Once again, my darling brother proves he needs professional help.
do0d, word of advice...cut back on the caffine. Just sayin'.
In other news, tonight has been a bundle of technological fun. Let me see, Verizon refused to play nice and connect to the Internet. My Norton Firewall mysteriously decided to shut down...repeatedly. I just about gave up posting tonight and was starting to watch Monster with George, the amazingly hyper lovebird, when my electricity snaps off with a *pop.*
George freaks and flies right into a wall and refuses to chirp when I call for him. At this point, I figure birdbrain has knocked himself out. I literally crawl into the kitchen, since I don't want to step on birdbrain and grab a candle and a lighter. The light flicks on and George is running his little blue feet off to get to me. He had the nerve to look annoyed like I, personally, took his movie away just when he was getting interested. Grrrrrr.
Finally, I got annoyed enough about my lack of Internet-having to call Verizon. They were at least helpful. Turns out that, for reasons tech support didn't know, my wonderful DSL provider decided to send a silver bullet over my telephone line (I guess they do this on occassion, cable companies do the same thing to make sure people on the system are legitimately getting their feed) and for some reason it ended up resetting my DSL modem and screwing up my firewall.
All fixed now. But still....grrrrrrrrrr.
Anyway, new Water Hold Me Down. Yay!
I actually had a lot of fun writing this part, if only because I finally get to play with the idea with how other people view Xander vs. how Xander views himself. Needless to say, there's a smidgeon of a disconnect.
Continued from Part 10
Xander spent several very frustrating hours prowling the library’s puny stacks. What few “occult” books—and he used the term very loosely—there were on the shelves were watered down and made safe for consumption by the general public, which meant they were useless for his purposes.
He never thought he’d see the day when he would lust after Giles’s long-gone book collection full of languages that weren’t English, an English-to-whatever dictionary to help translate, and a regular ol’ dictionary to help him with the words he didn’t know.
At some point he finally hit up the computers and attempted to make use of Google, except the nanny filter on the machines blocked almost every site he needed to see. He was able to get a passcode from the librarian—who did turn out to be the Jules in question—that by-passed the stricter levels of the nanny filter. However, it still managed to block a significant number of sites because, according to Jules, they contained “adult content.”
He refrained from pointing out that since he was an adult, he should have a right to see the sites if he wanted to. The last thing he needed was to annoy the librarian over something she couldn’t do anything about, especially since he might wind up back in here at some point.
He finally was reduced to searching for Giles’s name (not even a ghost of a reference), the Watcher’s Council (yet another useless endeavor), Faith (ditto on the nothing doing part), and doing an ego search on other Xander. At least with other Xander he got a lot more information than he expected. However, everything centered on Harris Custom Furniture and Installation and not so much on other Xander’s personal life. The articles in question talked about the Harrises and their business in such glowing terms that it made him admire nightmare-Anya’s PR skills and business savvy since there was no chance other him would even think of getting publicity for the business. While the information might serve useful at some point, it didn’t help him get any closer to his immediate goal of getting the hell out of Zihuatanejo, waking up, or finding a way to break out of whatever fever-dream delusion his brain had created.
He was so engrossed in reading the latest article that he startled when a pair of arms encircled his neck and Anya’s voice said, “You forgot to call.”
“Oh. Unh. Ummm. Should you be hugging…”
Anya leaned closer and whispered in his ear. “Married. Remember?”
Surprised that Anya was even thinking about appearances he stood quickly and stretched, if only to prevent her from touching him again. “Sorry. Lost track of time.”
“So I see.” Anya acted more amused than annoyed, which was a relief. “We have to go. The library closes in an hour and we have to get you ready for the party. Oh, I need to stop by the store first, okay?”
Leaving didn’t happen as quickly as Xander wanted. Anya stopped to chat with Jules and to preen when the librarian praised her for getting her husband on the fit track. She also stopped to talk to some random woman entering the library. Judging by the conversation, the woman was a happy Harris Custom Furniture and Installation client.
Xander barely managed to keep a straight face as Anya schmoozed and finessed the woman. Even though he could see it was nothing more than a sophisticated version of “Thank you for patronage. Come back and give us a lot more of your money because we want it,” the former client practically ate Anya’s attentions up with a spoon. Hell, Anya gave her the silverware, the plate, and the freaking food near as Xander could tell, and the woman was gobbling it down.
Since he really had nothing to say, mostly because he had no idea what to say between Anya’s evolution into business networking genius and the woman’s high praise for other Xander’s status as a “genuinely American artisan,” he was reduced to smiling and looking thoughtful. Personally, he thought client-woman was going way over the top. From what he gathered she had bought a custom-made bedroom set that included a headboard for the bed, a wardrobe, a dresser and two nightstands. The bedroom set represented a lot of work, true, and judging from the pictures on the Harris business Web site, was probably made with high quality wood. But “artisan?” Overstate much?
Amazingly, Anya did manage to land the beginnings of a sale—Come back and give us more of your money!—when the woman confided how her bedroom set was positively a smash among her social circle and confidently predicted that one or two close friends—“I say close, but, really, they tend to sheep their way behind me, because they simply feel they must keep up”—will be calling on her wonderfully talented husband for bedroom sets of their own—“Although I do beg you to keep your design for my set exclusive. I really don’t want to see a copy of my set in their houses.”
Anya, with equal confidence, predicted that the client would not be faced with such a horror since, “As you know all our designs are unique to our clients. We understand that everyone is an individual and they should have fine furniture that reflects that. I know we’ll be able to steer them to a design they’ll be very happy with while keeping your bedroom set a genuine one-of-a-kind Harris original.”
Once the transaction was complete, Anya excused herself and him from the conversation. She even nudged him to shake hands with happy client woman and offered the excuse that he was a little distracted because he was now researching exciting new designs for a brand-new, out-of-town client.
The woman indulgently chuckled and remarked how such distraction was simply a sign of a true artist and showed no inclination towards being insulted that said artist hadn’t spoken a single word.
On that, Anya encircled an arm around his waist and guided him out of the library to the car. Once they were in the open air, he asked, “Are we done? I hope we’re done.”
“Depends,” she shrugged, although she kept her arm around his waist in a manner that Xander could only describe as thoroughly business-like, “Are we going to run into more customers before we reach the car?”
“I hope not. I can’t take another conversation like that.”
“Then if it happens, nod and smile like you just did and let me do the talking,” Anya instructed.
Once they reached the car in the lot behind the library, Anya said, “Kiss me.”
Anya huffed irritation. “On the cheek. You don’t know who’s watching.”
Anya was again worrying about public perception. Any second now someone was going to be jumping out of the bushes yelling that he’d been Punk’d. He gave her the most chaste and quickest peck on the cheek he could get away with before Anya steered him to the passenger side.
Once she settled in the driver’s seat, Anya switched from woman-about-town to suspicious. “Find anything?”
“Nada. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Zip. Zero,” Xander grumbled as he slumped.
“Well, maybe the university tomorrow.”
“You don’t sound happy about the prospect.”
She started up the car. “I’m not happy about this entire situation. The more I think about it, the more unhappy I am.”
“I’m unhappy. My evil twin’s unhappy. About time you joined the unhappy club.”
“No need to get testy,” Anya snapped.
“I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m the fish out of water here.”
“Exactly. We have a good life and you’re going to cause problems, if you haven’t already. Now I’m going to have to talk Xander into trying to look more like you before he goes back into the town center.”
“Why? Because the librarian noticed that your husband looks younger? What’s she going to do? Call all her friends and tell them?”
“Yes. It’s a small town. People talk. And if you don’t think Mrs. Polchanski didn’t notice that my ‘artist husband’ was looking different, you weren’t paying attention,” Anya said as she navigated the streets. “She was practically drooling all over you.”
“No, she was practically drooling over the fact that you promised her a unique furniture experience, whatever the hell that is.”
Anya muttered angrily, “I can’t wait to talk to Xander about this. He’s not going to be happy at all, not that I blame him. I like him just the way he is and you come along and ruin it.”
Xander bit his tongue to prevent himself from continuing the argument. Unbelievable. Not even five minutes alone with her and he was already enmeshed in nasty bickering with Anya. No, not Anya. Nightmare-Anya because there was no way real Anya would ever come across to anyone as being perfectly normal. Plus, there was that whole appearances thing she was worked up about. His Anya did just enough to get by and that was it. This Anya was acting normal according to the Martha Stewart Bible. He remembered when his Anya was convinced that Martha Stewart was a demon-summoning witch.
Well, that’s disturbing. I’m actually hoping that this Anya is demon-summoning witch, too. That would at least make sense.
Since he didn’t rise to the bait, they finished the ride in tense silence. When they finally landed in front of the store, she announced, “We both have to go in.”
“I’ll just stay in the car.”
Anya gave him that look; the one that said, “Are you done being an ass?”
“Fine. Appearances. Apparently you’re attached at the hip, too,” Xander complained as he hauled himself out of the car and stomped up to the door.
“Sorry about the detour,” Anya said as she let them in. “I forgot some paperwork that I have to take home and stow in our safe. It’s for our taxes, you know.”
“Unh-hunh,” Xander agreed absently as he wandered around. There were a few examples of Harris Custom Furniture work in various stages of finish. He stopped in front of an unfinished rocking chair and his breath caught.
It was beautiful.
He reached out a trembling finger and traced the delicate twining of vines on the armrests. Every rendered stem and leaf worked with the grain and flaws in the wood, giving him the impression that the design had been there all along, rather than imposed. The headrest was inlayed with diamond-shaped, fitted pieces of complementary colored woods, fooling his eye into seeing a patchwork quilt tossed over the back of the chair. He suspected that if he actually sat in it, the seat would perfectly mold to his butt and thighs like it was the world’s most comfortable recliner.
There was no way other Xander did this work. Hell, he could never do work like this. He couldn’t do it even when he was two-eye having. The simple design he created for Buffy’s weapons chest was about all he could manage before he gave up in disgust. His hands were too big and clumsy to create the thing he saw in his mind’s eye. Sure, he was proud he did it and Buffy seemed genuinely thrilled with it, but some part of him wondered if he could’ve done better if only he were a little more talented.
“Do you like it?” Anya asked from behind him.
He turned around and for a moment was taken aback. The afternoon sun was pouring over her shoulders and setting the highlights in her hair on fire. She looked like she was sporting an all-over body halo, like she didn’t belong in this world any more than he did. She stepped forward until she was standing next to him, which broke the illusion that she was made out of sunlight.
“It’s…I don’t know what to say,” Xander mumbled. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“You mentioned you wanted to be a carpenter yesterday when we dubbed you Rory, so I assumed you are one, or at least was one at one time,” Anya said as she counted the folders cradled in her right arm.
“Sort of,” Xander waggled a hand, “I can fix things. Or board up broken windows. You need something dry-walled, I’m your guy. But this? No way. I don’t have the talent for something like this.”
Anya’s face softened from guarded to fond. “Just when I think you’re not Xander you come out and say something like that.”
Anya reached out and touched the chair’s armrest with her free hand, fingers gently ghosting over the vines. “Those first years out of Sunnydale were really hard. A lot of things happened, you have no idea…” her voice trailed off and she hung her head. “When we called to say we weren’t going back, Buffy at least wished us luck, but Willow…well, Willow let him have it. She wasn’t happy at all. She accused him of abandoning her when she really needed him to help straighten out the mess she made of her life with magic addiction and losing Tara.”
Well, well, looked like Anya was going to give him some information, even if the information didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Buffy he could see simply wishing him luck. She so desperately wanted out of life after getting resurrected that she probably sympathized with the idea of other Xander just leaving, even if it was an abrupt departure. Besides, he highly doubted that Buffy was focusing on much more than just getting through the day with her sanity intact during that time period.
Willow’s explosion was something of a surprise, though. He and Willow barely talked about more than surface things back then because straying too far out of wedding or ‘how-was-your-day’ talk into territory like magic addition, Tara-loss, or Buffy getting pulled out of heaven was rife with potential conversational landmines. Like the coward he was, he avoided talking about it in the same way he avoided talking to Anya about his wedding doubts.
“What she said…there was no excuse for that,” Anya’s voice betrayed barely controlled fury at the memory. “She just wanted someone to share the blame over Buffy’s problems.” She paused and winced. “Unh, in our reality we resurrected Buffy after she died and we later found out she was pulled out of heaven.”
“Same thing happened here,” Xander quickly confirmed. “Willow, Tara, me, and…and…and Spike were involved.”
“Spike? That is a surprise. He practically ripped Xander’s head off when he found out what we’d done,” Anya commented.
No. Spike was pissed that we not only didn’t tell him, but also lied to his face about what we were planning. Not so much on the fact that we did it. Hunh. Funny how he’d just realized what the core of Spike’s complaint actually was. Soulless, chipped menace or not, considering he’d spent the summer helping them and was babysitting Dawn when they did the resurrection spell, Spike may have had legitimate reasons to be furious with all of them.
Not that you’d ever get him to admit that out loud.
“Anyway, Xander was so upset after Willow got through with him that he was ready to go back,” Anya said.
“And you talked him out of it.”
Anya gave him a sharp look. “There you go again.”
“Again? What are you talking about?”
“The way you look at us, like we’re both cowards and that we’re both stupid.”
The accusation was so out of the blue that Xander was taken aback. “Whoa. Wait. I don’t think that. Not at all. What even gives you that idea?”
Anya looked up at him. “When you talk about things that are maybe normal for you to talk about and give us that look when we don’t know what to say. It’s the same look Giles used to give us when we didn’t understand something fast enough to make him happy.”
“I do not!” Xander protested. “And besides, Giles only gave me his patented British death glare when I was goofing on him. Okay, sometimes he snapped when I’d stick my foot in my mouth or when I didn’t take him or something seriously, but last I checked he did his share of glaring and yelling at all of us when we were being dense.”
Anya shook her head in disbelief. “You really don’t see it, do you? You don’t even hear it in your voice. You keep throwing all this silent accusations at us just because Buffy and Dawn are dead and Willow is insane.”
Someone has a guilty conscience. “I don’t care what you think. I don’t do it. It’s you projecting.”
Anya opened her mouth to angrily retort, which was Xander’s cue to back off from this fight.
“I’m sorry, but I really don’t look down on you. If everything played out the same way for me, including the march down the aisle and telling you about nasty visions stuck in my head, there’s nothing saying that I wouldn’t have done the exact same thing. So if you’re looking for accusing, you’re looking in the wrong place. I’m not being accusing-guy. I swear.”
Anya looked doubtful.
“Look at us,” Xander grinned, although he could feel how fake it was, “we’re fighting. Over what? Nothing. You were telling me how I remind you of…um…my older twin.”
Anya relaxed at that. “I guess what I was trying to say is that Xander wasn’t sure of himself after we left Sunnydale. Before we moved here, we lived just outside of L.A. It took awhile for Xander to get a job in construction, mostly because he couldn’t get a reference from the place where he worked because he just up and quit with no notice. He was on the job at the L.A. company less than a month when there was this rain of freaking fire from the sky and the economy tanked.”
“Rain of fire?” He shook his head. “Oh. Forgot. Sorry. Faith mentioned something about it. We were all kind of busy in Sunnydale fighting a big bad so we really didn’t know anything about it. Heard about it after the fact.”
Anya’s mouth dropped open. “You’ve worked with Faith, too?”
Considering that nightmare-Faith let him know just how much she liked the name Xander Harris, he wasn’t all that surprised that Anya was surprised. “Sometimes. I’m just saying that I know what you’re talking about with the rain of fire, even though I was nowhere near there when it happened.”
Anya’s eyebrows crunched like she was trying to get her head around the concept of Faith and him even having a civilized conversation, a sensation with which Xander could sympathize.
“So, economy tanked…” Xander prompted. Right now he needed information and Anya was in a talky mood. He’d be stupid not to try and get everything he could on other him.
“Xander got laid off because of the panic and riots and the economy. Then we found out I was pregnant. Right after that…” Anya snapped her mouth shut, almost as if she was about to let out a dangerous secret.
Xander could feel himself getting angry. “He started drinking anyway, didn’t he? Jesus Christ.”
Anya startled. “Xander? Drinking? We’re talking about Xander Harris, right?”
“Yeah. That guy,” Xander clenched his fists. “Did he hurt you? What did he do? I’ll kick his ass if he…”
Anya recovered from her impression of a fish. “No! Xander? He’d never…where are you even getting the idea that…” Her face dangerously darkened. “Have you ever…”
“What? No! Visions! Remember visions? You told me about them and I just assumed he started slipping right down that road,” Xander backpedaled. Talk about misreading a situation, he thought. Worse, it just made him look really, really bad in Anya’s eyes because that was the first thing he thought, even though Anya had told him last night that other Xander almost never drank.
“He’s a good man,” Anya growled between her teeth. “You may not want to believe it, but he is. He walked away from Sunnydale because he wanted to keep me safe and it was the only reason why we stayed away. We worked hard for this life and you walk around wrinkling your nose like we’re trailer trash.”
“Wait…I thought I said…”
She poked a finger at his chest. “Don’t deny it. I can see it on your face. I’ve got news for you, buster. He loves me and Haley more than anything in the world, even more than this business. He’d do anything for us. Plus, he’s very smart and he is talented. It took him a long time realize that, but he finally did. Do you know what I had to go through to finally convince him? Do you?”
Xander could only step back under the assault and hold up his hands in a show of surrender. He wondered just how long Anya had been grinding her teeth to keep from saying all the things she was saying. Somehow, he suspected that this anger was a hell of a lot older than 24-hours’ worth of his presence. For all he knew, it dated back to Willow’s accusations. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply…look at it from my point of view, hunh? I have Tony on one side of me and Jessica on the other. With shining examples of married life like that, can you blame me for jumping to conclusions?”
Anya physically deflated at the reminder. “No. You’re right. I should apologize.”
“You should?” Xander’s voice rose to a squeak at the end of the question because, really, he didn’t see why Anya needed to apologize. He was the one that pretty much called her a battered wife and, given Anya’s vengeance demon past, he’d be kind of worried if she didn’t take offense.
“Sometimes I forget about those two,” she waved a dismissive hand, “Actually, I very much want to forget. I just focus on today and plan for tomorrow. Thinking about the past has never led to anything good.”
“And I’m a big old reminder of it,” Xander said.
“A could have been, anyway,” Anya said.
It suddenly occurred to him that Anya was trying to accomplish something in this conversation, which was a little bit of a surprise. Anya ripping his head off for suggesting that other him pulled a Tony was more in character, if only because it was straight-shooting Anya at work. Using subtlety to get a message across wasn’t really her thing. This Anya could be fishing for information. She could also be telling him to back off. Or, and this was the most likely option, drawing a line and telling him not to cross it.
Then again he could be looking for things that simply weren’t there. Sometimes a conversation is just a conversation.
It bothered him that he couldn’t figure it out.
He cleared his throat. “Don’t worry about it. Trust me, I have my own problems, which you kind of pointed out. I’m hardly some great demon hunter who always gets my pointy-toothed thing and collects the glory later. Hell, you probably earn more in three months than I make in a whole year, so that should tell you something. If he starts getting all romantic about the good ol’ days in Sunnydale, just remind him how many times he nearly got eaten by one of his dates.”
“See? That’s why you should’ve married me,” Anya lightly said as she threaded her left arm through his right. “At least you’d get lots and lots of orgasms on a regular basis without the death.”
Xander gave his head a hard shake. It sounded so much like something Anya would say, but instead of the staccato, matter-of-fact voice she had used in making such announcements, this Anya said it as a joke, as if she were poking fun at herself.
He could swear reality was slipping a bit on that realization.
Anya bit her lip. “Oh, that’s right. I forgot. Last you saw me, I was still in my ‘learning to be human’ phase. I’m a little better with the literal, took me 1,200 years to get here, but here I am.”
“Yeah,” Xander agreed as he disentangled himself.
“So, when did you say other me left you again?” Anya casually asked.
Xander narrowed his eyes and studied her. Son of a bitch. She was fishing for information. “After I lost minimum-wage crappy job number 323 and set fire to my latest paper hat in a ritual best not discussed.”
Anya looked him straight in the eye and said, “That doesn’t really tell me anything.”
Xander stared back while his brain scrambled to find something to mark Anya’s “departure.” This Anya wasn’t about to let the subject drop, that much was clear, although he had no idea why she wanted to know.
“Sometime after Jonathan pulled his superstar spell on us. I think she got sick of me complaining that at least with Jonathan’s spell I felt like someone was taking me seriously, which no one else was at the time.” It was sort of the truth. Anya did get sick of him complaining and had attempted some form of buck-up speech. Given that this was Anya, the whole speech could be boiled down to, “You may be a loser, but you’re my loser.”
Anya was knocked off-balance by the answer. “She did?”
“Unh, yeah,” Xander said cautiously.
“Oh,” Anya shuffled uncomfortably. “That was really bad timing.”
“You could say that,” Xander agreed. C’mon, take the bait. Take the bait…
“It explains a lot, actually.” Anya seemed trapped. “I’m surprised you even talked to other me after I left.”
“Well I can’t blame her, really. I was a little bit of a mess and, unh, I didn’t appreciate her at all so, no good guy, no bad guy is how I look at it. Like I said, we sort of kept in touch but we haven’t talked in awhile now. I doubt she even knows I’m in Cleveland these days.”
Anya gave him a sad half-smile. “You really are Xander, aren’t you?”
He wanted to kick himself. One more chance to find out more slipped right through his fingers. He probably overplayed his hand. All he could do was wait for another opportunity. “I hope so, otherwise I’m in trouble.”
“You always were too forgiving of people you cared about back then,” Anya remarked.
Xander attempted one last fishing expedition. “Meaning my twin’s not like that now.”
Anya leveled her gaze at him. “Let’s just say you don’t let people walk all over you anymore. You know who you can trust to back you when you need it.”
“Like you,” Xander said.
That statement seemed to make her uncomfortable. “I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. I’m on your side.”
“No, you’re on his side, not mine.”
The correction earned him another half-smile. “And Haley’s.”
“Message received,” Xander replied.
“Good,” she said quietly. She added in a louder voice, “Now, we have to get going. I’ve got caterers making a mess of things in the house, Xander is probably going crazy trying to figure out what to wear, and Haley needs to get prettied up for the party.”
“Right. I’m ready.”
“Oh, that reminds me.” Anya pulled out several sheets of paper stapled together from her files and handed it to him. “Here’s a list of places you shouldn’t go to tonight because they might think you’re Xander.”
His eyes widened as he scanned the list on page one, flipped the page and realized that there was more places written on the back of page one. Pages two and three were the same. “What’s with the humungous list?”
“We’re members of the town’s Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau, the Lions, and the annual MDA drive. Plus we know a lot of people because we’re small business owners. We can’t have you running into people who actually know us. It’ll raise too many questions.”
“Three pages’ worth of ‘don’t go there?’ Three pages? Double-sided? You know, it just might be a little faster if you told me where I was allowed to go.”
“Probably,” Anya agreed as she walked to the shop door.
“You could go to Billy’s. It’s a biker bar on the edge of town.” Anya opened the door for him.
“A biker bar. Great. Can I walk there?”
“You could. It’ll take you an hour, though. Oh, and you still might be recognized if someone drove past you.”
“There’s always Frances’s,” she locked the door behind her. “That’s a strip club.”
“Let me guess. Located next to Billy’s?”
“Down the road.” Anya pressed a button on her key chain and Xander heard the car beep that it was unlocked.
“C’mon. There has to be somewhere else a little closer,” Xander said as he opened the passenger side door.
“Sorry, no,” Anya said as she got in the car.
Once they were settled in the interior, Xander wanted to make sure he was very clear on the concept. “So what you’re saying is that I can go anywhere I want at anytime I want as long as I don’t actually leave your property or enter the house while the party is going on.”
Anya gave him a pinball smile. “Exactly.”
Download (good for seven days): Boulevard of Broken Songs (Green Day vs. Oasis vs. Travis vs. Eminem) by Party Ben