Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support. I guess Josephine Martin and her fic "Seeking Vengeance" shiuld get a mention here as well. Those of you familiar with the story will understand why.
SECTION 1 - CHINA IN YOUR HAND
It was a flight on the wings
Of a young girls dreams
That flew too far away
And we could make the monster live again
Oh hands move and heart beat on
Now life will return in this electric storm
A prophecy for a fantasy
The curse of a vivid mind
Don't push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don't wish to hard
Because they may come true
And you can't help them
You don't know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand
(T'Pau, Album - Bridge of Spies)
Thursday, May 16th, 2002
Tara had a bad feeling. According to the plans they had made the previous afternoon Willow should have met her here almost three quarters of an hour ago. Up until their LA trip Tara might not have worried unduly about a relatively short delay, but since they all had cell phones now there was no good reason for Willow not to have contacted her. She knew that Willow had recharged her phone the previous night, and she could remember seeing her pack it in her book bag this morning.
Tara had tried sending her a text message when half an hour had gone by with no sign of the redhead. When no response was forthcoming after a further ten minutes, she discovered when she tried to speak with her that her phone had been switched off in the intervening period. Willow didn't want to be found, and if that were the case, Tara could only think of one reason.
She tried the number for the Magic Box, hoping that Anya would still be there, but there was no response other than the answering machine. Next, she tried to catch Anya at home. Instead, she found herself speaking to another recording device.
Little did she know that Xander was sitting in the darkened room with a half-finished bottle of bourbon in his hand, listening to every word she said. It didn't make much difference anyway as he was too far gone in his depression to make a move for the phone in any case. Besides, Tara hadn't wanted him. No one ever wanted him any more. Then, he corrected himself. Anya wanted him. Even when he was stupid and tactless and useless Anya still wanted him, had been prepared to forgive him even for leaving her at the altar.
And still, he couldn't. give when she had called him on his attitude to demons. Dawn had warned him less than a week before that if he didn't change he could end up losing all of them, and now he wasn't entirely sure if her prediction was already half true. The way things had gone this afternoon he didn't know if Dawn and Buffy would give him a chance to explain. Then again, he had a feeling he might just have to fight his way past an overly possessive vampire before he even got to see them again. And since said vampire was in possession of the orbs of Nezzla Khan, even if he couldn't hurt Xander, it wasn't going to be like Xander could hurt him or do anything to make him move out of the way, or so the carpenter reasoned.
All he had left for sure were Anya and Willow. The funny thing was that, of the two, surely he should be more certain of keeping his wife than his friend. Nevertheless, the truth of the matter was, if he could alienate Dawn and her sister in just a few minutes, he could probably count himself lucky that so far he hadn't managed to do the same with his highly volatile spouse.
When had it become so wrong to hate the demons? Riley had got it, except Riley was supposed to be one of the bad guys now, or was he? A week ago they had said, or rather Spike had said, he was. Then, last night if Xander hadn't got totally lost, which he admitted to himself as he took another slurp of whiskey from the bottle was definitely not outside the realms of possibility he seemed to be back on the home team. Of course, the away team was his wife. And she had hurt Dawnie, hurt her bad in the sort of ways that took longer than any physical wounds to heal.
Xander knew all about being a victim. You couldn't grow up in the Harris household and not know about it. For sixteen years, Jesse's home had been his refuge when he just had to get away. Whenever trying to make his dad laugh so that he wouldn't get pissed off and take it out on him or his mom got to be too much, Jesse's bedroom window had always been unlocked. An inflatable mattress and a sleeping bag had always been tucked under his friend's bed in case he needed them. Not that his dad had ever actually hit him. Sometimes Xander almost wished that he had. Some bruises that he could somehow have shown to someone, so that they would have to do something to get him out of that house, would have been a blessing. Instead, his father had used words to cut him and his mother down and to keep them there. His father was a failure whose only two pleasures in life were drink and making his wife and son acknowledge that they were even bigger failures than he was.
They all forgot about Jesse. All of them, even Willow, but Xander couldn't forget. He sure as hell couldn't forgive. Yet, Buffy seemed to think he should be okay about dealing first with Angel and then with Spike. Didn't she get it? Wasn't the fact that they were vampires bad enough, even if at first he'd been kind of forced to give soul boy the benefit of the doubt? The fact that they were direct descendants of the bitch that killed his best friend was just the extra icing on the cake.
And all those other demons? Okay, so far, he hadn't actually caught Clem attacking anyone, or anything other than a bucket of southern-fried chicken, but the fact of the matter was he'd never met a demon that could hide it's true nature for long. Sooner or later Buffy was going to discover that all these things she kept treating like animated teddy bears actually had some damn sharp teeth and claws.
Then again, Anya had asked him to the wedding. She said that some demons were productive members of society. And Buffy, Miss Demon Kill Kill herself, seemed to be going all "grey area" on him. Okay, so part of the reason that he'd been proud to help Buffy. Never mind that there was the whole knowing that whatever his dad told him, he helped keep Sunnydale safe part. That was the part that let him believe that he didn't have to grow up to become his father.
'Good one! Way to prove you're not a useless drunk!' he thought as he took another gulp from the bottle. The thing was there was another part of him where every vampire he helped stake, every demon he helped kill was a tribute to Jesse and to the others who would be spared his fate. It used to be simple. Demons bad. Slayer kill demons. Xander help slayer. Buffy happy. Xander happy. Hell, there had even been a point he'd considered it remotely possible that Buffy would give Xander a happy. Okay, Buffy had given Xander multiple happies, but there had been a time he'd considered the possibility of mutual happies.
Now, there was every chance he was married to a demon. His best friend was dating a demon and the demon hunters were the bad guys because somehow they had got their wires crossed and gone for Dawn, but Dawn was human, or he thought she was, and if she wasn't would that make her evil?
This was all Spike's fault, anyway. Whatever he said, that thing with the front door had just been designed to piss him off, and he could just have said that Buffy and Dawn were talking to the priest or minister or whatever. He'd deliberately goaded him into making a fool of himself so that he could look like the big hero defending his women. What Xander didn't get was how come it was Dawn and Buffy with the priest and not Buffy and Fangless. Come on! The guy could be human and he would still hate his guts. Everybody said he had a thing against demons, and, yeah, they were probably right, but he would hate Spike anyway, just on principle. How the hell could Buffy let him put his cold dead hands on her, in her? How could she be excited by a walking corpse? Not that he was the first one.
Xander decided that he really needed to simple this all up.
'Okay, me like Buffy. Me like Dawn. Me love Anya.
Me argue with Fangless or me no play nice with demon people. Me lose Buffy. Me lose Dawn. Me lose Anya.'
Xander really didn't like where this logic was taking him. He commiserated with himself by taking his longest slug from the bottle yet. If only Evil Undead hadn't borrowed the orbs, from what Willow had said, Riley and his men would have had him bang to rights with those bows. Problem, or at least ninety percent of problem, solved. It was just his luck. He could have been the one doing the whole heroic rescue gig. He should have been the one doing the whole heroic rescue gig. It was only because Dead Man Walking had taken back his supposed present that it hadn't been him doing the rescuing. And to think he'd chipped in to get the bloodsucker a microwave.
The outer door of the apartment was pushed open and Xander found himself suddenly blinking in the glare of the lights that Anya put on.
"Xander? What are you doing sitting on the floor?" She eyed the bottle in his hand. "Are you drunk?"
"Hi, Ahn. I'm thinking. I'm thinking that since I'm kinda drunk the floor's not so far to fall, but you know what else I'm thinking?"
Anya's mouth pursed together in irritation before she took her cue. "What else are you thinking, Xander?"
"I'm thinking that maybe I've already lost Buffy and Dawn, but I'm thinking that what's real important is that you know how much I love you. You're this incredible, beautiful, unpredictable, intelligent woman and I am so lucky that you forgave me for that whole wedding thing and if I have to spend the rest of my life making that up to you, I will, because you know something, without you the apartment, the job, none of it, is worth anything, and if I have to be civil to Spike and kiss Clem's wrinkly butt to keep you, then I will. Just please don't make me apologise to him. Oh and Tara wants you to ring her on her new cell phone that Buffy bought her when they were all in LaLa Land without us. Before Spike she'd have bought me one, too, but now-."
"Xander, you already have a cell and before Spike she couldn't even have bought herself one."
"But she'd have wanted to buy me one."
"H-o-kay, Xander. Time for you to go to bed and not in a sexy way."
As she tried to lever Xander's considerable weight off the floor, the carpenter whispered in her ear, "I love you, Mrs Anya Emanuella Jenkins Harris."
"And I love you, too, lambikins, but you really need to lose some weight." Giving up on moving the apparently immovable object she lowered him back to the floor and stoppering the bottle once more, she moved it out of his reach before pulling the duvet and a couple of pillows off their bed. Silently, she placed the cushions under his head and tucked the quilt around his recumbent form. It didn't matter. She didn't have to say anything. The way she felt about him, despite all his shortcomings was evident in every tender gesture, Even the fact that she fetched a bucket from under the sink and put it next to his head, just in case.
As soon as his eyes drifted shut, she called Tara back.
"Hi, Tara. It's Anya. Xander said you needed to talk to me."
"Yeah. I need to know whether Willow was in The Magic Box today."
"Well, yes, but Xander could have told you that. He was there, too."
"Anya, did she buy anything?"
"Pffft!" Anya's instantaneous reaction came out before she could even think about helping it. "You know whatever she gets she always says it's to help Buffy and that Giles won't mind. One of these days, Giles is actually going to read the paperwork that comes with his cheques and send her a hefty bill. Of course, it all comes out of his share. I suppose in theory he could claim it back from the watcher's council, if he could prove it was a legitimate expense, which, of course, I'm sure most of it isn't."
"Anya, did Willow get anything today? Any crystals? Any Lethe's bramble?"
Anya gave another unladylike snort. "Like I'd ever sell Willow any more Lethe's bramble!" The former demon then paused uncertainly. "She did take a quartz though, a really big one. And she knows that I'd know what she was up to if she wanted more of that, so maybe she would just take it. Who does she want to forget something?"
"My guess? All of us. What happened last night, she sent Sam an email, now I think she wants us all to forget all about it, because she feels like it's her fault. She was supposed to meet me and she never showed. I sent her a text message. It was delivered. Ten minutes later when I tried to ring her she'd switched her phone off. I think she hopes if she can hide out until she completes the spell, then none of us will ever remember what happened."
"But, she can't do that. Someone needs to remember so that they can get vengeance on Sam because otherwise she'll get away with hurting Dawn."
"Well, I can't say we're working from the same motivation but we're on the same side. The thing is, I'm on campus and I've got no components or anything. I cleared just about everything out of my dorm room and it would take me a while to get a bus back to town. Do you think maybe you could get a hold of Wes and see if he could do a locator spell for us while I check out some of the labs? She wouldn't do it back at the house, and I don't think she'd risk The Magic Box, but she's used the labs before."
"What about the others? Giles and Buffy and Spike. Should I tell them, too."
"Giles?" Tara noted the watcher's inclusion but decided other things were more important at this stage. She hesitated, her relationship on the line. "W-we could be wrong, but w-we can't afford to risk it. Tell them. The more people we have looking for her, the more chance we have of finding her before." The thing that worried her most however was if Willow had been acting on this for the last twenty minutes, then why hadn't they already forgotten.
"Before she turns us all into mindless vegetables," Anya answered with typical bluntness.
"Ho-kay," thought Willow. "Nearly there." The spell was an incredibly complex one and timing was crucial. She wanted to erase back to before she sent the email, but only just before. The spell worked in terms of complete days, so she had to have everything ready and then wait until the correct time.
It would all have been so much simpler if Dawn and Brandon hadn't been taken to the hospital. With Lethe's bramble, she could probably have affected the memories of all the Scoobies, Riley's men, Brandon and his dad, but the large numbers of hospital staff involved and the proliferation of both admin and medical records made it impractical. Of course, Sam would go free, but maybe Willow could track her down herself and somehow make sure she wasn't able to do the same again.
She'd do whatever it took to stop Dawn from looking at her with hatred when she found out what had brought Sam back to the Hellmouth, to stop the teenager from being hurt and for Tara to look at her without showing her disappointment.
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