They made it back to the Circus in time to be caught by Asher.
"Jean-Claude would like to see you," the vampire said, his focus on Oz alone.
Even though nothing showed on his face, Oz felt a bit of a nervous sizzle go through him. He had known this was going to happen. He had made himself too interesting the Master of the City, and now he was going to have to come up with some answers he really didn't know. "'Kay."
Following Asher through the maze of the circus, he couldn't help being a little glad that Jason was there with him. Sure, there probably wasn't a whole lot Jason could do against the Master vampire that happened to be his boss, but there were moral support issues going on and that was cool.
They reached the doors to Jean-Claude's office and Oz had to draw in a deep, fortifying breath before going in. He really didn't want to face this moment, but if there was one thing he had learned from his life in Sunnydale, it was foolhardy bravery in the face of impossible odds. All he had to do was put on his Xander face.
"Welcome, M'ser Osbourne, I hope you have had a truly pleasant evening," that smooth, sex-laden voice said.
Oz ignored the shiver that wanted to go down his spine. He knew vampire tricks when he felt them and he wasn't even going to go there. "I'm good," he said. Without waiting for the invite, he sat down on one of the chairs in front of Jean-Claude's desk.
"I have a few questions for you, mon ami."
"I thought so."
Jean-Claude crossed his hands on the desk. "How were you able to heal our dear Jason? What was that power I felt in you last night?"
Oz shrugged. "I don't know. Nothing's ever happened like that with me. It was very weird."
"You have never healed anyone before?" Jean-Claude raised an eyebrow.
Oz shook his head. "No. It felt kind of familiar, but I've never healed anyone."
"Hm." Jean-Claude looked at Jason. "And how do you feel, Mr. Shuyler?"
Jason grinned. "Never better."
"Interesting. Very interesting."
The way Jean-Claude was looking at him made Oz want to squirm. Except he didn't do things like that.
"Yeah, interesting," he muttered.
* * *
With a small curse, Willow jumped to her feet, tossing her hair over her shoulders.
No matter what she did, she couldn't focus tight enough to find Oz. Maybe if he was calling her name she would be able to reach him, but as it was... nothing but blank universal space.
Blowing out her cheeks, she tried to think of something to do. She had to find Oz. He needed her.
"Ah hah, why didn't I think of that before?" she said to herself, giving a little laugh.
She snapped her fingers and a silver bowl carved with ornate sigils for clear vision appeared on the floor before her. She concentrated and it filled with water.
Kneeling on the floor, she placed her palms on the rim of the bowl, muttering softly under her breath.
As she spoke the lights dimmed and a mix of swirling lights rose up into the air from the bowl. Higher and higher they spun until they filled the whole of her view, the lights blurring together until they became the images of a thousand worlds, a hundred thousand worlds, worlds beyond count, spinning faster and faster in a dizzying blur.
Weakness fluttered through her. She hadn't expected this spell to take so much out of her, but she knew that she couldn't stop, not until she found Oz.
Gazing upwards at the millions of worlds she almost felt despair... there were so many. But she refused to give up and began the hardest part of her task, finding the right Oz in this mass of possibilities.
Tracing the unique magical signature of her Oz, she began picking through the various worlds, marking off whole strings of realities as being too far off the mark. A world where men rode on the backs of dragons and flamed the silvery acid-drips of falling death. A world where men in black robes and white skull masks terrorized a castle full of children with slender sticks while a thin black haired boy with blazing green eyes strode forward with foolhardy bravery to face his every nightmare. A spaceship floating through the velvet dark of space, a brown haired man in red leather facing down a giant with tentacles for a goatee wielding a curved blade. A world where dozens of men and women fought to the death in a once peaceful glen, their swords flashing as they tried to behead each other, blue-tinged lightning reaching toward the sky with angry fingers. A world where strangely dressed people stepped through a metal ring and one of the figure's eyes glowed alien white. A world where dinosaurs walked the earth and a group of people leaped from a green jeep with a red sigil on the side to run for the dubious safety of the woods. A world where a woman with red hair fought zombies with a tireless strength, flashing fangs as she cursed and wove a path of destruction. Another spaceship, this one smaller and more cramped, a young girl huddled in a corner whispering to herself, her dark eyes rising in question as though she felt Willow's gaze, her lips screaming for "Simon!" A world where a dark-skinned woman flew through the sky, her eyes pupil-less and white as she formed lightning clouds around herself, preparing a large blast. A world where a dark haired girl roared through the night on a Ninja motorcycle, a barcode proudly displayed on the back of her neck as she led her people to freedom. A world where a small boy tried to duck past laser-shooting garden gnomes while a strange looking green kid posed in the open doorway of the house laughing. A world where four boys bundled up in parkas stood at a bus stop, talking and waving their hands as they waited to go to school, the fat one screwing up his face pettishly. A world where a man dressed in red and blue flew through the sky, blasting red lasers from his eyes as he fought a giant robotic creature. And even more worlds, each strange and alien and holding nothing that she really cared about, not in this time and place where she had things to do and people to find.
As she focused on the purity of water and the honesty of air, the worlds began to peel away one-by-one, two-by-two, then dozens at a time until only one world remained. Shining silvery-blue in the darkness, the shadow of a distant earth beckoning her on with the warmth of a familiar presence. Oz.
Taking a deep breath, Willow lifted her hand, drawing the world close until it almost touched her palm, then tossed it across the room where it splashed against the wall-length mirror of the closet's sliding door and sunk into it.
Willow panted for breath and threw herself flat on her back on the floor. She turned her head to look into the mirror, a slight smile tugging at her lips as everything went dark.
The last thing she saw as consciousness left her was a blurry far-off view of that other world. But she knew that it was only a matter of time for that image to become clearer and closer until Oz was perfectly in focus.
She had found him.
* * *
Rocking back and forth on her bed, Anita felt more tears seeping down her face, trying to drown her in weakness. She didn't know what was happening, but for the last few hours she had been crying without really knowing why.
There was something wrong with her and she didn't know what. It made her fingers itch to clutch her gun. She hated being such a wimp, and the fact that she couldn't seem to stop herself only made it worse.
"Why are you crying? Shouldn't you be out there doing something?"
"Shut up," Anita said, pressing her face into her kneecaps.
"Aw, poor Anita, so lost, so confused. Everyone's left you, haven't they? You're all alone."
"If I was alone, you wouldn't be here," Anita said, raising her head, blinking her eyes blearily.
The small blond woman bent forward until their faces were on the level. "I've always been here. You know that. Whispering when you couldn't hear me. But you can hear me now, can't you?"
It was true. There had always been a voice whispering in the back of her mind. She had ignored it for most of her life, focusing her attention outward rather than giving that shadow of a thought form. But something had happened, something had broken in her mind. Now that voice had burst from her full-fledged and given a human form.
"Why are you here?" Anita asked.
"To keep you company. To help you focus."
"Focus on what?"
"The task you need to perform," the woman said.
Anita scrubbed at her eyes with her hands, feeling almost like a child for a moment. But she had never really been a child, not since her mother's death. "What are you talking about?"
"You know what you have to do, Anita. There's evil out there, waiting for you to... handle it."
Anita sniffed. "Why I do I need you?"
"Every hero needs a friend. And I'm your friend, Anita. The best kind of friend you'll ever have."
A feeling of warmth went through Anita. She knew she should be suspicious of it, but it was so comfortingly natural that she couldn't even care.
"What's your name?" she asked.
The specter smiled, a disarmingly sweet expression. "Buffy."