Notes and disclaimers: all characters property of Mutant Enemy, not me. No profit garnered here ever. Thanks to fearlessfan for awesome beta action. Title from Frank Bidart's poem "an American in Hollywood."
THERE, YOU DANCE AS WELL AS FRED ASTAIRE
"Yes, I've been trying to explain. I'm not the Anya of this world. I'm from a parallel one. It's not actually parallel, more of a splitting off, traipsing off from some unknown point to a different future," Anya said. She said her name was Anya, anyway. Gunn was just staring and waiting for her to take a breath. For the last ten minutes.
Anya said, "You do understand, right?"
"I never met the other Anya," Gunn said. "And I don't know why you're telling me this."
"In case you've heard of me. Or the other me. Who is dead. And presumably in some form of heaven but hopefully without Birkenstocks. I'd like to think my dead parallel universe self is dressed in a very flattering manner in her deserving afterlife." Anya smiled and poured a cup of coffee. "This coffee tastes horrendous and yet I keep drinking it." She sipped and made a bitter face. "Want some?"
"Okay," Gunn said. "You've really sold it. Fine, you're a parallel universe visiting fool. Crisis of Infinite Universes, I get it. And you're here, looking for me. Why?"
"There's no crisis. And the parallel universes aren't infinite. That's a misconception. Alternate dimensions might be infinite, but no one's really checked." Anya passed him his own cup of horrendous coffee. "I'm here because I'm looking for a job. I think it would be too awkward to be hanging around the Council types, since they all actually do know my alternate dead self. Also, it would be horrifying to me to see people I saw mangled and then dead, walking around with nothing wrong with them but a stray hangnail." She smiled brightly.
"I don't really have a job right now," Gunn said. He was the sole survivor of Wolfram and Hart and he hated thinking about it. He was so grateful this strange talking girl from Bizarro world had come into the diner to disturb his peace.
"Yes, you're unemployed and wallowing in your loss. I remember when Giles did that. For an entire year. His apartment sometimes smelled funny and he occasionally had a stubbly beard. Really, you watchers are all alike in your wallowing self-pity."
"I was never a Watcher," Gunn said.
"Aren't you Brady Fleming?" Anya looked down at her plate of pancakes and back up at Gunn. He wasn't sure what the pancakes were supposed to tell her. "I never met the man but you match the description. No hair, grey sweatshirt jacket. Eats at this diner."
"I don't know any Brady Fleming. I'm Charles Gunn."
"But you listened to me babble about parallel universes and didn't think I was insane. Are you one of the Scooby gang in this strange world?"
"Hell no. I had my own crew and then I worked with Angel. And Wesley."
"Oh," Anya said. "In my universe Angel was killed by a demon of some sort possessing Cordelia. Chopped his head right off. Then she herself was killed, and the demon along with her, I assume, by having her head chopped off. We only heard some of the details. That's not what happened here, is it?"
"No," Gunn said. "You don't want the story."
"Oh, good, I thought you were going to make me listen to some extended monologue of weepy proportions. I really have heard enough sob stories."
Gunn smiled at the strange lady. "I think I like you. You know, if I had a job to offer, I just might hire you."
"Do you have any marketable skills besides the usual demon-killing ones?"
"I have a fake law degree and full knowledge of human and demon law," Gunn said. "Not that I've done anything with it in the past six months."
"I'm excellent at selling goods and services and have a great head for investing," Anya said. "Perhaps we can make something work."
Anya was like an unstoppable force when you put her in front of a challenge involving money. She got them a great storefront with damn amazingly low interest rates on the mortgage and she managed to scrounge the finest office furniture that what was left of Gunn's salary from Wolfram and Hart could buy. "We're an agency, now," Anya said, surveying the office. Gunn thought of Wesley and Cordelia and dead plants and a weird smell. He forced himself to smile.
"An agency of what exactly?"
"You, the lawyer of all trades and me, the helpful life planner and business advisor," Anya said.
"How are we fitting that on a card?"
"I already did," Anya said. She handed him a box of cards that said "Charles Gunn, Esq." And phone numbers, website and email.
"We have a website? When did you do all this?"
"The internet is like me, a helpful life planner. And you can find virtually anything you want. And yes, we do have a website. I made sure to put a large picture of both of us on it. We're attractive, that alone will probably bring in a few clients."
"Thank you," Gunn said.
"Try not to do that pouty wallowing thing when the clients do arrive. Save your sad stories of past dead for drinking after work," Anya said, cleaning her desk with some sort of vinegar smelling cloth.
"I'll remember that," Gunn said. He took a second cloth from the bucket and started cleaning his own desk. And his book shelves. And the law books he'd bought even though he had everything in them stored in his head already. "It's nice to have a mission again. And some clients, that would be good, too."
"We only need a few," she said. "I'm sure word of mouth will start the ball rolling. Good customer service makes the people come crawling back again and again, like maggots."
Gunn decided to ignore the crawling back reference. It never made much impact on Anya when he called her on her strange talking. And he was getting to like her weird turns of phrase. "Maybe I could mention it to Anne," he said.
"Yes, we should certainly talk up our business that charges money to someone who only knows runaways who have to be given a roof over their heads to make it through the harsh Los Angeles night. Fantastic idea," Anya said.
"She mingles with a lot of rich people who give money to that shelter," Gunn said.
"Then it is a fantastic idea! Keep thinking like that. We can't count on the website to do everything for us," Anya said.
"Got it," Gunn said. "We're gonna do good, though. Take some pro bono stuff on."
"It is inevitable," Anya said. "I suspect the two of us together is bound to draw in the lost and helpless like a magnet. Or a buzzing insect drawn to the pollen of do-goodery."
"And we will do it," Gunn said. "Not just money here, Anya."
She nodded with a bright smile and went back to cleaning. "But people will also pay, thank goodness."
"How did we end up in the demon helping and sometimes killing business? I object," Anya said. She took another swig from the bottle of hooch they'd taken from the old woman. "We just spent the entire evening having an exorcism, Charles. And we got no money for our good services."
"It was really fun," Gunn said. He watched Anya swinging the hooch bottle back and forth without spilling anything.
"Also, you should realize I lost my entire world. I have no way to get back to all the people I knew and even if many of them were dead, some of them were not. Did you know I was married? Not just left at the altar, but the second time I planned a wedding, it happened. It was beautiful. And I buried him, too. So I very much win in the battle of things to be sad about. I want that to be clear. Do I mourn? Yes. Do I let anyone know about it? No." She pushed the bottle at him.
"Thanks, not interested. That's practically paint thinner, Anya."
"Paint thinner flavored with blueberries, though." She pushed the bottle at him again. "I really want you to have some. So I can have you. I think you'll need alcohol to look past our business relationship before you finally make a move on me. I certainly do."
He stared at her and being Anya, she stared right back. He said, "Blueberries? Someone actually made blueberry hooch? That has to be foul. Give me that." He took the bottle from her and tried to drink. "That is not blueberry at all."
She laughed and took the bottle back. "I'm 1200 years old, this isn't my universe and we spent all evening making absolutely no money. If I say it tastes like blueberries, you should believe me."
"I think," Gunn said. "I think you have every right to be pretty sad. You lost your world, right? Big magical explosion blew you right through a portal that broke itself apart. You're allowed to be broke. And I don't mean broke ass no money. You should just be sad once in a while."
"I reject your advice," Anya said. She sipped her bottle now and then put it down. "Or maybe I accept it. But being sad wears me out. So many people died in Sunnydale, and they kept dying even after we left the Hellmouth, then I got blown here and realized I had died, too. Which is just unfair. Why should I die and not one of those useless Potentials? I don't get it. And then I found the wrong guy who turned out to be the right guy and we have an actual business and you haven't noticed I made my picture 14% bigger on our website. I don't have much to be sad about it. Except you don't want to sleep with me, that's pretty sad. Sad for you. I'm amazing in bed."
"I believe that," Gunn said. "I'm not uninterested. You're a fine looking woman. I just like my women sober. Tomorrow morning."
"Tomorrow morning I'll chicken out," Anya said.
"Tomorrow morning you'll have a horrible headache," Gunn said. He took the bottle from the table and threw it out. "But we'll still have a nice conversation around noon or so. I'll let you helpfully plan my life."
"And I'll be damn good at it," Anya said. She poked him in the chest and smiled. "I look fine, huh?"
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