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Best Served Cold 2 - Second Helpings

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Cold Vengeance". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: A sequel to 'Best Served Cold.' Warning: This and later chapters are going to contain explicit descriptions of extreme violence.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > Dark > Xander-CenteredGreywizardFR18859,09164743,01326 Mar 0621 Dec 11No

Chapter Eight

This Fic #21 in my Christmas Challenge Fic-A-Thon.

~~~

'The All-Seeing Eye' Occult Shop
Gaithersburg, MD
July 9, 2003
2:55 PM


"Good afternoon, Miss Jenkins. I trust you've successfully acquired the information we discussed yesterday," Wesley greeted the shop's proprietor with a polite smile and a small nod of the head as he entered.

"Yes, I have, Mr. Kenobi," the strawberry-blonde smiled back at him, the expression on Anya's face clearly one of pleased self-satisfaction mixed with a keen anticipation of an easy profit, he noted semi-neutrally. "Do you have the four thousand dollars I quoted as the fee necessary for me to obtain the information you requested?"

"Indeed, I do, Miss Jenkins," Wes nodded again, as he reached inside his jacket pocket and carefully withdrew a rather think envelope.

"I took it upon myself to gather the sum in cash, primarily in twenty and fifty dollar denomination bills, since larger denominations are more likely to attract unwelcome notice. It also makes it harder for anyone who might be interested to track our transaction," he noted, with a minimal smile.

It certainly couldn't hurt anything if the ex-demoness could be led to believe that he wished to keep his acquisition of the information a secret, Wesley reflected, especially when one considered the clear disdain and scorn it was clear she held for humanity behind the superficial veneer of the avaricious shopkeeper she presented to the public.

"An excellent idea, Mr. Kenobi," Anya smiled. "I thoroughly approve."

Cash transactions were much easier to conceal amid the daily transactions, especially when it involved solely information and not the store's inventory, she reflected happily. The IRS had absolutely no need to ever learn of this particular transaction; it could go directly into the safety deposit box she maintained at the local savings and loan.

"Here you are, Mr. Kenobi; I believe this concludes our business," Anya beamed as she handed a large manila envelope to Wesley. "And please feel free to call on me anytime you might find a need for additional information of this type.

"My rates are quite reasonable, turnaround is timely and the resources I have access to are generally not available to most other sources you might reference," she added brightly. "I still maintain a multitude of contacts from my previous career as a vengeance demon, you see."

"I will keep that in mind, Miss Jenkins," Wes nodded, restraining the urge to immediately tear the envelope open and ascertain the truth as to whether he might possibly bear some degree of responsibility for the clearly drastic and life-and-destiny-altering changes his friend had undergone four years previously.

"Once I have had the opportunity to review this information," he gave the envelope a small shake as he spoke, "it is entirely possible you might see me again at some point in the near future.

"Until that time, I bid you a good day," Wesley finished up politely, before turning and heading out the door.

The former Watcher needed to return to his hotel room and examine the information he'd just acquired a quickly as possible. He wasn't exactly sure why, but he felt a vague and slowly growing premonition that he would have to take some significant action in the near future, and he needed to make certain that he was as well-prepared as possible.

More than one of his friends' lives might possibly depend on him having to react properly at a moment's notice, and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce would not allow any of them to come to any harm at all, if it was at all within his power.

~~~

Xander's Suite
Hyperion Hotel
July 9, 2003
6:45 PM


{ Spike's dead. }

That pleasant thought kept careening around inside Xander's head, as he lay on his bed, hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling.

Dead. Gone. Dusted.

Never to be seen again on this mortal plane, as Giles might phrase it.

He'd finally managed to find and destroy that arrogant, sneering, vicious leech and send him back to Hell where he belonged.

The bleached-blonde bloodsucker who'd killed two of his girls was finally and completely erased from existence.

Okay, fine – Sandy had never really fully accepted him and his help in the Slaying, not the way that Mary had, what with the way the Council had brainwashed her since childhood. But Sandrine Bouchet had still been one of his girls, whether she'd acknowledged it or not.

She'd accepted her duties and the responsibility that came with being a guardian of the Hellmouth, despite the fact that she'd still been only a Potential Slayer when the Council had brought her into town; just like they had done with the Irish Potential named Mary Mulvane.

The French girl hadn't shirked her obligations, hadn't decided she didn't want to fight demons and vampires anymore and run away, leaving others to pick up her duties and handle her responsibilities, the way that someone else – someone he had also once considered one of his girls – had done four years ago, along with two other women he had once mistakenly called friend.

With regard to those two – Xander had grown up with both of them and at one time he had believed one to be his best friend, and the other the admittedly-unlikely but nonetheless theoretically-possible future Mrs. Harris.

Boy, had he been just as wrong about both of them as he had been about Buffy.

Buffy Summers – the woman who had beaten him half to death after Graduation and had then just walked away.

She'd left town along with Willow and Cordelia (and Oz, not that he bore the werewolf any ill will over that) to attend college in England – to party like it was1999 (which, granted, it had been) and not give a thought about the people she'd condemned to die by her completely irresponsible behavior.

And now, four years later, she'd shown up back in Sunnydale with her two lapdogs and acted like everyone should be grateful she'd decided to finally accept the duties and obligations that she'd had forced upon her by the Powers That Be.

ALL HAIL THE RETURNING HERO!

Not a chance in hell of that happening.

Not with her.

Not with them.

Not at all.

Ever.

That was only one thing Xander Harris was completely sure of when it came to the three of them – they'd cut and run as soon as things got tough.

He'd learned his lesson the hard way that he couldn't count on Buffy – or Willow – or Cordelia – to do the right thing, however difficult it may be.

He knew now he couldn't count on them to hold fast and make a stand when things got hairy, especially if it meant you might get hurt.

After all, he'd been doing exactly that several times a week, every week, for the past seven years, hadn't he? Fighting the bad guys and putting his ass on the line, time and again, not to mention doing whatever he had to, to make sure that the world was still there in the morning...and on a bi-annual basis, at that.

Actually, now that Xander thought about it, he'd probably clocked more time on the front lines than anyone else he knew, apart from Giles; given the British man's lamentation that time Ethan Rayne had come back to town, that he'd been fighting demons for twenty years but they'd never even noticed him. It made Xander wonder if *he'd*last for twenty years doing this sort of thing; well, the odds were hopefully in his favor, as he did have some advantages now that he didn't back in the old days.

Ignoring the three years of high school for the moment, Xander recalled how he'd started accompanying Sandrine and Giles on patrol as soon as he was strong enough to walk, and he'd done the same with Mary, Rachel and Sharon when they were Called, too. He'd guarded their backs just as fervently as he had guarded Buffy's, back when he'd erroneously believed that she really was worthy of the power and obligations that had been bestowed on her.

Back before he'd been shown, in excruciating and pain-filled detail, that deep down Buffy Summers was still the same shallow, selfish and self-centered Valley Girl bitch that she'd been before being Called. { Guess some things never really changed, huh? }

It had been… difficult to let Giles talk him into transferring the responsibility for the Hellmouth to a coward who'd run away when she got tired of fighting, and it was only the fact that Xander trusted his old mentor to call him and the Fang Gang for help, if it looked like things might be heading down the tubes, that had let him accept the move to L.A.

Well, that and the fact that it took at least some of the burden of responsibility off Michelle's shoulders and gave her a chance to have something approaching a normal life. That was certainly something she was entitled to, Xander reflected to himself, something he'd mentioned to Harry earlier in the week.

In any event, all of that was water under the bridge now.

Now, with Spike finally taken care of, Xander knew he could focus completely on making sure that nothing bad happened to his Slayer for as long as he could prevent it.

Closing his eyes, he decided to grab a short cat nap before he headed out on patrol with Michelle and Gunn.

They were going to be checking out some reports of possible Drokken beast attacks after sunset, and if the various witnesses' reports were as accurate as Harry believed them to be, then they were probably going to have their hands full making sure that they got all of the vicious little bastards; he didn't fancy having to go chasing the monsters all over L.A. again, the way they'd had to do last year.

After all, Xander *knew* that the general public wouldn't continue believing their "we're independent film makers taping a sequence for a horror film we're working on, and these things are just trained dogs with make-up and prostheses" excuse for very much longer.

~~~

Motel 6 (We'll leave the light on.)
497 Quince Orchard Road
Gaithersburg, MD
July 9, 2003
5:35 PM


Wesley's face was quite grim as he finished reading the last page of the extremely detailed summary he'd received from the former vengeance demon.

"Of course. It all makes sense now," Wes murmured to himself as he considered the information he now possessed.

{ At least as far as her methods are concerned, that is, } Pryce immediately corrected himself. { The overriding questions which still remain unanswered, of course, is the reason *why* she chose to do what she did. As I recall, Anyanka's reason for giving me the Band of Blacknil was that she didn't want Miss Summers around in Sunnydale anymore. But even assuming that's true, how could she be so certain that her actions would eventually lead to that particular result? Perhaps she received the relevant information from a seer that allowed her to anticipate that outcome – after selecting that particular moment to make her revelations concerning Xander's actions the previous year? }

{ And if she did, what advantages could and did Anyanka accrue from ensuring that Xander was empowered with the Key energy, the way he was? } Wesley wondered aloud to himself.

"It appears that I will be forced to resort to ‘Plan B,' after all," he decided with a wry grin after several additional moments of reflection.

{ Gunn will doubtless be exceedingly pleased to hear that, if everything turns out as I hope it will. }

~~~

Outside "The All-Seeing Eye" Occult Shop
Gaithersburg, MD
July 9, 2003
8:30 PM


"Ah, Miss Jenkins, I'm glad to see that I managed to catch you before you left for the evening."

The tall strawberry-blonde whirled around at the unexpected greeting, her right hand reflexively grabbing at the pendant hanging from the thin silver chain around her neck.

"Oh! Mr. Kenobi, it's you! I have to admit, you actually startled me," Anya said in sudden annoyance as she recognized the somewhat scruffy-looking individual approaching the door of her shop.

"I apologize if I caused you any distress, Miss Jenkins," Wes replied politely, "but I was hoping to be able to contact you this evening regarding some particulars of the information you provided me this afternoon.

"It's in regards to one of the Kleynach artifacts mentioned in the file which you provided me," the ex-Watcher went on before Anya could say anything. "I was hoping that you would be able to identify the item's current location for me, so that I might have independent verification of some other information already in my possession."

"Precisely which artifact are you referring to, Mr. Kenobi?" Anya asked, an avaricious gleam lighting up her eyes as she considered the possible extra profit margin represented by the man standing before her.

"The Band of Blacknil," Pryce answered, hurrying on as he saw the faintest trace of concern at his mention of the artifact join the greed already present in the ex-vengeance demon's expression.

{ Most likely triggered by a guilty conscience, } Wesley thought to himself. { Still, one must never make hasty assumptions. }

"The current information I had indicated that it is currently in the possession of an international group known as the Watchers' Council, and I was hoping that you might – Good Lord!" Wes broke off as he stared, wide-eyed with seeming surprise, over the blonde woman's shoulder at something in the rear of the small strip mall's seemingly deserted parking lot.

"What's the matter?" Anya demanded, as she whirled to look at whatever it was that her customer had seen. She shouldn't have done that, though, as it gave Wesley the opportunity to pull out a consecrated crystal to nullify all the wards and protective spells festooned within the occult shop. Without which, it must be admitted, Wesley would most likely have been ‘neutralized' the instant he tried to put the next phase of his plan into effect.

"There's nothing the–" Anya's exclamation abruptly stopped mid-word as Wesley's fist impacted against the point of her chin just as she was turning her head back towards him, having seen nothing noteworthy occurring in the spot he had been staring at.

Catching the unconscious woman's form before Anya collapsed to the macadam surface of the street, Wes let a small grin steal across his face as he shook his head and murmured to himself, "It appears Gunn was, indeed, correct yet again.

"Sometimes, a sucker punch *is* the best way to handle certain interpersonal relationships."

Carefully picking up Anya in his arms, Wesley quickly bundled her into the front seat of his rental car. He then tugged off her silver chain and pendant before he further sedated the woman with a dose of a clear, pale-green solution using a Powermed PMED pressurized injection device.

After ensuring that the former demoness was still breathing normally after the injection, Wesley conscientiously buckled her seat belt before settling behind the steering wheel and heading out onto Route 270.

There were still quite a number of questions he needed answered before he would be satisfied and willing to return home to Los Angeles, Wes reminded himself, and several arrangements he needed to complete before he could safely leave the area, if it should turn out that he needed Anyanka to accompany him.

The fact that the former vengeance demon was now human did nothing whatsoever to minimize the level of danger she represented, the Englishman reminded himself as he headed back to his motel room.

As far as Wesley was concerned, it quite simply heightened the risk anyone ran when dealing with her; since most demons and humans would underestimate the former Anyanka because she appeared to be nothing more than a twenty-something human woman, and thus they automatically assumed her to be less of a threat than she truly was – most likely to their everlasting regret.

That wasn't a mistake *he* was about to make. No, make that, it wasn't a mistake he was about to make*repeat*, what with the way Anya had tricked him four years ago.

Wesley knew now that he had made one of the most colossal blunders of his life when he had agreed to negotiate for Miss Summers' and her companions' sabbatical from the Sunnydale Hellmouth as part of Anyanka's agreeing to relinquish the Band of Blacknil into his keeping, so that he could then turn it over to the Council in the hope of ameliorating his up-until-then clearly abysmal performance as the Slayers' Watcher and exit the organization on his terms, not theirs.

{ What in the world was I thinking, daring to believe that I could actually trust a former vengeance demon not to have ulterior motives for any action she might be taking? } Wesley wondered to himself as he shifted his rental car into the right hand lane to allow the semi-trailers that seemed to predominate the evening's traffic to pass him by.

{ Granted, I was still in my hospital bed and rather dizzy from all the pain medication when Anyanka spoke to me that day – but that's no excuse, damn it. By the time our business was concluded, almost three weeks had passed! I can only hope that Xander will listen to me and actually review the information I've uncovered during my sojourn here, once I tell him what happened back then. }

{ Although whether or not he'll actually believe it, is another matter entirely. }

~~~

Somewhere within Hancock Park
Los Angeles, CA
July 9, 2003 10:03 pm


Xander was walking along with his Slayer, Michelle Byers, looking utterly calm and composed. Both of them were on the lookout for the demons identified in Wesley's books only as "Drokken beasts", but they still managed to present the appearance of two ordinary people walking through the park at night.

The cat nap had done him some good, Xander decided, what with all the exertions earlier today. The fight with Spike in his lair was over and done with, and the dose of sleep had both recharged his batteries and cleaned out some of the issues that had been clogging up the ol' Harris brain for quite a few years.

Now, it was time to focus on the present and the future...

POP! Michelle's bubble-gum bubble exploding distracted Xander from his thoughts, and she looked at him sheepishly. "Uh, sorry?"

"No need to apologize. If there are any vamps about in addition to the Drokkens, that ought to draw them to us like a moth to a flame," Xander shrugged and smiled slightly. "I dunno, there's just *something* that the vamps find irresistible about a young woman doing that sort of thing..."

"Speaking from experience?" the brunette Slayer inquired archly.

"Benefits of a Hellmouth High education," Xander nodded.

"But we're not *in* Sunnydale anymore," Michelle purred, the 17-year-old Chosen One trying to turn on the charm.

"I know. Because look who's here," Xander gestured with his head to where Angel and his son Connor were approaching.

{ Damn it! } Michelle silently cursed as she saw the miracle child and his undead father heading their way. { Can't a girl spend *any* time alone with the object of her affections anymore? }

"Connor! Good to see you again," Xander greeted the former Destroyer of Quor-Toth, who visibly flinched at the polite words. "It's been a while, hasn't it?"

"Yeah," Connor nodded, recalling that conversation where Xander had mentioned removing certain body parts without anesthesia if he kept on looking at Michelle that way.

"Xander, can I talk to you?" Angel asked. "It won't take long. Uh, Michelle...could you give us a few minutes?"

"Whatever," the female teen rolled her eyes as she began walking off.

"Son, could you go with her? Make sure the girl doesn't get into any sort of trouble," Angel added quickly, staring at the fruit of his loins.

"Okay, Dad," Connor agreed a bit too enthusiastically, as he followed after the Chosen One.

"You have her home by midnight, and I don't want any shenanigans going on; you understand, young man?" Xander called out in a bad imitation of a stereotypical 1960's TV sit-com father.

Connor didn't bother to reply, but merely sped up his pace a bit to catch up with the young lady in question.

"Betcha five bucks your kid's eventually gonna start making out with Michelle, when they start attending Hemery High. Y'know, after the summer's over," Xander commented to Angel once he was sure the youth was out of earshot. "Connor's definitely inherited your thing for Slayers, apart from everything else he got from you and Darla."

"You think so?" Angel turned to stare at his son thoughtfully.

"Well, the odds are Connor's gonna have some stiff competition from all those high school jocks for a while, but yeah," Xander nodded. "In my experience, Slayers don't do the ‘normal guy' thing very well. And you, of all people, ought to know that!"

"If you're referring to me and Buffy-"

"Actually, I was referring to me and Faith," Xander interrupted. "And that time you saved my life by whacking her over the head with a baseball bat, when she was going to strangle me to death. Huh – I never did thank you for that, did I?"

"Well, you saved me from Glory a few years later, so I think we can call it even," the Champion replied uncomfortably.

"Okay. So, what's on your mind?" Xander asked politely, as he and the vampire set off in Michelle and Connor's general direction.

"Harry asked me to talk to you. She, uh, she thinks you need psychiatric help – after witnessing everything that happened concerning Spike and his minions today," Angel confessed in a big rush.

"She does?" Xander turned to look at his undead companion in surprise. "Seriously?"

"Yeah. Xander, she was just about ready to pull an intervention on you; earlier on today, Harry said, and I quote: ‘He was letting his hate for Spike cloud his judgment to the point that he stopped thinking about whether he might not walk back out the door he went in.' She's really worried about you," Angel said sincerely.

"I see," Harris nodded slowly. "So, what do *you* think? In your opinion, am I completely suicidal now or what?"

"No, or at least not so much suicidal as – disconnected. And I speak as one who has a century's worth of experience on the subject," Angel shook his head, giving the other guy a quick glance. "It's been over two years since you were last involved with a girl, right?"

"Don't go there," Harris warned the vampire immediately.

"If I don't, you know that Harry will," Angel pointed out. "At least with me, I have that ‘moment of perfect happiness' thing to hide behind. What's your excuse?"

The undead guy's words brought back memories Xander much preferred to forget.

After the monks had infused him with the Key energy in the aftermath of the battle with the cyber-demonoid named Adam, Harris had deeply grieved the loss of Rachel Hyde-Fitzpatrick, the Slayer of that time.

But not long afterwards her successor, Sharon Cameron, had come to town. The girl had been vivacious and full of life, a somewhat similar, yet completely different version of Faith. And eventually, there had come a night when Harris and the blond Nebraskan Slayer had gotten drunk and slept together.

It was quite a long time ago now – around the time Joyce had almost died, if memory served – and yet Xander still had intense albeit blurry recollections of that evening; memories of vigorously thrusting between the Chosen One's legs while Sharon's fingernails had clawed their way down his back, drawing blood. Harris suspected that their blood had mixed that night, what with all the hickeys and scratches they had inflicted on one another...

It was just a drunken one-night stand, though; they had both been in agreement about that when they awoke the next morning. Sharon hadn't been interested in a serious relationship, and Xander hadn't been in the right emotional place to be able to offer her one anyway.

Still, their...liaison had led to a deeper friendship between the Key and the Chosen One; as the months had passed, Xander had finally started to open up to the Slayer, and it *just might* have eventually become the basis for more...

...until Glory had knocked him out and kidnapped him, and Sharon had died for him during that terrible night and subsequent sunrise.

"Do we really need to discuss my love life, or lack thereof?" Xander asked tiredly.

"We don't *have* to discuss anything," Angel pointed out. "I'm just saying, Harry's worried about you. And that she'll want to discuss these things with you. She'll nag until she's convinced you're not a danger to either yourself or anyone else, and we both know I'm right about that."

"How do you suggest we proceed, then?"

"Well, you *could* try to make a pass at her, convince her that, deep down, you're just a normal guy who thinks with his you-know-what..."

Xander screeched to a halt, and glared at his undead companion.

"Hey, it was just a thought!"

"As thoughts go, I've heard better," Harris semi-growled at Angel. "I love Har like a sister, Angel, you know that; but I'd rather get down on my knees and beg Cordy to take me back, before I'd hook up with her! For God's sake, Harry and me – we'd kill each other within less than two weeks, if we entered into that sort of relationship!"

"Huh," Angel mused as they started walking again.

"What?"

"It's just – are you telling me you didn't smell it last month in Sunnydale? If I could have, I'm sure you could have as well," the ensouled vampire said to the human Key. "Buffy was pissed, Willow was practically in tears, but Cordelia? She was genuinely aroused in your presence. Xander, I'm pretty sure that all you'd have to do is whistle...and she'd come running..."

"Yeah, well, not gonna happen," Harris cut him off harshly. "No how, no way. All three of them are out of my life, and I have no intention of ever seeing those people again – Hellmouth-y world save-age scenario excepted."

Angel just shrugged and dropped the subject. But deep down, he could hear Angelus cackling in mad glee over how Harris had most likely completely jinxed himself just now.

~~~

The Magic Box
Sunnydale, CA
July 9, 2003 9:27 pm


"That was just...well, the phrase über-weird definitely comes to mind," Buffy said to Giles, as she paced around the confines of the magic shop. It had only been a couple hours since she, Oz and Cordelia had gone up against a girl with super-strength, and two masked men at the Funny-dale amusement park, but Buffy's Slayer healing had already mostly taken care of her injuries. "One of them was all hooded up and we never got a look at his face – but I managed to tear the ski mask off of the other one. Cordy, how's that picture coming along?"

"Just. About. Done," the Chase girl put the finishing touches to her artist's sketch of the man who had appeared to be the criminal mastermind behind this evening's attempted robbery at the amusement park. "Voila!"

"Yeah, that's him," Buffy looked over the brunette's work in appreciation, as Oz silently nodded his approval as well. The Slayer noted his actions and said worriedly, "Oz, how are you holding up?"

"Ribs are still a bit sore, but I'll be fine soon," the werewolf said simply, as his six-month pregnant wife hovered nervously round him. { Willow's so cute when she worries... }

"That woman hit you really hard, huh?" Willow asked in concern for her husband, checking him out yet again.

"Yeah, but that's the good thing about the whole werewolf gig; the only thing that can kill me is silver," Oz said with a rare smile, stilling Willow's wandering hands. "Willow, trust me; I'll be all right."

"Right, then, let me have a look at that, um, drawing," Giles strode over and took the sketch out of Cordy's hands. He raised his eyebrows when he saw that Buffy hadn't understated the quality of Cordelia's work. "My word, I wasn't expecting such detail..."

"What? I was at Oxford for four years! I didn't spend *all* my time shopping at Harrods, you know," Cordy said somewhat defensively. "I *did* attend college classes, including arts and graphic designs!"

"I-I-I'm not, uh, disputing that, Cordelia – I'm just, err, expressing my admiration and appreciation for your skills," Giles semi-stammered. He'd almost forgotten how the Chase girl could get very defensive, whenever she thought someone was assuming that she was an airhead bimbo, who was skating by on her looks or whatever.

"Oh. Well, okay, then; compliment accepted," Cordelia abruptly calmed down and smiled her classic megawatt smile. "So, do you know this guy?"

"No. No, I-I've never seen him before," Gils shook his head, staring at the scowling features of the dark-haired young man in Cordelia's sketch drawing. "But if, as I suspect, he's the mastermind behind the theft of the Orbs of Nezzla'khan from the UC Sunnydale museum-"

"Huh?" "What?" "Who?" were the astonished questions from Buffy, Oz and Cordelia.

"While you guys were at the amusement park, Giles and I were doing the whole research thing," Willow semi-waddled away from Oz and picked up some papers she had printed out containing the names and phone numbers of the people from the university's Archaeology department, who had supervised the dig that had inadvertently stumbled onto the Nezzla demon den a while back. "Do you remember the theft two days ago, when that UC Sunnydale security guard got killed by some super-strong dark-haired woman?"

"Well, duh!" Cordelia snapped. "I'm pretty sure I ran into her tonight, and personally tasered the ditzy bitch!"

"Right, well, while you were gone, Giles managed to identify what had been stolen," Willow explained, briefly clutching her belly as her unborn son unexpectedly decided to kick her in the bladder.

"Sit," Buffy ordered her best friend in no uncertain terms, as Oz came around and gently guided his wife to the nearest chair. "Giles?"

"Yes, well, as Willow said, I-I-I managed to identify hieroglyphs on the box in question as belonging to the local tribe of Nezzla demons," the Watcher nodded. "There is a, an ancient legend, you see, of those particular demons being the guardians of two Orbs of power. Two artifacts that can make their bearer almost invulnerable to harm – spheres that are also, um, reputed to confer great strength to their user..."

"Which explains how that guy was able to go ten rounds with a Slayer, not to mention get up and walk away after that arch fell on top of him," Buffy mused, recalling what had happened during the battle an hour ago. "Okay. Suggestions, anyone?"

"Well...the Orbs work by magic, and it's been a while since I've...dabbled," the redhead spoke up, looking a bit embarrassed. "So Giles figured it'd be best if we consulted with one of the Hellmouth's local experts on this."

"Who?" Cordelia demanded in confusion.

But before either Giles or Willow could reply, a stiff breeze seemed to spring up within the Magic Box; despite the fact that all the doors and windows were tightly shut. The wind intensity increased, as a few feet away a whirling tornado of gray smoke appeared, with lightning flashing around it. The lightning and smoke quickly coalesced into a relatively short male form, one which everyone present recognized.

Jonathan Levinson.

It had been four years since Buffy had last seen her former high school classmate, and her eyes almost bulged out in surprise. This guy was making her Slayer-sense go crazy! The amount of magical power he had to have developed to make her freak out like this...

"Hello, everyone," Jonathan's voice sounded a lot less nasal than Buffy remembered from Prom night. "Sorry if I startled you, but Amy's message made it sound as if things were rather urgent. So I decided to come here as fast as I could."

"Impressive entrance," Cordelia remarked, recalling the time during her junior year of high school when she had gone out on a date with this guy. It had been a few weeks before she had secretly become an item with Xander; and Jonathan had obviously improved from the dorky nerd he had been back then.

"Thank you," Levinson acknowledged the compliment. "Now, how can I help?"

"The Orbs of Nezzla'khan," Giles said straightaway. "Err, I was assuming Amy would be here with you-?"

"I didn't think that would be a good idea, Mr. Giles. My fiancée plus Buffy, Willow and Cordelia, all in the same room? Please, that's just asking for trouble," Jonathan said dismissively.

"What? WHY?" Willow demanded.

Jonathan turned to stare at her, and even though her magical powers were starting to atrophy from disuse, Willow could feel the sheer strength of the wizard's mystical abilities. { Wow... }

"You left, Willow. Four years ago. More specifically, you left Amy behind trapped as a rat, after you decided to go attend college at Oxford. She was a rodent for nearly eight months before I finally de-ratted her with the help of a friend of mine, a woman named Tara Maclay –" Jonathan said.

"Who's that?" Cordelia interrupted him.

"No one you know, Cordelia. She was a member of the UC Sunnydale Wiccan club before she dropped out of college and went home with her family to Alabama," Levinson replied, recalling that occurrence and briefly wondering how Tara was doing these days. "And you *did* know that Amy always hated you, right? What with the way you and your Cordettes were so mean to her when she had a weight problem...Cordelia, it's no wonder why Amy agreed to do that love spell Xander blackmailed her into doing that Valentine's Day..."

"WHAT?!" Cordelia exploded, recalling that particular high school incident like it was only yesterday – Buffy and Willow, likewise.

"Which brings us to you, Buffy," Jonathan turned to stare at the Chosen One. "Amy's worked with Xander more than once over the years, that's why she knows all about the... incident at Graduation. You almost killed her friend back then, so is it really any surprise to learn that you're in Amy's bad books as well?"

"Err, as interesting as this discussion may be, I fear we're getting off-topic," Giles spoke up, pre-empting Buffy's reply. "What can you, um, tell us about the Orbs of Nezzla'Khan?"

Looking intrigued at the news that the Orbs had finally been found, the warlock told the assembled gang what he knew. Jonathan also briefly mentioned his pet theory that the supernatural artifacts did not imbue the possessor with any specific power, but merely amplified the possessor's innate power by a factor of a hundred or more, thus explaining the super-strength of the opponent Buffy had faced earlier tonight.

"Do you recognize this guy?" Cordelia abruptly shoved her sketch of the so-called criminal mastermind into Jonathan's face.

"Hmm," Levinson frowned, a puzzled expression on his face. "I... think so. I'm not sure from where, though."

"C'mon, Jonathan, THINK!" Buffy demanded urgently. "If this guy has those Orb thingies, then we need to track him down and get them away from him – before anyone else gets killed!"

Jonathan's eyes abruptly went wide. "Wait, of course, that's it! I'd almost forgotten..."

"WHAT?" Willow demanded impatiently.

"Do any of you people remember Anya Jenkins from high school?" Levinson demanded, looking around at each member of the Scooby Gang in turn.

"Oh, yeah! I, I remember her," Willow spoke up at once, looking around at Buffy and Cordelia. That incident with her vampire doppelganger from another reality *was* pretty hard to forget, after all.

"She was that former demon chick who was Xander's date to Senior Prom, before she ran away after learning about the Ascension," Cordelia recalled, trying to keep any trace of jealousy out of her voice.

"And then she came back. She was there after the Mayor's ass was toast, when I, um, confronted Xander about the Big Lie," Buffy tried to keep the growl out of her voice.

"Interesting. Because I met her roughly three weeks afterwards," the warlock frowned. "Miss Jenkins and I had *quite* the conversation..."

"There a point to any of this?" Oz finally spoke up, staring at Jonathan quizzically.

"Yeah. Even though I'd never met her before, that woman started lecturing me that day on the steps of Sunnydale General Hospital – and she mentioned things that, at the time, she couldn't possibly have known," Jonathan stated, his frown increasing. "As I recall, she rambled on about a *lot* of things. There were extremely detailed descriptions of what would happen to me if I didn't do as she suggested, none of them good. But one thing that stuck out above everything else, was to avoid *all* contact with two particular guys – because of what kind of problems it could lead to for me in the future."

Jonathan then added, "One of them was named Andrew Wells." After seeing the blank expressions on the faces of everyone present, Levinson elaborated, "Tucker's brother? The guy who wanted to ruin Senior Prom with his devil dogs?"

"Oh, yeah, I remember *him*," Buffy nodded at once, recalling what had happened that evening. It was a somewhat bittersweet memory, what with Angel later showing up at the high school gym despite having broken up with her.

"So who was the other man Demon Girl told you to stay away from?" Cordelia asked, her female intuition starting to give her an idea where the wizard was going with all this.

Sure enough, Jonathan tapped the surface of the brunette's sketch of the ‘criminal mastermind'.

"This guy, actually. His name is Warren Mears."

~~~

The End?

You have reached the end of "Best Served Cold 2 - Second Helpings" – so far. This story is incomplete and the last chapter was posted on 21 Dec 11.

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