Xander walked towards the door, his hard hat in his hand, his step jaunty. “See you tonight, Anya,” he said cheerfully, pausing just long enough to brush her lips with a kiss. “Enjoy your day!”
The door slammed behind him and Anya looked at it, her lips trembling between a pout and a smile. On the one hand Xander looked adorable in that T shirt, his muscles exposed and ready to ripple. But he’d gone and the muscles -unfortunately - had gone with him.
She turned and gazed around the apartment, the pout winning the battle of the lips. It wasn’t fair. Why did she have to take a day off? She remembered the desperation on Giles’ face as he urged her to take a long weekend and not come into the shop on Monday. Clearly he was already distraught about the work he would have to do without her help so why did he insist that she not come in? The pout gave way to a puzzled frown and she idly ran her hand over the coffee table, noting the stickiness where Xander had put a donut down without bothering with a plate.
Well. The place was a mess. If she was banned from going within a hundred yards of the Magic Box on pain of being dismissed - Buffy swore Giles had no sense of humour but if that didn’t prove he had, she didn’t know what did - she could at least make good use of her time. Xander had mentioned shopping, getting her hair done, even invited her to meet him for lunch at the park near the site. She’d stamped on that idea, mainly because if she hadn’t she’d have found herself sharing her sandwiches with the ants and stamping on them. No, she couldn’t think of anything she wanted to do, so she’d take advantage of the peace and quiet and tackle some serious housework.
She had just emptied every cupboard in the small kitchen, stacking the contents neatly on the table and floor, when the phone rang. Sighing, she stepped over the bucket of soapy water, stripped the rubber gloves from her hands, and answered it.
“Hello. If this is a call to invite me to buy, subscribe, contribute or participate in a survey, then I should warn you that I - ”
“Anya, it’s Willow.”
“Oh. Willow. How nice of you to call just as I was in the middle of something.”
Willow gritted her teeth and ploughed on, inspired by Giles’ imploring face as he begged her to make Anya’s day off so happy she’d want one every month. “I’m free all afternoon, no classes, so I wondered if you wanted to meet up for lunch at that new Italian place. It’s supposed to have garlic bread that makes everyone into an instant Slayer.” She laughed but there was a stony silence. “You know; after eating it if you breathe on a vampire they’ll - never mind. It wasn’t very funny.”
Anya rolled her eyes. “I can’t. Giles told me not to approach the shop and the restaurant you describe is directly opposite it.”
“I don’t think he meant that seriously!” Willow protested.
Anya’s voice warmed appreciably. “I thought the same,” she confided. “He can be such a hoot sometimes, can’t he?”
Willow held the phone away from her ear and stared at it in disbelief. “Umm, sure,” she said eventually. “A regular owl.”
“Very well,” said Anya brightly. “I will meet you for lunch! It means spending the money I was saving up for some padded handcuffs but -”
“Meetyouatone,” gabbled Willow hastily, slamming the phone down, her face scarlet. It wasn’t just Anya’s frankness that bothered her; it was the fact that Xander, her Xander, her sandbox playmate, was way kinkier than she’d ever imagined. And she really didn’t want to imagine it either. “Oh! Oh! Bad mind!” she scolded herself, as pictures swam up from the depths of that disobedient imagination featuring Xander in the handcuffs and a strategically placed leopard skin thong. Artificial of course. Grabbing her books, she scurried off to class.
Anya studied the phone for a second, wondering why Willow had been in such a hurry, and then glanced at the clock. Plenty of time to finish scrubbing the cupboards, shower, and get dressed in something pretty. Not so pretty that Willow thought she was trying to attract other men of course. Or Willow herself for that matter. Hmm. Lost in a mental inventory of her wardrobe, she walked back into the kitchen and kicked the bucket of sudsy water over. A cascade of water flooded not only the floor, which she’d planned to mop anyway, but all the items that she’d stacked up. Which included bags of sugar and flour.
Anya gasped in dismay and then shrieked as the water continued to rise around her ankles. The water was boiling hot and it seeped through her slippers and began to scald her feet. Leaping back hastily into the living room she made for dry ground and kicked off her sopping footwear.
Anya wasn’t totally at ease in the human world for many reasons but she was far from stupid. The bucket had been moved, the temperature had increased since she filled it, which was against the rules of physics, and what had spilled on the floor was more than had been in the container.
That added up to one thing. Magic. Her world. She might have lost her vengeance demon powers, but she had over eleven hundred years of experience with demons, from the largest to the smallest. Mischief like this could only be - she scanned the room, eyes narrowed, foot tapping - brownies. With a dive that would have had any soccer player weeping tears of admiration, she flung herself sideways and grabbed a fistful of shadow. “Got you, you pesky little pest,” she muttered. Keeping a tight grip on the wriggling mannikin, she looked around her for something she could use as a temporary prison. Her eyes fell on the salt cellar that Xander had left out, even though it had been his turn to clear the table. She recalled that he’d stopped working because a sporting event had just started. Or finished. Or they were showing highlights. Whatever.
Taking the salt in her left hand, she tipped it up, drawing a simple holding spell with the white crystals that spilled from it. Dropping the squirming sprite inside, she stepped back, arms folded, and surveyed her captive. “That should hold you,” she remarked pleasantly.
The brownie gave her a sulky glare and remained silent. He stood about a foot high, his skin the same leathery brown as his jacket and breeches, his hands strong and his fingers nimble.
Anya pursed her lips and considered her next step. She decided to attempt reason now that she was human, rather than going straight to threats. “Why aren’t you doing your job? The table is sticky, the salt cellar should have been cleared away - and what’s with all the mess in the kitchen?”
The brownie deigned to answer her, his voice malicious but robbed of its menace by its squeakiness. “You haven’t paid me, Anyanka. No cream, no clean. You know the rules.”
Anya flushed guiltily but rallied. “Xander hates black coffee,” she protested. “I left you a saucer of milk instead.”
“Cream for your paramour, thin skim for your cleaner. You need to think about prioritising.”
Anya sighed. “You have a point. If we maybe double the fee for the next two days?”
“And you clean up this mess?” Anya waved a hand at the steadily rising water which was lapping at her feet and steaming gently.
The brownie smirked. “Can’t do that. You know the rules. ‘What ill will wishes cannot be undone, until the arrival of the setting sun’.”
Anya glared at him. “It’s 10.30 in the morning. Sunset is at 7.34. The whole building will be awash.”
“Not my problem,” he piped, an infuriating smirk on his wizened face.
Anya thought hard. She had just over two hours to deal with her problem and meet Willow. She didn’t want to cancel. Willow had sounded overwrought on the phone. Possibly she was having some relationship issues and needed expert advice. Anya was determined not to let her down. She and Willow had never been close but after the incident with Olaf they had both been making an effort. Ignoring the water and the brownie, she waded over to the sofa and sat down, tucking her feet up beside her.
The brownie began to clamour for release but eventually lapsed back into sullen silence. He was regretting his action but rules were rules. He knew just how Anyanka could solve this little misunderstanding but he wasn’t going to tell.
Anya’s busy mind ranged over the possibilities. A temporal fold that would allow her to slip forward to sunset and retroactively undo the damage? No. Go the other way, back in time, and let Xander have the milk? Possibly. Kill the brownie and render his wish null? Oh, yes! Especially as the first two were impossible in her current state of wretched humanity.
The brownie flinched as he watched the play of emotions cross Anyanka’s face. He had a horrible feeling that she’d reached the same conclusion he had. When she emerged from the kitchen with an iron casserole pot, he was sure of it.
“Now, then, no need for hasty action,” he blurted out, his eyes darting from side to side, seeking a way of escaping his magical prison.
“It won’t be hasty,” said Anya. “Boiling alive can be quite a lengthy process if you keep the heat turned low.” She smiled. The brownie didn’t.
“If you kill me, you’ll be blacklisted,” he warned. “No more brownie help, ever.”
Anya shrugged. “Other humans manage,” she said airily. “And there’s a good maid service in town.”
“Expensive and who know what prying and poking they’ll do when your back’s turned?”
Anya huffed. “Like you don’t rummage through everything you can reach!”
The brownie sighed. “Don’t do it, girl.”
Anya paused. She didn’t really want to kill the brownie but she could hear a rising hubbub from the floor below and guessed that the water had begun to seep through to the apartments underneath theirs. “I don’t have any choice,” she said. “I can’t wait until sunset.”
“Give me a minute to think,” begged the brownie.
Anya nodded. “One minute,” she said, pointedly rolling back the sleeve of her shirt to study the second hand on her watch.
The brownie’s forehead wrinkled still further as he cogitated. With five seconds left, he jumped high in the air, wincing as his head smacked into the invisible roof of his prison.
“Was that an escape attempt, or do you have an idea?” Anya asked caustically, clashing the pot and its lid together in a far from subtle way.
The brownie eyed her nervously. “I have an idea. See, there’s this demon who owes me a favour. You release me, I go see him, he tidies this all up and what say we cancel all fees for the next month?”
Anya cast up her eyes in patent disbelief. “Don’t let this human form deceive you,” she warned. “I’m not one of the gullible fools you’re accustomed to deal with, remember?”
“I know, I know,” he said hastily. “That’s why I’m being so straight with you. Tell you what; come with me to see Zarak. You can link to me with a spellbind charm if it makes you feel better.”
“Go visit a demon with all this mess and a lunch date at one?” Anya exclaimed incredulously, her voice reaching Dawn-like levels of shrillness. There was a loud hammering at the door and a gruff voice called out Xander’s name. The supervisor had obviously traced the flood to its source. Anya gave him credit for more brains than she’d ever suspected before but still didn’t want to talk to him. Giving the brownie a bright and beaming smile she said, “I’d love to.”
They vanished just as the door was opened by the irate supervisor, his mouth falling open with surprise as the hot water washed out over his slipper-clad feet.
“So what happened next?” Willow asked, hanging on Anya’s words with a flattering interest.
Anya tossed back her hair and took a dainty nibble at the cheese -laden garlic bread, every bit as potent as Willow had claimed. “It turned out that it was the brownie who owed Zarak a favour and as Zarak was particularly fond of human flesh, he decided I’d do nicely.”
“The treacherous scum!” said Willow indignantly, snapping a bread stick in half as though she wished it were the brownie’s spine.
Anya nodded agreement. “Quite. Well, it’ll be a long time before he tastes cream again, I can tell you. Of course, it might have gone badly but, well,” she preened herself slightly, “Zarak and I go way back. It was the only reason I agreed to go with the brownie. I don’t like to brag but I was considered quite the catch in the demon world.” She sighed wistfully, her mind on past triumphs.
“I’m, uh, sure you were,” Willow said, a little doubtful as to whether that was a good thing or not. If a tentacled, ichor dripping fiend from hell thought you looked hot, wasn’t it time to get a face lift?
“Oh, I was. And Zarak was my date at the annual costume ball three years in a row back in the fifteenth century. Ties like that stand the test of time.”
“The human flesh bit didn’t put you off?” Willow asked, oblivious to the waitress hovering, ready to refill their water glasses. The waitress gulped, set the jug down and fled.
“Well, just between us girls, I provided him with a lot of it,” Anya confided, lowering her voice and leaning closer. “You know; a woman would wish her husband be devoured by monsters and wouldn’t go into details.” She leaned back and shrugged. “It was left to my discretion and if we’re not put on this earth to do friends favours, then what’s the point of it all, I always say.”
Willow pushed her appetiser away, feeling that it had too much work to do for one plate of minestrone soup.
“So, did the mess get cleared up?” she said, looking around for someone who could bring them the bill.
“Oh, sure! And a little, teensy, memory charm so there weren’t any hard feelings in the building. It’s important to be on good terms with neighbours, you know.”
“And the brownie?” asked Willow, starting to feel sorry for the little fellow.
Anya smiled. “Oh, I had him bound over to my service for twenty years. That means cream is on the menu when I say it is. But I decided I didn’t want him around the apartment anymore so I signed the contract over to Giles.” She glanced across the street to the Magic Box and nodded with satisfaction as green smoke began to billow from the doorway.
“That’ll teach him,” she murmured. Days off indeed.
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