The Red Witch

The Red Witch
Prompt: 085 Watcher
Summary: Willow attempts to explain what happened to Xander to the Scoobies

London, October 2008
International Watcher's Council

There was a small, comfortably furnished conference room tucked away in the otherwise ornately furnished building that now was the home of the International Watcher's Council, Inc.  The room was attached to the office of the Council Head and it was only used for meetings of the highest ranked members of the Council.  Few others had actually been in the room but one or two young watchers had been able to catch a glimpse of the place where so much of the new Council's policy had been established.  Those who had seen inside were pretty much ignored when they insisted that the room seemed to be filled with plush and comfortable sofas and fluffy stuffed chairs. The walls were either said to have been white, tan or, as one watcher had put it, the brightest, most obnoxious yellow color he'd ever seen.

Regardless of the decor of the room, the people who worked in the building knew that when the High Council met, that was the room where they gathered and when *all* the High Council met, there were things going on that most watchers would give their very own ancestral tweed jackets to know about.  Or perhaps *not* know about.

So when the order came to the very capable assistant of one Rupert Giles that there should be snacks delivered post haste to his office, including jellies, scones, chocolate biscuits, pop and most importantly a very strong pot of tea, Laura Montague knew that the small room would soon be in use.  When Giles called her back and also asked for a box of twinkies to be brought up from the private stock, she knew that this was going to be a rare full gathering of the High Council.  The only person who demanded twinkies as part of a traditional British tea was the Slayer's Lion, Harry Potter.

As she called down to place the order with the Council kitchens, she considered who else might be at this meeting.  Director Potter didn't come over from New York very often between Christmas Holidays and if he was there, Potter’s best friends Senior Watcher Jesse McNalley and the Independent Consultant called Spike, also known as William the Bloody, wouldn't be too far behind.  She made a note to see if the kitchens had some blood still on ice from the last time they'd had a vampire in residence.

One half hour later, Laura was just delivering the refreshments to the small conference room - which she was often in but never spoke of despite the attempts of other Council personnel to get her to describe it - and setting them up on the largest table when Head Councilor Giles walked into the room.

"Ah, thank you, Laura," he said with a kind smile.  "As efficient as always."

"Thank you, sir," she said with a nod.  "When should we be expecting the other councilors?"

"They should be here - "  His words were cut off by a scream of pure terror, a large amount of what sounded like files slithering to the floor and the sound of footsteps quickly fading down the hallway outside Giles’ main office.  The most senior member of the Watcher's Council gave a sigh.  "I'd say they were here now."

"Spike, what the hell did you do that for?  You scared that poor guy to death," a chiding male voice said sternly though long years of association enabled Giles to discern the amusement beneath the words.

"Well, he was starin' wasn't he?" came the arrogant, careless reply.  "It was rude, that's what.  A bloke shouldn't be starin'."

"Spike, you love being the center of attention," a third male pointed out as three young men walked into the conference room.  "You just wanted to scare that Watchling."

Giles sighed again and Laura tried to suppress her smile.

"Jesse, I've asked you not to call the junior watchers that.  You know it offends them," the Councilor stated firmly even as that young man grinned at him.

"Long time no see, G-man!" he said as he crossed the room and shook the man's hand heartily.  The senior watcher just assumed a long-suffering expression which made Jesse's smile even wider.  "You know we miss you since you're not in New York."

"Indeed?" Giles asked doubtfully and glanced at the other arrivals.  "Harry, I hope you're doing well?"

"Of course, Giles," the young man replied with a nod and a smile.  "Though I could use some tea.  I hate it when Willow sends us Express.  I'd take a plane rather than teleport across the Atlantic."  He gave the senior watcher a quick hand shake before he moved to where Laura was already preparing him a cup of tea.  She also handed him a small silver plate with two plastic-wrapped twinkies.  He nodded his thanks with a shy smile as he took the warm cup and the plate.

"And what's this about, Rupert?" Spike asked as he sauntered across the room, his sensitive nose picking up the smell of warmed human blood.  Laura held out another mug and motioned to the thermos sitting on the back of the table.  He nodded and winked at her before he turned back to Giles.  "Why'd we have to come so quickly anyway?  Didn't hear ‘bout any apocalypses."

"Apparently Willow felt it was urgent that we have a meeting as soon as possible," Giles answered as he nodded at Laura and she quietly left the room, her gaze making sure she hadn't forgotten anything before she closed the door behind her.  The senior watcher ambled over to the refreshments table and poured himself a cup of tea before he moved to settle on one of the plush couches.  "She said she needed us all together and she'd make sure everyone showed up.  I got a sense of urgency but not one of real danger."

"I wonder what this is about," Harry asked as he set his cup and plate on the table next to his chair and started opening up his first twinkie.  "She wigged out about something last week and got so worked up that she fainted."

"Actually, I think that was the tie," Jesse noted from the snack table as he poked at the cookies. Spike snorted from the sofa where he was sprawled and Harry looked wounded.

"It was not the tie!  That was a great tie!" he protested hotly.  "Everyone at the party loved that tie."   

"I hate ta tell ya, Potty, but that tie deserved its fate," Spike pointed out as he dunked a chocolate cookie in his blood.

Harry's green eyes narrowed as he glared at Jesse who was glaring at Spike for bringing up the subject.

"I still can't believe you *shredded* my tie!"

"It was an accident!" Jesse said as he folded some cookies into a napkin, picked up a can of coke and settled onto the couch next to Spike.  "Besides, you're the Director of the North American Watchers.  You shouldn't be seen wearing something so embarrassing.  What if people think all Watchers dress like that?"

"Oh and that tie-dyed tee shirt that you had Willow spell with the logo 'Watchers R Us' on the front and 'Born to Peep' on the back is SOOOOO fashionable," Harry retorted.

"Hey, that is a *great* t-shirt!  And I bought you that seventh Xander Harris book to make up for the *accident*, didn't I?  *And* the audio CD of the book?"

"Humph."  Harry still looked petulant as he crammed a twinkie into his mouth.

"Gentlemen," Giles interrupted loudly before the pair could continue their spat.  The three glanced over at him as he looked pointedly at Harry.  "You said Willow" he prompted.

Harry hurriedly finished his mouthful of sugary goodness before he nodded.  "Yes, but she wouldn't tell me why."

"Yeah, she was definitely wigged about something - "

"Not my tie" Harry chimed in.  Jesse just sighed and continued.

"When she saw me at the bookstore last week, she burst into tears, hugged the stuffing out of me and then ran off, dragging Tara with her.  I hadn't seen her since.  Then she showed up and told me to get ready to be sent to England by the Willow Express."

Before Giles could interrogate further, however, the conference room door opened and a smiling Buffy walked in.  The next few minutes were a chaos of greetings and hugs and inquiries of health and the dating situation.

"You guys are looking good," she said as she picked up a jelly donut and a diet soda before she plopped onto a couch and snuggled into a corner.  "So what's the what?  Willow didn't waste any time in explanation before she sent me and Dawn here from Rome."

"Where is the Bit, anyway?" Spike asked and Buffy rolled her eyes. 

"She just *had* to stop in the Translations Department to see if anyone there could read some new weird language she found in some moldy old book.  Said she'd be up in a few minutes but I'd say it'll be a few hours."

Harry grinned.  "Yes, that sounds like our little Dawn Patrol."

"Don't let her hear you call her that, Harry," Buffy warned between bites of her jelly donut.  "You *know* she's not a child anymore and we shouldn't be treating her any differently than any other junior watchling."

Giles narrowed his eyes at Buffy's last word and then turned to glare at Jesse who was currently messily consuming a cookie.

"What?" he asked with cookie crumbs falling down his shirt when he noted Giles' glare.  The Head Council Member just sighed.

"Jesse, do you even *know* what a napkin is?" Buffy asked with a chuckle from her corner. 

The watcher just grinned.  "Of course.  It's this thing I put my cookies in to hold them while I eat them."

Giles rolled his eyes and was about to say something when two flashes in the center of the room heralded the arrival of Willow Rosenberg and Tara McClay.  The two witches stood still for a moment, waiting for their magic to settle before they were greeted happily by everyone in the room.  The most prominent voice, however, was Harry, who after a proper greeting and a kiss of the cheek for both witches demanded that Willow tell Jesse that it was not his tie that had caused her to faint last week.

Willow just blinked, glanced nervously around at everyone and then gave Jesse a faint grin. 

"It was not Harry's tie that caused me to faint," she dutifully told him and Jesse just scowled as Spike snickered beside him.  Willow looked up at Tara with wide worried eyes before she glanced around again.  "Now I kinda have something I need to discuss."

At her words, everyone reseated themselves except for Harry, who looked her in the eyes and quietly said, "All right, Willow?"

The red-haired witch just nodded with a faint smile.  "Yes, Harry."

He looked at her intently for a moment before he went back to his seat and took a long sip of his tea, his green eyes still studying her carefully.  Willow just turned and looked at Jesse for a long moment and then seated herself beside Tara and took her hand. 

"Okay," she said nervously as she took a deep breath.  "Okay, I've been thinking for a week how to explain this to all of you and I don't know if you're going to believe me but I know I have to tell you anyway cause Xander may be in trouble and I don't want to just leave him there but I don't want things to change here either cause Jesse and Tara are here but what if it does change things and so Idon'tknowhowtofixthis!" 

By the time she reached the last sentence, Willow's words were coming so fast even Harry and Jesse, who had long known how to interpret Willow-speak, didn't quite catch what she said.  Tara just squeezed her hand and patted it soothingly.

"Willow, breathe honey," she said and for some reason that just made the red-haired witch's eyes tear up and she turned away sniffling which immediately brought Harry, Jesse and Buffy to her side.

"Willow, what is it?" Jesse asked, taking her other hand.  "Tell us what's bothering you so me and Harry and Spike can go take care of it for you."

The young witch just let out another sob and wrapped her arms around him.  "Jesse I missed you so much!" she sobbed as he held her in a tight hug.

"Well, it has been a whole week since you've seen me, Wills," he said lightly as he traded glances with Harry and Buffy.  Harry just gently touched Willow's hair and then looked at Tara with a question in his eyes but she just looked as curious and worried as he did.

A few minutes later, Willow pulled back from Jesse, her eyes red and puffy but she smiled up at him.  She patted him on the chest as she sat back.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do that, it just...."

Willow sighed and reached out for Tara's hand and squeezed before she stood up and paced to the middle of the room.  She sniffed several times and took some deep breaths and then ran her fingers nervously through her hair.

"Okay," she stated and then turned back to her worried friends.  She looked at each one and then sighed.  "You remember back in high school when Cordelia told us about the wish she made and Anya granted?  And how everything changed and I was vamp Willow and Harry and Jesse were vamps and we pretty much ruled Sunnydale?  And how if she hadn't destroyed Anya's power center, we'd all be living in Vampville?"

Harry and Jesse exchanged a quick glance while Buffy groaned loudly and Spike took a large drink of his blood.

"Oi Rupes, you got some whiskey I can put in this?" he asked hopefully.  "I think I'm gonna need it."

Giles glanced from Willow, who was now wringing her hands, to the seated scoobies who were now in various stages of worry.  Then he went to the liquor cabinet and retrieved a bottle of whisky.  He grimaced as he poured some into Spike's mug before he considered his own teacup.  The tea was obviously not going to be strong enough for this so he filled the cup to the brim before he turned to the others in the room.

"Anyone else?"

Two soda cans, Buffy and Jesse, and a teacup, Harry were held up pleadingly.  Giles topped them all off and then set the bottle down.  He returned to his seat, took a sip of tea-laced whiskey and the nodded to Willow.

"I think we're ready now."

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