Chapter Eight - Longing for Winter

The day had turned out exactly the opposite from the way the weatherman had predicted it would. The buttermilk sun fried Manhattan’s inhabitants and melted the snow banks with its searing rays. Puddles of filthy gray water collected in the pothole-ridden streets and evaporated under the orb of light pinned to the stainless blue sky. It was relatively warm for a winter month, too—close to 55 degrees. People who hadn’t seen the city since winter came thundering in emerged from their places of residence and roamed about the streets, soaking up the heat of a day like they probably wouldn’t see for the next month.

Despite the fresh look of the morning, Buffy had the sinking feeling that this was nothing but a bad omen. She was learning very slowly that signs that meant good fortune for others meant the exact opposite for her. It was just like that day when she’d returned to Sunnydale in hopes of a joyous reunion. The afternoon had glowed beautifully, but the day had soon turned ugly with the rotting of friendships and souls. This was probably the same course today was going to take.

Buffy stepped up onto the curb after she exited her cab. The whole city was absolutely buzzing with activity. The music was as fabulous as anything played in the Metropolitan Opera House. Only in New York could chaos such as this be considered a magnificent symphony.

Tugging her shirt in nervousness, Buffy approached the revolving door of Roger’s apartment complex—or should she say Xander’s? Her breath caught in her throat as her fingers touched the wooden frame. She didn’t know if she were strong enough to confront him, not after what she’d done to him. Buffy had given up hope of ever seeing any of the Sunnydale crew again; she’d given up the idea of hope completely. There had been times in Anne’s existence where she’d seen suicide as an option, a very doable one. Xander would be disgusted to hear what she almost resorted to. He had obviously never surrendered to defeat, even after every dead end he encountered. God, now Buffy was disgusted with herself, too! How could one man have so much faith and a woman have so little?

Tentatively, Buffy pushed on the door and walked through, chewing her bottom lip fearfully. The elevator seemed like it was a thousand miles away rather than 15 feet, just an ant on the horizon.

At the same time she felt this sickening fear, the slayer also felt unbelievable joy. Xander had found her! Or rather they found each other. Her long-lost friend had returned to her side, and the best part was that he didn’t even know it!

And another feeling Buffy experienced was shock—more like embarrassment. She had slept with Xander. Not Roger Winters, but Alexander Harris! The mere thought made her cheeks flush. It was very hard for her to believe that fact when she had spent so many years deflecting his advances roughly and breaking his heart repeatedly. It was even weirder that Buffy had kissed him like that: with such passion and fervor reserved for only Angel. Deep down, the slayer had always been intensely curious as to what it was like to kiss Xander; she had always been furiously inquisitive as to how his lips tasted. And now she knew. She knew EVERYTHING about Xander physically now, something she never imagined she’d know about him. Like that birthmark right above…

Stop! she scolded herself. You know where those thoughts will land you!

The last thing she felt was scared—scared of her feelings for Xander. In a way, this turn of fate made it easier to sort her emotions out because she didn’t feel as though she cared for two different people. On the other hand, it made everything else just that much harder. Where would these feelings lead her? Would heartbreak ensue, as it often did? Surely it had to, for she was Buffy Anne Summers. Queen of the Loveless. Hell, she might have lost him already because of last night.

“No!” she screamed to herself. “If I fix this right now, I can save us, and Xander and I can be together!” Buffy looked quickly to her left and right to make sure the path was clear. As she glanced right, the slayer notice the doorman looking at her quizzically, as if wondering why she were there. The look was not meant to offend her in any way, but it was more along the line of curiosity. But why?

Buffy shrugged it off, saving it in her memory bank to be analyzed later. Instead, she walked hastily to the elevator she’d come to know so well and stepped in, making the ride up without incident.

In the silent hallway of the top floor, nothing stirred, not even the air. The sound of the city didn’t blare; not one tenant made a sound; the outside world didn’t move. Buffy entered the hallway wearing a frightened countenance. Something was wrong for it to be this deadly quiet.

The slayer stalked over to Xander’s door, removing the ring of four keys from her pocket. She fumbled around with them, the tinkling of metal practically making her ears bleed in the resounding silence. As she searched for the correct one, Buffy fingered the so-called “none-of-your-business” key. What was that for anyway?

“Geez! All these questions, I feel like I’m back in high school,” Buffy laughed almost bitterly. She shoved the key into the lock and opened the door.

Everything inside was exactly the same as last night, except the air was different—it was empty. Instead of anger or exasperation filling it, nothing did. The whole pace just felt barren. Roger’s apartment was ice cold. Veins of crystal silver formed spider webs on the glass, translucent spiders sitting primly in their centers. The windows shuddered in the fantastic gales and the walls trembled in the approaching storm. Buffy watched amazedly as her breath slipped silkily around her fingers, tiny white snakes snapping at their tips with foggy teeth. How cold was it in here anyway? The slayer shoved her hands into her coat pockets, massaging their flesh into the wool fabric.

“Roger?” Buffy called hesitantly, expecting he would not answer to Xander’s name. “Are you here?” No answer came, just the howling wind. “Hello?”

“Yesssss?” Mother Nature hissed back cynically.

“Roger?” she asked a little more anxiously. She rubbed her forearms furiously now, trying to generate as much heat as possible. Lightly, Buffy padded across the floor toward his bedroom. “Rog? Are you in here?”

“Yesssss…”

She worried her lip as she treaded tentatively down the hall. “Where is he?” Buffy whispered.

“Here…” the wind whispered back.

“Roger!” the slayer screamed, rattling the windows in their panes. She want to—as crazy as it sounded—scare the wind quiet. She wanted it to shut-up and stop taunting her. This time the wind did not reply, merely banged in silent fury on the glass.

Satisfied with the quiet for once, Buffy approached Roger’s bedroom door, twisting the golden handle. It opened, hushed, swinging fluidly on it brass hinges.

The ghostly white world inside was tinted unearthly gray-blue—the color of the clouds before a great storm hit. The bed was perfectly made, the sheets tucked sharply under the mattress, not slept in. The entire room was spotless, like the clean of an apartment before it was sold.

Sold!? Oh my God! That’s why it was so quiet! Buffy flew over to the camouflaged closet and plunged into its silky black depths. Empty. Not a single shirt hung from the clothing rack, only naked hangers. The drawers were barren as well. In the mirror glowed the shadowy reflection of, not Roger Winters, but Buffy Summers and Anne Winters. A perfect line of sharp black divided her face into two parts: the darkened side was the slayer; the lighted part was the waitress.

“You! It’s your fault he left us!” Buffy growled.

“No,” Anne sobbed, a tear forming in her eye.

“Oh, like that’ll do any good. How many times have you cried over Angel, huh? A thousand, a million? Did it ever change anything? No!”

“Shut-up! Go away! I don’t need you.”

“But, Anne, you are me.”

“I am not! I’m better than you; I’m stronger.”

The right side of Buffy’s face contorted wryly as that side of her mouth curled into an evil smirk. “Oh yes, so much better than I am. From the look of it, it seems your life is an even bigger disaster area than mine is. You don’t even have any friends! And as for being stronger, well… You’ll never match the immense slayer power you once possessed, and emotionally, well, you’re more confused than I’ve ever been in my entire life—”

“Enough!” Anne screeched aloud, the glass rattling angrily in protest. “None of this is my fault, I don’t care what you say! Not Roger, not Xander! I’m not even my fault—if that makes any sense. It’s all because of you; it always has been and it always will be.”

“Tsk, tsk.” Buffy’s right finger waved precisely in the air. “Don’t try and pin this mess all on me, my dear. I refuse to take any credit for your mistakes anymore. As I recall, you’re the one who wouldn’t fess up to her own feelings to the man that she loves. I had nothing to do with any of it.”

“Hah!” her counterpart laughed with scorn. “Buffy has always been the driving force in my life. Her spirit haunts me; her memories permeate my mind. I am what I am because of that witch. Or should I say that slayer?”

“Come, come, Anne. We need not act so very childish. Anyway, we’re straying from the only topic we care about right now… Xander.”

“Roger, you mean. Yes, we have to find him and fast, before he does something foolish. Remember what he said last night in his fit of anger? ‘God, I never should have come here.’ We’ve got to hurry; we haven’t much time.”

“Welcome back to being Buffy… Buffy. There’s that slayer desperation and determination I know so well. What’re you waiting for? Get going!” This time it was Anne who smiled. She dashed out of the closet and went on a search for clues as to where Roger had gone. “Like the good ol’ days of research in the library with the gang, huh?”

“I guess. Now where should I start looking?”

“Try all of the drawers.”

Anne obeyed her second personality’s commands to the tee without protest and rooted through all of the drawers in his apartment. “There’s nothing in any of them!” Anne whined, a slight panic in her voice.

“Calm down, Annie. Geez, I would never have reacted like this.”

“Sure you wouldn’t…”

“Oh be quiet. Go check the living room.” Buffy was starting to sound exasperated. This Anne girl was really starting to get on her nerves. As much as they had in common, they were totally different people whose lives were moving in totally different directions, and that frustrated her to no end. How could she have allowed herself become this woman? How could she possibly be such a weakling inside?

She walked into the dead living room, finding most of the same furniture from before. Through every drawer in the room Buffy and Anne had searched. With one to go, the two were losing all hope of finding the information for which they so desperately sought. “Last hope, Buffy. Odds are there isn’t anything in here to help us.”

“That’s what the odds almost always are, but they aren’t against us, you know. Slayer sense says there’s something in there though.”

“You and your slayer sense!” Anne said, rolling her eyes. “That really never did you any good, you know.”

“Stop trying to stall, Annie. I know you’re afraid. Remember that I am a part of you, and I experience all of your feelings, too. Just open the drawer, and trust me.”

“Oh yeah, trust you. You who ruined my life!”

“Your logic, Annie, is more bizarre than anything I ever fought.”

“Shut-up! I’m in charge of this operation now!”

“You wish!” Buffy cried as she assumed control of her old body. “Sorry, Annie, but you’ve been in control long enough. I’ve hibernated like a good little girl inside you long enough. It’s time for Buffy Summers to return from the brink and take what’s rightfully hers!” Finally, the old Sunnydale slayer resumed power; the original finally conquered the replacement. She was home!

Fast as lightning, Buffy ripped open the drawer to uncover a huge, unexpected surprise. A picture. All doubts that Roger was not Xander faded into an abyss that very second. Here was a picture of a scene Anne had long-forgotten, but Buffy refused to leave behind her.

Almost six years ago in a thriving little town in California… Sunnydale. How wonderful that day had been! Xander had been taking pictures of their picnic left and right. She remembered how it had been just her, Xander and Willow, alone in a blazing field of yellow and white flowers. This was one of the photos her friend had taken—of her and Willow, grappling on the blue-and white-checked blanket. The slayer vaguely recalled the source of the fight being over some king of dessert, only she couldn’t remember what that dessert was. She remembered Willow’s taunting and then her surprised shriek as Buffy pounced on her. She could even recall Xander’s cheering and his bright, casual laugh at their girl fight. How she treasured those precious times. It was hard for Buffy to even think about the bad things after remembering something like that.

“You were wrong.”

“Oh really, Annie? About what?”

“You said this drawer would contain something that would tell us where Xander is.”

“No, I said something was in the drawer. I never specified what.”

“Now how are we supposed to find him? We don’t even have a single lead to start us off!” Buffy paused at this remark and pondered it for a moment. She was right. “Of course, I’m right! We’ll never find him now!”

“Oh relax! Xander had no leads on me, but still he found me in New York.”

“Correction, he found me.”

“As though it makes a difference! I was always inside of you.”

“Okay, fine, Buffy,” Anne relented. “Yes, he found US without any leads—”

“And we didn’t even know where we were going to end up! That’s impressive.”

“Took him five years though.”

“Well, like I said, he didn’t have any leads.”

Anne sighed. “Enough of this debate. How are we going to find the man we love?”

Buffy pondered again for a moment, very aware of the fact that Anne could read her every thought. Finally, she settled on one. “Oh, that’ll never work, Buffy. He won’t know anything.”

“Didn’t you see that look he gave me on the way up here? He might have been working when Xander left. The doorman could know at least a little something, like which airport he went to, or if he took a bus instead. It could happen.”

“Ludicrous!” Anne cried. “Impossible!”

“Such pessimism from a previously optimistic girl.”

“Me or you?”

“Hah, hah,” Buffy laughed humorlessly. “Just put all your faith in me, Annie. I promise we’ll find him.”

“How do I know your promise isn’t an empty one?”

“Because,” the slayer soothed with her light voice, “you can feel my sincerity. Do you think I would lie to myself?”

“You have before… about Angel.” Buffy remained unnaturally quiet, Anne feeling her body tighten with pain. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to say it like that. I—”

“Forget it,” Buffy interrupted. “Angel’s not important anymore. Priority Number One is Xander Harris. Can we just move on now? The doorman’s shift might end soon, and if we don’t want to miss what he might have to say, I suggest we get our asses in gear.”

“You’re right! Let’s go!” Buffy smiled inwardly to Anne to thank her for her cooperation.

The slayer pocketed the beautiful photograph and slipped out the door, locking it securely behind her. In the hall, she scurried to the elevator, boarded it and rode it to the first floor.

At the end of the lobby, silhouetted by the gray smog of the outdoors, was, luckily, the same doorman from before. His frail, tiny figure burned as he was outlined by a rim of steely fire from the street lights. His facial features were blackened; however, his body shape was precisely illuminated in brilliant gray and blue and yellow colors. The man’s arms were bony and thin, and his spidery hands appeared skeletal as they protruded from the bulky, faintly green suit jacket. His head was an oblong balloon attached by a string of a neck, and it looked about ready to float off into the atmosphere.

The closer Buffy got to him, the darker his face became—a mask of midnight black like Anne’s customers typically wore. But barely visible underneath the shadow was a face. It was gaunt and weathered from age and work. It had chapped lips and a long, sharp beak in its center. His eyes possessed shadows along their green rims. Although his job required him to be cheerful and welcoming, he didn’t look the part at all.

Warily, Buffy approached the doorman and greeted him. “Excuse me, sir?”

“Yes, miss? May I help you with something?” Old age permeated the waves of his voice, which sounded more like a goat’s than a human’s.

She paused. The man sounded perturbed with her. “Uh, yes, I mean, I hope so. I was wondering perhaps if you knew where Mr. Roger Winters went? You know, the man in the penthouse?”

“Mr. Winters moved out early this morning around ten o’clock. The movers are coming at about eleven in fact, so in about ten minutes. As for where Mr. Winters himself actually is… I haven’t a clue.”

“You didn’t see him leave or anything?” Buffy asked incredulously, amazed that the doorman of all people would not see such a hulking figure leave while on his duties. “Maybe you at least know where they are moving his stuff?”

“As far as I know, every item of furniture is either staying in the apartment or being donated to charities. And do not be mistaken, I called the cab for him myself; however, I do not know of its current whereabouts. He did not inform me.”

“You didn’t hear him say anything to the driver as to his destination? No clues to his headings?”

“My, my. Aren’t we an inquisitive young girl?” The withered tree scratched his jutting wooden chin with his scraggly branches. “Lemme think here.” And he did. His emerald eyes fluttered back and forth as though searching for the memory. “I seem to recall faintly hearing the words ‘J.F.K immediately!’, but there where many cabs in front of this building at the time, so I could be wrong. These old ears ain’t what they used to be.”

“J.F.K!” Anne screamed inside Buffy. “He is leaving! He’s probably already gone!”

“Come on, Anne,” Buffy whispered to her inner self, “we can still make it if we hurry.” “Sir? Do you suppose you can call me a cab?”

“Well, ma’am, that’s usually a service reserved for tenants only… But I can see you’re really desperate to find him, so just sit tight. This time only, okay?”

Buffy grabbed one of his bony hands and squeezed it as lightly as she could, just to let him know how thankful she was for this favor. “Thank you so much. I’ll forever be in debt to you, sir.”

“My name is Albert, and don’t mention it. Anything for a fool in love.”

“Who exactly is a fool here?” Albert grinned a toothy grin at her and padded over to the front desk’s telephone. A few minutes later he returned, saying the cab was on its way. “Why don’t you take a seat, miss, while you’re waiting.”

Buffy seated herself in a chestnut brown leather chair with a view of the street. “My name is Buffy, Buffy Summers, and I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me.”

“Like I said, Miss Summers, don’t mention it. When I was your age, I had a love I would do just about anything for, too.”

“I mean no offense to you, Albert, when I say this, but when I originally saw you, I thought you to be a very unsympathetic, if not down right mean guy.”

Albert smiled wryly. “How’s that old adage—Good morning, Mr. Symmons—‘never judge a book by its cover.’”

“Definitely,” Buffy confirmed, returning the grin while thinking back to Roger. Originally she had thought him to be gruff and rude; she never imagined all the wonder he possessed underneath that disguising skin. Buffy could have never thought her Xander could be under the Roger exterior when she first met him on the street, but after spending time with him, the slayer could see so many parallels, it was hard for her not to realize Roger was Xander.

Albert alerted Buffy to her taxi’s presence outside the front doors, waiting impatiently in the gray morning. She shook Albert’s hand and smiled graciously. As she sped through the spinning doors, Buffy heard the doorman yell, “I expect to see you and Roger again soon!” She waved brightly, running to the dingy yellow bee humming next to the sidewalk.

Clambering into the backseat, the blonde ordered her driver to take her to J.F.K. airport as quickly as he could get her there. The bee buzzed away down the narrow street and straight into an artery pulsing with traffic. Her driver was quite the navigator, for they were through most of Manhattan in less than 15 minutes. “Wow! That’s some skillful driving! We’ll be in Queens in no time!”

“No!” Anne yelped inside. “You just jinxed us!”

“What’re you talking about?”

“When you’re optimistic in a time for pessimism, then Fate kicks in to serve up a helping heap of dramatic irony!”

“That bitch!” Buffy growled aloud, startling the driver. “Oh no! Not you, sir! Sorry, muttering to myself. Ignore me, please.”

Then faintly she heard: “Done.”

After that, the pair rode along in silence because Buffy, sensing the man’s overt surliness, decided it better for him to keep his mind on the task of getting her to J.F.K. than on petty, unimportant conversation. Besides, she liked the quiet… on occasion.

Buffy sighed. “It appears you were right. I’m a moron,” she muttered to Anne.

“Oh, this is terrible, just terrible! Look at this traffic! Lined up from here to kingdom come!”

“Okay, relax. Be cool,” Buffy ordered, not entirely convincing herself. The rainbow of cars stretched to the horizon and onward. Not one more car could have been crammed onto the expressway even if God were to intervene from the heavens. “We’ll get there,” Buffy repeated, trying to reassure herself. “We’ll get there, and we’ll find him, and we’ll finally get that storybook ending.”

Brake lights flashed in the hovering sky like lightning bolts of fire, at times turning everything blood red. Horns blared in the air like thunderclaps of cymbals, occasionally deafening the cab’s passenger. And the traffic storm raged onward, never relenting for a moment. It was as if each car was permanently fused to the preceding car’s bumper.

“How much longer, Buffy?” Anne asked impatiently.

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

“That wasn’t the answer I was looking for.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I can’t estimate travel times when we’re stuck in traffic like this,” the slayer groaned.

“Why don’t you use your precious slayer sense?”

Buffy frowned overtly. “Hey, hey. No time to get nasty. Besides, our cabby’ll think of some way to get us out of this jam.”

Anne scoffed at this. “Yeah right! He probably doesn’t even speak our language, Buffy.”

“That doesn’t mean he can’t get us to J.F.K. any slower than any of these goons on the roadway could. In fact, I’ll bet they’d get there 100 times slower even if they spoke English.” Anne sighed resignedly and accepted this minor defeat… for the time being. No doubt in a few minutes she would be whining again. “Hey, Buffy! I can hear you’re thinking. Watch your mou—mind!”

The blonde rapped gently on the divider window between the front and the back. “Yes?” he asked, with an unusual enunciation on his “s”; it sounded particularly long and snake-like.

“Is there another possible short-cut we might take to get to the airport any faster and maybe avoid some of this god-awful traffic?”

“Trust me,” he hissed sinisterly. “I’ll get you there in plenty of time to catch your flight.”

“Sometime today,” Anne clucked.

“Quiet!” Buffy ordered, even though the driver would never hear Anne. “Ah, well, if you say this way is faster, though I don’t see how…”

“You want to drive? No? Then trust me.” As reassuring as the man tried to be, he failed in his attempt quite miserably.

With this unending traffic and no exits in sight, Buffy was rapidly losing confidence. If the river of cars didn’t relent at all very shortly, there might be no chance to catch Xander before he could leave her. “Maybe he’s stuck in this traffic jam, too.”

“Why, Anne, I do believe that was the first bit of optimism I’ve heard out of you since, well, ever.”

Anne chortled roughly. “That wasn’t optimism. I was just thinking logically. With this many cars and only, like, a 45 minute start, I think he’s still in this mess or just now coming to the end of it, where ever that is.”

“Oh, Annie…” Buffy stared silently out the highly scratched window of the cab at Queens Boulevard. The roadway was barely visible under the blanket of cars and the occasional truck. How were they going to beat this traffic with so few exits and little to no chance for a detour? Buffy wondered what was going through the driver’s mind. Was he panicking, too, because he couldn’t navigate through the cars? She hoped not. If he couldn’t think of a way to escape the jam, there was no way that she could reach the airport before even the latest international flight departed.

Finally, an exit glowed heavenly off in the distance. “Take it, take it…” Buffy muttered lowly. As if reading her mind, the cabby inched into the turn-off lane; however, dozens of other drivers seemed to be in the same mindset, but at least they weren’t numbering in the hundreds. “To Woodhaven Blvd.” a small green off-road sign read. “Yes! We’re outta here! We’re gonna—”

“Shh! Don’t jinx us again!”

“Sorry.” As they pulled onto Woodhaven, Buffy marveled that the traffic actually flowing in the streets. Fabulous. “You’re lucky I stopped you when I did, otherwise, this would be backed up to Manhattan like the expressway!”

“I sure am,” Buffy confirmed laughingly.

After driving for what seemed like forever, the car sped straight onto Cross Bay Boulevard and then slid effortlessly onto the brief Interstate 878, which offered a lovely view—if not a slightly polluted one—of Jamaica Bay.

Ahead of her, Buffy witnessed dozens of toy planes glide up and down in the paper air, their elaborate decals beaming colorfully against the steel backdrop. Stout, oddly shaped towers poked up from the flat land obscenely. Tiny, blue lights flashed rhythmically in a long cerulean wave.

The closer Buffy got to the airport, the more things she could see. Minute yellow transports with a blinking bulbs on their heads bustled across the runways, hefting heavy crates and luggage on their steel arms. People of all colors and races scurried throughout the parking lots, toting their black bags and luggage carriers. Children held their mothers’ hands; lovers kissed goodbye; friends embraced each other. Buffy couldn’t find Roger anywhere. Only mothers and children, lovers and friends.

The car turned onto the road into J.F.K. and slowed as it once again encountered a slew of traffic. “At which gate do ya want to be dropped off?”

“Doesn’t matter. The international one would be fine.” Her driver nodded, acknowledging her. He weaved through the other cars dangerously while they searched desperately for parking spaces. The cabby pulled up to the main entrance, and Buffy readied her purse. “What do I owe you?”

“$34.80”

“Wow,” Anne commented.

“We were in the taxi for awhile. I expected as much.” She reached into her wallet and grabbed the cash. “Here you are. Thank you very much for the rush.” She tipped him generously before exiting the taxi. The moment both feet were safely planted on the pavement, her driver sped anxiously away, leaving her gawking blankly at it as the stream of exhaust strangled the loveliness of the land.

Buffy turned toward the glass entrance doors and stepped toward them. They whizzed open smoothly, as if gliding on air. The slayer watched mystified, as the moment the doors drifted open, a pulsing, writhing stream of people flooded in and out. Never touching, for that was the ultimate sin. Don’t look at him, honey. Eyes straight ahead. Mind your own business and they will mind theirs. No time to talk. He’s only out to rob you or worse.

She could practically hear what the people were thinking. They were so cold. Never once did anyone’s eyes stray from their focus on the back of the leader’s head. They were like robots following a strict regiment of rules inside their mechanical minds. Buffy swaggered uncomfortably along with her line, into a sub hallway decorated with a wall of monitors, each displaying a running line of arrivals and departures. Prague, Los Angeles, Helsinki, Chicago…

Where? Where would Xander go? Pittsburgh? Singapore? London? Would he go back to Sunnydale? There was a plane leaving for L.A.X. in 20 minutes. But why would he go back to the place he had abandoned? He would probably continue his quest for his Buffy. But, of course, she was a hopeless romantic, as indicated by her reading material.

“Okay, Buffy! Think, think,” she yelled at herself. “How do I go about finding him in an airport with ten terminals? Take into account the fact that he could have changed his name again and that he has enough money to fly anywhere…”

“Ugh!” the slayer blurted aloud. “Too many variables and too little time!” She began to panic again. “Whaddo I do? Whaddo I do?” Putting her head in her hands, Buffy swore angrily at the air. “Shit! Where could he be?”

A heavy hand fell on her shoulder, strong and masculine. “Excuse me, miss,” a thick voice said, sending Buffy’s heart racing, “need some help?”

When she turned to face him, however, she found he wasn’t Roger at all, just some random, kind man. “Ah no… Actually, maybe you can. Could you spare 15 minutes? If not, I understand.”

The lanky man glanced quickly at the wall clock. “I suppose I could. I am running on a tight schedule, but anything for a damsel in distress.”

“My knight in shining armor,” she smiled sweetly. “Great! If you could just meet me back here in 15 minutes, that’d be swell.”

“Well, what do you want me to do for you?”

“Oh yeah, I suppose I should tell you that. I need you to help me look for someone. It’ll be kinda hard because I don’t really have any picture that could help, but with my description, he shouldn’t be too hard to spot… I hope.”

The thin man scratched his chin in contemplation. “No picture, eh? Well, gimme the best description you can then.”

“Okay, he’s pretty tall (5’ 10”) with mahogany hair and eyes. He’s very muscular and has a pronounced jaw coated with a neatly trimmed goatee. No glasses or tattoos or earrings. Nothing like that at all. He dresses like he’s wealthy, which he is, so that might help, and he answers to the names Roger Winters or maybe Xander Harris.”

“’Scuse me? Two names? Which one do I use?”

“Try both. If he doesn’t answer to one, try the other. If he looks exactly like I said but doesn’t claim either name, make sure you gauge his face for reactions; he might lie to you.”

Buffy’s knight looked quizzically at her. “Why are you sharing all this with me? You could just as easily pushed me aside to do this on your own.”

“I need help. I hate to admit it, but I do. I can’t find him on my own, especially in J.F.K. of all places, and since you offered to help, well, you’re the perfect person for my purposes.”

“Now why does that sound deliciously evil?”

“I don’t mean to be rude to you—after all, you are helping me out here—but we need to get moving. If you could do as much of that wing as possible, I’ll take this one. We’ll meet back here in… how long?”

“15 minutes.”

“Right. Now remember my description. Xander shouldn’t be too, too hard to spot.” They broke from their huddle and headed off in their own directions. As she raced through the swarm of ants, Buffy called out to him. “Hey, buddy! Thanks!”

He turned, smiling a smile Anne had never seen in New York City. It was kind, with soft edges and a warm glow. This wasn’t a man like the rest of the cold-hearted New Yorkers she knew. He was helping out of the goodness of his heart. It was crazy. “Name’s Clint, and you’re welcome!” Clint raced off, searching frantically as he faded into the buzzing masses.

Buffy grinned at his memory, but not for too long because she had a mission to accomplish. The slayer navigated expertly through the swarming madness, dodging people and transports as best she could manage. Her eyes scanned everywhere with complete efficiency and as fast as they could. But she could find no one fitting into the Roger Winters’ mold. Like looking for a needle in a haystack. Somehow the old maxim seemed to fit her situation perfectly. Buffy only hoped Clint was having better luck than she was having that day.

@~~`~~~

Her 15-minute time limit was almost up when Buffy finally reached the end of the international wing. Still nothing; no clues to her Xander. He was no where in sight. She glanced quickly at her watch and realized she had to get back to their rendezvous point near the entrance. Running as speedily she could through the mish-mash of cultures and countries, the slayer snaked down the pathways leading her back to her starting point. But never once did she stop staying alert for Xander or Roger or whoever he was now. He might have been in a bathroom when she had gone up originally and now he was out, or something like that. It was possible. Right? Of course, for in the realm of the vampire slayer, anything and everything was utterly pausible.

Finally, Buffy reached her starting point and looked anxiously about for Clint… hopefully leading Xander to her, as well. But there was nothing to see but clouded, staring faces, floating free from their necks, or so it seemed. Nothing but black and white and red splotches on the air and scattered throughout the terminal—feathers on a breeze. The astounding array was a bit bewildering, but exactly like the rest of New York City in that respect.

The exact second Buffy’s watch ticked to signal the end of the fifteen minutes, Clint appeared mystically out of the bombardment of free-floating balloons. Whereas everyone else wore emotionless masks, Clint had a sullen, sober countenance plastered dutifully on. Not the most optimistic of signs. “Anything?” Buffy queried impatiently, knowing the dreaded answer before it came.

The twiggy man avoided her eyes as best he could as he shook his head no. “I couldn’t find a single guy out there that looked like him. Every one that could have been a possibility consistently had one aspect that didn’t fit into your description.” It was obvious that this guy felt terrible for letting her down; it was all over his embarrassed face. She guessed he wasn’t used to failing, but of course, neither was she. And although Buffy felt her heart plummet at the news, she reached out to touch his hand and to comfort him, for the foreboding instilled within her the moment she had opened Roger’s apartment door had stayed all the morning long.

“Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, Clint. Even though we didn’t find him here, that doesn’t mean he isn’t in one of the other nine wings, right? Maybe I still have time to catch him, huh? But I have to hurry if I want to catch him.”

“I’ll help.”

Buffy lifted an eyebrow skeptically. She didn’t doubt his willingness to help, but she recalled what he had said to her in the beginning. “Aren’t you running on a tight schedule?”

“Well, I still have about 20 more minutes maximum before my plane boards. If I hurry and leave all my luggage with Gregory at the gate, I could—”

The slayer drew the line there. No, not this time. She wasn’t drawing another person into her mess when it could be helped. “No, you couldn’t. You have to get going where ever it is that you’re headed. I won’t make you miss the plane for me and my impossible quest.” And that’s when it hit her. This task was impossible. J.F.K. was massive by any measure, and with none of the terminals connected directly, how was she to move fast enough? Even with Clint, her chances of finding Xander were from zero to zilch. All this effort and energy only to be let down in the end yet another time. Such was the life of Buffy Summers and would forever remain that way.

“But I want to help!” he protested uselessly, failing his arms to demonstrate his willingness. “There’s still a chance I can find this Xander-man for you.”

“Go, catch your plane, Clint. And don’t worry about me anymore, for heavensakes. Things always work out for me (though maybe not always well). Don’t make my bad day even worse by missing your flight outta this hellhole. Promise me that.” Reluctantly he did, but not until he had slipped her his cell phone number and strictly ordered her to call him later that evening to inform him of what happened. “Fine, fine. Now get out of my sight before you make me sick!”

With her steady urgings, her new friend Clint disappeared back into the crowd, waving a long goodbye and wishing good luck. Buffy smiled, but her heart felt empty. She wouldn’t quit until she had checked every wing, though by now she was assured failure.

How could she let him slip away again? For five years Buffy the Vampire Slayer had remained lost to the world, and when one man finally recovered her, she lost him!

The next hour dragged on into the millenium and then into the proceeding one. Every nook and crevice she scrutinized in hopes of uncovering her beloved. But his discovery was not written in the cards as was the way with many of the things Buffy desired out of life.

At last, Buffy Summers and Anne Winters stood before one of the many windows cut into the walls of the international wing, where she had ended up yet again. Her forehead pressed up against the window, some of her extreme weariness seeping into the thick plated glass though not enough to lift her spirits. She tried her hardest to suppress the tears of agony and pain and found that she had developed the clever ability after years of continual practice. They did not come flowing out as she had suspected. Instead, they drowned her fatigued soul inside in a churning sea of unreleased sorrows. For a moment her soul buoyed on the surface, but a strong undertow pulled it down to the water’s uncharted, murky depths. With its loss went her existence.

So it was with empty eyes the slayer witnessed countless planes take flight and land—an unceasing cycle, just like life and death; love and pain. It was at that moment—as she watched those numerous jets on the runway lift their steely wings into the blustery air—that Buffy stumbled awkwardly across her great epiphany. She hard finally remembered her words that she had screamed to Xander in her dream the night before. Slowly and with great tenderness, Buffy slid her delicate hand up the icy glass, absorbing the cold through her fingertips. There was a pleasant tingle as the tears inside her froze, capturing her spirit in their frosty fingers. Her eyelids fluttered open to reveal a sleek 747 glinting under the painted white sky. The forms of the passengers inside were barely shapes at all. But it didn’t matter. She wasn’t speaking to them, but rather to one person, with her whole heart. The slayer pressed her lips lightly to the window and whispered, “I love you, too, Xander LaVelle Harris. I love you, too.”

THE END