Anyhow, here's the next installment for Iteration One.
I asked all of you out there to submit to me a bunch of ideas for things that could happen or become true for Xander. Then I used a random number generator and the AXIS (Alternate Xander Idea Selector - thanks, learnedhand_dj) to choose three random consecutive episodes and three random ideas, and I wrote a story based on those ideas.
Authors: please feel not only free, but actively encouraged to attempt your own Great Random Xander Story, using the AXIS listed above. I can tell you from personal experience, it's actually kind of fun and a very interesting writing exercise. Writing a story where you know at least two more major changes are coming but you don't know what they are going to be or when they will occur is pretty wacky. Try it out, and be sure to share your results with the rest of us!
This is the first attempt at that story, but will not be the last, so keep submitting your ideas. (We're up to about 150, I believe. New goal is 200!) First chapter and author notes can be found here
On with the story:
Faith sighed as she sank into the warm goo that was the protein resin. The soothing embrace of the protein tank was just what she needed after a hard night on patrol. She’d run into some tough-as-nails demons that evening, and they’d managed to stand up to everything except a good old-fashioned stake to the chest. She’d taken a bunch of heavy hits, and had received more-than-moderate damage to several key components.
The slight hum of the gravimetric field manipulator was the only sound as the field lowered her into the protein tank. Thanks to the unique properties of the Cordamite alloy plating that surrounded her heart, she couldn’t feel it beating, and her lung function had been temporarily disabled so that her systems could hook directly into the tank’s oxygen feed. It meant that unlike Buffy, she didn’t have to wear an oxygen mask when recovering in the tank, but it also meant that once she was in the tank and closed her eyes, the world would fade completely away.
Faith tried her best not to look down at her nude body as the resin gradually rose up her body. Her cybernetic limbs were detached and currently being cleaned and set aside for repair. She would reconnect some of her spares once she was done in the tank, but for now she was forced to look at her body the way it truly was: decimated. She wished she could have her legs and arm with her when she was in there, but the resin had a tendency to gum up the works, and Xander had made it very clear that unless she wanted to spend weeks without her primary prosthetics, she was never to actually go into the tank with them still attached.
Still, that didn’t leave her without some advantages. She had many internal cybernetic components, and she still had the bio-mimetic graft points as well. She also had a wireless connection to Xander’s computer system, which she took advantage of dozens of times during the course of each day. The whatever-whatever-Einstein-bullshit of the connection meant she could access and store information that could baffle the human mind. In the tank, however, she would be able to connect directly into the system, which would allow for easier access, greater processing, nearly limitless storage of information.
Connecting directly to the computer was unlike anything Faith had ever experienced. It was only a few days ago that her synch rates had reached the point where she could access the system in such a way, and it had scared the crap out of her when it first happened.
She had been floating in the black nothingness of the protein tank, and her only stimulation had been the data that was being processed through her onboard computer at inhuman rates. It was an odd feeling, being able to process information that way. It alwasy felt very detached; very unreal.
Then, in a split second, an entire world had opened up before her. Where once she had been floating in complete sensory deprivation, suddenly she was awake, alert, and experiencing a thousand sensations at once. Her first experience in cyberspace was life-changing, and she hadn’t yet told anyone about it, not even Willow.
Because she loved it. It was beyond thrilling, and it was all hers. There was no Buffy to be the other Slayer, no Xander to be the incredible genius, no Willow unlocking secrets both personal and magical. No, this was all Faith’s. The full-sensory-input she could acquire when in the tank was incredible, and her cybernetically enhanced brain’s processing power meant that what felt like hours in cyberspace were really just milliseconds out in the real world. It was a heady experience.
Faith closed her eyes as the resin finally slid up over her head. Fully immersed in the resin, she heard the hum of the gravimetric field shut down. She stretched out the stump of her left arm, and a moment later she felt the connection of the data-cable. Two more connections attached to the graft-points on her legs. She initiated her wireless connection to the system, and felt herself rush headlong into more information than she could ever hold at once.
She opened her eyes, only they were different eyes than she had closed. These were her inner eyes, and the world she gazed upon was filled with light and beauty. Faith stood at the center of a vast city of light. Great spires rose up into the starry sky, and all around her were beams of multi-colored light. She knew that if she touched any of those beams, she would be filled with the information they were carrying.
Faith took a deep breath and looked down at herself. Two arms and two legs greeted her, and when she moved, she couldn’t feel that slight sense of strangeness that still hit her when she was walking around in the real world. Xander kept saying there was no reason why her limbs should feel anything other than perfectly her own, but there was still something about them that had her constantly aware that they weren’t quite her.
They were close, there was no doubt about that. She loved what Xander had given her. She had full sensation in all three cybernetic limbs, and for the most part they felt like they were truly a part of her.
There was just that tiny sense of niggling doubt that was always in the back of her mind.
Not here. Here, she was whole.
In her many travels in this incredible world of light and wonder, Faith had stumbled upon the information that explained why she was able to come to this place. It was apparently part of a failed experiment Xander had conducted. He’d been trying to create virtual reality access to his computer systems so he could directly interface with them, but had been unwilling to actually surgically install a computer processor into his brain in order to do it. By the time he’d given Faith her own processor, he had long since moved on to other things.
So this was her place. Nobody knew about it. Xander knew she could access his systems internally, but he had no idea what it was like for her. She never told him. She never told anyone. Not even Willow knew about this place. It was hers.
“Should probably do my psych homework,” Faith said to herself. On cue, several beams of light streaked past her. They hummed with palpable energy, and when Faith reached a hand towards the closest of them, she simply knew the information held in each beam. The closer her hand got, the more information she received, until finally she closed her fingers down around the closest beam.
Faith threw her head back and gasped in delight as knowledge flooded into her. Soft blue light issued from behind her eyes as she shuddered and groaned. Her internal processors ran at full capacity as her Slayer’s mind synched her directly to its system. A flood of information regarding the case of Phineas Gage, the brain’s influence on personality, and Xander Harris’s unpublished treatise on delta-wave convergence as related to psychic phenomenon rushed into her mind.
An instant eternity later, Faith released the beam of light and staggered back a step.
“Whoa,” she said breathlessly, then put her hands on her knees. She took a few deep breaths, although some part of her knew that was completely unnecessary in this place. Still, it felt good. She could feel her heart beating in her chest and she could feel her lungs expanding with every breath. She felt so alive.
It took her a second to realize she was laughing, and another second to realize that she was crying too. Faith dropped down to her knees and wiped her cheeks with the back of one hand. She sniffed and looked up at the starry sky. Each of those points of light was just another amazing place to explore, all of it was just more things to know, more things to learn, more things to experience.
“I think I love my life,” Faith whispered to herself.
Then she looked up, left the ground, and rushed off towards the stars.
Thermonuclear synthesis via retroactive particle decay within a quasi-spatial megacylinder was proceeding within predicted parameters. Once the cylinder was fully hardened and the crystalline data-structure was properly aligned, he would be able to install it into the android. Of course, a single flaw in the data-structure would mean scrapping the entire thing and having to start over, so this was a crucial step. The megacylinder was going to be the true brain for what he and Buffy were calling the Buffybot. It had to be perfect.
That was going to be difficult, because it was very fragile. He was going to have to point out to Buffy that she should never, ever try to put the Buffybot -- or more precisely, the Buffybot’s megacylinder core -- into an MCD. The resulting destabilization would at best fry out the MCD’s internal components and destroy both it and the megacylinder, and at worst it would cause a small nuclear explosion.
“Gotcha. No MCDing the Buffybot.”
Xander let out a little yell of surprise and nearly knocked over his micro-m-specs as he flailed backwards. There, sitting across the table from him, was Buffy Summers. Her hair was wet, she was wearing one of his old gray t-shirts and nothing else. “B-Buffy, I thought you were upstairs.”
“I came down to listen to you for a while,” Buffy said. “I didn’t meant to scare you. I just didn’t want to bother you. You were so focused. It was really cute.”
His heartrate began to slow, and Xander sighed as he sat back down. Now that he thought about it, he could definitely detect the faint scent of Buffy’s vanilla shampoo. He always liked that smell.
“S-so,” Xander began, but stopped and gave Buffy a questioning look. She motioned for him to continue. Apparently she was in the mood to actually talk. He was never quite sure when she wanted him to talk and when she would rather just respond to his thoughts.
“Sometimes I like to hear the way you say things,” Buffy said. “And I’m trying to be better about that whole interrupting thing I keep doing. I know it bothers you.”
He cleared his throat. “It doesn’t rea--”
“Xander, I know it bothers you. I-- oops. See? I just did it again, and it bothered you!”
“You, uh, you don’t do it on purpose,” he said, but felt silly saying it. Talking out loud when it was just the two of them seemed like a contrivance. It was silly and unnecessary.
“It’s not silly.”
“It’s my stupid issue,” Xander said. “You already know what I’m going to say before I say it. It’s a waste of time.”
“You feel better when we talk,” she pointed out. “And I like it when you feel better. It makes me feel better too.”
He wasn’t sure why he was arguing with her. She was right, of course. There was something about talking with Buffy that just made him feel good inside.
“Oh, Xander,” Buffy cooed. “That’s so sweet.”
He felt himself blush a little, and then looked back into his micro-m-specs as a distraction. “So, um, h-how did the gauntlets work?”
He had given her the new Battle Gauntlet prototypes to try out that evening. They were designed to be worn by average humans, but he wanted her to try them out in the field before he or any of his friends trusted their lives to them. Buffy could handle a vampire or a demon even if the Gauntlet’s gravimetric polarity manipulation grid went offline. He, Willow, Giles, Tara, or Jonathan could not.
“Really well,” Buffy said. “I used them to crush this Blumpfill demon’s head pustules without actually touching him, and the automated defense responses worked really well. I caught a punch without even thinking about it.”
“Good, that’s good,” Xander said as he watched the particle decay, just to make sure everything was going according to plan. “Maybe we’ll try them out on us regular folk soon.”
“You’re not regular,” Buffy said, just a little bit too quickly. She might wait for him to finish speaking, but she hadn’t yet gotten out of the habit of responding to him the instant he finished talking. It was a little unnerving. “Did you run a new scan today?”
“Yeah. This afternoon.”
“What were the results?” she asked innocently, as if she had not just read them all as they flooded through his mind.
“Um, upper body strength increased by twelve percent, lower body strength by fifteen-point-four. Overall muscle efficiency is up by almost twenty-five percent. Overall stamina is increased by forty-six percent. Reaction times have increased by thirty-six-point-five percent, and visual acuity is up by sixteen-point-three-three-one percent. I’m also taller by two percent, and uh, bigger, um, down there. By about twenty-one percent.”
“I already knew that part,” Buffy said with a grin. “So when do you think we can start augmenting the others too?”
“Well I want to make sure it doesn’t turn me into a mutant first, but pretty soon, I guess. Why?”
“I’d just feel better if I knew that Dawn could take care of herself. I, um, I ran into some weirdos tonight.”
Xander looked up. “Weirdos?”
“Yeah. These guys in chainmail. They said they were the Knights of Byzantium, and they want to kill me and kill the Key.”
“Yeah,” Buffy said. “I don’t think they know that Dawn’s the Key, but they want to destroy it. They think Glorificus will end the world otherwise.”
“Did you tell them we imploded Glorificus?”
“Yeah, they don’t believe me. They said it was impossible.”
“Pff. Impossible’s all we do around here.”
Buffy grinned a little. “Yeah. I mean, honestly, I’m not too worried. They aren’t Glorificus, they’re just regular guys in chainmail. But they claim to have an army, and if they figure out who Dawn is...”
“It would be bad. So what do you want to do? Move back home until--”
“No!” Buffy said, very quickly. “No, I-I don’t think I need to do that. But I think, um, I mean do you think...w-would it be a good idea if we augmented Dawn?”
The concept flashed through his mind. Dawn was young and immature. The kind of strength and power that the augmentations might someday provide would be very tempting, to say the least. But Dawn was also a good person, just like Buffy and her mother. She wasn’t that much younger than Buffy had been when she’d been called. She was also the Key: a target that might be under threat for the rest of her life. And being the Key, how could he predict exactly what the augmentations would do to her? Sure, biologically she seemed perfectly human, but that energy field still existed there. What if he could get her to tap into it? What could it even do?
“I--” Xander began.
“Yeah, I heard,” Buffy said with a sigh. “I just can’t figure out what to do. I mean, if these Knights don’t know anything about Dawn, then chances are they never will. But they do know that I’m protecting the Key, so what if they decide to go after my family to get me to spill the beans? And even if I did move back home, I can’t be around Dawn all the time. I can’t protect her every second of every day. What if they go after her while she’s at school?”
“Maybe you should talk to your mom about it,” Xander suggested. “See what she thinks.”
“Yeah,” Buffy said, exhaling slowly. “I’m going to talk to Giles, too. I want to know more about these stupid Knights. Maybe we can talk sense into them somehow.”
“Oh, I might be ab--” Xander started. But it was too late. Buffy had already read his mind.
“What? You did? Oh my God, I want to see it! Can we do it right now?”
“Uh, yeah. I was going to wait until I had the cylinder done to be the grand unveiling, but, uh, yeah. We can do it now.”
“Can I do it? Can I turn it on?” She got up from her seat and came around the table. She took hold of Xander’s upper arm. “Can I, Xander?”
“Sure,” he said, licking his lips as he glanced down at her mostly bare legs. His old t-shirt did not go very far past the tops of her thighs. Buffy kissed his cheek knowingly, then turned and looked up at the ceiling.
“CompuBuffy?” she said in a loud, clear voice.
There was a brief pause, but Xander expected that, and thus, so did Buffy. She bit her lip in anticipation, and he grinned at her excitement. If she was this excited now, how excited would she be when they actually had a fully working Buffybot?
“You’ll find out,” Buffy said. She reached down to hold his hand. As their fingers entwined, a strangely luminescent and slightly translucent Buffy Summers appeared in the middle of the room. Unlike the real Buffy, her hair was not wet, but was styled with a perfect slight waviness to it. She was wearing what looked to be a white cotton top and matching loose-fitting pants.
“Hi,” CompuBuffy said. She smiled at Buffy, who squeezed Xander’s hand a little more tightly. “I am CompuBuffy. How can I assist you?”
“Xander,” Buffy breathed. “She looks just like me.”
She should. CompuBuffy was based on the real Buffy both in appearance and in personality. His attempts at figuring out a way to mimic Buffy’s mind-reading had so far all failed, but he had succeeded in coming up with a basic personality scan. It lacked Buffy’s memories, but would be able to mimic any personality traits that had been observed by the lab’s computer systems over the last few months.
“I am programmed to look and act as much like Buffy Summers as possible, while still maintaining a suitably robotic personality,” CompuBuffy said. “Can I assist you in sexual relations? I would be happy to use the lab’s gravimetric field manipulator to simulate penetrative sex with you.”
Buffy blinked. “What?”
“She’s eventually going to be the core system for the Buffybot,” Xander reminded her. “I had the computer do a personality map based on all the data it has on you, and uh, a lot of that data is us. You know. Doing stuff.”
He was glad he didn’t have to say what stuff. She could read it all from his mind, and that was confirmed when she licked her lips and moaned softly.
“Oh,” she breathed, leaning against him. “I see.”
“CompuBuffy,” Xander said, looking from the squirming girl at his side to the glowing hologram of her standing a few feet away. “Go ahead and put all sexual protocols into a new personality mode configuration labeled, uh...”
“Sexy Buffy One,” Buffy suggested.
CompuBuffy stood silently for a moment. “Personality Mode Sexy Buffy One has been created. Would you like to switch to this mode at this time?”
“No,” Xander said.
“Yes,” Buffy said at the same moment. Then she pouted slightly and said. “Okay, fine. No. But maybe she could be naked?”
Xander rolled his eyes. Buffy really was a narcissist these days. She turned herself on, and he had caught her checking out her own naked body in the mirror more than once. Not that he blamed her. After all, it was his fascination with her body that was most likely driving those thoughts. “Maybe later, Buff? Right now we want information, right?”
“Yeah,” Buffy said, pouting slightly.
“Stay in base personality configuration,” Xander said. The simulated intelligence was not designed to perfectly mimic Buffy, of course. That would require far too much programming, or would otherwise require a true artificial intelligence. Instead, he had designed her to be a purposefully robotic version of Buffy. He didn’t want anyone to ever be confused as to who they were talking to, of course.
“Oh,” Xander said, realizing that CompuBuffy was going to be the interface for his systems for a while. “And, uh, don’t offer to change personality configurations. Only primary users can switch your personality configuration, and we’ll be the ones to bring it up, not you, okay?”
“Understood, Xander,” CompBuffy said. She smiled at the two of them. “Is there anything else I can do to assist you?”
“Are you fully integrated with the lab’s systems?” Xander asked. He had designed the CompuBuffy SI to take over as the primary user interface for his systems. They were getting far too complicated for anyone but himself to navigate properly. The SI would do most of the work for the other users, and would be able to automate many functions which he was tired of doing personally.
“I am,” CompuBuffy chirped. “I have full access to all systems have indexed all information according to your parameters.”
“This is so cool,” Buffy whispered. In a clearer voice she said, “Um, CompuBuffy?”
“What do you know about the Knights of Byzantium?”
“The Knights of Byzantium are an ancient military order. I have no record of the date of their creation, but there are reports of their activities dating back to roughly twelve-hundred B.C.E.. The order consists of a dual ruling order of clerics and knights, although in times of conflict the order is under strict rule by the knight caste. Members are often distinguished by sigil tattoos imprinted on the forehead, of which the following sixteen permutations exist.”
A series of symbols appeared floating in the air around them. Xander memorized them all at once, and noted that each was made up of the same number of lines, albeit in different configurations.
“Some scholars speculate that the sigils may be runes of warding based on the Garlitzian Runes of Salvation.”
“How many of them are there?” Buffy asked.
“Unknown. The last known estimation of their numbers was two-hundred and thirty-seven. This estimation was made on April twelfth, fourteen-sixty-three, by the Watcher Henrique.”
“Great,” Buffy said with a sigh. “Five-hundred and thirty-eight years ago. That’s helpeful.”
“This all the information currently in my databases,” CompuBuffy said. “I apologize if I could not be more helpful.”
“That’s okay,” Buffy said. “Thanks.”
“You are welcome,” CompuBuffy said cheerfully. She put her hands behind her back and swayed from side to side as she looked between Xander and Buffy. “Is there anything else I can assist you with?”
“I guess not,” Buffy said.
“Then I will shut down my holographic display,” CompuBuffy said. In an instant, it seemed she had simply disappeared.
“That was really, really cool,” Buffy said after a moment. “Except she doesn’t really act like me.”
“Well the base personality of the SI is programmed to be obviously not a normal person,” Xander reminded her. “Your personality imprint is on top of that, so it might not be obvious all the time.”
“I guess so. I was just hoping that the BuffyBot would be, you know, like having another me. Then I could finally see what all the fuss is about.”
“The fuss, huh?”
She grinned up at him and put her hands on either side of his waist. “Yeah. You seem to really like having a Buffy in bed. I want to see if I live up to the hype.”
“I don’t think I could ever duplicate you, Buff.”
“That’s nice, but it doesn’t get me a Buffy to play with,” she pointed out. Xander rolled his eyes.
“I guess we could tweak her programs, but you’ll have to spend a lot of time in the cloud-scan going through scenarios so we can read your responses. It’ll be pretty boring.”
“Will you be here when I do it?”
She beamed. “Good. I’m never bored when you’re around to listen to. Did I tell you I can almost hear you even when I’m in the bedroom and you’re down here?”
“Uh, no.” Buffy’s range was still increasing at a fairly consistent rate. Both her range for hearing his mind and her range for feeling his sensations continued to increase a little bit each day. Those early morning hours when Buffy was sleeping and he was working in the lab usually meant he knew he had some privacy. That would be gone soon.
“I’m sorry,” Buffy said, lowering her eyes. “I know you wish you had your privacy.”
Xander sighed. His reaction was mostly a vestigial sense of shame and an outdated desire for privacy. Buffy’s mind reading was a reality, and even if he somehow found a way to block her for more than a few moments or reversed the alterations to her brain, she would still know everything about him.
Everything. She knew everything there was to know about him. Every humiliating experience, every terrifying moment, every shame, every triumph, every desire, every thought he had ever had; she knew them all.
Sometimes it terrified him to be so open to anyone else, even when that anyone else was Buffy Summers. Sometimes he woke up in a cold sweat and felt so ashamed of himself that he wasn’t sure he could handle being Xander Harris.
But then Buffy would put her arms around him and tell him she loved him. She would tell him that whatever thought he’d had, whatever memory he’d recalled, or whatever strange desire had popped into his head, she loved him for it. There was no reason to ever be ashamed. She had seen all of him, and she was right there with him at all times.
It had been slowly sinking in over the last few months. Buffy loved him.
She knew everything about him, and she loved him.
Buffy looked back up into his eyes. She stood on her toes and kissed him lightly on the lips.
“Don’t you ever forget it,” she said with a smile. Then she patted him lightly on the ass and said, “Now I’m going to bed. Don’t stay up too late, okay? I have to get up early to talk to Giles about this Knights business, and if I wake up first you’re going to be doing your whole guy morning hardness thing and you know the way that feels just drives me crazy, and I don’t want to feel guilty when I wake you up for some fun before I leave.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Xander said, giving her a salute. Waking up early to have “fun” with Buffy was something he was always willing to do.
The smell of bacon woke him. Rupert Giles squinted at the clock at his bedside table and frowned at the readout. It claimed that it was 4:46 AM. He growled slightly and then threw off his blankets. This was the last straw. He would not have it. He simply would not have it!
Giles pushed himself angrily off of the bed, then grabbed his oversized robe and pulled it on. He stepped into a pair of slippers and then nearly yanked his door off of its hinges as he pulled it open.
“Anya!” he hissed as he stomped down the stairs. “What do you think you’re doing!? Do you know what time it is?”
“It’s morning,” Anya said, as if this were obvious. “And I’m cooking breakfast.”
She was standing in his kitchen, spatula in hand, and she was wearing only a pair of thick gray socks, a shirt, and an apron that was far too large for her. Giles’ eyes narrowed as he recognized the shirt as one of his dress shirts.
“That’s my shirt,” he said, slowly and with cold malice. “You are wearing one of my shirts. Again.”
“You put it in the trash,” Anya said. “And you said that when people put things in the trash, they give up any rights of ownership. So it’s my shirt now. I don’t know why you put it in the trash. It’s a nice shirt.”
“I did not put it in the trash!” Giles roared. “For the last time, that is the laundry bin, not the trash bin!”
To her credit, she did seem slightly abashed. “Oh. W-well how am I supposed to keep track of all the stupid bins you humans keep around? Trash bin, laundry bin, recycling bin, it’s all just bins with you people!”
“Just take it off,” Giles said, pinching the bridge of his nose. Her fingers began to work at the buttons, but it was clear she had nothing on underneath. “No, not here! Go change in the other room!”
“But the bacon will burn,” Anya said, pouting slightly.
“I’ll watch your bloody bacon,” Giles snapped. “Just get out of my shirt before you get more grease spatter on it.”
“Fine,” Anya said huffily. She handed him the spatula. “Just don’t let it burn, otherwise they’ll keep on hating me.”
Giles took the spatula wordlessly. He frowned at her as she padded off into the guest bedroom. Not that she was a guest. At this rate, he was never going to get rid of her.
Sighing, Giles sat down at the kitchen table. This was not the first time Anya had taken to cooking at some odd hour of the day. He could never have guessed that introducing Anya to the concept of a supermarket would have such a profound effect on her, but she had been positively wide-eyed at what she called the “local food storehouse.” It had taken quite a while to explain to her that she could not simply take whatever foodstuffs she wished, and still longer to explain the concept of money, but once he had, Anya had been enthralled by the concept of being able to purchase what to her was more food than anyone could ever want or need.
Since then, she always accompanied him on any grocery-shopping trip, and had been trying to convince him to let her do the shopping on her own one day. That, he was not yet prepared to do. Not when her eye so easily wandered to advertisements, displays, and worst of all: magazines.
Anya was in love with magazines. To her, they represented how-to guides on living as a human. Giles had tried to explain to her that they were not meant to be taken seriously, and that the advice offered in most were inaccurate at best and harmful at worst, but Anya refused to take him very seriously. To her, the magazines were gospel. It made him thankful that he did not have a working television. He could hardly imagine just how twisted her view of humanity might have become.
It was from the magazines -- Modern Homemaker or Suburban Royalty or Greater Living or some other such rag -- that Anya had received the advice that had driven her to an obsession with cooking. From what he gathered, it had been one of many articles regarding meeting a potential husband and/or becoming socially popular. The advice was simple: the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. To Anya, this meant that she could convince anyone to ber friendly with her so long as she fed them first.
Since then, he had suffered through three melted pots, two ruined casserole dishes, and one nearly-burned-down kitchen. That was not to mention the endless amounts of foodstuffs that Anya had used in her oftentimes bizarre recipe ideas. He had nearly tripled his food budget since she’d moved in with him.
And yet for some reason, he was not telling her to leave. Even now, when he was so thoroughly frustrated with her, he did not truly contemplate telling her to get out. If anything, it was further proof that Anya was simply not capable of living in the outside world on her own. She was too naive. She would never survive out there on her own. He shuddered to think of what kind of vacuous person she might become were she to credulously absorb all the advice from the supermarket rags. No, Anya was not at all ready to live on her own. She simply didn’t understand how things worked.
As if to prove his theory, the door to the guest bedroom opened and Anya came strolling out. Giles’ eyes bulged for a moment before he looked quickly away from her. She had taken off his shirt, but she had not replaced it with anything. Wearing only the thick socks and the too-big apron, Anya came sulking out into the living room and handed him his balled-up white dress shirt.
“Here,” she said somewhat petulantly, thrusting his shirt at him. The naked curve of her breast was more than evident. Her skin was smooth and milky pale.
Giles quickly looked away from her. His face reddened. “Damn it, Anya! We talked about this!”
“About what?” she asked, plucking the spatula out of his hand. Giles chanced a look back at her, and found her standing at the stove while poking at the bacon with the spatula. Her bare bottom was on clear display just underneath the ties of the apron. Giles turned away again. His ears felt as though they were on fire.
“About walking around naked!” Giles hissed. “Being confused about human customs is one thing, but I’ve very clearly explained this to you several times now!”
“I’m not naked,” she said, sounding exasperated. “I’m wearing an apron.”
“And nothing else!”
“No, I’ve got socks on too. You would know that if you actually looked at me.”
“Absolutely not! Go put something else on!”
“Later,” Anya said, and he could hear the spatula scraping against the pan. “I need to start the pancakes.”
“No! No more cooking, Anya!”
He could almost hear the pout on her face. “But I’m getting better at it. See? The bacon’s all crispy and appealing. It’s not black and crunchy like last time.”
“I don’t care. I’ve told you, Anya, I don’t want you cooking. Especially not unattended. The last thing I need is for you to burn down my bloody flat!”
“Your face is doing that red thing. Are you mad at me again?” she asked, and Giles was forced to turn away from her as she edged around him, lest he get a good look at her near-nudity. She followed after him, leading to a brief scuffle in which he did his best to keep his eyes averted and she did her best to get in front of him. After a few moments of that, she finally sighed and seemed to give up. “You are mad at me, aren’t you?”
“Of course I’m bloody well mad,” Giles growled. “We talked about this, Anya. You promised not to try any more cooking, just as you promised to put on some bloody clothes!”
“Well you shouldn’t be mad at me!” Anya said, her voice lowering in pitch and rising in volume. Giles didn’t want to admit it, but he always found Anya’s attempts at expressing anger to be slightly comical. She was not entirely sure how to express herself emotionally, and had taken to mimicking his actions. “I’m just trying to acquire a useful skill for making people like me! It’s the only way your stupid friends will ever stop hating me, a-and besides, you’re the one who told me to take off my shirt, so if you’re going to be mad at anyone, you should be mad at yourself and not me because I hate it when you’re mad at me because it makes me feel gross in my insides!”
Oh dear. She was talking about her insides again. That was never a good sign. In the time that Anyanka had lived with him, he had come to know a little of her thought process. His initial skepticism at giving her a place to live had given way to a surprisingly profound sense of pity for what turned out to be one of the most naive (and daresay, innocent?) girls he had ever met. She was almost wholly incapable of expressing herself, and had no protections -- emotionally or otherwise -- for dealing with the world around her.
Still making a conscious effort to refrain from looking in her direction, Giles said, “All right, let’s just calm down a bit. I-I’m not that angry, Anya. I’m just-- I’m frustrated. That’s all.”
“Frustrated with me because I can’t understand your stupid human rules that make no sense and you probably just make up so you can get mad at me and then tell me to leave because you hate me just like everyone else,” Anya said breathlessly. Run-on sentences were also not a good sign when it came to Anya’s state of mental well-being.
“I don’t hate you,” Giles said to the opposite wall. “One can be upset without feeling hate.”
“No they can’t,” Anya muttered. “I know what happens when humans get upset. They start wishing vengeance, and then suddenly it’s all acid-livers and molten eyeballs. Y-you just want to see my eyeballs melt!”
“I assure you, Anya, I do not. T-try to take a deep breath. You’re working yourself into a tizzy.”
“I was just trying to do something nice for you and your stupid friends! It’s not my fault Willow made a wish, okay? I was just doing my job! I shouldn’t have to bribe them with bacon and pancakes just to get them to stop hating me and wishing vengeance upon me, but I do because that’s how human society works! The magazines said that the way to attract a man is by feeding him treats, and since all of the girls you know are lesbians too, that means I have to feed all of them, but nooo, you don’t want me to do that because you want to see me get my eyeballs melted and then slayed so you can continue to throw your shirts in the trash bin without someone pointing out how that doesn’t m-make any s-s-s-e-e-ennnssseee!”
That last part was let out as a keening kind of wail. Without thinking, Giles turned to face her, and found Anya standing there with tears streaking down her face. She was a ridiculous sight, naked but for the apron, still holding the spatula in one hand, red-eyed and face glittering with tears. She stared at him in horror.
“W-what’s -hic- happening t-to m-me!?” she gasped through hiccuping sobs. “A-are my eyes -hic- m-melting? M-make it -hic- s-stop!”
“It’s all right,” Giles said soothingly. “Nothing is melting. Just try and calm down.”
“I-I can’t calm down! Everything -hic- is horrible! Everyone hates -hic- m-me and I’m going to -hic- die!”
“Nobody hates you,” Giles lied. Willow most certainly did, Buffy was hardly a fan of hers, and Faith tended to side with Willow on most things, but he felt this was not the time for such truths. “Calm down, Anya.”
She continued to sob wordlessly for a few moments. “I-I can’t stop! Wh-wh-what’s h-h-happening to m-m-me?”
“You’re crying, Anya,” Giles said. Gingerly, he put his hands on her shoulders and looked down into her eyes. “It’s something humans do when they’re very upset.”
“O-oh,” she said in between sobs, and it was so observational that Giles had to force back a smile. “Oh, I’ve s-seen people d-do this before. U-usually when they -hic- were begging for m-mercy.”
Giles frowned a little at that. It was sometimes difficult to think that the girl he felt such pity for was also a merciless demon responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of human beings. Still, for whatever it meant cosmologically, she had not been a human being herself at the time. This human girl was, in purely mystical respects, innocent of those crimes. For not the first time, Giles pondered the question of the human soul and its place in humans-made-demon, but quickly pushed the thought aside. For now, he had a weeping half-naked woman in his kitchen, and he needed to address that. Particularly before the neighbors began to wonder about the yelling that was going on at such an early hour.
“It’s nothing to be afraid of,” Giles said soothingly. He gently rubbed her upper arms in what he hoped was a comforting gesture. “It’s a natural response for human beings to have.”
“I-I don’t -hic- like it. M-make it -hic- s-stop.”
“I wish that I could,” Giles said, and was only slightly surprised to know that he was quite sincere.
Anya looked up at him with wet, frightened eyes. Then she lurched forward and threw her arms around Giles’ middle. Hot tears leaked against his shirt as she clutched at him with what must have been an instinctual need for comfort. Wary at first of taking any sort of liberties with a mostly-naked woman, Giles finally decided that it was more important to calm her down. He hugged her gently, careful to keep his arms above the curve of her bare posterior. He was acutely aware of her warmth, and of the smoothness of her skin. He swallowed and pushed such thoughts aside.
“I-it’s all right,” Giles said awkwardly. “Shhh. Calm down, now. There’s nothing to be quite so upset about.”
Her face against his chest, Anya began to cry harder. Giles patted her back gently, and she mumbled something incoherent.
“Shh,” he whispered, knowing that what she had said wasn’t truly important. “Shh.”
They stood that way for a time, swaying slightly back and forth as Anya shook slightly and her sobs ebbed down to nothing.
The smell of burning bacon filled his nostrils a moment before the smoke alarm went off. The high pitched beeping sound caused Anya to shriek. Anya truly hated the sound of the smoke alarm, as he had found out the first time she’d caused it to go off. Apparently, it sounded almost exactly like the hunting cry of a harpy-bat, which even vengeance demons were not at all fond of.
“Ahh! Shut it off!” Anya screamed, covering her ears and pulling away from him. Then, just as Giles was realizing that her bare nipple was half-visible underneath the apron, she turned around to show her naked backside to him. “My bacon!”
Anya rushed to the stove and began plucking the bacon out of the pan. Giles reached up to the ceiling and pressed the silence button on the smoke alarm, thankful that he had finally figured out how to do such a thing. The first few times Anya had triggered the alarm, neither of them had known how to shut it off, save for clearing the room of smoke. Giles did not want to ever find himself in the position of flapping at the smoke detector with a towel while Anya shrieked and covered her ears in panic, and he especially did not want to get caught doing that at nearly 5 AM and with an apparently-twenty-year-old, half-naked young woman in his kitchen.
The beeping ceased, and Anya whimpered as she looked down at a plate full of burned bacon. Her shoulders slumped and she sniffed pitifully.
“It’s ruined,” she said. “I can’t bring this to your friends. They’ll just hate me even more.”
“Anya,” Giles said softly, careful not to stare at her. “I’ve told you, you don’t need to try and earn their friendship this way.”
“Easy for you to say,” she muttered. “They already love you. You’re tall and strong and smart and handsome and you make people have funny happy feelings in their insides. I’m just a stupid ex-demon that everyone wants to kill.”
Giles cleared his throat and tried not to think too strongly about what she’d just said. “You’re not stupid. And no one wants to kill you.”
“Willow does. She would wish vengeance on me so fast my head would spin. Gorflak always did like to do the head-spinning vengeance. One time he made this Belgian nobleman’s head turn sixteen times before it came off.”
“Willow is...understandably upset with you, yes. But I don’t believe she wants you dead.”
Anya snorted. She turned back around to face him. Her eyes were puffy and red, and he forced himself to look there, rather than at the rest of her. “Of course she does. That’s what humans do to people they hate.”
“Not all humans,” Giles said. “Not most, in fact.”
“Is that you being sarcastic again? You know I can’t tell when you’re doing that. It’s so annoying.”
Giles smiled softly. “No, I’m quite sincere. Humans are not so bad as you believe, Anya.”
She shrugged. “I suppose.”
“Come now,” Giles said. “Let’s get all this cleaned up. I promised I would meet Buffy at the Magic Box early this morning, and I suspect most of the others will be there as well. I’d like to get a little more sleep before then, and I think you could use some as well.”
“W-what? No! I-I need to get more bacon so I can bring them some!”
“Anya,” Giles said, and he stepped forward to put a hand under her chin. Her eyes met his. “Clean up, get some sleep, and find some real clothes to wear. If you do, then I’ll show you something very important to human society on the way in to the Magic Box.”
“What?” she asked skeptically.
“The donut shop.”
She furrowed her brow. “What’s a donut?”
Giles grinned at her. “The next best thing to bringing someone bacon, I assure you.”
“So I don’t know what to do,” Buffy said. She, Faith, and Giles were seated at the large table in the Magic Box, and she had just finished explaining to them the situation with the Knights of Byzantium. “They want to destroy the Key, but they don’t actually know what it is. They just think I have it.”
“Hmm,” Faith hummed, then leaned back in her chair and put her boot-clad feet up on the table. Giles immediately pushed them back down. She rolled her eyes at him but didn’t press the issue. “Maybe we just don’t do anything? If they don’t know about Dawn, maybe they won’t ever figure it out.”
“Or perhaps they would attempt to use Buffy’s family against her regardless,” Giles pointed out. “Given how fanatical they seem to be, it’s not a stretch to think they might take hostages and demand you give up the Key.”
“Oh yeah,” Faith said. “Didn’t think of that.”
“Perhaps we could give them a false Key,” Giles suggested. “If they don’t know what it is, how would they know the difference between a real key and a fake one?”
“So what, I just go down to the hardware store and pick up a key?” Buffy asked.
“No, but perhaps we could create something suitably Key-like. An enchanted gem or somesuch.”
“And then what? I just give it to them? What if they figure out it’s a fake?”
“Then we’re no worse off than before,” Giles pointed out.
“I guess s--”
“Anybody want any more donuts?” Anya asked, swooping over to the table with a half-empty box of donuts. She opened the lid and grinned as she offered the contents to the three of them. “Don’t be afraid of the ones that look like they’re bleeding. Their entrails are actually really sweet.”
“Jelly, Anya,” Giles said reprovingly. “It’s jelly, not entrails.”
“Right! It’s really good. Have some!” She shoved the box at Buffy, then at Faith. “Go on!”
“Uh, no thanks,” Buffy said, looking from the box, to Anya, to Giles, and then back to Anya. It was bad enough that Anya kept tagging along with him everywhere he went, but did she have to interrupt their meetings too? “I’m full.”
“Oh,” Anya said. She offered the box to Giles. “Rupert?”
Giles seemed to flush slightly. “Um, I’m afraid not, Anya. Three is my limit.”
Anya looked absolutely crestfallen. “Oh,” she said again. Her eyes lowered. “Okay.”
“I’ll take another,” Faith said, leaning forward. Anya’s eyes brightened and she smiled as she offered the box to Faith. Buffy shot Faith a questioning look as Faith grabbed one of the jelly donuts and took a big bite out of it. Mouth full, she looked to Buffy. “What?” she asked in a thick voice.
“Nothing,” Buffy muttered. Anya closed the lid of the box and stood there grinning expectantly at the three of them.
“Um, Anya,” Giles said, then cleared his throat. “W-would you mind watching the register for me for a time? I need to speak with Buffy and Faith alone.”
“Sure!” Anya chirped. Buffy was still shocked that Giles ever trusted her to work in the shop in the first place. It was only a short time ago that she didn’t even know what money was, and now he was letting this crazy demon girl handle it for him? “If anyone wants more donuts, they’ll be right over here with me, so just ask!”
Once Anya was out of earshot, Buffy leaned in close to Giles. “What’s going on with her, Giles? How long are you going to put up with her?”
“Until I’m certain she can live safely on her own,” Giles said, and Buffy was surprised to find his voice was slightly icy. She leaned back.
“Oookay,” she said, drawing out the word. “Whatever.”
“We were talking about Dawn,” Giles reminded her.
“Right. I guess the fake Key thing could work. But I don’t want to be all eggs-in-one-baskety about it, so, I was kind of thinking that, um, maybe we should teach Dawn how to, um, take care of herself. Fighting wise.”
Giles raised an eyebrow at her. “What do you mean?”
Buffy sighed. “Well look, she’s this Key thing, right?”
“And that means that she’s like, special somehow. Bad things are going to be interested in her. Maybe forever.”
“It’s possible,” Giles said. “We don’t truly know the full nature of her existence, or her potential usages as the Key. With Glorificus dead, she may be completely inert, or she may still have whatever power Glorificus was searching for.”
“So basically that means the baddies could be coming after her forever,” Faith pointed out. “Right?”
“I suppose so,” Giles said. “We have no way of knowing for sure, but it’s a possibility.”
“Okay, well Xander and I were talking last ni--”
“Sure you were,” Faith said with a grin.
Buffy blushed slightly. “A-anyway, um, and he was thinking of some of his enhancement protocols and I was thinking about Dawn and I just kind of put it all together in my head: I think we need to teach Dawn how to take care of herself.”
“How do you mean, precisely?” Giles asked.
“I mean in every way we can,” Buffy said. “I can’t be there for her every second of every day, but I think we can make it so she can take care of herself. Like Giles, you could teach her how to do like martial arts stuff. A-and Willow and Tara could teach her magic. And Xander’s already got a bunch of enhancement stuff he’s working on, and any of the cybernetic stuff is stuff that Faith could help her with.”
“Whoa, wait, you want to give her implants?” Faith asked. Then she blinked and added, “I mean, not implants--” she cupped her breasts for a second. “I mean, you know. Implants. Cyborg stuff.”
Buffy grinned at her slightly, but then shrugged. “I don’t really know. I didn’t mention it to Xander yet, so I don’t know what we can give her, but I-I think he’s just about got the Subvocalization stuff figured out. That would give her access to the computer system all the time, so that would be a start.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Giles asked. “She’s only fourteen, after all.”
“Only a year younger than I was when I became a Slayer,” Buffy said. “And I’m not asking her to kill anything. Just keep herself alive.”
“Still, it’s a lot of responsibility.”
“Yeah,” Buffy admitted. “But what else is there? Hide her away somewhere and hope the bad guys never find her? It’s a big world, but it’s not that big. Besides, she deserves to be able to live her life.”
Giles seemed to think on it for a few moments. Then he took a deep breath and removed his glasses. “I think it’s something we should discuss with your mother before we make any firm decisions. I don’t think I would feel comfortable doing any of this without her knowledge and consent.”
“Well I’m in,” Faith said. “I got all kinds of tricks I can show her. You guys don’t know half of what I can do these days.”
“Anything for you, B.”
Buffy smiled at her, and for a brief moment, wondered just how far “anything” might go.
The bell over the door to the Magic Shop chimed pleasantly, and Buffy glanced up to see a pretty young woman in a pink floral dress. Buffy gave her a quick look up and down. She was very beautiful. Xander would probably think she was really hot. He’d probably love to see her naked, to touch her naked breasts, to slide his hot cock into--
Buffy swallowed and looked away from the pretty young woman. When she looked up, she could see Faith grinning at her. It made her wonder just what Faith’s cybernetic eye was saying about her biometric readings just then.
“Pretty hot,” Faith mouthed at her, then gave her a wink. Buffy blushed, but then gave her a little nod. It wasn’t like she could pretend she disagreed. If any of her friends knew that Buffy swung both ways, it was Faith, who had seen Buffy with not one, but two other girls at the same time.
Then young woman walked purposefully up to the counter where she smiled cheerfully at Anya. “Hi!” she chirped.
“Hi,” Anya responded, just as cheerily. “Have you come to purchase expensive goods from our storehouse?”
“Oh no,” the woman said, smiling brightly all the while. “I’m looking for Warren. Do you know where Warren is, and if you do, could you tell me?”
Anya frowned. “What’s warren?”
“Warren is my boyfriend,” the girl explained happily. “He lost me, and I’m looking for him.”
“Oh,” Anya replied. She seemed puzzled for a moment. “Oh! You should buy this Krenelian crystal. It’s very useful for locator spells.”
“I do not have any money,” the girl announced. “I just need to find Warren. Have you seen him?”
“Well okey-doke, no harm in asking. Thanks!”
Then the young woman turned and walked over to the table. She stood directly in front of Giles and leaned slightly down to look at him. Buffy could see her cleavage quite well as she leaned over. She swallowed again.
“Hello,” the young woman said to Giles. “I’m looking for Warren. Do you know him?”
“Um, n-no, I can’t say that I do,” Giles said. “W-where exactly did you lose contact with him?”
“At home. He went out and must have gotten lost, so I’m looking for him.”
Giles looked to Buffy and then Faith before looking back to the girl. “A-are you certain that he, um, wants to be found?”
“Oh yes,” she said happily. “Warren is my boyfriend. He will be looking for me.” She turned to Buffy. “Have you seen Warren?”
Buffy shook her head in slight bemusement, and so the girl turned to Faith. “Hello. Do you know Warren? Do you know where he is?”
Faith looked at her for a long moment. Then she slowly pushed herself away from the table and got to her feet. She looked the girl in the eye. “You’re not human.”
“No, I’m Warren’s girlfriend,” she said.
Faith’s eyes looked her up and down. “She’s full of electronics. Major EM field. There’s a processor core that’s unlike anything in the database.”
Buffy got to her feet as well. Her hand went to her plasma blade hanging from a clip on her belt, but she didn’t pull it free just yet. She looked to the young woman. “You’re a cyborg?”
“I’m Warren’s girlfriend. My name is April.” She looked to Faith again. “Have you seen Warren? It’s not polite to ignore a question, and girls are supposed to be polite. That’s why Warren loves me.”
“She’s not a cyborg,” Faith said. “She’s a robot.”
“Please tell me where Warren is,” April said, stepping closer to Faith.
“You don’t want to get in my face,” Faith snapped. “Back off.” With that, she shoved April backwards half a step.
Then April surged forward and grabbed Faith by the front of her jacket. Buffy tried to spring forward to stop her, but before she could, April had whirled around and thrown Faith at the door. Faith hit it headfirst and went crashing through, causing wood splinters and shattered glass to fall to the ground.
“Nobody is allowed to touch me but Warren,” April said in that same cheerful tone. Then she turned around and went to walk out the now-destroyed front door.
She was met with a powerful punch to the face. April reeled backwards and then toppled back to the linoleum floor as Faith stalked back into the shop. Bits of glass had cut slashes across her face, and she was bleeding both her real blood and her bio-technic analog. With a snarl, she reached down and hauled April up to her feet by the neck.
April slammed her hands down on Faith’s arms, forcing Faith to let go. Then she kicked out directly at Faith’s chest, sending her sailing back out into the street. April stalked after her a moment later, announcing, “You know where Warren is! You won’t keep me from him! He loves me a--ERROR. SYSTEM DAMAGE.”
It took Buffy half a second to register what had happened. Faith was standing in the doorway barely two inches away from April, who was standing with her arms stiffly at her side and her back straight. Jutting out from her back was eight inches of Faith’s chain-blade, whirring and growling like an angry dog as it sent sparks and wires flying. April shook and spasmed as Faith yanked the blade out of her abdomen. She remained there for a moment, a visible hole in her abdomen revealing a mess of electronics, and then she dropped down to her knees.
“SYSTEM DAMAGE. REPAIRS REQUIRED. REPAIRS RE...QUI...RED...”
Her voice slowed down until it was a low-pitched nothingness. Faith, kicked her over so she sprawled out onto the floor, unmoving and unblinking.
“Was that really necessary?” Giles asked in exasperation.
“She threw me through a door!” Faith exclaimed.
“Yes, my door! You might have at least gone outside before accosting her. Have you any idea what that is going to cost me?”
“She got in my face! I’m not gonna let some roboskank get all up on me.”
“Uh, guys?” Buffy said as she looked down at the girl who was neither alive nor dead. “Blame game later? Focus on crazy robot girl first?”
“Yes, of course. I-I suppose we should bring her to Xander. Perhaps he’ll have some idea of who could have created something like this.”
“I’ll do the cleanup,” Faith said, and pointed her arm out at the body of the robot girl.
“Wait!” Buffy exclaimed just as she realized what Faith was about to do. “Don’t!”
Faith frowned at her. “What? I was just gonna MCD her.”
“I know. Don’t. It’s a major badness to MCD a robot. They get explody.”
“What? I don’t--” Faith began, but then she got a slightly far-off look. “Damn. You’re right. That mean we have to carry her? That’s gonna look weird, even in Sunnydale.”
“I have some shipping crates in the back,” Giles said. “We’ll have to load her into one of those and bring that to Xander’s. I’m going to have to remain here and see if I can find someone to repair my door, but let me know straight away if you find any information about this. Let’s recall that the last robot we encountered was a serial killer. This girl might be somehow related to Ted. It’s imperative that we find out who created her and for what purpose as soon as possible.”
Continued in Installment 18 only it's not finished yet, so check back later.