Part One ------------------------------------------------------
School had become a lame version of hell for Cordelia, and Harmony and her twits led the demonic... oh who was she kidding? They were just lame, too. And Cordelia had obviously fallen prey to the same pathetic lameness because it all bothered her so much. Xander and Willow walking around without holes in their stomach--that's what really blew. She got rebar through her stomach, had Harmony lead a revolution within the Cordettes, was considered Xander Harris' castoff, and had Jonathon the geek-boy's pity. Private school was starting to look good. Military school might even be better than Sunnydale. Cordy was stopped by the new girl appearing in front of her in the middle of the hallway. She braced herself for one more round of bash-the-former-queen. Like her father had said, people are just jealous of success and take any opportunity to make you pay for having some success.
"Go ahead. Dazzle me with your oh-so-brilliant insults. Just join the club," she said with as much aplomb as she could muster under the circumstances.
Anya smiled. "Hardly. Uh, actually, I've been looking for you. Ever since we met this morning, I was, like, thank God there's one other person in this town who actually reads W."
"Oh, she follows me around. If that girl had an original thought, her head would explode."
Cordelia was caught between wanting to defend her ex-friend and just being so frustrated that she could cry over the fact that Harmony wasn't following her any more. High school could just not get any worse. Time for a change of topic. "Is that Gucci?" she asked.
Anya reached up and fingered her necklace. "Um... no. It's an actual old thing, sort of a, um... good luck charm my dad gave me."
"Too bad I didn't have one of those pre-Xander." Cordelia felt her guts twinge at the name, and she didn't think it was the stitches. He'd been so damn loyal to Buffy and Willow. He'd put up with everything Giles had said, even when Giles said really horrible things after that Valentine's Day spell. And when she had dumped him, he went and risked everything just to get her back. He was supposed to be the one who was loyal to her 'til the end. She'd given up most of her cool points for him, and then he went and macked on Willow Rosenberg the skank. But that was behind her, and she had to move forward. She looked at Anya for a second, waiting for mocking that just never came, and Cordelia could feel the stress ease. Anya was cool, and she knew her Prada, so if Cordelia had to start a whole new social group, she could do that. She and Anya could outclass Harmony and her sluts any day. The only cool points Harmony had every earned came from being in Cordelia's shadow. She didn't have the class to run the Cordettes herself.
Anya leaned in a bit. "Can I just say... Men."
"Second it," Cordelia agreed cheerfully.
"Apart from being without class, the guy's obviously blind. Deserves whatever he gets."
Cordelia smiled tightly. That's right, he did. If he didn't love her enough, then she was going to make sure she didn't love him. And if stupid Buffy and Willow wanted to stick up for the blind loser, that wasn't her fault. "I'm not even thinking about him. I am past it. I am living my life," she said haughtily. She might not feel quite queenish yet, but she knew how to fake it until she made it.
"Still, I mean..." Anya shrugged. "Don't you kinda wish..."
Wish. Cordelia thought about Xander and then about John Lee who wouldn't even be seen with her in public now and her father who had refused to even consider that school in Sweden with the maids in the dorms and the stupid principal who had threatened to kick her out and make her redo her senior year if she missed any more school. "That someone hadn't put stupid men with their stupid hormones and their stupid rules in charge of the world?" Cordelia snorted. "Totally."
"Done," Anya said in a dark voice. Cordelia glanced at the girl and she'd gone all veiny and ugly and definitely demony. Cordelia jerked away, slamming her back into the lockers, and Anya smiled, which was a pretty terrifying expression what with all the veins, and then she was just gone.
"Anya?" Cordelia called softly. Students walked by, none of them seeming to notice Cordelia or the mysteriously vanishing Anya. "Okay, that was freaky," she whispered to herself before she tightened her arms around her books and headed for history. Maybe she'd stop by the library and talk to Giles later because that... that seemed slightly on the demony side of the street and that was the side Giles and his merry band of losers lived on. She lived on the side with gardeners. Geez, a girl wasn't even safe in the halls any more.
Cordelia hit history class seconds before the bell rang, and only two seats were left: one up front near Harmony and one in the back row between Jonathan and Andrew. Ew. Okay, she was the queen, so she could handle this. She slid into the seat next to Harmony and focused on the board. Frowning at the assignment written in neat block letters, Cordelia tried to figure out whether her mom had brought her the wrong homework while she was in the hospital because that was definitely not the assignment she had worked on.
"Have you figured out what you're going to do?" Harmony whispered. Cordelia looked at her in confusion as Mr. Clark came bustling into the room, his arms full of books.
"Young mistresses, boys, so sorry for the delay. I've managed to gather a number of books for you so that you may work on the assignment. As always, the requirements are listed at the top of the assignment sheet I handed out yesterday."
"I don't know why we need to study the contribution of men; it's not like they contribute much except sperm," Brooke Thaddus laughed, and the girls all giggled. Harmony shot a smug look toward the back of the room, and when Cordelia glanced back, most of the boys were blushing. Xander Harris himself was in the far corner, staring at his own knees. And now that she looked, all the boys were sitting in back. Even Wendell the front-row nerd was sitting in the middle, in front of the boys' section, but behind the last girl.
"Well, I know many of you have that impression, and while it is true that history has been largely shaped by women, men have influenced critical periods of time. During the Great War, men were instrumental in the underground and in carrying communications that had been largely cut off by..."
"Yeah, but it's not like they fought. It's not like--" Harmony started.
"So, those are history books?" Cordelia cut Harmony off as she stared at the books Mr. Clark had dropped on his desk. Cordelia was starting to get the idea that something fairly big had just happened, and right now, researching a little history was sounding like a pretty good idea. In fact, she could safely say that she had never wanted to study history so much in her life.
"Of course, Mistress Chase," Mr. Clark immediately answered. Cordelia stood up and grabbed one... the biggest one... from his desk. On her way back to her desk, she could see the other girls exchange confused looks for a second, but then they followed suit, getting up and claiming their books. Only after the girls had gone did the boys start coming to the front, but by that time, Cordelia was engrossed in the tale of the insane Klara Poelzl and her weirdo son, Adolf, and how they had tried to take over the world. Oh yeah, Cordelia definitely needed to talk to Giles.
"So," Giles said carefully, "she simply said 'done' and then the entire world changed?"
"Exactly. This is your thing, so fix it," Cordelia said testily. She'd repeated the story three times, and she wanted to get out of here before Buffy and her little crew showed up.
"Fix it?" Giles said vaguely. "Fix the whole world?" The glasses came off as he polished them, so Cordelia figured that was some sort of proof that this was at least a version of her world. Giles and his glasses polishing was some sort of universal constant, like Willow and her backstabbing and Xander and his cheating. She'd already poked around enough to figure out that those two had still betrayed her, but at least in this world, Harmony actually seemed to be sticking by her... for now.
Cordelia frowned at him. "Isn't that what you're for? You do some research thing, and then you fix this."
"Hey, what's the what?" Buffy called as she came through the doors of the library. Cordelia crossed her arms and glared at the other girl. Buffy lost a half step and then smiled weakly as she came in a little slower.
"Cordy," Buffy offered. Cordelia sniffed.
"Yes, well, according to Mistress Chase, we have a demon situation."
"Excellent, and will this slayage get me out of sixth hour, because me and studying men's influence on history? Totally unmixy. I mean, how boring can you get? Let's just study boiling water. Oh, wait, I think we did that in third grade, but studying boiling water was infinitely more interesting than studying men's history."
"Please do remember that I am a man," Giles sighed, and Buffy gave him a contrite look.
"Well, yeah, but you're an interesting man. I don't suppose Clark would have biographies of watchers, would he?"
"I highly doubt it since we are a secret organization. However, right now Mistress Chase has come with an interesting story."
"Is this going to include Willow in several small, bloody pieces on the floor?" Buffy eyed Cordelia.
"Please, like that skank is worth my time, or the damage to my manicure." Cordelia rolled her eyes.
"Good. Because, you know, she totally deserves the smackdown for grabbing someone else's guy, but please do not do the smacking in front of me because I would feel a weird solidarity that would make me feel guilty if I didn't get in there and stick up for her." Buffy hopped up on a table and crossed her legs under her. "Not that she deserves to be stuck up for," she added.
"She doesn't, and neither does Xander Harris," Cordelia sniffed.
"We all agree their behavior was rash," Giles agreed, "however, according to Mistress Chase, she was visited by a demon earlier, and any demon sighting on school grounds is rather disconcerting."
"Yes," Buffy exclaimed enthusiastically. "Just point me at the slayage and I will make the school demon free by seventh hour!"
"Anya vanished. Poof. Thin air," Cordelia said, and Buffy immediately look a lot less interested.
"According to Mistress Chase, this demon changed the nature of the universe."
"What, reversed black and white or something?" Buffy asked with a frown.
"She put women in charge of everything all through history," Cordelia quickly said.
Buffy just blinked at Cordelia for a second, a small frown on her face. "Okaaaay. I know history's not your strongest subject, Cordy, and hey, I'm right there with you on sleeping through class and getting one of the boys to do the homework, but I'm pretty sure girls have always been in charge of everything. The alternative would be boys in charge, and that's a picture I don't even want to think about. The brain hurts when I think about thinking about that."
"That's just it," Cordelia snapped, "girls haven't always been in charge. Adolf Hitler started that war, not his mother, and that was the second time the whole world had a war, which makes it World War II, not the Great War, only now the books are calling it the Great War. And the presidents? We've never had a woman president, only now all the presidents are women. President Anthony? President Earhart?"
"I always liked her. Amelia was a woman after my own heart. Take risks first, figure out if you're going to survive it later," Buffy interrupted.
"But she's supposed to be dead," Cordelia almost yelled with frustration.
"Well, yeah. She was like forever ago. I mean, all the presidents before…" Buffy glanced over toward Giles.
"All the presidents before President O'Connor have currently passed on," Giles finished for her.
Cordelia tried to remind herself that they weren't intentionally annoying her, but it was getting hard. A little part of her just wanted to turn around and go back to Harmony and the Cordettes who in this world had apparently gathered around her, or at least they were gathered around her for now. The sharp tone of their questions made Cordelia think that they were big with the waiting for something, but she wasn't sure yet what they were expecting. This world was just too different. Taking a deep breath, she tried to find her calm, royal center before continuing.
"Amelia Earhart was never president. She disappeared into the ocean. She died way before she got old and political. And even if she had gotten old and political, no one would have ever voted for a woman because that was back when women didn't even have the right to vote." Cordelia thought about that for a second. "Maybe. Maybe it was right after women got the vote. Look, I'm not good with history, but the presidents are definitely all guys. But then I make a wish that men aren't in charge of the world, and poof."
"Poof?" Buffy echoed.
Cordelia crossed her arms. "Poof," she insisted firmly.
"Okay, we have poofage. Giles, do we have any poof demons that I could track down and slay?"
"Poof demons?" Giles asked with just that hint of sarcasm. Buffy leaned back and glared at him in a way that Cordelia had definitely never seen Buffy glare at Giles before. The librarian ducked his head and pulled his glasses off to clean them. "We might start with any demon that grants wishes; I have a book on jinn, and Marissa Hamilton has a treatise on demons that prey on human desire, so that would be another possibility."
"Right, so it looks like you have the research part down. Let me know when there's slayage to be had." Buffy jumped down from the table and started for the door without a look back.
"Mistress Buffy," Giles said softly. Buffy stopped and looked at him. "If we find this is a demonic spell or influence. . . do we truly want to undo our entire history and way of life?"
Buffy stared at him for a second, her face blank. "Way to bring the seriousness, Giles."
"Of course, it is your decision, but I had thought to at least bring the issue up. Most likely the Council will want to discuss this with you and Mistress Chase directly, so perhaps we should talk about this before you need to face them."
Buffy didn't answer right away as she chewed on her lip. "We can talk it through later?" she finally asked him.
"Of course. I'll be here when you're ready to discuss the options and when I have some information to offer." Giles quickly smiled at her, that fatherly look that Cordelia would occasionally catch when he thought no one was looking. But right now both her and Buffy were looking, and he wasn't even trying to hide that proud father expression he was still giving Buffy. Buffy smiled back.
"You're the best," she said as she linked her arm in Cordelia's and pulled her toward the door. Cordelia resisted for one second before realizing that the slayer was scary-strong in any universe, so she walked with Buffy to avoid the whole uncoolness of getting dragged. "So, Cordy, since it looks like I've got a big decision to make, let's you and I sit down and talk about history. And oh god, I'm voluntarily talking history. Giles, you might want to research any coming apocalypses."
"Yes, I'll get right on that," Giles said in an amused tone without even bothering to get up from the table.
Buffy didn't say anything else for a while as they walked the halls. Harmony closed in on them at one point, but she quickly backed off when she spotted Buffy. Steering them into an empty classroom, Buffy sat on a desk and started swinging her legs as she stared at Cordelia. However, Cordelia was not one to be stared down. She crossed her arms and waited in silence with her own cold glare aimed right back at the slayer. Eventually Buffy sighed.
"Men in charge?"
"Not necessarily in charge now, but in history? Yeah," Cordelia agreed.
"Can I just say freaky, here?"
"Think how I feel," Cordelia pointed out. "Look, this is strange on both our parts, so let's make a deal. I give you a piece of information about my world, and you give me a piece of information on yours," she suggested. Buffy laughed.
"Queen C, angling for angles to the end, which is why you will always be the domme, even if I could kick your ass," Buffy admitted as she shook her head. "Well, that and I keep getting distracted by the eminent world ending… or is that imminent?" Buffy frowned. Cordelia didn't wait for Buffy to gather her thoughts before she bulled ahead on what really mattered to her at this point.
"How do people see what happened with Xander and Willow? I mean, do they think there's something wrong with me for not keeping Xander's interest?" Cordelia demanded. Buffy blinked at her with an expression of shock for a second.
"Wrong with you?" she asked. "Okay, that's weird. Why would there be something wrong with you because Willow poached your territory?"
"So, they blame Willow?" Cordelia asked.
Again, Buffy just gave her the wide eyes of shock and confusion. "Blame? Um, not really. You really don't know?" Buffy asked.
Cordelia crossed her arms and stared at Buffy. "Okay, okay," Buffy said, her hand held palm up. "If you don't get this, I'm guessing your world is big with the weird. I guess most people wonder if Willow is making a move for your social position, not that she could because of her whole lack of social position or ability to actually defend herself." Buffy sighed and made a pained expression. "The rest of the school would probably say that trying to take what's yours and rub your nose in it seems pretty challengy even if we know she was just going with her normal lack of common sense. If you don't do anything, I suppose they would think there was something wrong with you, but not because Xander got led around by his hormones. Men always get led around by their hormones, but Willow doing the leading when you had declared an interest… that was not of the good. So, my turn for a question. Am I the slayer in your world? I'm thinking a world without vamps and slayers would be a really nice fantasy. I'd have time to challenge you for your queendom."
Cordelia sniffed at that thought. "It would take more than getting rid of the vamps for you to even dream about my throne," she pointed out. "But even in my world, you're busy being the one girl in all the world, well, except for the fact that there's two because in my world Xander brought you back to life after the Master killed you, so that activated a second slayer."
"Same here," Buffy nodded. "But if girls don't have power in history, how could the slayer function?"
Cordelia shrugged. "I don't know. I mean, sure, they couldn't vote or own property, but do you actually need civil rights to kill vampires?"
"Okay, that's weirdly disturbing. Slayers could save the world, but not own a piece of it. I'm thinking that pretty much defines unfairness."
With a shrug, Cordelia had to give Buffy that one.
"And watchers? Are they still with the serving the slayers?" Buffy asked.
"I think manipulating, controlling, and pushing around slayers actually comes closer to the truth, but Giles is actually pretty okay. You and the whole Council, though, are not exactly on good terms because you aren't really good at having them try to tell you what to do."
"Wait, the Council are guys? The watchers' Council? The people in charge of stopping world endage are guys with guy hormones and the inappropriate habit of thinking about sex for most of their adult lives?"
Cordelia blinked as she considered that for a second. "I hadn't ever thought of it like that; guys just act like they're in charge of everything, but you have definitely put your foot down and told them to stop giving you orders."
"Go me," Buffy said, but her smile was weak. "And I'm still with the freaked."
"I'm right there with you," Cordelia admitted. Funny, but she liked this Buffy a whole lot more than the one in her universe. Then again, she hadn't given the Buffy from her universe a chance to take sides. When she'd seen the slayer in the hall, she'd ducked into empty classrooms and even the pot-smokers' bathroom. Now she wondered whose side Buffy would have actually been on because this Buffy seemed to be on the 'Willow screwed up' bandwagon with her.
"What are my options for slapping Willow down for the whole stealing of Xander?" Cordelia asked.
Buffy looked at her sharply. "You seriously expect me to help with that?"
Okay, Cordelia's Buffy-like levels took a sudden drop. "I don't even know what the options are, so I'm just asking you for a Miss Manner's guide to how to handle boy-stealing whores who think I won't make them sorry they were ever born," Cordelia said with that calm sweetness that could and had left men emotionally bleeding and writhing at her feet.
"You're scary, you know this, yes?" Buffy asked.
"Right." Buffy sighed and looked around the room. "I am so going to bad-friend hell for this."
"Since Willow will be there with you, not a problem," Cordelia quickly pointed out.
Buffy gave her a glare. "Okay, options. You could challenge Willow directly to a fight. Me? I'd totally go that way. Get it out of the way under the eyes of a couple of teachers and have it done. Of if you don't want to directly challenge her, you could file a complaint with either Principal Frank or probably the police, and see if they would publicly flog Willow. Since she was definitely with the poaching, she would probably get five to ten lashes. And then all would be over, no mess, no fuss."
"Lashes? Lashes like with a whip?" Cordelia took a physical step back, shocked at that.
"Well, yeah." And that was Buffy looking at her like she had just grown an extra head or something. Cordelia resisted the urge to check herself for weird limb growth as Buffy stared at her with concern. "How else do you punish someone?"
"Detention? Grounding? A firm lecture in an English accent about the foolishness of youth and the misuse of the word football," Cordelia shrugged. Buffy's worried expression just sort of deepened.
"Okay, Giles giving me a lecture... that would be freaky, but ignoring the specific freakiness of my life, do you really think a detention is going to make any sort of point? I mean, if this were gum chewing, yeah, an hour of cleaning the school would so be fair. But if you make a formal complaint, someone's going to figure out that you slipped because Willow was poaching, which makes this a little more serious than detentionsville."
"And one step up from detention is a whipping? What about... I don't know, juvenile hall or community service?"
"Okay, I'm not sure I even want to know, but what do they do in a hall of juveniles?"
"It's like prison for people who aren't old enough for prison."
Buffy made a choking sound. "Wait. You'd be okay with Willow being taken away from her friends and her family and stuck in a prison with people who are seriously with the badness, but a few lashes freaks you out? I am officially voting your reality weirdest ever. Give me a couple of lashes any day of the week," Buffy said with a look of horror.
"You can say that because you have slayer healing."
"Which is true, but still, after I burned the school down in L.A., I could deal with a lashing way better than being taken away from my mother. And may I very happily say that there will be no hall of the juvenile for Willow." Buffy shuddered in horror. "If you want to tell the authorities the whole truth with the Willow poaching leading to the falling and impaling, then she'll get a few lashes, no mess, no fuss."
"And if I want mess and fuss?" Cordelia asked as she listened to Buffy's entirely too quick answer. Oh yeah, Buffy was definitely trying to avoid a third option, and whatever Buffy wanted to avoid, Cordelia definitely wanted to know. Buffy sighed. "You do enjoy the slower tortures, don't you?"
"When someone makes me look like an idiot, yes," Cordelia immediately answered. For a second, she didn't think Buffy would answer, but then she nodded.
"You could ask Xander's mother permission to punish him, and do it somewhere that Willow is sure to see. They've been friends for so long that she really thinks of him as hers, so watching someone else punish him would be big with the hard." Buffy pulled in on herself as though trying to escape the idea of even answering Cordelia's question.
Immediately, Cordelia could feel the rightness of this solution. She could make both Xander and Willow suffer at the same time and prove to the Cordettes that she still had the ability to defend her own territory. "Xander would rather be punished than watch Willow be punished or get the beat down she deserves," Cordelia said firmly. If this Xander were anything like her Xander, she knew that much about him.
Buffy nodded. "Yeah, he would. If you're looking to punish Willow, go after Xander, but…" Buffy stopped.
"I know that after what they did they both deserve some punishment, but don't take this too far, Cordy. Xander really adores you. He was physically sick when you went to the hospital. We're talking yaking all over the place, and the EMT's said it wasn't just from the hit on the head with the microscope. He's really suffering, so just don't take this so far that you damage him, okay?"
"You're worried about Xander? He went and kissed Willow, he stabbed me in the back when I put my reputation on the line for him, and you're still worried about whether his feelings will get hurt?" Cordelia might have slapped Buffy if it weren't for the whole super-powered girl bit. But the way her week was going, Buffy would slap her back and Cordelia would be in the hospital again.
However, her words struck home because Buffy flinched. "Hey, I get it. Remember Angel, the stabbing me in the back boy? I totally understand, which is why I'm big with the sympathy, but Angel and Xander, they're boys… okay, in Angel's case he's a really, really old boy, but you get the point. They do stupid shit. It's like built into their genes to do stupid shit. And if you want Willow to really pay, yeah… putting Xander on his knees or publicly flogging him is going to put the moon landing of all guilt trips on Willow. But don't take this so far that you break Xander."
"Xander doesn't break that easily," Cordelia said firmly.
"I'm not so sure you're right on that," Buffy countered.
"Whatever." Cordelia turned her back and headed out of the classroom. She was not in the mood for another round of sticking up for Willow and Xander. They were wrong. They were wrong and Cordelia was right and she definitely needed a book on punishing men, she decided as she headed for the library. The only truly sucky part of this brave new world was all the research she was having to do. Short of the whole research thing, this wish wasn't turning out half bad.
Part Two ------------------------------------------------------
"How much longer is this going to take?" Cordelia complained as she shifted on the car seat again. Her father quickly hid a smirk, and her mother just sighed.
"The lawyer will take however much time is appropriate, dear."
"I just wish it wasn't so long," Cordelia sighed. Her father didn't even bother hiding his smirk this time, but then his face turned more serious.
"Honey, are you sure about this? I know you have strong feelings for the Harris boy, but you're young to actually hold a contract."
Cordelia rolled her eyes at her father. "I'm not a baby," she pointed out.
"No, I never suggested you were. I'm just wondering if this isn't an emotional time for you to be making a decision like this. And a part of me is concerned about the boy. Clearly, he's going to be shocked when he finds out you're behind the contract offer, and I can't imagine what he's going to be thinking."
"Oh please, dear," Amanda Chase sniffed as she picked invisible lint from her suit. "You make it sound as if Cordelia plans to abuse the boy. I think we raised her better than that."
"Of course we did," Richard Chase hurried to say. "But from his perspective, this is still going to be awkward. Dear, you hired the Rosenberg's lawyer to handle contract negotiations, so you can't tell me the same thought hasn't crossed your mind."
Amanda looked over fondly and shook her head. "You know, other people claim I'm inscrutable," she pointed out with some amusement.
"Other people haven't been your prime and only husband for twenty years."
Amanda shrugged. "If that Harris woman makes assumptions regarding Emilia Emoto's client, that is not my problem. If she reads the contract carefully, the Chase name is in there. Although," she sniffed, "after the research I've done, I'm beginning to think that Mistress Harris would be more interested in our bank accounts than our motives for contracting young Xander. After that idiot woman, he should be grateful to find a place in any successful home. Treat him well, Cordelia, and he will be a faithful husband, even if he isn't prime husband material."
Cordelia just nodded, vague thoughts tumbling through her head as she waited impatiently. If she could find Anya, she was giving the demon a big hug and kiss. Xander Harris was going to be hers. She was going to leash him like a dishonored husband and keep him at her feet until Willow Rosenberg's jealous, black little heart exploded. Bitch. And, as an added bonus, completely ignoring Willow would reduce her to the status of someone who didn't even merit Cordelia's anger. It was perfect. Even Harmony would approve of this plan, and instead of being the social pariah of the season, Cordelia was going to cement her rule as Queen of Sunnydale High School with her faithful little pet at her feet, and if he didn't want to be faithful... well, he didn't have that choice now, did he?
"Have you given thought to his punishment?" her father asked. Cordelia blinked as she brought her thoughts back to the car. Somehow she didn't think her parents would exactly approve of the leash plan. "He's going to be skittish until he knows what you plan on doing to punish him," her father pointed out.
"A whipping would be fast and over with in a night," Cordelia commented, but even as she said it, her stomach gave a twist at doing that to Xander. Okay, so she wanted him humiliated and embarrassed, as badly as she had been in the other universe, but she didn't actually want him in physical pain. She'd save that for Willow.
"I know that look," her mother said sharply. "That's the look that says you don't want to do it, and while I'm glad you recognize that Xander is not the primary villain in this situation, you can't just ignore the fact that he did act badly. It isn't healthy to you or your long-term relationship."
"I know," Cordelia sighed, thinking fast. She definitely could tell them her real plans. "I just don't know if I can whip him," she said. "My stitches," she quickly added with a grimace when her mother's eyebrows went up.
"Oh." Mistress Chase looked at her daughter in concern.
"I can't believe how close we came to losing you, pumpkin," her father said as he reached over and rested his hand on her knee. "And since you are still a member of your mother's household, and I am the man of the house, I think I can perform the punishment for you."
Cordelia felt another twitch in her stomach. Funny, her own father never really went out of his way to make her happy... well, not except for giving her money... or a credit card... or a car.
"You're right dear, Xander won't be comfortable until the punishment is out of the way, so let's do it tonight and then he can get settled without that worrying him," Amanda said decisively.
"Thanks, Dad," Cordelia said quietly.
He nodded and patted her knee again. "He's a nice boy, nicer than you would expect to come out of that family of his."
"Now dear," Amanda warned.
"Cheap contracts cost more in the end," Richard pointed out dryly. "And Mistress Harris contracted as cheap as they come. The boy deserves something better than that family."
"I just hope shiftlessness isn't hereditary." Amanda Chase went back to picking invisible lint.
"Mom," Cordelia objected, "Xander works hard, and yeah, he's not the most successful, but that's not because he's lazy. He's done everything but lay his body across a puddle for both Willow Rosenberg and Buffy Summers, and they both go chasing after other guys while leaving him to trail after them like a puppy."
"And you've decided to bring the puppy home?" her mother asked, clearly amused now.
Cordelia glared. Right now Xander Harris was not a puppy. He was a backstabbing, bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you mutt, and Cordelia was not the kind to just walk away with a smile after getting bit or backstabbed or impaled on a piece of rebar.
"Here he is," Amanda said, and Cordelia looked out the window of the limo to see Xander Harris carrying a huge, old suitcase in both hands. It bounced with every step, his knees hitting the side as he trailed behind Emilia Emoto. The woman was small with a sharp, shrewd face, but the billowing jurists' cape gave her a presence that made others move out of her way as she charged through the center of the crowd.
"Dear, deal with that monstrosity," Amanda sighed.
"I assume you mean Xander's case and not Mistress' Emoto's clothing," Richard commented with a smirk. Amanda glared at him as he slipped out of the limo still chuckling.
"While I would never tell him, your father's right. Flaunting her position like that is just one more sign of weakness. The strong never have to flaunt it," Amanda pointed out as she leaned back and folded her hands in her lap and watched at Richard Chase and Xander got the bag into the trunk of the car.
"All put away," her father said as he slipped back into the limo. The lawyer followed, sitting next to Cordelia, that stupid cape flopping over Cordelia's lap so that Cordelia made an unhappy noise. Cordelia's mother gave her a sharp look, and Cordelia quickly hid her frustration under a calm expression. Xander stuck his head in last and looked around with wide eyes.
"Um, are you sure this is the right... and of course it's the right car." Xander stopped with a frown. Cordelia could see her father struggling to hide a smile as the lawyer patted the seat next to her, scooting over so that she shoved into Cordelia with a hip. Slowly, Xander got in and sat, his hands immediately pulling at the hem of his shirt.
"Mistress, Mister Chase," he said respectfully. "Cordelia," he added after an awkward second. Cordelia looked at him with an archly raised eyebrow.
"Xander," Amanda Chase said in a voice that was clearly a warning.
Xander turned bright red. "Mistress Cordelia," he corrected himself quickly. Cordelia crossed her arms over her chest and smiled at Xander although it wasn't one of her nice smiles.
"The negotiations went quite well," Emilia offered with a smug tone as she rested her hand on Xander's knee. "Mistress Harris didn't even ask for a marriage codicil in the contract, so Xander is yours without strings, and for a price well within your range."
"No marriage codicil?" Amanda nearly lost her composure before she blinked and took a deep breath.
"Exactly. I had expected her to better protect her son's interests, but after having contact with her through the years, I can't say why I thought that," the lawyer sniffed. "The woman has no head for business or men." Xander turned a brighter shade of red.
"Mistress Harris was always rather manish when it came to negotiations," Amanda said dismissively. "But that's neither here nor there. So, you are a permanent member of the Chase household, young man."
"Yes, ma'am," Xander managed weakly.
"It's not all as bad as that," Richard offered with a soft laugh as the car pulled away from the curb. Xander's eyes snapped up sharply before he chewed on his lip. "The women can talk around the issue all they like, but my guess is that you're worried about the fact that Cordelia is still angry at your actions here a week ago."
"Kinda assuming she's angry," Xander nodded. "I wouldn't know because of the lack of call returnage."
"I'm angry," Cordelia agreed, and Xander flinched. "But I'm more angry with Willow than with you," she said truthfully.
"Which is not to excuse your behavior," Cordelia's mother quickly added. "When you agree to be escort for a woman, your actions reflect on her," Amanda finished.
"I know. I'm sorry." Xander twisted the hem of his shirt out of shape, and Cordelia kept waiting for it to rip under his hands. Maybe that's why his mother bought him such cheap clothes. Cordelia certainly wasn't buying him designer labels until he stopped doing that.
"I imagine you are given the number of calls you've made to the house," Richard said far more kindly voice. "Cordelia can't carry out the punishment herself because of the stitches, so I'll be doing it tonight, so you don't have to sleep worrying about what's coming. Cordy, have you decided on how many lashes?"
Her father and Xander both looked at her, one calmly, and one with near-panic in his eyes, even though he wasn't saying anything. Then again, with the way he was twisting his shirt, he didn't need to say anything. "Ten," Cordelia said with far more calm than she felt. Ten lashes. Her stomach was churning. Okay, reading about punishment, Cordelia could totally understand how a quick whipping was way more merciful than prison or juvenile hall or just spending years with her mother glaring at her without ever giving her a chance to make up for some totally accidental accident. However, the reality of knowing that her father was going to whip Xander still didn't sit well on her stomach.
"Ten, I can do ten. I have done ten," Xander muttered, a look of relief on his face. "I so deserve ten," he added softly. Both her parents looked at Xander with amusement, but he was too busy twisting his shirt out of shape to notice.
"Should we drop you off at your office?" Amanda asked the lawyer.
"Of course, and any time you need representation, I am at your disposal," the woman hurried to say. Amanda smiled her gratitude, and maybe she was inscrutable to other people, but Cordelia could see from that smile that Emilia Emoto would not be getting any more Chase business. Cordelia agreed with her mother because she sure wouldn't want a gossipy lawyer knowing too much about their business. Right now, though, Cordelia just wanted to get home and get started on the plan to reclaim her throne before she was as outcast in this world as she had been before her wish.
The next morning, Cordelia woke up, and for one perfectly panicked moment didn't remember the wish or the new world. She didn't remember Xander holding the edge of the table with white knuckles while her father's whip landed on his back with dull thuds that raised soft welts. She didn't remember the slight hitch in Xander's voice when he'd knelt at her feet and apologized and promised to never be so thoughtless again. She didn't remember how he'd leaned forward, his forehead resting against her legs when she told him she'd forgiven him. For one moment, she just remembered the humiliation of being Xander Harris' castoff, the social pariah of the season. She grabbed at the blankets in a near panic, but as her brain slowly woke up, she recognized the small changes in this new world.
Her calendar wasn't square, but a trailing squiggle of circles chasing each other over the long paper so that two weeks of days were on one line with two weeks under that in a pattern that looked vaguely snake-like from a distance. The date of the Winter Formal was marked in black with the initials XH underneath. Her trophy wall, a shelf of gifts collected from admirers, was much smaller. The tumbling mass of teddy bears and heart-shaped boxes had vanished, but in their place were a smaller number of truly expensive pieces: a glass ballerina on a pedestal, an intricately carved box, a silver dragon with one curved horn draped necklaces and a number of carefully painted figurines.
Cordelia had a flash on a boy in a nice suit on her doorstep, the ballerina in a box in his hands as he stood at the door. His mother was in the car outside, watching as Cordelia smiled at the gift and stepped aside to allow him in. Okay, freaky random memory time.
Cordelia pulled on her robe and checked herself in the mirror. She certainly didn't look queenly, but she could pass for presentable with a quick hairbrushing, and it's not like she had to impress Xander Harris, not any more. Yeah, this world just kept getting better and better, she thought as she brushed out the tangles before heading out the door. Padding across the hall, down the main steps, and through an arch into the guest bedroom section, she stopped outside the door where Xander now lived.
For a second, her hand hovered as she considered knocking, but it wasn't like it was really Xander's room. It was more like the room and Xander both belonged to her... okay the room was her mother's for now, but it would all eventually be hers. Cordelia reached down and opened the door without warning.
Xander was just waking, his eyes still closed, but there was movement. There was definitely movement. Cordelia stood shocked as Xander's hand rhythmically jerked under the blanket.
"Xander!" she finally gathered the composure to hiss. Xander's eyes popped open and he scrambled up, clutching the blankets as he almost fell out of bed.
"Cordy! I mean... uh, Mistress Cordelia," he stammered as he pulled on his pajamas under the blanket as he knelt up in the middle of the bed.
"Were you...?" Cordelia stopped. She was not going to say it. But he was—he was in the middle of her house. Xander didn't answer, but he slowly turned a red color that rivaled a well-cooked lobster. "Do you ever think of anything else?" she asked coldly, anger gnawing at the edges. If she could legally cut that thing off, she would. That's why he went and kissed Willow Rosenberg. That thing pumped him full of hormones that made him stupid.
"I'm sorry. I didn't think you'd... okay, I'm stopping now because of course you can come in whenever you want. I just..." Xander sighed. "Stopping."
"I wanted to make sure you knew where the kitchen was," Cordelia said, her arms crossed over her chest as she found herself caught between embarrassment for Xander and anger that he would do that in her house.
"Um, behind the dining room, right?" he asked uncertainly.
"And that you knew which clothes to wear," Cordelia added as she could feel herself start to blush. She was not going to let Xander Harris strip her of her cool again, though. Okay, so the kitchen comment was stupid, but the need for someone to pick out his clothes was real enough. Cordelia crossed his room and opened the small closet. She expected to find his atrocities hanging next to the simple but classy things she had bought before contracting him. Instead the closet looked exactly like it had the last time she'd looked in it. Cordelia pulled out a light sweater in dark chocolate brown and a pair of stylish corduroy jeans in a slightly lighter color. She pulled both out and hung them on the doorknob. Bending down, she pulled out a pair of ankle boots with their new, stiff leather and put them by the closet door.
"I assume you can find underwear that isn't offensive," she said. She thought about that for a second and went to the dresser and pulled out dark socks, tossing them at Xander. He caught them, making him drop the blanket to make a grab for them.
"I've been dressing myself for years," Xander snapped. Cordelia raised an eyebrow and was rewarded with Xander blushing again. Oh yeah, this was going to be fun.
"Not well," she pointed out. "Your behavior, your dress, your grades--they are all a reflection on me now. No matter what your mother put up with, it changes. Understand?" Oh yeah, Cordelia really liked this power. Xander swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing as he looked down at the floor.
"Yes, Mistress Cordelia," he managed after a second and several bobs of his Adam's apple. "But Cordy," he said as he looked up with a frown. "My grades? It's not like I'm actually good with the books."
Cordelia raised an eyebrow and waited for him to correct himself on the way he was addressing her, but he just stared at her with growing panic, and she sighed. "I know you can't study at home with your parents fighting and with Buffy and Willow asking you to bury demon bodies and play backup when you should be doing homework. Now that you don't have either of those to deal with, I expect your homework to get done. Get dressed. We have to be to school early so I can file your change of status paperwork. I need to get your science class changed," she said before she turned and walked out. In the hall she paused, wondering if she should tell him to take a shower, but hopefully he'd figure some of this out himself. After all, she didn't want some slavish male, so he'd better learn to figure out how to make her happy, and a Xander that still smelled of morning sweat was not making her happy.
She didn't see him again until he came dashing out to the car, an egg sandwich in one hand and his backpack in his other. Cordelia reached across to her convertible and pushed open the door so he could get in. "Shorry," he said around the sandwich, sending tiny bits of egg onto her leather upholstery. Why had she contracted Xander Harris again, she asked herself as she slipped the car into gear and headed for school.
"Don't talk with food in your mouth," Cordelia corrected him instead. Xander swallowed and nodded. "Egg sandwich, so I assume you ran into my dad in the kitchen?" Xander nodded again as she shoved more food into his mouth. "My dad is a busy man. He runs customer service departments at all of my mother's industries, so try to get up early enough to fix your own breakfast. I don't want us to be taking advantage of him," she said.
Xander quickly swallowed. "I won't. I really didn't think I had time for any breakfast so I was trying to skip it," he said. "Mistress Cordelia," he quickly added when she looked at him out of the corner of her eye.
"I don't want you getting sick, so eat breakfast every day. I assume Dad gave you my lunch?" Cordelia asked. She had actually grabbed extra yogurt and fruit in case Xander hadn't, but Xander smiled brightly and held up his backpack.
"One apple, one appley granola bar, and one yogurt, not appley, not that they make apple yogurt, I assume. Do they?"
Cordelia tried to ignore the insanely happy expression on Xander's face. It was just a lunch. He hadn't exactly made up for stabbing her in the back yet. "How's your back?" she asked, totally changing the subject.
"Sore," Xander said, the smile fading. "Your dad swings a mean whip for a customer service dude. It makes me wonder what he does to those customers who just won't be served, you know, the ones who are too stupid to understand they're stupid? But I'd rather have a sore back and know you've forgiven me than go back to what we had a week ago. I tried to get in to see you at the hospital."
"I didn't want to see you then," Cordelia said quickly, hoping Xander could catch the hint. He didn't.
"I was big with the getting that. And I wish I could blame Spike or Willow, really wish I could be blaming them, or really, I'm totally okay with blaming Spike because the fear of death damaged the rational thought, and it's not like I have a whole lot of that to start with, but I know I really screwed up, Cordy. I'm really sorry."
"Let's not talk about it," Cordelia said, desperate enough to change the topic that she wasn't even going to get on him for being so informal without permission. It wasn't like his mother had actually taught him proper manners. "There's something for you in the glove compartment."
Xander smiled and pulled open the glove compartment, but his smile immediately faded as he pulled out the leather and chain. "Mistress Cordelia?"
"If Willow comes up and says she just wants to talk for a second, that she just wants to make sure you're okay, are you going to tell me that you could turn your back on her and walk away?" Cordelia demanded. Xander opened his mouth, and closed it again without answering, a blush slowly rising from his neck upwards. "If she corners you in science—walks up, hands you a book, and tells you to help her with her experiment, are you going to go to Mistress Reams and tell her that Willow is contravening your contracted mistresses wishes, or are you going to blush and stumble after her?"
"I…" Xander closed his eyes. "Okay, I get that. You have a right to not be big with the trust."
"Then put it on," Cordelia said as she concentrated on the drive. Xander fingered the leather nervously for a second, and Cordelia found she enjoyed his obvious discomfort. She wondered if it was as uncomfortable for him now as it had been for her when Harmony had joked about setting her up on a date with Jonathan. Probably not. Xander flipped down the visor and opened the mirror as he pulled the collar around his neck. It was thick, a soft brown with copper trim and a copper-toned buckle in front. Xander fastened it, and even limiting herself to small glances, Cordelia could see his fingers tremble as he fastened it, the silver links of the leash trailing over his dark sweater.
Another unfamiliar memory crept into her mind, an image of laughing with Harmony at some man trailing behind his mistress on a leash. The two of them had been sitting at a table drinking something cold and pointing, and Harmony had been about ten or twelve. Frowning at the strange memory, Cordelia pushed it aside as she pulled into the parking lot.
"Okay, we go to the office to get your science and math classes changed over to my hours and then find Harmony and the others. The football team is working out this morning, so they'll probably be out at the stands," Cordelia said as she dropped her keys in her purse. "Make sure you bring my books, too."
Cordelia got out and waited as Xander gathered her books from the backseat and put his backpack on before he came around to her side. She had to admit he looked good. The sweater was just tight enough to show off his wide shoulders. Normally she was a fan of a man in classic black, but in Xander's case, she was definitely going to shop the browns. And that collar against his neck really did make her feel warm and uncomfortable in all the best way. She had the best of all worlds: she had Xander without having to put up with Willow's bitchy claws still being sunk into him.
Reaching out, Cordelia caught the end of the trailing leash and headed for the school, Xander right behind. With a smile for a couple of swim team members standing near the front door, Cordelia swept into the school, and she could feel all eyes on her as she strode down the hall, a mistress with a contracted man at her heels. Even better, she was a mistress with the man Willow Rosenberg wanted at her heels.
At the office, Cordelia leaned against the counter and tapped a finger impatiently. The secretary glanced over, clearly ready to ignore Cordelia until she caught sight of the leash. Then her eyes went large. Oh yeah, Cordelia was legally a woman now, and she lifted her eyebrow impatiently as she waited for the secretary to show her the respect a full mistress deserved.
"I need to change Xander's schedule. He'll need to be in my classes." Cordelia suddenly realized that gym class would put him in the locker room with a half-dressed Willow. The silly twit was definitely hung up on her body which was ridiculous for a real woman, but no way did she want Xander seeing any more of Willow than he had to. "Except gym. He can stay in boys' P.E., but as the woman holding his contract, we need to change all his information forms to show me as next of kin."
"Do you have the…" The secretary stopped when Cordelia pulled out the green-tinted contracts that gave her the legal rights to one Xander Harris. "Of course, Mistress Chase. I can help you with that paperwork right now."
Part Three ------------------------------------------------------
Cordelia twirled her pen and traded bored looks with Harmony. Of course, Harmony would be in trouble without notes, but Cordelia had Xander to copy down all this stupid trivia that Mr. Clark was always trying to shove into them. History in any reality was just boring. Cordelia glanced down to make sure that Xander was paying attention.
Xander was sitting crosslegged on the floor, the notebook in his lap as he took careful notes. He'd had trouble the first day because of Mr. Clark's podium, but Cordelia noticed that after that first day, the podium had been moved to the side of the room. Now Xander could catch every boring word on the board. Clark droned on about the development of communication in the developing industrial world. Boring.
Watching Xander take notes, Cordelia tried to decide what was bothering her. Willow had given up trying to talk to Xander and just stared at him from a distance with shiny eyes that made her look tragic and pathetic, and the entire school had clearly decided that she was a total loser. It took her two days to get up the nerve to ask Cordelia permission to speak with Xander, and when Cordelia had turned her back and simply walked away, Xander obediently following behind. He wouldn't even look at Willow, and Cordelia was basking in the witch's frustration. Yes, Cordelia had definitely settled into a life where her social position was utterly without challenge.
She finally figured out what was wrong. Reaching down, she gave the leash laying against Xander's back a little tug to pull him closer. Normally, he leaned against her leg, and she enjoyed that contact, but today he was sitting too far away. Without a word, he slid back until she stopped pulling his leash, his shoulder brushing her knee as he reached forward to pull his backpack closer.
A pimply-faced boy came to the door with a pink office pass, handing it to Mr. Clark in the middle of his lecture, and Clark took it before holding it up in the air.
"Mistress Chase, the office would like to see you," Mr. Clark said. Cordelia glanced toward Harmony and shared matching rolling eyes before she stood up with a sigh. Xander had already gathered his books back up and was shoving them into his bag, and she gave him a second before she reached down and gathered his leash, walking off toward the door and leaving Xander to grab the pass as they went by Mr. Clark.
Grateful for a chance to get away from that class, Cordelia walked slowly down the main aisle.
"I think he's trying to kill us all with boredom," she complained.
"Hellmouth here. That might actually be possible. Our teachers do have a creepy tendency to end up either evil or dead, Mistress Cordelia," Xander agreed.
"Teachers and that one janitor," Cordelia agreed. "You did have the creepy ghost Romeo and Juliet thing in this universe, didn't you?"
"Where evil Angel and Buffy kissed?" Xander snorted, his love of Angel unchanged in this universe. "Oh yeah. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. I just wish Buffy had shot him with holy water instead of a bullet."
"She never could think straight when it came to him."
"Which is with the funny," Xander said and then he fell silent.
"What's funny?" Cordelia stopped outside the door to the office and waited.
Xander shrugged. "I guess I thought she was all 'no, I can't possible kill him' because she had sorta claimed him. I mean, it's not like you can file claims or contracts on someone who's been technically dead for nearly three hundred years, and this is a good place for me to again say ew, but she still felt responsible. It's strange to think that in your weirdo-world she still couldn't kill him, even if she didn't have that mistressy feeling toward him."
"She's no saner in my world than yours," Cordelia sniffed, and Xander looked like he might answer, but then he fell silent, chewing on his lip as Cordelia headed into the office. The secretary smiled and gestured toward the waiting chairs. Heading toward the end, Cordelia sat in the one chair that didn't have another one close enough for Xander to use, so he sank to the ground and sat crosslegged, his shoulder leaning into her leg. Cordelia reached down and threaded fingers through his curls as she waited for whatever the office needed. They probably wanted to have another of those 'have you planned your future' meetings. Oh please. She had her future planned, and it did not include having significant conversations with a guidance counselor.
"Mistress Chase?" a man asked from the door to one of the offices. He had dark good looks and a nice, if off-the-rack, suit.
"Right here," Cordelia said as she stood up. She didn't recognize this guy, and on the Hellmouth, new often meant Hellmouthy. She traded looks with Xander, and she could see him shift his backpack to get his right hand clear, so he was clearly ready. With a smile she headed into the office after the strange man.
"I'm Cordelia Chase," she said with a nod at the strange man as he held out a chair toward her before retreating behind the desk. Cordelia sat, and Xander perched on the edge of the chair next to her, his backpack in his lap.
"I'm Kenneth Gonzalez from Social Services."
"Social Services?" Cordelia asked in surprise.
"A couple of teachers have asked that we have a conversation. I'm just here to ensure that all the rules have been followed, but I certainly don't want to keep you from class any longer than I need to, Mistress Chase."
Cordelia narrowed her eyes and glared at the stranger. The only time people were that polite was when they were afraid that what they were about to say would cause righteous anger. "Well, then what do you need because I can't sit here all day," Cordelia said as she leaned back and glared at the man.
"A few teachers have been concerned about the personality change in Xander since his contract."
Cordelia glanced over, but Xander looked just as confused as she felt.
"And what business is that of theirs?" Cordelia demanded, the best defense always being an imperious attitude and vicious attack. She'd learned that at her mother's knee.
"If there's abuse, it is the school's business, but right now I'm sure this is just a misunderstanding, and I'm here to clear it up if you would allow me to have a discussion with Xander. Do you always keep him leashed here at school?" Kenneth Gonzalez from Social Services pulled out a red notebook.
"For his protection, yes. Willow Rosenberg has acted unconscionably toward him and now that he's contracted, I have a responsibility to make sure she does not get close to him again."
"Perhaps I could talk with Xander about that," the man said, his pen pausing above the paper. Cordelia made a grand gesture with her hand and leaned back, crossing her arms. Xander just looked from the social worker to her with a little panic.
"Xander, does Cordelia keep you leashed all the time?"
Xander's eyes went wide.
"I'm not here to judge, only to decide if your needs are being protected in this contract."
"I'm feeling the judgmental creeping up here," Xander said softly, his hands going to the hem of his shirt, and Cordelia reached over, resting her hand on top of his to still them before he damaged good silk. It just couldn't take the sort of nervous twisting polyester could. "And she just leashes me at school. We see Wi—Mistress Rosenberg a lot."
The social worker nodded and made a note. "Is Mistress Rosenberg the one who attempted to initiate physical contact with you after you first agreed to escort for Mistress Chase?"
Cordelia narrowed her eyes at the question. Leave it to a man to make that sound so perfectly harmless—initiated physical contact. Willow had almost climbed down Xander's throat and Xander's hands had been definitely--. Cordelia just stopped thinking about it. She didn't need to relive that moment, not when she could remember all the times the bitch had been standing in the hall, clutching her books as she watched Xander pass on his leash, her eyes shiny with tears. That was a memory worth reliving. Xander just nodded at the social worker.
"How does it make you feel when you see Mistress Rosenberg?" The social worker waited, pen poised above the paper.
"Weird?" Xander said uncertainly.
The social worker nodded but didn't take a note. "Who were your friends before the contract?"
Xander glanced over at Cordelia, but she didn't allow herself to react. "Um, Mistresses Cordelia, Buffy, and Willow. I used to have a friend Jesse, but he…" Xander trailed off. "Sometimes I would hang with Oz. It isn't as formal as him agreeing to escort for Willow, but he often goes out with her when we go to the Bronze."
The social worker nodded. He did that a lot. It was annoying. "How many times since the contract was signed have you spoken to any of them?"
"I… um, not really with the time to talk. My grades… not the best. Okay, not the best in the way that the Roman Empire kinda fell, and I've really been trying hard to pull them up."
"The teachers do say you've done quite well bringing your grades up. You should be proud of that," the social worker hurried to say, and that condescending tone really made Cordelia want to get up and walk out right now. She considered it. She could have her mother's lawyer handle this because the Rosenberg bitch had probably talked some teachers into making complaints. Interfering with a contract was illegal. Cordelia started plotting her counterattack even as she sat with a calm expression on her face. The bitch was going down.
"Other than Mistress Chase, who have you spoken with in the last few weeks?"
Xander didn't answer; he looked at Cordelia desperately. "I've been busy," he finally said. Cordelia frowned at him.
"You haven't even talked to Buffy?" she asked. The boy had a phone in his room. What did he do with all those hours in his room after dinner?
"And again with the busy and the Roman empire falling metaphor and the grades," Xander joked weakly.
The social worker clipped his pen to the side of the notebook and leaned forward. "How much time do you have to yourself?" he asked softly. Xander didn't answer, so Cordelia did.
"He always has from dinner on to himself, and he never stays out in the family area. Two or three times he's asked to go home right after school because he has projects due and he needs to use the computer for research, and I've always taken him right home when he asked. I'm not keeping him chained to a grindstone," she huffed, but she couldn't help feeling a heavy discomfort that Xander, who was always the social one, the funny one who flitted from one person to another, hadn't even talked to Buffy. Xander was now a dull shade of red as he fiddled with the chain of his leash.
"What do you do in your room after supper, Xander?" the social worker asked. Xander's red darkened.
"I study. I'm not out graffiting garages or setting trashcans on fire, and my grades are doing good, so I don't know why you're bothering Mistress Cordelia."
"Does it bother you that I'm asking questions?"
"Yes," Xander snapped, but then the anger drained from him and he just sort of shrank into his chair.
"Does it bother you to have everyone at school see you leashed when you aren't out graffiting garages or setting trashcans on fire?"
Xander's dull red turned several shades brighter. "My judgment, especially around Mistress Rosenberg isn't good," he said softly.
"And how do you feel being leashed for so long?"
"I am well within my legal rights, especially since he has shown questionable judgment in the past, and since Willow still watches him every time we're in the same room. I know her. She likes to act all innocent, but the first time my back is turned, she was trying to tempt Xander away from me, and the second my back is turned, she's going to be right back at it."
"Mistress Chase…" the social worker paused and took a deep breath. "Mistress Chase, the leash is for those who have shown significant deviance. By putting him on a leash for three weeks, you're sending a message to not just Mistress Rosenberg, but the entire school, and that message is more about Xander than the young mistresses foolishness."
Cordelia crossed her arms and glared at the man until he broke eye contact. It was time to end this. Xander was looking miserable, and Cordelia definitely wanted out of this room.
"We need to get to class," she said standing up. Xander got up to follow her, and the social worker stood as well.
"Mistress Chase, I just need to ask one more thing. Without it, I'm afraid that the office will simply have to send someone else out and bother you again."
Cordelia stared at him, waiting for him to say what he needed and he shifted uncomfortably under her glare.
"I need to see Xander without his shirt, and pants."
"What? Hey, no offense, but so not gay, and undressing is way too gay for me. I mean, not that there's anything wrong with being gay, because I'm all for lifestyle choice, but just not for me." Xander had his arms across his stomach as he backed toward the door.
"Xander!" Cordelia said sharply. Xander froze, but even from three feet away, Cordelia could see the tremors in his arms. What was wrong with him? She could feel her stomach twist at the idea that someone had hurt him or touched him in a way that made him uncomfortable even taking his shirt off. "Xander," she said more softly as she stepped forward and laid a hand on his arm. "I'm not leaving. I'll be right here, so he's not going to do anything. He just needs to see you. The shirt will be enough," she said firmly as she looked over her shoulder at the social worker. He nodded.
"But Cordy," he said softly and desperately. Cordelia held firm and waited with an expression that made it clear she wasn't backing down. Xander's gaze slipped to the floor and he started working the buttons on his shirt slowly with unsure fingers. Once he had them open, he just stood, holding the shirt together as he gave her one last pleading expression. She raised her eyebrows, and he let the shirt slide off his shoulder.
Cordelia gasped. Vivid purple blotches with constellations of red dots decorated his body. A fading green bruise right above his elbow looked vaguely like a huge hand. For a second, Cordelia couldn't even breathe. Oh goddess. Cordelia stepped back, her hand groping for the back of the chair to brace herself. Xander looked like he had gone three rounds with an entire vampire clan.
"Who did that?" the social worker asked.
"Not Mistress Cordelia," Xander quickly said as he looked up sharply, but then his gaze slid back to the floor and he crossed his arms over his stomach and angled himself toward the door. Now Cordelia could see the edge of a black bruise that vanished into the waistband of his pants.
"Who?" Cordelia demanded. She was going to kill someone.
"Some of the guys in gym don't like me," Xander shrugged. "They're mostly just accidents from when we're playing games."
"Accidents?" Cordelia could feel hot anger in her guts like nothing she'd ever felt before. She'd kill them all. She'd show Buffy what they did, and then hold their arms while the slayer killed them all. This was definitely slay-worthy.
"Why don't they like you, Xander?" The social worker was using a tone of voice Cordelia normally heard people use on hurt animals and lost children.
Xander just shrugged.
"Were they cruel before the contract?" he asked.
"Okay, I spent more time in trashcans than anywhere else my freshman year, so this isn't the contract," Xander said with just a hint of fire and anger of his own. Cordelia just wished he would show that anger toward the people who had hurt him.
"Xander, tell me the truth," the social said as he stepped forward and laid a hand on Xander's arm. Xander twitched and bit his lip. "When the other boys hurt you, do they mention the leash?"
Cordelia frowned, and when Xander blushed and refused to even look over at her, Cordelia found herself sitting down just because her knees had suddenly turned soggy. Oh god. No.
"Do they hurt you because they see the leash and think you deserve to be hurt?" the social worker prompted. Physically pressing his shoulder to the wall, Xander refused to answer. He should have. He should have started cursing Cordelia out because maybe then she wouldn't feel the need to hate herself quite so much.
"Xander," she breathed, finding it hard just to get air in her lungs.
"I can handle it. They'll get tired of it," Xander quickly said as he glanced toward her with a frown. He was afraid. Cordelia could feel her forehead throb as she fought back the urge to throw up. He was afraid of her. She had leashed him, cut him off from all his friends, made the school think he was a perfect target, and then didn't even notice when he was being abused day after day. She looked at the map of abuse across his body, and she didn't have to ask the social worker what he was going to do. Cordelia was not only going to lose Xander's contract, she deserved to. Her mom's lawyer could probably fight it, but Cordelia wasn't going there. Buffy had warned her. Hell, Willow with those damn, fucking worried eyes… she'd known. She would have protected Xander.
"Goddess. Xander," Cordelia breathed again, and Xander was there on his knees in front of her.
"I should have told you. I'm sorry. I thought they'd stop."
Xander didn't say what he should have. He didn't say that they would have stopped if she'd stopped and thought about how it looked to everyone else that he was on a leash day after day. Cordelia reached up and fingered a curl, knowing that she was about to lose the legal right to touch him again.
"Give us a second," she asked the social worker without looking up at him. Silently, he slipped out of the office, closing the door behind him.
"I'm sorry, Mistress Cordelia. I didn't mean to embarrass you; I really didn't," Xander hurried to say.
"It's not your fault," Cordelia quickly told him. "Being from the other world, I didn't think. I should have thought about how other people would see this, see me keeping you at my feet."
"I don't mind sitting on the floor. It's actually more comfortable than school chairs, and I can see the board better from the front," Xander hurried to say, and even now he was making excuses for her.
Cordelia shook her head. "I was so busy reclaiming my position and rubbing Willow's nose in the fact that you were mine that I never stopped to…" Cordelia stopped and took a deep breath. She was not going to get emotional over this. She just wasn't. "I'm not going to wait for them to file incompetency papers. I'll give your contract back to your mother voluntarily," she said with far more calm than she felt.
Xander had put his hand on her knee, but now he pulled it back. Cordelia reached out and unfastened the collar from Xander's neck. She should burn the thing, but somehow she didn't think she would. Maybe there was some tiny masochistic piece in her because she wanted to keep that collar as a reminder of just how stupid and cruel she could be sometimes.
"Put your shirt back on," Cordelia said softly when Xander just knelt silently. "Maybe you should go back to class. I have some... some things to take care of," Cordelia said vaguely. She needed to get away, to find someplace that she could breathe. Xander stood up and slipped his shirt back on without a word. "And don't go to gym class. Go to the library or something that hour," Cordelia ordered him. Yeah, she had no business giving him orders anymore, and there was still a black little part of her heart that hated the fact that he would probably run into Willow there, but it was time to stop thinking about her own anger and notice Xander.
Xander nodded and walked to the door, hesitating at it for a second before opening it and leaving Cordelia alone.
Part Four ------------------------------------------------------
Cordelia pulled into the parking lot of the school just as the street lights flicked on. Giles would still be in the library, hopefully with Buffy and hopefully without Willow. However, Cordelia didn't count on that. If she had to eat crow and ask them to look out for Xander in front of Willow, she would. She just didn't think Xander was going to want much to do with her, not once that contract went back to his mother and he didn't have to make her happy in order to try and be safe.
Safe. Yeah, she'd done a great job of keeping him safe. She remembered in her own world, Mr. Clark had gone off one day about Stockholm and how people got screwy in the head when they had to rely on a hostage-taker, and Cordelia was fairly sure she had taken Xander hostage. It really wasn't nice realizing you were the villain.
Locking up the car, Cordelia headed for the library, stopping only when she was right outside the doors, small pools of light spilling through the small windows in the doors. She edged closer to the door and listened.
"... not like I didn't deserve it," Xander was saying. What was Xander doing here? Cordelia expected him to be home with his mother, or possibly at the hospital getting his ribs checked because some of those bruises were serious.
"But you didn't. I screwed up, you know it was me, and she shouldn't have taken it out on you. She should have punished me," Willow whined. Cordelia knew her life was screwed up when she agreed with the bitch.
"I believe Cordelia did punish you, Willow," Giles pointed out calmly.
"But... we have to fix this, Giles. I mean, my mom says I'm too young to claim a man, but you're unclaimed, you have to know what to do to fix this."
Cordelia couldn't hear anything right away, but she could imagine Giles pulling his glasses off and cleaning them. "What would you suggest?" he asked.
Part of Cordelia wanted to go in. Part wanted to pull Xander away from Willow, and since she hadn't delivered the contract back to Mistress Harris, she legally could. Most of her, though, just wanted to hide here and wait until Giles came up with a way to fix all this.
"Well..." Willow trailed off for a second. "Cordelia said this was all a wish, couldn't we undo the wish and put everything back the way it's supposed to be?"
Right now, Cordelia was ready to second that suggestion herself.
"Okay, not to be obvious boy, but that would put everything back the way Mistress Cordelia remembers it, which is just slightly completely horrifying," Xander pointed out.
"But you wouldn't be--"
"Mistress Willow," Xander interrupted her, "It's not just about me."
"I hate it when you call me that. I'm just Willow."
A book dropped onto the table in the silence that followed that. "Yes, Willow," Giles said calmly. "I am aware that you have asked Xander to not use your proper title, and when he was unclaimed, he had that choice, but as a claimed man, and as a claimed man whose mistress is not on the best of terms with you, your request is putting him in a difficult situation. I truly do wish you children would think through the consequences of your actions beyond the next five minutes."
Go Giles, Cordelia thought smugly, but then her smile faded as she considered the fact that she was right in there with Willow. Neither of them had thought about the consequences of their actions on Xander.
Giles sighed. "Perhaps we could focus on this matter of this wish and alternate reality. Reversing the wish would certainly improve men's civil rights, an area in which I do believe our world could use some improvement."
"Giles!" Xander gasped, "Cordelia said there were more wars. They had a whole second war with the whole world, and then there was this weirdness she couldn't even explain where they enslaved millions of people just because they were from Africa. I'm thinking my life being in the crapper isn't exactly worth bringing all that back."
"Yeah, but a demon changed the world, that can't be good, can it?" Willow asked.
"Quite frankly, I have no idea." Giles sounded tired, and a chair dragged across the floor. "The Anya in question most likely is Anyanka who is referred to in some literature as a vengeance demon and in other as a justice demon, but while her powers are definitely tied to making unfaithful men miserable, there's no recorded information on whether her wishes extend to damaging others. Many women use her services year after year and seem to incur no ill effects beyond the consequences of the wishes and their ability to make men suffer."
"Suffering, check," Xander agreed.
"Oh, Xander." Willow sounded near tears, and Cordelia edged the door open a little so she could see them. They were sitting around the main table, and they looked so much like her own Xander and Willow and Giles that she couldn't quite wrap her mind around how different they were. And she didn't want to wrap her mind around the fact that she had caused the absolute misery on Xander's face.
"Not like I didn't bring it on myself. I knew she was way too good for me, so I always tried to keep you on a back burner because I figured when she publicly and loudly dumped me, I would still have you. Only, honestly?" Cordelia shifted so she could see Xander who had now leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table. "I didn't really want you, Mistress Willow. I wanted Mistress Cordelia, and because I just now figured that out, she doesn't want me. So, I don't have anything."
"You have me," Willow said as she got up and came around the table, and Cordelia could taste the bile as she leaned against Xander's back.
"Willow, that is highly inappropriate," Giles immediately snapped. Xander just sat leaning forward into the table, his hands in front of him as she plastered herself to his back.
"Let her," he shrugged. "Not like I have a reputation for appropriateness at this point. And Willow, your mom will never contract for me now, so I'm pretty much done. So, Watcher-man, room for one more single male in the Watchers?"
"I… uh, Xander," Giles stammered to a halt.
"Yep, thought so. I guess you Watchers are all trained up to be appropriate and stuff, and it's not like I'm unclaimed since I'm more the big old 'R'. Yep, I'm Xand the Renounced Man. Has a certain ring to it, doesn't it?" The term 'renounced' bounced through Cordelia's memory, teasing out dark corners where thoughts about monsters under the bed and tax audits hid.
Cordelia couldn't do it anymore, she couldn't stand back and let him rip on himself, and if Willow really was all that good for him, she would be saying something, not just clinging to him like a stupid limpet. Then again, if she really cared for him, she wouldn't have put Xander in the middle by kissing him in the first place.
With a deep breath, she pulled on her confidence like a familiar coat and pushed open the doors to the library.
"Cordelia!" Willow gasped as she physically flung herself away from Xander, her face turning red. Xander didn't even twitch as he looked up at her, his eyes flat.
"Mistress Cordelia," he said politely enough.
"Cordelia, how… um, nice to see you here," Giles offered, and Cordelia didn't remember the last time she'd heard Giles so flustered. Usually demons couldn't even get him this upset.
"I wanted to talk to Xander," she said imperiously. Willow looked at Xander, but he just silently stood, picked up his backpack and walked toward her.
"Xander!" Willow called, but Xander didn't even look her way as he kept walking toward the door.
"Here or outside, Mistress Cordelia?" he asked when he came close. Cordelia glanced over toward Giles and Willow.
"Let's talk in the car," she said as she pushed the door. Instead of swinging all the way open, the door stopped after a couple of inches and then slammed back toward her so fast that Cordelia stumbled back, Xander grabbing for her as Spike appeared in the now-open doorway, one boot holding the swinging door open and a smirk on his face.
"Well now, seems like the slayer's left all her little playmates on their own," Spike said as he looked around the room. Xander had pulled a stake out of his backpack and stood with it clutched in front of him, but Spike didn't give him a second glance. Giles pulled a crossbow out and pointed it at the vampire.
"If you leave right now, I won't turn you to dust," Giles said, his voice full of confidence now that he was facing evil monsters and not teenage drama.
Spike made a snorting sound, and Cordelia could smell the alcohol. Great, he was still doing his crazy routine because Drusilla had dumped him. He seriously needed to get over it already. "Won't hit me from that far away, Watcher. But I'd love a chance to shove that bit of wood right up your arse. Right now, though, I came for something else. Slayer cost me my girl, and I figure she owes me one. Lucky thing you've got one to spare."
Cordelia didn't even catch Spike's meaning until he darted forward and grabbed her wrist. Xander tried to stake the vampire, and Spike backhanded him across the floor with his free hand as he yanked Cordelia toward the hall.
"Xander!" Cordelia screamed.
"Get Buffy!" Giles yelled and then Cordelia was over a shoulder as Spike ran down the hall. She could hear footsteps chasing them, but vamp speed was definitely helping Spike. She waited until they'd reached the door and flung her arms out, nearly tripping Spike and making him curse colorfully as he struggled to pull her free. It slowed them down enough that Cordelia could see Xander and his stake racing toward them. Then Spike ripped her free of the door she was clinging to and they were out into the night, dashing down the stairs and toward the Desoto that stood running at the curb, the back door open.
Oh no. Not even. Cordelia kicked as hard as she could, getting a foot on the roof of the car to keep herself from getting shoved into the backseat with a scabby faced minion. The minion grabbed at her ankle, and Cordelia twisted just as Xander reached them. When Cordelia fell to the ground, she lay with the breath knocked out of her as Spike and Xander fought. It ended about the way Cordelia would have predicted it. Xander was bent backwards over the hood, his stake laying on the ground as Spike growled into his face.
"Let him go!" Cordelia cried.
"Cordy, run!" Xander yelled as he tried to bring a knee up between Spike's legs. Spike just picked him up by the throat and pushed him farther up on the hood so that Xander was even more awkwardly pinned.
"Just let him go. I'll get in the car, but you have to let him go," Cordelia quickly said as Spike bent down like he was about to bite Xander.
"Can't say I like his habit of jumping into the middle of my business," Spike snarled.
"Cordy's not your business," Xander snapped, and Spike pulled him up a few inches and then slammed him back down on the car, his head thumping sharply against the metal.
"You lot cost me my girl, and after watching how this one took you in hand, I figure she's a good replacement." Spike tilted his head and looked at Cordelia with a leer that made her scramble to her feet. Spike's minion was there, grabbing her, and then Giles appeared and Cordelia found herself being used as a shield against Giles' crossbow as Spike used Xander for cover.
"Get her in the car!" Spike snarled, and Cordelia found herself getting dragged into the backseat. She grabbed at the edge of the door, and Spike growled. "Do it, and you'll get to see you little pet here bleed out in front of your eyes."
Cordelia looked and Xander was shaking his head, mouthing the word 'run' silently. Cordelia let go of the door and let the minion pull her into the car as Spike went to the driver's side. "We'll be seeing you around, Watcher. Tell the slayer I'm sorry I missed her," he offered as he shoved Xander in and then got in the car himself, pulling away from the curb with a squeal of tires.
In the front, Xander was twisting and cursing, trying to look back at Cordelia, and Spike randomly backhanded him into silence. "Bint in one piece?" Spike asked the minion.
"Yes sir, she's safe," Scabby-face quickly answered.
"Just let Xander go," Cordelia said as she tried to keep her calm. It wasn't easy because the minion was holding both her wrists in one hand and was obviously strong enough to physically overpower her.
"Thought I might keep him around. Once ya wake up, you might want to turn him or keep him as a human pet. I'll leave that up to you," Spike offered with a disturbing cheerfulness. "Unless you annoy me, and then I'm snapping your neck before she ever wakes, understand?" Spike demanded as he pulled Xander close.
"Broken neck, got it," Xander quickly agreed with a desperate look back toward Cordy. "But you really don’t want to turn her."
"Oh?" Spike took a corner fast enough that Cordelia found herself flattened against the minion, and Xander ended up almost laying on Spike. "Seems like just the girl I want. I like a woman who knows how to keep her men in line. After all, she keeps you on a short leash, or at least she did until today. My Dru used ta be like that. I so much as twitched wrong, and she'd have me at her feet in chains for bloody years. This one keeping you on that leash reminded me of what it was like to be held that close, but if Dru doesn't want me, there are other birds in the sky, and you're little lark is a pretty on." Spike glanced into the review mirror and Cordelia glared murder at him. He laughed.
Spike reached over and grabbed Xander's hair making him gasp. "You finally earn the right to walk without a leash, and I'm going to turn your mistress into a beautiful, vicious vampire who will leave you bleeding and crawling at her feet, somethin' poetic in that," Spike offered.
"You got it wrong," Xander quickly said, and Spike growled, but Xander just kept talking. "She only took my contract because she wanted to get Willow back, she told me that today. And she feels bad that I got caught in the middle, but she doesn't want me. She's sending my contract back to my mother with a big old 'Renounced' stamped across the top. If you're looking for someone who will hold on to you, you don't want Cordelia.
"I—" Cordelia started to explain that she hadn't known, hadn't understood what it meant for a man to be renounced, but Xander kept right on talking over her, his voice loud and desperate as he talked without seeming to breathe.
"My mother will never get another contract on me, and I don't have the skills to support myself, so I'm going to end up claimed by some city office that needs good ditch diggers, and I'm not saying I deserve better because I played two women off against each other because I was so scared of my future, but if you want someone who will keep you even when you fuck up, I'm just saying that Mistress Cordelia is not exactly your go-to girl. She's more your toss you out on your ass when you get out of line girl, and you already had one of those."
Cordelia didn't know whether to be more horrified at the Xander's fears for his future laid out all cold in the air or the fact that he was laying them out for Spike. Right now, the whole thing was pretty perfectly horrifying. She slipped her foot out of her shoe and felt around on the floor, trying to be inconspicuous as she fished around with her toes under layers of papers and broken CD's for anything that might be a weapon.
"Bloody, fucking…" Spike muttered.
"But hey, who needs girls," Xander babbled on, his hands clutched around the arm Spike was using to fist Xander's hair. "You seem like you can carry on without a woman, so maybe you don't need one."
"What the bloody hell are you talking about?" Spike demanded, and Cordelia felt something rod-shaped under her toes. She traced it with her foot, trying to look interested in the conversation up front so that the minion didn't figure out what she was doing.
"What you really need is a beta-male, someone you can boss around and keep close," Xander rushed to say. "Like me, for instance. I mean, turn me and as pathetically clingy as I am as a human, I'm sure to be extra-special needy, and then you won't have to worry about being left, and as an added bonus, you get to be the one to decide if there's going to be any leaving."
"You're volunteering to be a vampire?" Spike asked disbelievingly.
"Xander, shut up," Cordelia hissed.
"She's filed the renouncement paperwork by now, so my future's pretty much set from this point on. What am I giving up? A nice future with a special shovel of my choice? Come on, Spike, you know it appeals to you. You could be the one to call the shots. Just let Cordelia go, and you could make me your beta-male just like Angelus turned Drusilla into the fruitcake she is now. You know Dru was always more faithful to Angelus than you, so why not make your own Drusilla?"
Spike pulled the car over to the side, hitting the brakes so hard that Cordelia hit the back of Xander's seat. The minion lost his hold on her, and Cordelia used that moment to grab whatever her foot was on and bring it up. She couldn't get in a good swing in the car, but she still cracked the minion upside the head with the heavy pipe. Blood sprayed against the window, and he growled and lunged forward at her.
From the front seat, Spike reached back and grabbed the minion. "Hey, I don't want her marked yet," he snarled, and Cordelia took the opportunity to swing the pipe at the thing's face. Scabby really fought Spike then, and Xander tumbled out of the car, Cordelia yanked the the back door open and was running after him into the night, and of course Spike had parked in front of a cemetery. Everyone always stopped by cemeteries in this god-awful town.
They had reached the second row of tombstones when Cordelia felt the strong arm around her waist, and she gave a startled scream that made Xander stop and turn.
"Spike!" Xander said as he came a step closer. Cordelia closed her eyes when she felt needle sharp teeth against her neck.
"Xander, run," she ordered softly, not able to get a full lungful of air, either because of how tightly Spike was holding here or because of the fear that squeezed her heart.
"Spike, I meant every word. She renounced me." Xander started unbuttoning his shirt, dropping it on the grass as he stepped forward. Great, now not only did she get to die, but she got to do it looking at the marks on Xander's body that were her fault.
"She found out the guys in gym were beating on me, but rather than even try and defend our contract, she renounced me. Angel talks about how often your plans get all with the failure, so how long before she renounces you? How long before she's more concerned about her reputation or appearances and she drops you for some bigger, badder demon? Hell, maybe she'll pull Angel's soul out again and take him. She wanted to get me away from Willow, so it makes a kind of sense that a vampire her would take someone away from Buffy, and then where would you be?" Xander sounded desperate, his words rushed and breathy as he hugged his own stomach.
The teeth left Cordelia's neck.
"Xander, run," Corelia said desperately. "I'm ordering you to run."
With a laugh that turned into a half sob, Xander shook his head. "Too late, Cordy. You don't get to give me orders anymore. But Spike, you could. Turn me as your beta-male, and I'll be as faithful to you as you were to Dru, isn't that what you want?"
"Xander, he's going to kill you," Cordelia said desperately.
He shrugged. "It's one way to deal with the whole lack of a future thing. And when I rise, tell Buffy that she has my full permission to stake my ass if she can find it. I don't think Spike will want us to stick around."
"You're right 'round the twist, aren't you?" Spike asked, and Cordelia hated the amusement she could hear in the vampire's voice. He was considering it.
"Should make you feel right at home," Xander shrugged. "Just let Cordelia go."
"If she did you that wrong, you're going to want to eat her when you rise," Spike pointed out, and even by the dim light of the half-moon, Cordelia could see Xander shiver.
"Okay, first, distrubo. Second, if I want her then, we can track her down. But right now, if you let her go, the first thing I'll remember when I wake is that you did something just because I asked. It'll make me grateful. Please," Xander added softly.
Cordelia could feel the arm around her waist loosen. "Xander, don't do this. I'd rather die than have you do this for me," she said desperately.
"You'll get over it," Xander shrugged. "You always land on your feet, Queen C."
"Bloody women do, too. That's why they rule the fucking world. The world dumps us arse over teakettle and we stand there looking around like bloody fops. Women just get back up and dump on the world right back," Spike snorted.
"It's a woman thing," Xander agreed. "But that doesn't mean we need them."
Before Cordelia could say anything else, she found herself spinning off toward a tree with enough force that she couldn't stop herself before she hit the tree and bounced to the grass. When she looked up, Spike had Xander in his arms, and Xander was just standing there with his eyes closed.
"Xander!" Cordelia cried out, and his eyes opened but he didn't move as Spike bit down.
"Let him go!" yelled another voice, and Cordelia watched Buffy race across the cemetery, leaping over a hedge to fling herself into Spike and Xander, sending them both crashing to the ground.
"Fucking hell," Spike snarled as he bounced back up to his feet. Xander lay on the ground with his neck smeared with blood. Angel's big old convertible screeched to a stop at the curb behind the Desoto, and the vampire jumped out without opening the door.
"Drama queen," Xander muttered from the ground.
"Bloody fucking no. This hellmouth hates me," Spike cursed before he turned and raced for the far side of the cemetery. Buffy ignored him, dropping to her knees next to Xander as Angel raced up. He spared the fleeing Spike one look before he shoved his hands in his pockets and backed up a nervous step.
"Is he okay?" Cordelia asked as she got weakly up and went to Xander. His neck was red, but the two wounds weren't bleeding any more.
"He'll be fine," Buffy sighed in relief. "How many times have I told you to not get killed?" she asked with mock-outrage as punched his arm.
Xander didn't say anything as he lay on the grass, fingering his neck. Buffy looked at him with a frown and then looked up at Cordelia and Angel in confusion. Angel backed off another step.
"Buffy, can you give us a minute?" Cordelia asked. Xander pushed himself up so he was sitting on the grass.
"I'm not so sure that's a good idea," Buffy said slowly.
"Not your choice. I still hold his contract, and I'm telling you to give us some space. Go sit with Angel at the car or something," she said. Xander's eyes flicked toward her when she said she still held his contract, but Buffy didn't move.
"Buffy, please, just go," Xander said softly, and Buffy looked at him with a sigh, her hand resting on his shoulder as she stood up.
"You two play nice, and by you two, I mean you, Cordelia," she said before she headed back toward Angel's car, Angel silently following her. Cordelia ignored Buffy as she sat carefully in the grass next to Xander.
"You dropped your shirt. Grass stains on silk is not pretty," she said, and then she closed her eyes as she tried to figure out why she'd said that. Stupid. It wasn't like the shirt mattered.
"Xander, you know how you just don't get some of the stuff from my world?" she tried again.
"Like slavery?" Xander asked. "Oh yeah, so not getting that. Skin is skin; why does the color matter?"
Cordelia didn't say anything, but she was starting to feel the same way about these ridiculous laws and contracts and claims when it came to men. Maybe Anya's world wasn't quite as perfect as she had thought at first. "Yeah, like slavery," she just agreed. "But some things here don't make sense to me, either. I thought you would want to go home to your mother because I screwed things up. I wanted you happy. I never wanted to ruin your life." Cordelia paused. "And it's really idiotic that one teenage girl having a bad day can ruin your life. The whole marking a man's contract as renounced is really stupid."
"Are you saying the system is stupid or I am?" Cordelia asked. Xander glanced up toward her and shrugged.
"If I'm getting marked as renounced anyway, I suppose I should have the right to call you stupid at least once," Xander said with a small smile and some of that dry humor Cordelia had missed.
She sniffed. "Maybe once, but only once, and that's only because I so totally am."
The small smile faded from Xander's face. "I should have told you. If you don't renounce me, you're going to have to deal with the social worker now."
"Oh please, a public servant versus my mother's lawyer. That's actually going to be entertaining. Besides, it really was those boys at school who did this." Cordelia reached out and traced the edge of one of his more spectacular bruises. "I didn't understand how they saw the leash. I mean, should have because memories from this world keep slipping in, but I just didn't even think about it. I'm never putting you on that leash again, Xander. Well, not unless you go and get possessed again. If you start flashing green eyes at me and acting like a bigger bitch than me, we may have to reconsider the leash."
Xander outright laughed at that, a weak laugh, but it felt good to hear even that much normalcy. Listening to Xander give up on life had bothered Cordelia more than she wanted to admit.
"No more trips to the zoo for me."
"And no more talking about how your life is over. I got your contract because I care more about you than I should, and watching you pay attention to Willow made me more jealous than I could handle because you two have all this history and I kept waiting for you to remember that you thought I was a bitch and go back to her. I'm not good at feeling vulnerable."
"You thought I'd…" Xander stopped. "Okay, you being afraid of losing me is freakier than Spike kidnapping me twice in one month. Cordy, yeah, I have history with Willow which is what makes her vaguely sister shaped. When my brain isn't swelling with microscope-induced trauma, I would never go for Willow. Willow and me is a picture I really don't want in my mind because it's like me and my cousin Roy. And me and Roy? So not a pretty picture. And I never really thought you were a…"
Cordelia glared at Xander, and he stopped, blushing as he got to his hands and knees and grabbed his shirt, pulling it on and stretching the damp silk all out of shape.
"Okay, I thought you were slightly bitchy, but I never had a problem with that. Heck, when I thought you were out of my league, I was all-ahead on the Buffy-plan, and she's the only girl at Sunnydale whose bitchiness even approaches yours. Take as proof her using me as a stripper pole to make Angel jealous. And really, compared to the substitute teacher who tried to eat me and the mummy girl who tried to suck me dry and hyena girl who got stuck in my head, you're one of the nicer bitches in my life."
"Is that your version of sweet talk?" Cordelia asked as Xander stood and offered her a hand.
"Yep. I'm pure inspiration for the generations that will follow. Hallmark writers stalk me, pen in hand."
"I'm marrying a goof," Cordelia complained as she shook her head. Her hand was still in Xander's so when he stopped, he pulled her to a stop, too.
"You're what?" he just about gasped.
"Oh, please. Just because your mother is too stupid to require a marriage within a year of contract doesn't mean that my mother or I are tacky enough to take advantage of it. I mean, I can't offer you prime husband status, but I'd like you to be first husband."
"First husband. First husband to a Chase. Xander Chase. I can handle that. You are being serious, right? Because if not, you really need to say something now before my brain does that slipping gears thing it does."
"I'm serious," Cordelia said with a smile as she looked at the boy who was willing to die to save her life—the boy who was willing to die even after he thought she'd rejected him. The first thing she had ever been attracted to was Xander's loyalty, and she sure couldn't question his loyalty to her now. "But if you ever try to get yourself killed again, I'm going to make you the sorriest husband in the world, and don't think I can't do it."
"I know you can, Queen C," Xander agreed.
Buffy jumped off the hood of the car where she had been sitting as Cordelia and Xander walked up. "So, are you two okay or do I have to knock heads together?" she asked with a smile.
"Oh please," Cordelia rolled her eyes. "For someone who couldn't even get on the cheer squad, you talk big."
"Okay, you can stop being bitchy any time now," Buffy complained without sounding very upset. "Xander, are you going to let her talk that way to me?" she asked as she opened the passenger side door so Cordelia and Xander could get in back.
"Hey, I'm stupid, but not stupid enough to get between two women. I mean, what kind of idiot gets between two women or sleeps with a woman and then turns on her?" Xander said with a glare at the back of Angel's head, and Cordelia got another of those disconcerting memory/not memories, this time of Angelus in a room with Dru and Darla and both of them pissed at the smirking vampire. "Not that I've slept with Cordelia, because I haven't," Xander suddenly added as he realized what he'd said.
Cordelia shook her head at Xander's blush. "Really. You're under contract, and we plan on getting married, so you can talk about the possibility of us having sex without blushing," she said as Buffy climbed into the front seat.
"No, no I really can't," Xander corrected her.
"Children are often uncomfortable discussing sex," Angel said in a rather nasty stab of his own, but considering Xander had started that verbal war, Cordelia couldn't blame the vampire.
"Right, and the fact that I'm older than the woman you bedded, you calling me a child isn't creepy in the least," Xander shot back with heavy doses of sarcasm. Angel's back stiffened, and Cordelia just smiled at that mutual nastiness as she wondered where they would be if she hadn't made that wish.
"Now boys, play nice," Buffy sighed from the front. "And they call us bitches," Buffy said in a conspiratorial tone to Cordelia.
"Men," Cordelia complained back as she reached over and let her hand rest on Xander's knee. Buffy smiled and turned back to face the front. Yeah, this world wasn't perfect, but she suspected that it was better than the one she'd left behind.
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