By Barb C
Author's Notes: Barbverse, set in the same universe as Necessary Evils et al. I'd hoped to get a little more done on this, but the muse has not been cooperating! So this is just a teaser, but hope you like anyway.
"So this is what passes for culture in Sunnydale these days?" Halfrek toyed with her half-caf low-fat latte and glanced around the Espresso Pump. One biker, a dozen tattooed and pierced college students in various shades of black, and two older women in Birkenstocks and batik crepe skirts were seated around the tiny stage, listening intently to an older man with a greying ponytail declaim an ode to a dead pigeon in iambic hexameter. "Honestly, Anyanka...don't you ever get bored?"
"Occasionally. But then the world almost ends, and I develop a new appreciation for ennui." Anya regarded her friend earnestly across the table, for all the world as if Halfrek were the one to be pitied. "Really, Hallie, every time you visit, it's the same old thing, trying to talk me back into the vengeance biz - "
"The justice business."
Anya rolled her eyes. "Whatever. The point is, I've made it extremely clear that I'm out of the game, and you keep trying to shove me off the bench."
"It's not just me. D'Hoffryn - "
"Is the one who took my necklace away and made me human again to begin with. I didn't quit, he fired me. So I don't see why - "
"Because you're happy!" Halfrek interrupted. "Making you mortal was supposed to be a punishment!"
"Well, parts of it are fairly disgusting," Anya allowed.
"That's not enough, and you know it." Halfrek clasped her friend's hand across the table in real distress. "You were brilliant, darling. Of course he wants you back. But he wants you miserable first, and you're not obliging, and of course that piques his temper. It's been years now! If you don't come crawling back to him suitably contrite soon, he's just going to have you killed. Some of the other girls are already getting ideas about getting out of their contracts, and he won't stand for that." She eyed Anya critically. "Besides, dear, you're not getting any younger."
"Well, the circle of life wouldn't be a circle if it were a straight line," Anya retorted, a bit peeved. Then the bell over the shop door jangled as another customer walked in, and her nascent frown transformed into a grin.
Halfrek's concern, consequently, transformed into wariness. Anyanka never smiled like that without reason. "Darling, what are you - "
"Hallie, are you still a gambling woman?"
Definite cause for wariness. "It depends on the bet. I know better than to wager you anything I can't afford to lose."
Anya sipped her latte and set the cup down with a demure smile. "I'll tell you what. Give me something to be vengeful about. I'll show you a happily married man. If you can seduce him and leave his significant other in unattractive, puffy-eyed tears, I'll consider your offer."
"What's the catch?" Halfrek tilted her head and narrowed her eyes, as if this would allow her to penetrate the mysteries of Anya's brain. "You're not going to ask me to seduce Derwood, are you?"
"Xander," Anya corrected, "And of course not. I never bet anything I can't afford to lose, either. No, I'm going to make it easy on you. It's someone who already has feelings for you. Or had them for someone he thought was you. Or thought you were. Whatever."
She pointed towards the line of customers at the counter, and Halfrek looked over her shoulder. An elderly woman, a bored-looking teenager with a skateboard, and at the head of the line... her jaw dropped. "Anya, you wouldn't!"
"Hi, Spike!" Anya caroled, waving.
Spike glanced over. When he saw Halfrek, his eyes widened in horror and alarm. He rattled off the arcane formula for Buffy's favorite chocolate latte to the barrista and retreated to the other end of the counter, resolutely pretending he hadn't heard.
Halfrek whirled in her chair. "No! I absolutely refuse! Vampires are bad enough, but he's not even a proper vampire any longer! If I wouldn't sully myself with human or an undead mongrel, what makes you think I'd sully myself with a - a – "
Anya raised an eyebrow. "Living, breathing, demon? Let's face it, Hallie, the Mohra blood kicked Spike up the supernatural food chain, whether we like it or not."
Halfrek scowled. She and Spike did have a history, of sorts, but it would have been a grave error to say that she had spent a great deal of her time fretting over him. Indeed, it would have been a grave error to say that she spent any time fretting about him at all. In the hundred and twenty years between the day she had blithely crushed William Pratt's romantic notions, and the day when Spike put in his brief but startling appearance at Anyanka's bridal shower, she had not given William the Bloody a single thought. When she'd told William he was beneath her, she'd meant it: not simply as the class-conscious human girl she'd been impersonating, but as a demon to a mere human.
Of late, however, Spike had been thrust upon her. Anya's aggravating mortal husband was a friend of the Slayer's, and Spike's sordid entanglement with the Slayer meant that some degree of contact was unavoidable. Which in no way made it welcome. The fact was, vengeance demons rivaled vampires in the matter of uncomfortable human antecedents – some might even say that vengeance demons (who retained their souls, albeit in slightly altered state) were even closer to their base human origins than vampires. Either way, a vampire, even a living one, who had willingly thrown in his lot with humanity was no one a respectable vengeance demon wished to be associated with.
Her prey, unaware (certainly not deliberately ignoring her, oh no) of her scrutiny, collected Buffy's latte and beat a hasty retreat towards the table where the Slayer in question was waiting for him, with barely a nod in their direction. Halfrek gritted her teeth. If this was what it would take... She was doing this for Anya's own good, after all - what were friends for? And when she thought about it, wouldn't this be giving the Slayer a well-earned comeuppance as well? "And if I lose? Not that I would."
"You'll promise to be nice to Xander for the next six months."
That was an unattractive prospect, but of all the forfeits Anya might have picked... being human really had dulled her edge sadly. "All right," she said, patting her hair. "How long do I have?"
"Mmmm." Anya considered. "Twenty-four hours."
"What? Ridiculous! A week at least."
Anya raised an eyebrow. "Three days. If you really need that long."
"I don't need that long," Halfrek interrupted. "I was his first true love, you know. Even before that Drusilla... creature. I could have him any time I wanted to. Three days, then."
"Hadn't you better get to it? I hear an awful lot of talk and see very little action."
It was Halfrek's turn to sip her latte demurely. "Don't rush me, Anyanka. Artistry takes time."
To Be Continued...