"I still say it's witches," Anya said, taking a seat beside
her fiancé at the Magic Box roundtable.
Xander chastised, "We don't equate witches with black cats and brooms
"Why not? Willow isn't here. And the fact is, witches have kept
cats for centuries. I'm sorry, but demons don't go around pilfering household
pets." Her shoulders spasmed. "It's tacky."
"So maybe it's not demons," Xander offered. "Maybe it's
just your garden-variety cult large with the animal sacrifice."
Or maybe it's demons breeding kittens for your boyfriend's poker games,
Buffy thought bitterly, flipping a page in her book. "You know, guys,
kitten rescue isn't exactly Slayer territory. Maybe we should be concentrating
on finding the Geek Squad's new hideout instead."
"Will's on it." Xander gave her a dismissive wave. "All
this realtime Sherlocking is doing her good -- we should leave her to
it. It's not like they're a serious threat to you anyway."
"No, but they're annoying as all get-out."
"Well, this catnap caper could be more than annoying," he pointed
out. "It could mean there's a scary new evil in town stockpiling
the allergens necessary to bring forth Apocalypse number..."
"Nine," Buffy finished.
Relenting, she saluted. "Aye aye, cap'n. Kittycat search mode, re-engaged."
Anya's eyes glazed on a block of text. "Maybe you should ask Spike
if he's heard anything."
Did Anya know something? Buffy answered as casually
as she could: "Yeah. Maybe. I'll stop by his crypt later."
Xander perked up. "Ah, just make sure you don't walk in on him while
he's with his," he rabbit-eared his fingers to airquote, "'imaginary
"His huh?" Buffy asked.
"Oh yeah, our Spikey has officially lost it." Xander bobbed
a finger at her. "He so needs a girlfriend, and stat."
Eyes widening, Buffy covered with a grimace of distaste. "Well,
don't look at me."
"I'm not... looking." He put his hand down. "I'm gesturing.
Two very different things."
"Imaginary friend?" Anya's curiosity was piqued. "You
didn't tell me about this."
"I didn't?" He considered this. "Oh, that must be because
I blocked it out due to all the emotional pain and suffering it caused
me. I would sue if he had a nickel to his name, but no, instead I'll haveta
put this one up there in the Hall of Fame of traumatizing Spike
images, right below the infamous Bot Boink, and juuust a notch above the
kissy-kissy Wedding Spell."
"Gee, thanks," Buffy said.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to bring up painful memories."
Buffy shook her head. "Not the memories. The fact that all of your
traumatizing images have something to do with me."
"Well... only because you're -- you. And he's," he shuddered,
"Him. Anyway, this last one didn't involve you. At least... you weren't
"O-of course not," she stammered. "But still."
"So what was it?" Anya tugged on his sleeve.
"What was what?"
"The disturbing image!"
"Oh." Xander leaned in excitedly. "Get this. I walk into
his bedroom 'cause I'm lookin' for Buffy--"
"You were looking for her in his bedroom?"
"No, no. I wanted to know if he'd seen her. Anyway, I walk in, and
he's naked, in bed, and he's--" Xander made his 'shrimp' face. "Well
he said he was 'exercising', but--"
"Found something!" Buffy blared, shoving her book his way.
Xander squinted at the page. "Where?"
"There," Buffy said, pointing indiscriminately.
Xander read aloud, "'The Gachnyos demon. A... gentle vegetarian.'"
He looked up. "What about it?"
"Well, it's--" Buffy looked at the page she showed him. "Mad
ugly, that's for sure. Oh, it eats 'oats'! I thought it said 'cats'. Never
No matter what Buffy did to change the subject, Anya wouldn't let this
go. "So he said he was exercising, but?"
"But he's really," Xander paused dramatically, "doing
the wild thing with nothing."
Buffy groaned, wishing she could pull another vanishing act right about
Anya was intrigued. "With nothing? How?" This was much more
entertaining than clueing for cat burglars.
"Like..." he waved his hands as he settled on a description.
"Like obscene push-downs into thin air."
"Huh." Anya blanched as she pictured it. "Strange..."
"Strange would be an understatement. I'd say more like psychotic,
"Well, that's Spike for ya!" Buffy interjected with a nervous
"Oh, but that's not all," Xander said.
Buffy tried another tack. "Okay, I so don't wanna know
about whatever Spike does when he's alone."
"Oh, I do," Anya encouraged. "Go on."
"The sickest part of it was, I heard a girl's voice. Like he had
some tape playing, so he could complete the illusion or something."
Anya gasped. "Oh, how w--"
Suddenly, Buffy shot into the air and smacked herself in the forehead:
Anya blinked at her. "What?"
Buffy snapped her fingers. "I just remembered. I heard something
a while ago about... about demons playing poker for kittens!"
"Kittens as currency?" Anya asked, brow wrinkled.
"Yep," Buffy said, popping the 'p'.
Xander mulled this over. "So they're stealing cats... to breed kitten
"Could be," Buffy replied brightly. "You know, we-we should
split up. Check out all the demon haunts in town."
"And what do we do when we find them?" Xander asked. "Say,
'hand over those kittens, or else?'"
"We'll just do recon for tonight. No fighting."
"Well, what if someone picks a fight?" Concerned, Anya squeezed
her fiancé's shoulder. "Neither one of us is allowed to die or even
get slightly injured before the wedding."
"Oh. Right. Of course not. So I'll go alone," the Slayer decided.
"But Buff, does kitten poker really qualify as apocalypsey? I mean,
you said it yourself -- animal rights defender isn't part of the job descrip."
Buffy shrugged. "What the hell? Nothin' else to do. I'll call you
"Sure," Xander said. "We'll be at home."
"Be careful!" Anya called. "No death before the wedding
for you, either!"
"Too late," Buffy threw back as she breezed out the door, satisfied
that the subject of Spike's 'imaginary friend' was now closed.
Xander closed his book. "Well, I guess our work here is done."
"Is it me or did she seem really jumpy?" Anya asked, eyes still
on the door.
"Buffy? She's just getting back to her old high-energy self is all.
I, for one, am glad to see her back." He slung an arm over the top
of Anya's chair.
"Well, there's high-energy, and there's jumpy. That was jumpy. Almost...
"Defensive? About what?"
"How should I know? She was defending it."
"So, what are you saying?"
"Nothing," she said. "Just... making an observation."
He grabbed her and nuzzled into her neck, cooing playfully, "And
that's why I love you, 'cuz you're the observiest--"
"Xander, stop." She pushed him away. "I've got the disturbing
image in my head now."
He sighed heavily. "Yeah, me too. I was hoping that'd make it go
Suddenly, Anya wondered, "Why were you looking for Buffy, anyway?"
"Because she was invisible, remember? The pudding?"
"Oh," Anya said, and processed this information. "Oh.
It was while Buffy was invisible?"
"Yeah, that day," he said, piling up the books.
"You found Spike having sex with thin air... that day."
He stood up to return the books to the shelf. "Well, I figure he
does it every day, just not when I have the displeasure of seeing it."
She nodded. "Mm-hm."
"I mean, he doesn't have the Bot, he doesn't have Harmony, so what
else is left but an invisible--" Xander stopped cold, book frozen
Anya raised a brow, waiting.
"... girl..." he breathed, eyes darting everywhere. The book
fell to the ground.
Thin lipped, Anya looked at him expectantly.
He locked eyes with her, several expressions fleeting across his features:
confusion, clarity, horror, and finally disbelief. "No. No way."
"Defensive-jumpy," she reminded him in sing-song.
Xander approached the table, hands slicing the air. "No WAY!"
Indifferent, Anya shrugged.
"Oh my god, the, the kitchen!" Xander began to put things together.
"And the, the mess, and the -- ear moving and... She... she
wouldn't. She wouldn't!" He stared at his fiancée, aghast. "Would
She shrugged again.
"We have to do something about this!"
"What?" Anya said calmly. "Tell her not to make her own
"But -- it's SPIKE!" Xander's arms fanned out.
"Your only male friend, you mean."
"That's what you told me. 'Spike is the closest thing I have to
a male friend', you said."
"I was being caustic and regretful!" Xander said. "And
even if it was true, it's not anymore!"
"Because." He plunked down in his chair. "This is just
Anya thought for a moment as she clicked her ballpoint pen. "For
which one of you?"
"Which one of who?"
"Is it wrong for Buffy? Or
wrong for you?"
"I -- for Buffy! Hello? He's evil? Killed thousands of people?
Tried to kill us all?"
She arched a brow.
"Don't give me that look. You and him are nothing alike."
"No, especially not when you count that I was killing people
nine hundred years before he was even born."
He rolled his eyes, punctuating with a sigh. "Fine. Point begrudgingly
Anya smiled, patted his head and stood. "Then it's settled."
She walked towards the cash register. "It's time to rearrange the
seating chart again."
Xander's head landed in his hands. "No!"
As she stuck the last post-it into place, Anya admired her work.
"Buffy and Spike. Table One."