Since I'm going to be busy tomorrow, and since it's after midnight, I'm posting Part 4 now. Sorry for the scarceness guys. This weekend turned out to be packed.
Continued from Part 3.
Xander had forgotten how to breathe.
“That’s…that’s a very interesting story,” he finally said.
“It’s not every man who’s willing to face down a demon for his soon-to-be wife,” Anya beamed across the kitchen table at him. She had sat down at some point during her story, which meant that Xander had to resist reacting as she reached the not-so-thrilling conclusion.
“Unh, said demon being one of your former victims if I remember what you said right,” Xander said.
Anya looked down like she’d be slapped and Xander immediately felt like a shitheel. He noticed other Xander wasn’t exactly leaping to his wife’s defense.
“Look, I just…I wasn’t accusing it’s just…” he took a breath that was deep enough to hurt and looked to other him who was standing nearby with the meat cleaver still in a death grip. “It’s just incredible. Nasty visions. Living out an unhappy life before it happens. And you marched down the aisle anyway.” He was back to looking at his gummy cold oatmeal. “Not sure I’d be that brave,” he added quietly.
“False visions,” other Xander stated flatly.
“Yeah. I-I-I guess. I just don’t think I would’ve gone through with it.”
“You would’ve.” Anya seemed pretty sure. “Of course you would’ve. You just never had the chance to fall in love with me.”
“Ahn,” other him said with exasperated affection.
“Well it’s true,” Anya chirped in a pleased voice. “After you told me what you saw, we both agreed that we’d work to make sure it wouldn’t happen.”
“Or maybe it would’ve never happened at all.” Xander fought the urge to slump. “Maybe they were just what they were. Just a bunch of false visions.”
“Are you okay?” other him asked. “You sound so…I don’t know…”
“Sorry. The visions sound like Tony and Jessica, the married years, that’s all,” Xander interrupted.
Other him flinched. Yeah, Xander knew that reaction a little too well.
Xander finally took a spoonful of oatmeal. He lost what little appetite he had when he saw the way the cold paste stuck to his spoon and he dropped it back into the bowl. “That’s it. I’m definitely killing Willow now.”
“Excuse me?” other him said while Anya’s eyes widened.
“You heard me. I’m going to kill Willow. Because if she thinks this is even remotely a good present, she’s living in a place where she can watch the sun set on the Great Pyramid. And Buffy! I bet Buffy was in on it, too. ‘Oh, Xander. Maybe you should skip patrol and go to bed.’ My ass! She was working with Willow to get me in my room so I’d see that stupid present and open it. And you’d think Buffy at least would think, ‘Hey! Maybe not such a good idea!’” He nodded as his jaw squared. “I’ll tell you this much. They sure as hell didn’t tell Dawn what they were planning because she at least has a little common sense. She would’ve given Buffy an earful and point out that…”
He was interrupted by the sound of other Xander dropping something heavy onto the floor.
Xander froze at the reminder that he was giving way too much of himself away. He turned to see his other self standing with his hands hanging limply by his sides. The meat cleaver was on the linoleum at his feet and other him looked like he was inches away from crying. Xander uncomfortably turned away only to meet Anya’s eyes. He didn’t have to look too closely to see she was mentally killing him in some of the most awful ways she could imagine.
“Buffy? Dawn? Alive?” other him asked in a broken voice.
“Oh, boy,” Xander said quietly, his gaze not leaving Anya’s face.
“And Willow…she’s…is she…”
“Fine,” Xander could feel he was breathing hard. He couldn’t look at himself.
“Ahn?” Christ, other him sounded like someone tore his heart out of chest. “I can’t…”
“I’ll tell him,” Anya said in a monotone.
“Tell me what?” Xander asked.
“Buffy and Dawn are dead.” Boom. Just like that. No sugarcoating. No preparing him. Nothing. Not the world’s best moment for Anya to be displaying her famous lack of tact.
“How…” he began.
Anya maintained her stiff composure, a sure sign she was about to land another punch to the gut. “Willow killed them when she went on an evil rampage thirteen years ago.”
“You couldn’t stop her?” he asked.
Anya’s mask slipped a little at that and she threw a worried glance at her husband.
“We weren’t there,” other him said quietly. “We decided not to go back to Sunnydale after the honeymoon.”
“To avoid your fate.” Xander simply felt numb. Anya or Buffy and Dawn? Buffy and Dawn or Anya? Eeney-meeney-miney-mo-rock-paper-scissor
“It was the only way we could think of to avoid…” Anya began. The look on his face seemed to kill the end of the sentence and she was back to looking at her husband, worry bringing out the lines on her face.
“Willow?” Xander croaked.
He was met with silence.
“Tell me,” he insisted.
Anya took a breath and said, “Last we heard she was crazy and the Council had to lock her up.”
Nightmare, Xander decided. Definitely a nightmare.
What they didn’t expect was for the doorbell to ring.
Willow and Buffy exchanged confused glances. Almost the entire contingent of Slayers were strategically placed around the Mother House, all with orders to use their cell phones if they saw anyone or anything approaching the brownstone. Even if they failed to see something, Willow had cast wards all around the household that should’ve been tripped if anything demonic or human stepped on the property.
“Well there’s a fucking shock,” Faith commented as she hauled herself out of her chair. “They didn’t see nothin’.”
“Faith,” Willow said, “maybe you should be a little less grumpy and a little more support-y since the Slayers are all so shiny and…”
“If you say new-y, I swear to god I’m tying your tongue in a fucking knot,” Faith grumped as she stomped to the front door.
Buffy reached out a hand and stopped her. “Maybe you should let me answer it.”
Faith stood aside and let Buffy pass without argument. She could feel the coiled spring in her gut telling her that she needed to do something because this sitting around on her ass thing was getting on her tits. All in all, it was probably better if B answered the door since she was liable to start kicking the shit out of whoever was standing on the other side.
Just the same, she rudely shouldered Willow out of the way and—ignoring the witch’s protests—placed herself just behind the other Slayer.
She was surprised as anyone when Buffy opened door only to see that no one was there. The only sign that anyone had been on their front stoop was yet another note, only this one was on the wet side and weighted down by a rock.
Buffy leaned out and scanned the street, but it looked pretty empty. “Well, beats being thrown through a window, I guess,” she remarked.
There was a rustle among the bushes in front of the brownstone and Faith immediately leapt at it, knocking Buffy over in the process. Just as she reached the spot, there was a high-pitched yip and a scabby-looking moose of a dog shot of the hiding spot and scampered across the street. When it reached the other side, the mutt stopped and regarded his attacker with a woe-is-me look.
“Ewwwwww,” Buffy complained.
“Yup. That is one ugly-ass dog,” Faith agreed.
“Not the dog. The note. Ewwwwww. It’s all slimy.”
“Slimy?” Faith asked as she turned around to see Buffy holding the paper by the tips of her fingers and at arm’s length. “What kind of slimy?”
“Snot monster drool slimy,” Willow said.
“That cuts it. They’re fucking blind. How the hell do you miss a snot monster?” Faith stopped. “I can’t believe I just said snot monster.”
“Might not be a snot monster. Could be a water dragon,” Willow pointed out.
“Water dragon,” Faith deadpanned. “You can’t believe you said snot monster either, can ya?”
“Enough with the snot already,” Buffy complained as she grimaced with every ounce of her being.
“Too bad we can’t ask the dog what he saw,” Willow said. “Bet he saw everything.”
“That is the stupidest fucking thing I ever heard,” Faith growled. “‘Ask the dog.’ Might as well ask the stairs, or the shrubs, or the…”
“Stop biting my head off!” Willow shouted.
“You two! Stop it! We all want Xander back and fighting isn’t helping!” Buffy yelled. Her angry green eyes pinged between Slayer and witch. “Are we done? Because if we’re done, maybe we should call Giles on his cell and tell him to bring Dawn and the girls back in. No point in having them watch the house now.”
Willow and Faith continued glaring at each other until Willow gave Buffy a curt nod. Faith reluctantly followed suit.
Xander wanted nothing more than to just get out of that house, but he had nowhere to go. He was in California, maybe a dream/nightmare version of California, but still a hell of drive from where he was supposed to be. And even though he grew up in the state, he didn’t know anyone he could go to for help.
Well there’s a statement of my life: I don’t know anyone except for the people I know and none of them are here.
That left him and the nightmare people, except they weren’t talking to him. They were standing in a corner whispering to one another in a way that pretty much announced they were having a low-level argument. He didn’t need three guesses to figure out what it was about.
There was a huff from other Xander, which meant that he’d finally reluctantly agreed to whatever Anya said. He didn’t look at all happy. If he were other Xander, he knew that he’d sure as hell be arguing to toss his ass into the street.
The couple turned to look at him, painting on the fakest smiles on their faces that Xander had seen this side of his stay in Sunnydale Memorial Hospital when he was being treated for his eye poke-age.
“We’ve decided you can stay,” Anya announced.
“But there are going to be ground rules,” other him added.
“Even though I think you don’t smell anything like him, you’re now Rory,” Anya said. She turned to her husband and added, “Maybe we should make him suck on peppermints so he smells right.”
“Ahn,” other him said with exasperation.
“Let me guess,” Xander said. “I’m your crazy, alcoholic uncle with a dead animal fetish? Do I have to tell stories about my times with the hookers and flying fur? Because if I do, I want a better name.”
Anya shot her husband a triumphant grin.
Wonderful. The Rory thing was a test to see how he’d react. Obviously he passed with flying colors because nightmare-Rory was exactly like the real thing.
Other him seemed slightly mollified. “How about you’re my cousin Rory from…where did you say you were from again?”
“I live in Cleveland these days.”
“Cleveland, then,” other him nodded.
“Can I at least be a carpenter?” Xander asked.
“No.” Other him was firm on that.
“Why do I even need a cover story?” Xander asked.
The two of them looked very uncomfortable.
Xander let out a bitter chuckle. “Wait. What am I asking? Big house like this? You two don’t live here alone, do you?”
“We have a daughter. Haley. She’s 12,” Anya admitted.
“Twelve,” Xander repeated. “So that would make you, what, 1,212 and him about 34 or 35?”
“I’m 34 and he’s going to be 35,” Anya said.
Xander could feel his good eye rolling to the back of his head.
“Officially, I’m 34,” Anya hastily added.
“Swell,” Xander grumbled.
“How did you do that?” other him asked.
“Do what?” Xander asked.
“You only rolled one eye.” Other Xander was staring hard at him.
“I rolled both,” Xander hoped he could get that unspoken ‘duh’ in as he made a mental note to make sure he didn’t get so tired that his left eye wandered blindly. “Probably a trick of the light or something. Oh, and for the record, I’m going to be 23 in a couple of days, so I’m waaaay younger than both of you. So much for the long-lost twin brother excuse if you were thinking of using it.”
“So it’s December 7 wherever you’re from?” other him asked.
“I guess,” Xander hesitated. “It was December 6 last night so…”
“Oh god!” Anya spurted. “The party!”
“That’s tomorrow night, hun,” other him assured her. “He might be gone by then.”
“Oh god, I hope so,” Xander muttered.
“Hey!” Anya protested. “You’re the one who’s imposing.”
“Right. Gotchya.” Xander frowned as he looked around. “So I have a deadline. Out by tomorrow. Okay. I can do this. I don’t suppose you guys have any research-y books or contacts that might be able to get me out of this because, I gotta tell you, I’m all out of ideas.”
“No,” the couple said in unison.
Well, that pretty much confirmed that Giles was out of their lives. Since he didn‘t get a surprised reaction over the fact that Giles was alive, he could only assume that Giles wasn‘t dead, just off their radar. “Fine. How about a theory about what’s going on?” Xander asked.
“World without shrimp,” Anya said with a firm nod.
“World without shrimp,” Xander slowly repeated.
“Anya thinks,” here other Xander gave his wife a look that all but announced that other him was inclined to disagree, “that you’re from another reality where we never fell in love and that you somehow got sent here.”
The moment other him mentioned the possibility, Xander could feel his spirits lift. If this was crazy-melty land real, there might be crazy-melty land Giles-like people out there he could contact for help instead of nightmare Giles-like people who would refuse to take his calls. “Well, I admit that’s possible. Except I have shrimp in my world.”
“Here, too, but it’s the concept that counts,” Anya pointed out.
“Hmmm. Okay. I can work with this.” He could feel his relieved smile as he asked, “I don’t suppose you’d let me use a phone?”
There was a long silence after Giles finished reading the ransom note to them.
A glance around the room told Faith that most of the assembled company where as confused as she was. However, it was worth noting that Tweedy, B, Li’l Sis, Will, and Andrew looked like someone had just waved a gun in their faces.
Since the people in the know weren’t volunteering an explanation, Faith decided it was time to ask the obvious question. “What the hell is an Anyanka?”
The people in the know exchanged devastated glances.
“Okay, don’t want to answer. Fine.” Faith stood up straight and planted her feet like she was about to start swinging. “So at least tell me this: why the hell do they think kidnapping Xander’s going to help them get their hands on this demon? And why the hell do they think that we,” here she waved a hand at the baby Slayers, “would go out of our way to protect it?”
Buffy bit her lip and looked down as Dawn put a comforting hand on her sister’s shoulder.
“B, this demon sounds pretty fucking evil,” Faith said. “Are you seriously telling me that you are protecting this thing?”
“Not the way I should have,” Buffy mumbled.
The baby Slayers looked as confused as Faith felt.
“Anyanka is Anya,” Andrew finally answered.
Faith gave her head a hard shake. “Come again?”
The question seemed to trigger something in Andrew. He leaned against the table, cleared his throat, and said, “Anya was once this vengeance demon who decided to become human because she fell in love with Xander.”
“Unh, not exa—” Willow began.
“She was supposed to grant a wish that would curse him,” Andrew spoke over Willow, “but she couldn’t do it because his heart was too pure.”
“That’s not…” Willow protested.
“But she was told she had to or she’d lose her powers,” Andrew continued.
“She lost her power center, you mean,” Willow corrected.
“She lost her power center rather than harm an innocent man,” Andrew insisted.
“She lost her power center because she lost it,” Willow stated. “Andrew, where did you get this?”
“Oh?” Andrew asked archly. “Then why did Xander agree to help her learn how to be human?”
“You’ve got me there,” Willow said. “But the point is she was a vengeance demon, she lost her powers not gave them up, she tried to get it back using me which resulted in Vampire me running around Sunnydale until we could send her back. Plus, it was strictly a sex thing—which I sure didn’t need to hear about from Anya right after Oz left—until long after we got out of high school.”
“Willow, please do calm down,” Giles said.
“He went to the prom with her,” Andrew pointed out.
“How do you find out this stuff?” Buffy asked.
Andrew sniffed. “A magician never tells his secrets.”
“Andrew,” Buffy growled threateningly.
“Anya may have told me some things,” he quickly said.
“And naturally you feel the overwhelming need to fill in the gaps with romantic twaddle,” Giles said.
“So how do you explain their beautiful, perfect love?” Andrew asked.
“Wait. Hold on,” Faith interrupted. “You seriously expect me to believe that Xander—which would be demons-that-eat-people-are-evil-kill-it-b
“Yeah. We never got that either,” Dawn said.
“Hey!” Willow protested. “No speaking ill of the…”
“The dead is responsible for Xander being gone,” Dawn said angrily. “Excuse me for not being all god-rest-her-soulishness right now.”
“She was willing to trade her life to reverse a wish that killed 13 people. She died fighting to close the Hellmouth. She didn’t have to stay in Sunnydale at all,” Buffy muttered.
“Unh, Buffy, she sorta did have to stay with us,” Willow corrected her friend. “You do remember D’Hoffryn sending hit demons after her, right?”
“This is officially fucked up and we are even more officially screwed,” Faith interrupted. “We can’t give these things Anya and I don’t think they’re going to take death certificate as proof she’s dead. I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as a massive problem if we want to get Xander back.”
“Excuse me. Quick question,” Rona interrupted. “But have any of you guys not had sex with something evil? Or not turned evil? I’d like a show of hands.”
“Hey!” Willow, Kennedy, and Andrew shouted in unison while Buffy and Giles simply glared.
“Rona,” Vi hissed as she jabbed her friend with an elbow.
“No. I really think we should know this in case this is part of our final exam before we go solo,” Rona said.
“I still don’t get it, though,” Faith said.
“Xander and Anya? I didn’t get them either,” Willow said.
“Not that,” Faith said. “The other thing. The kidnappers again promised that Xander was alive and well and that they wouldn’t hurt him no matter what. I just don’t get it.”
Buffy’s face hardened. “They know if they hurt him, we’ll kill them.”
More than a few of the newbies were nodding right along with the blonde Slayer.
“Goes without saying,” Faith agreed. “But you’d think they’d at least throw out the threat just to make sure we won’t do something stupid.”
“Faith has an excellent point,” Giles mused. “The threat of physical harm would certainly make us act more cautiously and would be a better tactic to get what they want.”
“I don’t know about you guys, but I think the threat of never seeing Xander again is really all the threat I need, thanks,” Dawn said.
“And it’s real threat,” Willow agreed. “Because we still have a basic problem: no Anya.”
Faith startled when the she heard the phone ring. She glanced around the room and saw that everyone was ignoring it, opting instead to start talking over one another in an effort to solve the unsolvable problem.
“Hey, someone going to get that?” she asked.
“Get what?” Rona asked.
“Oh, forget it,” Faith grumped. She wanted to get away from what was shaping up to be one of those all-day debates anyway.
“Faith, what are you…” Buffy began.
The phone’s ringing was driving her crazy. Faith headed out of the room, grumbling, “Coming, coming. Why ain’t voicemail getting that? Probably on the blink.”
She managed to reach the phone on the sixth ring. “Hello? Hello?”
“Hunh. Hung-up,” she frowned at the handset. For shits and giggles, she checked the Caller ID.
It said: “No new calls.”
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