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“Rio Blanco on the Mouth of Hell”

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Summary: It started out as a simple evening at home. A pair of movies fresh from blockbuster, a 52" plasma screen TV, and thou. Oh, and the 'thou' braless in a skimpy bandanna top and a stretchy mini-skirt thing that just begged for a hot makeout session... X/C

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Movies > Multiple Movies(Current Donor)IronbearFR1843212,3144126157,4491 Sep 1322 Nov 13Yes

Once Upon a Time in the West -





Epilogue II: Once Upon a Time in the West (That Never Was)



“Arguing is one of life's great pleasures, even if you have to argue with yourself. Course, I could enjoy the other side of that argument, too.” ― Walter Slovotsky



Wednesday, July 28, 1898 – Morning:

They had come awake the first time dressed and seated in a huge example of one of the most comfortable reclining arm chairs she'd ever sat in in her life. Lives. Both of them, Cordelia snuggled in next to and alongside of Xander, one of his arms around her, and one of her hands holding his.

Dressed as they'd been at Dude's before they left for the hotel, in a large, elegantly appointed gun and game room before a lit fireplace.

There had been a tall, broad shouldered, handsome and bearded man sitting across from them. He'd had a seriously nice, comfortable looking leather arm chair of his own. And he'd been wearing clothing similar to theirs... actually, closer to what Dude had been wearing. Blue shirt, black leather vest, and dark jeans. No Marshall's star, though, and no gunbelt.

And a long conversation full of questions and answers – hey! real answers for once, from a supernatural being yet – and actual information and explanations. With, like actual content and stuff.

Cordelia would be real impressed by that if, like, she wasn't just a naturally suspicious and paranoid bitch and all.

Or maybe not. Sunnydale doesn't breed the warmest, fuzziest, and most trusting of natures into its surviving graduates. They are, one and all, all of them who lived through it, a kind of a hard bitten and suspicious breed. Wolves and she wolves, one and all. The meek inherit land in Sunnydale in six foot by six foot by three foot plots. And then they get up and walk around and eat the living.

Still... the information and content had been fascinating...

And the food and refreshments were great, too.

Cordelia leaned forward and refilled her coffee mug with that wonderful brew, and a splash of Irish, and some Bailey's for creamer. Yummy.

It was shortly after Janus had finished explaining what exactly it was that he did, what his demesne was, and, after her and Xander's little chewy and crunchy, Gucci and Salvation Army routine...

"Exactly," Janus said, laughing. "I like the two of you, I really do. In all of the world lines in which your set of personae exist, the two of you are very nearly unique. Always have been, in all of your myriad incarnations and reflections."

"How so?" Cordelia picked up a small plate full of rugelach, to snack on with the coffee. And to feed Xander bits and pieces of, while she continued to study their unexpected host.

"Well, your mate here is a walking, talking child of chaos. And you are one of the very few people in existence that can't be intimidated. Not by anything or anyone."

"Oh, please. I'm intimidated all the time," she replied, "I just don't show it, most of the time."

"Not in the way that most people use the term, you aren't," Janus said, shaking his head. "No. Scared? of course. Who doesn't get scared of the things you deal with? But you – you bounce back and it doesn't stop you. Either of you. He jokes at them. You? You'll look a god or a demon in the eye and dare them not to back down. Or, oh, act terrified and slice an enormously powerful dark mage across the eye with a hide out knife, knowing you're going to die for it. And not caring, so long as you can take him down with you."

Yup. Lahini. She would. She had. Meaner and deadlier than the male.

"You bet," Janus said, as if he'd read her mind. And maybe he had – god, after all. Or so he said. "Kipling nailed that one right where it lives. You really are – gods help anyone if they get thrown to the women."

"That's my girl," Xander said proudly. "All guts, and beauty and brains."

"And you," Janus said, looking at Xander. He poured himself a large whiskey, and sipped at it. "You unravel the warp and woof of the weaving just by existing. You broke a supposedly unbreakable prophecy from the Pergamum Codex. Wrecked pure hell out of Angel and Buffy Summers' destinies. Kicked the Power's plans for Angel right into the dumpster." Janus laughed, "Hell, Whistler should have said he never saw you coming. It's what he meant, but he was too stupid to even recognize what kicked him in the teeth. You unravel fates. You're the last person that idiot chaos disciple should have touched with chaos magic."

Well, he nailed Xander right, at least. And doofus boy looked kind of stunned on that one.

Janus smiled, and added, "And you're connected, both of you, in a way that few are. Always have been, from the very first time you set eyes on each other. You and that Willow girl come close, Xander, just... not quite."

Snerk. About time someone pointed that out to Xander. Someone he couldn't laugh off.

"What, like, soul mates?" Xander said, a bit skeptically.

"Naw. Just... mates. Of the forever and a day kind. Soul mates is a hippy-dippy, crystal-hugger schmuck-bait concept that has no meaning. Great for selling chick flicks and Hallmark cards. It's like saying, oh, 'real man' for instance. You're a man, you're real. You're a woman, you're a real one, by definition. Defining it is for sissies and pedants. You two're the real thing: two halves of a whole. Apart, you're each a force to be reckoned with. Together... you're a lot more than the sum of yourselves."

"So, what now?" Cordelia said. Fascinating stuff, especially the bits about her and Xander having loved each other since they were little kids. Which, yeah, ok. True. At least since they got married in his backyard at seven with a bubble gum ring and a stolen Barbie. And no one's business but theirs... But enough. Time to hit brass tacks or whatever.

Janus raised an eyebrow, and she narrowed her eyes at him, and said, "You didn't put us there, and then pull us here just to shoot the breeze, bucko. Or because you're really a nice warm and fuzzy guy under it all. You so want something. Or need something. Spill."

"See what I mean? Extraordinary. Not an intimidated bone in her body," Janus said to Xander. "Ok." He turned his full attention on Cordelia... and briefly, just for a moment, he seemed to swell and grow, and she got just a glimpse of what precisely he was, and exactly what that entailed. And oh, my God... And then it was gone, and there was just a handsome and bearded man sitting across from her again.

Wow. Suddenly, she felt really tiny, and really scared for the first time in this whole conversation.

A freaking god had just drawn back, brought forth his Aspect, and wrapped power around himself like a cloak.

Made that freaking demon that ate Wilkins' soul look and seem puny. Made the petty and vindictive God she'd learned about in Sunday school seem like a five year old throwing a tantrum. And all without saying a single word. Cordelia swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly dry.

Janus winked at her, and she felt a sudden hysterical urge to giggle uncontrollably. The contrast was just so, so... so.

"I did want something. You gave it to me already. I did need something. You provided it already. You did a great and difficult service for a greater god," Janus said, "And as tradition and metaphysics demand, you now get a choice. Choices. And a reward. Maybe even rewards, plural. And, because I'm not a cold and nasty and duplicitous guy under it all, your choices and your rewards are not going to turn around and bite you in the ass, kiddo. Good enough?"

"Uh," Cordelia gulped, and found herself nodding. "Good enough. Sir."

"And knock that sir crap off," Janus said, scowling. "I'd say that 'sir' is my dad, but I don't really have one."

"Yessir," they both said, she and Xander, simultaneously. They looked at each other sidelong and grinned.

Ok, so maybe she didn't stay intimidated much, or long. Janus could be right.

"Brats," he said, affectionately. "And as I said, choices and rewards time."

"All right, shoot," Xander said. "Only, not like, literally, 'cause, hey – not liking my odds here of a shootout with a god and all."

"Hey, in the right place and time, you might come out on top," Janus said, grinning. "Ok. First one and the big choice. Go back to your lives in your Sunnydale and time, or stay here and build lives with each other in – "

"Stay," they both said, simultaneously again. And glanced sidelong again, each of their eyebrows going up.

"– West that Never Was of 1898. And, ok, that was fast." Janus blinked at them, and smiled. "Are you real sure, now? This cannot be taken back."

Cordelia bit at her lower lip, and turned in the chair to face Xander more fully. He, for his part, shifted to the corner of the seat, so he could turn more to her and do the same. She looked into his eyes, searching deeply for... something. She wasn't sure what.

She just knew it was suddenly deathly important that she find it.

Xander shrugged. "Up to you, Cordy. I already said: where you are is home. Where you're not, is nothing and nowhere I want a part of. All that stuff we left in 1998? Doesn't matter if we are not there."

"Oh?" Cordelia arched an eyebrow at him. "And Willow and Buffy?"

She saw a brief pang go through him at the thought of the loss of Willow and Buffy, and saw him ruthlessly suppress it.

"Doesn't matter," Xander said, his eyes smiling at her. "They'll just have to fend for themselves."

Damn. But it felt like if her smile got any bigger, her face might split in half. “Oh, yeah?” she said, her eyes searching his. There was something of deathly importance she needed to find there...

"Hey. I was ready to walk through a small army of gunmen to reach you," Xander said, his own smile going all lopsided, and those chocolate eyes crinkling at the corners. "I didn't do that just to say: hey, that was fun. Now, bye!"

"Dork."

"Fashion queen."

"Doofus."

"Ice princess."

"Dumb ass."

"Bitch."

"Damned straight," Cordelia said, finding it, and started laughing. "The one and only."

"You already said I could have you," Xander said, grinning like an idiot. "I knew if I tried that line on enough pretty girls, one of them would fall for it."

"Jerk," she said, and thumped him one, lightly.

"Yup. Your jerk."

"Oh, lucky me. All right," Cordelia said, never taking her eyes off of Xander's. "I guess that settles that. We're staying."

"Done."

They finally managed to tear their eyes off of each other and turned back to him, smiling. Cordelia felt a tightness in her chest that she almost couldn't seem to breathe past, and a warmth that didn't seem like it was going away. Good.

"All right, then, so that's that," Cordelia said, "And, so, what's the reward? And the choice? We get two choices, you said, then?"

"Well, the one you just made, effectively obviates the other," Janus said. "But don't worry – you'll get another crack at it later on, when all is said and done." He smiled, "And the rewards? What's the usual reward for a job well done?"

"Another fucking job, sir," Xander said, his eyes narrowing.

Janus smiled and nodded. "Close. Real close," he said. "But, first, I have some adjustments to do so things will work out right."

He closed his eyes for a moment, and seemed to take on a glow. Cordelia had that impression again, of him swelling and growing, and suddenly becoming infinitely more. And infinitely other, briefly. She heard Xander suck in his breath, and knew that he'd seen it, also.

And then she and Xander took on a soft white glow, which lasted briefly, and then faded... Janus opened his eyes, smiling, and suddenly back to what he had been.

"Uh, what was that?" Cordelia said.

"Had to make some adjustments," Janus said. "Nature abhors a vacuum, which is kind of strange given that she made so damned much of it. And so do gods and powers. There was a Cordelia Chase and an Alexander 'Xander' Harris that would have been, will have been, born in Sunnydale to your respective parents in this world line, or what's become of it, in 1980 -slash- '81. They had to be, so now they will be, and were. And just so as to not be a royal prick about it... " Janus shrugged, "I had to have a moment with them and give them a choice also."

"Uh, what kind of choice?" Xander said, blinking.

"Similar to yours," Janus said. "And the option to choose ignorance as bliss, or to have all of the memories, both of growing up there in their world and time line as they did, plus, when the time is right, of having your memories of growing up in your time and Sunnydale, including the events that have just passed, up to you going to sleep in your hotel room. Plus a few perks."

"Wait, you cloned us?" Cordelia blinked also, and heard her voice come out sounding incredulous. "But... "

"No," Janus said. "You're them. They're you. No cloning involved."

"But what about souls?" Xander said, still blinking and looking stunned.

"Oh, Hades, that was the easy part," Janus said, grinning. "I just took part of yours, or part of one of yours each, and gave it to them. Piece of cake." He snapped his fingers.

"Uh, one of them?" Cordelia said, "But I thought it was, like, one to a customer. And part? We have only part of a soul now?"

"Oh, please," Janus said, rolling his eyes. "Quick, both of you, pull yours out and count them. I'll wait. And watch." He folded his arms across his chest and raised an eyebrow.

"Fine," Cordelia said, huffing. "Point made. Asshole."

"She had a good question," Xander said, sounding like he was trying not to laugh. Jerk.

"Sigh. Fine," Janus said. "She did, you're right. And it's another metaphysics thing. But.. yeah. Everyone has multiple souls. And, a soul is infinitely divisible. You can not have 'part of a soul'. Divide a soul in half? You get two whole souls. Infinitely, if you want – that’s how you can have a nearly infinite multiverse with all of its branching and variations."

"Fine," Cordelia said, petulantly. "Two souls. And there's two of us now?"

"Oh, you have no idea how many of you there are across the multiverse, Cordelia," Janus said, smiling. "And how many Xanders. And yes, a you now, and a you there and then, just as there was before. Only you here and now are the you that grew up in Paradise, California, or whatever it was called then, between 1876 and 1898, with a lot of extra from you of a Sunnydale time line that now... isn't. And they're the pair of you who grew up in Sunnydale of 1980 through 1998, merged in with the memories, experiences, and personalities of your time in the Sunnydale that Wasn't. Seamlessly, no botch job like the leftovers of that Halloween event. I am not an amateur at this." He sighed, and said, "It had to even out."

“Okay,” Cordelia said, scowling at him and looking puzzled – and concerned. “But we didn't, uh, eradicate them or anything? Or, uh, ourselves? Us? Whoever... and okay, now my brain really hurts. Asshole.”

“No. You are you, just as they are/were you,” Janus said. He sighed heavily, and added, “I suggest that you cease to worry about it for now. Trust me: no one has been destroyed or eradicated, least of all your counterparts from this time and place. Nor yourselves from the Sunnydale of '98.”

“Okay,” Cordelia said, nodding. “I'm gonna let it go, just because I really don't want to think about the whole thing any more.”

Xander shook his head, looking bemused. "Ok, so, the 'nother job? And the rewards?"

Yeah. Good questions, dammit.

"The other job? That's simple," Janus said, "Running jumping standing still. Go back to your lives here. Do the next thing, whatever it is. Love each other, dammit. Live. And when it's all said and done, come back here and rest and relax and regroup, and we'll kick back and talk. After you've lived out your span of years."

"Huh? That's it?" Cordelia said, blinking.

"What, you want to roll a boulder uphill for the next thousand years?" Janus said, laughing. "Ok, fine – "

"No!" Cordelia and Xander said, together. "That's good, we're good. Just... surprised," Xander added.

"Hades, that's enough. You'll have ample opportunity to muck about and interfere with the plans of demons and gods and powers and bad men, just by being who you are."

"So, what, like no warnings about not changing history or anything?" Cordelia asked.

"Snerk. Naw. That was a problem, I wouldn't be leaving you all of your memories," Janus said. "Change whatever you want, and whatever you can. Use whatever knowledge and tools you have. What's that Vin's pappy always used to say? It'll all come out in the wash, honest."

"You say so," Xander said, shrugging. For her part, Cordelia's mind was already whirling with ideas... "And so, rewards?"

"Boy, you're stuck on that, aren't you?" Janus said. "Fine. Zotz!" He stared at them.

Briefly, Xander's eyes glowed green, and then white, and he arched back. Cordelia looked at him wide eyed, clutching him in alarm, and then glared at Janus.

Cordelia looked at him wide-eyed, clutching him in alarm, and then glared at Janus. "What did you do to him? Xander!"

"Hey," Xander said, opening his eyes and blinking. "I'm ok. Really ok," he said, wonderingly. "Seriously, Cordy."

"He's fine. Better than fine. And so are you."

"So what did you do?" Cordelia huffed, blew strands of hair from her eyes, and folded her arms across her chest, glaring at him.

Janus grinned again. Jerk. He said, "That nasty business with the remainders of the Halloween spell that would have fragmented fully and caused your man there so much trouble over the years? All integrated now. Instead of having multiple bits and pieces of a hundred concepts of soldier and warrior they're now all integrated into one, and with him and his psyche. And that bit of Hyena tutelary being remnant that would have interacted with all of that in around ten to fifteen years and sent him into a rubber room with an I-love-me jacket? Also integrated and not an issue."

"Huh." Cordelia arched an eyebrow, still not satisfied.

"It's all right, Cordy. Really," Xander said. "We'll talk, ok?" He leaned forward and poured himself a straight scotch and soda, leaning back and sipping at it reflectively. He looked over at Janus and nodded.

"Fine," she said, finally, still bristling at the god. "And?"

"Oh, the usual. You won't get sick. And you won't die from illness, Alzheimer's, cancer, heart attacks, childbirth, or any of the other stuff. Only old age, accident, violence or mishap will take you out. And no tooth decay," Janus said. "Oh – and, while not immortal, when you're older, you'll look about twenty or so plus years younger than your real age. You, Cordelia will be an exceptionally lovely and youthful looking seventy year old, for example. And Xander there will be an extremely well preserved and distinguished looking octogenarian."

"Huh." Cordelia said again, a bit mollified. She fixed herself another Irish coffee and sipped at it.

"Oh, and one more thing," Janus said. He waved his hand again, and Cordelia glowed blue-white briefly, her eyes turning pupilless white and rolling back into her head for a moment...

"Hey!" it was Xander's turn to clutch at her protectively and glare at the god. "What the hell?"

"Relax, kid," Janus said. "That just fixed a problem that might have cropped up in a few years for your lady there, or maybe not, depending. Now? If certain aspects of her heritage develop fully, they'll do so on their own, and they won't kill her or destroy her mind."

"Destroy her... " Xander's glare intensified. "What?"

"And I think I just thoroughly pissed off about six different wannabe powers who now won't be able to turn Cordelia to their own ends by manipulating those aspects," Janus added, either ignoring or completely oblivious to Xander's enraged expression. “Possibly more than that, considering that I did the same for the Cordelia who went back to the new Sunnydale.”

"Whoa," Cordelia said, her glow fading. She put a hand to her head, opening her eyes. "That felt... bizarre."

"Cordy?" Xander turned her slightly to face him. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah. Think so... no. I'm fine, Doof," she said, smiling at him reassuringly. "It's all right."

"She's fine, really," Janus said, smiling at them.

"The hell was that?" Cordelia snapped at him, her eyes wide, and then narrowing.

"Just... say that now the Cassandra effect won't bite you in the ass, Cordelia," Janus said. "Ask your friend Reginald Giles – he'll explain it."

"Right," Cordelia grumbled, glaring at him. "Anything else in this mixed bag of so called blessings?"

"Oh! How sharper than a Serpent's Tooth," Janus said, placing a hand on his heart theatrically and rolling his eyes. He smirked at them. "And you're both marked as two of mine now. Marked as being touched by me, now. Other gods, demons, and powers will recognize that, and know not to screw with you – unless you choose to directly interfere and involve yourself with them. You can worship whoever you want. Even become agents of the Powers if you wish, or align yourself with them. Although why you'd want to have anything to do with those asswipes is beyond me. Oh – and you'll be marked to come here, at the end, rather than being shunted to some Hell, or some other afterlife not of your choice and against your will."

"Hmm." Cordelia and Xander exchanged long looks, and shrugged. Oh well, better than she might have expected. And it could have been a lot worse.

You just don't get mixed up with gods and demons and usually come out on the of the good side of things...

"So, whatcha think?" Cordelia asked, frowning at Xander.

"I dunno. What do you think?" Xander asked, looking at Cordelia in return.

"I asked you first, dammit," she said.

"I think it's done,” Xander said, shrugging. "Kind of pointless to ask, now."

"Right," Cordelia said. She nodded. "Ok, so, we go back now?"

"Yup." Janus lifted his hand, and paused. "Oh, and when all is said and done, and you two come back here finally, you have a job offer to look forward to."

"Job offer?"

"Yup. Remember when I said there was a near infinity of world lines like yours and like this one out there across the multiverse? They have a near infinity of problems, too. I could use a pair of agents like you two, with your skills and abilities, and your knack for getting dropped into the middle of a situation and turning it inside out and upside down. Only restriction is that you can't co-exist with your current other selves, so around a hundred years or so, plus about twenty years either way, is off limits. Otherwise... any era, any time frame."

"Huh. Meaning from around 1960 to what, like, 2100 is out of bounds?" Cordelia said, frowning.

"Something like that."

"Heh. I kind of like guns. So no sword and sorcery stuff... " Xander said.

"Horses and six-guns and spaceships maybe?" Cordelia said, smiling. "I'm kind of getting to like the Wild West, too."

Xander grinned at her, winked, and turned back to Janus. "We'll think about it."

"You'll have to do so in your dreams, or when you get back and we discuss it at more length," Janus said. "That part, the job offer, you won't remember consciously. You'll just know you have something to look forward to at the end." He smiled, "It'll probably make you insufferable to the closed minded who're convinced that they, and only they, have a lock on what the afterlife and final reward is all about."

He winked, lifted his hand, and then smiled at the empty chair.

Janus sat there sipping his whiskey, and thinking. After a time a tall man wearing a black, tailed, formal tuxedo came in, frowned slightly, and began to brush off the empty seat with a small whisk broom. He somewhat resembled a sterner, white haired Michael Caine...

"Ah. Alfred," Janus said. He inclined his head toward the table, and added, "Leave that stuff, please, I'll finish it off."

"Very good, sir."

"And, if you would, please," Janus added, after a moment's thought, "Ask Mr. French to prepare something special for tonight's repast. I'm having a guest, and I'd like to surprise her."

"I shall do that, sir," his butler and batman said. "Might I inquire as to whom?"

Janus shrugged. He knew it wasn’t idle curiosity or for purposes of gossip: the knowledge would give the butler, as well as the cook and household manager, needed information for taking proper care of a guest.

"Unfortunately, no one you know as of yet," Janus said. "A young lady from a few dimensions over – an Evan Wilson, or at least that's what she goes by at the moment. Human, though, or mostly. So there's a reasonable assumption that Earthly delicacies should be enjoyable."

A nod. "I'll look forward to her arrival, sir. And I do hope that you enjoy the evening." Alfred waited.

"I think I probably shall," Janus said, chuckling. He helped himself to a cup of coffee, and a square of white chocolate. "So. What's on the docket for the rest of the current time frame?"

"Ah. One moment, sir," his butler and personal assistant took a moment that wasn't really needed to refresh his memory. Janus knew that Alfred was accessing his own sliver of Intellectus to check for and on updates to situations that might need personal attention.

"There is still that ongoing situation on oh-twenty-three that is in delicate stages at the moment," Alfred said.

"Hmm." Janus focused his awareness upon the proper slice of the World's Dream. "Ah. The Vegas Wedding time line, yes. Huh. Seems to be able to take care of itself for the moment. And, if not, the other interested parties should be able to deal with any emergencies."

"Very well," Alfred said. "So, nothing for the moment there?"

"Nah." Janus waved negligently and said, "Schedule a small gathering and invite the usual selection of friends. We'll have a watching party."

"I'll do that, sir. Should Aphrodite be among them?"

"Oh, of course. It's just not a party without her."

"Very good, sir. And there is that business on oh-one-forty-two that seem to be unraveling a bit," Alfred stated.

"Oh? The line with that Elminster fellow? Or one of them?" At the butler's nod, Janus paused to check in there for a moment. "Hmm. Let's see... let's send that new girl, Kendra. She needs to be blooded properly. And, oh, that Costigan fellow, and the young Maclay. And... ah. Olaf's son. That should be sufficient, albeit a bit destructive."

"Excellent, and I shall do so," Alfred said. "And there is a certain Mr. Whistler in the waiting room demanding to see you."

"Hah! That lackey," Janus said. "Or is he a minion? I always forget."

"I believe he isn't highly enough paid to be a lackey, judging by his clothes," the butler said. "Shall I... ?"

"Leave him cooling his heels for the moment?" Janus said, smiling nastily. "Why yes, excellent idea. He'll either get the message and leave, wait patiently, or barge in after a time."

"Certainly, sir."

After a moment, Janus glanced up, curiously. "Is there something else?"

"I am almost hesitant to question your actions here, sir. However, should you have – " Alfred broke off, and gestured, glancing sharply at the coffee table with its selection of snacks and refreshments.

"Hmm." Janus frowned. He was tempted to dismiss the concern, but... Hades. Experience and judgment was a primary quality in the selection of his staff and associates. It behooved him to pay attention when they expressed a concern.

After a brief time, he shrugged. "I believe so, yes. Just a very slight touch of ambrosia and nectar in the snacks, and a trace of the Hippocrene in the coffee. Not enough to cause a problem or, well, make them one of us, but enough to add a slight edge to their abilities and attributes." Janus shrugged, adding, "And give them a perquisite or two I believe that they'll need over the years, if I'm not mistaken."

"As you wish, sir. I shan't say any more then."

"Oh, please," Janus said, smiling. "Say whatever comes to mind. It is what I pay you for, after all."

His butler and friend smiled slightly in return, inclining his head. "And if you were to actually pay me, I'm quite certain that that would be a consideration, sir. Will there be anything else?"

Laughing, Janus waved him off. "No, I don't believe so. And, thank you."

"Of course, sir. It is what I am paid for, after all."

"Smart ass."



He awoke with an... interesting sensation, and found Cordelia straddling him, and looking down into his opening eyes with a wicked smile.

Apparently, he thought, she wasn't too tired for sex any longer...

And then he was beyond thought, and beyond anything other than sweet sensation and enveloping heat.

He held her after they both collapsed, stroking her hair and back and murmuring things that didn't really have words. And held her after that, tightly, as harsh cries, hot tears, and deep, harsh, wracking sobs took her and shook her.

He knew what the tears and the sobs were for...

For all the lost friends, lost family, and lost world they'd given up and would never see again. And for pouring out all the bitter fear, and hate, and pain and rage of the past few days in Wilkins' captivity. And for the dead, and lost, and wounded friends here, and the ones they'd never have a chance to know, that had died in that awful fight at the Mission.

There weren't really words to go with that, and he didn't try for any. Just held and stroked, and let her pour it all out into and against him, until it finally passed and subsided.

What the hell. She'd held him while he shook, aghast and bitterly lost on a hillside, some time back. And again when he'd sunken into a black miasma of mechanical unfeeling, after seeing a girl die in front of him, and killing six men in a senseless fight. He could hang on and put her back together for a change...

It was what partners did for each other.

"All better now?" Xander asked, snagging a bandana from the bedside table and handing it to her.

"Yeah," Cordelia said, wiping at reddened and puffy eyes. "No. Don't know. And... yeah, will be."

"Happens like that, sometimes."

"Did that really happen?" she asked, looking into his eyes in the dim light. "Did we really have a heart to heart with a Greater freaking God? And agree to stay?"

"Yeah, pretty sure," Xander said. "Regrets?"

Cordelia was silent for a long time, her head propped on one forearm on his chest. "Some. And... no, not really." She search his eyes in the dimness. "You?"

"Yeah. No. Maybe," he said, and she laughed. "Not really. Really don't think we'd fit back into our own skins any more, back where we came from. We've... gotten larger than that, somehow."

"Uh huh," she nodded against his chest. "Larger than life?"

"Maybe? Or maybe life's just larger than we knew?" Xander shrugged, and said, "And I just don't think we'd fit modern California any more, either."

"Gods no," Cordelia said, shuddering slightly. "We'd both be on death's row the first time a Jack O'Toole or a Kyle DuFours got crossways of us."

"Yeah," Xander said, laughing softly. "Not a lot of room for gunslingers in our world any more, huh?"

"Nope. Huh," Cordelia said, "Never did figure out: why Rio Blanco? I mean... why here?"

Xander laughed again. "Man, thought you'd have nailed that one right off?"

"Oh?"

"C'mon, Cordy, your Sunnydale history knowledge is better than mine," Xander said, smiling. "Sun River? That Wolf Run empties into, and that runs through Durgan's Wood past Fort Halleck, and dumps into the cove up from City Beach? Used to be named Valley River, and before that, the White River, aka... "

"The Rio Blanco, back when this was all Spanish California," Cordelia said, nodding. "Duh, and I so knew that, dammit."

"Yup," Xander said, grinning. "Wonder if Ethan Rayne knew just how... appropriate his choice of movies to enchant was?"

"Hah! Bet not," Cordelia said. "And I'll bet that in whatever hell he ended up in, Wilkins is cursing Rayne nine ways from Sunday right now."

"Nah. I play poker. I don't do sucker bets."

"Chicken."

"Snerk. So," Xander said, waggling his eyebrows at her, "What should we do with the rest of tonight, Deputy Brain?"

"Oh, same thing we do every night, Deputy Pinky," Cordelia said, a wicked smile starting to spread across her lips. "Have sex, and then try to take over the world."

"Mwahaha."

"My oh my. Such an evil laugh for such a fine, upstanding Deputy."

"I've got something upstanding for you."

"Huh. So I'm noticing... "



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