Old Friends

by ozfan

One

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Strange memories. Standing in line to see Return of the Jedi together. Trying to teach each other how to throw a Frisbee. Catching chicken pox off each other. Getting in trouble for stealing gum from the drugstore (Willow's idea actually, not Xander's, looks like she had criminal impulses since she was 11 years old). The field trip to some farm back in 4th grade where Xander didn't want to sit next to Willow on the bus because he had a crush on Susie Lowell and it nearly broke her heart. Trying to make snowballs using ice from the freezer after the annual viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas when they were 12. She remembers these things at the oddest times, and she smiles.

***

Willow sat on the arm of the sofa, going over the list of supplies for the house. They had all just finished up dinner and this was the time of day Willow welcomed most, a brief respite from group meetings, training, work, and worry. Xander had come over to help Buffy fix the overactive toilet upstairs and he came down the steps now, joining Willow in the living room.

"Hey, witchy woman, whatcha workin on?"

"The evergrowing list of groceries and supplies this house needs. It's my turn to go shopping this week. Spike even gave me a coupon for Wheatabix," she said, waving a piece of paper in the air. "What are you up to now?"

"I'm heading back to my apartment. The toilet upstairs will now cooperate with all you saucy vixens and your tendency to overflush."

"You're the man, Xan." He grinned at her, his eyes warm as he watched her.

"What? What is it?" Willow said, frowning over at him. Xander was either staring at her or staring at something directly above her head, and it was freaking her out.

Xander just smiled. "You look really pretty," he said softly. Her hair was down and it fell in soft waves around her face and she was dressed in a simple blue turtleneck and jeans. He said it matter-of-factly, one friend to another, quite innocent, but she still felt a strange, sudden jump in her pulse. Okay, that was weird. Then he wiggled his eyebrows lewdly and it broke the awkwardness. Willow hid a smile.

"You are staring at me like you want to eat me for dessert. Have you become a hyena again, Xander Harris?" she said sternly.

"Why, yes. Yes, I have. GGGRRR!" Suddenly Xander pounced on her, toppling her over onto the couch. Willow let out a squeal of shock, followed by giggles.

"Get off, you freak!" she shouted with a laugh.

Xander kissed her forehead and sat up. "I am the First Evil in the form of… a hyena!"

"Now, that would be interesting. An all-powerful hyena. Except you'd have to be an incorporeal hyena, which really isn't all that intimidating when you think about it."

"What are you doing?" Kennedy said, standing in the archway. She was frowning at the two of them, sitting side by side on the sofa.

"Discussing nonintimidating incorporeal hyenas, duh," Xander said. Kennedy just stared back, expressionless. "Um, and you?" he added, after a long, awkward silence.

Kennedy's eyes narrowed.

"Looking for Willow, actually," she said, crossing her arms. Willow sighed, softly, only loud enough for Xander to hear. "I thought you were going to the store. We're low on supplies, remember?"

Xander glanced over at Willow and saw the tense set of her jaw.

"I am," Willow said, sounding tired. "I was just making sure…"

"That I was coming with. We have to go over that private matter, remember?" Xander improvised, grabbing Willow's hand and pulling her up.

Kennedy did not look pleased. "What private matter?"

"Maybe you should look 'private' up in the dictionary sometime," Xander suggested, dragging Willow out the front door before Kennedy could respond. When they got outside, Willow covered her mouth and started sputtering laughter.

"Thank you, Xander." Her eyes were bright with laughter as she looked up at her oldest friend.

"It seemed like you needed to get out of there. Besides, I've known you about 1000 times longer than her, I get first dibs. Now, where shall we go?" he said, grabbing his keys out of his pocket and dangling them enticingly.

"How about New Orleans? I've never been to New Orleans," Willow sighed, leaning on the roof of Xander's car.

Xander nodded thoughtfully. "In that case we really need to fill up on gas. Hop in, my lady. New Orleans awaits." They climbed in his car together and drove away.

***

"This sure doesn't look like New Orleans," Willow groused, pushing the shopping cart around the huge grocery store. Xander walked alongside her, his hands on the cart, looking up and down the aisles like a little kid.

"It might not be New Orleans, but look! Six-pack of Nestle's Crunch on sale." He grabbed them and threw them in the cart.

"We are not here for treats. We have a strict budget."

"This is on me, so shut up."

"But you don't stay at the house anymore, so why should you pay for groceries?" Willow said, frowning down at her list.

"Please. I'm still there all the time, I eat, I drink, therefore I pay. Plus I just got a raise."

"You did! That is so excellent, Xander!" She put her arm around him and squeezed. Xander smiled.

"Thanks. Of course, I had to sleep with the boss but it was just that one time and he was actually very gentle with me."

"Good to know. Ooh, Fruity Pebbles! Can I? Can I?"

Xander nodded. "Sure, knock yourself out. Those have been your favorite since forever."

"I never outgrow the classics," Willow said. They made their way through the aisles, chatting, and Willow felt like a heavy load had been lifted off her chest. Xander seemed so relaxed. He had said earlier that he and Anya had made their peace, and now he was back living at his own place, having some semblance of a life apart from Apocalypse Prep. She envied him that. She lately felt everything closing in on her. School was her only escape these days, that and late night tea chats with Buffy, which had become a nice tradition. Everything was all too closely tied together, everything pushing at her. On top of all that, Kennedy, she was starting to realize sadly, was a big mistake. They had little in common, and the more Willow got to know her the more Willow realized she had gotten involved for all the wrong reasons. Still, she knew that there were much larger issues to contend with so she did not complain to anyone. Besides, here, just being with Xander doing an everyday chore, made her forget the bad stuff for a while.

"Talk to me, Will. You look sad," Xander said as they stood in the checkout line.

"Actually, quite the opposite. This is really nice. Nice and normal. It's nice to get away with you, even if it isn't New Orleans."

"Oh, stop," he said, but she could tell he was pleased by the smile plastered on his face. Willow held on to his arm and just rested her head against the strength of his shoulder for a minute, looking around. The hum of activity around them, the dusk outside the window, even the kid crying in the next aisle over… it felt good, this normalcy, these boring moments so many people took for granted. She felt strangely blessed to be here, to be given the chance to be a part of this world again, with these people who were so good at forgiving. Tara, things are going well. I wish you could be here with us, just shopping for groceries.

The elderly woman behind the register was smiling at her.

"You two make a cute couple," she said kindly. "It's nice to see."

Willow frowned and stepped away from Xander.

"We're not a couple," they said in unison.

The woman just shrugged and kept smiling. "Well, whatever you are, it's still nice to see."

Xander looked down at Willow, and Willow looked back. Their eyes met and held. They smiled at each other, as if sharing a secret. We've been everything to each other, Willow realized. We'll always have each other. Always.

Xander nodded, as if hearing her thoughts. Together they packed up the groceries and headed home.