“Entropy,” by Drew Z. Greenberg
Ah, springtime on the Hellmouth. Vampires flee in apparent terror, all thoughts of drinking the blood of the living forgotten as... wait! There isn’t a Slayer in sight! No Buffy, no friends, no ex-lovers or off-and-on allies, not even a plucky victim, a much-missed Watcher or a misguided, doomed cop. Instead we see the Trio, on quads. They are completely ineffective in catching the vamps, who nearly get away. The Sunnydale vampire population is becoming weaker and more prone to bolting without cause as time goes on, I think.
And for good reason, perhaps, because now Buffy does show up, as does Spike. Warren, showing true nerve if not actual courage, edges closer until he’s fray-adjacent, all so he can snatch a mystic disk off the ground. The disk, naturally, was the reason the three of them were chasing the undead in the first place.
It was nice of the vamps to drop the thing before it got dusted along with their clothes.
Spuffy doesn’t so much as notice the three villainettes. Spike is busy holding one of them above the fistfight while offering to help finish him off... if only Buffy will tell her friends about their affair. Sadly for him, she’s gotten a bit of self-esteem out of having been forgiven for trying to kill the gang.
“Sleeping with you? They’ll deal.” She says this so confidently I believe it.
Spike, reasonably enough, suggests that in that case they should sleep together again. But she says she doesn’t love him, dusts disposable vamp number two, and walks off.
Meanwhile, and as we all remember, Xander’s life absolutely sucks. He is drinking beer laced with self-pity and listening to sad music. Is it country music, the music of pain? I don’t recognize the band. We see that Anya is watching him from the bushes, but she doesn’t go to him. Her life, if we can still call it that, is even worse than his. At least Xander’s troubles are self-inflicted.
Speaking of benign not-quite-stalking behaviors, Willow is watching Tara. This time she actually approaches her after class, which makes it not creepy. She learns, as a result, that the woman she saw Tara with last week was merely a friend. They catch up on their various Buffy-inflicted injuries from the week before, and Willow gets up the nerve to ask Tara out for coffee. They burble cutely through the next stage of their reconciliation. Enjoy it, guys. That clock is ticking.
Buffy, meanwhile, is living within the restrictions of her new no-sex-with-Spike lifestyle. She and Dawn are attempting to shop, but running up against the fact that little Miz Lightfingers stole stuff from all the stores they might potentially go into. But they’re hanging out, getting along, and apparently feeling comfortable about both Buffy’s fit of homicidal mania and how Dawn has taken responsibility for her thievey actions and may yet, one day, redeem herself.
Over at Trio Central, Jonathan is working on a spell involving the purloined magic disk. He’s being closely supervised by Warren and feeling testy about it. Who wouldn’t? The deal as Jonathan understands it is the latest scheme will make them all super-rich and then they’ll go their separate ways. Once again, he has failed to grasp Warren’s true nature.
Because down there in the fine print, what the deal actually says is that Warren and Andrew are going to get super-rich and then finish poor Jonathan off before the latest carton of milk expires.
Xander shuffles painfully home, where he finds Anya waiting for him. He grovels. He says he’s an idiot. He says he wants to make up for what he’s done and he loves her. So far, so good, right? Then, when she asks what happened, he sticks his foot in his mouth: he admits that he didn’t want to get married, and still doesn’t. That he’s not ready.
So not what she wants to hear.
Xander wishes they could go back to the way things were before they got engaged. Anya wishes he was never born. But when she wishes, she really wishes. With a vengeance, if you know what I mean. Of course you know what I mean!
Someone’s got her powers back. Um... yay?
In three thousand years of cursing, killing, and flirting with Dracula, Anya apparently never learned that she can’t grant wishes to herself. She gives it her all, coming up with ever more inventive attempts to kill Xander and watching them all flop. Finally she gives in, going off to Halfrek to complain about her performance problems.
Halfrek, who actually read So You Wanna be a Vengeance Demon? and every single page of the employee orientation and benefits plan summary before signing up with the D’Hoffryn-based franchise of Revenge Incorporated, explains there’s a loophole: Anya can try to get someone else to make the wish for her.
Over at the Summers house, Buffy is making wayyyyy too many pancakes and proposing pizza dates to little sis. Dawn says she’d rather come out on patrol. This gets her nowhere, but the argument stops short of becoming another Summers Sibling Screamfest. The answer’s no and that’s final. No surprise there, even if XanDillow were out patrolling at Dawn’s current age. Buffy’s so uptight about risking the kid’s life! She may be feeling better, but even so—what a killjoy! I feel sure that Spike would agree.
Anya, meanwhile, finds Willow and Tara having a great time at the coffee shop, talking about all the depressing episodes Tara missed, like “Gone” and “Doublemeat Palace.” When she appears, Willow gives her a ginormous and totally sincere hug. The two of them have come rather a long way, haven’t they? Anya, though, is hoping for rather more than a comforting squeeze. She darnwell wants a Scooby to wish Xander into a horrible screaming grave.
It’s a bona fide homicide attempt, all played for laffs. And it is a genuinely hilarious comic sequence, as she tries to get an “I wish” out of WillTara, Dawn, or Buffy.
The chuckles end when Xander interrupts her at Buffy’s.
Anya storms off and Buffy counsels giving her space. Xander, in frustration, kicks the Trio’s garden gnome. This sends the story spiralling off in a new direction, along with the cheap fragments of ceramic—they find the camera in the gnome’s head. Xander decides it’s Spike’s and Buffy duly heads off to the crypt to share the accusation.
“I don’t hurt you,” Spike says, and claims he’s a changed man. Buffy tells him he needs to move on, and he kicks her out. I’m always happy when he does this. It demonstrates self-respect.
And wow! It is really nice to see Buffy not depressed!
Anya has, by now, bounced back to Halfrek to hash over her second failure with the cursing. Xander’s friends like him too much to wish he’d get a lethal return engagement of the funny syphillis, or turn into a mad cow, or get devoured by demons. Hallie points out that she needs to find someone who doesn’t give a fig’s ass if Xander gets hurt. And look! Just then, Spike’s coming into the Magic Shop.
Anya looks at the Bloody with that special look she usually reserves for hundred dollar bills. Ka Ching!
Hallie makes herself scarce as Spike asks for a numbing spell. Instead of numbing, Anya gives him Giles’s old bottle of Jack Daniels.
By now, Xander and Buffy have worked out the obvious: if Spike isn’t their stalkery cameraman, they can have three other likely suspects for the price of one. Willow’s trying to hack the camera to see if they can locate the Trio. Jonathan has finished the spell, and now the three are re-enacting the temple scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. I sure hope they don’t end up digging in the wrong place.
What Willow discovers is that the Trio has cameras, cameras everywhere: at Xander’s construction site, at the Bronze, at the Doublmeat, and even at UC Sunnydale. And, inevitably, there’s one at the Magic Box.
As all this is happening, Spanya are getting drunk, sharing their heartache, talking about how damned hard they tried, all for true love. Anya starts to get past her fury and talk about the misery, the rupturing hole in her self-esteem. In time, this leads the two of them to spanging like drunken, wounded, crazy people on a table in the store.
Thanks to Willow’s hacking acumen, Buffy and Xander see it all in grainy, throbbing black and white.
Buffy’s reaction clues Dawn in to the fact that her sister has feelings for Spike and has acted upon them. As they’re talking that through, Xander heads for the Magic Box with an axe.
A horrible XandAnya argument follows. He’s sickened because she had sex with the evil soulless thing. Spike takes the opportunity to point out that Buffy’s had a bit of that sexy soulless action as well. And oh, contrary to Buffy’s assertion in the early part of the episode, Xander really doesn’t deal. Instead, as she feared all along, he’s thoroughly grossed out.
Xander leaves, Buffy leaves, and Spike gets as far as saying something Xander-related starting with the words “I wish—” before Anya cuts him off. Then, having burned out her desire to kill the man she still loves, she goes inside and starts straightening out the Magic Box.
Who don’t we feel bad for here? Xander is just a big ball of unlovable mess at the moment, but he’s Xander after all. We’ll forgive him. Spike’s made a faint attempt to move on, as Buffy said he should, and it’s gone about as well as one of his crime schemes. Anya’s shattered, Buffy’s bruised... I know, let’s look in on the reconciling lesbians! That’ll be way more cheerful.
Because it’s so on, finally. Tara shows up in Willow’s bedroom. She’s tired of being strong and waiting to get back together the mature way. She wants to cut to the smoochies, and I am so on board. We need a little ray of relationship optimism, am I right? We want to see that people can mend. They can patch it up with a kiss and some cuddling. Everyone else may be falling apart, but at least WillTara can live happily ever after.
Next: A splash of red
A.M. Dellamonica has tons of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales. (Watch for the second of The Gales, “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)