Anya sat uneasily at the kitchen table, shredding a paper napkin while Xander made coffee. She looked around the room before saying, "This is very… homey. Do you live here alone?" Her button swirled green before reading, "Purgatory. It’s not for everyone! Ask if it’s right for YOU!"
He poured water into the machine as he answered. "No. We all live here together."
"And Giles? Where does he live? Has he come to visit like I said he should?"
He sat across from her at the table and said cheerfully, "Nope!"
"What? He was supposed to! I was very…"
"Relax, Ahn." Xander reached over to cover her hands with his. "Giles lives here, too."
Anya looked confused for a moment and then immensely satisfied. "Good," she said firmly. "He never should have left after we found out where Buffy had been."
"Not going to disagree." He frowned as he looked at her. "I know you don’t want to talk about it…"
"I can’t help it. I have to," he said, his bewilderment clear. "Why orange? I mean, I can get orange for people who are picking up litter at the side of the road for their community service, but…"
"You’re not going to drop this, are you?"
"I can’t! My god, Anya… look at yourself."
"This is my uniform," she bit out. "It’s not as if I have a choice in the matter."
He giggled, then immediately covered his mouth with his hand. "I’m sorry." Another giggle escaped him. "It’s just…"
"Go ahead. Laugh at what the dead ex-demon is wearing."
"I’m sorry. I didn’t mean, it’s just that…" He gestured at her outfit.
"Fine," she said sullenly. "Forget it. Tell me what I am doing here, Xander. This isn’t where I belong, and if I’m caught, there’s no telling what they’ll do to me next. They really are very strict."
He frowned seriously at her. "What do you mean? You’ll be punished for being here, even if it isn’t your fault?"
"Yes… no… I don’t know!" She pulled her hands away from him. "All I know is I’m supposed to be in Mexico right now, because that’s where my supervisor sent me."
"Supervisor? You have a supervisor?"
She nodded absently, frowning as she continued. "Yes, I do. He tells me where to go next and who to watch."
"You’re a watcher?" His chuckle was cut off abruptly by the look she directed at him. "Okay, not a good joke. But still, you watch? What do you watch?"
His answer seemed to mollify her. "People. Specifically, I watch couples."
Anya shrugged dismissively. "They said something about how I hadn’t learned a thing about relationships in eleven hundred years, so it was time."
Giles stopped in front of the menswear store and refused to move when Buffy tugged on his arm. "Must we? Couldn’t we go somewhere quiet instead?" Looking innocent, he added, "Perhaps I could take your measurements for your new bikini."
She looked up at him and pouted. "Don’t you want to make me happy?"
After a long moment, he bent down and bit her lower lip before kissing her.
Looking amused, he said, "Play fair, Buffy. And answer my question. Must we?"
"Yes, we must." She took his arm again and moved them forward a bit. "Shopping for clothes can be fun."
"For you, perhaps."
She took them another step forward. "For you, too."
Willow stood in the front parlor, a pensive look on her face. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"
Jo handed her a candle. "With me and Lessa here, you’ll be fine. You need to try to recreate what happened earlier today."
Willow nodded, looking uncertain as she sat on the floor and lit the candle. She went through the same motions she had earlier, but after a couple of minutes, she shook her head and opened her eyes again. "It isn’t working."
Jo answered with mild exasperation. "It won’t work if you don’t give it your best effort."
"No. I mean, yes, you’re right, but no, that isn’t what I meant." Willow frowned as she looked around. "I closed the window at our house, but that wasn’t…" Her face lit up with a smile. "Talking! Buffy and Dawn were talking."
Lessa cocked her head to the side. "What were they talking about?"
"Mark, of course. Dawn has it bad for him."
A wistful look on her face, Jo said, "I remember my first boyfriend. Some days, my mother practically had to tie me to my chair to get me to do my homework before I ran off to be with him."
"I thought Deborah was going to threaten to do that to me last night," said Lessa, laughing. "She seems to think I’m spending too much time with Brad."
Jo added, "It isn’t the amount of time you spend with him that’s irritating her... it’s the amount of time you spend talking about how wonderful he is."
Lessa’s smile turned dreamy. "He knows a lot about plants. And other things. Many, many other things…"
Jo cleared her throat. "I stipulate that Brad is wonderful, but I really think it’s time for us to try to determine just what happened this morning with Willow’s accident. You said Buffy and Dawn were talking about Mark?"
"Yeah. Dawn wanted to go to his house, and Buffy was giving her the third degree."
Lessa considered Willow’s words then looked at Jo. "Is it possible the magic was directed at Mark?"
Willow shook her head. "No, we’d know by now. Buffy and Giles were going to drop Dawn off at his house after they brought me here. If something had happened to him, she would have called me."
"Alright, then. Go ahead and get into position. Lessa and I will talk about her unhealthy obsession with Brad."
"Thanks for your support, Jo," Lessa said dryly.
"Always glad to help."
Touching his left eyelid absently, Xander said, "So all you do is watch couples?"
"That and write reports about them. Some days, I think it would have been better just to have gone straight to hell." Anya had a small mound of shredded paper napkins in front of her, and she pulled out another one to add to the growing pile. "But then my supervisor tells me I did a good job of choosing a particular word, and the next thing I know, I’m asking for a new assignment. It’s disgusting."
"What’s disgusting?" His left eye open again, Xander closed his right eye. Then he closed his left eye and opened his right. And then he closed his right eye and opened his left.
"This sudden need I have to please a male authority figure." Anya looked up and said, "Would you stop doing that? Your eye is still there, it still works, and it’s still blue."
Abashed, Xander sat up straight. "Sorry. I’m not used to it yet. Anyway, you’ve tried to please male authority figures before."
"Ha! A lot you know."
"Okay. How about D’Hoffryn?" Xander’s right eye closed again as he looked at her.
"My relationship with D’Hoffryn wasn’t remotely similar. And I told you to stop that."
"Sorry. Again." He reached for her left shoulder, then paused, his hand in mid-air. "I can sort of get the nightmare outfit as punishment, but what’s with the button? It keeps changing."
She shrugged slightly. "It’s called flare. Right now, I have only the one button, but the longer I’m there, the more I’ll get."
"What does ‘10 Down, 13,190 To Go!’ mean?"
"Just that I’ve completed ten months of penance."
"You have over thirteen thousand more months to go?" He blinked.
"Yes. And if I last that long, they’ll review my case and decide if I’m eligible to go to heaven."
"But that’s... that’s…"
"Eleven hundred years," she said tiredly. "I know. I’ve been doing the math ever since I died."
"But you’ve helped save the world. Doesn’t that count toward early release or something?"
"It kept me out of hell," she said. "It was more than I deserved."
"No. I won’t believe that," he said, shaking his head. "You did good while you were human. That has to count for more."
She sighed. "Staying out of hell counts for a lot, Xander."
Her button changed color again, to pink letters on a white background. The words read, "Purgatory is one nearly damned thing after another."
Buffy pulled a black polo shirt from the counter and held it up. With a small nod of approval, she went to the changing rooms. "Giles? Got another shirt for you."
When there was no answer, she called, "Giles?"
A muffled, "Sod it," guided her to the room he was using, and she opened the door without knocking.
He stood there, struggling to free his upraised arms from a tight green shirt twisted over his head. His torso was bare, and evidence of old battle wounds stood in stark relief. Her face showing her shock, Buffy moved closer to him and stretched her hand out to gently touch the ragged mass of scar tissue on his belly.
Giles jerked away in response, rapidly pulling the shirt off. "Buffy?"
She didn’t look up at him. "This is from that spear, isn’t it? When we were running from Glory and the crazy knights."
He stood very still as he answered. "Er, yes. Not the most attractive thing, I know."
"I haven’t really thought about it since it happened. I mean, I knew it was bad, but I thought it would heal better than this." She continued to trace the raised tissue with a tentative touch.
"The gas station wasn’t the ideal location for emergency surgery, though the doctors I saw later seemed to think Ben did a good job of it." He spoke quietly, his tone matter-of-fact. "Of course it might look better if I hadn’t gone off into battle right after I left hospital."
She looked up finally. "You ripped the stitches?"
He took her hand in his, stilling her explorations. "Yes. And with all that happened, well, I didn’t exactly rush back to the doctor for a repair job."
Buffy nodded absently as she pulled her hand free to touch a long thin line down his breast. "Here?"
He twitched slightly and said, "A Zrockar demon got lucky once when I was careless. Buffy, please... that tickles."
She reached up to touch a different set of scars, each one small and round, on the top of his shoulder. "And these?"
Giles hesitated for a long moment before answering in a clipped tone, "Angelus."
Touching each one briefly, she swallowed hard before turning her head to meet his gaze again. "Giles..."
"Miss? Are you in there?" The sales clerk’s voice came from outside the door. "Excuse me, are you in there?" They could hear her moving up and down the row of booths.
They stared at each other for a long moment. Giles finally spoke, his voice pitched towards the door, but his eyes fixed on Buffy. "We’re in here. We’ll be out in a moment, alright?"
"Take your time, sir. I found another outfit for you to try."
Giles took the shirt Buffy held and put it on. He tugged it down and smiled. "What do you think? How do I look?"
"Oh Giles," Buffy said softly, "I..."
"It’s okay, Buffy. I’m okay." Giles picked up the green shirt and gave her a kiss on the forehead. "We’re okay." He reached behind her and pushed open the booth’s door. "Come on, the sales clerk is waiting."
Mark looked up from his notes and smiled shyly at Dawn. "Thanks again for helping me with this."
She ducked her head in mild embarrassment. "No problem. I figure you can help me with my science. Anyway, I can’t have you grounded again."
"It’s still nice." He leaned closer to her and Dawn leaned in slowly as well. Their lips brushed lightly. Mark’s hand went up to Dawn’s cheek.
"Mark? Do you and Dawn want burgers for lunch?" Mrs. Benson called from downstairs,
Mark blinked, and dropped his hand, but he didn’t move away for the longest moment. He asked softly "Burgers okay for lunch?"
Dawn blushed and sat back in her chair. "Um. Yeah. Burgers are good."
Anya paced around the living room, occasionally picking up pictures and then putting them back down again. On her fourth circuit of the room, Xander finally spoke up. "I don’t know where Willow is, but as soon as she gets back, I’m sure she can help us figure out what happened."
"Willow? Ha!" Anya punctuated her comment with a snap of her fingers.
"Ha? What do you mean by that?"
"It’s probably her fault that I’m here in the first place. No doubt, there was some new spell she just had to try without even pausing to consider the consequences."
Xander moved from the doorway and put his hands on her shoulders. "It couldn’t have been Willow. She’s been avoiding magic lately."
Anya scowled. "You think, anyway."
Impatient, he raked his fingers through his hair. "No, I know. Her magic’s been unstable since we moved here, so she hasn’t been doing any."
She added insistently, "That you know of."
Her expression grew thoughtful. "No. Wait. If her magic’s been off, it’s possible she did this."
"I’m not saying she did it on purpose, but that it might have been an accident. Don’t you see?" Anya frowned. "After all she never really liked me. Therefore, I think it’s unreasonable to believe she would summon me here deliberately." The message on her button changed to, "Everyone deserves another chance. I'm on my seven thousandth!"
"Willow liked you! And anyway, all she was doing this morning was a meditation," he said, his voice moving from stubborn denial to uncertainty. "She had this book of special trances to try…"
"She was meditating on magic!? Then I know this is her fault," she said triumphantly. "Don’t you have any way of getting in touch with her?"
"I could try her phone, but what if she decided to go to the library this morning?"
Anya crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Call her. Now."
Willow sat crosslegged on the floor, eyes closed. She took a long, slow breath, and just as she released it, she was jarred back to an alert state by the sound of her phone.
She exchanged concerned glances with Jo and Lessa as she pulled it out of her pocket. "Hello?... Hey, Xander... I’m at the Coven... Well I had a little accident with magic this morning... Xander? Slow down... What?... Yeah, okay... I’ll be back in a little while... A fast little while... But what happened? Xander?"
"Willow?" Lessa knelt next to her. "What’s wrong?"
Her troubled gaze met Lessa’s, and Willow said, "I’m not sure. All he said was that I had to come home right away. He sounded kinda freaked, and not in the usual freaky Xander way." She stood up. "Can you guys come with? I have a feeling we’re going to find out what I did."
Xander turned to Anya. "Looks like it might have been Willow after all. She said she had an accident this morning."
"And she didn’t stick around to see what it might have been?"
He held his hands up in conciliation. "She went to the Coven, which was the right thing to do. They’ve been working with her since we moved here."
Anya smiled. "There are professionals here? Good."
Carrie pulled up to Scobie Manor and turned off the engine. She looked down at the package in the passenger seat and took a deep breath. Catching sight of herself in the rearview mirror, she said, "It’s just a book. It’s not a commitment."
She picked it up and stepped out of the car. When she reached the front door, she hesitated only briefly before knocking.
Xander looked toward the front door when he heard the knock. "God, what now?"
"Where are you going?" Anya clutched at his sleeve as he moved away.
"To answer the door. It’s okay." He patted her hand before he pulled it off his arm.
When the door opened, Carrie’s bright smile turned puzzled. "Xander?"
"Carrie!" He gave her his best goofy grin. "What brings you here?"
"You look different. Did you get a haircut or something?" She frowned slightly and then looked down at the book in her hand. She held it out to him. "I brought you this, actually. I thought…" She stopped and stared at his face. "Um, Xander? When did you get a prosthetic eye? And why isn’t it brown?"
His left hand went up to cover his new eye. "Er…"
"Xander, who is she? Make her go away. We need to concentrate on my problem right now."
Carrie opened her mouth, but before she could speak, Xander took hold of her arm and pulled her into the house, talking quickly. "Anya, this is Carrie. We’ve... we’ve been dating. Carrie? This is Anya. She’s…" His voice trailed off, and a look of dismay crossed his face.
Carrie frowned. "Anya? Isn’t that the name of your ex-fiancée?"
Anya looked cross. "Dead ex-fiancée, thank you very much."
"Oh god." Xander looked back and forth at the two women. "Oh god."
"I don’t understand. If you’re dead, you can’t be here."
"Well I am, missy. And I want to know what Xander meant when he said you were dating."
Carrie turned to Xander. "Is she really Anya? Your Anya?"
"Yes, she’s really Anya," he answered, sounding as miserable as he looked.
"Then she didn’t die in Sunnydale after all?"
"I died alright." Anya punched Xander in the arm and ignored his yelp of pain. "What do you mean you’re dating? How could you? I haven’t even been dead for a year!"
"Yeah, but we haven’t been a couple for two years!"
"It doesn’t matter. We had sex."
"It was goodbye sex, and it was in the middle of an apocalypse. It didn’t count!"
Anya stomped her foot. "Of course it counted!" Her button changed to, "People like you are the reason people like me become vengeance demons!"
Carrie watched the whipsaw conversation for a few moments before stepping between the two and putting each hand on a comfortingly solid chest. "Enough!" She looked at each one before continuing. "This is freaky enough without having to play referee between my... my boyfriend and his ex-fiancée."
"Dead ex-fiancée," corrected Anya.
"I’m your boyfriend? Really?"
Carrie jerked her hand away from Anya. "If you’re dead, how can you be standing here?"
In unison, Anya and Xander answered, "Willow."
Outside the shoe store, Buffy paused. When Giles realized she was no longer beside him, he turned and went back to her. "Don’t want to shop here?"
She looked up at him. "Not really. I think I’m all shopped out for today."
He reached out to caress her cheek with the back of his fingers. "Buffy, please don’t let what you saw ruin our day. We can stop if you like, but I wouldn’t want you to miss out on the chance to update my wardrobe. We can talk about everything later."
His hand stilled. "I’m not sure I understand."
Buffy reached up to take his hand in hers. "Will we talk about it? We’re not so good with the talking, but we’re champions with the repressing. And an hour ago, you were all but bribing me with promises of long overdue sexual favors if I let you off the shopping hook. Now it sounds like you’re ready to stay for the day."
Giles sighed before nodding. "I promise this isn’t me avoiding the discussion. It’s just that I’d rather not see you so upset over things you can’t change. Since shopping makes you happy, I’m willing to do it without fuss or complaint if I think there’s a chance you’ll be as cheerful as you were earlier."
She stretched up to pull his head down for a lingering kiss. At the end of it, both were breathless. "I think we’re better off talking." She kissed him again. "And maybe doing a little touching too. Let’s go home, Giles."
"If you’re sure…"
She smiled up at him. "Look at it this way, big guy. I want to check out your body, and I want to do it thoroughly and in a place less public than this."
"Then by all means, let’s go home."