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A Professional Consultation

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"You used to be a vengeance demon, right?"

Anya looked up from her tablet, startled. The boy wasn't looking at her; his eyes were firmly fixed on the crate of dried newts he was unpacking. But the tension in his shoulders was evidence enough that he was paying attention.

Not that he didn't usually. Unlike some of the motley assortment of friends and relations Anya had hired as summer help at the Magic Box over the years, Bill Summers-Pratt was hard-working, conscientious, and actually had a head for business. At fifteen, he wasn't a prepossessing child: skinny and bookish, with a mop of sandy-brown curls and glasses perpetually sliding down his nose. He had his mother's eyes, and there was a hint of his father's cheekbones emerging beneath the childish roundness of his face. Someday they might combine into something spectacular, but that day was still years away.

"I did," she replied. "Which you already know perfectly well, so I presume you're not bringing it up just to make small talk."

Bill bit his lip. "I just – you were human, and then you were a demon, and now you're human again. So I was wondering how it felt. If you still feel like... you."

This was increasingly peculiar. "Who else would I feel like?"

Vampires didn't blush, and Bill was a vampire in every important way but one. But he hunched his shoulders and looked as embarrassed as a teenage boy quizzing a woman old enough to be his mother could possibly look. "I don't know," he said miserably. His canines were sharpening, and when he looked up at last, there were flecks of gold in those troubled grey eyes. "When you lost your soul..."

"Vengeance demons don't lose their souls." Anya set her tablet down on the counter and walked over to crouch down beside him. "When we enter D'Hoffryn's service, we're given an amulet that contains a demon's powers and nature, and it... combines, I guess, with whatever we are as a human. I lost my amulet, and that lost me access to my powers. But I never stopped being me."

"Oh." His voice was heavy with disappointment. "Well, thanks anyway."

She was so glad that she and Xander had produced a single easily understandable girl-child, rather than Buffy and Spike's ever-expanding brood of demons and half-demons and everything in between. "Since you're asking me excessively personal questions, I assume I'm allowed to do the same. What on earth is this about?"

"Dad got a soul," Bill blurted out, and then went, if possible, even paler than usual. "Please don't tell anyone. It's supposed to be a secret."

"What?" For once, Anya was speechless. After a moment she mustered enough aplomb to add, "Of course I won't tell anyone; if it got out, our suppliers would panic. What was he thinking? His soul paid for Buffy's – "

"It's not his. It's just some random soul. And I don't know!" He was game-faced with distress now, fists clenched on his bony knees. "He went to L.A. last month, and he came back with a soul. And he's – he's not Dad anymore! He's acting all weird, and Mom's – she keeps saying it's a good thing and we just have to give him space, but I hear her crying sometimes. He keeps saying it was something he had to do to make things right, but it wasn't! All he had to do was come home and stay here! I just get so mad at both of them! Mom for trying save that Andrew guy when she was – and mad at Dad for leaving us when she lost the baby, and mad at both of them for that stupid Wolfram & Hart mission, and – " He stopped, chest heaving. "Sometimes I just want to kill them both, but I know that would just make things worse. Things were just getting back to normal, and Dad had to go get a soul!"

"Oh. Oh, dear." Of course Spike had gone and gotten himself a soul – it was exactly the sort of grand, idiotic gesture he'd make. And exactly the sort of grand, idiotic gesture that wouldn't fix a single thing of the many that had gone wrong between him and Buffy in the last two years. She gave Bill an awkward back-pat. "Perhaps he'll get tired of it? Trust me, having a human soul is no picnic. You're far better off without one."

"But what if he doesn't?" Bill looked up at her, beseeching. "What if he's like this forever? I don't think... I don't think he likes us anymore." He slumped dejectedly over the crate, blinking back tears. "I can handle it, but Connie and Alex... they're just little kids. And Mom's pregnant again – what if it's another vampire like me?"

She took a deep breath. Dispensing comforting homilies wasn't her forte; she wished Xander were here. "Look, you don't know because you've never been human. But I've met a lot of vampires in the last thousand years, and most of them wanted desperately to believe that they're completely different people after they lose their souls. But really? They're still pretty much the same pathetic losers they were all along, they're just willing to actually kill the guy who takes sixteen items into the fifteen-items-or-less line rather than just thinking about it." Belatedly, "Not that your father is a pathetic loser, but the same principle applies. Spike – " she paused. " – wants to do the right thing. He's just pretty terrible at it."

The boy sighed. "Mom keeps saying that souls are awesome and it's great that Dad has one, but as far as I can see, all they do is make everyone unhappy. So I guess I'm pretty terrible at it too."

She reached out and ruffled his hair. "Your mother doesn't know what it's like to have to work at being good. And wanting people to be happy is far from the worst place to start."

Bill willed his features into humanity again and swiped the back of his sleeve across his nose, teenaged dignity barely preserved. "You really think so?"

Anya nodded, decisive. "I know so. However weird he may be acting right now, Spike's still your father deep inside. That's not something that just goes away. Even with a soul." She considered. "Spike's pretty weird anyway. Do you want me to have a word with him?"

"No!" Bill shook his head vigorously. "Or not yet, anyway. If things don't get better..."

"Tell him I may not have my amulet any longer, but I can still unleash vengeancy whoop-ass with the best of them."

He didn't quite smile, but the awkward duck of his head came close. Maybe she had a career in comforting homilies ahead of her after all.