Chapter Two


Outside the Summers’ residence, Xander pressed his back up against the front door, his mind reeling backwards and crashing into a wall of insanity. What had just happened? Was he falling for her again? Yes, he was, he knew it. Or rather were they old feelings coming back in a new way? Maybe, could be, it’s possible. He felt the need to protect her, to keep her from all harm, but he’d always felt that and so did all of Buffy’s other friends. Was that it; was he just her friend now? Yeah right, her friend who just might be in love with her; that is to say, he wasn’t really sure about his emotions at the moment. So confused. He needed time to analyze the situation properly.

Xander started for home, and when he’d reached the end of the lawn the sudden need to look back at the house struck him. When he spiraled around, he discovered Buffy looking through the pane of glass, peering down at him with an immense grin plastered on her face. He returned the warm gesture and waved, wondering what the reason behind the look was.

Reluctantly shifting his gaze from Buffy back to the road, Xander continued the trek toward his house when he realized he had told Buffy he was going to Cordy’s and not home. He switched directions, purposefully glancing down at his watch for effect, then threw on a surprised countenance as though he were actually in some big rush and started to jog urgently. Though she remained tucked away safely in her room, Xander could still feel her penetrating gaze dig deep into him and read his thoughts. Now she’s probably confused as I am! he remarked inwardly. Once he felt he was a safe enough distance from Buffy’s house, Xander slowed to a walk, and instead of going home or to Cordy’s, he walked over to Willow’s place.

During the walk there, Xander’s thoughts shifted from his recent rendezvous with Buffy to the kiss he and Willow had shared mere days ago. He remembered how strange and uncomfortable it had felt after he kissed his long-time best bud. At first, the kiss was soft and sweet, like any kiss should be. But then all of a sudden it twisted into something horribly awkward and a definitely frightening when Xander realized what he was actually doing.

He’d never harbored any feelings for Willow before other than the normal buddy-buddy kind. So why’d I do it then? he questioned himself. Then he recalled the unfortunate truth. When he saw her in that dazzling dress, she instantly reminded him of his beloved Buffy, and for however briefly the moment had lasted, Willow had actually been the slayer of his dreams. All of his feelings for Buffy had flooded back into him full force, and he could no longer resist the insistent urge to kiss the woman he had thought was his true love.

It wasn’t until Xander had reached the porch steps of the Rosenberg household that he made a revelation. He’d never fallen out of love with Buffy; he’d just needed a reminder, and unfortunately for Willow, she’d been it.

Xander knew what he had to do. He had to talk with Willow concerning the kiss. He needed to tell her what had really happened and why he’d kissed her in the first place, otherwise who knew what would happen? Xander hated to think how their fleeting intimate moment would affect Willow’s relationship with her boyfriend Oz. Despite the fact that he didn’t personally love the guy/werewolf, Xander knew that Oz was a good person and that he genuinely cared about his best friend. Besides, Willow seemed to adore him to no end. He made her happy, and that fact was enough for Xander. He didn’t want to ruin what the two had going for them.

Nervously, Xander approached the front door of the comfortably sized house and, with trembling fingers, pressed the buzzer. The portal opened to reveal a middle-aged woman who resembled her daughter in most aspects, standing in the brightly lit hallway, rays of unnatural light streaming through her hair and creating a peculiar ambiance about her figure. She smiled cheerfully at him then proceeded to greet him. “Evening, Xander, how are you?” Moving right into her next question before even receiving an answer, she asked, “Are you here to see Willow?”

“Greetings, Mrs. Rosenberg. To answer your questions: I’m peachy keen, and, yes, I am here to see your daughter. She here?” he inquired, glancing into the living room.

The pretty woman nodded in the direction of the stairs and started, “Yes, she is, up in her room, probably playing on that crazy glowing box she calls ‘The Gateway to the Whole World.’”

“I can only assume you’re talking about her computer.”

She grinned, raised her eyebrows, and nodded her head. “I don’t get what her attachment is to that thing, but why should I? Ah, well. You can go right on up, I’m sure she’ll be glad to see you, she always is.”

“I hope so. Thanks.” Xander noticed it was nearing 9:30, so he decided he’d better make it quick. The faster I get this out into the open and over with, the greater the chance she won’t be quite so hurt… I hope. The Scooby member knew it was probably the wrong way to attack this thing, but he couldn’t come up with any better ideas at the moment, and to him the theory sounded relatively logical.

He hesitantly placed his foot on the first stair, and from there started to ascend them tediously, step by tortuous step. He dreaded telling his best friend all of this. Most likely it was going to humiliate her, making her feel insignificant. All that fear made the mere flight of stairs seem like a towering mountain, each icy step harder than the last as the air became as thin, dry as paper and unsuitable for any life form to breath. Once he’d finally reached the top, Xander was left out of breath, sweating bullets all over his freshly washed clothes and feeling as if he’d accomplished some great feat by climbing a couple of stairs.

He trudged down the hallway, his feet lead weights dragging him along to the entrance to her room. Upon arriving he rapped once on the wooden door then opened it a crack. “All clear?”

“Come on in,” sounded a merry voice from inside.

Xander entered the room to find his best friend at her computer, as her mom initially had presumed, composing an e-mail. “Hold on a second, Xander,” she ordered in her familiar gentle manner “Let me finish this. I promised one of my students I’d e-mail him his assignment.” Her slender fingers moved expeditiously over the keys, clicking wildly and resonating in the light atmosphere the room possessed at the moment. Within moments she had completed the electronic letter and sent it out.

Willow spun around in her swivel chair to stare her best friend straight in the eyes. A dingy blue halo from the computer background illuminated her face, creating a melancholy look. Xander feared it was foreshadowing of what she would experience in the next few intense minutes that were to transpire. “What’s up, Xand? You know you can tell me anything.”

Remember, exchange pleasantries, then tell her. Make it quick so she gets enough time to deal. “Hey, how are you?” he asked, not really caring if he got an answer, which he didn’t. “I have something to tell you, Will,” he started apprehensively, twiddling his thumbs and avoiding eye contact with her. His palms sweated profusely and he repeatedly wiped them on his jeans then resumed twiddling his thumbs.

“I guessed as much, you don’t normally ever come over here this late on a school night, unless it’s pretty important.”

“You know me too well.”

“You have a problem with that?”

“’Course not, but it kinda ruins all my surprises.”

“Oh goody! You’ve got a surprise for me?” she inquired enthusiastically.

Yeah, but not one you’re gonna like thought Xander grimly. “Um, I need to tell you something you might not want to hear, but, as my best friend, it’s your right to know. I mean, there’s nothing I can’t tell you. You’ve always been honest with me, right? So now it’s my turn to be honest with you. Even if it’s not a happy thing, it’s important.” The smile faded from Willow’s once brightly shining face with each passing word Xander spoke.

“What does this regard, Xander?” interjected Willow.

“I’ve been thinking about the kiss we shared before Homecoming, and there’s something I’ve discovered about it that I think you should know.” He paused for a second and inhaled deeply, trying to prep himself for the moment he saw lurking in the shadows of the horizon. Willow had always been so fragile. Despite what she had once said about him being the fragile one, he knew that she was very sensitive. It wasn’t his intent to hurt her—he loved her fiercely—but not like he did Buffy. Xander couldn’t help these feelings. He had never chosen to love Buffy; his cursed heart had. No, he was stuck in love with a woman who was in love with a vampire. Oh why did he fall for a slayer when he could have had one of the most charming and beautiful women in the world?

He continued stuttering, “W…when I kissed you Willow, well, I thought you were…” His trembling voice trailed off. He couldn’t bring himself to say it, for already he could see she was on the verge of tears. Xander had never felt lower in all of his short life. When he’d locked lips with Willow he had opened an old wound, one that had just recently started to heal in her with the help of her newfound love with Oz. Despite what everyone else postulated, Xander knew his best friend had loved him—he knew—but now she was with Oz. She’d moved on; she was over him. Afterwards, when the kiss was broken, he’d silently prayed he hadn’t rekindled the old passions she’d had for him.

“Buffy,” she whispered in a barely audible voice, much more pain-filled and heart-wrenching than he had ever heard before.

“What?” he asked confusedly. Xander had completely forgotten where he was and with whom he was.

“You thought I was Buffy, didn’t you?” She didn’t appear angry at all. Instead she seemed overwhelmed by all that she was taking in. The crushed look in her normally vibrant eyes was more than enough to make Xander’s blood freeze in his veins. What have I done to her?

Tears glistened in the corners of her eyes, threatening to spill over at anytime. “You know something, Xander? I knew that kiss was never meant for my lips. You weren’t really kissing me… I knew. I felt it the moment our lips touched. There was so much passion in it, so much love conveyed through it, that I recognized instantly that I was never meant to experience it. It was reserved for another one of my friends.

“God, Xander, how I wanted you to love me the way you love Buffy, wanted you to want me the way you want her, but I always knew deep inside that you’d never feel that way about me. And as long as we’re being honest here, I also have something to confess. I loved you, Xander, loved you, as in the past tense. But when I found Oz, I knew I was over you. I was so happy that I’d found someone who could love me the way I so desperately yearned to be loved. I still am, and I’m thankful everyday of my life.” Willow had a far-off look in her eyes as she dreamt of her ever faithful, ever-loving werewolf. Her fleeting smile alleviated some of his inner turmoil—not much, but some of it—while tears gleamed like crystals on her cheeks.

Her attention shifted back to the present situation and she continued, “But when you kissed me, Xander that stirred up those old emotions again, and they rushed back, threatening to take away all I’ve built with Oz! And I’m scared, Xander. Sometimes I don’t know what I feel anymore. How can I when I don’t even know what’s real and what’s just an illusion? Are you and I the illusion, and are Oz and I are the real thing, or is it the other way around? I don’t know anymore. All I know is I’m scared to death.”

Sounds a bit like me he mused. “You’re not angry with me?” he asked surprised.

“Of course I’m angry, Xander. Furious! More with myself than you. I should have stopped that kiss before it started; I should have prevented it. The way I see it, it’s more my fault than yours.”

“Willow--” he interjected softly.

She silenced him with a graceful wave of her thin hand. “Let me finish.

“Xander, I love you, but in a different way now. I’ve just realized that in the last couple of days. I think it was a subconscious thing, but I’ve always known maybe. (God, none of this makes sense!) All I’ve ever wanted was for you to be happy, and if Buffy’s what it takes to make you happy, bless you both. I’m happy—it may not be very apparent at this moment, but I am. I’ve got Oz, and something inside of me’s telling me that I always will. And of course, I’ll always have you as my best friend; I have no doubt in that fact. And you know something else I’ve learned? That’s the way it’s got to be. We’ve always got to be the best of friends because, as we’ve both discovered recently, we just weren’t made to fall in love with each other.”

Xander noticed that Willow had now stopped crying and had a reassuringly smile on her face. He wasn’t exactly sure if it was meant for him or herself, maybe it was for the both of them, all he knew was that he was glad he’d told her what was on his mind. Though he felt terrible about hurting her so deeply, he was relieved to hear that she was over him and that she forgave him for what he’d done to her. Xander was thankful that she’d gone so easy on him though he’d known before he’d even arrived that she would try to free him of the emotional burden that weighed him down, Willow was always giving like that.

What made Xander feel even better was the fact that she was staying with Oz, the man, that as Xander had observed, was in love with her from the very moment he’d laid eyes on her. They connected like pieces in a puzzle, the way Xander had always hoped he and Buffy would connect.

“I’m sorry,” he pronounced meaningfully. “Never you worry that pretty face of yours, Willow, we will ALWAYS be the best of friends, I’ll see to that.”

“I know.”

“I’m glad. I love you, Willow.”

She grinned and said, “Not to be confused with ‘I LOVE you.’”

“Exactly,” he confirmed with a nod.

They exchanged hugs and apologies, and then Xander got up and stated, “Fantastic! It’s almost 10:30. I’ve got to get back home. Besides, you probably want to go to bed anyway seeing as we’ve got that damned Trig test tomorrow and I know you’re one of those people who gets to bed early and dreams about sine and tangent and all that fun stuff.”

“Hey, are you mocking me?” He answered with a shrug and a grin.

“One day your life will depend on one of those functions you scoff at and we’ll just see who’s laughing then, Mr. Harris,” she giggled and Xander just wanted to reach out and hug her for the sound of her laughter relaxed him greatly internally. After the dark air had settled upon the room and eliminated all happiness, he’d felt glum and prone to fits of screaming, though he’d kept them in check.

“I’ve got to go,” he sighed as he walked over to her bedroom door.

“I know.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow in Trig class first period. I tell you what, what a way to start the day.”

“Mmm,” she agreed. “I’ll be there.”

“Good night.”

“Sleep tight.”

“Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” he whispered quietly as he exited the room and closed the door. Willow waved goodbye to him and then went back to shutting down her computer.

Xander turned away from her door and marched to the top of the stairs, his feet no longer heavy with guilt. He glanced down over the banister; the stairs didn’t seem like Everest anymore, they were just stairs. He happily jumped down them, taking two at a time. “Bye Mrs. R!” Xander cried as he quickly opened then closed the front door.

The night air was cool and refreshing after the tense atmosphere in Willow’s room. It actually was quite ironic because the Rosenberg household was the one place Xander felt completely at home in. After all, his dad was never home, and usually, neither was his mother. Even his own house usually seemed isolated and foreboding, but never, ever, was Willow’s place like that. It was always so merry and there was always someone there to welcome him in.

A crack.

Xander spun around. Nothing. Nothing but darkness. Relax Xander, old buddy, old pal. Nobody there. You’re still a little on edge from being in that bind inside. However, he couldn’t convince himself of that entirely, so he walked the street cautiously and made his way home. A light breeze rustled through the trees and sent a shower of red and brown leaves upon him.

A crunch.

Xander was sure he hadn’t stepped on any dry leaves. Instinct told him to be wary, so he reached into his pocket and began to finger the cross inside it. Again he whirled around, and this time he saw someone. Actually, it was just a silhouette, but he recognized who it was at once.

“Long time no see,” the shadow uttered evilly, his undertone was icy. Xander could sense the man was smiling, even through the curtain of shadows that encompassed him. “Come with me Xander, I’ve got something to show you.”

“Thanks, but I’ll think I’ll pass. Maybe some other time.”

“Such a gentleman, but then, you always have been Xander. No, I don’t think you’ll wanna miss what I have in store for you,” the figure enticed as he grabbed Xander, throwing him harshly to the ground, and pulling him along by his shirt collar. After toying with him a little, the shadow brought his gargantuan hand down on Xander’s head, effectively knocking him unconscious. The figure cackled darkly into the night sky, his laugh resonating off the houses then disappearing like a ghost into the blackness.