Xander had left Andrew at the bottom of the stairs and climbed to the high tower which Willow had made her workroom.
Okay, so it wasn't really a high tower so much as an unused attic bedroom, but since he had started to call her the White Witch and Ms. Gandalf... well, he needed something to tease her with. Besides, the corollary between her workroom and the attic the witches used on Charmed was just ridiculous and he wasn't even going to go there.
"Hey, Wills," he called, knocking on the door before slowly pushing it open.
She was sitting cross-legged in the middle of a chalk circle, swirling blue lights orbiting around her head. Her hair had been bleached white by the power she was using and he could practically feel it like an invisible pressure against his skin.
The mirrored doors of the closet behind her showed a blurred image of some kind of room. Even as he looked, speck by speck, color by color, the image was becoming clearer and clearer, though it was still too blurred to make out any kind of detail.
"So, Wills, what you been doin'?" he asked.
She looked up from the strange tangle of string she had been sorting and flashed him a brief smile, the lights slowing their swirl around her. "Just looking for someone," she said.
"Ah," he said, "so that's why you've been disappearing so much lately? Me and Buff've been missing you, ya know?"
"I know, but I've got to find him."
"Find who?" he asked.
Tears suddenly shimmered in her eyes. "Oz. I... I've lost him and I can't find him anywhere. He's... he's not in the world anymore."
"He's not dead is he? This isn't going to be like Buffy and the whole ripping her out of eternal paradise thing, is it?"
"No, no, he's not dead. He's just lost." She rubbed the back of her hand against her eyes. "And I think I did it."
Xander made his way across the room to kneel down next to the circle, carefully making sure he didn't touch the chalk lines. "Now what were you saying? Where did you send Oz and why?"
She looked so guilty and pained that he wanted to draw her into his arms and give her all the comfort in the world, but he needed to know what she'd done first.
"I heard Oz calling for help the other night," she said. "He sounded so... frantic. I've never heard him sound like that before," she said.
"So you helped him?" Xander said. "You sent him to some other reality or world or whatever to help him?"
"No, no," she shook her head, "he was already in another world. Something happened there that made him call me for help. I didn't even know he was out of the world until he was so upset that I couldn't ignore him anymore. And the next day, when I went looking for him, I... I couldn't find him."
"So why do you think it's your fault he's wherever he is?" Xander asked.
"Because I could feel my magic signature wrapping him up wherever he is. I didn't consciously send him wherever he is, but... it's like I was trying to hide him from myself and now I have to search all of the realities he's even closed to before I can narrow it down and find him."
"That's some pretty crazy McCrazy right there," Xander said, shaking his head.
Willow gave him a weak smile. "I feel so bad. He's out there, wherever I sent him, and I can't even find him and bring him home. I can't even be sure that he's all right. But don't worry," she waved a hand back over her shoulder at the mirrors, "I'm getting close. It'll be a few more days, but as more detail is added to the images of where he is, I'm getting closer to finding him. We'll have our Oz back."
"Just make sure he wants to come back first, Wills," Xander said. "I know you like to think that you know best sometimes, but... we don't want a repeat of the Buffy debacle, right? We want to be one hundred percent sure before we go swallowing snakes and ripping holes through reality and ripping people out of wherever they are."
Her look was so hurt that he wanted to take the words back for a moment, but he knew that she had to hear them. Willow had made some truly spectacular mistakes in the past, toying with the lives of her friends without a second thought and damn the consequences. "I... You're right Xander. I'll find some way to ask him if he wants to come back before I do anything. I just... I need to know that he's all right. When I felt him, he was so scared. I have to know that I didn't send him to hell or something."
"I don't think you would ever send the Oz-man to hell," Xander said. "But if you sent him to heaven, find out first before you make with the mojo, that's all I'm asking. I don't want to have him moping around here, holding in the pain and being all secret suicidal like Buffy was. We don't need that. Not again."
She shook his head. "I'll make sure he wants to come back before I do anything. But if he needs my help... then I'm gonna give it."
"And if you need any backup, you know you can always ask me or Buffy," Xander said. "We'll be right beside you."
She grinned at him. "See, that's why I love you. If I still liked the boy-sex, you'd be at the top of my list."
"And if I was still all about the girl-sex, you'd be at the top of mine," he said. Then he couldn't help the impish grin. "Though, if Andrew and Kennedy ever said it was okay, we could have a really awesome weekend with just the four of us."
"Yeah, I don't think you wanna invite Buffy to that party," Willow said, the color rising in her cheeks.
"Hey, Buffy will always be one of my best girls," Xander said. "I'd just feel a little weird if she wanted to bring Dawn or some bloodsucking freak in with us."
Willow made ew face and waved her hand at him. "Get out of here, Xander, you're putting yucky pictures in my head. Though you gotta admit, Buffy is pretty hot."
"It's the Slayer thing," Xander said knowledgeably, rising to his feet. "And I'm gonna go now before I totally embarrass myself. Just remember, there's people outside of this room, and we all love you. So come down to dinner later, okay?"
"Sure," she said. "I've just gotta finish a few more things, but I promise I'll be down."
Xander waved goodbye to his oldest friend in the world, then walked back down the stairs, where Andrew was waiting for him like a twitchy bundle of blond nerves.
"Well? Is she still the good witch, or is she stirring up some flying monkeys?" Andrew asked nervously.
Xander slung an arm over the younger man's shoulders. "All is well in the world of the Scooby-Gang. Willow was just looking for something she thought she lost, that's all. She's gonna be down for the dinnery goodness later."
"Oh good," Andrew said. "Buffy is cooking and she said everyone has to be there or she's gonna get out her axe."
Xander snorted. "Great. Buffy obsessing about the perfect peas and freaking out about non-regulation sized pearl onions."
He joked about it, but there was something oddly comforting about Buffy being Buffy, weird obsessions and all. And her freaky attention to detail ensured that the food was better than usual, and that was always of the good.
He, Willow, and Buffy were friends forever, and nothing--not even themselves--was going to stand in the way of that. And once Willow made sure Oz was all right, they could get back to friendship as usual and giving the new Slayers the guidance and leadership they needed to be the new generation of champions and world saviors.
* * *
Micah and Nathaniel were curled up together on the bed sound asleep. They looked so sweet lying there, if two guys that sexy could be sweet.
Anita pulled her silk wrap closer around her and padded down the hall to the guest bathroom. She could have used the one off of her room, but there had been an... incident... earlier and she didn't want to deal with the drama of seeing the wreckage of her once beautiful bathroom again. Just the sight of her once luxurious bathtub made her sick to her stomach.
Clicking on the bathroom light, she couldn't help her startled gasp before she got control of herself.
With a sigh, she quietly closed the door before turning to her guest. "You shouldn't do that. You almost scared the crap right out of me."
"Then this is the perfect place to be, right?" Buffy said, giving her an impish grin.
Anita rolled her eyes. "You can be such a child."
"Aw, but that's what makes me so special." Buffy leaned against the sink, the sleeves of her white sweater pushed up past her elbows. "So, have you come up with any ideas about what we're gonna do?"
"About what?" Anita asked.
Buffy shook her head. "Anita, Anita, you should know better than anyone that there's no point putting off what can be fixed right now for later. You know that Oz is a dangerous influence on your people. Didn't you see how Sylvie was looking at you tonight? You're really gonna let her get away with that? And you don't even want to know what she's been saying to the other wolves behind your back."
"What do you mean?" Anita asked.
"Don't worry about that," Buffy said, "it'll only hurt your feelings. But it just emphasizes the fact that we have to get rid of Oz before things get much worse. He's already living with Jean-Claude at the Circus, and even while we speak, he's doing all kinds of things to bring the vampires and the wolves under his control. Pretty soon he's going to control them completely, and then he's going to use them to start killing people and enslaving the city, and you don't want that to happen, do you?"
Anita shook her head, feeling as though the walls were slowly closing in around her, muffling her like cotton.
"You have to kill him, Anita, kill him before it's too late," Buffy said. "It's your duty. And in the end, isn't that what it's really all about? You do the job first, then you worry about the rest of it later."
"My duty..." Anita whispered in a hoarse sounding voice, "is to kill Oz?"
"Yes. Kill him. Make him bleed. Hurt him in ways he'll never come back from. That's the best thing you can do, Anita, for all of your people. You have to protect them. Kill him. Kill him soon."