She dips her fingertips into the little iron pot, carefully avoiding the burning wick and rubs a few warm drops between her fingers. All the while, Willow rambles on about using the deosil and drawing down the moon as if they were phrases Anya'd never heard before.
Each time Willow pauses the ritual to explain what she's doing, Anya's lips rise in a smile. She isn't sure if it's kindness or superiority that keeps her silent. Clearly Willow knows the power Anya possesses or she would never have asked her to second on so many spells over the years. Long before D'Hoffryn's first visit, Anya had developed a strength few witches ever gain. Even though she is no longer a demon, Anya retains a thousand years' worth of magical knowledge. Being schooled in the darker arts by Willow is quite comical. Willow, who with the exception of a few one night stands with a pentagram, has never realized what she is truly capable of. Yet, Anya lets her go on, day after day, guiding them through the spells each step of the way.
Anya releases control of her arm as Willow's fingers curl around hers. As Willow guides, Anya moves the twig clockwise around the circle of candles between them. Most of the spell is done in silence, which Anya prefers. The ones in Latin leave her dry, and those in demonic tongues make Willow upset. Anya doesn't really understand the big deal, Willow starts speaking in tongues half the time anyway, and whenever she does, Anya loses her place and they just end up fighting. So they try to stick to spells that draw on focusing rituals more than words.
Willow releases Anya's hand as they complete the spell in unison. Standing up quickly, Willow brushes at her clothing until it's free of ash and herbs.
"That should do it for tonight," she says, handing Anya a bronze snuffer for the candles.
Once the candles are all out Anya places a couple into a small plastic bag, carefully avoiding the hot wax that has pooled around the wick.
"You can take these to the river on your way to Buffy's," Anya says, slipping the candles into Willow's bag before she can protest. "That way I don't have to drive after dark. Freaking vampires," she adds, shaking her shoulders in a move of disgust.
Anya grabs a bottled water from the refrigerator before sitting down near the table covered in what remains of the Magic Box. A few dozen jars of herbs, a box of charms and pentacles, books far less useful than either would like. Anya understands the call for revenge that drove Willow to her murderous spree, but on days when all of the pages she wants to call on are blank, she wishes she had been the one to carry out the vengeance. She's sure she that could have thought of something better than skinning Tara's killer alive, but then she's had far more experience than Willow.
There are more than a few moments where Anya thinks all this preparation is futile. All the protection spells and banishments in the universe aren't going to keep the First from their door. Bringers and vampires swarm around Sunnydale like hellbent bees in search of the last pollen of summer, and maybe that's what they all are the last of their kind, the last to fight back.
And so they spend their afternoons having unholy craft time, tying ribbons around satchels of Rowan leaves and Hawthorn. Anya's forearms burn from hours working the mortar and pestle, crushing garlic cloves to paste, and scraping rosemary stems with a baleen knife.
"It's better if we do it ourselves," Willow says, cutting lengths of silver ribbon and piling them on the table.
"Because that always goes so well," Anya mumbles as she gathers muslin squares from a stack and begins pinching bits of mustard seed into the centers.
"We've done okay together," Willow says, "I mean, except for the time we called on Eryishon and opened a fold to a hell dimension."
"Or when we summoned Olaf the troll god."
"Or when we sent Buffy back to the First Slayer's time."
"You did that all by yourself."
"Hey, you were there too. For all I know, it was you who did that."
"Right," Anya says with a short laugh, "Like I have that kind of strength."
"You were a demon for a thousand years," Willow says, her voice reaching a slightly higher pitch.
"Well not any more, I mean not since D'Hoffryn took my powers away. I'm not a practicing demon, at least."
"Anya, you don't have to practice, you're a demon. You just wake up every morning and voilà still a demon."
"Oh yeah, well you're a witch, so go voilà yourself."
"I just think you've got more power than you know." Willow says, tucking a few sachets into her bag as she rises to leave. "See you tomorrow."
Anya smiles as the door clicks shut. "Yeah, well if I've got so much power how come I still have to put batteries in my roommate?" she asks the empty room.
"How many more of these are we going to do?" Anya asks, setting her jacket over the back of a lawn chair.
"As many as it takes to keep us all safe. Or until we figure out how to stop it." Squatting down to adjust a few stones and light another candle, Willow waves her hands over the sacred circle and takes in the myriad scents.
"I'm just saying it would be nice if it was actually keeping anyone safe, you know instead of leaving us with Potentials hanging from the rafters and a pet cemetery in the back yard."
"We're still here," Willow says softly. "Hurry up."
Anya sheds the last of her clothing, joining Willow at the circle. Willow's arms are milk white against the California night as she raises them above her head giving supplication. Skyclad against unnatural hues of toxic orange and red, they step together, moving closer to the bronze pentacle on the grass. The dampness of the grass plays between their toes, washing away the last barriers between the two women and the goddesses they call on. As they near the pentacle the ring of candles grows warmer, their words sending electric chills through the air, swirling heat and sweet ash through their hair.
Flinching when Willow unexpectedly grabs her hand, Anya has a sudden flash of memory of their first spell together. She can almost feel the air dancing pink around them as the Endless One's life-force raced over her spine as their supplication was answered and Eryishon's vision surrounded them. Years later the thought has the same effect on her, raising gooseflesh and making her heart boom in her chest. Anya hadn't resorted to archaic witchcraft in a millennium. Requiring a secondary had felt like a universal insult at the time, but now, just four years later, she's oddly comforted by the idea that she's not alone.
"You know, I've done this spell before," Anya says as the air settles and Willow sets to extinguishing the flames. "I don't remember ever having to be naked before."
"I guess you don't have to be naked, but it helps focus your energies. There's nothing worse than catching your sleeve on a branch of blackthorn in the middle of a ritual. Sometimes you say words that let's just say you have to watch your step when you back away from the circle."
"Oh, I just thought this was your way of inspecting my body to see if it was pleasing to you now that you don't have a girlfriend." Anya poses with her hands on her hips for a moment before drawing her shirt over her head and turning her back to Willow as she pulls her skirt on.
"You thought " Willow laughs. "Oh, did you want me to look? Because I was kind of focused on protecting the slayer, but I could, I mean. You know, this may be the most uncomfortable conversation we've ever had, and I didn't really think there was anywhere to go but up."
"I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable, although I like the way you wiggle when you are." Anya's smile is predatory, but she waves her hand through the air and laughs, brushing the words out of the air as though they would disappear.
"I think I'm just gonna run now," Willow says, grabbing her clothes up with one arm, frantically trying to cover herself. "I'll just come back for my stuff tomorrow."
"Fine, go," Anya says, following Willow into the apartment, "I'm not that kind of lesbian anyway."
"Anya, you're not any kind of lesbian." Willow says, turning back to Anya as she pulls her trousers on. "And even if you were, you wouldn't lesbian with me."
"How do you know who I'd lesbian with?"
"Okay Anya, tell me, who would you have sex with, and please don't let it be anyone I know."
"Well, I'm sure there's lots of people, but now you've taken all the fun out of it."
"It's not supposed to be fun. I mean, of course it is, but you don't just do it for fun."
"Because it's not like we're some kind of horny sex having buddies, that's why not."
"These rules are stupid. If I want to have sex with you I should be able to."
"It's not just about what you want, Anya."
"So you're saying you don't want to have sex." Anya pauses, tapping her finger against her lips until a thought occurs to her. "But I have whiskey."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"That's all it took with Spike, so I just thought maybe "
"Just because Spike's easy doesn't mean I am. I don't just have sex with people, and I really didn't need that image in my head again."
"But if you saw me having sex with Spike you know I'm very good."
"That's not the point."
"We could all die and I don't want to be the only one without someone missing them and worrying that they're safe and still attached to all their limbs. You'll always have Buffy and Xander, but you're the only one that ever comes to see me." Anya fights back stupid human tears, finally having to wipe one away as it escapes down her cheek.
"Anya," Willow says in a quiet voice, "We'd all miss you. I know Xander will, especially."
"Oh sure, Xander misses me a lot. He's always calling, begging me to take him back, or to just come over and clean his house in that little maid outfit with the drawstring panties, and " Anya stops. Squirming under Willow's stare, she continues, "Okay, so he doesn't call me, but he should because I'm lonely and horny, and my old boss keeps trying to kill me. And you're the only friend I have, and you won't even "
Stepping forward Willow places a finger over Anya's mouth, making a small 'shhh' noise. Anya's lips quiver in shock as Willow leans forward and kisses her. Soft, tender movements barely register as the simple warmth of the touch overcomes Anya. Placing her hand on the small of Willow's back, Anya is saddened when she feels Willow press against her hand, trying to escape the moment.
"It's late," Willow says as she steps away. "Too late," she says with meaning.
As Anya watches Willow go she curses herself for needing a friend so badly. And then she curses Willow for being just friend enough to make it hurt when she walks out the door.
The pull was stronger than she was expecting. Anya stood in the wide hallway, sword in hand. What little strength her demon-self once harbored running low. Screams and growls seemed to fill every corridor and even though the early morning sun crept through the windows Anya was intimately aware of the darkness of the Hellmouth below them. She was exhausted, bleeding, but not quite broken.
Fighting on, she heard the whisper of Willow's voice far above her. The steady timbre was almost soothing in the midst of such chaos. As the chants grew louder in her ears Anya knew instinctually that the scythe would not be enough. Willow was already searching for more strength. Anya could feel the tendrils of the spell curve around her ankles like wild vines, licking at her skin, waiting for unspoken permission to enter.
Anya's chest heaved as the air was forced from her lungs, making it harder to raise the sword above her head. Willow's voice rattled around her mind, a cacophony of Latin and murmured English, and then there was silence. Lasting just long enough for Anya to hear her request, "What can I take?" It took several seconds for Anya to realize just what she was asking. Too much was at stake for Willow to take power from the Slayers; they had to fight on.
"Take what you can," Anya whispered, gathering her wits about her enough to fend off one of the attacking Bringers.
"I'll miss you." The words slid into Anya's mind, filling her with resolution, and sadness at the same time. If the rest of them died after her, who would miss them?
There was no time to second guess. The draw grew stronger, rippling through her body in that electric shift that first drew her to magic a thousand years earlier. She closed her eyes briefly, expecting the moment to be brief as most spellwork was, but no sooner had she regained her senses than she saw Andrew's eyes widen. Time stretched out like videotape, there before her in simple frames were the faces of those she had once called friend. Just as soon as time had slowed it sped with a horrendous rush, the atmosphere felt charged and Anya knew with absolute certainty that Willow's spell had worked.
And then there was the searing pain of death that she had always known
would come. One last vision burst into her mind as she felt her body fall
Willow's voice saying goodbye, a plate shattering against
this same school's floor and a single screamed word echoing off its walls
as the universe gave her