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Summary: A response to Jinni's five song challenge- Asher is sent by the council to investigate reports of military activity near the Hellmouth

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Anita Blake > Willow-Centered > Pairing: AsherdulcineaFR1855165,32913100123,4992 May 043 Sep 06Yes

Under Pressure - 3

~Initiative Laboratory, Wednesday, 7:01 p.m.~

Professor Walsh slipped on her latex gloves with a comforting snap. She flipped on her tape recorder just as the egg timer on the bench started beeping. “Time, 1900 hours, resuming analysis of biocontaminant substance.”

Walsh flipped off the timer and pulled her samples out of the incubation chamber. “Sample fractions incubated at thirty-seven degrees for two hours, following annealing procedures alpha-seven-two. Attempting to run immunocomplimentation assays.”

She took a sampling test plate from the supply fridge and checked the label. “I will begin by running the samples against known human toxins. As a positive control, I will use polyclonal rabbit anti-trehalose in lane A. As a negative control, I will use distilled water in lane B.”

Double checking the settings on her pipette, she added “Each well will be treated with two microliters of sample.” The room fell silent as she performed the simple lab task. “All wells will now be treated with fluorescent-tagged goat anti-rabbit antibody. Sample plate will be allowed to settle for ten minutes and then read by spectrophotometer.”

Being careful to hold the plate flat, Walsh inserted it into the reading machine. As she pulled her hand out, she snagged her glove on the microcoupler. “Damn. Angleman didn’t put the settings back to the original height when he was done. Why am I not surprised? He can’t even remember to put the toilet seat down when he’s through with the lab restroom. Whoever thought letting men into laboratories was a good idea should be shot.” Walsh mumbled.

She briefly considered switching out gloves, but realized that if she didn’t program the reader immediately, the samples could get over exposed, so she went over to the machine control panel instead. “Spectrophotometer set to read at 800 hertz to match labeling dye lambda. Sensitivity set to five micromoles.”

Satisfied with her settings, Walsh set the timer and went about setting up her next experiment with the unknown substance. She still had a set of blank culture plates that Riley had made before his unfortunate exit. “Fractions of biocontaminant sample are applied to Escherichia coli strain 83972, and will be incubated overnight for possible transformations.”

As Walsh worked quietly she pondered the paradox that was Riley Finn. She had always gotten the impression that Riley was happy working with both the military and academic projects. He was one of the few competent soldiers the army had recruited, and she had made a special point to provide him and his friends with opportunities the other units didn’t have. What would make someone, so valued by his peers, split the family in two? Did he not feel the camaraderie that was to be expected from military units? Was this Buffy Summers really such a temptation he could not refuse?

She had come to no conclusions on that front when the timer went off. She quickly went to the machine to check the readout. It was a long shot that the sample would fall under one of the 80 knowns on the plate, but she had hope. One glance at the results and she knew she had hit the jackpot. Well C3 was lit up as bright as the positive controls. “C3 is a match.” She announced to her tape recorder. “C3 corresponds to …”

Walsh flipped through her computer files looking for the assay setup. “Oh shit.”

Grabbing the phone on the wall, she quickly dialed the base switchboard. “This is Walsh, I need to speak to Angleman immediately.”

“Dr. Angleman isn’t on base at the moment.”

“Nonsense, I saw him in the lounge just an hour ago.”

“His ID was used to exit the labs forty-three minutes ago, ma’am.” The soldier at the front
confirmed.

“I need to see him in the med diagnostics lab stat.”

“I’ll let him know when he gets in.”

“I don’t think you understand, Agent. I need to see him now. I want you to send a team to his house and drag him out of bed if you have to. And, while we’re at it, I need you to quarantine exam room two.”

“Yes ma’am.” The soldier hung up, leaving Walsh alone in the lab.

“Note to self: All incoming H.S.T.s should be checked for ticks, lice, and fleas in case of cross contamination of vectored diseases.”

~Sunnydale Teaching Hospital, Wednesday, 7:45 p.m.~ (UP2)

There was a soft ping as the electrical chip hit the metal bowl beside the operating table. “Is that it?” Spike looked down at the innocuous-looking piece of metal and plastic.

“Is that it? Do you have any idea how complex the circuitry in that chip is?” The doctor didn’t look up from his work patching Zoltan’s head back together.

Asher picked up the chip and examined it carefully. “I imagine it is very complex. Tell me, Monsieur, would it continue to function if it were reimplanted in another?”

The doctor shot Asher a scathing glare before returning to his stitching. “Making the chip was the easy part. Putting these things in isn’t exactly a piece of cake. It’s hard enough implanting clean ones… There all done.”

Zoltan’s hand patted the stitches. “They’re not beautiful, but I suppose they’ll do.”

“Monsieur Spike, I believe it is your turn now.”

“Before I get on that table, I want to make sure it works. Take it for a test run, Zoltan.” Spike kept his stare on the doctor. He didn’t want the man thinking he could get away with crossing wires or nerves on this vampire.

“My pleasure.” Zoltan focused his third eye on the doctor and a red ray shot out. There was a slight sizzle as the ray made contact and then the doctor clutched his throat. “Yup, fully functioning.” Zoltan grinned.

The doctor’s face turned bright red for a few moments then he broke into a string of hacking coughs. The color faded, leaving him slightly pastier than before. He moaned as his body crumbled to the ground, his joints no longer supporting him.

“What the hell did you do to him?!” Spike shouted over the doctor’s groans.

“Do you like it? It’s a new variant of dengue, otherwise known as hemorrhagic fever, or my personal favorite nickname, breakbone fever.” Zoltan grinned.

The vampires watched as the doctor spasmed on the floor, a thin sheen of sweat covering his skin. “Help me.” He tried reaching towards Angel.

“Great, just great. How is he supposed to do surgery like that?” Spike glared at Zoltan.

“Hey, you were the one who said I should try it out.”

“Yeah, with something small like acne, not freakin’ Ebola.”

“Where’s the fun in that? Besides, it’s not Ebola; it’s Dengue. It requires a mosquito vector if
it’s going to spread, whereas Ebola is messier.”

“Can you cure him?” Asher asked.

“I’m a plague demon, not the Red Cross.”

“Monsieur…”

“Hey, don’t worry. Plenty of people recover from Dengue. As long as he keeps the fever down, stays hydrated, and doesn’t show symptom of hemor…Never mind.” The demons watched as Dr. Angleman started coughing up blood.

“Bloody hell, couldn’t you have cursed a chair, or a table? Anything but the doctor?”

“I suppose I could have, but it’s no fun watching a chair get sick. It just sort of sits there and creaks, ya know?” In the heat of the argument, nobody noticed Asher slipping the chip into his pocket.

“Help me.” The doctor once again appealed to Angel, his voice shaking with pain and fear. The vampire turned away from it all. If any of the others had tried to fight with fists or fangs, he could have helped the doctor, but he was helpless against diseases. The doctor took one last gasping breath and collapsed.

“Hello?” Spike waved his hand in front of the doctor’s face, but the doctor, like a blind man, didn’t notice. “Great, bloody great, you’ve killed the doctor.”

“So get another one.” Zoltan shrugged.

“I am afraid that is not possible. There is only one other doctor capable of doing these surgeries, and she is inaccessible.” Asher watched the small trickle of blood flowing from the doctor’s mouth.

“Well, I guess you’ve learned your lesson.” Zoltan addressed Spike. “Next time, volunteer first. If you’ll excuse me, I believe D’Hoffryn was planning a welcoming party for his newest employee, and I’d hate to miss it.” And with that, Zoltan blinked out of that plane of existence.

“I hate that demon. I bloody hate him.” Spike kicked at the dead doctor.

“Don’t do that Spike.” Angle muttered.

“What the hell am I supposed to do? I can’t get this damn thing out of my head!”

“True, it is a setback, but there are other options.” Asher tried to temper the youngest vampire.

“So damn close.” Spike punctuated each word with another kick at the feverish corpse.

“Stop that!” Angel pulled Spike back and threw him against the wall.

“Yeah, what’re you going to do about it?” Spike charged at Angel.

Angel easily pinned Spike against the wall, holding the vampire’s throat with one hand. “If
you’re going to take revenge, take it out on Zoltan, not the dead man.”

“I think you’re forgetting who put that damn chip in my head in the first place. I can take revenge on whoever the hell I want.” Spike pushed against Angel’s chest, but the older vampire didn’t move.

“I think you’re forgetting your place, boy.” Angel leaned in further. “If I say don’t kick the corpse, then you don’t kick the corpse.”

“Why the hell do you even give a damn?”

“I swore I’d bring him back to his place if he behaved. My word means something.”

“I bet he thinks your word means something.” Spike glanced at the dead body with a sneer. “Not get the fuck off me.”

“You’re out of control, Spike.”

“And you’re just the bastion of sanity, aren’t you, with that bloody soul of yours?”

“Enough!” Asher’s voice pierced through the escalating shouts. “Monsieur Spike, you are to go to the main building and fill your pockets with those revolting blood bags. We must have something to show the slayer for our prolonged absence. When you are done, meet us at the doctor’s house. Monsieur Angel, you and I will take the doctor back.”

~ Revello Drive, Wednesday, 7:50 p.m.~

“So,” Riley paused to take a deep breath. He hated feeling this weak, but he was smart enough to know better than to push his limits this far from base. “Are Buffy and her mom really close?”

Giles stopped with Riley, relieved that they had slowed down. Buffy had skipped several blocks ahead, and he trusted her to scout out the situation before they walked into too much trouble. “They’ve had their moments, but yes, Buffy and Joyce get along well. Why do you ask?”

“Well, I just was thinking, if I was going to, that is to say, I really should make an effort to meet Buffy’s family if we’re going to…” Riley blushed.

“Ah yes, always good to make a nice impression on the mother.” Giles smiled knowingly.

“I doubt I’d make a very good impression right now.” Riley wiped some sweat off his forehead. “I can’t believe I was contemplating running a marathon just last week.”

“We’ll try to have you back to marathon strength soon.” Giles patted Riley on the back. “Now, shall we try to catch up with Buffy, or do you need another minute?”

Riley rested his hands on his knees and looked off in the direction Buffy had run. “Is that Buffy? I think she’s coming back.”

Giles glanced up. “Yes, I suppose she’s found your friends?” The two men watched Buffy run towards them.

“Okay, they’re doing a great job of watching the front door. They even have one of those fake bread truck set-ups across the street, but they’ve left the backyard totally open. We could go through the Patels’ yard, climb into the Johnson’s treehouse, and get a clear shot onto my roof. Wanna try it?” Buffy beamed.

The two men looked at her disbelievingly. “Or we could chill here for a few minutes first?”

“No, if you want us to try this treehouse, we’ll try the treehouse.” Riley winced as he stated that.

“Are you sure? Are you getting any worse?”

“If we approach carefully I should be fine. Don’t worry, I’m not going to cough and blow your cover.”

“I’m not so worried about my cover as I am about you. Are you sure you’re going to be alright?” Buffy brushed Riley’s bangs away from his forehead and frowned at the clammy feel of his skin.

“I’ll be fine.”

“Yes, well, I’m not so sure my knees can take a treehouse.” Giles interjected. “How about we just attempt to reach the shed in your backyard? If your mother’s in the kitchen, we should spot her from there.”

“I don’t know whether I should be impressed or thoroughly wigged that you should know that.” Buffy glanced at her watcher.

“Angel pointed it out to me when we were trying to protect the house from the Order of Tarraka…. Yes, I see your point.” Giles frowned.

“Well, it sounds like a good plan to me. I’ll take your six.” Riley answered.

“Six of what?” Buffy asked.

“No, it’s an expression. You know, I’ll take your six? It’s like the hands of the clock, and if I was at the six…” Buffy stared at him blankly.

“He means, if you’ll lead, we’ll follow, and he’ll watch the back.” Giles translated.

“Right, exactly.” Riley nodded. It was odd how sometimes Buffy felt like she had been in the military her whole life, and then there were the moments like now.

“Oh, that’s cool. There’s one guy in the bread truck, one guy hiding in Mrs. Zenecky’s flowerbed, and two guys hiding behind trees across the street. Got that?”

The group went one street beyond Revello Drive and then snuck into the yard directly behind Buffy’s house. There was a row of bushes separating the houses, but Buffy knew a spot where the neighbor’s dog had tunneled under the hedge last summer. In no time they were standing beside the Summers’ garden shed. They could see Mrs. Summers sitting at the kitchen table, paying bills, completely oblivious to the military sting operation in her front yard.

“Is that your mom?” Riley whispered into Buffy’s ear. Buffy nodded once, watching her mother open another envelope. “She looks nice.”

“She is.”

Giles was about to suggest they leave, when a chorus of dog howls rose up from down the block. The barking and howling rang out getting closer and closer to the slayer’s house. “Slayer! Come out, come out wherever you are!” A voice called out from the front yard. The trio in the back watched as Mrs. Summers’ head jerked up.

Buffy was about to take a step forward, but Giles grabbed her arm. “Giles! There’s a vampire in my front yard; let me take care of it!” Buffy hissed.

“No, you are not going out there. Listen to me.” Giles muttered. “Willy said there was a new master vampire in town. His name is El Lobo, and he has the ability to call wolves and probably most other canines.”

“You know, telling me there’s a really strong vampire gunning for my mother isn’t exactly incentive to hang back.”

“Your mother is safe as long as she doesn’t invite him in. If you engage in a fight with a master right now, there’s a good chance you’ll lose, and if you win those soldiers will swoop in the moment you stop fighting. Think before you act, Buffy.”

“Slayer! I know this is your house. Come out and play!” The vampire howled again, echoed by all the neighborhood dogs. Mrs. Summers peaked out of the curtains in the living room and headed towards the phone.

“What is she doing?” Riley asked.

“Probably calling my dorm room.” Buffy offered with a smile. The trio snuck to the edge of the house and peered around the corner to get a better view of the front yard. Buffy couldn’t help but think the vampire looked like an extra in a bad Western whose sole part was to sit in front of a saloon and snore.

“Are you scared, Slayer?” The vampire shouted.

There was a hint of static in the air and then the soldier in the bushes stood up. “Put your hands on your head; we have you surrounded.” The trio could watch the four soldier of the Kappa squad box the vampire in.

The vampire shot a withering glance at the soldier before calling back at the house, “Having little boys fight your battles for you, now? Not a smart move, slayer.”

“I said, put your hands on your head.” The soldier shouted.

“Oh no, this is not going to go well.” Giles muttered.

“Or what?” The vampire challenged.

“Take him down men!” The men raised their taser weapons, but before they could fire, the vampire let out a sharp whistle and dogs from all over the neighborhood started running at the house, intent on taking out the soldiers.

As Riley watched a dalmation knock over one of the members of the Kappa team, he swore. “Damnit, we have to save them!”

“Fine, I’ll take vamp, you take dogs.” Buffy instructed, sliding a stake from her sleeve into her hand.

“Buffy, whatever you do, don’t make eye contact with the vampire.” Giles shouted instructions as Buffy ran into the fight.

She did an impressive series of flips before landing in the midst of the scuffle. “Hey, who let the dogs out?” She quipped.

“Please tell me she didn’t just say that.” Giles groaned.

“It could have been worse.” Riley ran into the fray, trying to ignore the burning pain in his lungs.

“I suppose I should be thankful she didn’t make some joke about puppy chow.” Giles followed Riley, grabbing a large stick from the yard as he went.

“Prepare to die, slayer!” The vampire turned his attention to the girl currently circling him with a stake.

“Oh come on! You come all the way to my house to taunt me, and that’s the best you can do?” Buffy landed a kick on the vampire’s stomach, forcing him to step back. “I’m so not impressed.” And then the fight was on. A flurry of punches and kicks continued faster than any of the soldiers could follow, if any of the soldiers were actually paying attention.

In fact, the four soldiers were too busy with their own battles fighting off the feral dogs the vampire had unleashed on them. While the standard issue tasers were doing a decent job of knocking the dogs out, as soon as one fell, a new one appeared to take its place. Just as Riley and Giles reached the dogs, the captain of the Kappa squad was knocked down, and the dogs sensing a weakness converged. “Get him out of there!” Riley shouted as he and Giles pushed the dogs aside to get to the captain.

“Damn demonic dogs!” One of the soldiers shouted as he tried to shake a terrier off his pants leg.

“They’re not demonic. They’re just influenced by a demonic force at the moment.” Giles answered, using the stick to push his way into the mass of canines. Evidently the dogs had been instructed to just attack the four soldiers as none of them made an effort to attack Giles or Riley. “Give me your hand.” Giles shouted at the captain buried under the snarling mass of canines.

The soldier reached out, and Giles yanked him up, helping him to his feet, only to discover the captain’s ankles had been badly bitten, possibly tearing through the joint. Mrs. Summers opened her front door, and was standing on the porch. “Mr. Giles, do you need any help?”

“Yes, can we bring these soldiers inside? As soon as they’re inside, I need you to close the door. Don’t let any dogs in.” Giles instructed, trying to grab the soldier towards the house, away from the dogs that were still jumping and biting at the soldier.

“Of course. Whatever you need.” Joyce held the door open.

“Riley, get your soldiers inside now!” Giles instructed.

“Fall back, men, fall back!” Riley pulled several dogs off the soldiers as they tried to back towards the house. The three men who could walk, started running for the front door, shooting tazers wildly into the crowd that followed them. As the dogs tore at their clothes, and skin underneath, the men stumbled forwards. It was only Riley’s commands that kept the men focused on their destination.

“Gah, my wrist!” A man screamed as a large dog bite down on his arm, breaking a bone. He dropped his tazer, and Riley grabbed it. As they ran past Giles, Riley took the weight of the Kappas’ captain on his shoulders and carried him into the house, snarling dogs jumping on his side. “Here’s a tazer, try to get Buffy.” Riley instructed, leaving Giles on the porch. The door slammed, leaving the porch full of confused dogs. The motley assortment of mutts barked furiously at the windows and door of the house, leaving Giles to climb down the front steps and follow the sounds of the vampire fight.

“Eat dust, dog boy.” Giles watched Buffy slam the stake home and the vampire vanish in a plume of dust. She noticed Giles watching and took a dramatic bow, “Ta da!”

“Oh dear.”

“Oh dear? Come on, I beat the vampire. That’s a good thing. Look, the dogs think it’s a good thing.” Without the vampire’s call to egg them on, the crowd of dogs found themselves disoriented on the porch. A few continued to bark at the front door, but many were wandering off the porch back to their usual territories.

“Yes, but he turned into dust.”

“That’s what they do.”

“No, that’s what minions do. Do you remember Master Ness?”

“Yeah, dying is one of those things it’s hard to forget.”

“His bones stayed whole. If this vampire was El Lobo, then there would be a pile of bones, not dust. This must be one of Lobo’s progeny. If he’s recruiting from Sunnydale…”

“He’s not recruiting in Sunnydale, at least not now. That vamp was totally Tombstone, before Val Kilmer.”

“Right.” Giles sighed, not really having a clue what Buffy was talking about.

“Where’s Riley?” Buffy finally had a chance to look around.

“He’s in your mother’s house with the soldiers.”

“Giles!”

“What?”

“You don’t just leave a bunch of crazy commandos in a house with my mother! What if they try something?”

“They weren’t in a position to try anything.” Giles insisted as Buffy ran for the front door, pushing aside a pair of frisky dachshunds who were trying to pick a friendly fight with a husky. Giles followed after her into the house.

“Dear god,” Buffy froze at the sight of the soldiers in the front hall. “I didn’t think dogs could do that.”

“Buffy, can you run up to my room and get the first aid kit?” Joyce instructed as she tried to wash off some of the cuts and bruises on one of the soldiers.

“Sure mom.” Buffy ran off to be useful, not wanting to look at the soldiers any more. She could have sworn she could see to the bone on several of the bite marks.

While Joyce was busy cleaning off the captain, Riley set himself to cleaning up the youngest member of the team. “Hold on, Tanner, this is going to hurt for a moment.” He instructed as he poured some of Joyce’s hydrogen peroxide onto a cotton ball.

“Aahhh!” The man yelped as the cotton ball made contact with the first of many scratches. The soldier decided the best way to remain stoic was to start a conversation with his rescuer. “Finn, where the hell have you been?”

“I’ve been on assignment.” Riley answered stiffly.

“Yeah, well, we’ve been staking out this place for over a day. We were about to take bets you wouldn’t show up.”

“It’s a good thing we showed up when we did, or you would have been in rough shape.” Riley offered.

“Yeah. You know, I always thought those reports about people getting attacked by dogs was just a cover up for some H.S.T. damage, but now I’m beginning to wonder.”

“The H.S.T.s have done their fair share.” Riley said, wrapping up the arm he had been working on to pay attention to the cuts on the soldier’s leg.

“Most of the reports of dog bites in this community have been werewolves... oh, or hellhounds. Nasty job, those hellhounds; completely ruined the senior prom last year.” Giles muttered as he helped Joyce clean off the wounds.

“How do you know…?” One of the soldiers began to ask when he realized that talking about H.S.T.s in front of civilians was expressly forbidden.

“Don’t ask, just trust that he knows what he’s talking about.” Riley ordered.

Buffy came down the steps carrying her mother’s caboodle of first aid supplies. “Somehow, I don’t think this is going to help. You guys need to get to a hospital.” She muttered, passing a roll of gauze to her mother.

“I’m not that bad. The dogs mainly just got my clothes, but it’s so slashed and torn it looks a lot worse.” The unit’s 2IC answered.

“You’re not so injured; maybe you should drive them to the emergency room.” Buffy said to the soldier who was cleaning out the cuts running up his arm.

“We can’t. Our orders were to stay here until you showed up and then track you until back up arrived.” The Kappa captain responded for his men, gritting his teeth through the pain. “No offense, ma’am, but you’re in no position to be ordering us around.”

“Have any of you placed a call to headquarters?” Riley asked. The men shared a glance before shaking their heads no. The one with a broken wrist tried to grab his radio from his vest with the non-broken hand, but Riley picked it up from him. “Right now, I’m the ranking officer, and I say you don’t call this in. Flannerty, you’re going to be driving the truck back. Get these men into the infirmary as soon as possible. If anyone gives you a hard time, tell them to get the video footage off the truck. That fight scene should keep Walsh busy for quite awhile. I also want you to tell whoever is running intel that Summers’ house is off limits.”

“But, sir…”

“Flannerty, Mrs. Summers is a civilian. We do not hurt civilians.”

“Yes, sir… but, sir…”

“No, that point is non-negotiable. The Initiative’s mission is to protect the country from the threat of H.S.T.s. That does not mean wasting precious manpower stalking an innocent lady’s home, when you could be patrolling for the true threats.”

“Yes, sir.” Flannerty had given up arguing. He had thought a post in Southern California was going to be such an easier stint than being stationed in Korea; now he was having serious doubts. He was tired of the weirdness, and it seemed like the commands from Walsh were just getting weirder every day. If following Riley’s orders meant going home early and forgetting about this, he was all for it.

“Good. Do you need help back to the truck?” Riley watched as Mrs. Summers finished wrapping up the last bite wound in gauze. Guessing from the speed at which she patched the boys up, Riley was betting Buffy had given her quite a hard time growing up.

“I think we’re good. Kappas take care of themselves.” Tanner replied, taking their captain’s weight on his shoulders as the group stood up.

“Good luck, and don’t forget what I said. Revello Drive is off limits.” Riley instructed the soldiers.

They watched the soldiers hobble across the street, and stow their captain in the back of the van. “Do you really think that’s going to keep mom safe?” Buffy asked.

“It’s better than the alternative.” Riley shrugged.

“So, Buffy, care to tell me what this is all about?” Joyce stared at her daughter, no longer distracted by the wounded soldiers.

“Well, mom, it’s sort of hard to explain. There’s this group of neurotic scientists and soldiers that live under the campus, and they build things to kill off all demons.”

“That doesn’t sound all that bad.”

“They don’t exactly know where to draw the line between demons and innocents. They kinda put Giles and me in the ‘demon’ category. If it weren’t for Riley’s help, we probably would have been stuck there.”

“Riley?” Joyce shot her daughter an intrigued look.

“Mom, this is Riley, he’s sort of our soldier good guy. Riley this is my mother.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Summers.”

“Please, call me Joyce.” Joyce smiled and shook Riley’s hand. She glanced from the soldier to her daughter and back. “Buffy, can you grab the peroxide and follow me?” She picked up the first aid kit and headed up the stairs. When they hit the top landing, Joyce started in, “So, this soldier, is he a friend, or maybe more than a friend?”

“Mom!”

“Really Buffy, he seems like a nice young man. Do you know if he’s seeing anyone?”

“Mom!”

“I’m just saying, it’s been how long since you saw what’s his name? You’re young; you should be keeping your options open…” The women disappeared into the master bedroom.

“Ahem.” Giles politely turned away from the blushing soldier.

“So, when do we head back the mansion of doom?” Riley asked eagerly.

~ Magic Shop, Wednesday, 7:52 p.m.~

“Xander, put that down.” Anya glanced over at her boyfriend.

“Sorry.” He set down the bottle of ylang ylang oil and followed Anya down the aisle of potion
ingredients. As she paused in front of the cloves, Xander reached for another bottle, ignoring the look he was getting from the shopkeeper, anxious for this couple to leave so that he could lock-up.

Anya slapped his hand away. “What is wrong with you?”

“Huh?”

“You know better than to touch strange ingredients.”

“It won’t hurt me if it hasn’t been mixed with anything, right?”

“Well, no, but that’s not the point. The point is that is a very expensive ingredient, and if you were to break the bottle you’d have to pay for it, and if you’re paying for wasted spell ingredients, that’s less money you can spend taking me out for dinner.”

“Oh, of course, why didn’t I think of that?” Xander asked in his teasing tone.

“That’s precisely what I’m wondering.” Anya pursed her lips as she fished five cloves from the bottle and put them in the little wax envelope the store provided. “Normally you check the price tags before you fidget. Clearly something is bothering you.”

“Well, yeah, you could say that.”

“Aha! I knew it!”

“Come on, Anya, aren’t you bothered too? Don’t you find it a little bit disturbing that Buffy is working with the vampires to take down the government?”

“How is it any different from you guys working with Angel to take down the Mayor? Technically, the mayor was a government official. Is orange oil the last thing left?”

“Yeah, but that was different. The mayor was evil.”

“So is this Dr. Walsh. I mean, she completely crippled Zoltan, and anyone who knows anything, knows that Zoltan is just about as dangerous as a puppy.”

“Yeah, if puppies could cause an epidemic on a whim,” Xander snorted.

“Xander, you just didn’t get to see him at his best. He’s normally much more charming. Now,
did Willow’s list mention what kind of orange oil she needed, or will any kind work?”

“Um, she doesn’t say?” Xander checked the list. “And that’s another thing, what’s up with Willow?”

“What do you mean?” Anya said carefully, trying to convince herself that it was not worth getting jealous over because jealousy was a stupid human emotion and she wanted none of that.

“Did you notice that she didn’t even try to escape from Mr. Ooh-la-la?”

“His name is Asher.”

“His name could be Napoleon for all I care. I almost got used to Buffy dating the monsters, but Willow? I’ve known her forever, and she’s never shown any leaning towards the monster-types.”

“Are you forgetting about Oz and full moons?” Anya settled on a small bottle of the clementine oil because it was three cents cheaper than the blood orange oil, and she didn’t want to skimp and buy the mandarin orange oil in case it didn’t work. Magic shops were horrible about accepting returns.

“That’s different. Willow and Oz were good together. Willow and that vampire are just so wrong.”

“Why? I thought they looked cute together. It’s nice to see Willow give love another chance.”

“No way, he’s way too old for her.”

“Xander Harris…”

“I didn’t mean it like that. I mean, you look young and beautiful and wonderful, and he looks old. It has nothing to do with age.”

“Are you saying you won’t love me when I get old and ugly?”

“No! No… I just mean, you’re young at heart, and he’s… broody.”

“Broody?”

“Yeah, you know- like he’s brooding. I don’t what she could even see in him with his hippie
blonde hair and fake accent and swirly shadowiness.”

“Good grief, Xander. Why don’t you just admit that no one will ever be good enough for your Willow and that as long as she’s around, you’ll always be more concerned about who she’s dating than what I’m doing. Why don’t you just admit you don’t love me!” Her voice escalated, and she punctuated the declaration by shoving the basket of supplies at Xander and storming out of the store.

“Anya! Anya, wait!” Xander tried to stop her but the store owner jumped in front of him. “You have to pay, sir.”

“Anya!” Xander yelled out the door one more time before fishing out a twenty dollar bill and tossing it at the owner. “There!” He raced after his girlfriend, finally catching up with her at the corner.

“Hey! Wait up!”

“Why? So you can stick your foot in your mouth again?” Anya pouted.

“No.” Xander petulantly replied. “Look, I know I’m an idiot at the best of times, but that’s no reason to go storming through Sunnydale on your own. What if something were to attack you? I would be so worried if something happened to you.”

“Really?”

“Of course! You know that. I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.”

“Yeah, I know.” Anya tried to look coy. “I was running really slow just so you could catch up. You really need to work on your speed.”

“Well, thanks, but next time don’t storm out until after we paid. I had to throw the guy a twenty just for him to get out of the doorway.”

“You paid twenty dollars for that? Xander, that’s like highway robbery! I could have gotten the blood orange oil for that cost.”

“Sorry, but I thought you were more important than the money.”

“Oh Xander, you say the sweetest things.” Xander wrapped an arm around Anya’s waist and she leaned her head on his shoulder. “Stupid, but sweet,” She sighed contentedly.

“That’s me.” Xander smiled. “Well, we should probably get these back to Willow. The sooner she cures Buffy’s boyfriend soldier, the sooner we can get Willow away from the evil vampire boyfriend.”

“And the sooner we can stay at my place… alone.”

“Even better.” Xander grinned.
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