Author's note: thank you for your patience with my update speed! Hopefully my muse will stick around a bit longer this time.
The Shades. Dark, dangerous, inhabited by the dregs of the city. A place of dark pleasures and deadly dangers. Even in the daytime, it never truly saw the light. Heaps of garbage piled up in alleyways, convenient hiding spots for the thieves and murderers that waited for the unwary and the uninitiated. Many ventured into the depths of the Shades, but few ventured out again. Even the wizards, arrogant though they were, chose to avoid the neighborhood.
So, it came as quite a surprise to the old thief and cutthroat known as Medium-Tall Arnold, when a shining ball of light appeared above his garbage heap. He quickly scurried back, watching with annoyed semi-interest as the light plunged downward into the heap, re-forming into two shapes, female, he judged, by the shocked squeals being emitted.
“Witches,” he bit out in disgust, shaking his head. What was this city coming to now?
From deep within the mass of garbage, Willow and Buffy shook themselves, trying in vain to scrape themselves clean of filth. After months of trying to locate Xander (it having taken them a while to realize he was gone), Willow had finally managed to get a reading on his location. It had been difficult to find an opportunity to go out and look for him, having been oh-so-busy with Counsel work.
Buffy pulled herself out first. “Gee, Willow, do you think you could have aimed a little better? I mean, this wasn't exactly one of our best entrances ever. Besides, I don't see Xander anywhere around here, do you?”
Willow snorted, dragging herself out. “Crossing dimensions is an art, not an exact science. Be glad we made it to the right world. Speaking of which, a flat world on the back of elephants, on the back of a turtle? So typically Xander.” She glared down at the ruin of her clothes. “Scourgefy!”
In an instant, their clothes were clean. Buffy sighed in relief. “Been reading Harry Potter again, huh?” she asked.
With a grin, Willow nodded. “I just like the sound of it. Now, let's find Xander.” She closed her eyes. Soon, a spark of light formed in front of her. After a minute, she opened her eyes, and the spark drifted off. “Follow the light, it will lead us to his essence.”
The two of them hurried off into the depth of the Shades, unaware that they were being followed. Though they appeared to be anything but predators, their arrival had marked them as something to be watched, but not interfered with.
As the alleyways were darker than pitch, with the occasional lit window above, Willow summoned a light to illuminate the way, moving carefully through the streets, never losing sight of the guiding spark. At last, it led them to the door of a house far better lit than its neighbors, one marked with a sign: Mrs. Rosie Palm.
The girls looked at each other, then Willow reached up hesitantly to knock. The door was quickly answered by a pretty girl in a rather low-cut dress.
“Yes, may I help you?” the girl asked.
“Um, we're looking for Xander Harris? We were led to believe that he might be here?” Willow spoke up hesitantly.
The girl's face brightened. “Oh, you are friends of Xander? Please, come in, we all adore him here. He's upstairs. If you'd like to wait, I can get him for you?”
Buffy smiled. “That would be great. Thank you.” She looked around the room, seeing several other girls in similar dresses. “What is this place, anyway?”
The girls exchanged a look. “Oh...we are...seamstresses, yes, that's right. Everyone comes to us for our...services.” The first girl spoke up again. “Just a minute, now, and I'll get Xander.”
At the other girls' insistence Buffy and Willow sat down with them. “You are not from around here, are you?” asked one girl.
“No, we're just traveling, looking to find an old friend. We are a little lost. We've never been to this city before.”
One girl raised an eyebrow. “You certainly are lucky, then. The Shades are really dangerous after dark. Well, they're dangerous at any time, but after dark is the worst. We're just lucky to have Xander here; after all, few people would be stupid enough to bother us with a Watchman here.”
“Xan is a watchman?” Willow asked. “Is that like a police officer? Cause back home the police were complete idiots; I never would have thought he would want to be one.”
“I don't know what a police officer is, but Xander protects the people from unauthorized robberies and thefts, and he's really good at it!” the girl retorted.
Just then there was a panicked cry from upstairs, and a crash. Suddenly, a half-dressed man flew over the balcony and down the stairs, followed by Xander and a distressed young woman with a torn dress. Xander reached down, grabbed the man by the ear, and dragged him out the door.
“And stay out!” he shouted, dusting off his hands. “Feel luck that I'm off duty, or I'd drag you all the way to the jail by your ear!” He turned to the rapidly recovering girl. “Are you all right, Daisy?” he asked.
“I'll be fine now,” she replied. “He's always rough and usually cheap too, so it won't bother me to see him go. I have far nicer and better paying clients to make up for that piece of trash.” She smiled at him, batting her lashes. “Oh, Constable, how can I ever repay you?”
He laughed. “I'm sure Cherry would have something to say if you did. She always keeps her battleaxe sharp, just in case of...problems. But thanks for the thought.” He turned to the room. “Now, I heard I had visitors...Buffy! Willow! What are you girls doing here?”
The pair made an effort to stir from the shock of seeing their friend in action. Willow was the first to recover. “Alexander Lavelle Harris! What are you doing in a...a...a...a house of ill repute! It's disgusting! I thought you had better taste than that! We've been searching for you for months, and we find you here! Well, I never!”
“Yeah, Xan,” Buffy joined in, “I know you like girls, but this doesn't seem like you at all. Are you possessed again?”
Xander rolled his eye at them. “The ladies here are quite nice to me, and I mean that as just FRIENDS, Willow Rosenberg! I needed a place to stay, and my captain recommended it to me. Besides, you never came for me. You don't get to tell me how to live my life.”
“But, but...” Willow's face turned red to match her hair, “we came to bring you back home! We need you!”
Shaking his head, Xander sighed. “I'm not going back, Wills. I have people here who respect me, who count on me. I'm not going to turn my back on them. Besides, I'm dating someone, and I don't want to take her away from her life here.”
Buffy snorted. “Knowing you, she's probably some sort of demon. You're better off back where we can keep an eye on you.”
His face tightening, Xander glared at his friends. “For your information, Cherry's a dwarf, and a really smart, funny person. It's not perfect, but I do love her. Why don't you go back home and get back to your lives? I'm not going to act as your trained monkey anymore.” He turned to go.
Willow's face darkened. “Where do you think you're going, mister! We need to talk! This place is obviously warping you. You know you don't do well on your own. This...dwarf...is obviously dangerous if she's dating you. You're just going to get yourself in trouble and need us to rescue you. Now, let's go home.” She grabbed his arm.
“Willow, I'm not going anywhere with you. I have a good job here, where I'm respected, something I never got with you guys. I also have a wonderful girlfriend who understands me. I don't care that she's not human. If you haven't noticed this isn't the Hellmouth. Generally, the non-human citizens are the most law-abiding, and it's the humans you have to watch out for. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a date.” He turned to go. “Oh, and by the way, Buffy, don't stake any vampires while you're here. It won't do any good, and I'd hate to have to arrest you. All the vampires in Ankh-Morpork wear the black ribbon.” With that, Xander strode out the front door into the night.
Buffy and Willow exchanged a crestfallen look, then Willow opened a portal. As they stepped through, they could hear one of the girls remark, “Well, good riddance. With their attitude, I'd hate to see what the Campaign for Equal Heights would do to them.”
As the girls returned to their safe little world, they couldn't help but wonder when and how they'd lost their Xander-shaped friend.