by Te
May 2002

Disclaimers: If they were mine, there would be more time put aside
for cuddle.

Spoilers: Lots of stuff up through Grave.

Summary: Willow and Xander talk.

Ratings Note: R.

Author's Note: Struggle, toil. In which Te attempts to work out some
issues, and hopes for coherence.

Acknowledgments: Many people helped me get this out. Smooches
to the Webrain, to Jenn and Jenn, and to Jane. Raspberries to all
who would tempt me away from Buffy with the siren call of
pretty bald scions. Raspberries, I say!

Feedback makes me smile big. teland793@sbcglobal.net


Sometimes Xander dreams of warmth so sweet and soft and
blameless that his heart speeds and swells within his chest to the
point of bursting. He's pretty sure this is metaphorical, but a life on
the Hellmouth...

It almost always wakes him up.

Because he knows those dreams.

That warmth.

But sometimes the racing, rushing excitement just sends him into
the dream faster. Deeper into the warmth that encloses his limbs, that
makes him try to remind himself to ask himself pertinent questions
about the womb when he's awake and somewhere close to rational,
or at least to remember to cherish every time he gets to make love to
Anya --

He wakes up, because the bed is wrong, because it's not his bed,
their bed.

Blinks owlishly and winces.

It's not as dark as he expected it to be.

He is... okay, think Xander.

He's at Buffy's. Because... because there'd been a lot of talking, and
a lot of people are hurting right now, including Anya, and it had been
agreed that Anya should stay at their apartment, and she wouldn't
be alone because Giles would be around for a few more days and
hey, the G-Man.

Back in America and well and truly concussed, thanks to the woman
currently curled up next to him on this too-soft bed. Not asleep, not
even close to asleep.

The bedside lamp is on, warm buttery light casting too many

Xander focuses on Willow's bright again, right again hair and breathes
in the scent of clean, sleepy girl. Not as good as clean, happy girl, but
Xander will take what he can get.

Thinks about reaching out, and then just does it, swallowing at the
quick, hard tension in her shoulder, biting back a hiss at the pull of
bandages on his chest and cheek. She relaxes under his hand, and it
eases something in him. Makes the pain matter less. It always has.

Xander thinks that someone smarter (Giles, Tara, God, Tara, and
would this be where I tell you that I wouldn't have done anything
different to Warren, Wills?) would have something useful to say,
but then this is Willow, and Willow *knows* him. Knows he only
has jokes, and pratfalls, and *very* occasionally useful action, so
he stays silent.

Squeezes her shoulder.

Lets go, and runs a hand over her soft hair, straight and oddly
ragged. The way girls' hair gets when they're upset. Hurting. Like it
all radiates out from the inside. He gets that. There was a time
when Xander could never get his clothes to *work*.

"Do you need me to turn the light out?" She sounds a little slurry,

Xander wishes he was just dumb enough to suggest they forget
this sleeping thing, this *addiction* thing, and start drinking heavily.
Instead, "nah. I was... do you ever have those dreams that aren't
really bad, but..."

Willow shifts, catching Xander's hand between her head and the
pillow briefly. Soft and cool and warm there and Xander pulls
away gently as she turns fully onto her back. She's wearing her
fuzzy pajamas, the ones with the feet.

He remembers the first time she'd modeled them for him. ("I am
a sex GODDESS." "Oooh, baby, Willow. Hold me back.")

"I think so." Dreamy, thoughtful voice. "The kind of dream where
you don't know why you're afraid?"

"Sort of... it's more like... you're afraid because you like it so much,
and you don't know why, because it doesn't... feel like you?"

"Why does this feel like A Talk?"

He can hear the capitals in her voice, the bitterness under a thin
veneer of rueful humor. Winces. "Willow... so completely didn't
mean it that way. I mean. I really was about to have a dream... this
recurring dream I have..." Xander scrubs a hand through his hair.
"It doesn't matter. It's really... it's late. And also probably way too
soon to get into anything like our issues."

Willow shifts again, and Xander can see her curling in on herself out
of the corner of his eye.

"Hey, hey, it's..." Isn't even going to think about finishing that
sentence, because it's *not* okay, but he can be a friend. He can do

Wraps his arms around Willow and pulls her close, and tries to
remember when she got so *small*, when he had to start thinking
about things like squeezing too hard. Tiny little body, hard and thin
with misuse. Burned out with magic and rage and grief.

Cool under the flannel, and Xander just wants...

He thinks maybe his warm, warm dream isn't supposed to be for
him. Sure, it had gotten him through a lot of rough times, a lot of
lonely nights with the sounds of broken glass upstairs and his own
recriminating voice rattling around his skull. Warmth all around him,
the way he can easily enfold Willow until she can't even shake

Genderless whispers and promises of love from everywhere,
absolutely everywhere, until he woke up with the words on his lips
and deep in his soul, desperate for someone to tell them to.

To mean them for.

Love you, love you, and he thinks he may be crying a little, but
that's okay, because none of them have ever gotten enough time to
cry, and he's not in the basement anymore, and there's no one here
he has to be a man for. Not right now.

Just a friend.

Just a friend.

If Willow had that dream in all that time when none of them knew
anything was wrong, when Xander thought all he had to do was
chuck her under the chin and sneak her chocolate to make
everything okay... or even later, when Tara walked out and Willow
was trying so hard, so fucking *hard*, even letting those... those
fucking *weasels* kidnap her...

Hears a tiny sound and realizes that he *is* squeezing too hard.
"Sorry, sorry." Whispers it into her hair, kisses the round of her
skull, again because he *is* crying and this is all so fucked up.

Everyone dying, leaving... and weren't these supposed to be the
best years of their lives?

Or had they already missed those?

That's what all the songs talked about. How no one ever paid
attention to the good times, never really appreciated them. Xander
thinks those songs were clearly written by people who grew up
nowhere *near* the Hellmouth, because Xander remembers every

Every smile, every sunny day, every monster that died without
leaving too many scars, every person who made it out of Sunnydale
alive and reasonably sane, everyone who died without having to
spend months or years breaking -- or eating -- the hearts of those
they'd once loved.

He hoards them, and holds them close to his heart, and he thinks
that's why -- more than any other reason -- he should've known
better than to believe that *thing* who'd shown up on his wedding
day and ruined...

No. It was his own fears. His own... his responsibilities.

His terror of becoming his father, or something even worse, all
because he'd never been able to *quite* accept Anya on her own
terms. Or to trust his friends to *stay* his friends if he did in any
public way.

But he *loved* her. Loves her even now, even if she doesn't
understand how much she hurt him by sleeping with Spike --

Has to close his eyes against it.

Flattens his hand against Willow's wasted little belly and follow her
breaths with his own.

"I miss her so much, Xander..."

"I know."

"I tried to raise her."

"God, Will --"

"I had the power, but Osiris... her death was *natural*." So bitter.
"The only way it could've been done was if I'd used a corrupted
spell... the kind Dawn tried with Joyce..."

The only thing he can think to do is stroke her.

"Those spells... they're *abominations*." Cracked laugh. "I knew
that. I understood that enough that I could just... I never even
thought of trying to raise her again, Xander. Do you understand? She
was gone from me. Forever. So I..."

"So you gave up."

"Don't *judge* me --"

"I'm not. I'm not. I won't. I never will. I... I can understand, okay?
If something happened to you, or Buffy, or... God, when I thought
Spike..." Trails off a little helplessly, but Willow's hand is on his own.
Strength there, surprising and a little dire.

"There's never enough time, Xander."

"I know --"

"No. No, you don't. And you won't. Not until the day Anya dies. Not
now that she's had sex with Spike, not now that you aren't together,
not now that she's a demon again. Not until she's *dead*. Then
you'll know. And then you won't ever be able to forget."

"Willow --"

"There's never enough *time*, and the world is full... God, the pain
was so much..." And Willow is elbowing him away from her, turning
in his arms. Holding on to his face and in the uncertain light her
eyes are black as the demon-witch's, her face twisted into a rictus of
pain and rage.

Xander shudders once, claps a hand over one of Willow's. "Will?"

"I'm trying to *save* you, Xander. You love me? That's fine. I love
you, too, and Buffy. And you love Buffy. And we're always going to
be just enough for each other to survive. To save the world.

"But that's not *enough*."

And Xander has to laugh a little. "I have to say, Will, your yenta
timing --"

"I don't think it could be better. Didn't you hear a word I *said*?
Think about all the time Tara and I *wasted*, Xander!"

"She's a *vengeance demon*!"

Willow stroked his face with her free hand, expression smoothing,
gentling everywhere save her eyes. "I tortured a man, then flayed
him alive. I tortured another man, then drew out his magic and life
force. I nearly did the same thing to Giles. I did my best to maim
you, Buffy, and Dawn. Speaking of Buffy... remember all those
knights she killed?"

"They were trying to kill Dawn --"

"Who, if she *had* died, would've prevented the rip in the fabric of
space-time that caused Buffy's death and released all those demons
we spent last summer --"

"Jesus, Willow!"

"Open your *eyes*, Xander!" Relentless. "Nothing gets to be easy.
Not for us. Nothing is black and white anymore. You love me, and I
*killed* two people last night."

Short, ragged nails digging into his skin.

"I hurt them, and I killed them, and I'd do it *again*. So you ask
yourself. Why are you here, huh? Why are you in *my* bed instead
of your own? Why are you wasting so much fucking *time*?"

"Willow --"

And Willow's lips are cold, chapped and rough and dry, but the inside
of her mouth is hot and wet as anything. Less a kiss than an attack,
and it's only reflex that makes Xander remember their senior year.
Hopes to God it's only reflex that has his hands in her hair, molded to
the curve of her skull.

Tilting for a better angle, because if this is what she needs, if this is
what she's going to talk about, if this is the only way, and they can't
possibly, and oh, God, Willow...

Old iron tang in her mouth and the taste of tears and sleep denied.

Catches her tongue down and licks a stripe straight down the middle
of it, sliding his hands down her back when she shivers. Pulls her
close and does it again. Again. He's learned. He could've... but then
they were younger, and they couldn't have... not then, and not now,
either, they shouldn't --

But this is comfort, isn't it?

Life, friendship in the shadows, and no, there's *never* enough time,
but he wants to ask her, wants to remind her that there'd never been
enough time for *them*, either.

Chances pulling away just enough to kiss his way to her ear, breathe
there when words don't come, kiss his way down to her throat and
nudge her head aside when she doesn't bend for him.

Sucking kisses there and Willow's tugging on his hair, pressing
against the edge of the bandage on his cheek and Xander doesn't
care. Getting hard, hard for his beautiful, powerful, hurting girl, and
this is something else he can do, please, oh please, yes...

"Xander..." Breathless, husky voice and Xander licks his way up her
throat and back to her mouth, getting it wet, warm, wants to make
her warm all over. Sweaty and human and real as the rest of the

His Willow. *His*. Broken yellow crayons and Sears dresses that no
one ever looked cuter in. "I love you --"


"I do, God, Wills, you know I do." Kisses all over her face and he
can feel her getting warmer under the flannel. He can *feel* it, like
a triumph close enough to touch. Leans in to kiss her mouth again,
but gets only her cheek when she turns away.

"Xander, no. We can't... this isn't..."

And for one damning heartbeat Xander thinks of the warmth beneath
his hands and knows there's a way into this, into *Willow*. A puzzle
box with a key he just hasn't found yet, a touch he hasn't tried.
Tastes bile and sees bruises and tile and promises himself Spike's

His own, should it ever...

Shakes it off and backs away with one last caress to Willow's hair. A
soft, dry kiss to her forehead. Shuddering breath that fills his nose
and mouth with her good, good scent. "Tell me why." Tries a shaky
laugh that he knows won't convince her of anything. "And you know,
for a lesbian, you took it really damned hard when Oz left."

Gets a smile for that, but it only makes Willow look old. "Noticed
that, didja?"

"Have to wake up pretty darned early to put one past the Xandman."
Punches her shoulder lightly, gets punched back. He tries, very hard,
not to notice the small, tight points of her nipples through the fabric
of her pale blue pajamas.

"I... I shouldn't have kissed you. I just wanted..." She won't meet
his eyes.

"You know, it's okay to need a little. Warmth."

"I don't want to use you, Xander."

"Hey, it's --"

Blue eyes on him, steady and clear. "And I don't want to be

Makes his teeth click shut. "Willow --"

"You love Anya, and you're angry with her, and I can see... I can just
look at the two of you, and see the way you'll hurt each other, back
and forth and back and forth until it's too late for anything but death
and tears.

"And this is where it starts. Right here, in this bed, with you making
love to me."

Bites his tongue against his first response. And the second. "How
much of that is magic?"

"If it was magic, then I'd know for sure it was true and I'd either be
kicking you out of here or..." Another broken little laugh, and there
are times when Xander's resented the way Willow's tried so hard to
hold on to her childhood. The clothes, the mannerisms... but when
she covers her face and crumples in on herself like a doll... "God,

Has to just *hold* her. "Why can't we have this?"

"Because it doesn't work that way. It never did, and it never will."
Tear-blurred words spoken against his chest, and his t-shirt is damp
with them.

"Just this once. Just tonight..."

"First taste is free..."

"Don't --"

And Willow pushes away again. "No, *you* don't! You don't get to...
Xander, *please*. All I want is for you to hold me, and kiss me, and
make love to me --"

Reaches for her and a wall of... absolutely nothing holds him back.
"Oh God."

Willow stares at her hand and her face just... falls. Like it was being
held in place by a complicated system of toothpicks and will that had
failed all at once.

"Willow, let me --"

"We can't just stop time, Xander..." Curls her little hand into a fist.
"We both have to get up in the morning. Put on our clothes and
look at our... our *friends*. You have to look at Anya and decide
whether or not to tell her that everything she was afraid of when
it came to us was true." Curls her fist tighter. "And then, you know,
why shouldn't she go out and be all demon-y? You would've
proved everything she was ever taught about humanity, after all..."

"I just... God, Wills, I hate to see you hurting so bad..."

"I know. I know you do. Because you love me." Another of those
old, old smiles. "But we'll never be enough for each other. You
know that, don't you? You understand?"

"No. *No*."

Willow just tilts her head at him, and it's like looking at her mother.
Or, really, her grandmother. Bubbie Rosenberg, wizened and wise,
moments away from clucking her teeth at Xander for some small
childhood mistake. "You know you do."

And it just makes him *angry*. Forces himself to breathe. Think
with something other than his dick and his stupid heart. "I can't help
but think this is another kind of giving up, Will. Push me away into
happily ever after with the vengeance demon of my dreams so
you'll never have to worry about feeling again --"

He can't say the slap is a surprise.

He's glad for Willow's hand, as opposed to Willow's power.

"I'm not dead yet, Xander."

"Then don't act like it."

"Didn't you *hear* me? I'm trying to keep you from making the
same mistakes *I* made!"

"Maybe you are. Okay. I can appreciate that. But Willow... Jesus,
now more than ever. You can't push me away."

"I'm here, aren't I?"

"And so am I."

Tiny smile, and this one's a lot closer to the ones Xander knows
and loves. "There's a really old song that goes like that, but now
I can't remember which one it is..."

"... and because you're you, you're going to obsess about it until
you do." Xander smiles back. It only hurts a little.


"Willow --"

"Sometimes I think... I mean. While Tara was gone, during the
hard times..." Long, searching look. Small, hard hand tracing the
edges of the bandage on his face. "There are so *many* love
spells out there, you know?"

And he doesn't, but he's smart enough to know when something
sounds important. Nods and settles back on his heels. Tries to will
his erection to fade.

"Some of them..." Faraway look in her eyes. "Some of them are
really smart. Not just the evil ones to twist someone's will, or the
ones that never work the way you intend them to..." Spark of
rueful humor in her eyes, only vaguely at Xander's expense. "There
was one I remember. It *burned*, Xander."

"That doesn't sound --"

"Not in a bad way, but in... I can't..." Fluttery motion with her
hands, birds in cages. "Babylonian. Very old. Meant to be used by
women, and only by women. It would probably do something pretty
horrible to a warlock. Anyway. It wasn't a love spell at all, really.
It was more like..." She bit her lip. "A *knowledge* spell. Self

"Okay..." Willow in lecture-mode, and some part of Xander wants to
file this memory away with the others in the hoard, even with
everything else that's happened tonight. Even with Willow's palm-print
burning a little on his cheek. He focuses and finds her watching, a
little impatient. Has to bite his cheek against a smile. "Go on..."

"See... young girls would go to the village wise woman -- if they went
to the temple they'd probably be punished severely, but that's not
important -- with stories about how they had a crush on that boy or
this one, and the old woman would cast and. And." Her mouth twists,
a hard little rope.


Willow bites her lip hard, and Xander doesn't know if it's magic or not
that keeps him from reaching out when she starts crying again.
Silent, still. Tears just rolling down her cheeks.

"I would've been one of those girls, you know? I would've gone, and
they would've shown me... I don't know... maybe they would've
shown me this, and I would've *known* better, and I could've just...
*relaxed*." Smiles through her tears.

"I... I don't know what you're trying --"

"Christ, that's the way of it, that's always the way of it. They
*should've* had men do it, too. Stupid men, stupid boys. Never know
anything. You never saw me when it would've done any good --"

"God, Willow..." Reaches out and hauls her close and he wants to say
it's unfair, but it *is* fair, he knows it is. He'd been blind, and he'd
been stupid, too, but more than any of that... "Scared. I was scared."

"I know that *now*, you dumbass, but. Fuck. *Fuck*. It's too much.
Tara's dead, and Anya... and Buffy... everyone's life can be so neat
now, Xander, I can *see* it, so complete, so fucking *tidy* --"

"It doesn't work that way --"

"It can! It can, it has to, it should, oh God, for once, for fucking once,
the universe fucking *owes* us..."

And Willow's sobbing now, in his arms, and he can be strong, and
he can be silent, even if he doesn't know if he should or not,
because... he knows this. He *knows* this. The universe doesn't
owe anyone anything. Or it owes everyone everything. Funny how
life was easier...

He'd been getting *used* to this. This life thing, this adulthood
thing. Or he thought he was. Because there was the world, and there
were all these demons, and sure crosses and holy water helped you
survive, but it wasn't as if God came down and smiled upon them
for saving the world.

It wasn't as if the sun shining meant anything more than that they
were in Southern California.

It wasn't as if night wouldn't fall again, or good people wouldn't die

The universe didn't give a fuck, and neither did the gods, and Xander
sometimes thinks he'd give up a lot to go back to that tentatively
happy space where he'd stopped believing.

Strokes Willow's back.

It's a luxury none of them have, but at least he'll never have to worry
about getting a chance to get his own back against the world and all
its terrible wonders.

Not like his Willow.

But he doesn't have the words for this, or any of it, really, and at the
end of the day Tara's still dead, Giles is still going back to England,
Anya's still a demon, Dawn's playing with swords, and Willow... God,
Willow doesn't even *want* to understand the things Xander does.

A little voice wants to know if it's so bad that she doesn't, if it's so bad
that she can still be angry, still have hope for a world that gives a shit
what happens to any of them when all the demons are dead and all
the anger has nowhere helpful to go...

She's quieting again. Breathing sharp things that sound a little like
laughs. A little. And her hands are moving on his chest.


"I can still... Giles kind of tricked me, Xander..."

Small hand on him, God, where he needs it. Hard and sure through
his sweatpants.

"He wanted to make sure I remembered what it was like to *feel*.
That's why..." Laughing sob. "You're so afraid for me, Xander. And
you want me so much, and you're so... you're so *warm*..."

His hand shakes as he covers Willow's, as he presses her hand hard
against him. As she looks up at him, wild-eyed and fervent with
something Xander doesn't understand.

It's okay. It makes them even. "I love you," he says.

Her other hand is curled into a fist, beating lightly at his shoulder.
They won't be in this position long enough for it to hurt, and her smile
makes it okay. It does.

It *does*.

Xander lays her down and kisses her hard.

Before she can say anything else.