The teenager grinned and opened the front door wider.
"Come on in, Xander. What brings you out tonight?"
"Is Will home by chance?"
"Yeah, she's upstairs. Go 'head."
Xander took his coat off as he climbed up the stairs. The door to Willow's room was half opened. He peered inside and he saw her lying stretched out on the bed reading a book. He gave a light knock to get her attention.
"Are you decent?…Damn. Clothes and everything," he joked as he walked in.
Willow chuckled, closing the book. "What's up?"
"Does anything have to be up? Can't I just come visit my best friend on a whim?"
Willow watched as he stuffed his hands nervously into his jeans.
"Of course you can…Now sit down and tell me what's up."
Xander grinned and took a seat at the edge of the bed. "I gotta get some new friends. You know me too well."
"Membership in the Xander fan club has its privilege." She grinned.
"A fan club, huh?"
"Oh, yeah. We've got laminated cards and everything. But I hear Anya burned hers. Too bad. Now she'll never get that discount at the Double Meat Palace I've been working on securing."
Xander didn't reply. He simply grinned.
Willow had returned from England two months before. She was better than when she left Xander had to admit. But still something was missing most days. She wasn't the same. Yet thankfully as the weeks went by, little-by-little, she seemed to gain her confidence back. She even began to make jokes again like she was doing now.
"You've come a long way," he said affectionately.
"You don't say?"
"Oh I do. I do say," he teased. "…It's good to see you joking again, Will. Even if it is at my expense…well, that's not really new though, is it?"
"Not especially, no," Willow answered straight-faced before cracking a grin. "Seriously, what brings you over?"
"Well, I got this thing."
"Uh oh. A thing, huh? 'Things' usually aren't good."
"As this one will probably be sure to prove…It's a party. The Contractors Association has this formal they throw every year and guess who has to attend?"
"Rugged construction workers in tuxes, standing around drinking beer?"
Xander considered it a moment. It was designed to be a suave affair, but in the end…"Yeah, essential." He nodded. "Problem is, I'm a bit dateless at the moment."
"So you've come to old reliable," Willow grinned.
"It's only a few hours, Will," he started to ramble. "We're in and out. I just need to make an appearance, rub a few elbows and away we go."
Willow looked unsure so Xander continued.
"You don't even have to buy anything. If you don't have anything formal, we'll go shopping. I just need to bring someone with me or I'll never hear the end of it. Sure, Xander can't 'get' a date, but that doesn't mean that Xander can't show up with one…Are you following me here? Dateless Xander will be the joke at work for weeks."
"I'll do it."
"You don't even have-. What? You'll do it?"
Willow chuckled. "Yeah. I'll do it…I don't know how much of a conversationalist I'll be since, you know…I haven't talked to the public at large in about 5 months, but…I can smile and nod my head a lot. If they're as Neanderthal as you make them sound, I'm sure they'll love the fact your 'date' doesn't speak unless spoken to."
"Great! Well no, not great…Look, I don't want you thinking I'm like that. The mindless 'seen, but not heard' gal isn't my type. I'm not like that, Will-."
"I know you're not," Willow said putting a hand on his shoulder to stop him. "As if Cordi and Anya were any indication," she muttered before speaking louder again. "I can imagine what you put up with from time-to-time 'from the guys'. Buffy told me about her day on the site…But yeah, I'll do it. In fact, I might even have a few of my formal dresses back at my folks house. I think they'll still fit…God, I hope they still fit…What if they don't fit? Maybe I could loose a few inches? I mean, do I have time to lose inches? How soon is this? Do I look fat to you?"
During Willow's speech she shot to her feet and started to examine herself in the full-length mirror. Xander walked over and put his hands on her shoulders to calm her down.
"You look beautiful, Willow," he reassured her. "It's two weeks from tonight. More than enough time to get ready."
"Okay. Okay," she said starting to breath again. "Right. That gives me time. I'll go over tomorrow and see if my mom has anything…I've still got Anya's bridesmaid dress in the closet, but even aside from the bad memories it might invoke it's just…green...and poofy…and I did make a promise I wouldn't be caught dead in it again…No offense."
"Hey, she picked it out. I didn't."
"It showed." Willow rolled her eyes.
"So it's a date then," Xander said before suddenly feeling awkward. "Well, not a date, but a-."
Willow grinned and cut him off. "What time?"
"I'll be here around 6:30?"
"I'll be ready."
"Let's see what we've got here."
Willow sat at the desk where her bed used to be. It wasn't a surprise that the week she moved into the dorms, her room was suddenly converted into an office for her mother. She watched as her mom went through the closet moving each garment after giving it careful consideration.
"Oh, we have your prom dress!" her mother said pulling it out.
"A little too dress Mom. I'm going for formal, not regal."
With a sigh, she put it back on the rack and moved it to the side. She pulled out another gown and held it close as she sighed. "My wedding dress. You know I always hoped you'd wear it someday…but I guess that's not likely now, huh?"
Willow sighed and waited for the lesbian guilt trip to start. "All aboard, train's leavin'," she muttered.
"What was that, dear?"
"I said it's okay to have dreams Mom," she answered loudly before muttering. "Not like any of yours are gonna come true."
She watched as her mother put that dress away to and continued her search. "I'm so happy to hear you're going out with Xander. He was always such a nice, young man."
"I'm not going out with Xander. We're just…going to a thing. That's all."
"I never cared much for Ox," her mother added, totally ignoring her comment. Willow began to feel a migraine coming on and rubbed her temples.
"Oz, Mom. His nickname was Oz."
"Ox. Oz. What's the difference? He just seemed a bit untrustworthy. And, of course, we both know how that turned out. No wonder you decided to date a woman after that. You just have to realize sweetheart that not all guys are like that Oz character."
This was certainly an exercise in patience – far worse than anything Giles coven put her through in her Wiccan training.
"He just reminded me of Buffy somehow. Secretive. Shifty eyes. Up to no good…Actually when you told me you were a lesbian, I figured you were carrying on with Buffy."
"Buffy and I are just friends. Just like Xander and I are just friends."
"But you could be so much more," her mom pleaded.
Willow grinned. "Yeah, maybe you're right. Buffy's single and she always had a cute ass."
"Willow!" she admonished. "I meant Xander."
Willow had to smile at her mother's shocked expression. "I know what you meant mother. I'm just hoping to drop this conversation."
"What for? We never talk to each other. Don't you think a mother and daughter should talk about these things?"
"Yes, a mother and daughter should. However, we're the exception to the rule, okay?"
"We used to talk. You would come home on the weekends. Next thing I know, you're seeing that shy Tara girl and you're never around. She turned you into a recluse, Willow."
"Okay," Willow said rising to her feet and walking over. "We're treading on thin ice here because I am not up for a Tara discussion slash defilement. Please?"
"I'm just saying-."
"Don't," Willow warned. "If you honestly love me, or even care about me in the slightest, you won't continue."
Her mother pursed her lips and nodded. "I'm sorry sweetheart. I know you're still hurting. I just-."
"Want what's best for me. I know. But right now, not talking about Tara would be best, okay? . . . Now is there anything else left in there," she said pointing to the closet.
"Not real-oh wait!"
Willow watched as her mother pulled out her black Senior Homecoming Dress. The Xander dress she'd nicknamed it. She remembered it quite well. She wore it for a total of two minutes before Xander kissed her for the first time. She remembered the dress, but she was sure there was no way that he would remember.
"Look!" her mother said 'selling it'. "It's slick, a little sexy, perfect for cocktail hour."
Oh what the hell. The sooner I pick something the sooner I get outta here.
"Yeah, this will do," Willow replied taking it from her. "I'd stick around, but I've got the college course books to go over."
"I'm so glad you're trying to get back into school this semester."
"Finally, something we agree on. I'll give you a call next week."
She started to make her way out the door when her mother yelled for her to zip up her coat before she went outside. With a sigh, she did.
"You're the only woman I know who can get a date without leaving the house and with someone you don't have the slightest bit of interest in romantically."
Willow chuckled and watched Buffy putting the finishing touches on her hair. She was going to leave it down, but Buffy told her she absolutely, positively had to wear it up. She asked why. Her answer, according to Buffy, was it was an unspoken rule that formal meant hair up and kissable neck. Willow pointed out that kissing wasn't really an option in this case and kissable neck in Sunnydale could mean kiss of death, but Buffy insisted, so Willow let Buffy have her way.
"Well, it's not a date really. It's just a 'Willow/Xander going out for the evening' thing."
"And why is it that he didn't ask me? At least he's got some chance of scoring if he'd asked me. Yes, slim to none, but still…Is there something wrong with me?"
"There's nothing wrong with you Buffy," Willow reassured her. "It's just that this thing is at night, and you know…you've got prior engagements every evening."
"Yeah, patrol gig…Think it's possible that I can just… retire? Maybe get a house, a hubby, two kids and a dog? Maybe a cat? Hell, I'd settle for goldfish…Maybe I could be, I don't know, normal for a change?"
"Slayer or not, I think you'll always be exceptional," Willow said sincerely.
Buffy rested her hands on Willow's shoulders and gave her a squeeze of thanks before pulling Willow to her feet.
"Now this is exceptional," Buffy said pointing to Willow in the mirror. "I think Xander's gonna flip. Date or not, he'll have the most beautiful gal in Sunnydale on his arm."
"Yeah, but he doesn't have a prayer." A mischievous look crossed Willow's face and she grabbed Buffy by the hips, pulling her a bit closer. "However, just say the word and I'll blow him off. We can go dancing instead," she wiggled her eyebrows for emphasis.
"You look pretty damn fetchin', Will. I might just take you up on that," Buffy winked playfully before they both began to giggle. Buffy stepping out of the embrace and moving to her knees to make sure all the hems at the bottom were straight and flat, as she made Willow turn around in a circle.
"Willow! Buffy!" Dawn called from downstairs. "Xander's here. And he looks hot!"
Buffy and Willow grinned as the heard the muffled chastising Xander gave Dawn.
"We'll be right down," Buffy turned toward the door and shouted. She turned back to Willow and looked her over once more. "Ready to make him sweat?"
Willow chuckled. "Gotta get it over with at some point, huh?"
Buffy walked out first and saw Xander at the bottom of the stairs. "May I present Lady Willow," she said with a grand sweeping gesture of her arms.
Willow stepped out of the room and swatted her. "Knock it off," she laughed. "Hi Xander," Willow waved before making her way down the stairs. She was almost to the landing when his voice stopped her.
"It's the fluke dress," he said, taking her in from head to toe. Willow blushed at his appraising eye and took a sudden interest in looking at her high heels.
"I didn't think you'd remember."
"I remember," he said softly. "Or I should say, how could I forget?"
"Yeah, well…I had to get out of my mom's house. She wanted to play 'Analyze Willow' so I just grabbed it and got the heck outta there. I'm sorry. I guess I should have picked something else but-."
"No. No," Xander said quickly, his mouth a bit agape. He quickly shut it and smiled. "Same dress. Different Willow."
"Yeah, I know," she said dejectedly.
"It's not a bad thing, Will. I loved that Willow and I love this one too."
"Are you so sure about that?" she said looking up.
Xander nodded. "In high school you were lovely girl. Now, you're a beautiful woman."
For a moment, he considered that maybe he overstepped his bounds, but suddenly he didn't care. He meant every word and at this point in her life, he knew Willow needed all the reassurances she could get.
"Always with the jokes, Xan," Willow answered, trying to brush him off.
They stood there just looking at each other and Dawn glanced up to Buffy with a puzzled expression. Buffy just grinned and shrugged. Willow realized she was staring and shook it off, finishing her way down the stairs. She straightened Xander's tie, although it was perfect. "You're looking pretty sharp yourself. I think Dawn's appraisal was pretty accurate."
"I was hoping you didn't hear that." He grinned before shooting Dawn a disapproving glare, which only made her smile larger. He crooked his arm to Willow. "Shall we?"
Willow tossed on her dress coat not bothering to button it. She was sure it was because of some deep-rooted defiance of her mother. She took Xander's arm.
"See ya tonight," she told the Summer's girls as Xander opened their door for their departure. Once on the porch, Buffy shouted out to them.
"You have her home by midnight, young man," she warned before starting to grin.
They simply smiled and walked to Xander's car. As soon as Buffy shut the door, Dawn rushed over.
"Okay, what was THAT all about?"
"What?" Buffy grinned. "Just two friends going out."
"Okay, I'm 15 and not very 'worldly', but did you see that look that Xander gave Willow. And did you see the way she-."
"Yes, I saw it all Dawn. What's your point?"
Dawn considered it. "No point really."
"Good. And be sure to leave Willow alone when she comes home. Agreed?"
Dawn gave a defeated sigh. "Fine. But it would be nice to know that at least someone in this house is dating."
"Hey Xander. I see you made it. Come on over."
Xander leaned down to Willow. "My foreman, Dan Thomas," he said softly.
"Now who is this beautiful young woman you've been hiding."
"This Willow Rosenberg. Will, this is Dan, my foreman."
He picked up Willow's hand and gave it a gentle kiss. "Pleased to meet you. This is my wife, Nancy," he said pulling the woman next to him into his hip.
They all exchanged pleasantries before Dan handed Xander a beer and asked if Willow would like something.
"No, thank you. I'm fine," she told him.
"Pretty and polite," he nodded to Xander. "She's a keeper…How long have you been together?"
Xander looked uncomfortable and turned to Willow before trying to explain. "Well, we're not-."
"New to each other actually," Willow said stopping Xander. "Truth is we've known each other our whole lives. But we just recently started going out…to formal parties and such." Willow grinned, hoping that would be enough.
"That's so sweet," Nancy added. "Isn't that sweet, dear?" she asked her husband. "Sounds a bit like us. We'd been in the same circle of friends and dated a variety of people. But you know what they say. You always save the best for last."
Xander and Willow both gave an awkward chuckle.
"And you make such an attractive couple," Nancy went on.
Willow grinned up at Xander and he knew what the grin meant. It read, 'Get me away from this woman right now.'
"Well, the attractive couple is quite hungry," Xander said in a friendly voice. "I think we're gonna head up the buffet if you don't mind."
"Oh no, go right ahead. A young pair like you need your energy, I'm sure," she said as she winked.
"Nice to meet you," Xander nodded to Nancy before turning to his boss. "Dan," he said respectfully giving another nod before leading Willow away by the elbow.
Once they were out of earshot, Xander leaned down to Willow. "I am so sorry to put you through that."
Willow started to chuckled and slapped him on his chest lightly. "Forget about it," she told him. "I just couldn't keep it up much longer."
"Well, this certainly falls under the 'I owe Willow big time' category…Nice save back there too by the way," he told her.
"You know we should have come up with a story BEFORE we got here," she told him.
"Hey, you're the brains of this duo," he teased. "Why didn't you think of it?"
"Well, I'm out of practice being a straight girl, okaaay?" she said softly.
"I could give you a refresher."
The deep, sly tone of Xander's voice almost made Willow drop her plate, but Xander steadied it. At first, he was going to apologize, but he just couldn't – he knew that somewhere, deep inside, he meant it.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" Willow asked, shying away, turning toward the table under the guise of trying to find the perfect piece of roasted chicken.
"Like what?" Xander asked.
"As if…" Willow answered quickly as her brain finished with 'you want to undress me'. Instead she sighed, "I don't know." She didn't have the courage to say the words.
Xander shook his head. This was crazy. This was preposterous. This was…
"Clothes fluke," Xander whispered quickly to her. "It's gotta be that dress. It's got some goofy sexual karma all over it. I'm telling you. You have to burn that dress tonight."
"Why ever for? If I ever decide to give men a chance again, and make my mother oh so happy in the process, I'll need some ammo," she chuckled.
"This isn't funny."
"Lighten up, Xander."
"You mean to tell me when you saw me tonight you had no reaction whatsoever?"
Xander stopped as Willow continued down the line. When she saw he wasn't following, she looked back.
"Okay, maybe there was a little reaction," she admitted with a blush.
"See? See?" Xander said waving his finger. "It is the dress."
"Well, when we get home you can put it on and we'll see how worked up I get."
It came out as an insult or a challenge, but once she heard how ridiculous it sounded and created a mental picture of Xander wearing the black number, she had to laugh.
"Hey, whatever works, baby," he told her in mock seduction as he swaggered over.
Willow just grinned and nodded to a table. "Get your food and come on."
Xander followed and they took a seat at a vacant table. "Aren't formals supposed to be sit down affairs? You know, where they give you five different folks and spoons and you don't know which ones to use?"
"I think this is formal by construction workers standards," Willow told him "But at least we're not overdressed. Lots of penguin suits and evening gowns. We blend."
"Great. So now I'm a penguin," Xander sighed.
"Nah, Dawn's right. You look very hot. It's the rest of 'em that look like penguins."
Xander grinned, "Hot, huh?"
Willow turned to face Xander with her come and get me grin. At least that's what Tara always called it. She didn't even realize she was capable of such a thing until Tara pointed it out. With the thought of Tara, the grin fell but she tried to put it back in place. Only this time it came out more awkward. Xander's gaze on her was intense, but still she couldn't look away.
"Your food's gonna get cold," she told him. "We better eat."
She was relived when Xander broke away first and looked at his plate. "Suppose you're right," he answered.
She gave a small sigh when he picked up his fork and she proceeded to do the same. They ate in an uncomfortable silence; unsure of what to say next, both of them wondering what the hell just happened.
Finally, Xander figured he just read it wrong. The look was just friendly, playful Will – teasing him like always. But why did it pull at him from the inside out. He watched her drinking, the way her lips moved. Suddenly he was back in high school again and he remembered what those lips felt like. Of all the girls and women Xander had kissed, Willow was definitely the best.
But maybe that was just because it was forbid that made it so appealing. She was Oz's. He belonged to Cordelia. But still, even as the years went by he wondered about those lips from time to time.
But Willow began to settle into her dorm and college life with Oz. As for himself, he started seeing Anya. They both had lovers in their lives and somehow managed to keep their friendships in tact despite the liaison between them. But after Oz left and Xander saw how devastated Will took it all, he wondered again…He never told Anya or Buffy and he certainly didn't tell Willow.
But months went and Will seemed to cheer up. She had a new friend to do witchcraft with…at the time he only knew the half the story.
He wondered again, even as he walked away from the wedding altar if the reason wasn't deeper than just his fear of commitment. Maybe it was Willow. But again, he dismissed it. He knew he loved Anya and he did want to be with her. Besides, Willow was still hoping to patch things up with Tara. He couldn't step in and confuse her, and him… and… everyone for that matter.
But now…Now things were different.
Anya wasn't going to come back to him and Tara…well she wasn't coming back either. Xander realized as he sat there with cold potatoes on his fork that for the first time in their adult lives they were both finally free. No commitments. No ties. And suddenly he felt nervous.
Did he really want Willow romantically? Would she even consider him? Okay, the gay thing is a hurdle, he thought as he sat watching her. But maybe Nancy's right. Maybe you do save the best for last. He shook his head. This is just crazy. There was no way, no how, that I can clear that 'hurdle'. Will finally found herself and you're not gonna mess it up now.
"You okay?" Willow asked.
"You just shook your head. Are you okay?"
"Oh that…yeah, I'm fine…just thinking," Xander replied.
"Care to share?"
Do I share? Do I tell her the truth? And what is the truth really?
"Just thinking about you. Where we've been… stuff like that."
"Oh you're not gonna break out any yellow crayon speechs, are you? I might start crying again and that's not good on the mascara," she teased bumping shoulders.
"No. I promise," he grinned.
Seriousness washed over her as she looked at him.
"I know I haven't said it yet… but thank you. Yeah, you saved the world," she said in a teasing ho-hum voice before turning serious again. "But you saved me too. And I never official thanked you. So thank you, Xander."
"No thanks needed, Will," he assured her. "It was a self-preservation thing, if you want the truth. I honestly don't know what I'd do if I didn't have you in my life."
Willow was on the verge of tearing up. "Now you promised not to make me cry."
Xander grinned and moved in close to Willow, kissing her lightly on the cheek. "No tears, I promise."
He didn't move away immediately as she was expecting and the longer he stayed the more tense Willow felt. But she took a deep breath that calmed her. Besides, his words were warm against her cheek and soon she subconsciously found herself turning her head toward his lips that just graced her moments before. It seemed like forever as their lips hovered close to one another, barely touching, their breath mingling.
Neither of them knew when it happened, but somehow Xander's hand cupped Willow's other cheek.
"I missed you so much when you were gone, Will," he confessed. "We've never been apart that long… ever."
Willow closed her eyes. Her whole body felt like it was on fire but it felt wonderful.
"Well, I'm here now," she told him softly.
His fingertips teased a few locks of fallen hair as his thumb began to caress her cheekbone. "Please, don't ever leave me again," he said softly.
Whatever Willow was about to say was lost as Xander's lips closed the distance, lightly snaring Willow's. For the briefest of moments he considered pulling back but he remembered… he remembered how wonderfully she kissed. At first, there was no reaction, but the second time his lips returned he felt her rise up, connecting with him and a jolt of surprise, mixed with joy, shot through his entire body. Willow wasn't as good a kisser as he remembered…she was better. And he didn't want to stop.
He returned a third time, but now he simply claimed her bottom lip. He felt her open her mouth slightly and it was all the invitation he needed. Lightly, his tongue snaked out to lick her top lip and he felt her take the first real initiative by opening up fuller and nipping at the extended muscle. The next sensation he felt was Willow's hand resting on his thigh before giving a light squeeze.
"Damn Harris! Get a room!"
The noise broke them quickly apart. Xander looked up briefly to see his construction buddy, Eddy, holding a plate of food. But just as quick, he shot a look over to Willow who sat staring at her plate on the verge of what looked like hyperventilation. She shot up to her feet.
"Will, are you okay?" Xander asked.
"Yeah I'm f-fine…,I just…,Gotta… Go away for ah… a second," she said lamely. "Excuse me," she said in a rush as she darted from the table.
Xander considered giving chase, but he knew he wouldn't be able to stand up anytime soon. Not with the effect Willow had on his body at the moment. There's no way he could convince her they could be friends with a raging erection. And he didn't know if he even wanted to try to convince her otherwise.
"You're a lucky guy, Harris. She's sexy as hell. Where'd you snag her?" Eddy asked, taking a seat on the other side of the round table. "Oh hey. Don't mind if I sit here, do ya?"
Xander sighed. He figured Willow wouldn't be back anytime soon. "Knock yourself out," Xander told him before looking to the area that Willow just fled to.
Willow had to tell herself to breath. She paced in the foyer when she spotted a pay phone. She reached for her pocket and quickly realized she had no pockets. Her purse was still at the table and there was no way she was going back there. Not yet anyway. She saw the coat check girl and walked over.
"Can I borrow some change?" she asked, pointing back to the phone. "I left my purse at the table. I'll pay you back."
"Sure thing," she said as she handed Willow two quarters.
"Thanks," Willow replied before dashing over to dial the phone.
"Please be home. Please be home. Please be home," she muttered as she listened to the ring.
"Dawn, is Buffy around?"
At first, Dawn didn't say anything. She could hear an urgency in Willow's voice and she paused trying to figure it out. "She just walked out the back door."
"Try to catch her."
She heard Dawn put the phone down and yell out the back door. She heard muffled talking, but couldn't make out the words. A few moments later she heard someone pick the phone up.
"What's wrong, Will?" Buffy asked. "You okay?"
"No, I'm not okay."
"Are you hurt? Is Xander hurt?"
Willow had to remind herself she was talking to the Slayer and the ten thousand urgent scenarios that were playing through Buffy's mind had nothing to do with the actual events of her hysteria. "No. No one's hurt… I… He…"
"Willow, tell me what's wrong?" Buffy urged.
"Look, I'm sorry to scare you. Everyone is fine and now that I think about it I really don't know why I called you."
"Will, what happened?"
"Okay, I feel totally stupid now because it's not a matter of life and death. It's pretty bizarre, yes, but-."
"Willow, stop rambling."
She took a deep breath. "He kissed me, Buffy. I mean… kissed me, not kissed me, but… kissed me… You know?"
"Are you saying he kissed you?"
"Xander kissed you?"
"Yes," Willow answered again softly.
"Okay. Well… damn… Okay, it's not a huge deal. Just tell him-."
"I kissed him back."
"You kissed him back?"
Willow nodded and quickly realized that Buffy couldn't see her. She was flustered beyond belief. "Yes," she said softly. "I mean… we were talking. You know, how people talk, and he said he missed me. I told him I was here now and the next thing I know…"
Buffy heard Willow's deep sigh over the phone. "And?"
"Well, where is he now? Where are you?"
"I'm at a payphone at the hall. He's back at the table, talking to the friend that interrupted us. At least, I think he is. I mean, I really don't know. I took off so quick. I didn't look back… What am I gonna do Buffy?"
"Well, what do you want to do?"
Willow closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose between her eyes. She didn't want to start crying. "I don't wanna lose my friend."
Buffy could hear Willow's distress on the other end of the phone. "Listen to me Will. You're not gonna lose your friend, okay? Xander wouldn't hold it against you. He knows what you've been through and chances are he's at that table wondering the same thing right now. So just go back, sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with him. Be honest and tell him the truth."
"And what is the truth?" she asked. "I don't even know where to begin. It's just… It's so complicated."
"It doesn't have to be. Tell him you're gay now."
"But what if I'm not. What if… What if I never really got over him? If that's the case, then it means that Anya and Tara were right."
"Okay, now you're losing me," Buffy confessed.
Willow gave an exasperated sigh. "Anya always thought that someday I'd go after Xander again and Tara… Tara and I had an argument once where she thought maybe she was just an experiment and once it was over I'd go back to 'Boysville' again."
"I'm gonna cut to the chase, Willow. Anya's history and Tara's…Tara's gone. And I don't mean anything derogatory by saying that. It's sad, yes, but that's simply the way it is. You have to live your life on your terms, no one else's. I know that Tara wasn't an experiment. You did love her – truly. But I know you care for Xander too. You never judged people on exteriors, ever. It always what's on the inside that matters to you. So 'Boysville' or not, do what makes you happy…Does that make sense?"
"It makes perfect sense, but…I made promises to them Buffy…to both of them actually and…If anything happens between Xander and me then it means I lied to them."
"Or maybe they saw something that was there all along," Buffy countered. "It was just something that you couldn't imagine…Can I ask you a question?"
"Do you love, Xander? I know you guys love each other but… Do you see anything in him beyond friendship?"
"I thought I past all that," Willow replied.
"Well, yeah, you did…but you didn't answer my question. Not really. Do you see-?"
"I do tonight…Oh Hell maybe he's right. Maybe it is just a clothes fluke. Maybe this dress does have bad Karma. Ethan probably sold it to me."
That made Buffy laugh and the more Willow thought about it she had to chuckle too.
"Look, Will," Buffy said getting serious. "I've gotta patrol, but I'll make it a short night. I'll be here when you get back and we can talk then. But until that time, go talk to Xander. See what he has to say about all this. Then you can start to decide what's what. Okay?"
Willow grinned. "Thanks, Buffy. I mean that."
"You're welcome. And I'll be here when you get back. Scouts honor. Just go have fun. You both need a night out."
"That's true," she answered. "I'll see you tonight."
Willow hung up and took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. She could do this. She could walk back in there and speak to Xander. After all, it was just Xander. She knew she could always talk to Xander in the end and that wouldn't change after tonight she resolved. Without waiting any longer she headed back into the hall.
She could see the fellow still at their table eating when Xander noticed her returning. He turned briefly to the intruder before rising up and making his way over to meet her.
"Will, I've been thinking about what to say since you left and-."
"Xander you don't-."
"Please let me say this. If I don't I might not have the courage to say it again," he paused and Willow didn't interrupt. "I'm sorry that I upset you. But I'm not sorry that I kissed you. And I know that you've made the choice that you don't want to date men. That's fine. But I guess I have to wonder why you made that choice. I mean…you fell in love with Tara because of who she was. You weren't looking for a woman, but you found one. I guess…I mean, I hoped…I hoped you'd still feel the same way. You know, that if you found the right person that the package wouldn't matter. And regardless of anything else tonight…No matter what choices you may or may not make -. And I'm not saying that you have to make a choice right now, this second… I'm just… I don't know what I'm saying…Just remember, I'll be there for you no matter what. Just like always."
Willow waited to see if he would add anything more. When all he did was shift uncomfortable from foot to foot, she figured he was finished. And she realized that somewhere in his babble, he made some sense. She didn't go looking for Tara and she didn't close her mind to the possibility of loving her. Maybe, if it was real and genuine and not a clothes fluke, just maybe, she could love Xander too.
"Are you finished?"
"Is it my turn now?" she asked.
He nodded again.
Willow took each of his lapels in a firm grasp and Xander found his hands naturally taking residence on her hips. "I'll be there too. Always," she told him. "But if this is just a clothes fluke, you gotta know… I can't wear this every single day of my life. The dry cleaning bill alone would kill me," she grinned. "But seriously, Xander. I can't look like this everyday and if it's just the 'package' that Buffy put together that you want then-."
"It's not, Will."
"Your turn to let me finish."
He grinned sheepishly. "Sorry. Continue."
"Anyway," she smiled. "If you only notice me when I'm gussied up, then I'm not sure I'm the right one for you. I was a Plain Jane in England most of the time. I guess what I'm driving at is… you can't just want me because it's physical. Does that make any sense?"
"Yeah it does, but it's okay to want you physically too, right? I mean, I'm allowed to look when you... look like this right? Because I'll be honest…It's physical tonight, but… it really is more than that."
"Like the rush of scoring with the unattainable lesbian? Just like the unattainable cheerleader? Or the unattainable man-hating ex-demon?"
"No," Xander answered. "Well… maybe there's a little rush there," he acknowledged with a guilty grin.
"That's what I thought," Willow said letting go and trying to step away. Xander, however, wouldn't let her go.
"But it goes beyond that, Will. I meant what I said earlier. I missed you… All of you. Of course evil and veiny, wasn't much of treat. That goes without saying…But yeah, Will… all of you – darkness and light. We've all got those sides and I wanna share ours together."
"What about Anya?" Willow asked. "She was always afraid of something like this happening."
"And what is happening here?" Xander asked.
Willow gave a sigh. "I'm not sure. I'm pretty confused right now... about everything."
"Well, what do you know or…what do you think you know…for sure I mean?"
Willow considered the question and she knew the answer immediately. "That I love you. Not necessarily lusty, naked love you, but…I love you. You're kind… and gentle… and brave… and humble… and okay maybe there's a little lusty thoughts because you do look hot…Anyway, I could go on all night."
"Please do." Xander smiled.
Willow had to chuckle at that point. "Seriously, there're lots of reasons why I love you. And that's one thing I know for sure. I also know I don't want to screw it up somehow and lose that love. I came so close before Xander and I don't wanna ever feel that way again. It's scary and it's… lonely… When it comes right down to it… you're all I ever really had… my whole life, you've been the only constant thing in my existence. I mean I can't even say that about my parents."
"Oh please. Let's not talk about parents. I've got you beat hands down."
"Okay, I'll give you that," Willow chuckled. "But really, Xander. All I know right now is that I love you and I'm scared."
"Me too," Xander confessed. His hands reached up cupping her face while his thumbs gently caressed her cheeks. "But I need to know if you're the one I've been waiting for. I think you are, Willow. You've been here the entire time, but… life just kinda got in the way before."
"So no road blocks now? Is what you're saying?"
"Full steam ahead."
Suddenly, Xander cocked his head, listening behind him as Willow looked to the DJ.
"Did he just say our names?" Xander asked.
"Come on," the DJ said over the loud speaker. "Where's Willow and Xander? Don't be shy."
"Oh god," Willow muttered. "Now what did we do?"
"Come on," Xander said taking her hand, leading her toward the dance floor.
"Alright!" the DJ announced. "I've got a special request for you two from Nancy. Enjoy."
'Save the Best For Last' by Vanessa Williams began to play and Willow shot Xander a look.
"I really don't like that woman," she chuckled nervously.
"Hey, it could be worse. She might have had them play that 'Colors of the Wind' song instead," he joked before posing himself to dance.
Willow stepped lightly into the embrace and the two began to rock back and forth.
"Always looking at the bright side of things, huh, Xander?"
"Always," he smiled down.
After a few moments of swaying Willow asked, "What are we going to do?"
"Take it one step at a time. You set the pace. Just remember that I do want to keep moving forward. And I must say, at some point during this evening, I do plan on kissing you again."
The song ended and Willow stopped moving. With more assurance this time, she reached up and pulled Xander's head down and kissed him softly. It was gentle, but he felt the resolution behind it. Willow wanted to explore this too and he felt a flutter pass over his entire being. The clapping and 'ahhh's' in the room brought them back to the moment and Willow grinned as she pulled back to look at him.
"You know something?" she asked.
"You're my best friend."
"Full steam ahead, huh?"
"But one step at a time?"
"Without a doubt."
Willow ran her fingers through Xander's hair by his temple and rounded his ear. "I'll try to make you happy."
"You always do, Will. Always."
Willow slipped out of his embrace and pulled him along with her to the table picking up her purse. "Wanna go do something fun?"
"You guys leaving already?" Eddy asked as he finished off his meal.
"Yeah," Xander nodded.
"But you just got here," he replied.
"Yeah, we did just get here," Xander told him as he grinned at Willow. "But I've got years to catch up on."
Willow returned the smile and hand in hand they left the hall.