Bitter day, all wind and rain and the last discontented kicks from departing winter. Giles decided to spend it doing something mindless, peaceful, and entirely unrelated to the family demon-killing business. His mother’s neglected gardening suited his needs perfectly. He armed himself with a flask of tea, girded himself with a slicker, and dashed out through the rain to the greenhouse, where it was warm, quiet, and sweet with the scent of his mother’s roses. He’d started in on repotting the tulips when he heard the pop and the rush of air that meant someone had teleported in. The house and grounds were warded against enemies, so he shook the gloves clear of soil before he pulled them off and looked up.
“Anya? What? How did you–?”
He broke off. He noticed first that she looked tired. Then he saw in her hand an amulet, one he recognized from the drawings of Anyanka. He’d shown them to Xander, years ago, when he wanted to make sure the young man knew what he was getting into.
She wound her way around a row of plants to approach him. “Hello, Giles. I like your greenhouse. I didn’t know you were a gardener.”
“My mother is. But her arthritis is flaring up, so-- Bugger the small talk, Anya, what’s happened?”
“It’s more a matter of what hasn’t happened.”
Anya’s voice was strained. Giles studied her closely, but could see no sign of the demon in her. She took a few steps away from the work table, towards the terra-cotta pots that held his mother’s miniature roses. A few were in bloom, white and red buds bursting out, running ahead of the oncoming spring. Anya bent and sniffed at a rose.
“White roses. I remember white roses on banners. Red and white. Did you know that I was the one who doomed Richard?”
Giles for a moment could not speak. That she’d seen the historical events, yes, he believed it, but that she’d been involved? “You’re joking.”
She was still bending over the roses, so he couldn’t read her face. “He scorned Anne, you know. Poisoned her. So I arranged for his horse to vanish at an awkward moment.”
“Anya, you’re talking perfect rot and you know it. Why are you here? What hasn’t happened?”
She didn’t answer him straight away, but instead fiddled with his mother’s pruning shears. He could read tension in her shoulders, so he remained tense himself. If she were a demon again he’d have to kill her before she could try anything. Or he’d have to smash her necklace again. She’d told him that story, and he’d shivered as if someone had walked over his grave. Another man, another version of himself, had defeated her and vanished from existence. She had told him she’d resented him for some time, before she decided his other self had done her a favor. He had been right: the world without Cordelia’s wish was a better one.
She faced him square on. “Giles. You didn’t come to my wedding.”
He sighed, and let himself relax from his fighting stance. “I’m dreadfully sorry. There was a demon in St James–”
“It doesn’t matter how good your excuse was. And not in the I’ll-never-forgive-you sense, either. It doesn’t matter because the wedding didn’t happen. Xander abandoned me.”
Giles opened his mouth, then shut it. He was, apparently, exactly the fool he’d taken himself to be when he’d left Sunnydale, because all he could think was that at last he had a chance. That kiss had stayed with him far longer than it had any right to. He ruthlessly suppressed, as he always had, the voice of conscience that told him he’d had a reason for wanting to remember it, had had a reason why his amnesiac self had been so eager to believe she’d been pledged to him instead of someone else.
But she was shaking. She’d turned away from him and wrapped her arms around herself. He untwisted the lid of the flask and poured a cup of his mother’s hot sweet tea. He closed her hand around the cup and helped her drink.
“Tea’s soothing,” he said to her, talking rot himself, stammering out the words as if they’d help. “More the idea of the thing. Tea represents solidity. Tradition. Little sandwiches on fine china. A moment of peace at four o’clock, every day for centuries.”
“Centuries. I’ve seen centuries.”
Her eyes were on his hands, still clasped around hers. He released her. “I know.”
“I might see more.”
Giles cleared his throat. “So I deduced.”
“I’m not a demon yet. I’m considering the offer. D’Hoffryn gave me twenty-four hours with some of my old powers, to tempt me. I am tempted. It’s nice to teleport again.” She spread her hands; here she was. But she wasn’t smiling.
“Is it worth your immortal soul?”
Silence followed that salvo. Silence, the whiff of brimstone rolling in the air. Then Anya put down the plastic cup and smiled at him, so sweetly that Giles thrust his hands into his pockets to prevent himself from taking her in his arms.
“I came here because I knew you’d say something characteristically sarcastic and dry, and I would reluctantly allow myself to be talked out of accepting. I didn’t expect a painful bluntness.”
Giles watched her. She sighed, and seemed to relax.
“I have something personal to share with you.”
The words burst out: “Is there any power on earth that can prevent you from sharing it?”
“That’s the sarcasm I was expecting. I didn’t kill Richard. He didn’t scorn Anne. But see, Giles, here’s the thing. Xander thinks the War of the Roses was a Danny DeVito movie.”
“Er, it was?”
Anya gave him a glorious smile. “Your ignorance of popular culture is charming. And you know it.”
“I see.” That bastard hope rose in his chest again, and now Giles refrained from suppressing it.
“While I was sitting in my shop, holding my necklace, thinking about what I could do to Xander, I realized that I didn’t want to do anything. Xander is sweet, and he’s a Viking in the sack, but I can’t have a conversation with him about any of the things I’ve seen. And I can with you. It’s taken me four months to understand this. Four months of not being able to talk about interesting things with anybody. That’s what I have to share. Oh, God, say something Giles. Tell me I didn’t read you wrong.”
Giles shook his head, and tried to hide his smile behind a bit of business with his glasses. “You read me correctly.”
“Oh, good. Because that kiss was most pleasing and I’d like to experience many more. In between conversations about historical inaccuracies in popular literature.”
“But what are you going to do about the offer?”
He took his hands out of his pockets. But he held off, barely, waiting for her decision. He had not long to wait for it. She lifted the necklace off and set it on his mother’s worktable. The gold chain was coiled around the amulet. What was once the source of her power.
This time, she smashed it herself.