Once again, she was sitting cross-legged in the middle of her workroom, gazing into the depths of the long mirror. Things were coming into clearer focus--buildings, cars, streetlights--but people were nothing but flesh-colored blurs.
If she had really wanted to, she could have reached into the mirror and forced Oz out of it. But if there was one thing she had learned after ripping Buffy out of heaven... it was to always make sure that someone needed rescuing before just grabbing them up.
Just thinking about the whole "Buffy wasn't in hell, but in heaven" thing made her feel that familiar surge of regret and guilt. Her friend had been in a place of perfect happiness for the first time in her life, and with one ill-thought plan Willow had relegated her to the equivalent of a life-sentence in misery.
It had taken Buffy a long time to come to grips with her return to life and the fight they all faced. And even though she had found contentment and maybe a kind of happiness, Willow would always regret having taken her from heaven.
So there was no way she was just going to reach into that world and snatch Oz back. She would watch and wait, and if she could manage it, she would ask him what he wanted done.
There was the soft scuff of footsteps behind her, but she didn't turn. They were nearly as familiar as her own. "What are you doing now?" Kennedy asked quietly.
"Waiting for everything to become clear," Willow said distractedly, unable to look away from the mirror. Just a little while longer and she would know what was happening for sure.
"And then what?" Kennedy asked, a little bit of sharpness in her voice.
Willow knew that her girlfriend was kind of upset about being pretty much ignored for the last few days. She sighed softly and held her hand out, waiting until Kennedy took it and knelt beside her. She nestled against Kennedy's side, feeling that quiet strength the other woman exuded even when she wasn't in full-on Slayer mode. "If he's happy I'll leave him there, no harm, no foul. But I need to ask him if he's somewhere he wants to stay. 'Cause if Oz is in a bad place and I just leave him there... I would never be able to forgive myself."
"You still love him, don't you?" Kennedy asked. There was just a hint of worry and hurt in her voice, the fear that things were going to fall apart and there was nothing she could do about it.
Willow's lips quirked in a little smile. "Yes," she said honestly, "but that doesn't mean I want to be with him. He was my first relationship, my first love, and my first broken heart. At the time, I thought we were going to be forever. But we all grow up."
"Are we going to be forever?" Kennedy asked.
Willow turned a smile on her, reaching out to caress her face with the palm of her hand. "We're going to try for it."
In the quiet stillness, the only light coming from the mirrors on the wall reflecting back an alien world, Willow leaned forward to kiss Kennedy softly on the lips. It was a kind of promise.
* * *
There had been times before when he had come to the realization that ma petite was out of control, but always he had been able to push that aside, not wanting to face the truth and possibly lose her forever. But to have her bring about such madness at a dinner party? There were not enough excuses in the world that he could make.
"We should do something," Richard said softly.
"Yes, but what?" Jean-Claude asked. "She is most obviously not in the mood to listen to anyone." 'To us' went unsaid.
Over the last few years Anita had begun to do whatever she wanted with no thought to consequences. Her power had grown to such proportions that most of the time she was able to face anyone that questioned her without fear, and with that sense of mastery she had been changed into someone he did not recognize as the woman he had fallen in love with.
He had not said anything, had allowed her freedom to become who and what she wanted to be. And now he was reaping the fruits of his neglectful foolishness. Because somehow she had spread herself out across the Marks, owning them so completely that she had become the center of his and Richard's world, the core of their power, entangling them in the sticky web of her whims and desires until there was no way for them to pull free, no way for them to exert any kind of control over her. They were in her thrall, and there was nothing to be done about it as they would die without her.
Jean-Claude glanced at the side of Richard's face. The Ulfric had become a different man in the years he had known him, had grown into his power and position, and even though he had lost himself for a time, he was an incredibly admirable man. To have been overwhelmed by the Marks and Anita's power for so long, and yet to have at least partially maintained himself... it was a wonder.
Jean-Claude had not told Richard the whole truth about what Anita had been doing to him and what could have happened. He had not gone into the details of how much raw emotion Anita had poured into him, and the depth of madness that could have resulted.
He had decided that Richard did not need to know how close he had been to becoming nothing but a psychotic shell of a man, only able to feel anything at all when he indulged in the most depraved of practices. Richard did not need to know that he had been on the road to becoming everything he hated and feared, a thousand times worse than Raina or Marcus or Gabriel could have ever been, a truly soulless MONSTER that only thought it wanted to be a man.
It was bad enough that Richard resented Anita so much. It would have been worse if Jean-Claude had given the werewolf true reason to hate her. Especially now, when there was something so obviously wrong with her.
"What is she going to do?" Richard asked.
Jean-Claude shook his head. "I do not known, mon ami. It has been a long time since I have been able to understand why ma petite does the things she does."
They stood there, watching the confrontation between Anita and Oz, both hesitating to do what they knew needed to be done. It was just such an awkward situation: the woman they were to spend forever with, and the innocent young man that she was harassing for no reason.
"I knew you were trouble the first time I saw you," Anita growled.
Oz blinked at her. "I still have no idea what you're talking about. I haven't done anything to you."
Anita cocked her head as though listening to someone. Jean-Claude had noticed this strange new habit of hers in the last few days. He had even walked in on her once seemingly in mid-conversation with herself.
"You like to play that you're innocent, but I know," she wagged her finger at Oz, a deranged smile twisting her lips, "I know. You're trying to ruin my life, trying to make everyone turn against me. But I won't let you win, I won't."
Jean-Claude had never seen her looking like that, so wild and strange. It made him think of Nathaniel's phone call and the idea that Anita might really be possessed.
He had mentally scoffed at the idea, but now it had merit. There was definitely something happening with Anita.
"You're here to cause trouble, I know it," Anita said. "Everyone else has bought into your little act, but I'm not so easily fooled. And I'll stop you no matter what I have to do."
Oz shook his head. "I came here on accident. I don't have any plans against you or anything like that. You're paranoid."
Anita snarled, her expression twisting uglily. "I'm not fucking paranoid. Don't talk to me like I'm crazy or something."
"Whoa," Oz held his hands palm out, "I never called you crazy. I just want you to stop messing with Jason."
"Who are you to tell me what to do?" Anita demanded, stamping her foot. "Jason belongs to me."
Oz's voice was deeper than ever before and there was something dark in his eyes, "He doesn't belong to you. And you really need to stop what you're doing to him."
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Her mock-innocent tone wasn't even close to believable.
"Don't try to lie," Oz said. "I can feel your power pressing down."
Richard interrupted, stepping forward a little, "What do you mean? What is she doing? I don't feel anything."
Oz looked at him. "Seriously, you don't feel that? She's been pressing her power down on us for a while now. It's why Jason's like that." He pointed down at Jason.
"Wait a minute," Anita snarled suspiciously, "if you were a normal human you wouldn't feel anything." She smirked. "I was right, you've been lying about what you are. You're not a human at all, are you?"
Jean-Claude had had his suspicions about Oz, but he hadn't voiced any of them, especially to Anita. He knew that when Anita classified someone as not being human, she didn't have a second thought about shooting them. He drew in a breath, feeling that things were about to get even worse. "Anita, our guest has done nothing to you."
She gave him a dark look. "Our guest? He's not my guest. I didn't invite him here. He just showed up one day."
Jean-Claude sighed. "Very well. My guest does not need to be treated in such a manner. And I must ask that you stop what you are doing to Jason." Though it was strange that she was able to do such a thing without him feeling it. In fact, if Oz had not said anything he would not have realized anything was going on at all, other than Jason being dramatic.
Anita had learned some subtlety with her power. Which was actually a somewhat worrying prospect.
* * *
"Look at him trying to tell you what to do. Can you believe this guy or what?" Buffy asked, rolling her eyes.
"What," Anita said, ignoring the weird looks she received. It was just hard sometimes to realize that no one else could see Buffy. To her, the woman was such a strong presence that it was impossible to ignore her.
"Monsieur Oz has done nothing to you," Jean-Claude said. "I do not understand your dislike of him, but it has begun to make you act irrational."
"Irrational? IRRATIONAL? I'll show you irrational," Anita yelled. She pulled out her Browning and pointed it at Oz. "He is EVIL and he came here to ruin my life." Her finger tightened on the trigger.
She vaguely heard Jean-Claude and Richard and about a dozen others scream "NO!" before the bullet struck Oz right in the chest with a meaty thud.
It was oddly cathartic.
* * *
Jean-Claude had not thought Anita would really do it. And because of that, he had made no move to stop her and now a young man was dead. He felt a surge of guilt.
Anita spun around, a jubilant smile on her face. "That was perfect! If I had known it would feel that good, I would have shot Oz days ago."
The rest of her celebrations were cut short by a low, thrumming growl. Jean-Claude's eyes were caught by the sight of Oz's body rising back to its feet, only instead of a short, laid-back musician... he was a fur covered beast. An angry
fur covered beast.
He opened his mouth wide, revealing sharp meat-eating teeth, and ROARED.
Anita half-turned, her smile falling away. "Oh shit."