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Best Served Cold

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This story is No. 1 in the series "Cold Vengeance". You may wish to read the series introduction first.

Summary: What could have happened if Buffy found out about 'The Lie' at Graduation? Warning: Violence. Some angst. Not a happy fic.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > Dark > Xander-CenteredGreywizardFR1818,7002812,25126 Mar 0626 Mar 06Yes
Email: If you have any comments/complaints about this story, the author (Starway Man) has asked me to be act as his point of contact, so send them to me @ grey.wizard@verizon.net, and I will forward them to him.

Rating: Pretty much the same as the show.

Disclaimer: The Angel/Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Sandollar, Kuzui, WB and UPN; no copyright infringement is intended, and no money is being made from this fanfic.

Category: Action-adventure. Completely AU after Graduation 2. Primarily B/X, C/X, W/X, W/O and some other relationships. Warning: Some Angst.

Character Bashing: None or not much, depending upon how you view the characters. Some people may think that Buffy, Willow and Cordelia are not shown in the most favorable light, but that is because the author is exploring what might have happened if alternate decisions were made and actions taken after Graduation.

Spoilers: Some for AtS 1-4, and some for Season 6 BtVS up to Normal Again, but it then changes to an AU BtVS after season 3. (You'll understand after you read the story.)

Note: This story was not originally written to be posted on this list, but the author has agreed to allow me to post it here, in order to provide the necessary background for the sequel story he has authorized me to write.



Best Served Cold

"'Fear is for the weak'. That's my motto. Either that, or 'live in the now'."
(Rogaine Boy, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER)

"The ring's not about vengeance, Angelus, it's about power. We'll get to the vengeance part soon." (Darla, ANGEL)

"And you shall yet have your vengeance on those who would fill themselves while others want." (Kurt Barlow, SALEM'S LOT)

***

Unknown location. March, 2002

Time means practically nothing, when dealing with affairs of the heart. It had been about a week since Xander Harris had left his fiancée Anya - the former vengeance demon, known as Anyanka - at the altar in Sunnydale, and things between the former couple had been left totally up in the air. Anya had cried enough tears for a lifetime, unsure of what to do next. Afraid too, of what else this life would now bring her.

Fortunately for her, though, an old friend from her demon days named Halfrek had no such problems.

This vengeance (or 'justice') demon was busy waiting for an old acquaintance, in a room that to mortal eyes would have appeared completely black. Suddenly the air in front of her shivered, and the ethereal time-traveling demon known as Sahjhan appeared.

"Hallie!" Sahjhan exclaimed, taking out a cigarette and lighting up. "Long time no see!"

Halfrek rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah. Look, Sahjhan, I'm calling in that favor you owe me. That's why I summoned you here."

"Good to see you too," Sahjhan smirked. "How's Anyanka these days?"

Halfrek scowled. "You know, sometimes I regret ever releasing your dimensional essence from that Resikhian Urn! Maybe I should have just left you there..."

Sahjhan grabbed her by the throat, dropping the cigarette. "I'm not exactly impotent in this dimension, 'Hallie'. If that was a threat..."

But Halfrek quickly threw him off. "Get a grip, you chump! Look, I just need you to get that stupid old Band of Blacknil..."

Sahjhan looked at her as if she was crazy. "Are you nuts? I'm not going up against some Kleynach demon! I may be a time-shifter, but I'm not omnipotent!"

"Oh, relax - you won't have to overexert yourself. Just pick it up on February 25th, 2001 at the Hyperion hotel in LA, after that vampire Angel has sex with Darla."

At the mention of his old enemy's name, Sahjhan started. "And this'll put a crimp in Angel's situation? 'Cause right now I'm working on something to kill that kid they spawned, y'know..."

Halfrek shrugged. "Probably. Maybe. Who knows?"

Sahjhan appeared to consider it, then shivered out of existence. Less than five seconds later, he reappeared and handed the item to the female demon.

"Good," the demoness said. Then she handed him a long sheet of paper, with a name and address on it at the top. "Now, go to Sunnydale and read out that script to the intended recipient, after you memorize it. And try to sound convincing!"

Sahjhan glowered at his 'friend', but carried out her wishes. A few minutes later, he was back.

"Done. Now, I'm considering this to restore the balance between us, Halfrek. My debt to you is paid - in full. Don't call me again." Then he vanished once more.

Halfrek barely noticed. "Stage One accomplished," she muttered to herself. "Now for Stage Two..."

***

Los Angeles, California. A few hours later

The woman officially known as Anya Jenkins was on her way back to her motel room, after visiting an anagogic demon known as the Host (or Lorne) at the Hyperion hotel.

The place which the souled vampire Angel and many of his crew were currently calling home.

Anya had locked up her store, the 'Magic Box' and gone there because she had heard that the demon was good at reading auras and putting people onto their proper path in life - which was something that right now, the blonde woman sorely needed.

Unfortunately, the former owner of the Karaoke bar 'Caritas' hadn't been able to help her much.

"I'm sorry, sweetcakes," Lorne had said to her, after Anya was done singing for him. "That ex-fiancé of yours really screwed with your life, huh?"

Anya had looked annoyed. "That much I already know. Try telling me something that I don't know!"

Lorne had shrugged. "Be it ever so clichéd, time heals all wounds," he'd said. "You need to put this aside, and move on. Live your life, sugarplum, and do what you do best. That's all I can tell you."

For a moment, after Lorne's comments, Anya had thought of the demon D’Hoffryn’s words - "It's time you got back to what you do best...don't you think?"

Becoming Anyanka. Worshipped and feared around the globe, an avenger of scorned women - such as herself.

But after all this time of being human again, Anya wasn't sure if she wanted to become a demon once more. She wanted the pain to go away, true, but the girl was afraid crushing Xander like a bug wouldn't help much...

And then suddenly, Halfrek appeared right in front of her. "Hello, Anyanka."

Anya looked at the demoness, and then hugged her old friend. "Hi, Hallie. How's business?"

"So-so," Halfrek shrugged. "How are you holding up?"

Anya sighed, and sat on the bed. "I'm not crying all the time anymore, so I guess I'm getting better..."

Halfrek looked at her carefully. "Maybe, but you're still not at the top of your game," she said bluntly. "And I understand that that Xander character wants you back..."

Anya looked up in surprise. "He does?"

"Sure," Halfrek looked annoyed. "Until the next time he decides to dump you at the altar, I suppose!"

"Hallie..."

"I mean, did you notice how touchy-feely he was acting around that stuck-up Slayer at the wedding? I heard he even said to her, 'You want to get lucky? I've still got, what, fifteen, twenty minutes?'"

Anya looked at her in horror. "He didn't!"

The demoness shrugged. "Ask her, if you don't believe me..."

Anya looked furious, and lost all sense of judgment. "That's it! I'm gonna vengeance his ass, right now!"

Halfrek smiled. "All right! Okay, so what's the plan?"

Anya started pacing. "I don't know! Lemme think..."

After a few moments Halfrek asked Anya, "Well?"

"HEY! DON'T RUSH ME!" Anya yelled.

"Mind if I make a suggestion?"

"What?"

"I've been doing my homework," Halfrek said slowly, coming right up to Anya. "And I think the best thing you can do to him - the most effective vengeance - is to take away...his friends."

"HUH?"

"I'm serious," Hallie responded. "Look at his history. Ever since that Slayer arrived on the Hellmouth in '96, the long-armed gimp's friends have been the most important thing in the world to him. I mean without them, he'd have been Deathwok droppings a LONG time ago..."

Anya appeared to think this over. "But how do I cause them to go away from him? I mean - I don't want to hurt *them* and yeah, they'll probably be all mad at him right now, but they'll get over that! Because Buffy and Willow still love him like a brother..."

Halfrek then gave her the Band of Blacknil, and Anya gasped when she saw it.

"Where did you get this!?!" the ex-demon exclaimed.

"Called in a favor," Halfrek shrugged. Then she gave Anya a piece of paper with an address on it. "Go there right now, and you'll get your best chance for this vengeance idea." Halfrek subsequently vanished without another word.

Anya looked at the address, it was a building in the warehouse district in Sunnydale. Gathering her things together into her suitcase, the scorned woman then checked out of the motel room, and started back towards the town that had been home for the last few years.

***

Sunnydale, California. March, 2002

Jonathan Levinson was not in a good mood.

Ever since the murder of Katrina, the ex-girlfriend of his fellow crime lord Warren that had been killed a few weeks before, things had been slowly but surely going downhill for him - if not his two comrades.

Jonathan knew that he was being kept out of the loop nowadays and locked up inside their basement lair, out of fear that his loyalty to the Trio - as the Legion of Dorkness called themselves - was suspect.

And while Warren Mears and Andrew Wells were busy getting ready to rob some vault, he was busy getting deprived of sleep - as Katrina and Buffy's faces were constantly haunting him.

Jonathan had started developing a persecution complex, he knew that. And he was sure the other members of the Trio knew it too.

The way Warren had spoken to him that evening, after he'd tried to leave - the guy hadn't threatened him, exactly, but he'd made it perfectly clear that quitting was not an option.

All of a sudden the air in front of him shivered, and Sahjhan appeared. He looked around and muttered, "Nice place. Real Batcave-like thing you guys have got going here..."

Jonathan yelped, as he leaped back. "Who-who are you?" the nerd stammered.

The time-shifter shrugged. "Name's Sahjhan."

"Uh, okay - b-but what do you want here?"

Sahjhan didn't answer immediately, instead he walked around the basement for a

few moments. "Guess what I really want to know is, if you're gonna like jail..."

Jonathan's eyes bulged out. "WHAT?"

Sahjhan tried to explain. "Look, I'm here as a favor to someone you don't know. I'm a time-shifter, so I know your past, your present - as well as your future. And believe me, the last one? It is UGLY."

The geek's eyes went wide, as the demon kept talking. "Your friend Warren, who killed that girl Katrina? He's gonna kill someone else, one of the Slayer's pals. Girl by the name of Tara, I think her name was? Whatever..."

The human tried to interrupt, but Sahjhan kept talking. "Plus you and your pal Andrew, you're gonna get arrested after you three and the Slayer throw down at an amusement park. So I hope you'll enjoy making special friends with Roscoe the weightlifter when you're doing time, kid..."

Jonathan yelped, "No!"

Sahjhan smirked. "Oh yeah. Okay, my job here is done. See you..."

The young man yelled, "WAIT!" Seeing Sahjhan hesitate he asked, "Is there any way to avoid that future?"

The time-shifter that was Angel's sworn enemy shrugged. "Sure there is. Warehouse, corner of Crawford and Ridgeway Street. But I'm not in the charity business - YOU figure out what to do!" Then he shivered out of existence. At this point, Jonathan had become desperate. He'd had a bad feeling about all this for weeks. And now the so-called crime lord knew that the crimes he'd committed were going to rear up and bite him on the ass - sooner, rather than later.

For a moment he considered going to the Scooby gang, and throwing himself at the Slayer's mercy. Tell them everything...

But that option just wasn't SURE enough. Jonathan knew Warren would probably track down and kill HIM if he did that, and Tara or whoever would still die. Plus, the young man had no desire for Buffy to kick his ass into jail for what he'd done, and end up meeting Roscoe...

So Jonathan gathered up his supplies - including all his magic implements - and throwing caution to the wind, set out for the address Sahjhan had given him.

***

Not long afterwards, Andrew and Warren arrived into the lair. Instantly noticing Jonathan was absent, the evil mastermind and his lapdog took a look at the footage from the secret security camera - the one that had been set up, to monitor their erstwhile partner.

"Whoa!" Andrew exclaimed, when he saw Sahjhan appear. "Who's that?"

"Don't know," Warren replied in confusion.

The two young men were shocked, though, when the heard the demon's words.

"WHAT?!" they both yelled, upon hearing their futures.

They then watched Sahjhan vanish and Jonathan leave, before the screen filled up with fuzzy TV snow.

"Oh man, oh man, what do we do?" moaned Andrew. "We're SCREWED!"

"No, we're not!" Warren jumped up and grabbed a gun. "Come on!"

"Huh? What-" asked the brother of Tucker Wells, somewhat stupidly.

"Jonathan's gonna do something idiotic, I just know it!" Warren yelled. "We gotta stop him!!"

***

At that moment, Jonathan had arrived at the empty warehouse and was standing around, looking foolish...when Anya walked in and found him.

"Hey! I know you! You're Jonathan - you're one of the nerds that Buffy's been looking for!" Anya exclaimed.

Jonathan yelped in fear, and backed up away from her. "Please, no...I'm sorry..."

Anya was somewhat confused. "For what, exactly?"

"Everything!"

The ex-demon considered that. Then she asked, "What are you doing here? Cooking up some sort of nefarious scheme with your idiot sidekicks?"

Quickly losing the fear to his customary embarrassment around girls, Jonathan stammered, "Um, nope..."

"Then what? God, don't tell me you're here on a date?"

"NO!" Jonathan shouted, before calming down. "I, uh, I'm in trouble. I got a visit from this time-shifter demon or something tonight, who told me my future. It was bad...and, and that the only way to avoid it was to come here. I don't know why..."

Anya was stunned, and remembered what had happened at the wedding. Then she remembered how Halfrek had told her to come here. "Wait a minute," the ex-demon said, "Wait just a darn minute..."

"What?"

"You know all about magic, don't you?" Anya asked, with a note of excitement in her voice. She remembered the alternate reality Jonathan had set up a few years ago, causing everyone to think he was some sort of superhero...

The amateur wizard shrugged. "I can do some spells..."

"What sort? And don't be afraid to get technical."

Jonathan looked confused. "Uh, shape-changing ones - mostly. But I've also done some temporal distortion stuff..." he trailed off, thinking of what he'd done to Buffy. The time loop thing, in particular...

Anya's excitement was growing. "Interdimensional time travel?"

"Not exactly..." the dork shrugged. "Maybe I should..."

"YES! Hallie, you're brilliant!" Anya shouted, with an idea forming in her mind of how she could bring down vengeance upon Xander.

Then she turned to Jonathan. "YOU! You're gonna help me. And in return, I promise I'll help you! Deal?"

The former high school geek wasn't sure. "Uh..."

"You want me to call Buffy, and get your butt sent down the river for theft and manslaughter?" she who had been Anyanka demanded in a cold voice.

That quickly decided the young Mr. Levinson. "Tell me what to do..."

***

A short time later, the unlikely duo had set up for a magic ritual that Anya knew. "You really think this is gonna work?" Jonathan asked in a shy voice.

"Will you stop being so anal?" Anya demanded. "Of course it'll work!"

"It's just that I've never done anything like this before, and I'm not sure..."

The blonde woman held up her hand, with the demon implement on her ring finger.

"See this? It's our secret magic ingredient. All you have to do open up the portal - and I'll take us where we need to go! Then you can stop worrying about jail, and everything..."

Jonathan didn't like her tone, but he knew he had no other choice. Finally prepared, he and Anya sat down cross-legged in front of each other.

The young man then muttered some words in Latin, and cast his magic bone - and in the empty space of the warehouse, a multicolored interdimensional portal appeared directly before them.

"Cool!" Jonathan smiled, as he and Anya got up, the portal shimmering within the air. "Great Stargate FX!"

Anya looked at him sharply. That comment could so easily have come out of Xander's mouth...for a moment, everything that had happened since the non-wedding fiasco came crashing down all around her, almost making Anya's insides bleed.

"Hey," Jonathan said, seeing Anya get teary-eyed. "You okay?"

"I'll be fine," the ex-demon choked up. "Just, just give me a minute..."

"We don't have a minute, the portal isn't stable enough!" the warlock told her.

"Come on..." he started dragging her to the interface between dimensions.

But then all of a sudden, Warren and Andrew arrived at the warehouse.

"HOLD IT!" Warren yelled at them, brandishing the gun as he and Andrew came in through the door.

Jonathan looked at his former partner, and knew there would be no reasoning with the would-be rapist. He shoved Anya in front of him and yelled, "RUN!!" But as they both ran for it, Warren took aim at Jonathan's back and fired.

[BAM!]

Anya risked a momentary look back after hearing the gunshot, and just barely got a glimpse of Jonathan's dead body collapsing to the ground, a look of surprise and pain forever etched onto his facial features.

That was right before she jumped into the portal, and everything went black. And the moment she did so, the universe changed.

***

In an anonymous hotel room somewhere in southern California, the member of Angel's Fang Gang named Cordelia Chase and the hero from Pylea named the Groosalugg, were together naked on the bed.

To be more accurate, they were com-shuking like a pair of Drokken beasts...when Anya jumped into the portal.

And the next moment, the room was completely empty, save for a bored maid that was cleaning up and muttering to herself, "God, I need a life so badly..."

***

In Los Angeles, on a street pavement about one minute away from the Drew Medical Center, a man named Wesley Wyndam-Pryce lay bleeding to death with his throat slashed. And at the Hyperion hotel, Angel was slamming his associate Charles Gunn up against the wall.

And the next moment...Wes was still there, watching a woman named Justine - the person who had done this to him - drive off in his car with Angel's son, Connor. And Angel was still pissed about what Wesley had done that day...

***

In Sunnydale, not that far from the warehouse, a feverishly deluded Buffy Summers was watching a waxy, bald-headed demon toss around her friend Xander, while her sister Dawn and her best friend Willow Rosenberg watched helplessly after being tied up by the Slayer.

// Buffy...no... // Dawn thought to herself in horror.

// Oh God, I'm gonna die...and I'm never gonna get the chance to tell Anya that I still love her so much... // Xander thought.

// Oh God, I'm gonna die...and I'm never gonna get the chance to tell Tara that I still love her so much... // Willow thought.

And the next moment...the basement was empty. Suddenly though the doorway opened, and Joyce Summers called out, "Rupert, could you come give me a hand with this?"

***

Los Angeles, California. May, 1999

Anya jerked awake in her seat, looking around in consternation. "Where am I?" she asked in deep confusion.

The ex-demon stared at her surroundings, and saw that she was in some sort of bus. A bus that looked...vaguely familiar...

Anya then looked down, and saw the Band of Blacknil on her finger. // So much for all that being a dream... //

"Hey lady, you getting off or what?" the bus driver asked in a nasal voice.

Anya ran up to him. "Where are we?"

The man shrugged. "LA. Look..."

"And what's the date?" the woman demanded.

The driver looked confused for a moment. "May 21st."

"But that's over two months-" Looking at the newspaper on the dash, the ex-demon frowned. "Wait a minute, what's the year?" Anya was suddenly impatient.

"Huh?"

"I SAID, WHAT'S THE YEAR?" the ex-demon almost screamed.

"1999! Sheesh, lady, take a pill or something!" the bus company employee muttered, before getting out of the commercial vehicle.

// 1999... // Anya thought dazedly. Then she looked down at the demon ring she wore, and realization hit. // Of course! This is when I was running away from the Ascension! //

The memories came flooding back, as Anya realized what had happened. Somehow, the portal and the Band of Blacknil had brought her back to this point in her life, with all her memories of the future intact.

Memories of happiness, and betrayal...

But Anya quickly realized that none of that mattered now - all that mattered was that she had a chance to follow Halfrek's advice, and punish Xander by taking his friends away from him. And with her knowledge of the future, how could she fail?

Grinning to herself, Anya got off the vehicle and went off to buy a ticket on the next available bus to Sunnydale...

***

Sunnydale, California. A few hours later

By the time the Ascension - the ritual for the Mayor of Sunnydale to become a pure demon - was underway, Anya had arrived back in Sunnydale.

And when the eclipse came and Richard Wilkins III transformed himself into this huge-ass snake monster, the former vengeance demon shuddered in loathing. Anya then watched in fascination, as the students fought the Mayor. It reminded her somewhat of the previous Ascension she'd witnessed, so long ago... Finally though, the Slayer and her allies defeated the bad guy, the day was saved and all was right with the world.

// Blah, blah, blah... // Anya thought to herself. // Time to get this show on the road... //

The woman started to make her way over to the Scooby gang just as Cordelia said, "Well, that's the most fun you can have without having any fun."

Willow said smiling, "How about the part where we kicked some demon ass. I didn't hate that!"

Xander agreed heartily, "Hear, hear!"

Buffy joined the group and said, "You guys want to take off? I think we've done pretty much all we can."

Cordelia raised her eyebrows and nodded. "I'm for it."

Willow looked up at Buffy. "Are you okay?"

Buffy said in a small voice, "Yeah...I'm okay. I could use a little sleep, though."

Willow nodded, and agreed emphatically. "Yeah!"

Buffy sat down on a nearby bench. "If someone could just wake me when it's time to go to college, that'd be great."

Willow smiled at the Slayer, as her boyfriend Oz (or Daniel Osborne) said, "Guys, take a moment to deal with this: we survived."

Buffy looked around. "It was a hell of a battle!"

Anya said softly, "It certainly was. Congratulations."

Everyone turned around to look at her. "Anya!" exclaimed Xander. "I thought you left?"

"I came back," Anya said to him, the plan set firmly into her mind. "I saw you guys save your town, and possibly the world. Again, congratulations."

Willow brushed that aside. "Thanks. But it kinda makes you wonder why demons bother to come here anymore. Don't they know we'll always kick their asses?"

Oz looked like he'd just remembered something. "Guys, I gotta go see if someone made it..." He looked at Willow. "Meet me at my place, half an hour?" His girlfriend simply nodded, they kissed and he quickly left.

"Right. So, where's the pet vampire?" Anya asked looking around, starting to lay the groundwork for what was about to happen.

Buffy looked away. "Angel's gone. Left town."

Anya shrugged, and looked at Xander. "I suppose you're happy now?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Xander was starting to look uncomfortable.

"You told me at Prom Night how much you hate vampires," the ex-demon shrugged again, playing the group like a string quartet.

"Oh, but Angel's different!" Willow exclaimed. "I mean, with the soul and everything..."

Anya pretended to look confused. "But didn't he try to destroy the world last year?" she asked in a questioning voice.

"Guys..." Xander started to say, not liking where the conversation was going.

"Yeah, but he didn't have a soul then. And I got him his soul back, y'know," Willow told Anya smugly.

"Guys..."

"Too bad I didn't know that Willow was gonna do the ritual, before I had to send him to Hell," Buffy sighed.

"What? Buff, I sent Xander to tell you I was all ready to do the ritual again!" Willow exclaimed.

The Slayer looked shocked. "No you didn't! Xander told me that you said to kick Angel's ass, or something!"

There was a moment of confusion, as the girls stared at each other. Then as realization set in, they both turned and started to glare at Xander. Cordelia started to glare at him too.

Anya just faded into the background, as the screams, insults and Buffy's fists started flying. Then she walked away, with the feeling of a job well done.

// Now, what was that old Spanish proverb again? Oh yeah, that's right - revenge is a dish best served cold... //

***

Sunnydale, California. The next day

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce lay alone in his hospital bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering about his future.

He knew that things did not look good for him in any way, shape or form. One Slayer gone evil and in a coma, and the other having quit the Council...when he informed his superiors of the situation, Wes knew that there would be repercussions.

And it wasn't as if he had many friends here in Sunnydale to help him. Make that none - neither the Americans nor Mr. Giles had bothered to come here to check up on him, or wish him a speedy recovery. They hadn't even sent a get-well card, or anything like that...

All of a sudden though, the door opened and in walked Anya. "Hello," she said formally, as she came close to the bed.

"Ah, hello to you too," Wesley managed to stammer. Then he recognized the young woman, and grew somewhat nervous. "Um, Anyanka isn't it? The former demon?"

Anya smiled softly and said, "That's right."

"Er, thank you for coming to visit - what, what can I do for you?" Wesley asked in a faltering voice.

The 1120-year-old woman grimaced. "Relax, I'm not here to hurt you. In fact, it's exactly the opposite."

"Please explain."

Anya showed him her ring. "Recognize this? It's the Band of Blacknil. That name ring any bells for you?"

Wesley searched his excellent Watcher memory. "Kleynach demon artifact?"

"Whatever. The point is, it's absolutely unique. And priceless. And I've got it. And if you do something for me, I'll give it to you."

"I don't make bargains with..."

Anya got impatient, "Hear me out, before you get all judgmental! Because we both know you're in deep trouble, mister! You'll be lucky if the Council doesn't kill you, after what's happened these last few months - as it is, you're sure to be fired. Now, you can exit on your terms, or theirs. What's it gonna be?"

Wesley stared hard at her. "I'm listening."

Anya started to pace around. "The thing is, I don't think you've ever understood the Slayer. Buffy, I mean! Lemme tell you the cold, hard truth - deep down, she doesn't want to be the Slayer, she doesn't want to have that sort of life." // Yeah, and especially after she died again, // Anya added to herself.

Wesley looked confused. "But that's absurd, she's the Chosen One..."

"Oh, come on! Chosen for what? To constantly have to save the world? To eventually die at the hands of some moron vampire? Don't be an idiot. I'm 1120 years old, and I *know* most Slayers are just robots. Tools for your Council. BUT THIS ONE ISN'T."

Wesley almost jumped at her tone. "So what do you suggest?" he asked mildly.

"She wants to have a normal life, give it to her - for a while. Away from Sunnydale."

"What?"

"I don't want her around here. That's my price. Persuade her to return to the Council's guidance, if Giles is reinstated and she can go off to college somewhere for the next four years. I heard Willow got accepted into Oxford, so you could send her there..."

"That's ridiculous!" Wesley exploded. "I mean who, who would patrol the Hellmouth here in her absence?"

"Will you at least try not to live down to my expectations?" Anya snapped, irritated. "Everyone knows the Council has lots of hired killers and Slayers-in-waiting, and how long would that other Slayer Faith last anyway?"

Wesley shrugged, acknowledging she was right. "What about Buffy's other friends? Cordelia, Oz and...Xander?"

Anya tensed up, at hearing her ex-fiancé's name. "If you're smart, you'll include them in the deal," she said as calmly as possible. "But I wouldn't bother with Xander, if I were you. I don't think Buffy likes him too much right now..."

She abruptly turned around and started to leave the room then said, "One other thing. I need my anonymity, so don't mention my name regarding this to anyone - ever." Then she left Wesley to meditate upon her words.

***

Sunnydale, California. Three weeks later

As Anya exited the Sunnydale General hospital, she felt calm and at peace. The deal was done, and she had given the Band of Blacknil to Wesley. Now it was time for her to leave town, and never come back.

// Where am I gonna go? // Anya wondered to herself. // Not that it really matters. Hmm, maybe Cleveland would be a nice place to set up a magic store business, or else I can try New York... //

But just then, Anya got the shock of her life - when she bumped into Jonathan Levinson coming up the marble stairs. "AHHHH!" the woman screamed.

Jonathan looked around, confused. "What?" he asked her.

Anya calmed down, and stared at him. The image of the geek's dead face in that other world surfaced in her mind, and the ex-demon knew she had one more promise to keep.

"It's Jonathan, right? Look, there's a lot I need to tell you. Listen to me very carefully..."

***

Sunnydale, California. June, 2003

Four years is a long time. And yet somehow, at the same time, it isn't.

Xander Harris made his way to Giles' house after sundown, when he knew that the Slayers - both old and new - would be there. Coming to the back door, he subsequently entered very quickly and very quietly.

Because the young human had changed a lot since the Ascension. He was now 22 years old, and a new man.

Xander knew that today was the day that his four former high school classmates were scheduled to return home. Oz had called and given him the 411, even though Buffy, Willow and Cordelia hadn't spoken to him.

As a matter of fact, the three women hadn't spoken to him in years, ever since the foursome had left for Oxford in the summer of '99 - courtesy of Wesley's deal.

Xander wasn't looking forward to what was going to happen now that they were back, but he knew it was both inevitable and necessary. And the quicker it was over with, the better.

The young man made his way to the living room, when suddenly he saw them all.

Buffy, Willow, Cordelia and Oz. College graduates, and back home in Sunnydale.

Rupert Giles, Riley Finn and Angel were off in one corner, looking troubled.

Xander caught their eye, and smiled briefly to reassure them he was okay. They smiled back.

Realizing something was up, his old 'friends' turned around and stared at him. The only word that could be used to describe their initial reaction was, // Huh? //

Because Xander looked nothing like the clown, the Zeppo they remembered from high school. His clothes were different, his stance was different, the scar across his forehead was different, but most importantly - his EYES were different.

They swept over the new arrivals, without revealing anything. They were the eyes of a hunter. A man now able to kill efficiently.

Oz in particular could feel the predator within him raising its hackles, recognizing the presence of a danger to him and his mate. He looked quickly at Willow - they had gotten married the previous year, and now his wife was pregnant.

Apart from reaching E-flat, diminished ninth, it was all Oz had ever wanted.

Suddenly, Xander smiled at him though, and Oz relaxed. // I was wrong. He's not a danger, // the werewolf thought to himself. // Okay. I can live with that. //

"Oz," Xander said simply.

"Xander," Oz replied simply, moving closer to Willow. The young witch was simply gaping at Xander though, as were Buffy and Cordelia.

// Is that XANDER? // Willow thought numbly to herself.

The same thought was running through the heads of the other girls, although Buffy also thought, // What the HELL? // while Cordelia thought, // Not bad - he's become a real HOTTIE! Even more than he was before. //

"Xander?" Buffy asked numbly, starting as did the others when Xander removed his long overcoat, took out a broadsword (that was a souvenir from the Knights of Byzantium) and laid it on the table. "What's with the sword?" she finished up.

"I'm sorry, were you talking to me?" the former Zeppo asked coolly, as he walked through the room a bit too calmly.

"Xander..." Angel started to say.

Xander just stared at him. "It's a fair question," he said, in the same cool tone. "Considering we haven't said a word to each other in over four years. And the last thing she did say to me was, 'Don't ever speak to me again, you son of a bitch'."

Everybody winced, even Buffy, as she tried to defend herself. "I had good reason to say what I did! Don't try to pretend I didn't, Xander."

"And that reason was?" a new voice rang out.

Everybody's head turned around, as the new Slayer, Michelle, came down the stairs. She came close to Xander and kissed him hungrily, to the astonishment of the three new girls and Oz (although no one could tell in his case).

Xander broke it off and pushed her away, though.

"Michelle," Giles said sternly, admonishing her.

"Sorry," the 17-year-old Slayer grinned cheekily. Then she turned to Buffy. "You're the old Slayer?"

"I'm Buffy Summers. You're the new one?" the blonde said carefully.

"Michelle Byers," she replied. Then she placed her arm around Xander's waist, before he firmly removed it. "Welcome home."

"Xander, what are you doing?" Cordelia asked in amazement. "For God's sake,
haven't you ever heard of statutory rape?"

To her astonishment, Xander started laughing. "Same old Cordelia," he said to himself, noticing Giles and Angel were fighting to hide their grins. "Tact Girl is back."

"Yeah, well, it's obvious you're not Research Boy anymore," Cordy said, trying to ignore a sting of jealousy as she watched Michelle look at Xander possessively, and then direct a glare at the brunette.

"On the contrary," Giles spoke up, startling them. "Xander is now, uh, Michelle's unofficial Watcher. And I'm afraid that, er, rather precludes a relationship of romantic nature between them, Cordelia."

// Good, // Xander's ex-girlfriend thought in satisfaction, as the teenage Slayer glared again.

"What the hell is going on here?" Buffy demanded. "Since when did Xander become a Watcher?"

"Buffy..." Angel started to say.

"Things have changed around here since you left, Miss Summers," Riley started to say. "In more ways than one."

"Like what?" Willow asked, taking a step towards her childhood best friend.

But Xander immediately took a step back, his eyes becoming hooded and cold. And that hurt Willow - a lot.

The redheaded hacker and witch remembered all the hurtful things she'd said - the rage, the accusation. How she'd told Xander he was a pathetic piece of jealous garbage, for not doing as she'd asked and telling Buffy about the curse five years ago.

That he was responsible for sending Angel to Hell, and that he'd be going there himself for it one day.

Over the years, though, the anger had cooled - Oz had had a lot to do with that, as had the passage of time. And deep down, Willow supposed that she had been hoping they could put all the animosity behind them. Clean slate. Childhood friendship restored.

But, it was obvious now this wasn't going to happen.

"Xander..." she started to say.

"Don't talk to me," the young man snapped, in an ice-cold tone. "We have nothing to say to each other. Not after four years of silence. And in case you've forgotten, you cursed me to go to Hell and stay there for eternity. Not something I'm looking forward to."

The old anger returning, Buffy stepped in to defend her friend. "After what you did, Xander..."

"Yeah, what exactly did he do?" Michelle interrupted, taking a dislike to all the new arrivals except Oz. "He told you to kick a soulless vampire's ass or something, right? Which is sorta supposed to be in the job description, isn't it?"

"It's not that simple. We were doing the soul restoration ritual for Angel," Willow tried to explain, as Oz came close to her in support and comfort. "If Xander hadn't done what he did..."

"Wait. I have something to say, and it's...not something you people are gonna like," Angel interrupted suddenly. "The thing is...Xander did the right thing."

"WHAT??" the three ex-college girls gasped.

"Hear me out," Angel tried to explain. "Buffy...I love you. And nothing's ever gonna change that."

This was a bit out from left field, but Buffy smiled anyway. "Angel..."

"But I believe Xander was right not to tell you the truth that day," the souled vampire continued inexorably. His eyes bored into the Slayer, and Buffy felt the chill of his words. "That's why I don't blame Xander for what he did, not anymore. And neither should you."

"How can you say that!?" the blonde Slayer cried in disbelief. "He sent you to Hell!"

"Uh-uh, blondie," Michelle snapped. "YOU were the one who did that."

To forestall a huge argument that he could see was coming, Riley said, "Might I suggest we leave this discussion for another time? 'Cause I believe Xander has something he wants to tell us."

"Who are you?" Cordelia asked then. // Hmm, he's not too bad a male specimen either. Although Xander's the better one to pick from, if it comes down to a choice. Oh my God, did I actually just think that? //

"The name's Riley Finn," the former TA said. "I'm...Harris's former C.O."

"Xander enlisted?" Willow asked in confusion.

Michelle looked at Xander. "They don't know you're, like, this ex-army back-from-the-dead guy or whatever?" she asked in astonishment.

"WHAT!!?" all four of the new arrivals exclaimed loudly.

Giles began to rub his forehead, suddenly gripped by a headache the type of which he hadn't experienced since the high school had been blown up. "Do you, er, want to explain??" he asked Xander.

The former Zeppo looked at him. "Not particularly." So he just picked up his sword, rolled up his shirt and ran it along his forearm. The blood came gushing out from the terrible wound.

"Xander!" the three girls shouted. They started to rush around, not noticing that nobody else was panicking.

"We gotta call the hospital!"

"Why'd you do that for?!"

"Are you nuts?"

"Hold it!" Riley's harsh voice cut through the anxious babble. "Just watch."

So Buffy, Willow, Oz and Cordy watched then, as the bleeding stopped. And slowly, a mystical green light softly enveloped the wound - closing it up, and making it disappear without a trace.

Willow and Cordelia backed off, staring at Xander in horror. But Buffy just stalked menacingly up to the young man and demanded, "Who the hell are you, and what have you done with the real Xander?"

"Er, Buffy," Giles stammered, "that IS the real Xander." He went off to get a towel and mop up the blood, before it ruined the carpeting yet again.

"No it's not!" Buffy exploded. "The real Xander could never do something like that!"

"You don't know me anymore," Xander said emotionlessly, staring at her. "I've gone through a lot, while you guys were off having a good time at college," starting to look around at all of them.

"I've watched four Slayers die, not including Faith getting the plug pulled on her life-support. I've killed more demons and vampires than I can count, without any assist. I even helped take out a hellgod! So like I said: You. Don't. Know. Me. Anymore."

There was a shocked silence, which Angel broke. "This is a lot to take in, I know," he said mostly to the love of his life. "But Buffy, everything Xander said is, uh, the truth. He-he died for about a minute roughly 18 months after you guys left, saving my life-"

"He WHAT?!" Buffy gasped, not knowing what to make of that.

"Yeah," Angel grinned painfully. "And you know I wouldn't lie about that."

Buffy looked at Xander, whose face was like stone. Angel continued, "It was a hell of a shock, when we all saw it - but still..."

"So. You're gonna live forever or what?" Oz asked Xander in his own calm, unflustered way.

Xander couldn't help grinning at the other man - he had missed Oz's laid-back attitude. "Nothing lasts forever," he replied simply.

"True," the werewolf replied. "Mine's a silver bullet or knife. Yours?"

Xander shrugged. "Don't know. Decapitation, maybe? Not wanting to sound all Highlander, but the complete and total removal of my head from my neck, that probably oughta do it..."

"Gross!" Cordelia exclaimed, with a shudder.

Xander's face suddenly went cold again, as he looked at her. "I don't recall asking your opinion, Miss 'Good-luck-as-a-pizza-boy-while-I'm-off-enjoying-college'."

Cordelia just gaped at him. Ever since she'd laid eyes on this new-and-improved Xander Harris, her hormones had kicked in and she'd assumed she could snare him all over again, if she wanted to.

After all, it had been over four years and Cordy had not found anybody else - and neither had Xander, from what Giles had told her.

But now Cordelia Chase had the feeling he had shut himself off from her and the others, forever.

***

Everyone else in the room was also taken aback, at the venom in Xander's voice.

And as Giles returned, he noticed the silence and asked, "Is, er, everything alright?"

Xander nodded. "Five-by-five," shocking his old friends, who hadn't heard those words since the days of the rogue Slayer Faith, four years before.

"I love that phrase!" Michelle gushed, giggling and coming close to Xander again.

The former Zeppo just sighed, and looked at Angel. "You wanna finish this up?" he asked the souled vampire.

Angel nodded. "Here's the plan, Buffy," he said to the Slayer. "Now that you guys are back, Xander and Michelle are gonna be coming with me to LA - Wesley, Harry, Fred and Gunn are waiting for us there. The, uh, Hellmouth's your territory, and Giles will be taking up his old place as your Watcher again."

"Yeah, and I can't believe I'm going to be transferring to Hemery High!" the younger Slayer said with a pout.

"Um..." Giles started to say, noticing Buffy's statement. "The, the Council believes it's for the best, Buffy. There's been a lot of vampire activity there, over the past few years..."

"Harmony. Spike. Drusilla. Even Darla came back for a while there," injected Xander, causing Buffy to grimace. "And what Giles won't say, is that they don't want a repeat of what happened with you and Faith back then."

Buffy stared at Xander, and along with Willow and Cordelia, only just now realizing what they had done over four years ago.

The Slayer and the other two girls had lost a friend, permanently and irrevocably. She'd had her reasons - they all had - and because of them, the man who stood before her today didn't like the group of three women, and never would.

And for Xander Harris, that was really saying something.

"We'll do one last patrol before we leave," Xander said to Michelle, who nodded and immediately went off to get her stuff. "Dead Boy? Meet you back here in two hours?"

"I'll be waiting," and with that, the young man nodded to Giles and Oz, and shook hands with Riley who bade him good luck and farewell, explaining that he had to catch a flight back to Washington DC via LAX before midnight.

Xander then got his sword and coat and went out the front door, completely ignoring his three other former friends as Michelle quickly joined him.

"GILES!" Buffy demanded. "This is-"

"What happened to him?" Cordelia interrupted her, wanting to know the real truth. "How'd Xander end up, like, so bitter and twisted?"

Angel, Riley and Giles looked at each other, and sighed in unison.

"It all started when Spike came back to Sunnydale, about four months after you all left," Giles said. "He, he got his hands on the Gem of Amara..."

"What's that?" asked Willow.

"One-of-a-kind artifact, makes a vampire invulnerable to stakes, beheading, fire, sunlight - everything," Angel told them.

As the new arrivals gaped, Angel also saw the look of hope and excitement in Buffy's eyes. So he said quietly, "It's been destroyed for a while now. But Spike..."

"...killed quite a few people while he had it in his possession," Giles finished up.

"Including Sandrine Bouchet," Angel added.

Buffy wracked her memory, as the name was somewhat familiar to her. Then she got it. "Wasn't she, uh, the girl that Wesley arranged to bring over from France, after Graduation?"

"Yes," Giles looked away. "She-she was one of the Council's Slayers-in-waiting, as you no doubt recall. Next in line to become the Slayer, actually. Spike killed her almost instantly. After that, the Council arranged for, uh, Faith's ...official resignation from the cause, so to speak."

Ignoring the newcomers' looks of horror, he continued, "The new Slayer came to town, and eventually got the ring away from Spike. But he killed Mary as well, before taking off...and, and we haven't seen the infernal creature since."

"Mary?" asked Willow.

"Mary Mulvane. Irish Slayer, and quite the hot-tempered lass," Angel told her proudly, with a hint of his old accent.

"And what was Xander doing during all of this?" Cordelia asked pointedly.

"Helping as best he could," Giles replied sadly.

"That's roughly when I met him," Riley joined in the conversation. "I was once part of something called the Initiative. Military black ops outfit. One night my men and I were surrounded by the hostiles, when Xander comes tearing in like he's got a death wish or something. Saved us all! We got to talking - and when the brass learned everything, he got an invite to join up with the unit, but then..."

"What?" all four young people asked.

"Adam came along," Riley whispered, looking away.

"Adam?" Buffy said in confusion.

"Think really big, bad, ugly, part-human, part-cybernoid demon," Angel deadpanned.

"He eventually killed Rachel, the new Slayer," Giles added. "And quite a few other people, before the military destroyed him and Xander told them where to, uh, shove their job opportunity."

"Oh my God..." Willow whispered.

"Anyway, during that last battle...Xander was killed. Then he...came back to life," the Watcher said slowly, lost in the memories.

Angel had a brief flashback about it, too. Ever since he had lost Doyle, his messenger from the Powers That Be, he had tried to follow the Irishman's advice and become part of the world - and at the time, that had meant witnessing a miracle.

"How is that possible?" asked Oz calmly, bringing the vampire and the Watcher back to the present.

"Yeah!" demanded Cordelia.

Giles went to get a book from one of the shelves. "The Book of Tarnis," he said, showing it to all four college graduates. "It, it describes the Key..."

"The what?" Buffy asked. She was getting sick of all the twists and surprises, and demanded, "Giles, what IS all this? And, words of less than three
syllables!"

"The Key is living energy, Buffy. It's a long story, but the bottom line is that the Key can be used to unlock the barrier between all the numberless different dimensions out there, and - um, end the world as we know it."

Angel continued the tale, "These monks, that were its guardians? They sent the Key to the Slayer - not you, Buffy," he said quickly, as the blonde woman opened her mouth. "Rachel Hyde-Fitzpatrick. Their choice. Apparently, they wanted to make sure she would protect it with her life, and they must have known that she loved Xander, so they chose to use his body as the vessel for the Key."

"You mean...Xander's dead, or a yucky zombie or something?" asked a horrified Cordelia.

"NO!" the middle-aged British man shouted, before regaining control of his voice. "He, he is very much alive and the same Xander. The monks were simply ready when it happened, and brought him back - much in, in the same way as Xander brought Buffy back, when she drowned that time with the Master."

Buffy shivered at the memories. "So, this Key and these monks..."

"They knew that Glory was looking for it, and they believed that that would be the best way to hide and protect it," Riley interrupted her, summarizing it as best he could.

"Glory?" Oz, Buffy, Willow and Cordelia all asked at once, getting more and more bewildered. It was obvious the Council had really kept them out of the loop on everything, these last four years...

"The worst thing we've ever faced," Giles looked away. "A nightmare. A hellgod."

Oz looked at the three girls. "Xander mentioned something about that, before..."

"Yeah," Riley sighed, moving to the center of the room. "That was when we met these Holy Grail rejects, calling themselves the Knights of Byzantium. They tried to murder Xander, but Glory killed them all first. Nothing we tried could do squat against her - she got her hands on our friend, and then..."

"What?" asked Buffy.

"There was a bloodletting ritual to activate the Key," Giles explained, choking up with emotion. "Sharon Cameron - the Slayer after Rachel - she, she fought Glory, a-a-and saved the world. She and Xander were very close - he was, ah, her best friend and confidante. And, and Xander had to watch her die..."

"The Council found out about Xander after that," Angel said slowly. "And since he'd been helping Giles for years with the research, they offered him a job. He accepted, and so now here we are..."

Buffy started to say, "I don't..."

"Buffy," her Watcher said slowly, letting his words sink in. "I warned you - all of you - before Xander came in, that he had changed a lot. I know," holding up her hand to forestall her comeback, "I was very vague on details."

"But they were Xander's secrets I was keeping," the Watcher continued. "Ever since you all left, he-he's become like a son to me. I made a lot of mistakes with him, when all of you were in high school - but we, we managed to get past them. It, uh, gives me hope that one day, you all can do the same."

"You really think so?" Cordelia asked cynically.

"I have to have...some hope for the future," Giles sighed. "That time, when-when Xander was killed - it was possibly the only thing that, uh, kept my sanity intact."

Willow, holding tightly onto her husband, shared a glance with Cordelia and Buffy. Their whole world had been turned upside down and inside out, in a matter of moments.

The old rage, had been replaced with uncertainty. A former friend had practically been replaced with a deadly enemy.

Obviously, the easy life for four years of college had left them unprepared for the grim new realities of the Hellmouth.

The three women had no idea what the future would hold; but almost certainly, they suspected that it would not include Alexander Lavelle Harris on their side.

And so Anya's vengeance was now finally complete.

The End

You have reached the end of "Best Served Cold". This story is complete.

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