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 Post subject: Never Bet the Devil Someone Else's Head
PostPosted: Tue Oct 09, 2012 3:26 pm 

Joined: Thu Jan 17, 2008 7:39 pm
Posts: 40
Disclaimer: All non-original characters are property of Joss Whedon and
Mutant Enemy Productions

Characters; Anya, Xander, Angel, Faith, Spike, Cordelia, Fred, Wesley, Gunn, Lorne, Harmony, original

Pairing: Anya-Xander, Faith-Other, Fred-Wesley, Harmony-Other, Xander-Other

Rating: PG

Warning: non-con pretty much; about three quarter's through Chapter 1
Xander and Harmony do something fairly explicit.

Spoilers/Timeframe: August 2005 but deaths in Angel S-5 do not apply.

Includes capsule versions of how Jenny, Tara, and Anya are alive again.

Summary: Xander wasn't supposed to find out Anya was alive. Now that he has, his head is forfeit. But Angel Investigations is on the case.

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She was an aristocratically beautiful dark-blonde woman of middle height, a day-shift Tuesday-to-Saturday croupier at the Hotel Calicut in Las Vegas. In a sense she was hiding out, but as she didn't expect anyone to be looking for her she was using the closest thing she had to a real name, Anya E. C. Jenkins.

It was the end of her first break and she was on her way back to her table when the casino's owner, who called himself Darryl Vincenzo, fell into step beside her. His real name was Beltagru; he had once been a high-ranking financial officer in the Hell of the Nine Rings.

"Anya," he said, "once again let me remind you, Ridley Harris's wedding to Varweena Fthanti is tomorrow, and your erstwhile fiancé Alexander is definitely attending. You are free to take the day off and absent yourself wherever you wish. What will you do?"

"Darryl, the Georgic is a block away and the Fthantis have promised not to mention that I'm even alive, let alone here. Xander won't come looking for me."

"But perhaps you hope he'll come here just by happenstance and change everything."

"Look, boss, I don't . . . ."

"Your words mean little to me. I do not enjoy winning any game by forfeit, but I will take such a win when it's proper. I intend to interpret the rules of your parole very strictly regarding what is considered under your control."

"I'm sure of that."

"Are you? I warn you, Anyanka, neither to underestimate my sportsmanship nor to overestimate it. Ever. Never. Don't! Think carefully on your real motives and consider your actions accordingly."

He turned on his heel and left. She stood there, considering his words and having many second thoughts.

________________________________________ (1)

That evening, and it was Friday, a chauffeured van stopped in front of the V. I. P. elevator of the Georgic Casino and Convention Center and ten people carrying their own luggage got out. A flashily-dressed figure stood there to greet them. The elevator doors opened and they filed in, mainly in a friendly fashion.

Faith Wyrofski found herself standing next to the unusually-for-him close-mouthed Xander Harris and she nudged him a little and said, "Cheer up, it may never happen."

He shook his head a little and just said "What?" in a somewhat foggy way.

"She's just trying to get you to join the conversation, Xander, it wasn't meant as a hard question," said Faith's boyfriend, Doug Potashkin, a U. S. Attorney.

” Well, Faith aside, I barely know half of you and have issues with the rest of you. I don't see much reason for me to do a lot of easy chit-chatting."

Cordelia Chase stared coolly at her ex-boyfriend and said, "We're all stuck with each other for 48 hours, and it was voluntary coming here. Since this is Lee's weekend, it'd be wrong to spend it arguing or in angry silence. So that leaves being quietly polite to each other or deliberately getting along as best we can. Personally, I think the second choice is more fun so I'm doing it. Remember, I didn't leave this bunch under the best of circumstances either."

"Up until Tuesday night, I expected I'd have someone to talk to."

"You know what happened . . . ."

"Yes, we all know, and those ancient gods weren't going anywhere, Willow couldn't have waited a couple weeks to ask them for a favor?"

Even before he finished saying it, Xander wished he could rewind and erase his words. To his credit, he didn't flinch before all the hard stares directed his way.

"She's your best friend in the whole world, I can't believe you said that," Cordy muttered.

"Hey, a Harris doesn't have to be drunk to be obnoxious," Harmony
Kendall interjected, "we've both always known that."

Winifred Burkle tried to intervene. "Gang, let's not all start jumping on Xander, I'm sure he's sorry he said it."

Spike joined in with, "Oh, no, this isn't so simple. He knows right enough rituals like that need to be done at the right time. All's this is, is whining, and somebody needs to knock that self-pity out of you, bricklayer, problem's Fred's too nice and any of the rest of us'd kill you before we were done."

Xander looked hard at Spike and said, "Well, why don't you just. . . .”

When the bell rang, the door opened, and Angel, unnecessarily but deliberately, said "We're here," to break the tension.

Lorne led them down a very short stretch of hallway to a large double door which he opened and, holding the door, announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, your home away from home for 2 nights."

It was a rather spacious open area, part laid out like a luxurious waiting room with couches and easy chairs in a circle and another couch next to a large bar. Another portion was a lecture area with padded armless chairs in rows and a lectern and screen. Around the circumference were a good twelve standard-size hotel room doors. Lorne handed each person or pair as the case may have been the key which unlocked both their individual rooms and the main door. Every member of the party went to a room, opened the door, deposited their luggage, and in some cases shoes, and came right back out.

Angel, Spike, Charles Gunn, Wesley Wyndham-Price, and Faith, as always accompanied by Doug, got drinks, sat down in the circled furniture and began trading war stories. Lorne, Cordy, Harmony, and Fred got drinks, withdrew to the balcony, and began trading styling tips. Xander simply staked out the left end of the couch by the bar and began going through drinks at the rate of one every five minutes.

As he was fixing his fifth one, Harmony looked in and said, "There's more bothering him than just not having someone to chit-chat with. I think I'll go see if he wants to talk about it."

Cordelia, with a hemi-demi-semi-sneer, said, "Since when do you care about him, Harm, or anybody for that matter?"

"This is the new me, Cordy. You've changed, so've I."

"A little adjustment in your blood source doesn't make you Dr. Laura, lady."

"Hey, you're not a whole lot more human than I am anymore, remember?
Sorry, I don't want to fight; I'll just head in there and ask him."

As the blonde girl went through the door, Cordelia shook her head and asked nobody in particular, "Am I hallucinating?"

Lorne answered, "I think you are, because I'm sure I am."

Harmony stopped at the bar to refresh her own drink – booze, not blood, she'd already eaten – then sat down on the right end of the couch.

"Hey, Spaz Boy," she said cheerfully, "wanna share the 411 on your

Xander took a sip, looked hard, if a tad bleary-eyed, at her, and said, "Why?"

"Because you're bringing down everybody's evening and I wondered if I could help."

"Why?' he repeated.

"Let's just say this is the new me and leave it at that. C'mon, give."

While not really believing what was happening, and certainly not trusting the pretty blonde vampire, Xander started talking.

"I guess I'm just being selfish. When I first agreed to travel with you guys, I counted on having Willow here to talk to. Now here I am, alone in a crowd, and I've been thinking too much. I mean, hell, it isn't that I'm not glad that she's happy, I want her to be and Tara was so good for her and it's great she has her back, but I'm not just lonely, I'm jealous, Wil's getting snugglies this weekend and that's not happening for me any time soon. Plus Lee and Var are so happy and they met at my almost-wedding, and,
God, after all this time, I still miss Anya so much," he said, not quite with a sob, then took a big sip.

With the most sympathetic tone she could manage, Harmony said, "Don't beat yourself up, sometimes all of us have to do what we feel or we'd go nuts. And I miss her, too, remember she was in the Cordettes for a while when I was leading them."

Xander replied sarcastically, "I recall that, I also recall the last time you saw her, your gang of dummies were trying to bust her head."

She snapped back, "Look, I'm trying to be nice here, don't hang me for details."

"You don't know how to be nice, deep down you're still the Grand
Duchess of Queen C.'s court of bitches and people like Wil and me are just targets for your kind."

"My kind, huh? Okay, you had to take your share of crap, but you've handed plenty out, too. You'll never know how much your smart mouth hurt some people, your insults were just a bit too clever sometimes. And be honest, you enjoyed being a wiseguy. And your first chance at a real girlfriend you cheated your own way out of."

"So? Cor and I buried that hatchet years ago. And I haven't heard of you making any apologies to her, Miss Backstabber."

"Well, I have, and she's accepted it. I called Willow and Buffy last month as well and settled things as best I could with them. Of course, they didn't tell you, since they knew you wouldn't care. I'd offer you an apology for it all too, if I thought you'd accept it."

"For what, trying to strangle me in Buffy's living room? Maybe it's the same personality from back in school, but I know it's a different tenant in there now."

Harmony's expression went totally blank for a second, and she said, levelly, "Xander, that's one part of this that I never discuss. And the apology goes for everything, human or vamp. Like I said, this is the new me, do you accept it or not?"

"Accepted, I guess, what do I have to lose? And I admit being meaner than I had to be sometimes, to a lot of people. You know, I always figured one reason you were so bitchy was because you were too physically perfect, those two scars give your face some character. What gives, I thought vamps were super-healers?'

"We are but I got 'em in another dimension where the rules are different. And thanks, the gang's been nice about them but I wondered how guys in general would react."

"You're welcome. I almost like this new you, but you're still a cold-bodied blood drinker even if it is from a bottle."

Harmony, grinned, a touch of evil in it but mostly mischievously, and said, "I think I've figured something out. Okay, I know it hurt losing Jesse and all, but you don't really hate Angel and Spike because they're vampires, you hate vampires because you're jealous of Angel and Spike. Like, they both managed to get Buffy down, Cordy's always dug Angel, Anya went for Spike when you wimped out on her, it’s obvious. Like my Gram Ainslie used to say, your brown eyes are green." With a triumphant expression, she took a deep swig.

His face darkened and he shot back, "No way! I hated all vamps long before I knew about Angel or saw Spike. A couple girls I like having
necro-flings just put the icing on the cake." Xander glared at her and she glared back.

About this time, Faith looked over, saw their expressions, said to herself, "The kids are at it again," and went back to her discussion.

After about a minute, Harmony said, "Really? Aren't you just a little curious? Don't you want to find out as much as you can about what the most important women in your life see in guys you hate?"

"What are you saying?"

"Simple. You're not too bad, in a physical sort of way, and I've done without for a long time, so why don't you learn what you're jealous of? Let's go into my room and you can try the undead on for yourself."

"Lady, you may think you're a lust bunny but you're more of a dust
I've had a couple of real women."

"Just let me get these supernaturally strong legs wrapped around you and you'll know I like totally mean business. Or are you chicken?"

"Not a chance. You're on, or I am, however you want it."

Still glaring, they set down their glasses, stood up, walked to her room, closed the door, forced themselves into each other's arms, and shared an angry first kiss. Pulling back, they considered things for a few seconds, and then shared a much tenderer second and third one.

Harmony's top was, as usual, sleeveless and low-backed and Xander ran his hands lovingly over her silky-smooth skin. He sort of smiled at her and said, "You know, for a self-centered bitch, you're not a bad kisser."

"You don't kiss too bad yourself, for a lame-o," and they had their fourth one.

"I don't know why they say you're cold; you're room temperature, like a fine wine."

"Thanks; even though you're not the first person to compliment me like that, it's still a nice thing to say. But what do you know from fine wines, your family buys the cheapest bourbon in California in double-gallon packs?"

"Look, their habits aren't mine, and you wanted to prove something to me, so prove it." She nodded at him, stepped back, and began unbuttoning his shirt.

Each was surprised at how good the other was at the preliminaries. Harmony's breasts had been touched many times, and often more skillfully, but never more gently, at least by a living man. As for Xander, he was amazed that the blonde girl could find spots even Anya had never discovered.

After enough minutes, Harmony's hand encircled his firmness and she whispered, "I think someone's ready," and he murmured in agreement. She debated warning him she was even colder inside, but decided that he had accepted her offer to learn something and she should let him do just that. She pulled him on top of her and guided him with her fingers. Xander discovered for himself the fact she had been thinking about earlier and he gave a small exclamation of surprise but made no attempt to pull back. Harm gave him a seductive look and softly said, "Relax, it's alright, I know it feels a little different but it isn't, not really." She felt it herself; it was only her second time since her death with a man who was still alive, on this earth at least, and his warm member gave her an indescribable feeling.

The feel of her was so strange to Xander, but he honestly had to admit it wasn't unpleasant. Her temperature may have been different but her body responded like any other woman's. He was aware of the pressure of her legs enclosing his waist with their fantastic strength, and knew if she squeezed him freely he could be badly hurt, but he also knew she wouldn't. It was a pleasant thing, knowing he didn't need to maintain a gentleman's arm strain with a woman so much stronger than himself, and one who had no need to breathe, either. The sensations which he had become so familiar with during his years with Anya built up within him higher and higher until they found their intended release.

His hot fluids exploded into her, filling her whole abdomen with warmth. Added to the feel of his hardness against her nerve button, she arrived only a split-second after he did. She struggled internally, keeping her vampire face hidden except for a few isolated, fleeting bumps, knowing that was not something she should show right now.

Finished, he collapsed into her arms. Xander, breathing heavily with exhaustion, was aware that Harmony wasn't, and to his surprise, after a split-second of queasiness, it didn't bother him. For her part, Harmony lay there, absorbed in her sensations. It reminded her strangely of feeding from a living thing, the heat flooding her cold system, already fading but a wonderful feeling.

"How do you feel?" she asked.

"Better. Thanks, you were terrific, I don't know if I've really learned anything, but I feel better than I did on the way here."

"Glad I could help, you were great too. It's weird, feeling the warmth of you inside me like that, it was almost like a tiny part of me was alive again."

He looked at her with a serious expression and said, "There's something too weird about this. I can see how, the way you were alive, that your personality might not change much as an evil vamp, but just how the hell did becoming a demon make you nicer?"

Equally serious, she looked back at him and said, "That's part of what I never discuss, and I meant that. Come on, let's get dressed, they're probably wondering where we got to," and with that she very easily pushed him off and got up.

Xander, with a hall-worried, half-self-mocking expression, replied,
"Yeah, I'll just bet they are."

Meanwhile, the two conversation circles had reunited, and like most people, they began discussing the absent ones.

Faith said, "I saw them arguing about something but I didn't see them go anywhere."

Fred glanced around and said, "Harm's door is closed and the light's on, so she's probably in there, but Xander's is open and off."

With a grin, Faith quipped, "Well, they've both been kinda lonely these days, maybe he's in there too."

Cordelia chuckled and said, "Not a chance. Just 'cause they both went to bed with you doesn't mean they'd do it with anyone and that came out a lot bitchier than I meant it to. I just meant that they hate each other."

"I know you weren't raggin’ on me, Cordy, anyway, hate doesn't always get in the way of sex."

"And don't I know it," the taller girl acknowledged, then, noticing she was getting some curious stares, continued quickly, "but none of you need to hear those stories. Seriously, Xander and Harmony <i>would</i> touch each other with ten-foot poles; they'd poke each other in the stomach with them. Maybe he went down to hit the slot machines, she's probably just giving herself a quick facial or something."

Spike chimed in, "You're too right about what they think of each other, Legs, 'sides if they'd gotten into another one of their slap fights we'd've heard somethin'."

Cordelia spoke up again, "Yeah, this is really no mystery. I'm absolutely certain that. . . ." just then Harmony's door opened and they came out, she holding a cigarette and he with a somewhat puzzled half-smile on his face, and to her credit, Cordy didn't miss a beat or change her tone of voice much, although her eyes popped a little, "I've never been more wrong about one little thing in my entire life." Having said that, she clamped her mouth shut to stifle the giggles she couldn't quite suppress totally, and Spike and Angel did the same.

"I recognize that expression," Faith said brightly, "Little Xander's just had a whole new experience. He was fillin' a cold slot, alright, but it wasn't on a machine."

Wesley's jaw dropped a bit and he exclaimed, "Faith, that remark was just barely this side of filthy, and I must say I rather liked it."

Doug took her hand and said with a smile, "That's my girl."

By this time the two returnees had retrieved their drinks and joined everyone else at the bar. Xander managed a somewhat flustered, "Hi, gang."

Cordy controlled herself long enough to ask, "Well, there was Devon, and I recall a couple of others, now Xander. Harm, what is it with you and my cast-offs?"

The white-blonde girl smiled and said, "Hey, one reason we used to get along was because we both have good taste," she looked at Xander, "sometimes."

"Oh, thanks a lot," he said, "I didn't hear any complaints a few minutes ago."

With mock incredulity in his voice, Doug said, "Man, Xander, sex with a vampire, that must have been, what should I say, kind of a Freudian experience, I'd guess."

The latter replied, "Amen to that, but a guy could get used to it, for the right woman, that is."

Harmony assumed a snooty expression and said, "Touché`, Spaz Boy, I guess we're even," then mock-half-frowning, "Doug, I owe you one."

Cordelia took back the conversation with "Which of my former dates is next, Harmony? Jonathan's been back among the living for three days, so maybe?"

Harmony shrugged and said, "Well, the guy did look pretty hot when he cast that James Bond spell on himself a couple years ago. With my fashion sense, I could probably get him back to that in no time. Plus he's been dead so I have something else in common with him."

"Still following me around. Baaaaa!"

"Oh, baaaaa to you, too."



To the great relief of everyone else, Faith interrupted and asked,
"Hey, Harm, can I bum a smoke? I'm out and don't feel like running down to the machines."

"Sure, here, keep the pack, there's only six left and I'm trying to stay under ten a day, make it easier to quit in case I ever need my heart or lungs again." That remark led to some quizzical glances but before any questions could follow, she continued, "And guess what, I was compared to a fine wine again."

"Anyone can use a classic, you probably gave him almost the same comeback you gave me, anyway. Hey, as I recall he was pretty good his first time out, how'd it go tonight?"

"I've had worse."

"C'mon, ladies, I thought you were both past thinking of me as a piece of meat, but that's how you're talking."

Lorne piped up with, "Don't get down about it, Xander, you're not just a piece, you're a whole hunk of roast, and lots of smart girls wouldn't mind a slice of your beefcake," then, seeing Xander's expression quickly said, "But that's not exactly what you need to hear right now, is it?"

"Doesn't really bother me."

Wesley asked, "Xander, you're what, 25?"

"In a few months, heck, weeks actually."

Fred touched Wes's arm and said, "Sweetie, you and I aren't the right ones to talk to him about this, if you know what I mean?"

At that, Gunn interjected, "Well, maybe I can. Xan-Man, at our age, you can take all the time you need to grieve, and there'll still be plenty of years to start something new."

"But it's been over two years, and we weren't really even in a relationship when, when it happened, and yes, there was someone else for a while, but it's like it was yesterday."

Harmony patted his shoulder and said, "I know it's not the same, but I told you before, I miss her too."

With a sad smile, Spike said, "Much as I hate being nice to you, bricklayer, so do I."

Cordelia said, "And it makes four of us, even though she kinda-sorta tried to kill me. And her ex-maid-of-honor makes five, and I'm sure you can call Tara and cry on her shoulder a bit, once she and Willow get out of their little love cocoon."

Xander said, "Thanks, everyone, and you're right, this is Lee's weekend, and I'll cheer up even if it kills me. I'm glad you mentioned Willow, Cordy, she'd have the perfect toast to end a conversation like this. La chaim," he said and raised his glass.

Lorne suppressed a somewhat pedantic impulse to say Jewish people never use that toast when remembering the dead but simply raised his glass with everyone else, each either repeating Xander's words or translating them "To life," and they all meant it, even the three who weren't alive.

________________________________________ II

The wedding had gone off without any hitches interesting enough to tell about, and the reception was going well also. The ceremony had not been formal, and Lee was wearing an eggshell white sport coat, slacks, and tie which set off his medium blue shirt and naturally olive skin. Varweena was radiant in a mint-green sleeveless cocktail dress; she'd been married briefly some years before and besides a white dress didn't look very flattering against her white-gold metallic toned skin. (Sorry, gentle readers, I had assumed from her name that you all knew Var was a Klivegaru demon.) All the guests seemed to be enjoying themselves too. The people from Angel Investigations all had some type of concealed weapons available.

Var and her parents were on non-alcoholic drinks; Klivegaru on earth have zero tolerance for alcohol for three days after the gibbous moon, and this was only the first. Most of her other relatives were boycotting the service, not wanting a human in the family, but her younger sister Tabuka was there and, as a relative stranger to earth, not watching her intake.

Tab was as pretty as Var, actually their features were identical, the younger's skin color being a dark metallic bronze and her hair also a darker shade being the only real differences, and her white pantsuit looked perfect on her. But now she was practically falling out of her chair. Xander and his new cousin-in-law were standing nearby talking; Var had grown quite fond of him over the past three years.

"Now listen, Mr. General Contracting Tycoon-in-Development, as soon as we get settled, I expect you over for dinner, within the first month, absolutely."

"Okay, but no fix-ups, please."

She gave him a bit of an odd look, barely noticeable, and said, "I promise, no strange women will be at the house when you stop by," but just as she said this, Tabuka gave an odd, braying laugh, which she followed by saying, "You coward!"

"Tab, don't start," said Var sharply. Lee also began moving closer to

"I'm glad my shishter married into a good branch of the Harrishes. <i>You</i> could be inviting <i>them</i> over if you'd had any shpine. Inshtead you're alone here and Anya'zh over at the Calicut laughing at you, loozher."

"What?" Xander snapped, "How dare . . . Anya's dead!"

Her sister put her hand on Tab's shoulder and said, "Xander, she's drunk, she doesn't know what she's saying."

"Yeah, I do. She was almosht dead, but she has friends who wouldn't let her down, Shyclopsh, and they got her a job jusht up the block."

"No way, she'd've at least let me know."

Lee said, "Xander, she felt it would be easier if she didn't see you, and I can't blame her."

Var sagged into a chair, shoulders slumping, and said, "Oh, Lee, no," then put her right hand to her brow.

Xander said, "If this is all true I deserve to hear it straight from her," turned and hurriedly walked out.

By this time, several other guests, including Fred and Spike, had walked over. Var, head still in hand, said softly, "Lee, I could have convinced him Tab was just rambling, but you he believed. This is terrible."

"But honey, he deserves to know the truth," her groom protested.

"That's just it, it's not true. That day you came by earlier than I expected and ran into Anya, we just thought up a story we figured you as an American human would find easier to believe."

Lee blinked and said, "Okay, so how did I mess up?'

Var composed herself and said, "Anya was not quite brain-dead from her wound when D'Hoffryn sent a demon to heal her and fetch her down to the Netherworld. She was turned over to some friends of her old master, to be tortured body and soul for betraying him. But she'd developed too much of a good character, she held up under the torture too well, and eventually she stopped being amusing to them. So D'Hoffryn sold her parole to another demon lord who decided it might be fun to send her back to earth with a proviso that she would avoid all deliberate contact with Xander."

"So?" Fred asked, "She couldn't have known this would happen." By now, all the Angel Investigations team had come over.

"This demon lord is a real stickler for rules and agreements. He could easily find a way, given she knew about the wedding, to accuse her of not keeping her part of the bargain."

Angel asked, "So what happens to Anya if Xander sees her?'

Var's tone grew totally level. "Nothing aside from a lot of guilt, but that'll be enough. If Xander sees her and it doesn't qualify as an accident, the demon gets to claim Xander's head, his life, even his soul if he can trap it successfully, which I wouldn't expect but it's possible."

Wesley's reaction was immediate. "Gunn, Cordy, you both come with Fred and me and try to head Xander off. We could really use you, too, Faith. Lorne, is there an underground way from here at the Georgic to the Calicut?"

"Sure," the green Pylean said, "I can have the vamp squad there in a

"Good. Let's all get going, anyone else follow either group you prefer."

Quickly, all the A. I. staff headed in one of two directions, Lee immediately following the above-ground group, Faith having already overtaken and passed them. Var got her parents and her new parents-in-law to make sure her sister stayed out of further mischief then brought up the rear. The remaining guests shared a few bewildered comments, then went back to partying.

________________________________________ III

Anya was overseeing the games at the two baccarat tables she was assigned to that afternoon. Business was brisk and she had almost, almost forgotten what was happening down the block. But her guts twisted when a familiar voice sounded over her shoulder, "Anya, what's the meaning of this?"

She froze in her tracks briefly, then turned and said, "Xander! No, you can't be here."

"Look, Anya, I know we'd never really settled things and I can maybe see why you'd just want to move on but I think I deserved to know you were alive and get a reason for why you didn't want to see me."

Rapidly, she said, "Okay, I'll see what I can do to get word to you, but right now you need to get away before anybody knows you're here."

"'Anybody' already knows he's here, Anyanka," she heard Darryl say, then turned with a gasp to face her boss and two enormous bouncers who looked as human as he did.

"Darryl, you can see I couldn't possibly . . . ."

"Silence, woman, you knew the chances of this happening were good. I gave you an opportunity to leave, you didn't take it, now he's mine."

Xander started to turn toward Darryl saying "Now see here," when he suddenly realized his legs and hips felt as if they had turned to stone, that he couldn't move them and they no longer even really felt attached to his body. "What the . . . ." he said.

In a really very friendly-sounding voice, Darryl said, "I'll explain in a minute," then he clapped his hands and turned to the crowd, calling out,
"Ladies and gentlemen, the management of the Calicut regrets to inform you that we must temporarily close this game room. Please feel free to join the games in any of our other parlors. Thank you."

As the majority of the people moved out, a few others, most holding weapons, were converging on the five standing figures, eight from the left front, four from the back right.

"Ah, yes, I was expecting a little rescue party about now. You don't have what it takes to stop me."

Angel said, "We'll see about that. A lot of people have found us tougher than they expected."

"I'm sure that's so," said Darryl, "but really, Angel, there's a binding agreement that was broken here. Would you cheat me of my lawful prize?"

"What agreement? What's happening here besides my legs being paralyzed?" Xander half-yelled.

Gunn, having had a brief conference with Doug, said, "Yes, I think we all need the facts of the case, then maybe we can try to arrive at a settlement."

Darryl said, "I think my rights are quite clear. Anya was at the point of death when Spike closed the Hellmouth, but was raised by her former master D'Hoffryn for his own purposes. When those purposes were fulfilled, it was decided to return her to earth. Your friend Mr. Giles played a little game with some powerful friends of mine which, among other things, allowed Anya to return under these," he looked around "rather pleasant circumstances, and, for being a good sport, Mr. Giles got his Jennifer or Janna or whatever she calls herself these days back. However, Anya's return was a parole with conditions. One condition was to stay away from Mr. Harris. Never contact him, not let him know she was alive; avoid any place he was likely to be. As I enjoy a good contest, I bought her parole, and now I claim the forfeit. Anya was gambling, with Alexander's life the stakes, and she lost."

Xander began, "Hey, don't I have a say . . . ." and Spike started with,
"That's quite a load of bilge to swallow . . . ." but Wesley raised his voice and soon had everyone's attention.

"Thank you," he said, "Now, while I'm sure Rupert's, Jenny's, and Anya's versions of events would portray the incidents differently, we can trust the cold facts as related," then, looking at Darryl, he said, "You're Beltagru, aren't you?"

"Very perceptive, Mr. Price."

"Yes, the provisions of Anya's parole are as he's stated them, we can be sure. He'd never lie about an agreement made. That's one of his weaknesses, and strengths."

Gunn started again, "Alright, but Anya had no right to act as Xander's representative or agent, and no such agreement is binding."

"Mr. Gunn, this isn't a contract enforced by human law, it was imposed upon Anya, and we never pretended it was by her agreement. She chose to tell her old friends the Fthantis she was alive, knowing Varweena was engaged to Ridley. She knew the wedding was today, and didn't avail herself of the chance to take a day off, which I specifically recommended. This constitutes failure on her part to take this seriously, and I am completely within my rights."

Once more, Doug took up the argument, "Perhaps by the letter of your agreement, and I know you're not a permanent resident of this dimension, but Xander is and you're physically on American soil. You have no right to cause Xander to pay a forfeit to which he didn't commit."

Darryl said, "I'm on my own premises, my staff is here," he inclined his head a bit to left and right, indicating his bouncers who were no more human inside than he was," and as much as it pains me to brag, I am quite powerful as demon lords go. What can you do about it?"

Harmony walked toward him, waving her knife a bit; she held a scabbard in her left hand. With obviously false bravado, she said, "How bad you want to find out?" and, while looking straight ahead at him, flipped her knife toward the ceiling. This provoked angry and frightened shouts from her companions but only an amused smirk from Beltagru. Without taking her eyes off him, she reached up and grabbed the hilt of it quite smoothly in reverse position and thrust it home into the scabbard.

As her human co-workers began to breathe once more, Angel faced her and said, "Harmony, new work rule, don't ever do that again!"

"Geez, that trick always used to frighten the bad guys, not the good guys. But then that wasn't on this earth."

Turning from his secretary to the casino owner, Angel said, "We don't want to fight, Beltagru, and you may not think this now, but you really don't want to fight us. I've never liked Xander, but he's almost like family. .."

Spike called out, "Sort of an in-law!"

Angel continued, ". . . and we'll defend him if needed. Now, what can we work out?"

As the demon lord considered, Spike stepped closer to Harm and asked, "Bloody hell, woman, what is that thing?"

Drawing it again to show off the 16-inch blade, quarter double bladed, knuckle-duster handle, raised pommel, and thumb guard, she said, "It's a very large knife, silly Blondie Bear, what does it look like?"

"No, I mean how come you have something like that, and where were you carrying it in that outfit?"

"It came from the same place I got my scars," she said. "That time I was away from the office, well, I assume you've heard of the dimension called Hell-on-earth?"

A respectful nod of his head told her he had and she continued, "I spent more than 156 local years there, 13 days for this earth. I got this shortly after I got there and it came in very handy more than a few times. In fact, me and this knife had a lot to do with why that dimension will soon have a new name. As to where I keep it hidden when I'm dressed in something I look good in, let's just say it and I have an understanding after all these years," then seeing the change in his expression, blurted, "And don't stand there looking like you're jealous of a piece of cutlery!"

Meanwhile Darryl/Beltagru had completed his ruminations and said, "Well, I do see your point as to its being less than fair to Xander," a remark which provoked a softly moaned "Gee, thanks," from some of the party in question, "and Anya almost convinced me yesterday that she really hadn't been planning this all along and she deserves credit for her performance. So, while Mr. Harris's head is still forfeit, I'll give you heroes a chance to win it back.

"Best three out of five, I name the games or challenges, I pick my opponent for each round, refusal by an opponent is a forfeit, caught cheating and called on it during a round is a forfeit, my own decisions are final but will always be by the standard scoring rules. You folks game?"

Wesley looked at Angel and said, "Beltagru doesn't lie when it comes to games, and, frankly, Angel, if it were to come to a fight, between his henchbeings and his own powers, he has all the advantages. I doubt if we have much choice."

Xander groaned and said, "I don't think <i>I</i> have much choice, if I did I wouldn't pick a bunch of people who hate me to gamble on my life."

Fred moved over in front of him and said, "Xander, you can count on all of us to do our best to help you, that's what we do. Especially Angel. Whatever problems you two had in the past, it won't matter because he's truly a ch . . ."

"Don't say it!" chorused Gunn, Cordelia, Spike, Harmony, and Lorne.

Anya turned to Darryl and said, "Boss . . . ."

"Please, Anya," he replied jovially, "you're already fired, regardless of how this turns out, so no more titles."

"Darryl, thank you for giving me some hope, at least."

"Oh, that's alright, thank you for giving me a fine new head for my
collection," he said, addressing the entire room, "and the chance to play an amusing game before I collect."

Xander was brave, but the lack of advance warning, the pace of events, the apparent hopelessness of it all, was too much. He moaned softly and slumped, his petrified legs bearing up his upper body weight as if they were actual stone. Anya moved over to him, her crisp cream-colored jacket and red dress somehow looking as subdued as her expression.

"Xander, please," she said, groping for words but none came to her except, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." She refused to cry, knowing her tears would only make him feel worse.

He seemed to regain some strength and said, "I'd've been glad to risk my life just to see you again, if I'd known I had to. If I'd known . . . couldn't Giles have told me, or Jenny, or Var?"

"It wasn't allowed. Giles and Jenny were sworn to secrecy, so was everyone I told, the Fthantis, Tara too, when I told her just before Willow finished her quest. If I wanted to see you, and I did, I just had to hope for a lucky accident, but now Darryl's blaming me and he's . . . he's right."

"Baby, maybe it'll be okay. Whatever problems I've had with this bunch, they're good at this," he said. "Now give me a hug," which she gladly did.

"Oh, Xander," she muttered into his shoulder, "I'm thinking I really wish I had died when I was stabbed. You'd be safe now, and I wouldn't have gone through all the horrible things I did, maybe I'd even be in a heaven the way Buffy and Tara were. After this maybe I should . . . ."

"Shhh, don't ever say what I think you almost said, I'll be okay, you'll see," he lied.

Varweena stepped close to them and said, "Anya, will you ever stop being a dunce when it comes to mortal things? You didn't think maybe I could have invited you both over to dinner the same night and then lied to you both that it was for three and not for four? Feh! "

Pulled out of her grief for a moment, Anya looked at Var and said "Feh? Since when do you say feh?"

"My new neighbor Brenda, she grew up in Brooklyn and her maiden name was Rubinstein. I think it's a very useful word."

Meanwhile, Darryl was strolling from table to table. He stopped, then turned to his adversaries and said, "I am not wedded in my heart to games of chance, but, as this is Vegas, let's start with a roll of the dice, one round of craps with Mr. Gunn, rolling our own."

"You're on, Vincenzo," said the bald fighter-lawyer, "I've always had a knack for this." There were several pairs of dice lying on the crap table; Charles grabbed a green set, blew on them once, and tossed them. As he did, Varweena's demonic senses felt a tickle.

"Damn, snake eyes," said Gunn in frustration.

Without a word, Darryl threw a pair of white dice which came up a five and a two. Var felt another tickle.

"First round to me, my friends."

Varweena moved to face him and said, "I felt something, both rolls,
centering on you, Beltagru."

Lorne perked up and interjected, "You know, I half-sensed something myself, and that did seem a bit too smooth. You used telekinesis, didn't you?"

Darryl's first response was to sing two bars of a song from a particularly unpleasant hell. This floored Lorne and almost kayoed him. Lee and Spike ran to help him up while Anya walked over to stand next to Var.

"Fair's fair, Beltagru. We should get this round by forfeit."

"Anyanka, my rules were quite specific. Caught cheating during a round is a forfeit. Cheating itself was not mentioned. The ruling stands, I'm leading one to nothing."

"So this is how you're playing it," said Angel, grimly. "Nice for us to know."

"Angel, shame on you. A combat veteran like yourself should have known how this would go down. But, on to round two. For my next opponent, I choose Miss Kendall."

"Oh, no, for God's sake!" Xander exclaimed.

Spike looked at Lee and said, "I never knew your cousin's voice could
go up that high."

Harmony appeared flummoxed. "Huh? I'm no gambler."

"I know, my dear," said Darryl with a grin. "I challenge you to something I'm sure you did a lot as a youngster, a staring contest."

"Mister, I accept," she said, grinning back just as fiercely.

Concerned, Anya walked over to Harmony and took her arm, saying, "Can you handle this?"

"Sure, he's right, I've done a lot of these."

"Not enough. I need you to swear an oath you'll try your hardest."

"Hello, vampire, evil creature of the night, no heartbeat. What kind of oath could I possibly . . ." Harmony began, then when she saw Anya holding out her left hand, palm outward, fingers spread, she ended with, "Oh."

Cordelia burst out, "You have got to be kidding!"

Harmony touched the fingertips of her right hand to Anya's left and said. "On my honor as a Cordette, I swear on my Manolo Blahniks, I'll try my best to win this round. If I don't try my hardest, may my ability to spot a trend two months before it starts desert me when I need it most."

As they broke off, Anya said, "Careful, he can read minds, and plant suggestions in your brain, too. And I'm glad you didn't try pulling a fast one, I have a pair the same style at home."

Darryl, seated comfortably in a chair facing an empty one, said, "Anya, I promise I won't use mental suggestions to hypnotically cause anyone to throw their round."

"But you don't promise not to use whatever else you can, do you?" said Varweena.

Calmly, he replied, "No, I don't," then, looking over at his bartender, he said, "Anton, give any of my opponents whatever they'd like on me. It's the least I can offer them for the sport they're giving me. I think the Pylean could use a sea breeze." Lorne had found his feet by this time and eagerly shambled over to take advantage of the offer.

Cordy walked over to Anya and said, "I know you came in after I was out of the group, but, well, you do know that was just something we said, right? Keeping promises to each other wasn't a big thing with us, and we had no real honor to swear on."

Anya was still holding back her tears, but just barely. Choking a bit, she said, "Cor, I'm desperate, I didn't think this would happen like this. I'm too scared to miss a single detail that might keep him alive. We've lost each other trhee times already, I can't do it again."

Cordelia said, "I know where you're coming from. He does tend to get under your skin and stay there," she gave a hard side-long glance at Xander, "kinda like a chigger."

Xander rolled his eyes and said to the room, "Guys, please, when this is all over, don't let her do my eulogy."

Meanwhile, Harmony had seated herself in the chair facing Darryl. He said, "Well, you know the rules. Blinking or looking away constitutes the loss. Ready?"

"Oh, I was born ready," she said and giggled nervously but stopped when she realized nobody was joining in.

The contest began. After about eight or nine seconds, Darryl began to speak, starting with small suggestions such as, "You know you've hated each other for years. It'd be so easy to bring him one step closer to . . . ."

"Hey!" she said.

He responded, "I said nothing in the rules about not talking, remember that."

Things went on this way for over a minute and by then Harmony was truly on form, concentrating only on the physical act. Some of the observers began to hope, just a bit...

Darryl smiled and said, "After all, none of the others are likely to tell Anya any embarrassing details. Only Xander is likely to ever mention that, even though he went looking for her today, last night he went to bed with you."

Harmony turned to face Anya and said, "We both thought you were dead and he was feeling so majorly down and I just . . . ooops!"

"'Ooops? Is that all you can say, 'ooops'?" Anya shouted, then took a step toward Harmony; the ex-demon had no special powers left but she looked ready to see if her false fingernails could effectively decapitate Harmony. Cordelia grabbed Anya's shoulders, turned her around, and held the trembling dark-blonde woman in a most un-Cordy-like hug. Meanwhile, the very embarrassed vampire stood up and moved timidly away from the chair.

Xander looked up towards the ceiling and said, "God, I really wanna live, but I can't stand the tension. Maybe a nice little massive heart attack right about now?"

Meanwhile Darryl had also stood up and an anxious Lee walked up to him saying, "Look, Mr. Vincenzo, I know you said you'd pick the game and the opponent, but would a suggestion bother you? How about one hand of five-card-draw, you against Faith, with me dealing, does that sound good?"

The disguised demon lord said, "That strikes my fancy! Just remember, caught cheating is a forfeit."

Wes and Var were standing next to each other and he whispered to her,
"I think he'd reserve to himself the prerogative to judge between 'caught' and 'not caught' anyway."

"Yeah," she agreed, "we need to watch him, try to keep him from fixing the rounds. If we can keep him from doing that he'll follow the letter of the agreement. Just beware the telepathy, but he can only read one mind at a time and not if he's concentrating on something else."

Harmony walked nervously over to Spike and bummed a smoke, saying "I need one after that," and he gave her a light. "Ah, your old reliable, I see," she remarked.

"Actually a replacement, found it in an antique shop out in Malibu last year." Darryl looked over, an interested expression on his face, but didn't say anything. Var still noticed.

While Lee was a TV lighting technician by trade, he was a magician for a hobby and an accomplished poker player as well. A Calicut dealer handed him a fresh pack, which he broke open, then he joined Faith and Darryl at a small table.

Lee shuffled, a blank look on his own physiognomy, and then tossed five cards alternately to each player. Their own faces unreadable, the two picked up their hands.

"Any cards, anyone?" Lee asked.

"I'll play these," Darryl replied.

Faith flipped two to the table and said, "I'll take two," which Lee gave her.

Now his voice did quaver a bit, when he said, "Show your hands, please."

Darryl laid down his card, showing two red aces and two black eights, tilted his head back and said, "How fitting, even though it's not completely the same hand. I wasn't there his last day but I knew Bill Hickok very well. I remember one time . . . ."

Faith interrupted, "Before you go too far down Memory Lane, Smiley, check out my heart flush. Looks like one for our side," she concluded with a smile.

Vincenzo laughed and said, "Ah, now this is getting really interesting."

Lee walked over to Xander and said, "Maybe your luck's getting warmer, man. Hey, sorry for talking too much when Tab started, Var told me it was a secret but I figured when my sister-in-law told you, it was out of the bag."

Xander shook his head and said, "Hey back, there was no way for you to know. And thanks, Lee, I really needed that. You sure were slick."

"Got a flash for you, cousin. I didn't dare fix it totally, or even close. I did what I could but it was basically a square deal."

Darryl began wandering the room, attempting to engage in meaningless-sounding small talk with his potential adversaries, none of whom were in much mood to respond in friendly wise. By the time he approached Spike and Harmony, Faith had joined them. Ever considerate of the ladies, as soon as she'd pulled out her cigarette Spike lit it for her.

"Interesting antique lighter, Spike. A 1923 Dayne and Hillson Ambassador, right? You bought it new?" Darryl asked.

"Naw, fourth one I've owned," said Spike warily, "But I've always done well with them."

"Lights without fail, never a miss, eh?"

"That's an exaggeration but I get good results . . . oh, bollocks!"

"Ah, I had you pegged as a fellow Hitchcock fan. Well, why don't we make ourselves comfortable at the small card table?"

Varweena had figured it out just as quickly as Spike and made a furtive hand signal to Cordelia, who picked up on it immediately. Both moved slowly towards the door while making similar signals to Fred, Harmony, Faith and Lorne.

Spike reached the table, sat down, and said, "So now what? You're challenging me to light this ten times in a row without a miss, with the bricklayer's head the stakes?"

Xander groaned, "Why him, of all people?" as Lee patted his right shoulder and Anya took his left hand. Angel, Gunn, and Wes, positioning themselves between him and the table, moved a noticeable bit closer to the table while holding their weapons with carefully exaggerated casualness. Darryl nodded to them and almost smiled.

Then he sat down and answered, "Tsk-tsk, no, Spike. I'm no Peter Lorre wagering with you for something as silly as one of your fingers. I couldn't possibly ask for ten, thirteen is more like it."

"Crikey!" Spike hissed.

Xander didn't make any noise at all, just drooped his head. Unseen by Darryl, or anyone else for that matter, six women and a male demon arranged themselves into a semi-circle.

With a look that might have melted steel but not a demon's heart, Spike flipped open his lighter and began the round, counting out loud, "One, two. . ." Darryl nodded with each success, a full dozen. Angel, Gunn, and Wes visibly tensed.

Just as Spike was preparing to try the last strike, Darryl jerked his head back, the room doors opened, and a breeze blew through them. A breeze which never reached the card table, blocked by a half-circle of bodies.

"Thirteen!" Spike said triumphantly. "Two up, Beltagru, now what?"
Honestly surprised, Darryl turned and glared at the people in the circle, who looked back at him quite coolly.

Vincenzo rose and said, "Now what? Now I need a drink. Plenty of time for one last round after I finish."

Shaking his head, Angel walked over to Var and Cordy and said, "Great strategy, ladies. Don't know why I didn't see that coming myself."

"Because nobody can see everything, former boss," replied Cordelia. "You had your mind busy with what to do if we lost, and fortunately Mr. Demon Yakuza was thinking the same way you were and paying attention to your Testosterone Trio while we did what was needed." She grinned at him.

Harmony chimed in, "Short form, Angel, it's a girl thing."

Lorne burst out quickly, "Excuse me?"

Obviously embarrassed (vampires can't really blush but she tried very hard to) Harmony answered, "Sorry, Lorneytoons, I just always think of you as . . . and even I'm not enough of an airhead to finish that sentence, just, my apologies, right?" and the look on his face showed he was alright with that.

Lee turned to Xander and said, "Hey, things are looking up," but his cousin just smiled weakly in reply.

Finishing his drink, Darryl exclaimed, "Alright, it's time it's time I faced the champion himself. Angel, you up for a bout of wrist-wrestling?"

"Oh, I'm game," the unlicensed vampire shamus replied, "But is that really a contest, your being an Arch-Devil?"

"Tut-tut, m'boy, I play to win, not for show. In this disguise my strength is comparable to that of a Slayer. This will be a battle of grit and mental state."

They sat down at the card table, stared at each other for an instant, took hold of the table edge with their left hands, then gripped rights at the bases of their thumbs. The battle was joined.

After a few seconds of sheer test of strength, Darryl began talking. Angel seemed not at all surprised.

"Remember when you were trying to prove to Faith that you'd gone evil so you slugged Xander and said 'That guy just bugs me'? I know you actually enjoyed getting the chance to finally do that, after all the things he'd said over the years, and you still feel the same. It'd be so easy, wouldn't it?"

"Nice try," Angel hissed back, but he was visibly straining.

The demon-lord continued, "And there's a lot you don't know. When Angelus was reviving Acathla, and Willow was in her hospital bed, trying to restore your soul and Buffy was on her way to stop you, Willow asked Xander to tell Buffy about the spell. But instead, he took it upon himself to convey a false message. I find the vulgar language he used unpleasant, but in essence he told Buffy that Willow had said to smite you hip and thigh."

Darryl had a brief look of triumph on his face, which immediately faded when Angel drove his arm down, smashing the table in the process.

"How did . . . how did you . . .?" the arch-devil stammered.

"Simple," Angel said with a smile, as he stood up and stretched his arm. "Granted, I couldn't know exactly what you were going to say, but I knew you were going to try <i>something</i> like that. And I knew you'd assume you had me and you'd pull back a bit before giving me your big push, so I pushed first."

The casino owner said nothing for a long moment but did immediately gesture in Xander's direction and the latter's legs unfroze.

Xander's own leg muscles were spasming too badly for him to walk properly, but Lee and Anya helped him to a nearby chair. He flopped into it, totally limp, while he slowly recovered. Anya knelt by his chair, his left hand in both hers, and let her tears flow at last.

Darryl stood up and said, "By the fire-swamps of Caena, that was by far the most stimulating contest I've had in well over 200 years. In appreciation for such fine sport, I'd like to stand you all a round of drinks."

Some of the replies were simple and direct, others wordy, some polite, some rude, but added up to a unanimous negative.

Var walked over to her husband, looked down at Xander, and said, "Your call, Lee. Can he walk back to the Georgic, do we have to carry him, or do we just shoot him?"

"Found your feet yet, boy?" the new groom said.

"Yeah," Xander answered, rising, "you guys saved my life, so let's get back while the party's still swinging."

Anya had stood up and was standing demurely nearby when Varweena looked back at her and said, "Hey, get a move on, my folks wouldn't mind seeing you again."

Replied Anya, "It's a Harris family thing, I don't know how welcome I'd be."

Lee answered, "The only Harrisses that matter at this one are the bride and groom, and we say you are."

The whole group was walking toward the tunnels and Anya sidled over to Xander and said, "Honey, I'm so sorry. I had no right to risk your life, I should have just gone out to the geological museum or Hoover Dam or something; I feel so guilty."

"Hey, look, later this afternoon or maybe tomorrow morning I'll get to thinking about it and I'll be mad as hell for a few days and then I'll be over it. I'm no innocent myself, and if you had done the right thing, we wouldn't have this, what is it, fifth or sixth chance we've got here.
Let's not blow it this time, you Swedish goofball,"

"Okay, you . . . you Scottish bag-twit."

Harmony came up and asked, "Anya, no hard feelings, I hope?"

"No, Harm, like you said, you both thought I was dead. Things happen, and I'm sure you answered some questions he had. Look, I learned something a couple years ago when Xander jilted me. The Sunnydale crowd were his friends; they didn't especially like me for me, except Tara mostly. And, whatever was going on in '98, we've both grown up a lot since then. How about we work on being real buds? Cool?"


Meanwhile, Xander had moved a bit nervously up to Angel and said, "Err, uhh, Angel, about what Darryl said, it was back then and . . ."

"Relax, Xander," said Angel with a big smile, "I know how hard things were, I should since I was the cause of it. And remember, barring any unforeseen prophecies, I've got all the time in the world to think this through, and they do say revenge is a dish best eaten cold."



 Post subject: Re: Never Bet the Devil Someone Else's Head
PostPosted: Tue Nov 20, 2012 9:37 am 
Dorkus Maximus and Super Wuss
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