Sunnydale is the Hollywood of vengeance--somebody's always got an idea, a plan, a little something that needs twenty minutes of your attention right now. And maybe after three years as a human, Anya's stamina isn't what it used to be, because night after night of listening to women cry and coaxing them into an "I wish" has worn her down to a shapely frazzle.
After the second night in a row when Anya started crying, out of sheer frustration at waiting and waiting and waiting for that little word that would let her start doing her job, she writes "Emergency Closing" on the shop door in red lipstick and hits the road. South to Los Angeles, which is practically a rural retreat from all the vengeful bustle of Sunnydale. A few days to herself, that's what she needs. A little shopping, expensive cocktails paid for with her beautiful and hard-earned money, dining on things like foie gras and veal that taste just a little better because something suffered on the way to the plate. And sex, a few orgasms to chase away the memory of Xander Harris, not to mention the insufficiently blurred memory of Spike.
Anya goes to LA to get away from work, so naturally she's hardly been there half an hour before she finds a girl sobbing discreetly on a bus bench. She's tempted to turn right back around to her hotel room, but she's already on probation after the "frog" incident (completely unfair, because the man's going to suffer far more as a Frenchman in Sunnydale than he would as an actual frog). She sits down instead. "So what happened?" she asks. "Does he ignore you and watch football all day? Did he call you fat?" After taking a better look at the long, gawky legs drawn up under the girl's chin, Anya decides that's unlikely. "Does he stare at girls with bigger breasts and pretend not to know why you're upset? Does he forget every major holiday?" The girl inches over to the far edge of the bench and cries harder. "Oh, so it's something really serious. I bet he cheated on you. With some bimbo so loaded with silicone that she's no longer technically alive, right?"
"Well, it must be something, because if it's nothing, what are you doing wasting my time crying like this?"
"Sorry," the girl squeaks in a scared mouse-voice. She gets up, pushing her hair back from her wet face and mopping her eyes with the blue sleeve of her hoodie. Even puffy from crying and patched red and yellow by the flashing neon lights of the convenience store beer sign, her face is beautiful. Anya's glad. Somehow taking vengeance for the ugly ones is never quite as fun; it always seems like whatever happened to them was half their fault.
Noticing Anya staring, the girl takes a hesitant half-step backward. The last thing Anya needs is another "failure to complete" on her record, so she grabs the girl's arm. "Don't go. Tell me all about it. Please." Something about the girl's expression twists like she's thinking of screaming. Quickly, Anya changes her grip to a comforting pat. "Why were you crying?"
"Stupid." With a loud sniffle, the girl wipes her eyes again, roughly. "Stupid to cry about it, you're right." A smile wavers across her mouth and disappears. "I'm thirty-one years old, I understand string theory, so why am I sitting her crying just because -" Her voice drops, but she continues, as though she can't stop herself. "Just because my boyfriend won't help me kill somebody."
Anya, who's been thinking about whether she should get a pedicure, looks up into the girl's lovely eyes. With that mass of hair curled around her face, she seems like a woman in an old portrait, all frailty and virtue. "I can see we've got a lot to talk about," Anya says, leading her back towards the hotel at the end of the block. "Let me buy you a drink."
The thing about the really sweet, girly-looking cocktails, the ones that come in Crayola colors with umbrellas and fruit slices, is that each one is the equivalent of a steel-toed kick in the head. By the time she's had a few sips, Anya really cares about the story the girl, Fred, is telling. She makes outraged sounds at the professor's betrayal, pats Fred's hand at every Pylean horror, applauds when Fred's paper is accepted, and at the end discovers completely new outraged sounds that are still inadequate to express how she feels about this Charles person.
"He says he loves you too much?" All eyes in the room turn to them, and Anya takes advantage of the attention to signal the waiter for two more drinks. "That is the most pathetic . . . you don't really love someone unless you'll help them take well-deserved revenge, that's what I say." She sets her paper umbrella spinning like a top and giggles. "What about . . . Weldon or whatever his name was?"
"Wesley." Fred tries the same thing with her umbrella, but only manages to tip over the votive candle in the ugly glass jar. Laughing and shushing Anya, she rights it before the tablecloth does anything worse than smolder.
"Whoever. The obsessed one. What about him? Really, the scary crazy guys can be a lot more useful than the nice ones."
"Hey. That's - I'll ask him. Right after I finish this drink with the long name," Fred adds, with an approving and slightly dazed smile for the waiter with their glasses. He smiles tightly back and flinches away from Anya's attempt to poke him in the ribs.
"It's called Screaming Multiple Orgasms On a Nudist Beach," the waiter says. Anya and Fred both start laughing again, and the waiter stalks away.
Over the second round, Anya finds herself not bothering to fish for the magic word and instead tells Fred the whole humiliating story of her life with Xander Harris. Well, everything except the vengeance demon stuff, because D'Hoffryn gets really tight-assed about that confidentiality clause. And now it's Fred's turn with the hand pats and outraged noises. She's good at sympathy. She's nice, even when Anya forgets what order things happened in or exactly which of Xander's identical drunken cousins said the most awful thing at the rehearsal dinner. Which Anya does more and more as alcohol and laughter start making the blush come out on Fred's cheeks.
"You're better off without him," Fred says, and it's so smart and true that the only thing Anya can do is kiss her. The guys at the next table start whooping and clapping like they've just won a new car, and Fred blushes even more and her hair tumbles down over her eyes and she makes a soft noise when Anya kisses her again.
They leave a fifteen-dollar tip because they can't wait for change, and they kiss all the way up to the twenty-eighth floor, and Fred smells like rum and pineapple and tears, and her little fingers are strong and quick, and her skin's sand-pale and her nipples are tight between Anya's lips, and her tongue is so hot and so twisty, and she's wet and soft and smoky and her legs are so long and they grip Anya's waist and slide around her hips, and she makes noises and pushes and moves and licks and -
God, orgasms feel good. What kind of idiot names a mere drink after them?
For about the hundredth time, Anya winds a length of Fred's hair around her finger. So soft, and she wishes the movement didn't remind her of spinning. Not having to spin thread anymore was at least the third-best thing about becoming a vengeance demon. "So glad I came to LA todaaaaaayyyyy," she says, her yawn turning the last syllable into a long contented murmur. A little vacation was a good idea. Maybe she'll stay a week. Hallie would probably cover for her.
"Me too." Fred, with a loopy half-drunk grin, drapes one of those amazing legs over Anya's thigh and kisses her. "I guess the last few days haven't been unredeemably awful."
Anya runs a hand up Fred's long smooth back, then down to cup a breast. Little breasts like Fred's are so much prettier than the giant ones on porn stars. Yet another way men are stupid.
Just as Anya's deciding that she might have the energy for one more orgasm, Fred says, "I still wish Professor Seidel would spend eternity in a hell dimension, though. Being . . . being eaten by demon rats."
It only takes that one little word to call up the power. Something black as storm clouds unfolds beneath Anya's skin, and she feels her face change as the force builds and builds in her.
Fred shrieks and scrambles out of bed. "What are you?" she asks, shouts, from the corner where she's huddled naked and scared and beautiful.
There's no stopping it, not after the word's been said, but Anya curls up, rocking, agonized, trying to fight the surge back down. Fred didn't mean it. Fred's just angry, not a killer. Anya won't do this, not with the tastes of Fred's skin in her mouth, the weight of Fred's body barely gone from her arms.
Somewhere a dimension shudders, starts to open, and Anya feels the irising of the barriers like a hole in her own body. Somewhere a pathetic old man shouts, terrified as he senses a portal trying to burst into existence. Power swells inside Anya, ballooning, and there's no room in her for it, she'll split and die. Teeth clenched against a howl of pain, she claws at the mattress and pushes down, trying to hold it, shrink it to nothing, make it all stop. But it just surges back, and she can feel herself cracking.
She can't stop this.
"Done," Anya shrieks, and the magic finds its path. Everything lurches, the portal opens to swallow the old man, and then he's chained and screaming, pushing with gnawed hands at the rats that swarm over his face. Fred screams too, covers her mouth and screams and stares at the huge red-eyed rats and the broken body, the chains and the bloody rocks where the corner of the room used to be.
The wisher always has to see. It's a rule.
Anya closes her eyes, cold and sick, and waits until it's over, until the hole inside her seals and the dimensions settle back. When she opens them, Fred is rocking on the carpet, muttering "No, no, no, no, no." She didn't mean it. She was just angry. She'll never be able to bear this, Anya knows.
Anya knows too, finally, after eleven hundred years, that nobody ever can. That's the point.
Anya is vengeance. Not justice. Not peace or closure or any other stupid soothing word. And not a person, either.
Gently, she strokes Fred's hair. She expects Fred to pull away, fight her, but the girl is too gone in shock. Anya kisses the parting of her hair, her cheek, the little red bruise on one shoulder. Then she puts on her clothes and takes the elevator down to the hotel garage. If she starts now, she'll be back in Sunnydale by dawn.