come to see her and that generally wasn’t a problem for witnesses who were chained to a wall in plain sight of most of the realm…
The face that appeared in the dim light was one she had hoped never to see again.
“Anyanka, I’m flattered that you remember me after all this time. Don’t tell me you thought you were rid of me just because you were mortal again.” The much taller demon raised gray spine-covered hands toward the low slimy ceiling. “How anyone could give this up is quite beyond me, I must say.” He lowered his hands and leered menacingly at her, his red and yellow eyes filled with dark promise. “But then again, you didn’t precisely give it up voluntarily did you? That watcher, that mortal, destroyed your amulet and trapped you there in the process. Poor, poor Anyanka. I heard that you even appealed to D’Hoffryn to return your powers and allow you to become a vengeance demon again. Tisk, tisk, darling, begging doesn’t suit you one bit, at least not begging to D’Hoffryn.”
Anya failed to control the shudder of disgust that raced down her spine, jerking her head away to face the far wall. She was trapped in the room, unable to leave with Jharahalien standing between her and the door and unsure of where she would be able to go even if she could get past him. There were no safe zones in the realm for her any longer, as she had suspected before leaving Sunnydale, she was at the mercy of the realm and all of its inhabitants. She was too weak to stand up without swaying as it was, how was she supposed to fend of a demonic attack.
“Have you spent so much time among humans that my true appearance disturbs you, my dear?” The demon morphed into the human form Anya had first known him as, disturbing her all the more, advancing on her slowly and determinedly. “D’Hoffryn told me that you summoned him and requested, nay, demanded, your power back. That you complained about the children you were forced to associate with and the very fact that you were nothing more than a child yourself and were unable to even succeed as such. How I do wish I were there to hear you’re piddling complaints… We’ve so much to catch up on, Anyanka.”
Just as Jharahalien had closed the distance between Anya and himself, the door flew open behind him, its squealing disapproval echoing throughout the room.
"Anyanka, you’re up next!" Lisenka grinned from the doorway, enjoying the furious gaze from the demon who had been interrupted. "Sorry, Jharahalien, but the court doesn’t like to be kept waiting. I can’t tell you just how sorry I am to keep interrupting you the way I seem to have been doing lately."
Anya skirted around him and hurried to Lisenka. "Where have you been?" she demanded in a strained whisper once they were out of the room.
"Sorry, I’ve been busy keeping tabs on both Jharahalien and D’Hoffryn, and that, my dear, has not been exactly easy. You’re not the first one Jharahalien’s visited before their testimony. I don’t think he likes to be the one who’s being harassed. I would have come sooner but I've been having troubles of my own with some of the demons who aren't all that happy with the idea of the trial."
They walked slowly through the dark hallway, their heavy footsteps ringing in the corridor. Sheer will power was all that stood between either one of them and the stone floor that would break their fall if they were to collapse. Neither hesitated when the passage split into a fork and they followed the left branch, growing ever closer to the distant courtroom.
"Why are you able to wander around when I was locked in that room?" Anya asked. "Have you had anything passable to eat? I think my stomach has begun to digest itself."
"I don't know and no. Guess that’s the benefit to knowing the realm as a mortal, they’re used to me roaming about and didn’t feel the need to lock me up. I used to drop in occasionally and check up on the others. I’ve been back maybe... a dozen or more times since I became mortal."
"Once I made it into high school as a mortal I started researching inter-dimensional portals and transmogrification spells, not that I wanted to transmogrify myself mind you, I just thought it might be handy if I ever saw Jharahalien again. It wasn’t, as I found out, but I sure do know a lot about ‘em now. And in answer to the second question, D'Hoffryn wasn't really planning on feeding us at all, I guess we should be grateful for what we did get in the way of food."
Anya scowled at the uneven floor, being careful not to trip and pushing aside all thoughts of the other treacherous paving stones that had once led her right into Jharahalien's trap. "You can be grateful for pulverized beetles, I'm not."
They turned another corner and came to a dead stop in front of a heavy pair of scarred wooden doors. Taking a deep breath of heavily smoke and sulfur scented air, Anya took an unsteady step forward.
"Don’t worry," Lisenka reassured her. "I can’t be in there because of their archaic rules but I’ll wait for you right here outside the doors. And remember, everyone else walked out of there of their own volition. There’s no reason to expect anything other than that for yourself. It’ll be okay and we’ll both be able to go home soon."
Lisenka smiled at Anya's curious expression. "Everyone else has been allowed to return as soon as they finished testifying, I chose to stay until you were done with your own testimony so that I could keep an eye on Jharahalien; it looks like it was a good thing I did too."
She reached out and hugged Anya briefly before physically turning her back toward the doors and giving her a gentle shove in their direction. "Now go in there and get this over with. I have a feeling if you’re not home soon, your friends are going to figure out a way to make an appearance here and we really don’t want to piss off D’Hoffryn any more than we already have."
Anya paused, her hand hovering over the door pull. "Lisenka?"
"When you think about home, what is it you remember?"
"Home?" Anya’s friend smiled sadly. "I used to see our village with the fields and all those stupid noisy sheep. I guess after a while though I began to see the home I had made for myself. Now I think of my apartment and the sweet family that lives next door and always invites me over for Sunday dinner. Every so often though, I wonder what it would have been like to have grown old in that village. But then I remember who it was I was my father betrothed me to and I know that never would have happened, I would have died before the year was out."
"I just see Xander."
Lisenka grinned. "Then let’s get this over with so you can go home to him."
The band was loud and had drawn a large crowd by the time Willow and Tara drug Xander into the Bronze. He had tried repeatedly to get out of the outing, claiming everything from illness to homicidal tendencies but they hadn’t been dissuaded. He didn’t want to be anywhere where there were so many people, especially anywhere that had the slightest likelihood of reminding him of Anya.
But when he had shown up at the Magic Box to continue researching for a spell to get them to Anya, or to get Anya to them, Giles had backed up the rest of the group’s decision that he, Xander, needed to get out and be among people at least for one night. It had taken Willow, Tara, and Giles’ combined strength to force him outside and to Giles’ waiting car, which had been willing lent for the occasion.
"Try to relax a bit, Xander, I will continue our search and relay to you in the morning what I'm able to find tonight," Giles had urged. "Besides, you know Anya wouldn’t want you to go on in such a state. Just think what she’ll say when she comes back."
That had gotten him into the car, albeit not happily, but more or less resigned to his fate.
"Live band," Willow shouted over the music. "Do you think that means they’re actually alive? Because, ya’ know, they kinda remind me a lot of Spike."
Tara smiled at the comment and glanced at Xander who was staring listlessly at the performers. She shrugged her shoulders and nudged him. "You want me to get you something to drink?"
"Already covered," announced the peroxide vamp himself, dropping a handful of bottles onto the table, "care of Sunnyhell’s favorite citizen. And I resent the comparison, Red. Those blokes don’t look like me at all. I could always go up and wallop one of them though, just to be sure."
"Down, Spike," Buffy demanded with a glare and a grimace, sinking into the seat next to Willow. "Hey, Xand. I’m glad you could make it."
"I didn’t think I had much of a choice."
Buffy looked to Willow who just sighed. This was going to be a very long night. "Well, we have beer... and sodas," she added for Willow and Tara’s benefit. "Free drinks are always cause for celebration and tonight’s excursion into pleasure-ville has been made possible by none other than the Magic Box, your one stop shop for all your occult needs."
Spike read the label on his bottle before taking a long swallow. "There went Pet’s raise."
Willow’s glare silenced him before he made any more obvious references to Anya. Thankfully, Spike’s casual mention had gone unnoticed by Xander who turned his own bottle around in his hands.
"You realize this is quite possibly the worst way to handle the problem, don’t you?" Spike leaned back against his seat and studied the group who hunched over their drinks.
"Spike," Buffy warned.
"No, I’ll not shut up. You invited me here, for what reason I’ve yet to decide, and now you want to lollygag about and pretend that everything’s peachy. Well, everything isn’t peachy. Have you been into the magic shop as of late, Slayer? It looks like a bloody nest of vamps has taken up residence in the place. You three can’t even say the girl’s name out loud. The boy is in a brood so deep he doesn’t even notice when he’s in danger, and all you can think of is to get him out after dark an’ liquor ‘im up? Like it or not the former demon of vengeance has made quite an impression on all of your lives and now that she’s gone you don’t know your heads from your..."
"I thought we were doin’ okay," Willow countered before he could complete his thought, drawing her eyebrows together to peer at Buffy, "didn’t you?"
"Hate to say it but walking dead guy here does have a point, Will. Have you seen Giles’ receipts lately? I’m beginning to believe what Anya said about that tax thing, and the storeroom's a complete wreck. And we did have to stake those two vamps that thought they’d have Xand for a midnight snack the other night. He never even saw them coming. But... ha! See, I just said her name out loud so I guess that part wasn’t right."
Spike shook his head in exasperation while Willow mulled over what Buffy had said.
After a long pause that was filled with the ever-increasing volume of the featured musical talent, Willow nodded, muttering, "I just didn’t want to upset Xander."
"Bleedin’ brilliant, Red. Why don’t we all just ignore the notion that little Anya’s off havin’ what probably isn’t a gay old time, and play as if everything were the norm."
Tara leaned forward. "We did give her all of those amulets. Maybe one of them worked... I hope..." She dropped her head. "But it has been a really long time."
"Spike’s right!" Buffy declared, looking just as amazed at her words as Spike and Willow did. She reached over the table to tap Xander’s shoulder.
His attention appeared to be riveted on the band but his eyes weren’t quite focused. No, Xander hadn’t been handling Anya’s departure well at all and Buffy only just realized how much she’d been neglecting her duty as friend. Sure, she had fended off the vamps who were going to attack him and she worried about him constantly, but she hadn't really tried to get him to open up. Maybe getting things out in the open would make it a little more bearable.
"Come on, Xander, I’ve got an idea."
Spike had been impressed, Tara curious, Willow unsure, and Xander down-right distressed by Buffy’s decision to go back to his apartment. She had initially thought to drag everyone to Anya’s place but without the ex-demon there to invite Spike in... Xander’s was the next best thing. Besides, most of Anya’s things at Xander’s apartment anyway. And she didn't want to deal with the possibility of Spike's possible ability to enter Anya's apartment with the only explanation being that she was dead.
Walking into the living room, Buffy turned toward the phone. "Mind if I make a call?"
At the negative shake of Xander’s head, she lifted the receiver from its cradle and patiently waited for the ringing to stop. "Hey, Giles. We’re at Xanders’. Thought we’d do a little traipsing down memory lane. You know, sit around and commiserate over the missing Scooby from our midst. You wanna wallow too? I betcha there are plenty of Magic Box Anya stories we haven’t heard yet... Yeah, well Spike said something that made it seem like the right thing to do... Yeah, Spike. Things just keep getting’ weirder ‘n weirder... Cool then, see ya’ in a few."
Replacing the phone she spun to face the group that stood behind her. "He’ll be here as soon as he closes up shop."
"Hey," Willow perked up, "you have our senior year book, don’t you? I can’t wait to see what Anya wrote in it..."
Lisenka sat on the floor just outside the courtroom, leaning against the rough stone wall and waiting for Anya to reappear. It was hard to judge but it seemed as if the others' testimonies hadn't taken so long. Worry gnawed at her while she chewed thoughtfully on her bottom lip.
She had already tried listening at the door, but it was too thick to hear anything through and she had to abandon her attempt. She wished she had been allowed inside. Not knowing what was going on was driving her slowly insane, and after spending nearly a month in the realm she was already dangerously close to the brink as it was.
The loud groan of the door opening drew her attention and she raised her head in anticipation of seeing Anya cross the threshold. What she did see stopped her heart.
Jharahalien stood before her, towering over her as she remained seated on the floor.
"What are you doing? You're not allowed to be in the courtroom during testimony," Lisenka insisted, trying to quell her rising panic.
He cocked his head, the gray spines that covered his arms and scalp quivering slightly with his amusement. "Lisenka, the court wishes to have a word with you."
She froze. How she could have been so naive as to file the petition at all eluded her. She had very likely signed her own death warrant as well as that of her oldest acquaintance. "Where's Anyanka?"
He smiled, red teeth glistening in the dim light. "Anyanka's waiting for you, Lisenka."
Pushing herself up from the floor, she tried to slip past Jharahalien without coming in contact with the demon. She knew she had been unsuccessful when she felt his cold clawed hand grip her forearm, causing her to stop moving forward.
"I told you I would win, Lisenka. A group of mortals could never stand a chance against the great and mighty Jharahalien, even in court. And now, for all you've put me through, I'll have my revenge."
Summoning up what courage she could, Lisenka stared straight ahead and squared her shoulders. "You were a god once, Jharahalien, the hell-gods stole that from you. If it kills me, I'll see that you'll no longer be a demon."
His laughter filled the antechamber. "Oh, you'll die, Lisenka, but you'll die by my hand and according to my terms."
Spike held his cards in a tight fist, his face impassive as he watched the others at the table. Poker hadn't changed much over the decades. The stakes of the game had been altered a bit, but not the game itself.
"I'll see your Scythian blade and raise you a transmogrification conduit."
Spike slowly exhaled. He'd been involved in the game ever since he left Buffy and her friends at Xander's apartment while they tried to retell every stupid anecdote they knew about Anya. He'd taken all he could of the giddily gloomy quartet and walked out in the middle of their little game of let's-make-believe-everything's-normal-and-we're-not-suffering-from-losing-Anya.
Stumbling across the poker game had been a pure stroke of luck. And finding out that one of the players had a vengeance amulet in his stash was all that was needed to convince him to ante up.
So far he'd won a glowing green crystal, two fertility idols, a Bavarian fighting axe, and even a bit of cash. The crystal, the axe, and the idols he had figured he could sell to the watcher in exchange for more cash, so everyone was having a good night. If he could just raise the stakes enough to get the Shylok demon to add his coveted vengeance amulet to the mix, he'd be even more pleased with the turn of events.
He watched as the bet went around the players again and the pile of goods on the battered table grew: five Scythian blades, two transmogrification conduits, another glowing crystal, an autographed picture of Marilyn Monroe, sixty-seven dollars, one corn dolly, and three Irish protection amulets said to have been blessed by Brighid herself.
Finally the bet returned to the Shylok. "One wish amulet I pulled off a dead vengeance demon back during the Crusades." He dropped the chained trinket on top of the pile and all hands folded but Spike. "Not too rich for you, boy?" the demon asked, barely concealing a chuckle. "They said you were loosin' it since you got taken in by the Initiative, I just never believed it. I guess the rumors are true."
"Let's see your hand, pally," Spike intoned, laying his cards down on the table to display a royal flush.
The Shylok roared with laughter, dropping his own hand. "All I've got is two pair, neut. It's your hand."
Spike reached out a pocketed the amulet and the cash, gathering up the rest of his winnings into a canvass sack he'd seen lying on the floor. "Been a joy, mates, but I've got matters to attend to."
"Sure, Spike, whatever you say," the good-natured demon chuckled. "Another game's set for next Friday. You won't be so lucky then."
Spike paused at the door and turned back toward the table. "We'll see."
"What's going on?" Lisenka demanded. When she'd entered the courtroom, it was empty, there was no sign of Anyanka or any of the consulates. "Where is she? What did you do to her?"
Jharahalien stepped up behind her, his breath stirring her hair and sending chills down her spine. "Not so much fun being in the dark is it? That's what I thought when I heard about this ridiculous trial you concocted. You see, I knew you wouldn't leave the realm without Anyanka, I knew you felt responsible for her being called back. And you're right, you are responsible. I arranged it so that she would be the last witness called, so that I could have you both to myself once and for all."
She spun around, fear clenching at her heart. "Fine, I'm responsible, so take out your revenge on me. Let Anyanka return to her mortal world. I'll stay and you can do whatever you wish to me."
Jharahalien grinned. "No. You do not get your way in all things, Lisenka. I want you both. You because this blasphemy was your doing, and Anyanka because... because she's Anyanka, D’Hoffryn’s favored demon."
"Please, Jharahalien... She’s not even a demon any more."
"Ah, begging does so suit you, Lisenka. You're not like Anyanka in that aspect, not at all." He lightly drew his sharp claws along her jaw line, relishing the tremble his touch elicited. "Oh yes, this will be quite enjoyable."
Spike walked along the sidewalk, following the path to the watcher's home by memory while he mulled over the events of the past month. The chit had gotten to him, he couldn't even pretend to deny it. With all her kewpie-doll expressions and bluntly unedited comments, she'd somehow wedged herself into his life. Not to the same extent that she had managed with the Scoobies, but she was there nonetheless and he couldn't deny that the longer she stayed away, the more concerned he grew.
Turning the corner onto Giles' street, he saw the lights still on in the watcher's home. At least he wouldn't have to rouse the man from sleep by banging on the door.
Giles jerked awake at the sound of someone loudly wanting admission into his home. He'd fallen asleep at the kitchen table, a dozen texts spread across the surface. Who it could be at his front door so late at night, he could only guess.
The vampire's peroxided head bobbed at the incredulous expression on Giles' face. "And you were expecting who exactly? The goddess Iseult? A selkie perhaps?"
"Spike, it's late. Perhaps you could come back tomorrow..."
"I've got something you might want to see tonight, old man." He brushed past Giles and swept the books from the tabletop with one hand.
"Spike! Those texts are..." Giles stopped his complaint when Spike dropped the amulet on the bare wooden surface. "Good lord, where did you get that?"
"Not from your 'good Lord', I'll have you know." Scoffing at Giles' answering glare, he explained, "It came up in the pot at a poker game I was in with a Shylok. Thought you might find the trinket useful in getting demon-girl back."
"A wish amulet..." Giles trailed off. "I thought they had all been destroyed, or were still in use."
"Seems not," Spike answered. "Now can it help get the girl or did I waste my time playing cards all night for nothing more than an ugly old pendant?"
"I need to conduct some more research, but yes, it should be able to open the portal." Giles reached out and lifted the chain that held the amulet. There were some books at the shop that should have the answers he needed.
"What do you mean, do more research? Isn't that what you've bloody well been doing?"
Taking exception to the vampire's tone, Giles straightened up. "Yes, Spike, it is. However, since I was under the impression that there were no surviving wish amulets save the ones currently in use by vengeance demons, I did not wish to waste time researching their individual properties. Now that I see I was given false information, I can remedy my lack of knowledge."
"Just see if it'll work or not. I can't imagine Pet'll be too upset to cut her visit short."
It was dark, so dark that Anya couldn't see her hand in front of her face, couldn't even be sure that she was holding it in front of her face until she bumped her nose with her gritty palm.
The trial was over, thrown out for lack of substantial evidence or something demonically equivalent to that. She had watched the consulate file out of the courtroom in silence. She had been right after all; the whole ordeal was just a waste of time, a very dangerous waste of time.
She didn't know exactly what had happened after the consulate had left. She had turned around to leave and suddenly everything went black. Judging from the throbbing knot on the back of her head, she imagined she'd been knocked unconscious, but that didn't make much sense. Violent force was a bit of an over-kill when she could barely stand up straight without swaying.
Jharahalien, she decided, had to be responsible for her confinement, he was the only demon in the realm who would use force when none was needed. Her worst nightmare come back to haunt her. The only thing that could possibly make her situation any worse would be if the room she was in were to suddenly fill with rabbits.
No one understood her fear of rabbits. They'd never asked and she'd never volunteered the information. That fear was one of the few things she had carried with her from her first experience with mortality.
She'd only been a child when she had stumbled across the boys from the neighboring cottage while they skinned the rabbits they had raised for fur. The boys had always been cruel, tormenting children and animals alike with their antics and when they saw her they knew they could indulge in their cruelty.
She had tried to leave before she was detected but she wasn't quick enough. They'd picked up her small body and tossed her into the wooden trench they'd been using to hold the skinned rabbits, laughing as she screamed and tried to scramble out of the blood-slick trough. It hadn't been until she was in the trough that she realized they weren't killing the rabbits before they skinned them.
She'd had nightmares for weeks afterward. At first the rabbits in her dreams were all skinned, attacking her with their sharp teeth and claws, but as she grew older, the dream rabbits regained their fur but still attacked her relentlessly.
She knew that it wasn't the rabbits that she had truly been afraid of, it was the boys who delighted in causing so much torment. But as a child, she knew she could never fight back against them. No one complained about their actions, they just avoided them, and so her young mind had transferred her fear to the rabbits.
The eldest and cruelest of those boys was the same man Lisenka's father had betrothed her to. Anya shuddered. Lisenka was correct, she never would have survived a year as his wife.
Giles was deep into his handwritten notes and moldering tomes when Buffy made an appearance the next afternoon. After knocking on his front door for several minutes, she tried peering in through the window and saw her watcher sitting at his kitchen table absorbed in his research.
She was hesitant about disturbing him. He had been spending every spare moment searching for a way to get Anya back from the demon realm she had been taken to and he hadn’t made much progress despite his resolve to help the girl. Buffy hadn’t realized how much the former demon meant to Giles, but then again they had been spending a lot of time in one another’s company ever since Anya had taken the job at The Magic Box. She just wished there was something she could do to help.
She tried the doorknob and was slightly surprised to find it unlocked.
He was startled by the sound of her voice, his head jerking back toward the front door as he inadvertently knocked some of his papers to the floor. “Buffy? Oh, I’m sorry, did you knock?” His hands rubbed at his temples, relieving some small amount of the pressure that had settled there.
“Yeah, I did. What’s up with all the intensity?”
Taking a deep breath, he turned fully to face her. “Spike came by last night once I had returned from Xander’s apartment. He wanted to bring me something he won in a poker match. He thought it might help.”
“What was it? Chicken’s feet?” She quirked a crooked grin, attempting to lighten the mood in the heavy atmosphere of Giles’ kitchen. “You know, I really wonder about him some— Is that what I think it is?” She was caught off guard by the pendant that dangled from Giles’ fingers, leaning forward to see it more closely.
“It’s a vengeance amulet. I believe I may have found the spell to open the portal as well.”
“Wow. I mean, we’ve got to tell Xander. He’ll be so happy— Why are you shaking you head? This is a good thing, isn’t it?” She settled into a chair, her emotions in a whirl of excitement and confusion. “Why don’t you look so happy about this? What aren’t you telling me?”
Giles closed his eyes for a moment before he began speaking. “Yes, it is a good thing, I only wish we had come by it sooner.” He leveled his eyes at her. “We will be able to perform the spell tonight but I would rather do so without Xander’s knowledge. We don’t know what has befallen Anya in the time she’s been in D’Hoffryn’s realm. We don’t have any way of knowing her condition and I would prefer…”
“You want to play it safe and not involve Xander until we’re certain she’s alive,” Buffy stated.
“And more or less sane…yes.”
“Okay fine, I’ll go. I mean, I’m the slayer, right? I’m the one who should go.” Buffy ran through a mental list of things to get done in the interim between leaving Giles’ and stepping through the portal.
“And I agree, but I would like Spike to accompany you.”
Buffy stared at her watcher in incredulity. “What? No, nuh uh, no way.”
The front door burst open in a flurry of smoke and dark blankets with the opportune arrival of the peroxide vampire. Standing upright again and tossing the blanket aside, he dusted off the arms of his leather duster. “What’d I miss?”
Every muscle, bone, and tendon in Anya’s body ached. She couldn’t sit up anymore lest the pain intensify and so she lay curled on her side, her cheek pressed to the cool stone floor beneath her. She couldn’t keep straight in her mind what was happening to her any longer, nor did she find that she cared.
Closing her eyes against the thick darkness, she envisioned Xander’s apartment. She could see every minute detail laid out before her, from the slight pebbling of the textured walls to the dish of spare change that sat on the counter. She could even see Xander lounging in front of the television, his feet propped up on the coffee table and one of his mindless television programs running. If she tried, she could almost feel the fuzzy carpet beneath her toes and smell the air freshener she had bought for him. She wanted to be home again.
A distant grating sound assailed her ears and she stilled herself against Jharahalien’s return. She could survive this, if only she could hold on to her memory of Xander, she could survive.
The moon was bright in the night sky, bathing the park in blue-tinged light as Giles stood uneasily next to Spike and Buffy. Spike’s inclusion had been his idea, but he felt no better in spite of that fact. He only hoped the two of them together would be able to handle whatever they might find at the end of the portal.
“So, let’s get this show on the road, huh?” Buffy said. “I betcha Anya’s getting’ a little tired of waiting for us on the other side.”
“Yes, let’s not make lovie wait unnecessarily now,” Spike agreed.
“Are you sure you’ll be able to handle this?” Giles asked, his eyes settling on the slayer.
Buffy grinned. “Like I said, I’m the slayer. No big. Besides, it won’t be my first foray into demonic realms remember… We’ll do okay, and we’ll bring Anya back.” She cast a sidelong look at her temporary partner. “Of course, I may leave Spike behind.”
“Completely understandable,” Giles allowed.
Before Spike could complete his complaint, Giles uttered the simple incantation that enabled the amulet to open the portal.
Buffy looked up into the swirling mass of clouds and colors and shook her head. “These things always look so cheesy, like something in a bad science fiction movie.” Turning to address Spike, she added, “Well, what are you waiting for?”
At the bleached vampire’s charge toward the center of the vortex, Buffy followed, casting one last look back at Giles before she was swallowed up by the portal and spat out in a stone antechamber very unlike the grassy green park on the other end.
“Well, that’s one experience I’m not planning on repeating but once more, to get out of here.” She looked around at the walls and spider web of tunnels and hallways that spread out from the apex of the antechamber. “Any ideas about which way we should go first?”
Spike looked slowly around at his surroundings. He’d known a good number of vengeance demons but he’d never visited their home realm, he’d never heard about it either, something he discovered to be immensely irritating. He was about to tell Buffy to sod off when he caught a familiar whiff of something. “Yeah,” he answered gruffly, “This way. Lisenka’s still here.”
“Are you sure? Shouldn’t it be just as dangerous for her to be here as for Anya? Why wouldn’t she leave… unless she’s been locked in a dungeon somewhere…” Buffy stared at the door Spike stopped in front of. Thick wood and iron bands prevented them from entering the room but Spike ignored them both as he tore at the door with his bare hands.
“I could use a bit of help, slayer. That is, unless you want D’Hoffryn to find us here breaking two of his captives out of their dungeons.” Spike huffed with exertion but his attempt wasn’t in vain. By the time Buffy got her hands on one of the bands, it had already begun to give way and after two good tugs it clattered to the ground.
Spike didn’t waste any time in removing the rest of the door and plunging into the room. “Lisenka! I know you’re in here, demon-girl.”
A scurrying sound seemed to come from the far corner.
Spike dipped his hand into his pocket to retrieve his lighter, flicking it open and causing the flame to leap into the stagnant air, throwing dancing shadows on the walls and filth-covered floor. He knew what they would find, had known it before the girl’s name had left his lips. The sent he had followed had changed from merely being indicative of Lisenka, to being the scent of carrion.
As the light danced across the floor, rats scurried away from their prize, leaving behind the sight Spike had hoped not to see.
“Is she…” Buffy’s voice was choked and came out strangled. The deaths of demons and hellbeasts wasn’t anything new to her but she still had trouble accepting the deaths of innocent humans. Lisenka had, at one time, been a demon, but no more. The girl who lay crumpled against the far wall of the cell had been nothing more than a human trying to do what she felt was best.
“She is,” Spike confirmed, turning and leaving the room. “Come on, she’s toast but Anya may not be.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, “let’s go find Anya.”
The wound their way through the catacombed passageways, relying solely on Spike’s sense of smell. Buffy kept close watch on their backs, peering into each dark crevice they passed. She wondered how Anya had lived in such a place for a thousand years. Fifteen minutes there and she was already longing for a shower.
“Hey now, what’s this?” Spike muttered, coming to a fork in the hallway.
“What is it?”
“If I were a bettin’ man,” he began.
“Spike, you won the amulet in a poker game, I thinks that makes you a betting vampire at any rate,” Buffy replied.
“Okay, then I’d say she’s in the second room on the right.”
Buffy cut her eyes at her companion before walking up to the door he had indicated. “But it isn’t even closed all the way… If they were holding her against her will wouldn’t they want to lock her in so she wouldn’t try to escape?”
Spike shrugged his shoulders and waited to see what the slayer would do next.
Buffy touched the door but didn’t push it open. She didn’t want to see Anya crumpled against the floor and being used as rat fodder. She couldn’t bring herself to do it.
"So," Spike began, "you gonna open the door or are we going to stand out here and wait to be discovered? This is a demon realm, slayer, not some walk through bleedin' Piccadilly Square. Open the door, go in, get the chit out, and let's leave."
Buffy looked at Spike over her shoulder. He was right, they needed to leave as soon as possible but she couldn't convince her legs to move. Thinking about it, she almost laughed out loud. To an outside observer, it would appear that she and Anya were close friends. They weren't really, by both their actions, nor would they ever be but they had managed to form an obscure kind of friendly acquaintance. Not only that, but Anya loved Xander, and vice versa, and Buffy refused to let anything come between their future happiness. Their love was too precious to destroy.
"Oh, bugger." Impatience won out and Spike pushed her back and shoved open the door. The scent was thick in the room, thick… but definitely alive. He still held the lighter in his hand from their discovery of Lisenka and he flipped it open, bathing the floor in a small circle of illumination.
They both scanned the ground, a silent and unanimous plea in their thoughts to discover Anya soon. Spike stopped moving the lighter, halting his path across the room and drawing Buffy’s concerned attention.
“What is it? Did you find her?”
"Yeah,” he muttered. “And just in time, looks like.” Whirling around with his game face in place, Spike startled Buffy before she looked back toward the doorway.
A demon, unknown to Buffy, stood in the doorway, arms akimbo and an unfamiliar expression on his features. Buffy studied him for a moment noting the gray spines and skin. “Wow, so I guess we could just say you’re all gray matter. Hi, I’m Buffy! We’ll be taking our friend and leaving now.”
The demon threw back his head, spines quivering with the sudden movement, and roared with laughter. “A mere mortal dares to challenge the ruling of the Higher Council of the Order of Vengeance Demons?”
Buffy cocked her head, the presence of a big bad nasty was helping clear her thoughts and keep her focused on the task at hand, namely retrieving Anya. “Uh huh… yeah, I do. We’re taking Anya out of here, like it or not. The only question is whether we’re going to do this the easy way or the hard way.”
She paused a beat before adding, “If you’re anything like all the other demons I’ve defeated, you’ll pick the hard way.”
He lowered his head, his glare settling on her face. “I am no demon, human.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Buffy countered, “I know. You used to be a hellgod and now you’re a lackey to D’Hoffryn. Whatever. Are we going to fight now or are you just going to talk me to death?”
All heads snapped around to the doorway Jharahalien had vacated. D’Hoffryn stood tall on the threshold, his expression unpleasant.
“Jharahalien will allow these humans to return Anyanka to the mortal realm she is now a part of.” He held Jharahalien’s gaze as he spoke, deliberately enunciating each word.
Jharahalien snorted with anger. “You’ve grown weak, D’Hoffryn. Anyanka always was a favored of yours…” In a swirl of robes, the towering gray monstrosity lumbered out of the cavernous room.
D’Hoffryn faced the two who stood between him and the once great vengeance demon. “Tell Anyanka it was I who released her from this realm. And tell her I will not be able to protect her next time, should she decide to venture back into my realm.”
Buffy watched the blue-skinned demon depart. “This is what he calls protecting? Sheesh, I’d hate to see what he does to his enemies.” She spun around at a soft moan that came from the floor behind her.
Anya moved the fingers of one hand experimentally, her eyes squinting up at her unexpected guests. “How…”
Buffy and Spike knelt down to her side, both concerned by the strangled word and the clear view of her face. Bruises both old and new colored the usually pale flesh and her eyes were dark and far too empty.
“Hey, Anya. We’re here to take you home. Xander’s missed you,” Buffy murmured, adding, “we’ve all missed you.”
The trip back to Sunnydale was less spectacular that the way out had been. A simple sprinkling of what looked to Buffy to be pixie dust, a wave of a hand and they were back in Sunnydale’s central park, right where they had left. She glanced over at Spike who held an unconscious Anya, the dead weight taking an obvious toll on the peroxide vamp.
“Don’t tell me she’s too heavy for a big strong vampire like you,” Buffy teased.
“What’ve they been feedin’ ‘er? She feels like a block o’ lead.” Noting Buffy’s rolling eyes, he offered, “If you think you c’n do any better…”
“Nah, you go ahead. Prove what a stud you are.” She stepped toward the road that would eventually lead them to Giles’ home. “It’s cold out here, can’t be good if she’s in shock.”
Unsure of the time, other that the fact that it was sometime after sunset but before sunrise, they made their way through Sunnydale with a surprising lack of interference. Coming up to Giles’ front door, Buffy raised her hand to knock but was stopped short as the door swung open and Xander appeared on the threshold, his back to them as he continued speaking to Giles.
“Yeah, well, I’ll be back tomorrow night. I don’t think I can call in sick to work anymore anyway.” Just before he turned to leave, he said, “You’ll let me know if you find anything… I don’t know, anything useful?”
“Yes, of course,” Giles reassured him and chanced to look over the younger man’s shoulder. “You might try turning around.”
The rain had returned to California, drenching everything in its path, with the exception of the Scoobies’ spirits. Anya’s recovery had been a remarkable success and she had returned to her work at the Magic Box within a few weeks’ time, ordering them all about as she worried over the pile of receipts Giles had neglected to incorporate into the store’s log.
“Really, Giles,” she commented as she added the figures a second time, just to be sure. “I was only gone a short time and look at the mess everything is in.” She waved her arms dramatically at the forgotten receipts and dusty shelves. “I don’t know how you would have managed if I hadn’t come back.”
Giles stopped short in his quest to locate a book a customer had phoned in a request for, his gaze falling on all those who worked to put the little shop back to rights. Xander caught his eye from his place among the shelves, feather duster in hand. He allowed himself to smile in silent amusement.
He studied Anya a moment before allowing himself to reply. The bruises and abrasions had faded and, after she'd slept for three solid days, her personality had begun to raise its oddly precise head. Time would be the only cure for her nightmares, not to mention Xander's presence. The young man had barely left her side from her sudden arrival in Spike's arms to the present.
“You’re quite right, Anya. I don’t think any of us would have been able to carry on for much longer."