Willow looked out the window of Lessa’s car as they pulled up to the house. "Uh-oh."
She gnawed lightly on her lower lip. "Xander’s sitting out on the front porch alone, but Carrie’s car is here. This can’t be good."
"Don’t borrow trouble. Maybe it isn’t as bad as you think." Jo said. "As soon as we talk to him, we can find out what happened."
The three women got out of the car and walked up to the house. Xander sat hunched over, muttering, "Why me? What the hell did I do to deserve this? Okay, I lied to Buffy that one time about…"
He looked up, appearing to be surprised to see her standing there. "Willow?"
Her mouth dropped open. "You have an eye. When did you get a new eye?" She bent down for a closer look, then stumbled backwards as he blinked at her. "It works! It’s an eye that works. When did you get a new eye that works?"
"This morning," he said unhappily.
"He has a new eye?" Jo sounded stunned. She crouched down to stare. "Good lord! The pupil dilates!"
Lessa kneeled next to her and peered intently at Xander. He leaned away from their scrutiny. Jo stood, bringing Lessa up with her, and murmured thoughtfully, "It doesn’t match. If Willow did this, we’ll need to talk to her about how to ensure that healed tissue looks the way it did before the injury."
"You’re right about it not matching, but it’s a lovely shade all the same. And it means he can wear almost any color, right? Everything will match at least one eye." Lessa grinned. "Cool."
"Xander?" Willow tried to get his attention.
The sound of raised voices could be heard from the house, and Xander winced as a very distinct "Bitch!" was shouted out.
Lessa looked at the front door as the voices grew louder. She tried to speak over them. "Xander aren’t you happy? I mean you have a new eye! That’s... Okay, I give up. What’s happening inside?"
"It’s my worst nightmare."
Willow stared at his blue eye and responded absently, "I thought your worst nightmare was showing up in class without clothes."
"That was my worst nightmare. My new worst nightmare is Carrie and Anya meeting."
"Carrie and Anya? But that’s impossible." Willow looked up as the front door was thrown open and Carrie rushed out.
"Nowhere in the dating manual does it say the current girlfriend has to stick around and be called names by a… a…"
"Dead woman," Anya said, following her and gesturing wildly. "Before that, I was a vengeance demon, and don’t you forget it." She stopped abruptly in front of Willow and pointed at her. "You have a lot of explaining to do, little miss I-know-what-I’m-doing-with-magic."
"Anya? How? When? What?" Willow stopped helplessly.
Xander stood and pushed past the women to rush after Carrie. "Wait! Don’t go!"
Carrie paused at her car. "Give me one reason… and it better be a good one!"
"We have to talk," he said, catching up to her. "Please."
With one last glare at Anya, she nodded once. "Get in."
Dawn munched noisily on her burger as she and Mark studied. Swallowing, she read from the text. "What was the period after the Civil War known as and name three key figures during that period." When he didn’t answer, Dawn prompted him with, "Mark?"
He ducked his head and stared at the floor. "Sorry. I was kinda thinking about something else."
"I guess this means that you’re one of those weird people who doesn’t find Reconstruction absolutely riveting." Dawn tossed her hair over her shoulder. "So, Pinkie, what were you pondering?"
Mark lifted his head and grinned. "Actually, Brain, I was thinking that with your help, I’ll probably pass this test. That means I won’t be grounded next Friday, and that if you want to, we could go to a movie that night."
Dawn just barely managed to make her squeak a quiet one. After she took a quick drink of her cola, she smiled and said almost calmly, "It’s a date."
Willow turned after Xander, but he got into Carrie’s car, and the two of them left before she could catch up to him. She turned back to the house. "Anya? Is it really you? And why are you dressed like that?"
"Yes, it’s really me. So before you get any insane ideas about me being The First, come up here so I can slap you and prove that I’m solid." She glared. "And it’s my uniform, and I don’t want to talk about it."
Willow held up her hands. "No need to slap me. In all honesty, I wasn’t thinking that, but now that you mention it…" She looked around and pointed. "No hitting needed. Just pick up that welcome mat, and I’ll believe you."
Anya looked down and sneered. "This thing? It’s mildewed and disgusting. No thank you." Instead, she bent to pick up a flower pot. She gave Willow a falsely cheerful smile. "Shall I throw it at you?"
"No, of course not! Why are you being so mean?"
"Why? Why shouldn’t I be? Do you have any idea what you’ve done?"
Jo stepped between the two. "We all need to calm down," she said raising her hands.
"Calm? Why should I be calm? And I don’t know you, so you shouldn’t be telling me to be calm. Xander’s run after that little floozy who was just here, and because of Willow, I’m going to be punished." Anya’s strident tone didn’t hide the fear in her voice. The words on her button started twirling around, and when they settled down again, they read, "Conflict builds character; crisis defines it," in brilliant red on gold.
"Anya, please. This is Jo and she’s a friend and she’s been helping me with my magic." Willow looked confused. "But let’s backtrack for a minute. I don’t understand what you’re saying. Why do you think I did this to you?"
Her hands on her hips, she said, "Did you or did you not tell Xander you had an ‘accident’ this morning?"
"Well you’re looking at the result of your little accident. Happy now?"
"Of course not..."
"You’re not happy to see me?" Anya looked hurt and sounded angry.
"No... yes... stop putting words in my mouth. I’m happy to see you, but I’m not happy that I might have messed things up for you." Willow looked at her thoughtfully. "Do you remember anything about how you got here?"
"No. One minute I was in Acapulco watching Amador take care of Esperanza after her fall down the stairs, and the next, I was talking to Xander." A look of genuine fear crossed Anya’s face. "You have to send me back to Acapulco, Willow. That’s where I’m supposed to be."
"What were you doing in Mexico?" asked Lessa.
"Penance, but that’s not important now. Who are you?"
"I’m Lessa, and you know, you’re exactly like Xander described you."
"Xander described me? He didn’t forget me?"
Jo held up her hands again to stop the conversation. "Let’s talk about that later." She said to Willow, "There must be a reason for all this. Something triggered these events." She frowned. "Let’s go over this morning’s events again. The answer is there somewhere."
Carrie kept a steely grip on the steering wheel with one hand and used the other to push her hair from her face. "She has to be the rudest person I’ve ever met, which is saying something, considering I deal with teenagers all day long."
"Anya was... blunt. She hasn’t really changed that much since she died."
"She’s never heard of tact?" Carrie signaled for a left turn and continued through town.
"I’m not sure it was ever really in her vocabulary." He looked off into the distance as he remembered. "She was more about saying what was on her mind. It used to drive Giles nuts when they worked in the Magic Box."
"That was the store he owned?" She loosened her grip on the steering wheel a bit.
"Yep, though after the first year, he made her a part owner."
"So it was destroyed when the town dropped off the face of the earth, right?" She glanced over at him when he didn’t immediately answer. "Xander?"
He turned back to her with a guilty start. "It was actually destroyed the year before that."
"Let me guess... Anya had a temper tantrum and declared vengeance on Giles."
"No. Anya’s specialty was scorned women. The store was lost when…"
Carrie frowned when he didn’t continue. "When what? Are we talking hellfire, brimstone or a rain of toads? Give me something to work with here."
Xander hesitated before he spoke. "I’ve told you a lot about the Scoobies and Sunnydale, but not everything. Some stories aren’t mine to tell. Sorry."
After a moment, she nodded. "Fair enough. Is it okay to talk about how your ex-fian... excuse me. Is it okay to talk about how your dead ex-fiancée ended up paying you a visit this morning? And is she really still dead? I mean, I saw dead people when I was in nursing school, and she’s very active, not to mention opinionated, for a corpse."
The four women walked into the kitchen took seats around the table. Jo spoke first. "Willow, do you remember the exact words of Buffy and Dawn’s conversation?"
"Dawn was talking about getting something from Mark."
"You said it was a tape?"
Willow nodded. "Yeah. She wanted to get it for Xander, because he likes the show so much."
"We’re wasting time." Anya fidgeted in her seat. "And the longer we waste time getting me back to where I’m supposed to be, the worse it will be." The message on her button changed to, "A good time to keep your mouth shut is when you're in deep shit."
Jo looked at her with a mixture of compassion and exasperation. "Your interruptions aren’t helping her remember. And until we know how you were brought here, we don’t stand a chance of getting you to where you belong." She glanced at Anya’s button and added, "Perhaps you should start to read the messages that thing flashes."
"Oh sure. Throw those stupid messages in my face." With a sulky pout, Anya sank deeper into her chair. "You don’t care about my problems. You just want to defend your girlfriend."
"She’s not my girlfriend, and she’s not defending me." Willow shook her head. "You always do this. You always twist things around."
"And you always pretend that you did nothing wrong," Anya snapped back.
"Ladies!" Jo spoke sharply, with both her hands up to gesture for silence. "Clearly, the two of you have a few things to work out, but your spat isn’t helping at the moment. Willow, what exactly was said?"
Willow scrunched her nose at Anya, then looked at Jo. "Dawn told Buffy she had permission to borrow a tape from Mark’s mom for Xander to watch."
"It was ‘Queer Eye for the…’" Willow’s voice trailed off as her eyes widened at the memory. "It was ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.’"
"Oh, I love that show!" exclaimed Lessa. "Xander and I like to watch it while we’re talking on the phone."
"That’s actually a show?" Anya stared at Willow and then turned to Lessa. "And are you dating Xander too?"
"Um, no. I’m dating Buffy’s old boyfriend, Brad."
Anya looked interested. "Is he human?"
"Anya, pay attention! The name of the show explains his eye!" Jo exclaimed.
Lessa dropped forward and banged her head against the table. "Punning magic. I hate punning magic."
"I don’t understand. Xander’s not queer. Is his eye gay now? Is he only going to look at men with it?" Anya frowned. "Xander’s gay eye isn’t helping me get back to Mexico."
Ignoring her, Jo said to Willow, "What else did they say?"
"Buffy said something about how Xander watches it all the time, so why did he need a tape..." Willow’s voice trailed off as her eyes grew even wider than before.
When Willow paused, Anya slapped the table. "Don’t stop talking now! What else did they say?"
Her eyes filled with shock and wonder, Willow answered, "Dawn said it... she was talking about the tape... but she said it was so he could see the one he missed."
Giles and Buffy held hands as they drove home. He glanced over at her occasionally, and it was clear she was lost in her own thoughts. Eventually, he said, "Please tell me you aren’t going to brood over this."
She gave him a small smile. "Cross my heart, no brooding."
"Thank heaven for small favors." After a brief pause, he said, "I know my scars aren’t terribly attractive, but…"
"It’s not that," she said quickly. "Really, it isn’t." She turned in her seat to face him and squeezed his hand. "If you haven’t figured it out yet, Mr. Giles, I find you incredibly sexy… every inch of you... even the inches I haven’t actually seen. Yet."
"Why thank you, Miss Summers, you flatter me." He flashed a quick grin. "And I think you know the feeling’s mutual."
"You think you’re sexy, too, huh?"
"It’s good that you do, because you are."
"If I’m so wonderfully sexy, why are you broodily not brooding?"
Buffy gave a small sigh. "My non-brooding is more about how you got the scars, not the look of them."
"We’re in a dangerous business," he said in a reflective tone.
"I know. But at least some of those are because of things I did," she said as they turned into the driveway.
He squeezed her hand reassuringly. "And at least some of them are due to my own stupidity. There’s no… Sorry, isn’t that Lessa’s car?"
Buffy looked up. "Yeah. I wonder why she’s here."
"Perhaps she’s been able to help Willow find out what happened."
"Dawn? Are you ready to go home?"
She looked down at her hand, the one currently holding Mark’s hand, and called out, "Just about, Mrs. Benson."
Mark gave her a crooked smile. "I had a good time today."
"A few more study dates like this, and I’m sure to pass history." They grinned happily at each other when Mark said "dates".
Dawn was still smiling as she as she stood. She picked up the tape and walked to the door, stopping long enough to say, "Thanks again for asking your mom about this."
"So she’s really dead?"
"She’s really dead," Xander confirmed. "And we’re not sure how she ended up here. All Anya could tell me was that she was supposed to be someplace else."
Carrie allowed herself a relieved sigh and a muttered, "Thank goodness."
"Never mind." Carrie made a right turn, taking them into the countryside. "So Willow is going to figure out how to send her back to wherever it is she’s supposed to be, right?"
"Right." Xander glanced at her unhappy face. "Look, Carrie, I know she can be a little difficult at times, but Anya has a good heart."
"Had. Anya had a good heart."
"Okay, technically speaking, yeah. But that isn’t what I meant."
Carrie shot a disbelieving glance at him before turning to watch the road again. "You could have fooled me on that score."
Uncomfortable, Xander squirmed in his seat. "I heard the fight."
"You should have heard some of the things she said to me."
"I don’t think you do, Xander. She hurt me. And you’re hurting me just as much right now by defending her behavior."
Xander sighed. "I’m not defending her. Please, Carrie, you have to believe me on that. It’s just that I’ve known her longer than you have, and I learned to take what she says with a grain of salt."
"She’s acting like I stole you from her."
"Yeah. I got that."
"She’s been dead for almost a year!"
"I know." He reached over to squeeze her shoulder. "She’s always been a little possessive is all."
"She accused me of being a demon. Me. A demon."
Xander cringed. "There’s kind of a history behind her suspicion. I’ve made some bad dating decisions."
"Bad? What do you mean by ‘bad’?"
"Let’s just say that I’ve probably dated more demons than humans." Carrie’s head whipped around to stare at him and he put up his hands. "Hey! In my defense, I didn’t know they were all demons when I first asked them out. It’s not like I’ve got a thing for them. I mean, I don’t select women based on them being demons." Xander groaned. "There’s no good way out of this is there?"
"From where I’m sitting? No, I don’t think so."
Giles walked into the kitchen and stopped cold, barely budging when Buffy ran into him. "Anya?!"
"What did you say?" Buffy immediately poked her head around Giles’ arm, and her mouth dropped open. "Anya?! Oh. My. God. What are you wearing?"
Anya and Willow ignored them, continuing their argument about the irresponsible use of magic. Lessa’s head was on the table, and she looked exhausted. Jo looked up at them, and a look of hurt flickered across her face before her expression became carefully neutral.
Giles tried again. "Anya!"
Anya’s head popped up and she immediately smiled at him. She jumped up and rushed to give him a hug. "I’m so happy to see you, Giles. Now you can fix the mess Willow made."
Giles patted Anya’s back uncertainly for a moment and then enveloped her in a strong hug. He shook his head disbelievingly. "Yes, well. I’m happy to see you, too. Surprised though."
Buffy squeezed through the doorway and tapped Anya on the shoulder. "Any chance I get a hug?"
Anya continued to rest against Giles’ chest, but she turned her head to face Buffy. "You’re the one who decided Andrew and I should fight together." She frowned thoughtfully.
Buffy looked confused. "I know you did. Andrew told us."
"Maybe if I’d been with someone who could actually fight, I wouldn’t have died."
"Okay…" Buffy exchanged a quick look with Giles, then backed up slightly. "I’m sorry, Anya. I honestly thought the two of you would be far enough away from the main action that you would be safe."
"Well I wasn’t," she said. Anya frowned again, then let go of Giles. "Fine. Apology accepted." She gave Buffy a quick hug, then turned back to Giles. "You have to send me back. Now."
Xander kept his hand on Carrie’s shoulder as she headed back to Scobie Manor. "Thanks for understanding about this. I just need… I never had a chance to say goodbye to Anya before she died. If she gets zapped back to Mexico before I get back, I won’t have any more opportunities."
"I don’t understand any of this and I can’t really tell you how I feel about it right now… other than the fact that I don’t like her… but I can see that it’s important to you." Carrie glanced at him. "She’s really dead, and she’s really not coming back again, right?"
"I’m pretty sure the answer to that is no. She was just as surprised to be here as I was to see her."
She looked over at him. "Speaking of seeing, what’s with the eye?"
"I think Willow might have grown me a new one…" The car swerved to the side of the road, and Xander shouted, "Carrie, watch out!"