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  • Aspects

    I wasn't sure I'd ever get this finished. And as it is, it's probably just as well that I didn't get to submit it to the Written. It's certainly not my usual style of work--it's mostly funny (though not as much as the fic went on) and it contains a bit of--gulp--sex.

    Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to me. Joss Whedon is their owner...though I don't think he'd be appalled at what I've done. For once.

    Characters/Pairing: Ensemble; contains Tara/Willow, Xander/Anya, and Buffy/Riley relationships and small snippets of a sexual nature for Xander/Anya, Buffy/Spike, and Giles/Joyce. In a manner of speaking.

    Rating: PG-13 (Bits of sex...and some very odd results thereof.)

    Setting: the summer following Buffy S4

    Summary: Anya has a run-in with a shapeshifting "boy demon", so to speak Wackiness ensues.

    When Xander slipped quietly into bed at midnight and started nibbling at her ear, Anya almost shoved him right back out. Just because she was enjoying her newfound emotional attachments and the way their bodies interlocked didn't mean she wanted to be woken up in the middle of the night just for that. But then their lips met, and Xander's were warm and pliable, and made hers feel as if they were on fire, and she decided she'd try out this forgiveness thing he was always talking about. Especially if it meant sex.

    "I thought you weren't going to be back from patrolling till morning," she mumbled as he somehow undid the clasps of her bra one-handed. His fingers were tracing little lines of fire--the good kind, not the hellish-vengeancy kind, which wouldn't have been nice at all--across her chest, and she had to clamp her teeth shut to avoid finishing with a little gasp. No point in rewarding him too much, or he'd be waking her up like this every night.

    "Finished early," he said between kisses. "The demons that...we heard were in town...musta closed up shop," he added, working his way down her neck and finishing off with a tiny, teasing bite. "Scared 'em off." Hmph. Well, just as well she'd been too tired to join in this time. She'd have been out wandering the town for nothing. Xander usually seemed to want a little reciprocation at this point, but surprisingly he seemed to have forgotten--he seemed to be focusing all his attention on massaging her breasts. Not that she was going to complain. Anya decided that, if he was this dedicated now, a little encouragement couldn't possibly hurt, and began a carefully-planned series of kisses starting at his jawline, which was surprisingly unprickly given the hour.

    After that, the conversation went south. So did Xander, though, and Anya decided pillow talk could wait. Preferably until morning. Late morning.
    ********
    Sometime around 4 a.m., Anya woke up to the sounds of a door closing and feet tapping quietly on the stairs. She frowned, stretched out an arm towards the other side of the bed, and found it empty. Just like a man, she thought. No time for talk, even though they'd both managed to fall asleep afterwards and it was four hours later.

    Then Xander staggered over and collapsed into bed with his sweaty clothes half-on, moaning with exhaustion and leaving her utterly confused. "Ugh," he muttered. "The demons were bad enough, but then we stumbled over a nest of vampires in the abandoned buildings out on Olive Street. I thought I was gonna pass out before I made it home."

    "Sweetie," Anya grouched, "you must have had a bad dream. You came home hours ago, we had wonderful mind-blowing sex, and then we both fell asleep right here. You know how you get the time confused when you patrol late? It's morning now. More or less, anyway."

    Xander groaned softly. "Believe me, Ahn. I'm perfectly aware that it's morning. I just wish it wasn't." Anya looked around nervously and was relieved not to find any vengeance demons lurking in the corners or under the bed. Also, the alarm clock still showed the same time. When it came to wishes, Xander was alarmingly careless. "Are you sure you weren't the one dreaming? You don't usually call post-patrol sex 'mind-blowing'. I tend to be worn out, remember?"

    "Oh, you bet I remember." Xander's stamina wasn't all that bad in general, but after a long fight there were times when he hardly seemed interested at all. He was only human, she supposed, and didn't really belong out there running around with a Slayer risking getting killed. That made two fights last night if they were real, come to think of it. She could have lost him, and she'd been in here asleep! Not to mention, one way or another he clearly didn't remember a thing. "C'mere, you stupid man you," Anya growled, and finished undoing the buttons of his shirt.

    But when she tried to kiss him, Xander pushed her away. "Aaanya. There's a time for physical affection, and there's a time for sleep, okay? This is a sleep time. We've been over this."

    Anya rolled her eyes at him. He'd woken her up at midnight, and he had the nerve to complain now? "Xander, I can see how exhausted you are. All you have to do is lie right there and let me replace the memories that you've obviously lost somehow." She ran her fingers through his hair, half searching for bruises but half trying to get him in the mood as well. "Are you really going to complain if just one time I do all the work?"

    Frowning, he took a moment longer than she would have liked to respond. "Okay, okay...no complaints here. Just watch the bruise on my right thigh. It's a doozy; I got clubbed by some red-headed vampire chick."

    It certainly was, Anya saw as she removed his pants. "What'd she hit you with, a telephone pole? Never mind, don't answer that. Just relax." She trailed her hair lightly over his chest; he was ticklish, and usually seemed to enjoy that. This time was no exception; Xander decided not to be totally passive and reached out to remove her panties, which was fine with Anya. She didn't actually want to do all the work.

    "Whoa!" Anya was still trying to figure out what she had done to make him shout that way when Xander kicked her off the bed. "Get back! Get away from me!" He rolled to one side and grabbed hold of the stake they kept on the night-table. "I know you're not a vampire, but you are sure as hell not Anya. Who are you, where is the real Anya, and what are you doing in my bed?" Xander hobbled out of bed on the other side and limped around it towards her, waving the stake in a not-actually-very-menacing way.

    Anya stared at him, totally flabbergasted. "What? Xander, it's me. Of course I'm Anya. Did I do something wrong or did you hit your head harder than I thought? Wait...you're not under some demonic spell, are you?" Nervously, she inched closer to the baseball bat she preferred to keep near the stairs. A stake required getting much too close. "Because I know all about demonic spells, and we can get it fixed, I promise."

    "Something needs fixing, all right!" Xander gestured with the stake and moved to cut her off from the baseball bat, though his limp was making him far too slow to succeed. "If you're Anya, explain that!" he yelped, and pointed the stake at her groin.

    "What...?" Anya started to ask, then decided she might as well humor him. She looked down, and...very abruptly brought her hands down in an attempt to cover herself. Or not herself. "Not mine! Xander Harris, if you did..." Beat. "Except you obviously didn't." Searching the room, she grabbed up a pair of baggy sweat pants and started hauling them on. "Actually I suppose this could be sort of interesting, on a temporary basis..."

    Xander gave her an oh-no-you-don't glare...then sighed and sat down on the bed. "Well, if you're not the real Anya you're doing a much better job of sounding like her than looking like her." Shaking his head nervously, he added, "I guess we need to make some phone calls. Because you are not keeping that thing."
    ********
    It was a rather bedraggled gang of Scoobies who arrived on Giles' doorstep in the wee hours of the morning. Even the Watcher himself--normally impeccably dressed--came down from the loft suffering from bedhead and wearing a robe. Willow kept scrubbing grit from her eyes, and Buffy, who normally spent the last two or three hours of the night getting a little sleep, sat down and put her head on the kitchen table the moment she was inside.

    "I trust the apocalypse is at hand?" Giles muttered, attempting to start a pot of coffee. "If not, someone may begin to wish it were."

    Anya--not totally awake herself--gave him a brief shocked look. "I wouldn't even have thought of waking everyone up for this. I told Xander it could wait for sunrise, but he got upset and started throwing a tantrum." Ignoring Xander's scowl, she went on, "I, um...well, when Xander came home last night twice...oh, the hell with it." She grabbed Xander by the collar and pulled him in close for a rather lengthy kiss, ignoring a chorus of "ahems" and irritated muttering. "I woke up with something that didn't belong to me, and Xander is very annoyed. And I don't really want to keep it long-term either." Anya stood up, backed away from the table, and turned sideways. "See anything out of place here?"

    Xander buried his face in his hands, mumbling something like "Better than dropping her pants." Tara went crimson and began to stammer nervously. But to Anya's considerable displeasure, Willow, Buffy, and even Giles (after a brief bout of choking) began to snicker.

    "Anya," Willow began between giggles, "have you been trying out spells to enhance your love life? Because, and not the best person to ask, but I think Buffy will back me up on this...this look is very not you." Buffy seemed to agree, bursting into gales of unrestrained laughter.

    "I think there might be a demon involved," Xander mumbled, still hiding his face. "Anya said I came home early last night, and you know we were out till just a half-hour ago."

    "It looked like Xander," Anya insisted. "With all his parts in proper order. And he was very enthusiastic too. I went back to sleep afterwards, and then when I woke up he was coming downstairs again."

    "Th-that c-could be a d-demon," Tara admitted, still beet-faced. "Um...I c-can think of a few."

    "You mean there really is a demon that does that?" Buffy sounded as though she might break out laughing again at any moment.

    Giles got to his feet, having managed to suppress his laughter first. "It, um, it actually sounds as though it might be a form of incubus. Let me retrieve my copy of the LaTreille Codex." Xander groaned as Giles' laughter resumed, albeit more quietly, as he headed off towards a bookcase.

    "An incubus?" Buffy wondered. "You mentioned those a few years back, but I don't remember ever meeting...what does it incubate?" This time Tara joined in the laughter, covering her mouth with a hand.

    "Buffy, an incubus is like the male version of a succubus," Willow managed. "It's a...a sex demon."

    Giles returned carrying a large, dusty book. "Properly speaking, it's a very broad sort of category. Any kind of demon that seduces humans can be considered an incubus or succubus--or rarely, in the case of shapeshifters, both. The terms are general enough to include the she-mantis that captured Xander--you recall?--though of course that would be the female variety."

    Xander finally looked up. "So what's it get out of doing this? I mean, doesn't this sort of reduce the available population? And while Anya with a....um, this whole situation is extremely freaky, it's not quite murder and mayhem."

    "Kinda self-defeating if it's trying to spread its demon spawn," added Willow, causing Anya to turn especially pale.

    "Those are the usual motives of incubi and succubi," Giles admitted, "but I seem to recall...ah, yes. Here it is. It's not an intentional transformation. The Vieque demons from the Tien Shan and Himalayan mountain ranges actually feed on human sexual energies. They're native to another dimension where the balance is different, but here on Earth they're imbalanced toward yang, or male, energy and need to absorb yin and radiate yang to survive. What happened to Anya is just a side effect."

    Tara leaned over to peer at the entry. "It says they're relatively non-violent and, ah...c-consensual as incubi go. If you allow for the deception, anyway. They can change form to look like whatever male lover a woman's interested in, because they're supposed to be pretty grotesque in their natural shape."

    "That gets us off the hook," Willow put in uncertainly, taking Tara's arm. Tara turned towards her with a small frown, but said nothing.

    "True enough, I suppose," Giles added, "but surely most of the women in town will be vulnerable. Including you, Buffy, so be on your guard. I'm not certain how it arrived here, but it will need to feed again before long."

    Buffy grumbled and looked up. "Can I tell it I have a headache?"

    "It woke me up at midnight," Anya reminded her. "I think maybe it's not easy to say no to?"

    "Hey, um, we do have one other problem to take care of," Xander insisted. "Remember?"

    "Do the demons have an opposite version?" Willow asked. "I mean, if they do, then that should be a simple fix."

    Anya rolled her eyes. "I'm not that eager to test this thing out, Willow."

    "There is," Giles allowed, "but apparently the two forms of demon repel each other mystically. The Tiera can't come within about twenty miles of a Vieque, and usually stay further away even than that."

    "No wonder they go after humans," Buffy chuckled. "That must be hell, all right."

    "They're not actually from the same dimension," Giles started.

    Xander interrupted him. "Right, well, there has to be some kind of treatment, though. An ancient herbal formula, or a spell, or something. I'm not leaving Anya like this any longer than absolutely necessary."

    "You'd think it'd be Anya who was eager," Buffy laughed. "Nervous much, Xander?"

    Anya crossed her arms and looked down. "I was okay with it in the short term until Xander pointed out that there might be a time limit. I mean, if not for that--some of my demon friends look a lot stranger, and it could be...interesting...to experiment a little. You know?"

    "Damn," Giles muttered, drawing looks. "The footnotes about the cure direct me to the Chronicles of Qin Shi, which as far as I know have never been translated from the Mandarin. I'm afraid my Mandarin is rather sketchy at best. It could take some time for me to decipher, even if I can locate a copy on short notice."

    "I'll check Amazon," Willow volunteered. "Never know what you can find for a bargain online."

    "Yes, well," Giles sighed. "It might be best to get a little more sleep first."

    "Seconded," Buffy piped up.

    Xander groaned.
    ********
    "You looked a little skeptical back there," Willow commented as she opened her browser for a quick search. Since Tara was spending the summer in the dorms, Willow had decided to stay there with her.

    Tara rolled over, as if hiding her face in a pillow, but she spoke clearly enough. "Will...when Oz came back..."

    "I chose you," Willow insisted.

    "You did. But you had to think about it."

    "Tara, sweetie, gay now, okay?" Willow frowned and stared at the screen. Her eyes were still sort of gummy from getting up so early.

    "It's not always that simple, Will. Just because you're attracted to me doesn't necessarily mean you're not interested in guys too. You were with Oz for a couple of years, and it sounds like you were p-pretty darn happy with him."

    Willow turned to frown at her sleepy girfriend. "Tara, you're not feeling threatened, are you? Because I'm not planning to leave you, you know. I mean, maybe, maybe if somehow something did happen to us I guess I might date another guy, but...I'm not leaving you."

    Tara shook her head. "It's not that, Willow, I'm just saying...you may not be immune to this thing just because it can't take a female form. If it shows up as Oz, or..." She cut herself off there.

    Willow got up and sat down on the bed next to her. "If it shows up as Oz I'll tell it what I told the real Oz. I'm with you now."
    ********
    Buffy woke up to the sting of sunlight in her eyes. She rolled over and slapped at the alarm, which was not going off, but had been supposed to a couple of hours previously. Musta slept through it. Talk about your rough nights. She rolled slowly out of bed, back stiff but not actually sore; Slayer healing got the bruises but didn't always seem to notice what sleeping on a hard mattress could do to a girl.

    She contemplated the shower briefly, then decided to slip on a robe and head downstairs to see if her mom had left any coffee. If not, a soda would be okay...maybe a little sweet for this early in the morning, but she needed the pick-me-up. Shower could come afterwards.

    "I'm sure Buffy is perfectly all right," came Giles' voice from somewhere downstairs. "There was a bit of an incident last night, but it had nothing to do with her, really." Buffy squinted her way through a frown. Surely he wasn't up this early too? If she was still groggy, he ought to be worse.

    "Oh, Giles," her mother laughed, her tone completely at odds with the Watcher's words. "I can't believe she told you what I was thinking. I mean, about the stevedore...mmm."

    "It was all to do with Anya, Ms. Summers," Giles stated a bit blandly. Huh? Wha? Something about this conversation wasn't holding together properly. "Merely business as usual on the Hellmouth, and nothing particularly serious."

    Buffy swung around the doorframe and into the living room. Giles had one arm around her mother's neck, one hand on her behind, and she was purring about it. Leaning into him, Joyce barely seemed aware that her daughter had entered the room. "Mom! Giles! Get--! What the hell--! No, this is not happening!" She grabbed for the nearest thing at hand--a fluffy chair pillow--and lobbed it in their direction. It was in no way fair for them to be doing this to her! Okay, slightly childish response, but they could at least have gotten a room!

    Giles shot her a startled look--apparently he'd set his glasses aside somewhere--and snatched the pillow out of the air.

    "Buffy!" Joyce, finally seeming to notice her daughter's entrance, clutched her bathrobe tightly around her--and it was about time, Buffy thought grouchily--and glared. "Mr. Giles and I were just...we were..." She looked over at Giles again and promptly snuggled herself tighter against him as if she had lost her train of thought.

    A stream of garbled sounds emerged from the Watcher's mouth; she recognized the tone of his voice, but nothing else. He studied Buffy through wide eyes, glanced at Joyce, and then shoved the latter roughly away, toppling her sideways onto the couch, before bolting out the door.

    Okay...this is not Giles! "Stay put," Buffy ordered her mother, and darted after whatever it was wearing Giles' body, adrenaline burning off her brain's morning fog almost at once. It's the incubator demon...and it was after my mother! Yuck...and double yuck!! She caught a glimpse of the demon hurtling around the side of the house, moving with the sort of headlong speed she associated with vampires.

    Coming around the house herself, though, she couldn't see the creature anywhere. A few morning joggers were passing by...it could be any of them, she realized. Why couldn't I have ever gotten this demon-sensing thing down? She spun in place, searching frantically, and at once collided with.... "Spike!"

    "Slayer!" The bleached vampire jumped nearly out of his duster. "What's a bloke got to do to stay away from you? Collidin' with people on the bloody sidewalk!"

    "How many times do I have to tell you, Spike? You're not a 'people'." She shoved him roughly aside. "We've got a demon on the loose. Feel like punching something?"

    "I could do with a little action." Spike pulled a cigarette from a packet in his duster. "Demon, you say? At this time o' year? Come out of the reject bin, eh?"

    "Yes, well, it was just manhandling my mother," Buffy muttered as he lit up. "I don't care what it thinks it's doing, I want it gone."

    "Manhandling?" Spike's brow furrowed into a thoughtful frown. "Oh. Like that. Can't say as I blame the fellow. Your mum's a right attractive sort." He inhaled deeply, then puffed out a streamer of smoke. "Under other circumstances...."

    "Eugh. You're a pig, Spike." And while she was arguing with him, the demon was getting further and further away. "Forget helping out. Just get out of my yard." She stared around anxiously, looking for any kind of sign or trail.

    Spike didn't move. How dare he stand there looking that way when she needed help? "Your mother, now...maybe I should go in, have some coffee. Spend some time catching up." Buffy took a moment to glare at him, then decided if the demon was gone, it was worth her time to punch him in the jaw. He took the blow hard, falling backwards a step. "Getting worked up, are we? If you're looking for a fight, luv, might want to pick someone who can hit back."

    "I'll take what I can get," she growled, and drove her other fist into his stomach. He grunted and stepped back, propping himself against a tree with a well-muscled arm. Funny that she was breathing so hard. She shouldn't be anywhere near winded yet. She took her irritation out on Spike with a kick to his side. "What are you hanging around here for, anyway? Go somewhere you're actually wanted."

    "Sure I'm not wanted here, luv?" He caught her third punch. "S'pose I could be mistaken 'bout the color you got in your cheeks all of a sudden." Her hand tingled under his rough fingers.

    "Ew. I wouldn't think of..." But why was she breathing like this? And he wasn't wrong...her cheeks felt like they were on fire, and....Spike leaned forward and kissed her on the mouth, and it was delicious and right and...

    What was he doing out here in broad daylight, and how the hell had she missed the obvious so completely?

    Pulling away with an effort, she brought her knee up into his groin. "Get the hell away from me!" The demon pretending to be Spike doubled over, moaning pitifully. But when she kicked at its head, it grabbed her foot and shoved to one side, toppling her off balance. She scrambled to her feet as it darted away again. No surprise on the vulnerable spot...but it recovers too damn fast. Buffy hurried after it despite a stitch forming in her left side, but a block later it scurried between some cars on the slowly-filling street and vanished.

    It could be anyone. Well...any guy. She went back to searching with her eyes up and down the street, but there were more than enough ordinary-seeming men around that, given its ability to change shape, there was just no spotting it again.

    So why'd it become Spike?
    ********
    "I want to go out," Anya complained. "I don't want to eat from your hot plate again. Why can't we go eat together?"

    "I'd really rather not, Anya." Xander raised a hand to gesture at the television. "The, um...David's about to take 'Fruits and Veggies' for $1000. It's the end of the category. I thought you liked game shows."

    "Xander. This is a rerun." Anya shifted on the couch to face him, pulling up her left leg in the process so that her knee rested on his right leg. "Besides, I don't find these programs exciting any more. None of that money is mine." Instead of enjoying the contact as he usually did, Xander moved away across the couch cushions.

    "We could eat at your apartment," he suggested before she could object. "We never go to your apartment."

    "My apartment's too small. It's even worse than your parents' basement." When she'd been a vengeance demon she'd been able to conjure small items like money in order to maintain cover identities--like "Anya Christina Emmanuela Jenkins"--but becoming human had put an end to that, and ever since she'd been living in a crummy little place across town. "Besides, I don't know how to make moo shoo chicken."

    "I, uh...I really can't afford moo shoo chicken right now, Anya."

    She tried to put an arm around his shoulder and he pulled away from her again. "Xander, we eat there once a week. You're ashamed to be seen with me, aren't you?"

    "I...okay, maybe a little." Xander sighed. "It just looks sort of peculiar, you know?"

    "Xander! It's not that obvious. I feel a little self-conscious, but the baggy pants and tight underwear make it so no one can see. Or a skirt would probably do it, if it were properly fluffy" She leaned closer, and this time he didn't move away. On the other hand, he was getting close to the end of the couch.

    He shifted uncomfortably, though. "Ahn...this morning, when we kissed...it was kinda obvious. I...I'm glad that I turn you on, but...I don't exactly want to turn you on right now either."

    "But..."

    "I know, Anya...you said you want to 'experiment'." He tried to move away again, almost climbing onto the couch arm. "I'm not comfortable with that. Doesn't this bother you?"

    Agitated, she stood up. "Of course it bothers me!" She turned away and began walking around the couch. "It bothers me that you're treating me like someone else. We're in a relationship, Xander, and I've been enjoying it too much to get into the vengeance phase yet." She heard Xander jump, and added, "It also bothers me that I feel like a man from the waist down. I don't like it, Xander, and I want it over with, but I don't want to stay away from you until it goes away."

    Xander came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. "Ahn...you're not a man. Trust me on this. Not even from the waist down."

    "I feel like one." She glanced over her shoulder at him. "Xander, I spent a thousand years taking vengeance on men. What if someone finds out? I'm sure someone's taken over my old job."

    "Not making any wishes against you, Anya. I'm a little freaked, but I still care about you."

    Anya reached up and removed one of his hands, guiding it down to her behind. Immediately Xander pulled away. She gave an exasperated sigh. "I thought I wasn't a man from the waist down."

    "Ahn...."

    "No. I'm going home, Xander. Enjoy your basement." Anya stalked away up the stairs.
    ********
    "It kissed you?" Riley was aghast.

    Buffy stammered for a moment, then nodded. "That's all it did. Besides, I thought it was...was Angel. I didn't know it was a demon with contagious penis, until I realized we were standing in the morning sunshine."

    "You thought it was--" Riley and Giles started together; they glanced at each other, and Giles closed his mouth. "Angel?"

    "I don't know where it got that from," Buffy protested. "Maybe it saw that picture of Angel in the living room. It's not like I just forgot he existed."

    "They're telepathic," Tara put in unhelpfully. "That's probably why the conversation was so confusing. It made itself sound like it was saying things you'd expect Giles to say, but it couldn't change what your mother was saying."

    "Buffy," Giles said reprovingly, "surely you realize kissing Angel would be a bad idea even if you hadn't found a healthier relationship."

    Normally she'd have rolled her eyes, but she was just getting in deeper, wasn't she? Tangled webs and practice and something like that. "Well, it didn't go any further! I gave it a good kneeing as soon as I realized it wasn't him, and it ran off! Now can we please figure out how to kill it before it turns me or my mother or some other poor woman into a...a freak, like it...." Buffy trailed off. Anya looked as if she was about to burst into tears, which really didn't suit her at all. She was definitely putting her foot in her mouth a lot today.

    "I'm not sure it really warrants slaying," Willow said quietly, speeding up as she went on. "It's just trying to survive, and I know it's causing trouble doing it but if we send it home it should be okay there, we just need the banishing ritual and I think I've got it here."

    "What about me?" Anya asked plaintively. Where was Xander today, anyway? "And if it's eaten again by now, no pun intended, what about the rest of its victims? I want some vengeance here, and I want fixed! Uh, no pun intended there either." Buffy could see Giles trying not to groan.

    Willow winced slightly. "There used to be this herbal cure from Tibet, but either the plant's extinct or there's no way to get it out of China. The books aren't really clear, just that nobody's seen any in a long time."

    "Anya," Tara said, putting a hand softly on Anya's arm, "that's not as serious as it sounds. The tea would get rid of it quickly, but from what we've been reading, it should fade on its own as the energies return to their natural state. The more you're around men, the better--it'll sort of drain away."

    "I think we need to slay this thing as soon as possible," Riley said a little too loudly. Dammit, she'd have been better off just saying Spike...that'd have been too ridiculous to take seriously.
    ********
    The longer this went on, the more freaked out Anya got, and it was pretty obvious why. The meeting was starting to break up, so Tara gave Anya a gentle tug on the shoulder, then made her way over toward Giles' bookshelf. "I didn't realize he was this upset," she said as Anya slumped against the wall.

    "We had a fight. I mean, a small fight. An argument. And I left and went to eat Chinese food. Do you think he's out looking for other vengeance demons? Or at them?"

    "Anya, no. You didn't do anything to him, and I'm sure Xander realizes that even if you did, this is hurting you more than enough."

    "I kept thinking everyone at the restaurant was staring at me," Anya said with a faint sniffle. "I only ever go there with him, and maybe...but I just...."

    "Believe me," Tara said quietly, "I get that more than you realize. Even in California. But you're doing a good job o-of k-keeping it covered. I don't think anyone would've noticed."

    "I just want this done with. I thought at first maybe it could at least be a little fun, but it's not, and it's uncomfortable, and I...Buffy said...I do feel like a freak."

    Tara shook her head, firmly, trying to mimic Willow's resolve face. She really needed one of her own. "You are not a freak, Anya. Buffy could've said that better, but I'm sure she meant it as being worried about you."

    "He doesn't want to be around me," Anya muttered. "Will that make things worse?"

    "It won't help," Tara said honestly, "but it won't hurt that much. I was sort of h-hoping, though...I m-mean, if you and Xander were to, um....."

    "Have sex?"

    "Yes, that. Um, that'd transfer the energy all at once, and it shouldn't d-do Xander any harm, since he's already a guy."

    "He won't even let me touch his bottom," Anya said, very loudly. "I just said he doesn't want to be around me. Usually we'd've had sex at least twice in this amount of time, but no, suddenly not now."

    "Anya, he's p-probably as uncomfortable with this as you are, and I b-bet it hasn't occurred to him that...that would help."

    "Isn't he supposed to be thinking about this all the time? He's a man! He's probably chatting up some other girl right this instant, and, and...I need a vengeance spell! Do you know any vengeance spells?"

    Tara kept her expression very neutral. She did know a few, though she'd never used them, only read about them. "You really miss him, don't you?"

    "Maybe I should cheat on him first, you know, just to show him, only...only...." Anya hesitated an unusually long time--a couple of seconds. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to get involved with men when you're taking vengeance on them? I had a couple of demon boyfriends, and I even tried having sex a few times with girls over the course of a thousand years, but it really wasn't the same...."

    Very cautiously, Tara cut in. "I-I don't think that'd be wise, Anya. I r-really think he'd be hurt, and he's just upset right now. And besides, if it w-were a girl, you'd still pass on the energy, and she'd have the same p-problem you do."

    "Oh," said Anya, looking crestfallen. "I wouldn't want that." Another long pause. "Unless...."

    "Anya," Tara said as firmly as she could manage--and very softly. "Willow and I have...t-t-toys...for that."

    "Oh." This time Anya seemed mildly surprised.

    "It's m-much easier," Tara said under her breath, "when we d-don't have to t-talk about it."
    ********
    "This is a really bad idea," Riley said.

    Buffy groaned. "It's the only idea," she pointed out. "It's not interested in men. And neither is Tara, but it doesn't know that."

    "I just don't like leaving her to it."

    "Okay, one, we're not leaving her. And two, Tara's capable of taking care of herself, at least long enough to deal with this thing. She's proven it."

    "You think I'm saying this just because she's a girl, don't you?" Buffy didn't answer that, so he pressed on. "You keep saying, it doesn't take no for an answer. So...what if it doesn't?"

    That got through to her; Buffy turned toward him, frowning. "She told us it's not violent. It'll lie, but it won't use force. She wouldn't have agreed if she weren't telling the truth, not that she had any reason not to."

    "She doesn't have to lie, Buffy, she just has to be wrong."

    Buffy started to say something...then closed her mouth, shook her head, and started over. "That's why we're here, Riley, but...Tara's a grownup too. She has the right to take her own risks. She volunteered, and as long as we don't run out on her, I don't think there's anything wrong here."

    "Okay. That's fair, and I didn't mean.... I'm just concerned for her, that's all."

    "Well, good." Buffy gave him a light jab in the ribs. "Me too."
    ********
    It'd been more of a matter of finding it than luring it. In the end, the locator spell, combined with the cloaking on Buffy, Anya, and Willow, was more magic than Tara usually cared to use--and there'd be the banishing spell in a bit, too--but the incubus' habits didn't leave them many other options. Waiting longer meant more "feedings", and it seemed to realize it didn't handle other kinds of human interaction well.

    There was a rustling sound in the trees across the park, but nothing emerged. Maybe it was trying to get some kind of handle on how to approach her. As far as it could tell, she was the only woman in the immediate area--but if it read her emotions and decided it couldn't interest her, it might just wander away.

    Finally, Mr. Giles emerged from the shrubbery. Mr. Giles? He was over by the swings. So...

    "No one knows what it's like," the demon sang in Mr. Giles' voice, "to be the baaad man..."

    Tara couldn't help beginning to giggle. That was the last time she'd been attracted, however slightly, and, she admitted, her face did feel just a little flushed. Only the tiniest bit, though. The incubus' voice cracked as it tried to go on with its serenade.

    "Hey," she called, "it was a nice try. But you can see it's not working." Indeed, the demon's shape seemed to be wavering now, too. It flickered through several half-formed shapes, then seemed to give up. If Anya could just see.... The creature settled into a short, dumpy form with floppy ears and a piggish snout. She tried not to snicker out loud. Hee! That was "hideous", all right. It growled something annoyed and began to turn away toward the bushes.

    Time for the banishing spell. She waved her hands in the air to get Willow's attention; it was leaving faster than they'd hoped.

    Willow stepped out of the bushes a couple of feet behind her, chanting. To Tara's alarm, the demon promptly looked up, then began to shift forms. "Willow!" the incubus shouted. "Wait a sec! I'm harmless." "Xander" began to run across the grass towards them.

    Now almost beside her, Willow stopped chanting, but continued to move forward. Tara reached out and seized her hand. The trouble was, she couldn't speak directly to Will without breaking her own part of the recitation. If they both left the spell, at best they'd have to start from the beginning. Mortified, she realized that Willow was breathing hard and blushing pink.

    Well, there was more than one way to get a girl's attention. Tara pulled harder on Willow's wrist, reeling her in, and scrunched down a little so that her mouth was level with Willow's ear. She went on chanting, but now in a softer, breathy voice. Nothing about Willow's reactions seemed to change...but then Willow picked up her end of the spell again. She turned her head slightly and gave Tara an embarrassed wink.

    "C'mon, Willow. I'm sorry it took me so long to notice. But we have something special, you know that. We always have."

    Willow made a rigid, pained face and kept chanting. She knew it wasn't actually Xander--how could she not, at this point?--but plainly the demon was doing something to her emotions, making her feel as if it were.

    "Will, please don't do this! I love you!"

    Tara pressed herself up against Willow's right side. It'd have been better to actually speak to her, except there was just no way she could rely on Will continuing the spell, and then...

    Suddenly "Xander" lunged forward and grabbed Tara by the arm. "Get away from her! She loves me, and you're--"

    Buffy dove from a cluster of trees a couple of yards away and was on top of the demon in an instant, breaking its grip and knocking it to the ground. "Hasn't anyone ever told you," she asked, punching it in the face, "it's not polite to get rough on the first date?" Tara would have added, "or ever", in her place, but somehow Buffy's relationships always seemed to involve violence, one way or another.

    "Bloody hell, Slayer! I didn't mean her any harm!" Okay, what? Tara knew--everyone knew Buffy couldn't stand to be around Spike. Angel or Riley would've made more sense. But when "Spike" stopped talking and planted a kiss on her lips, Buffy kissed back. Enthusiastically. There was something fascinating about it. Like a train wreck or something.

    Riley darted out of some bushes and tried to grab Buffy from behind. Tara didn't blame him a bit, although she could have predicted that Buffy would shake him off easily. Though if Buffy were still trying to make out with the incubus when it was sucked back into its home dimension...that wouldn't be of the good at all. And they were coming to the end of the incantation.

    Tara squeezed Willow's hand, gave her a significant warning glance, and stopped chanting. There was no way she was going to be able to pry Buffy loose--especially not now that she was gripping "Spike's" butt that way--but.... "Buffy!" she shouted. "Help!"

    Buffy's head shot up--she looked so confused Tara almost started to giggle--and she pulled away from the demon with an obvious effort, trying to figure out what kind of danger Tara was in. Almost at that moment Willow finished reciting the spell. There was a flare of brilliant blue light--Buffy jerked her hand away from the demon just in time--and the creature vanished with an annoyed howl. Tara didn't feel sorry for it; it was back where it belonged, and though it had only been trying to survive it still hadn't been very well-behaved during its stay.

    Buffy squeezed her eyes shut, shook her head, and looked around with a sheepish expression that really didn't seem to suit her at all. Riley was picking himself up, looking chagrined. Poor guy; he hadn't stood a chance. Very gingerly, Buffy adjusted her shirt, which looked as if something underneath it might've gotten unfastened somehow. "Well," she said weakly, "it's not the first time I've been glad you interrupted me."

    "You'd have been sucked into its dimension," Willow said, offering a little too much information. "I don't think you'd have liked having to borrow male energy to survive." Buffy was still sort of red in the face, but at that statement she paled a little. "Though I suppose it might have been like being turned on all the--" Tara gave Willow a light poke in the ribs. Every once in a while there could be such a thing as too much Willow-babble.

    The other Scoobies were out of hiding by now--they hadn't needed to appear until the very end, and then they'd been a little too late. Bad planning, Tara supposed. But it had worked out. Anya was scowling at Xander even though he hadn't done anything. Giles just looked relieved and a little amused.

    "But Spike?" Riley was asking. "Why Spike? I thought you hated Spike." Buffy hemmed and hawed, evidently still trying to get a handle on it herself.

    Willow came to her rescue. "Just because she doesn't like him doesn't mean Spike's...unattractive. Besides, by that time she was on top of him--which, by the way, thanks, Buffy, but tackling a sex demon, not the best move. It was probably the physical contact." Riley nodded, looking mostly convinced, though Buffy still seemed a little confused and upset.

    Tara might've gone over to add something, but Anya was stalking away looking upset, and Xander was wandering unhappily in the other direction. She followed him. This had gone too far, and it was obvious someone was going to have to address the other side of the issue. "Xander," she called softly. Hopefully Anya would have the sense to realize she wasn't hitting on him.

    "Hey, Tara." Xander kicked at a pebble. "Big fight, I do nothing, everything's over. Except maybe making sure no one else got...adjusted."

    "Because they could be stuck like Anya for months," Tara added, as calmly as she could with her insides churning, "if no one helps them out. That'd be a shame. I don't think their...relationships would survive that, if they have any."

    "If they have any," Xander repeated dejectedly.

    "Anya has a right to be upset with you."

    Xander turned, looking a little angry, and she flinched. "I know. I just...everything's different."

    "She's still your girlfriend. At least, she is if you don't let things g-get any worse. Xander, she needs your support. Didn't Mr. Giles explain this to you?"

    He shoved his hands into his pockets. "I don't think she wants to be around me right now."

    "Maybe not right this moment. But, Xander, that's what she's upset about, that you don't want to be around her. I know this can't be easy for you either, but it's worse for Anya, and you're not helping her at all."

    "Close contact," Xander muttered, half to himself.

    "Just talking to her...being seen with her," Tara insisted, "would at least make her feel better. And yes...close physical c-contact will speed things up. A lot."

    "I...I don't know if I can..."

    "Xander, I d-didn't say...say sex. B-but that would be the fastest way. It really shouldn't take more than once."

    Xander didn't say anything for a long moment.

    "Believe me," Tara added, "I understand if you can't. But at the least you should be able to, to let her be close to you. Just g-get snuggly." Xander barked out a brief, slightly pained laugh. "You do love her, don't you? Then it's not just about what makes you comfortable."

    "No," he agreed, "it isn't. Um...thanks." He waved a hand at the side of the street, and she realized that they'd reached his parents' house. Tara hadn't realized they were this close already.

    "You're welcome," she said. "And if it helps, about being comfortable--I told Anya that too."

    Xander looked a little embarrassed. "Did ya. Well, like I said...thanks. Again."

    Tara smiled faintly as he walked away. Willow's friends....

    Well, she thought with a bit of a bitter laugh, not everyone could be as well-adjusted as her.
    ********
    The next couple of days were warm and sunny enough that, after a time, Rupert Giles decided to go for a walk on the beach. The swimming trunks he could forgo--but, given the heat, perhaps it wouldn't hurt his dignity, and might help his image a little, to be seen wearing a t-shirt. Shorts were...shorts were right out. That might be a bit too shocking for Buffy and her friends. He chuckled, changed, and headed out the door.

    For whatever reason--perhaps it was the intense summer sun?--demonic activity always seemed to slack off during the summer. They'd had a little time off since the encounter with the Vieque, and most likely would have more. When he'd first arrived in town, the idea of spending a day at the beach had actually been a bit unsettling, but it was impossible to be Watcher to a girl like Buffy without, well....mellowing just a little.

    To his surprise, he encountered Xander and Anya relaxing under a beach umbrella. From this angle, their chairs made it difficult to observe their attire, but he expected that Anya, especially, would want some privacy. Though the beach didn't seem especially deserted, which made it odd that she would come here.

    Despite his best efforts, Xander noticed him almost immediately. He said something inaudible to Anya and got up, jogging over in Giles' direction. He, at least, was dressed in trunks for swimming. "Giles! Imagine meeting you here."

    "A rather unimaginable event, no doubt." Giles chuckled softly.

    "Almost," Xander said, laughing back. "I just wanted to say thanks. And, um, if you happen to see Tara before I do, tell her thanks for me too. I was being an idiot."

    "Hardly," Giles allowed. "I don't doubt for a moment that this was an unsettling experience."

    "Still coulda dealt with it better." Giles made no argument with that statement, albeit in part because Anya had also gotten up from her chair. She was wearing a rather skimpy, and very white, bikini, and looked quite normal in it, as well as--never mind that.

    "Hi," she said with a wave.

    Giles was taken a little aback. "I see that you...ah...."

    "It was a very interesting and educational experience," Anya said brightly. "Though not nearly long enough, because--"

    Xander cut her off. "I figured it was just the one time, what the hey." That didn't stop him from looking a little embarrassed.

    "I quite understand," Giles said, just flatly enough to imply that he had no interest in a detailed discussion. Hopefully Anya would take notice. "Are you, ah, feeling all right?"

    "I'm fine," Xander said, not entirely convincingly.

    Anya began to snicker. Xander shot her a warning look, but that proved inadequate to silence her. "We're on the beach today because Xander needs to buy some looser pants," she said with a wink.

    Giles took a moment to think that one through, then wished he hadn't.

    Where the hell had he put the handkerchief for his glasses?
    DeadWar: Burden of Proof
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