Arthur had brought Cordelia Chase in, one of the top chemists in the Western hemisphere- comparable to Yusuf in quality, but nowhere in his vicinity in terms of sheer vitriol and spite.
Anne remembers that Chase and Xander had a thing back in the day, when Chase was a think tank’s most trusted liaison with the army’s most secret project- both of them had been much younger, much more innocent.
They hadn’t seen the worst of what the world had to offer yet. They hadn't known just how badly they'd hurt each other.
The first time she goes under, she shoots herself in the face within the span of twenty minutes. Chase looks shocked when Anne stumbles away from the military grade cot, dropping to her knees as she throws up her dinner, bile rising again and again as she tries to get some breath back in her body.
Watching Harris’s subconscious mind play its dirtiest tricks on her is a humbling experience, yet another kickback to the fact that it was her
that made him into Private Harris- turned an eighteen year old Xander H, with a goofy smile and slightly too long hair into a soldier whose mind is literally going to war against her, every damn night.
It was her. Anne. Elizabeth Anne Summers.
She can’t believe that he remembers an old nickname that the unit gave her. Stuck in the midst of a training exercise, they had been two levels deep when they had seen her high school projection of herself- blonde and bubbly, wearing frosted eyeshadow, a skirt hiked up to where the sun certainly didn’t shine and popping a pack of Juicy like it was going out of style.
A California girl babe through and through. ‘She’s so hot, she’s Buffy
’, Gates had said, laughing like a hyena, banging his hand against the created mahogany table. He looked like a typical frat boy, dressed in a pair of pressed khaki slacks and smiling wider than he ever had in reality- posture loose and slumped, only a wary gaze distinguishing him as Anne’s right hand man.
In Harris’s mind, she’s the blonde girl of the projected simulation, that long ago afternoon’s training session stuck on a loop, whirling faster and faster.
Buffy. Buffy. Buffy.
In Harris’s mind, she’s a superhero- probably a remnant of his old crush on her, the result of being the youngest on her team, the greenest.
This is what makes her grit her teeth and bare it. Stick with the program. The fact that Alexander Harris had been way too young to be pulled into the Experimental Dreaming Program, the fact that he had proven himself-time and again to be the most loyal one out of her unit, the one that had stuck by her bad decisions again and again- while the rest of the guys had to disperse into town, hitting up the various bars so that they wouldn’t bust their CO’s head in for being too obstinate.
Xander had always stuck around, making sure that she didn’t get into any trouble- silent when she needed him to be, but full of jokes the next moment, when the sheer loneliness used to feel like a crushing boulder, pushing her down with every step she took.
The least she can do is stick around for him. Pull him out.
She spends the next day puttering around Washington, watching the streets and wondering when her silent shadow will grow a pair and join her.
Anne loses her patience around hour six, sitting in a café on Main street and watching a broad back, fitted in one of the most god-awful paisley print shirts she has ever seen. She sighs, pulling out a pen and scribbling on a napkin before she ‘accidentally’ trips near the paisley shirted gentleman on her way to the washroom.
When she comes back to the table, he is sitting across from her.
“Major Summers,” he bows his head a tad mockingly, a smirk playing on his pretty face.
Anne watches him, blank eyed, taking in the features that would be difficult to remember in passing, the too full lips, the slicked over hair and that hideous
shirt that is going to be the only thing a person remembers after he leaves them bare.
,” she acknowledges him with a slight smile and signals a waiter over.
“Double espresso latte for the gentleman please and another café au lait for me,” she smiles, watching as the young man visibly starts at her sudden transformation from an unapproachable business lady to a still very pretty tourist having coffee with a friend.
Eames looks impressed by the time the waiter scurries away, stars in his eyes and notepad clutched tightly to his chest, practically vibrating with sheer pleasure- “Nicely done… Reminds me of our dear Arthur. ”
“I taught him that,” Anne shrugs and finishes the rest of her coffee, already planning out the rest of her moves. She blinks at Eames when he chokes on his coffee, frowning at the pure incredulity on his face- like a mask that’s been knocked off for a shade too long.
his unit leader? The mysterious Major Summers?” he starts laughing, boisterous and loud and so alive that Anne wants to sit forever and listen to him tell tales and be happy.
She understands Arthur’s affection for the man in a second, in a moment- catching the genuine amusement in Eames’s eyes.
Emotion’s been so scarce lately that Anne feels like she’s about to explode from the overload of it, radiating
off Eames in waves so thick that she tastes them on her tongue.
“Are you quite finished?” she raises an eyebrow, and nods at Eames’s quick restraint of his laughter. He’s fast, he has to be in their line of work. “I have a job for you.”
She tells him what she needs from him and by the time she’s done, the sun is setting and she knows that she has the man hooked.
“I’ve never played a vampire before love,” Eames says wonderingly, already running a hand over his smooth forehead and scrunching up his face into a contortionist’s wet dream. “Should be a blast.”
“I’ll be seeing you soon Mister Eames,” Anne tells him, gathering up her things so that nothing incriminating is left behind.
“Wow,” he leans back on the chair and surveys her seriously, all traces of previous amusement gone, “you really were
the one to train Arthur- weren’t you?”
“Have a good night,” Anne ignores his question, slipping on her large sunglasses as she leaves- the waiter from before opening the door faster than she can get to it. She smiles and walks out of the café, the documents pertaining to Alexander Harris’s dreams, his history, his entire world tucked securely into her Hermes bag, along with her Glock and a thin switchblade disguised in a hairbrush.
She looks lovely when she walks, like a tourist savoring the sights.
That night, Arthur calls her hotel room as she sits on the balcony- a cigarette ashing in her right hand.
"I heard you've met Mister Eames," Arthur's careful voice grounds her to reality and Anne remembers to blink.
"I did," she says with a smile, "and I just have one question."
The silence is heavy and forbidding on the other line before Arthur's grudgingly telling her to go ahead.
"Whose is bigger? I'm sure
you guys have measured," she almost laughs at his hiss of indignation.
If he was in the room, she's sure he'd be pulling his favorite piece on her.
"I'm about to hang up on you," Arthur informs her frostily.
"Wait!" Anne almost shouts, almost falling off her balcony with the sudden movement. "I have a question. A real one."
," if he were near, he'd be sitting down, gun hanging deceptively loose in his long fingers. She wonders whether he's still wearing a tie.
"Willow-" Anne swallows that familiar rush of bile and pulls ahead with it. She's been waiting for long enough as it is. "How did she look?"
This time, the silence is filled with unasked questions and years of too much blood between them. But Arthur's Arthur and she's his leader, she's the one who trained how to properly hold a gun and how to break a man's nose badly enough for him to experience pain that he'd never felt before, but still have the whole thing look relatively clean.
"She looked good," Arthur finally breaks the silence, exhales-"she looked like she did when she was seventeen. Long red hair, and fuzzy sweaters. She's like the epitome of every shy high school girl he's ever met. She's alive. Down there, in his mind. Willow's alive."