liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
liz_marcs
liz_marcs

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Water Hold Me Down, Part 44

This pair of scenes are easily my favorite scenes in the whole story. I've been looking forward to posting this for months.

It's also the part where you start to see why I had to stop writing No Myth. I have to go back and re-write some of that story to make it fit better with Water Hold Me Down.  

The first scene didn't give me too much trouble. The second...well...let's just say I needed some extra eyes to make sure people could follow it. Big love to ludditerobot, othercat, midnightsjane, and flyingcarpet for reading the draft before I locked it in and began my usual tweak-y ways with it.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn't thank ludditerobot for today's song file. I had lost it in my great computer crash and desperately needed it to be replaced. Dude stepped up and handed it to me. Mucho gracias.

As a side note: I am not a fan of 'Stairway to Heaven' as a general rule. It was played over and over and over on the classic rock stations when I was a young 'un to the point that it landed on my permanent "change the station when you hear the opening bars" list. However, the first time I heard this bluegrass Dolly Parton version on my local NPR station, I fell to my knees and wept at the sheer power of it.

This is the song 'Stairway to Heaven' wanted to be when it grew up.

And it's the perfect song for this part.

 

 

For all previous parts, go here.

For Part 43, go here. (Posted yesterday, in case anyone missed it.)

 

And as we walk on down the road
Our shadows longer than our souls,
All that glitters is not gold.
Wanna be a rock and not a roll.
Oh, the great almighty dollar leaves you lonely, lost and hollow.
You can’t fool yourself forever,
You gotta work to get to heaven.
Stairway to heaven.
If we listen and hold fast
To every question that we asked,
The truth will come to us at last.

 

The sun was blazing through the kitchen windows and everything was insanely bright. Faith winced and shielded her eyes from the glare, but it didn’t seem to help. The chain linking the handcuffs clinked and echoed through her head. If this kept up, she was going to have a wicked bad headache.

Did the sun have to go through all that trouble to remind her that she just woke up?

“You look like you need coffee,” Anya chirped as she swept into the kitchen. “Good thing I already made some.”

“People don’t like mourning people,” Faith mumbled. She held out her handcuffed wrists. “Where’d you hide the Key?”

Anya paused and critically looked at the handcuffs. “Dawn’s not responsible for those. Ask my fan club. They slapped those on you.”

“Yeah. About that. Could you tell them to stop with the ballroom blitz? They keep breaking bottles over the heads of innocent bystanders,” Faith complained. “We can’t have that. It’s not right.”

“They don’t want me,” Anya shrugged as she reached for the Mr. Coffee and a mug. “They want the idea of me.”

“I hear that,” Faith nodded.

Anya frowned at the handcuffs as she poured. “I don’t think even Dawn can take those off.”

“Well, if Dawn could take ’em off, would I be better off or worse off?” Faith asked.

Anya put down the pot and wobbled her free hand. “You’d be about the same. Wherever you go, there you are.”

“Well, that sucks. So much for my self-improvement plan,” Faith commented as Anya put the mug of coffee in front of her.

“You’ll have to take them off yourself when Xander gets back, because he won’t be able to help you with those. He’ll be too busy finding new tools, because all his old ones will be gone,” Anya said as she settled in a chair opposite Faith.

“Someone needs to explain to that boy that honesty is the best policy,” Faith grumbled. She had to wrap both hands around the coffee cup because of the handcuffs. She hated drinking with both hands like she was still 5 years-old. She should be able to lift the cup to her lips with one hand like a grown woman. She was already awake. How much more awake did she need to be?

“Someone has to ask him for honesty first,” Anya shrugged. “Then he has to learn how to give it.”

“Jesus, Joyce would have a shit fit if she saw how B was keeping the old homestead,” Faith said. “Slayers are sleeping crowded in rooms. The bathroom sink is destroyed. I wrecked a bedroom door during a rumble. And the picture window keeps getting broken.”

“Xander keeps fixing that window,” Anya nodded in sympathy.

“Yeah? Why is that? Why keep fixing a window when all it does is break the Heart?” Faith asked as she brought the cup to her lips with both hands. She smiled with relief as she savored the hot liquid. This was easily the best coffee she’d ever had. It really woke her up, enough so that the sun didn’t hurt her eyes any more.

Anya leaned forward like she was imparting the secret of the universe. “He told me that it’s because windows are the eyes into the soul.”

“I think it’s the other way around,” Faith corrected as she sipped again from her cup.

“Depends on which side of the window you’re standing on,” Anya explained.

“Well, that does make sense, then.” Faith frowned as she realized what was wrong with this picture. “Shouldn’t you be at the hospital?”

“Why?” Anya asked.

“Y’know. ’Cause Xander lost his eye on account of Caleb,” Faith answered.

“But it grew back, remember?” Anya asked.

Faith frowned. “No. That’s wrong. He got a fake one.”

Anya frowned back at her. “Oh. I was mistaken about that. It almost grew back, but he sees better than to take gifts from vein-y Willows.”

“Smart man,” Faith nodded. “Something tells me that vein-y Willows aren’t pleased about that.”

“But Willow will be relieved,” Anya nodded.

“Smart woman,” Faith agreed.

“She’ll be very upset, though,” Anya said.

“That magic thing?” Faith sipped from her cup again. Damn, this was awesome coffee.

“Times 100,” Anya said.

“He ain’t that strong,” Faith disagreed. “If he was any stronger than he already is, he wouldn’t be able to hug her. He wouldn’t like that.”

“Then Willow should’ve followed the rules,” Anya said. “Xander’s on the chessboard and the white king’s always the perfect bait to take down the black queen.”

“Maybe we can swap Xanders,” Faith said. “No one will notice if the black king’s wearing the white king’s clothes.”

“Pffft,” Anya dismissed. “No one will be fooled. That one’s still just a pawn. The Key didn’t unlock that Heart.”

“So, what happens if a Key loses its Heart? Should I be worried?” Faith asked.

“He’s part of the Key now. She can’t ever lose that,” Anya reassured her.

“Nothing like quality,” Faith saluted with her cup. “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”

“Even when monks shatter it,” Anya agreed. She frowned. “He had to grow that part back and it hurt him. It hurt them when they lost all their parts and they had to suffer through their parts growing back. Everyone else suffered, too. The monks should’ve asked instead of stealing. Then we would’ve known what happened and why.”

“The world’s always been fucked by Want. Take. Have.” Faith sipped from her cup. “But until something better comes along, sometimes it’s all you got.”

Anya’s smile was dazzling. “I was worried you wouldn’t be awake.”

“I’ve been getting in touch with my human side,” Faith explained.

Anya sighed and rested her chin in the palm of her hand. “Take it from me. Better to do it sooner than later. Do it later, it can very easily become too late.”

“I hear that, too,” Faith nodded.

Anya stretched her hands above her head. “It’s a beautiful day.”

“Aren’t you worried about the storm?” Faith asked.

“A little,” Anya admitted. “But I’ve got time before the deluge.”

“Think you can stop it?” Faith asked. “There’ll be blood on the walls if lightening strikes.”

“Lightening has already struck,” Anya said.

Faith thunked the coffee cup down. “Fuck. That’s not good. I wanted to avoid that.”

“I know. Couldn’t be done. The pawn refused to do its job and the white king was put in check,” Anya said. “I told him off after it happened, but I don’t think he understood. I should’ve realized that he’s still just a pawn.”

“Are we in for a flood?” Faith asked. “Tell me now so I can build a dam stop the apocalypse.”

“The storm clouds are getting darker, but I’ve got an umbrella,” Anya said.

“Might be too late. People will do stupid things if they find out,” Faith said.

“It’s an excuse. The real reason is pride,” Anya waved a hand. “Too late. Everything is in place to force the white queen to make her move. It will happen. It has happened. It is happening. By the time you see it, the taillights will be in the distance.”

“Xander won’t like the crutch. He’ll be upset that he has to wear a loaded stone,” Faith said.

“And hug Willow through a brick wall,” Anya nodded.

“He’ll do it even if he bleeds,” Faith said. “That’ll upset Willow, but I guess it’ll make the vein-y Willows happy.”

“Vein-y Willows should not play dice with the Erinyes and they should not walk through doorways. It’s presumption to think they’ve got the right,” Anya said angrily. “Only the Erinyes can walk through doorways. It says so in the playbook in fine print. The rules apply to everyone.”

“As long as the vein-y Willows bleed when they break the rules, I’ll call it justice and call it day,” Faith said.

Anya leaned forward and whispered, “What was originally in the tapestry was worse. I made Anyanka talk to the Erinyes and she convinced them that it was better to suffer than die.”

“Glad they listened. Not sure I could build a dam if I was seeing blood,” Faith said.

“They like Anyanka. She is their kind of people,” Anya said.

“That’s good to know,” Faith nodded.

“It was a one-shot deal,” Anya said apologetically.

“Well, you did what you hadda do. Can’t fault you for that,” Faith said.

“Just make sure they don’t see you, and you’ll never have to worry,” Anya said.

“Can’t even pronounce the name, let alone look them up in the phone book so’s I can give ’em a holler,” Faith shrugged. “’Sides, walked that road. Ain’t interested in re-visiting.”

Anya beamed. “I’m really glad you’re awake.”

Faith squinted as she turned to face the window. “If you’re going to keep Xander dry with that umbrella, you have to leave now. The storm’s about to unleash everything.”

“I’ll do what I can.”

Faith looked back at Anya and saw that a raven had taken her place. “If you do what you can, I’ll do what I can,” Faith promised.

“You’ll do more than that,” the raven said. “Someday.”

“Isn’t that nevermore?” Faith asked.

“Only if you don’t take off the handcuffs,” the raven said. “Good luck.”

“You, too,” Faith nodded as she watched the raven launch itself from the table and glide out of the room.

She grinned as she brought the cup to her lips. When she didn’t get her joy juice, she frowned into its depths. “Damn. I’m out of coffee.”

The ground started to shake and Faith startled awake. Next thing she knew, she was staring up into Vi’s worried eyes.

“What?” Faith sat up. She looked around and realized that she was in her bed in Cleveland. It took a little bit for her mind to remember that she crawled to her room after Willow told her for the hundredth time that she didn’t need anything.

“I was walking by and I heard you yelling about a storm,” Vi said.

“A storm?” Faith asked as she rubbed her head.

“Yeah.”

“Ah, okay. I remember this.” Faith shook her head to clear the cobwebs. “I’ve been feeling itchy like there was this storm coming. I think I asked B if she felt like there was a storm coming and she said no. Then I think I dreamed about the storm breaking.”

“Slayer dream?” Vi sounded scared.

“I don’t think so,” Faith shook her head. “It’s kinda fading around the edges and Slayer dreams don’t tend to do that. I just remember something about storms, ravens, and, would you believe, wearing handcuffs.”

Vi blinked owlishly at her.

“Okay, maybe the wearing handcuffs part ain’t so unbelievable. But the talking raven was definitely whacked.” Faith frowned and tried to recapture the dream threads, but it was all fast slipping through her mental grasp. “Hey, Vi? How do you remove handcuffs when there ain’t no key?”

“Ummm, we break them?” Vi asked. “I mean, we’re Slayers and all, so I’m pretty sure regular handcuffs aren’t a big problem if we really wanted to break them off.”

Faith leaned back against her pillow. “Hunh. That’s a good point. I almost forgot that.”

***

Tick, tick, tick, tick…

Anya frowned at the subtle noise, but kept her eyes closed. As far as she knew, she didn’t have anything that ticked with a muffled metallic sound in the house. It seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere at once.

Tick, tick, tick, tick…

She slowly opened her eyes with a low, frustrated groan.

Tick, tick, tick, tick…

The sight that greeted her jerked her upright in the uncomfortable chair. “What the hell?” she exclaimed.

The other Anya held a finger up to her lips. “Shhh. We’re in a hospital. No yelling,” she warned in a stage whisper.

Anya blinked in surprise before suspiciously looking around. She really was in a hospital room. From the looks of the lighting, it must be late. The room itself was dark, except for the light over the bed. The patient was hooked up to any number of monitors, I.V. bags, and tubes. Although his face was a mess of bruises and cuts and his left eye was covered with a bandage, Anya knew she was looking at Evil Xander. How she ended up in his hospital room was anyone’s guess.

Tick, tick, tick, tick…

The other Anya sat on the edge of Evil Xander’s hospital bed and watched her with bird-bright curious eyes. She looked younger than Anya expected and her hair was a darkish blonde, not quite as yellow as the color she had favored before she and Xander fled Sunnydale. Other Anya was dressed casually in jeans and a comfortable, colorful shirt. One hand rested on the pommel of an unsheathed sword that was positioned like it was a deadly walking stick. Other Anya’s right leg swung just enough so that the tip of her shoe kept coming into contact with the sword’s electric-looking metal.

Tick, tick, tick, tick…

“How—” Anya began.

“You’re asleep, you know,” other Anya said.

“Figured that out already,” Anya muttered. A nightmare. She wasn’t actually here, was she? And other Anya wasn’t real, either.

Tick, tick, tick, tick…

“Stop it,” Anya harshly ordered. “You’re driving me crazy. It’s like nails on a chalk board.”

Other Anya said nothing as she continued to regard her with those too-bright eyes.

Tick, tick, tick, tick…

“I have a bone to pick with you,” Anya declared.

Other Anya held up a finger. “Hold on a moment.”

She hopped off the bed and gripped the sword in her hand like the weapon it was. She leaned over Evil Xander until she was right in his battered face and hollered, “WILL YOU MAKE UP YOUR MIND, HARRIS? MY HORSE IS DOUBLE-PARKED AT THE NURSES’ STATION!”

Anya startled and nearly fell out of her chair.

Other Anya glared down at the patient and muttered a string of incomprehensible complaints. She suddenly stopped and said, “Oh, I see.” She lifted the sword like she was about to whack him upside the head with it using the flat of the blade. “Let me help. Oh, yes I would. Do I look like I care? See me not care.”

“Excuse me!” Anya interrupted as her confused mind latched on the one thing that seemed clear.

Other Anya paused in her rant and turned those bird-bright curious eyes on her again.

“You can’t have a horse at the nurses’ station. They don’t let horses into hospitals.” She felt foolish the second she said it.

Other Anya let out a long-suffering sigh. “Of course they don’t, so it’s a good thing they can’t see him. They don’t let Harley-Davidsons in either, but I nearly took a header over one because Blinky decided he was going to try to jump it to get a better parking spot. I had to yell my fool head off for him to stop. Well, he did, I fell off, and then I nearly got a concussion. Stupid horse. I can see why all the others couldn’t wait to switch to the Harleys. But oh, no. I’ve got to be a sucker because I feel bad. For a horse!” She threw a dark look at the hospital room door. “He’s probably trying to eat the paperwork on the desk right now. Where’s that paperless society they promised us, hunh? More like a paperful society if you ask me.” Her irritated gaze switched back to the unconscious Evil Xander. “It’s not funny!”

This was making zero sense. “Binky? Who’s Binky?” Anya asked.

“Blinky. My horse,” other Anya corrected with a sniff. “I renamed him because Odin’s Fleet-Footed Call to Arms is a dumb name. I mean, what do you call him? Odin’s? He’s my horse. Fleet Footed? Hah! That’s a laugh. Call to Arms? Call-y? Army? Yuck.” Other Anya paused to give Evil Xander a glare. “What’s wrong with Blinky?” she demanded. She waved the sword at him in a thoroughly threatening manner to underscore that she could call her horse anything she damn well pleased.

“Enough with the horse already,” Anya snapped. Nothing made sense. Then again, this was a nightmare, so maybe it wasn’t supposed to make sense.

Other Anya paused in menacing Evil Xander and she slowly turned her bird-bright curious eyes toward her. “Did you know that you’re still asleep?”

Anya was out of patience. “Yes, yes, I know. Fell asleep on the living room couch.”

Other Anya frowned. “No. That’s wrong.”

“I should know where I fell asleep,” Anya said shortly.

“No,” other Anya said slowly, like she was explaining something to a stubborn child. “You never woke up.”

“Excuse me?” Anya impatiently asked. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Other Anya suddenly brightened. “Oh, wait! I forgot!” She bounded across the room as she patted down her jeans pockets with her left hand and the sword wavered in her right.

Anya got out of her chair and stepped back. Dream or no dream, that sword looked sharp enough to slice off her head.

“Ah-ha!” other Anya declared as she drew out a something that looked like dazzlingly white business card. Two steps more and she was in front of Anya, thrusting the card under her nose with a pleased grin.

Anya refused to take her eyes off the other Anya as she cautiously reached out of the card.

“Go, on! Read it, read it!” Other Anya waved her free hand at her as a form of encouragement.

Keeping one eye on other Anya, Anya looked down and saw:

Viking Cruise Lines
Anya Christina Emanuella Jenkins
Chief Operating Officer
Seven Heavens, Nine Hells, the Romantic Adventure of Sixteen Lifetimes!

Anya was duly impressed. “Chief operating officer,” she read thoughtfully with a smile on her face. She suddenly frowned. “Seven heavens? Nine hells? What—”

“Whoops!” Other Anya snatched the card out of Anya’s hands. “Wrong card. We’re still negotiating the ports of call. Oh, and our marketing department doesn’t like the tag line. They want to go with 10,000 lifetimes, but I keep telling them and telling them that 7 plus 9 is 16, so it should be 16 lifetimes.” She shoved the card back in a pocket of her jeans and began patting herself down again. “It’s here somewhere. Hold on. Hold on.”

Anya began to slowly back up.

Other Anya paused in her search, tilted her head to the left, and looked up. “You would like 10,000 lifetimes. You can’t add.” She sighed a long-suffering sigh. “Measuring twice and cutting once is different from balancing a checkbook. What? I like 16 lifetimes.” She frowned. “Who’s chief operating officer? That’s right. Me. Don’t roll your eyes like that. It makes you look unattractive.”

“Who are you talking to? And seven heavens? Nine hells?” Anya asked in a desperate bid to keep up with the flow of words coming out of other Anya’s mouth. No wonder Xander sometimes lost patience when they first started going out. She was half-a-step away from strangling other Anya already. “Are you going to answer me? If not, I think I better—”

“Got it!” other Anya whipped out a new dazzlingly white business card with a flourish, stepped forward so the new card was again under Anya’s nose, and presented it with a bow.

Anya suspiciously took this one and read:

Scandinavian Resorts and Storage Facility
Anya Christina Emanuella Jenkins
Vice President, Customer Relations
Your Non-Believer Is Our Guest, or Our Cannon Fodder.
Satisfaction Guaranteed, Or All Your Non-Believers Back!

“That last line is a threat, by the way,” other Anya said with a grin.

Anya slowly began edging away again. Other Anya was obviously a religious lunatic. “Nice title. Sounds like an important job.”

“Oh, but it is!” other Anya nodded. She lunged forward and captured Anya in a one armed hug. The sword waved in front of Anya’s face as other Anya leaned close and she added, “Word of advice. The future isn’t plastics. It’s souls.”

Anya leaned away so she could get a good look at her insane double’s younger face. “Souls?” she asked in a nervous voice.

“Shh. Shh. Shh.” Other Anya warned as she looked around. The sword was distressingly close to Anya’s throat as other Anya leaned in closer. “You didn’t hear that from me. Insider trading like this could get me sent to Club Fed, so ixnay on the oulsay.” She suddenly frowned, and her sparkling eyes once more took on that curious bird-bright sheen. “You’re still asleep? Why?”

“I’m ready to wake up anytime,” Anya declared.

“Anyway, I’m a very, very busy woman,” other Anya suddenly stepped back and brought the sword down as if the moment never happened. “I have a negotiation with the Shinto organization at 11 and I don’t want to be late.” She looked up and to her right. “But someone is keeping me from my appointment because someone can’t make up his mind.”

“Who can’t make up his mind?” Anya asked.

Other Anya hung her head. “Why me? Why me? Why did I volunteer for this again?” She looked up with a scowl. “Don’t go looking pleased with yourself, mister. If I show up, you know you’re in trouble. Will you stop grinning like an ape? It makes your beady eyes look even beadier. Now listen to me. This isn’t a hard decision. Two little words. Yes. No. Pick one.” She hefted her sword like she was ready to run someone through with it. “No, there is no ‘both.’ If you get a both, you get Buffy. Buffy bad. Well, not Buffy bad, but Buffy-situation is…oh, you know what I mean.”

“Who are you talking to?” Anya desperately interrupted.

Other Anya blinked at her, like she couldn’t believe Anya was still there. “Xander.”

Anya’s eyes slid over to Evil Xander on the bed.

“He’s standing right here,” other Anya insisted, with wave of her sword towards her right.

“There’s nothing there,” Anya insisted.

Other Anya stopped waving her sword and glowered at the empty space. “Oh, stop being such a…such a…whatever. I’m not going to cut it off. I am not! Vengeance didn’t get anywhere near you, so stop hiding your penis. Not that I can see it in those jeans. You obviously see yourself wearing clothes instead of being a naked Viking sex god. This is very disappointing. Well, except for the part where you’ve got two eyes again. I missed that left one. And by the way, think you could go for jeans that actually fit instead of the kind that slide halfway down your ass? The crack is not attractive, even if you are looking better these days.”

“You named your sword Vengeance?” Anya asked.

Other Anya’s face lit up with a bright smile. “Oooooo, stereo!”

“I’m the only one talking!” Anya shouted in frustration. “He’s unconscious on the bed. He’s not talking to anyone. He’s probably going to die.”

“Well, you’ll have to ask him about the dying part,” other Anya irritably snapped.

“I’m supposed to talk to air?” Anya asked incredulously.

Other Anya looked up into the air again. “She can’t see you because she’s asleep.”

“I can’t see him because there’s nothing to see!” Anya shouted.

Other Anya’s pitying look served to only make Anya angrier.

“What is this? Swords and souls and horses no one can see and talking to people who aren’t there,” Anya huffed. “Am I supposed to believe that you’re dead? Is that it? I already know Evil Xander’s—”

“He’s not evil!” other Anya protested. She looked up with grin. “You’re welcome, honey.”

“Whatever! He’s a frickin’, no good, two-faced liar and seducer of married women—”

“It takes two to orgasm. Well, sometimes. It’s more fun with two. And there was definitely two this case,” other Anya interrupted. Her gaze switched to the empty space again. “What? It’s true!” She menaced the air with her sword. “Stop it. Just stop it right there, or so help me—”

“He started it!” Anya exploded.

“Don’t encourage him,” other Anya hissed. She looked toward the bed and rolled her eyes, “Xander, will you just calm—”

“This is ridiculous! I know this is a nightmare because you’re not dead,” Anya pointed an accusing finger at other Anya. “He’s a liar, but he’s not that good of a liar. If the Anya in his shrimpless, spineless world was dead, you’d see it in his hateful face.”

Other Anya’s chin trembled. “It’s very sad that you’re still asleep.” She suddenly straightened and her eyes widened. “I’m going to be late for the Shinto meeting! Oh, this is going to be a disaster! If I don’t make it, Freyja is going to negotiate!” Other Anya grabbed an Anya by the front of her shirt with her free hand and yanked her forward so that Anya was staring into other Anya’s panicked, bugged-out eyes while the other hand waved her sword. “Do you know what Freyja’s idea of negotiation is? Do you have any idea?”

“Choking me,” Anya protested.

Other Anya wasn’t paying attention as her voice climbed the scale of hysteria. “She’ll say, ‘See my sword? Isn’t it shiny? Give me the good-looking heroes, because my sword is really, really sharp, too.’”

“Need to breathe,” Anya gasped.

“Then there’ll be an inter-pantheon incident, and I’ll have to soothe feathers that are of the ruffled, and there’ll be long boring meetings while everyone goes ‘yak-yak-yak’ and nods like it’s really important, and I’ll loose the Shinto account before I can get them to sign the contract, and there goes my year-end bonus!” Other Anya was now shaking Anya back and forth. “I worked hard to create this company! I had to use PowerPoint! I hate PowerPoint! But I had to present my case to Freyja and Odin to convince them that we need to grow our Einherjar population because we didn’t have enough troops for Ragnarok! Plus, new souls equals big wealth for any pantheon and we were losing on our investment because we had no new blood!”

“Errrrrrrr…..” Anya wheezed.

Other Anya suddenly let go, allowing Anya to escape.

The other Anya glared into the air. “Of course I made my point! They made me a member of the Valkyrja and they don’t just hand out membership into that club to just anyone, let me tell you. And I’m a vice president. And chief operating officer if we can get cruise company off the ground. Although I think I got my promotion because Odin liked PowerPoint. No accounting for taste. He wasn’t so sure about recruiting someone else’s sloppy seconds.”

“You’re insane,” Anya said as she backed up against the wall.

Other Anya grinned. “That’s what everyone said, but look who’s laughing now! We go to the other pantheons, tell them we’ll take their non-believers, agonistics, free-thinkers, and others who are less than thrilled with their afterlife and store them in our playground, see? We slice the cream off the top and send them to Valhalla and ship the real losers off to Hel for storage, so win-win for everyone. Everyone keeps their real hard-core believers and we get rich because we’ve got the souls! And once those souls get a taste of a Valhalla party do you think they’re eager to go back home? No way. Once we’ve got them, we got them.”

“Did I say insane?” Anya rhetorically asked. “I meant batshit insane. My mistake.”

Other Anya suddenly looked into the air with a grin. “You should see what I bought with my last bonus. I’ve got three hot tubs! Oh, and a heated stable for Blinky, and 14 bedrooms!” She leaned toward Anya. “And my jewelry collection? To die for. Dwarven gold. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Anya began eyeing the hospital room door. She wondered if her nightmare would let her leave.

Meanwhile, other Anya stopped spouting her string of nonsense. Her grin traveled back and forth between Anya and an empty space to her right, like she was expecting someone to give her a standing ovation.

Figuring that running wouldn’t work, Anya decided she should ask the obvious question. “How do I wake up again?”

Other Anya froze and slowly swiveled her head to face her. Her eyes had again taken on the bird-bright curious shine. “I’m not here for you.”

Anya packed all the frustration she could into her question. “Then why am I here?”

“Shush,” other Anya ordered as her eyes traveled the length of the room until they settled on the unconscious Evil Xander in his bed.

“Don’t you shush me,” Anya snarled.

Faster than she could blink, other Anya had her pinned up against the wall with her left hand and the sword, Vengeance, at her throat. Other Anya’s voice was menacing as she glared into Anya’s eyes. “You have confused me with you.” Other Anya looked behind her to the bed and tilted her head, as if she was listening to someone. Then she looked back and said in a low voice, “I’d stay quiet if I were you. You’re still sleeping. You don’t want to die in your sleep, do you? It would upset Xander.”

“Really don’t care what he thinks,” Anya said defiantly.

Other Anya muttered something under her breath and let go. To her horror, Anya realized that she couldn’t move or speak, even though she could still see and hear everything.

Other Anya turned around and looked at the bed. “I didn’t hurt her,” she said quietly. “And you really do have to decide.”

Wonder if your imaginary friend thinks you’re a lunatic, too, Anya furiously thought.

Other Anya dropped the sword to her side so it was point down, walked over to the hospital bed, and sat down on the edge. She looked to her left, her head tilted up, and said, “I know it’s hard.” She nodded. “Yeah, you did screw-up, but you had help.” She shot Anya a glare for good measure.

Oh, this is my fault now, Anya thought angrily. That’s right. Everyone blame me. Anya is the stupid one. Anya doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Anya does everything wrong. Tell you what. One day in my shoes. Then we talk.

Other Anya then looked to her left again, and lifted her hand like she was making someone look at her. “Odin and Freyja are supposed to decide what to do with you, but they really don’t know what to do so they left it up to me, well, you actually. This cross-dimensional thing has everyone really confused about the rules.”

Oh, right. Like gods are going to trust a lunatic and an invisible Evil Xander to choose a pizza topping. Anya wished she could voice that thought out loud.

Other Anya giggled. “Yeah, but in this case, there are no rules.” She sobered. “I’m not supposed to tell you what to do. I could get into trouble.” She looked around and dropped her voice. “You want my advice?”

Yup. Talking to no one. I can’t see anyone asking the rubber-room candidate for advice. Sounds like she needs the advice. And medication. Lots and lots of medication.

Other Anya dropped her hand and looked down. “You could walk out the door with me, but that’d be taking the easy way. You never do anything the easy way. And when you try to, it always goes bad.”

This ought to be good. Comatose guy gets up and walks out of hospital room. Film at 11. Listen to the crazy lady. Stay comatose. With that thought, Anya began to worry about her own sanity.

Other Anya snorted. “One example of what happens when you take the easy way? Sitting right next to you. Easy to not say anything and just walk away leaving me with the mess. Hard to actually explain why before you run off.” Other Anya sighed. “Not accusing. Pointing out facts. You take easy way, it only gets worse and you know it, Harris.”

His existence makes everything worse. Go away! Just die already! Leave my family alone.

Other Anya tilted her head up again. “I can’t promise that. Okay-ness or not-okay-ness is up to you.” She looked away. “Yeah, it’s going to hurt like hell. All of it.” She looked back at the empty space next to her. “Can’t promise that, either.”

Even in my nightmares Evil Xander wants frickin’ miracles so he doesn’t have to pay for squat. Anya really wished she could move so she could smother Evil Xander with a pillow.

Other Anya’s fingers pinched at the bedspread as she looked down. “Look at it this way, you walk out with me, that’s it. Finito. No going back. If you stay, you’ll at least have options. You’re the one who’s always looking for other options. So think about it like this: you’re choosing between no options and a lot of options.” She looked up. Her smile seemed sad. “Thought you’d see it like that.”

For options, say ‘excuses.’ It’s more honest, Anya angrily thought.

Other Anya smacked her forehead. “Before I forget, while I’m here, I need ask you for a favor. Hold your horses. Don’t make promises yet.” She leaned to her left so she was tilted toward where Anya supposed other Anya thought Evil Xander was sitting. “You’ve got a certain something stashed in your nightstand.”

Something illegal, I hope. We could call the cops and get him locked up! Anya didn’t think so, though. Evil Xander was probably smarter than that.

Other Anya waved a cheery hand. “Yes, yes. I know all about the rings. It’s very sweet.” The cheerfulness fled from her face. “You’ve got to let go. Holding on to them, you’re not doing yourself any favors.” She sighed. “Remember what I said about the easy way and the hard way?”

You need to drive it through his thick skull. Beating him with the sword would be a good start. Do it while he’s still unconscious, was Anya’s silent advice.

Other Anya shook her head and held up finger like she was shushing someone. “Okay, you’re not doing me any favors.” She winced. “It’s not like that. It’s hard to explain. You know, life is for the living and all that stupid cliché stuff.”

Aaaaaand here we go, wanting me to believe that I’m dead. This is a stupid nightmare. You want me to believe I’m dead? I want to see a corpse.

Other Anya nodded and she smiled her sad smile. “Well, if you really want to know, I’d like you to find a nice oak tree somewhere, one with a hollow or something. Then you take that box and you put it in the hollow and it’ll be my tree.” She nodded. “Yes, I’d really like that. Then you can come and talk to me at my tree if you want. I can’t talk back because, you know, rules. Really stupid rules. Okay, maybe not stupid rules because I can see why there are rules. So, promise me you’ll do it?”

Yeah. Good luck with that. Evil Xander doesn’t strike me as big on follow-through.

Other Anya ducked her head. “Thank you.” She looked up again. “Into bed with you. You need sleep if you’re going to heal.” She shrugged. “You’re only human.”

Juuuuuust barely.

Other Anya stood up and looked down at the bed. “Comfy?” she asked. “So, we’re still on for Tibet? 2046? It’s a date.” She shook her head with an exasperated sigh. “I’ll be there. I said I’d be there, didn’t I? I will. You won’t be alone.” She looked down with that sad smile. “I promise. Now, close your eyes. Yes, like that.” She held up a finger. “No peeking!” she ordered.

Yes, I can see the whites of his beady eyes now. That cuckoo sound you hear? Clock. Not at all a comment on your sanity, lack thereof.

Other Anya grinned. “What’ll happen after that? Well, after I pick you up from Tibet, we’ll go home and all your friends will be there. Me, and Jesse, and Faith, and Buffy, and Giles, and Joyce, and Tara and Vi, and well, just everyone. Robin will even let you take a swing at him, for old time’s sake.” Other Anya shook her head. “No, Willow won’t be there yet.” An irritated expression crossed her face. “Who’s doing the telling? Right. So, all your friends, well most of them, will be there. We’ll have this big party with all your favorite foods. And then—” She paused to grin. “Something completely new.”

Okay, even Anya had to admit that was kind of sweet. Too bad other Anya was talking to air.

“I have to go.” Other Anya sighed. “Yes, I do. No, not until Tibet.” She smiled a sad smile. “Because it’s your life. There are no do-overs, so get it right.” She huffed a laugh. “Damn straight that’s an order.

Hunh? Do-over what? Anya wondered.

“Now enough.” Other Anya drew herself up. “Close your eyes. Yes, like that. Take a breath. Deeper. There you go.” She smiled and softly added, “Sweet dreams.”

Wonder if comatose people dream, Anya thought.

Other Anya whirled around and faced Anya, her eyes once more taking on the bird-bright glitter. “Are you still asleep?”

Well if my nightmare hadn’t frozen me, I might, oh, wake up? Anya sarcastically thought.

Other Anya shook her head and looked down with a fond smile. She bent down, kissed Evil Xander on the forehead, and whispered something that Anya couldn’t hear. She straightened with a happy sigh and practically skipped across the room.

“That was close,” she said in a cheerful, hushed voice. “Healing kiss. Nothing fancy. Something that’ll at least get him walking out of here in the next couple of days instead of next week. Nothing that’ll make the doctors want to stick him in a lab and figure out why he healed so fast. Still going to be achy break-y time, though.” She happily sighed. “Good work if I say so myself.”

And for your next trick, we unfreeze me, right? Anya thought as hard as she could at other her.

Other Anya looked back at the bed and bit her lip. “He’s still so young. Still a lot of boy in him, but I think he’ll get the man part down sooner rather than later.” She frowned and looked down. “Too bad it wasn’t sooner than this. Maybe things would’ve gone differently. I don’t know.” She shrugged. “Maybe for the best, hunh? Because if things didn’t happen the way they did, I would’ve died in my sleep and that would’ve been very sad.” She nodded with a slight grin, like she had made peace with something. “Yeah. I like my happy ending a lot more than your happy ending.”

So, wait…are you supposed to be dead or alive? I’m confused because you keep changing your story. So let’s go with, “You are a product of the pain meds.” There. That makes much more sense.

“Look at him sleeping,” other Anya sighed. “Used to drive me crazy when I couldn’t sleep and there he’d be, snoring away.”

Been there, done that, Anya thought with irritation. Now about unfreezing me…

“I can’t even remember how many ways I’d try waking him up. Well, actually, I can, but that’s boring stuff.” Other Anya’s cheerful chatter fell silent as she sadly regarded Evil Xander in his bed. “I’d trade a lot for just one more night just like that.”

Yeah, right, sure. Anya could see that happening.

Other Anya looked back at her, “It’s surprising what you miss. That’s why you have to wake up. Actually, you needed to wake up yesterday. You’re running out of time. You have to wake up now, or it’ll be too late. If you don’t, you’ll miss all of it.”

Anya hoped she still capable of glaring.

“Oh! That’s right!” Other Anya waved a hand. “You can talk now. No yelling. Still in a hospital.”

Everything in Anya’s body turned to jelly and she collapsed on the floor. As she tried to recapture her breath, other Anya said, “I’ve said too much to you. I have to go.”

“Wait,” Anya wheezed.

“I’m not here for you. Only reason why I could be here was because he was dying before he was supposed to. Now he’s not dying, and I can’t interfere any more,” other Anya said.

“Crazy,” Anya grumbled as her lungs seemed to finally catch up.

Other Anya then reached behind her and pulled out a scabbard from thin air. As she slid the sword into it, her form rippled and shifted until the other Anya was replaced by a woman with long dark hair, wearing leather armor, and with a shield slung across her back. The face was familiar, if even younger than that of other Anya.

Anya uttered a name that she never thought she’d utter again. “Aud.”

“He needed us to be Anya. He doesn’t need us to be Anya any more,” Aud said. Her voice seemed to buzz around the edges, as if there were several voices talking as one.

Anya began to hysterically laugh, which forced raw coughs from her throat. “Oh, don’t get cute with me. I know what this is nightmare is about. I’ve lost my way. I need to find the right path, is that it? Well, I’m on the right path! I know what I’m doing and you don’t because you’re not even real.”

Aud merely watched with those bird-bright eyes and held her sheathed sword.

“Trying to make me feel guilty? Trying to tell me that I should turn my daughter over to the Council without a fight because it’s the honorable, heroic thing to do? Well, you can just shove it!” Anya said. “You’re supposed to be me? Oh, please. Why Aud? Aud was a nothing who let everyone walk all over her. Nothing. Here’s a newsflash. You want to haunt me? Anyanka would’ve been better. Now she had power. She had everything. I’m supposed to be impressed? With you?”

Without a word, Aud turned and headed for the hospital room door.

Anya launched herself to her feet and caught up with Aud. She yanked the other woman around. “Answer me!” she yelled.

Aud yanked her arm free. “Don’t touch me, little demon,” she said in three distinct voices speaking in unison.

“Demon?” Anya shook with rage. “I’m human, 100%. I’ve got the husband, the house, the daughter, the business, and the tax bill to prove it. I’m more human than you are, that’s for sure!”

“We are more human than you can comprehend. If you don’t wake up and soon, you will never comprehend.” Aud looked up. “I have to go. I have said my peace. It is for you to wake up, or not.”

“Oh no you don’t,” Anya ordered as she grabbed again at Aud’s arm.

Aud looked down at Anya’s hand.

“You will tell me what this means, right now!” Anya screamed.

Aud calmly regarded Anya with those bird-bright curious eyes, the same eyes she saw in other Anya, and said, “I warned you, little demon.”

“Or you’ll kill me?” Anya asked. “What can you possibly do to me now?”

Aud exploded into a thousand ravens. The birds pecked, and scratched, and bit at Anya’s skin. She could feel her hair yanked out of her head as more beaks dug at her eyes. She flailed around in a vain effort to force the birds off, but every defensive move was met with a more vicious counter-attack.

Anya screamed as she began to fall.

She landed with a thud.

“Anya! Good lord! What—”

Anya jerked upright and immediately collapsed again as every ache and pain reintroduced itself to remind her that she was still hurt in the waking world.

There was a sound of running footsteps as large, male hands lifted her from the living room floor.

“Mom! Mom! What is it?” Haley asked as she burst into the living room. “Are they back? Are the vampires back?”

“No. It’s quite all right,” Giles said as he helped Anya to the couch.

“Nightmare,” Anya gasped through her pounding head.

Giles uncomfortably shuffled. “Yes. You fell asleep on the couch. I was in the kitchen and about to call my office. I didn’t wish to disturb you.”

“Ummmmm, how did that bird get in here?” Haley asked.

Anya blinked to clear her vision as she looked around.

“A raven. A rather large one,” Giles said with surprise. “It’s a wonder I didn’t see it when I ran in here.”

Anya jolted upright as her gaze fixed on the sleek, midnight black raven perched on the back of the overstuffed chair. Its head twitched this way and that as it surveyed the room with bird-bright curious eyes.

“Get it out here,” Anya ordered.

“We’ll just open a door and I’m certain that—” Giles began.

Anya yanked off a shoe and threw it with all her might at the bird. “Now!”

Without a sound the bird fluttered out of the way and then dive-bombed Anya’s head. As Anya flailed to keep it away, she could hear Giles and Haley shouting. The bird got in a few good shots. It pulled at her hair and gave her a good peck with its beak on the top of her head for good measure.

The attack suddenly ceased and when Anya felt brave enough to bring down her arms, she saw that the raven had settled on top of the curio cabinet.

“You scared the bird!” Haley accused.

I scared that?” Anya asked.

“Yes, well, it now may take us some time to shoo it out of here,” Giles sniffed. “Unless you have a net. The only person in the house fast enough to capture it is Haley.”

“I’m not scaring the bird even more,” Haley protested.

“That’s no bird,” Anya said darkly.

In response to her glare, the raven fluffed its feathers so it looked twice its actual size. Then it began to preen under a wing, showing just how much it—she, Anya thought—really cared that one person in the room wanted to see it dead.

Haley looked to Giles. “Will it cause problems if I open the door, Mr. Rupert?”

“Don’t ask him, ask me,” Anya interrupted.

The raven ceased preening and stared at Anya with its beady, bright, black eyes.

“It rather depends,” Giles responded. “Vampires need an invitation to cross the threshold, so an open door will not increase risk from that quarter. The variable in the equation is whether you have questionable characters, human or demonic, who would have no problem seeing an open door as an invitation.”

“I said no on opening the door,” Anya said.

Haley frowned. “But if I stand next to the door, I can stop them, right?”

“I suppose,” Giles hesitated.

“Haley, I said no,” Anya stressed.

“Mom, the bird’s got to leave somehow,” Haley protested.

“We have mouse poison,” Anya suggested. Anya’s heart shrank at the look Haley gave her in response.

“Well, I’m opening the door so it’ll fly out,” Haley announced. She looked up at the raven, which had switched its curious gaze to Haley, and said, “It’s okay. Don’t be scared. I’m just opening the door so you can leave.”

“Haley, it’s a raven. While they are clever creatures, I highly doubt it understands you,” Giles sighed.

Anya had no intention of letting that thing of her sight. “Don’t be too sure about that.”

Haley marched into the hall and Anya heard the door open. The raven bobbed two or three times before launching itself from the curio cabinet and flying out of the room with easy grace.

Anya hauled herself off the couch and shakily followed. She joined Giles in the living room doorway and saw that the raven had perched on the banister. It seemed wholly absorbed in studying Haley. Its head twitched this way and that, as if it was memorizing what the child looked like.

“C’mon. The door’s open,” Haley encouraged with a giggle.

Anya scurried over to Haley and wrapped her daughter in a protective hug.

“Mooo-oooom!” Haley protested as she shook the embrace off.

“Leave her alone! She’s not yours! She’s mine!” Anya shouted at the raven.

The raven turned its bird-bright curious eyes to her. You will never wake up. Sleep forever, little demon. It will be no loss.

“Get. Out,” Anya responded in an enraged whisper.

The raven casually stretched one wing and then the other. It bobbed something that looked like a bow at Haley, which caused the girl to begin giggling again. It then launched itself from the banister, flew out the door, and disappeared into the night.

Anya leaned out the door and shouted after it, “I hope you and that One-Eyed Bastard burn in Hel!”

Anya’s impotent curse was met with a shocked silence.

“Anya, I rather get the sense that you’re somehow blaming Young Xander for our guest,” Giles said stiffly.

“Him, too,” Anya muttered as she glared into the night.

“Did I miss something?” Haley said. “Because that’s a connection that’s, ummmm, on another planet?”

“Ahhh, yes. You are unaware. Young Xander has only one eye. I was informed his left eye was removed by an agent of the First during a battle sometime in the last year.”

Anya shivered. You’ve got two eyes again. I missed that left one.

“Uncle Xander has one eye?” Haley asked in shocked voice. “But it looks like he has—”

“The left is a prosthetic,” Giles said as he reached to shut the front door.

“Well, if you’re curious, I was talking about Odin,” Anya said as she shakily returned to her post on the couch. “But the raven dragging either one of those two to Hel, or even better, both, would suit me just fine.”

“You believe our raven is more than just a raven,” Giles stated.

Ahhhh, always the Watcher, Anya bitterly thought as she eased back on to the couch. “The raven is just a stupid bird,” she insisted. She looked up at Giles and Haley. She knew they wouldn’t find anything, but the last thing she needed was either one of them asking her questions. “Check to make sure the windows are closed. I don’t want that filthy animal in my house again.”

 

 

Continued in Part 45

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