It was late. The Magic Box was dark and empty, it was raining steadily outside with Someone's sick sense of dramatic irony, and I had nowhere to go. Nowhere I wanted to go.
It was my wedding night. I was alone.
I closed the cash register gently, so as not to disturb the money.
It had brought me so much happiness once, this place. A haven of comfort and free market capitalism. A place where things made sense, and I had a job to do. Now I had another job to do, but it just wasn't the same. Something was missing.
No, that was silly of me. I knew I couldn't grant my own wishes that way. But...
Teleportation was always one of the great perks of vengeance work. After my amulet got smashed, I had found myself cranky and exhausted for months just from the ridiculous amount of time and energy it took to travel from place to place.
Now that I had my powers again, I was going to make the most of them.
I closed my eyes and thought of England.
Well, not really. I thought of one specific Englishman.
The next instant, it was all green humid warmth around me, and the scent of roses; and there was Giles, rising startled from a crouch, eyes wide, his rustic gardening gloves caked in rich black earth.
He'd been repotting tulips. I almost laughed, but I wasn't sure how it would come out.
"Anya? How did you--"
"Hello, Giles," I said, relieved to hear that my voice sounded almost normal. "I like your greenhouse. I didn't know you were a gardener." I wanted to hug him, but something was making me uneasy. Something about the way he was looking at me.
"My mother is," he said absently, peeling off his gloves. "But her arthritis is flaring up, so--" He wasn't staring at my face, but at my chest. Of course, it wasn't the first time, but he had always been much more subtle about it before. Dear stuffy old Giles. But I knew the truth. No man who--
And then his expression changed. It made me take a step back. His eyes got all hard and cold, like he didn't know me at all.
"Good God, Anyanka," he said. "What have you done?"
Only then did my hand fly up to the amulet around my neck. The thing he had seen. The source of my power. He hadn't been admiring my other charms after all. And I remembered he'd looked at me that way once before.
Not him, not really. Another Giles, in another world. A harder man than the one that stood before me, worn by more losses, more grief. But right at that moment, they had the same eyes.
He'd looked at me that way before he smashed my amulet, the first time.
I realized I might have made a very big mistake.
* * *
I took my old job back because D'Hoffryn was right.
I had let Xander domesticate me. To be human is to be weak, no doubt about it; ephemeral, mortal, prone to fat and wrinkles and poor spending habits. But to be a human in love is to be completely defenseless. For centuries I had laid men like Xander low, men better than Xander, thousands of them, and then I turned around and gave this one foolish carpenter the power to take my world apart just by walking away.
So he did, of course. And I should have known better. Hand someone--some man--power, and eventually he's going to use it against you. That's what I used to tell my clients as they sniffled messily on my shoulder. Better to hurt than to be hurt, I would say, scenting the rage simmering beneath their weepy surface, waiting for the wish to take on form and force between us.
You wouldn't believe how many repeat customers I had.
Because that's the thing about the human soul--or maybe just the prospect of certain age, ugliness, and death. It makes you grab for happiness when there's not a chance in Hell it will turn out well. Makes you think that maybe things will be different for you this time. That you could be the exception, the story that ends differently.
Demons, though--we know the truth. The Powers That Be? They're sadistic. Bloodthirsty. Capricious. We're made in their image. You can't beat them, and joining them is only marginally better. Being human, I'd forgotten that for a while.
You have to, I think, to endure it.
And now I couldn't anymore. So I took my own power back, like the narrator of some generic yet catchy pop song. What else was there for me to do? I'd built my entire human life around Xander Harris. My friends were all his friends before they were mine. Without him, I didn't belong, and the last thing I wanted to become was one of those miserable, angry, helpless girls like the ones for whom I'd once dealt vengeance.
No, I could deal my own vengeance, thank you. A few good disembowelments and I'd be feeling like myself again in no time.
Or that was the idea. But deep down, I knew that all the wishes in the world couldn't change the fact that I was incapable of hurting Xander the way he'd hurt me.
Demons do love, you know. I'd started to believe the Scooby line that we don't. At least, I'd hoped it was true. But it wasn't. I might have traded in my human soul for my old tarnished demon one, but I still had the same heart, and it was still broken.
Maybe that's why I found myself seeking out the only other person who had once been a little bit mine, who had been mine when Xander wasn't. Who had given me the one part of my life in which I was my own woman. Who had trusted me with his property, his inventory, and his capital.
It didn't occur to me that he might stop trusting me when he found out I'd gone back to a little trade in vengeance on the side.
Why would it? So I could once again wield magics that could reweave the fabric of time and space, transform the metaphorically spineless into real invertebrates, and castrate entire frat rows without batting an eye. I didn't feel any different; I certainly didn't feel any more powerful. I was still Anya, the girl who'd kept his shop and cared for his money and saved him from at least three audits.
I was still the girl he'd kissed when he forgot himself.
But now he was looking at me like I wasn't a girl at all. Like I was a thing. A threat to be assessed and neutralized. Soulless. Evil.
I could feel tears building in my chest, in my throat, but I quashed their rebellion relentlessly. I was tired of crying. Instead, I let fury race through my veins, dark and refreshing. How dare he judge me like that? He didn't know what Xander had done to me. And even if he did, he couldn't possibly understand. I’d been stupid to think that he could make it all better. He was just a man, after all.
"Giles," I said, and I heard a little rasp come into my voice when I said his name. The voice of my demon. He heard it too; I saw him tense, his fears confirmed. And for a moment, I felt a little better. A little more powerful. I had made Giles afraid. "You didn't come to my wedding."
I was stepping forward now, and he was stepping back. "I'm sorry I couldn’t be there," he said. "There was a demon--" He broke off with an awkward little cough. "In St. James."
"A demon that you had to kill," I said, and took another step. "It's all right. I know what you are."
He kept his eyes on me, but I could see his mind working behind them. Strategizing. Trying to think of what he could use as a weapon, probably. "What happened to you, Anya?”
“It’s more what didn’t happen.” I bent casually to sniff a white rose. "These are pretty," I said. "White for innocence. White for betrayal. I remember Richard of York bore one on his banner when he rode to his doom. Now that was a good day’s work in vengeance."
I was watching him surreptitiously as I spoke, waiting for him to figure it out. Giles was a smart man, even if he'd never had much of a head for tax returns. And this way I wouldn’t have to say it out loud.
“You doomed Richard--?” he said, momentarily derailed. Then, “Good Lord. Of course. The wedding. It would have been--”
I turned my head away. I thought I’d wanted him to look at me like a person again, but suddenly I couldn’t bear it. The roses blurred and swam, smears of red and white against a smeared green world. “Last night, yes.”
“Xander? Is he--?”
“He’s fine,” I said. “I think. Wherever he is.”
A stunned pause. Giles was putting the rest of the pieces together. A simple puzzle, really. An old story. I wasn’t the first or the last woman to live in it. “And you?”
I just shrugged. “I’m here, aren’t I? You can see for yourself.”
“So I can.” Giles cleared his throat. “I am so very sorry.”
“Yes, well. Everyone’s sorry. Xander’s sorry too. He told me so, before he abandoned me at the altar.” Except he hadn’t made it to the altar. He’d barely gotten to the foyer.
“But not as sorry as he’s going to be? I know you must be hurting a great deal right now. But to give up your immortal soul--”
“You can’t talk me out of this, Giles. It’s done.” My breath huffed out of me, a small bitter laugh. “If you’re going to kill me, at least be quick about it. You could, you know. I don’t have any special powers against you. Not without a wish.”
He looked quite shaken. “My dear girl, I--”
“Don’t pretend you aren’t considering it. I told you, I know what you are--” and my smile was entirely mirthless-- “Ripper.”
“And I know what you are,” he said. “All pretence aside, then. You were--are--a particularly ruthless vengeance demon. You have killed thousands of men and maimed countless more. I have to consider these things. Did you really think, in coming here, that I would forget that?”
“Yes!” I cried. “I thought you would offer me tea and your characteristic dry sarcasm. And maybe a hug. You give good hugs, Giles. They make a person feel safe, and--and taken care of.” I wrapped my arms around myself, miserable and angry and helpless. It turned out demon girls got that way, too. “I thought we were friends. I didn’t think a man who kissed me like you did would forget that!”
The whisper of English drizzle on the greenhouse roof filled the abrupt silence that had fallen between us. I hadn’t meant to say that last part; it just flew out. Giles flushed; opened his mouth and shut it again; took off his glasses and began to clean them. I thought of how many times I’d seen him do that, usually because I had said something amusingly inappropriate about having sex with Xander. I thought about throwing myself sobbing into his arms and getting snot all over his shabby English gardener’s coat. Then I thought about grabbing those glasses and grinding them to pieces with my heel.
Both seemed equally appealing, and I hadn’t arrived at a decision when he set his glasses carefully back on his nose and looked at me through them. It was a different look than he’d given me before, though I couldn’t tell you what it meant. Finally he said, carefully, “I do wish this hadn’t happened to you.”
I shook my head with a sigh. “Oh, Giles. It doesn’t work that way. I can’t grant a wish that’s made out of compassion.”
“It has to be vengeance?”
“Haven’t you ever wondered why I have my own entries in those books of yours, and other vengeance demons only get footnotes? It’s not because I’m just that good.” I laughed. “I mean, I am that good. I’m the best there is. But it’s the anger of the wisher that lends the wish its power. And there’s no anger deeper or blacker than a wronged woman’s. It’s like a bottomless well, and I couldn’t do what I do without it.”
Giles said slowly, as if quoting, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”
“Exactly. Is that Shakespeare? It sounds like Shakespeare.”
“No; another compatriot. A man named Congreve. Just out of curiosity, did you really doom Richard?”
“I didn't, in fact. That was some other demon’s project. Anne was already gone, and you can’t wish when you’re dead.”
He winced at that, but he said, “I thought as much. You have more style than to merely make a man’s horse vanish at an awkward moment.”
“Why, thank you. I’m impressed that you appreciate the finer points of my work.” My smile was only a little watery. “You know, I’ve taken good care of your money for you. I was looking at it last night, because I thought it might make me feel better. But all it did was make me miss you.”
“I miss you too. But--”
“Giles, can I share something personal with you?”
This made him laugh a little. “Is any power on Earth that could prevent you from sharing it?”
“There’s the sarcasm I was expecting.” I took a step towards him; this time he didn’t step back. “Here’s the thing. I miss Xander, and it hurts. It hurts so much that there are moments when I think it might just kill me.” Giles started to speak; I held up a hand to stop him. “But I couldn't have a conversation with Xander about any of the things I've seen. And I can with you.”
“Anya,” he said. He looked pained. We stood facing each other among the roses. Outside, the rain dripped down. I couldn’t seem to escape the dramatic irony lately.
“When you kissed me, I could tell that you meant it. And I can’t help wondering whether there’s any way that you could mean it again.” My voice broke; I took a breath. “Could you want me, Giles? Because that would be nice to know right now.”
He muttered something under his breath that sounded like an oath, and took my hands in his. It was only then that I realized how much mine were shaking.
“Could, and do,” he said. “You asked if I forgot, and of course I haven’t. Not by a long shot. You are an extraordinary woman, Anya. But--”
He moved so fast I almost missed it. Just like the first time.
This time, though, I was ready for him. I caught his wrist as his fingers grasped for my amulet. I hadn’t lied when I said my powers couldn’t touch him. But I had demon reflexes, and demon strength, and when I shoved him backwards he fell to the ground.
“But not like this?” I stood over him; I could feel the demon rage blacken my veins, saw it reflected in his eyes as fear. “No. You don’t get to make that choice for me. Not even you.”
He pulled his feet under him into a fighting crouch, but I ported backwards, putting a safe distance between us.
“I never was much good at being human,” I said. “Goodbye, Giles.”
“I can’t,” I said. “I just remembered I have work to do.”
There was a brief moment in which I saw the scene vividly. The roses in bloom, the tulips half-potted. Rupert Giles, dirt on his hands and the knees of his trousers, glasses askew, staring at me. About to speak, perhaps. To try to explain why being human was better.
Then the greenhouse was gone, and Giles with it; I was striding up a sidewalk towards a bar. There was a woman there who needed me; I could feel her. A girl, really, barely of age. She was crying in a filthy bathroom, wiping her nose on her sleeve because someone had strewn all the tissue across the floor of the stall. There were bruises flowering on her arms, on her thighs.
I could sense her anger, waiting to be called forth: the thing that would stop her from hurting herself, later, when she thought about this night. The thing that would keep her going, keep her alive. I could sense the wish emerging already, stirring like a living thing, waiting for shape and weight and direction.
I was ready for it.
* * *
Give a man power, and eventually he’ll use it against you. Doesn’t matter how good he is, or how well he means. It happens every time.
Let him see yours, and he’ll try to take it away. But when that happens, there’s one thing you still have.
And that’s me.
So go on, girlfriend. Tell me what you wish he could feel. Tell me what he deserves.
Because sometimes, wishes do come true.