TITLE: Safe Space, 1/?
RATING: this part, for teen audiences (for language); eventually, however, for adults (for other things)
LENGTH: 2000 words
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Mr Joss Whedon and his merry band.
SUMMARY: We're going AU post-"Grave" (BtVS) and post-"Tomorrow" (AtS), albeit with spoilers for "Deep Down." Eventually we will have another crossover or two, but to begin with -- Anya's told D'Hoffryn she's renouncing vengeance. He's not pleased. But Giles is on the job...
Giles's voice almost thundered, Anya thought. Must be a really good transatlantic phone connection on his new mobile -- except that he apparently hadn't heard her the first time. “I asked you if you wanted me to give my Magic Box keys to Xander or Buffy, or overnight them to you despite the insane shipping charge. And we have to talk about changing the partnership papers--”
“No, Anya. Not that part.”
“You mean the part where I said D'Hoffryn will likely send a team of assassins after me because I've turned in my vengeance powers?”
“Yes. That part.” And now his voice had gone quiet: the cool, frightening quiet which either meant 'the dashingly attractive Watcher's in charge' or 'Warning, the dashingly attractive yet surprisingly temperamental Watcher's about to blow like a Yarnok-dimension geyser.'
“Oh. Well...” She was too numb to continue. Or no, maybe the problem was that the hopeless sensation of falling was getting worse. She felt like she was being strangled in slow-motion.
It had been a day or so since she'd made her final decision. She'd been worrying over it practically since the moment she'd accepted the vengeance-amulet again – even sitting there in her ruined wedding gown after her ruined wedding, it'd been as if the stone burned her when she touched it. Of course she'd been heartbroken and not thinking clearly, but later, when she looked at the ruins of the shop Willow had destroyed, she'd understood she couldn't do that any more.
No. Actually the decision had been made when she looked at handsome, injured, dust-covered, heroic Giles lying on the floor of the Magic Box, when she thought he was dying. That's when her own bad choices had hit her with the force of two Yarnok-dimension geysers --
“Anya, pay attention!” That was definitely the 'Watcher's about to blow' voice. “Where are you now?”
“In my apartment. But--”
“Is that a safe space for you?”
She sighed. “Haven't I just explained that nowhere is a safe space for me right now?”
“For fuck's sake... Right. Right, understood. Er... Now then. I want you to go to the Magic Box and wait for me – should be a few lingering traces of our wards, I'd think, enough for the moment.”
“Wait for you?” She closed one eye, gazed owlishly at the cell phone, then put it back to her ear. “Um, Giles, where are you?”
Silence hummed. She'd gotten used to those long quiet suspended moments, actually, in the two months since he'd taken his battered self and Willow to England. While Willow had begun her recovery at the coven, Giles had as well – but he'd taken to calling Anya every couple of days, “er, just to check in,” he'd said, and he hadn't stopped when he went back to his independent work for the Council. She and Giles had business to deal with, of course, the destroyed shop and the intricacies of rebuilding, but most of the time they talked about other things. His travels in search of knowledge, her stock-market trades, good meals they'd had in their lives, what music they liked, that sort of stuff. But then there were the silences.
She sometimes thought she was missing what he really wanted to say, like something important lay underneath both his talk and his silences. Maybe it wasn't the silence that hummed, but this unspoken thing.
He broke this particular moment with, “Um, I'm actually at the airport. Just landed in, er, Sunnydale.”
“Oh!” An upswelling of joy pierced her numbness. Of course he would be here to talk to Buffy, who was on her own recovery mission, but still, he was here. She said as calmly as she could, “That's really nice, Giles, I've missed you even though we talk all the time. But you'll be jetlagged, and you no doubt have Slayer-business, and--”
“I slept on the plane. I came to see you. And I'd appreciate it very much if you'd go to the bloody Magic Box right now, and take all precautions along the way.”
She was too tired to argue with him. Except: “I could pick you up at the airport, if you want--”
“Magic Box. I'll be there in a half-hour or so. Wait for me.”
But for a little while after he hung up she just sat there, cozy in the warm, sunny space on the floor of her apartment. Funny how she could feel the sunshine on her skin now, when five minutes ago she couldn't. Funny how, just for a minute, she could breathe.
She drove to the Magic Box and parked her car in her old space without any Hacks – D'Hoffryn's favourite assassins, known for their cruelty, knives, and bad jokes – leaping out at stop signs or appearing from side streets. When she put her key into the redone lock on the backdoor, however, she stopped for a second. Leaned her forehead against the wood-over-steel. Missed, desperately, her old routine and her own stupid certainty that she had been safe.
Then she went inside, and shut the door after her. She didn't lock it, despite what Giles had said. It didn't seem to make much difference now.
She sank down in the middle of the empty space – no chairs yet – and looked around.
Xander's crew had done a good job in repairing the structural damage. It had taken the construction guys a month to clear what needed to be cleared, to check load-bearing walls and repair fallen beams and barriers. They'd just finished putting back the ceiling, she saw. But the other work, adding paint and gleam and the touches which had made it the Magic Box, still had to be done. Maybe it didn't have to be the Magic Box this time, since Giles would be in England and she would be dead. She wondered what retail establishment would thrive here. Maybe a bookshop; that would be a nice tribute to Giles...
She blinked away ridiculous tears, because crying did no good, and interlaced her fingers, one by one.
She and Xander had had their last talk here in the cleared empty room. A “postmortem,” Giles had said when she'd told him about it, which made her laugh-- but she hadn't really told him about her conversation with Xander and how Xander had finally given her the details of the vengeance-derived vision of their future.
The best move in any vengeance-game was to use the truth, not lies, and so in the vision Xander had seen what he truly feared about her. He thought she would be unfaithful – she, Anyanka, the one who'd punished infidelity for centuries, the one who'd become a vengeance demon both times because a man had broken faith with her, the one who believed in commitments and vows (and also having as many great times as possible when unattached, but that wasn't relevant). He thought it would be really terrible if she were a success, and he thought she'd scream and nag if he wasn't, even though she didn't give a damn if he made money, it was never about that. But maybe if they'd stayed together, it would have been. Maybe, with him, she'd have become as horrible as he thought she was.
When she'd told him that, he seemed upset, but...resigned. Yes. And they had kissed goodbye, and considering the heartbreak and everything, it was a pretty good ending. She hadn't told him she was going to D'Hoffryn, though. It hadn't seemed right.
Something changed in the room – revived magic and fresh air and a streak of that warm afternoon sunshine – and she looked up. Giles stood at the front door of the shop.
Boy, he looked great, she thought, gazing at him: healthy again after all that hurt, and tall and fit in his jeans and boots and loose, wrinkled button-down, and although he didn't have on his long coat because after all it was July, she could almost see its drape and hear the swoosh of its heroic folds--
“Christ, Anya,” he said, and in just a few steps he was there, his hands catching hers and pulling her to her feet, and then his arms around her in a close, hard hug like he was that sanctuary she now knew better than to believe in.
“Is this hurting you? Are you all healed now?” she managed, and he murmured something and held on tighter.
Then he took a step back, and framed her face with his hands and just looked at her. She wondered what he was seeing, but she knew better than to ask. A man like Giles didn't volunteer any information he didn't choose to.
She forced a smile, felt his long fingers tighten on her skin. “Hi, Giles. Good flight?”
“Mmm. Food was bloody awful, but yes,” he said in his absentminded, scholarly way. Then: “Are you all right, Anya?”
“Well, I haven't been killed yet. I call that a bonus.”
One of his thumbs rubbed over the corner of her mouth. “Yes, I'd call that a bonus too. Now what's the situation with D'Hoffryn?”
“I told you on the phone. I gave my vengeance-amulet back to D'Hoffryn and tried to break my contract, but he said I was still bound to him, and the punishment for contract-breaking would be my death. Pretty standard, really...”
Giles dropped his hands, but laid his cheek against the top of her head. “Yet you're still here.”
“Well, that's the thing. The Hacks--”
“Bloody hell, those blokes?”
“Yes! Well, if you know about them, I don't need to explain their enjoyment of their target's fear and anxiety in the waiting period before they smack...said target. And, yes, he's sent in the Hacks.”
“What a fucking ridiculous name, might as well be a Sondheim song,” he muttered. Then he pulled her down to the floor and followed himself, arranging it so they were practically knee-to-knee. He took her hands again, warm, warmer than anything, and smiled at her. “All right. I've spoken to Grace Harkness – at the coven? -- and she's done some scrying for us. She says...” He hesitated a long time, silence humming all around them. “She says that you and I should take a journey together, seeking... how'd she put it... 'seeking the knowledge that will lead us to sanctuary.'”
Witches liked those portentous phrases, she thought, but pleasing words didn't mean much when Hacks were on the case. Anyway, “How did you get the results of some high-powered scrying in the thirty minutes it took you to get from the airport to here?”
He flushed a little and shifted his gaze. “Er, well, that's not exactly... I'll tell you when we get done with this assassin business.” Before she could question him further, he added hurriedly, “Right, so – we need to get on the road.”
“What? I mean...what?”
“That's usually my line,” he said, and then grinned, wide and mischievous and suddenly oh NO he shouldn't look this unbelievably good when she was about to die and he was Giles – oh. He hadn't finished. “Miss Harkness gave us our first stop, and I've arranged an appointment for tomorrow morning. But we should get out of Sunnydale first, do a little mystical coverup on our tracks, that sort of thing.”
She was so stunned that she let him pull her back up and onto her feet. She let him put his arm around her shoulders and pilot her toward the front door – like a mirror-image of when she'd helped him escape the ruined shop after Willow's rampage, she thought in bemusement. But when they got to the door, she stopped him.
“Giles. Giles. Where are we going?”
“Los Angeles,” he said, smiling, “we're going to see an ex-colleague of mine,” and he led her out into the California sun.