Giles guided Anya into the living room and sat with her on the couch. The others followed, with Buffy taking a seat on the other side of her. Jo hung back slightly, and Lessa watched everyone with avid interest.
Giles awkwardly patted Anya’s shoulder and said, "Tell me what happened…"
"…but without assigning blame, alright?"
"Fine," she said grudgingly. "This morning, I was on assignment in Acapulco. And then I was talking to Xander."
"And we’re pretty sure I’m the reason she’s here," Willow said.
Giles nodded. "You said you were on assignment in Mexico? What were you doing there?"
"Watching people. It’s what I do now that I’m dead, and no, I didn’t get resurrected or anything stupid like that."
"I didn't really think you had. As far as I've been able to determine, the last urn of Osiris was destroyed when Buffy was brought back." Giles hesitated before speaking again. "Forgive me for asking, Anya, but how did you manage to avoid going straight to hell when you died?"
Jo’s mouth dropped open, and she protested, "Rupert!"
Anya turned to her with an earnest expression. "No! It’s a fair question. Giles knows a lot about what I used to do."
Buffy looked over at him with one eyebrow raised. "You do?"
He grimaced. "There were days when it was rather slow at the shop. She used to, shall we say, liven things up by going into great detail about her former occupation."
"And you thanked me, too, for explaining several small mysteries the Council had wondered about for centuries."
"Um, yes, that’s true. You were kind enough to fill in a few details. But, I’m curious about why and how you’re here and not, well, elsewhere."
"I don’t know why I’m here, I’m not supposed to be here. I could get into trouble for being here. Giles, do something!"
He patted her shoulder again. "I am. I’m getting information from you. Now you were in Mexico on assignment, right?"
"When you’re on assignment, do you have any way of reaching your supervisor?"
Anya’s face fell. "Of course not. I’m too low on the totem pole for that. It’s always, ‘Don’t call me, I’ll call you.’"
"Damn. Do you know what kind of being he is… angel or demon?"
"I’m not sure. Some questions are strongly discouraged." She leaned toward Giles and spoke confidentially. "If I had to guess, though, I would say he’s a dead demon."
Surprised, Lessa asked, "If he’s a demon, why do you want to find him? Aren’t you like, free now?"
"I’m not free until they say I’m free," Anya shot back. "And do you have some sort of prejudice against dead demons?"
"Giles?" Willow raised her hand and waved it slightly. "I think there are a couple of books in the basement about communicating with the dead. Maybe we could find something in one of them?"
"An excellent idea." Giles nodded his agreement.
"Jo and I can help," Lessa volunteered. "With all of us looking we should be able to find them in no time."
"Then why are all of you still sitting here and not accomplishing anything?" Anya asked, scowling at them. "Get moving."
Buffy darted a glance at Jo who was staring at her fingernails. She turned and looked at Giles. "I won't be much help with the whole book thing. I'll stay up here with Anya just in case her boss shows up and she needs some help explaining."
Anya rolled her eyes. "Please. You have the communication skills of a boiled turnip." The message on her button changed to, "Sarcasm is the last defense of a fearful soul."
"Or maybe we could just do nothing and wait and see what happens," Buffy suggested with a scowl.
"The turnip can keep me company," Anya conceded.
"Lessa, can you help me get some drinks for everyone?" Willow asked before turning to Giles. "We'll meet you and Jo down there in just a minute."
Giles silently accompanied Jo to the basement door, turned on the lights and slowly followed her down the steps leading to the basement.
Xander wiped the sweat from his forehead. "Note to self: don’t talk about magic when Carrie’s behind the wheel."
She drew a long breath. "If you want, I’ll be happy to tattoo that on your forehead."
"Won’t do any good unless you can write backward, and even then, you’d have to strap a mirror to my head so I could see it at all times. How about my forearm? I always found it useful for notes during tests."
She turned her head slowly and rolled her eyes at the grin he gave her. "Lean closer, Xander."
"Why? What are you going to do?"
"I’m going to resist the temptation to smack you alongside your head, because I want to get a look at that eye Willow grew for you."
"Any chance it could wait?"
Carrie paused in the act of raising her hand to his face. "Right. Forgot. Dead ex-fiancée at home."
Xander took her hand before she could pull it away. "She’ll be gone soon, and when she is, you can look as deeply into my eyes as you want."
"You’re really full of yourself, aren’t you?"
"Yeah. Sometimes. You okay to keep driving?"
Carrie took a deep breath before nodding. "Just as long as you promise not to talk about any new body parts, alright?"
"How about existing body parts?"
In the basement, Giles and Jo looked at each other for a long, awkward moment. They started to speak at the same time, and sputtered to a stop. He started again. "Please, let me go first?"
Her voice tight, she answered, "Go ahead."
"I wanted to thank you for helping us today. You’ve been extremely gracious in trying circumstances."
"You’re right. I have," she said. When he closed his eyes and bowed his head, she sighed. "I’m sorry, Rupert. You don’t deserve the short end of my temper."
He looked up at that. "I think I do."
"I won’t deny it would have been better if you’d admitted from the start that you were in love with Buffy." She took a deep breath. "But you weren’t the only one in denial."
She put her hand up. "No. It took a lot of sleepless nights before I could admit that the signs were there, and I ignored them. I was too quick to try to define your relationship based only on your ages and to put you in roles that I was comfortable with." She looked seriously at him. "But I knew in my heart it was more complicated than that."
He nodded sadly. "I’m sorry, Jo. I don’t think I was always honest with myself, and I ended up not being honest with you."
"I know you didn’t mean to hurt me, Rupert. I just wish…"
Jo looked at him in confusion. "Don’t what?"
"Don’t wish. It never ends well."
"Guys? We come bearing water! And I'd better not hear even one joke about melting or ruby slippers!" Lessa laughed as she and Willow came down the steps. "Now, where are the books?"
Giles and Jo stared at each other for one more moment and then Jo managed a weak smile. "Point the way, Rupert, we’re here to work." Giles nodded and turned to the shelves.
Buffy and Anya sat alone in the living room, both looking anywhere but at each other. After a few minutes, Anya said, "So, Buffy. When you died, did you go straight to heaven?"
"Heaven. Did you go straight there, or did you go somewhere else first?"
"Oh. Um…" Buffy scrunched her eyebrows as she thought about it. "There was a way station, I think."
"High up on a mountain in a room made of ice?"
"No." Buffy looked apologetic. "I was in a garden. All the flowers were in bloom. It was pretty. Sorry."
Anya waved her off. "No need to apologize. I was lucky I didn’t go someplace worse than that. Some of the others said they were sent to a dungeon and tortured for a long time."
"Yes. They said it was unpleasant." After a pause, Anya asked, "Are you seeing anyone these days, or aren’t there enough vampires for you to choose from in this town?" Her button changed to read, "I don't have a solution, but I certainly admire the problem."
Buffy sounded offended. "What makes you think I’d ever date a vampire again?"
"You didn’t seem to learn your lesson the first time around, so how am I supposed to believe you learned it after the second time? Especially after the way you treated everyone last…"
"Don’t." Buffy spoke in a clipped and angry tone. Before Anya could react, she continued more softly, "It was a bad time, and I’m sorry for a lot of what I did back then. But in point of fact, I did learn my lesson after Spike, so I won’t be dating vampires or any other demon again."
After a long, considering look, Anya nodded once. "Good. Demons and humans really shouldn’t date. It never ends well… just look at Xander and me."
Buffy frowned. "But you were human when you dated and got engaged."
"Physically, yes, of course. But I was a demon for a long time, and I suppose I never really did think of myself as human."
"Anyway, you didn’t answer my question. Are you seeing someone?"
Smiling, Buffy answered, "As a matter of fact, I am."
"Who is he? Does he have Giles’ seal of approval?"
"Does who have my seal of approval?" Giles asked as he entered the living room.
"Buffy’s new boyfriend. Do you approve of him?"
Seeming to give the matter some thought, he answered, "He can be a bit pretentious at times, and he had a reckless youth, but he loves her with all his heart and would do anything for her. I rather think I have to approve of him."
Buffy stood and walked to Giles, wrapping her arms around him before tilting her head back to look at him. "I can live with his wild side, and his need to use five words that require a dictionary to understand instead of one ordinary one, but mostly because I love him more than he loves me."
Giles bent his head down. Before his lips touched Buffy’s, Anya said, "Oh for god’s sake. You two are worse than a Hallmark commercial. You could have just said it was Giles."
Without turning to look at her, Buffy answered, "I could have, but then I wouldn’t have gotten a hug from my guy."
"Well I hope ‘your guy’ has some answers for me."
Giles looked over at her and said, "Not yet. I came in to see how the two of you were getting on."
"You mean you came in to see if we were trying to throttle each other," Anya said in a knowing tone.
"That too," he answered mildly.
Mrs. Benson pulled into to the Manor’s driveway. Before Dawn could get out of the car, she put a hand on her arm. "Wait a moment. I have a something for you."
Dawn looked at her quizzically. "It’s not my birthday or anything."
"I know." Looking down, she rummaged through her purse. "The other night, Mark mentioned that you’d asked for a picture of him. I know he gave you one he likes, but I was going through some old photos this morning and thought I’d give you one I liked." She handed Dawn a snapshot.
Dawn looked at the picture and began to giggle. "Braces? I didn’t know Mark wore braces."
"We paid a small fortune of those gorgeous, straight white teeth," Mrs. Benson said with a grin. "That was taken when he was thirteen, and it’s one of my very favorite pictures."
Dawn giggled. "He looks like a deer caught in the headlights."
"I think that’s why I like it so much." Mrs. Benson smiled slightly. "Over the years, I must have seen that expression a thousand times when he’s tried to get away with something that he knew I wasn’t going to like."
Dawn giggled. "Thanks for the picture, Mrs. Benson. I can’t wait to put it in my diary."
"You’re welcome. See you soon."
Buffy stepped around Giles quickly to meet her. "Dawn."
Dawn stopped in the entry to the living room. "Anya?!"
"Why does everyone keep saying my name like that?"
"Because we didn’t expect to see you. And why are you wearing that outfit? It looks horrible." Dawn put the video tape on the side table. "Can I hug you, or are you ghost-girl?"
"She’s huggable," Buffy said. "Why don’t the two of you catch up with each other? Giles and I will go join the research party downstairs."
After Buffy and Giles disappeared around the corner, Anya said, "She’s feeling awkward because she went to heaven and I didn’t."
"I can get that. So if you didn’t go to heaven, does that mean you went to hell?"
Anya smiled and ruffled Dawn’s hair as she spoke condescendingly. "You’re such a cute little pagan. Haven’t you ever heard of purgatory?"
Xander stood on the front porch and took a deep breath before opening the door to go in. He entered the house hesitantly, looking around. When he heard Dawn and Anya speaking in the living room, he closed the door behind him and went to join them.
Dawn saw him first. She stood up and started speaking quickly as she walked out of the room. "Xander! Anya told me about everything. Cool looking eye. Well. Research party in the basement, so I’m going there. Have fun, you two! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do."
Xander watched her leave. "I’m not sure she drew breath during that. I think she’s been spending too much time with Willow." He turned back to Anya. "So, um, hi. How ya doing?"
Her jaw tight, Anya said, "Did you make up with your girlfriend?"
His head dropped at her tone of voice. "We talked. She doesn’t like you very much."
"We’re even, because I don’t like her either." She swallowed hard, then added, "But Dawn likes her and says she’s good for you, so I suppose you’ve made a good choice." Her button shimmered to gold with silver letters "I’m learning about relationships. So can you!"
Xander went to the couch and sat next to her, taking her hands in his. "Thank you. It means a lot to me that you think so."
"Really." He leaned forward and kissed her gently on the forehead. When he sat back, he asked, "How much trouble do you honestly think you’ll be in?"
She shrugged and looked down at their entwined hands. "I’m not sure. Maybe none at all, since it wasn’t my fault. But they’re so strict, Xander."
"How do you mean? Is there anything we can do to get you into a better place?"
Anya shook her head firmly. "No. And don’t even think of trying to go behind my back on this. I got very lucky about where I ended up, and I don’t want anyone messing with that."
"Are you going to be able to hang on long enough to get to heaven?"
"It’s very rare for an ex-demon as old as I was when I died to make it there."
"Why so hard?"
"We get impatient," she said softly. "Or we can’t learn the lessons we’re being taught. Either we end up stuck in purgatory for eternity, doing the same things over and over again, or we go insane and ask to be sent to hell."
"Giles, I think I found something." Willow looked queasy.
"What is it?"
"If we call on Osiris, he should be able to collect Anya and send her to where she’s supposed to be."
Buffy closed her book with a thump. "Great!"
Looking troubled, Jo said, "Not so great, I’m afraid. Invoking any god, let alone one who has dominion over death, is never a good solution."
Willow bit her lip before answering. "It’s even worse than that."
"I know this is something you can do." Xander held Anya close as he tried to reassure her. "I’m sorry I never told you this, but I always admired you."
She looked up at him. "You’re just saying that."
"I’m not. I don’t know too many people who could have managed to adapt to the kind of change you went through, and you did it with style and grace."
Her face brightened up. "I did, didn’t I?"
"You did, and I really meant what I said before, Anya. When I left you, it was because I thought I wasn’t a good enough human for you. It was never about you being a demon. I was afraid of the demons inside me."
Anya looked confused. "Xander, you may have a gay eye, but you aren’t a demon."
Before he could respond, Giles came into the room. He cleared his throat before speaking. "We think we may have found an answer to your dilemma, Anya."
He nodded, looking uncomfortable. "It will involve summoning Osiris."
Looking alarmed, Anya said, "Willow won’t do it, will she?"
"That’s a relief."
"We thought Xander should be the one."
Xander looked back and forth between Giles and Anya. "What? Why? What?"
"That’s a good idea, Giles. If Willow tries to do it, she’ll just piss him off again."
"Again? What do you know about what happened before?"
"Why me? Why not Willow? And who did she piss off? What if I piss him off?"
Before Giles could answer, Anya said, "Remember when Tara died? Willow tried to bring her back, and when Osiris said no, she let him have it with everything she had."
Frowning, Giles asked, "She told you about this? Today was the first any of us have heard about it."
Anya waved him off. "Of course she didn’t tell me. She never confesses to the important stuff…"
Xander protested, "Ahn!"
"I heard all about it after I died. They still talk about it in the afterlife. I actually dined out a few times based on knowing Willow personally."
With a look of intense curiosity, Giles asked, "Really? What else do they talk about?"
"The living, of course. The dead are fairly boring after all. Anyway, you might want to warn Willow that Osiris has a very long memory, and unless she wants to end up in a bad place when she dies, she’d better start thinking about how to make it up to him." She turned to Xander and said, "You really are the best choice to invoke Osiris, because of our relationship."
Giles nodded, and after a moment, he said, "Xander, I also came in to fetch you to the kitchen. Jo needs to take a look at your new eye."
His hand went up to his left eye in a protective fashion. "Why?"
"She wants to be certain it won’t disappear when we send Anya back to where she belongs."
Willow stood at the front door with Jo and Lessa. "Thanks so much for your help on this."
Jo nodded, looking more relaxed than she had earlier. "It was no trouble. I’m just glad we were able to help."
Lessa gave her a strong hug. "It’ll be okay. You’ll see."
"I hope so," said Willow as she stepped back.
Jo asked, "Will you stay here in the house while Xander calls on Osiris?"
"I think I’ll wait outside. Might be better that way."
"Well. I wish them the best of luck. I’ll have Elspeth call you when she returns so the two of you can start working out how you managed to do all that without knowing it, and with inflicting just a few minor burns on yourself." Jo hugged Willow quickly then left the house. Lessa winked and followed.
Willow went to the living room and said, "I think I’ll take a walk while you’re doing this." She held open her arms. "Anya, I’m sorry I frightened you, but I’m glad I got a chance to see you one more time."
Anya hesitated a moment and then stepped in for a quick hug. "Be careful with your magic. And start making regular offerings to Osiris as soon as possible."
"Frankincense is good, right?"
"Start there, and work your way up. All the way up."
"Are you sure someone else can’t do this?" Xander looked up from his place in the middle of a circle of salt. "Maybe Osiris isn’t as cheesed off at Willow as you think he is."
"Stop waffling, Harris, and start the invo…" Anya stopped speaking suddenly, then cocked her head as if listening to something. After a moment, she smiled hugely and said, "Never mind! My supervisor found me."
Dawn asked, "Are you in trouble?"
"I’m not, but Willow probably is. I just have time to say goodbye to you all, and then he’s taking me back to Mexico."
"So soon? That’s it?" Dawn hopped up from her seat and gave her a hug. "I miss you. And I’ll miss you again. I wish you could write."
"If you get into a good relationship, chances are I’ll be watching you at some point," Anya said. She smoothed a strand of hair away from Dawn’s face, tucking it behind the young woman’s ear. "Be safe, Dawn. Be happy."
Anya turned to Buffy, who stood next to Dawn, and hugged her as well. "Giles is a good choice for you. Don’t let him run off to Belize the way Riley did."
Buffy choked, and it was unclear as to whether she was laughing or spluttering. Anya didn’t pause to find out. She went over to Giles, and she pulled his head down for a hard, intense kiss. When she released him, she said, "Buffy is a lucky woman, Rupert Giles. Don’t make me wish I were still a vengeance demon."
Avoiding Buffy’s glare and still blushing, he ducked his head slightly and said, "I promise. And good luck to you, Anya."
Xander came up to her from behind and turned her for a hug. "I don’t want to know why you kissed Giles like that, do I?"
"No. Not really."
He gave her a final squeeze and whispered into her ear, "I really did love you, Anya. Part of me always will. Remember that." He stepped back and spoke with confidence. "Hang in there, Anya. If any ex-demon can make it to heaven, you can."
She smiled wistfully, her button shifting to read, "I'm working my way through purgatory. Ask me how!" As she whispered, "If you say so," a swirl of golden lights surrounded her.
And then she was gone.