Meeting of Minds
Chapter 4 – Meeting of Minds
(Let’s keep the bulls**t to a minimum, shall we?)
Xander entered the first hidden place he found out, an alley which was already brightly lit enough to scare any undead. While he had promised Giles to keep from using its powers, he wanted to test the blade itself. He took the sword out of its hiding place on his back (and exactly how the hell could that happen, anyway?) and swung it a few times. It felt lighter than a steel sword of that same general size - he had done the same thing with quite a few of them over the past few years, so he knew the difference. He found a discarded piece of a 2”x4”, long enough to test the edge of the sword. He rested it against the lid of a closed dumpster, raised the magical weapon above his head and swung down.
What he wanted to do and what he ended up doing were two different things entirely. While not having a thousandth part of his alter-ego's strength, he had some considerably toned muscles, strong enough to fell an adult human with one punch – fighting vampires on a nightly basis had its advantages. So, when the blade went down, powered by said muscles, gravity and weight, it split the solid piece of wood as if it wasn't even there.
The problem was that it didn't stop when it reached the steel structure of the dumpster - it carved its way into the metal frame a good two and a half inches further, opening a long gash into its lid and rent the front of it open, only stopping because not even magically-constructed blades could do much with human-based limits.
Xander’s arms vibrated like a damn gong, and he let the Sword of Power go, shaking his arms until they stopped hurting. He looked at the stuck blade with wonder in his eyes.
Now, how to un-stuck the damned thing?
After a bit of struggle and some cleaning, Xander left behind a damaged dumpster and brought a pristine, undamaged sword along with him. Not feeling like wandering anymore, he decided to go back to Sunnydale High. Even on a Saturday, the front doors were open and unlocked. He moved quickly towards the library, and the extra key that Giles had given to each of them was used for the first time since receiving it. He walked on further in, and after another turn of another key, he was perusing the stash of books that Giles kept secreted away. He was interested in whatever sliver of information he could get about his transformation. It was several hours and quite a lot of frustration later that he found a piece of information which was, thankfully, written in English in a book that didn’t look all that old.
“…Magical Bonds always come with a few variants of the same situations. One, you need to be sure of the outcome of said Bond, or it won’t happen, no matter what you do. Some experts, like Barushknov(see ‘The Magic of Magical Bonds’, chapter 8), say exactly the opposite, that some Bonds will happen, no matter what you do or don’t do. However, in all Bonds, a Price must be paid, depending on the type of Bond: blood, flesh, soul… the list is too long to write here, and entirely dependent on the situation, so be prepared to Pay it, if you truly want to be Bonded to someone or something.”
Looking to the scar in his palm, he knew what the Price had been, and that he had effectively Bonded with his sword. He read a bit longer, but didn’t find much more to add to his knowledge after that. He perused a few more books, trying even to find the book mentioned in the part he had found and, finding nothing, he returned them to their proper places and mostly in the order he'd found them. He then grabbed the box the sword had been transported to Sunnydale in and the letter that Giles’ friend had written and took them with him. He locked the library again and finally went home.
Thankfully, absentee parents allowed for a good shower and a change of clothes, after which he hid the box. The letter, he kept in his pocket. An assault on the house’s nearly empty refrigerator allowed for a meager breakfast slash early lunch. He rummaged his own things for a couple of VHS, and after finding them, he shoved them in a backpack and walked away, going to the Sunnydale bus stop. It was a routine he had picked since the day Buffy disappeared. A brief visit to both the security booth and the administration room and he was walking back to meet Cordelia, Willow and Oz, sadness echoing deep in his soul.
He had lied to Buffy, and in doing so, had saved the world, but the teen probably lost one of his best friends, for good. And what was worse, losing her as a friend was nothing compared to Joyce losing a daughter. He still couldn’t face the woman, and he had sworn to himself he would only do so, intentionally, when he had some information to give, whatever it was. Even then, he still walked over to Revello Drive, and stood hidden, away from the front door, his heart constricted painfully.
If only the Sword had found him before.
Before the Harvest.
Jesse's memory brought him back to the alley behind the Bronze, to the point where he had dusted the thing that passed as his best friend. He had come to terms that he hadn’t killed him, that he had just put an end to the thing that used Jesse's face in mockery, but even then, he had lost a friend, the first one, to the Hellmouth. Something deep echoed in his heart and soul at that moment, almost like what had happened when he had grabbed the Sword of Power for the first time, so he removed the blade from his back once again, resting the tip against the ground, while he went down in one knee, a position of respect he had seen one time.
“I made a silent vow when I met Buffy that I would help her and anyone in need to fight against the things that would prey on mankind, on the defenseless and the weak. I believe that this Sword has found its way to me for a reason, and I now renew this silent vow with a new one. I promise that I’ll be deserving of this Sword, of all that it represents, of its past and future history. I swear I’ll fight for the Light until my dying breath, and beyond,” he said, and held the sharpened blade and pressed a little, making a few cuts in his hand. Some drops of his blood went down the sword, dripping on the floor and mixing with his tears of sorrow and pain for his losses.
“On my blood and my soul, I so swear.”
It wasn’t perfect, it had no help from the Sorcerer, but the deep commitment, the Will and the magic were there, and that was really all that was needed. The Sword of Power started sparkling, tendrils of power running through it, like a small lightning storm, that crawled from the embedded tip of the sword to its handle, and upwards to Xander's arm and then over his entire body. It happened so fast that he never had time to remove his hand, and when his mind focused enough to understand what was happening, the small electrical storm had already vanished, being absorbed by his body, leaving behind nothing but a faint tingle over his skin.
“We-ell, that was definitely odd,” the teen said to no one, looking at the strange, yet somehow very familiar blade in his hands. When he looked to the hand which he had purposely cut against it, he found only unblemished skin.
He walked to Willow's place and knocked a few times. A sleepy redhead allowed him in in silence, offered him free reign of the kitchen while she went away for a shower and a change of clothes. It was odd that, while he had a girlfriend, he still felt more at ease with Willow than Cordelia. Of course, he’d probably never walk in Cordy’s upscale kitchen to raid her refrigerator like he was doing at this exact moment. Xander helped himself to some milk and the ingredients for a sandwich that would take care of his hunger until later on.
A few minutes later, Willow found Xander eating his sandwich calmly, sitting in her parents’ living room, surfing channels.
“Hey,” she said, and he turned to her with a smile on his face. “Feeling better, I see.”
“Yeah, Giles kinda forgave me for my mess, so I’m good. Or getting there, anyway. Sorry for hitting on your door so early, I couldn’t sleep so I kept wandering around.”
“No problem. So, wanna tell me what really happened?” she asked the dreadful question, now that they were alone.
He sighed, but he had a good reason to have knocked at her door, and not at Cordelia’s - he needed someone he could trust no matter what, and no one held that position in his life more securely than Willow herself.
“Tell me, if you were the Slayer, instead of Buffy, what would you do? And no, I’m not dodging your question. I just wanna know.”
Willow looked at him oddly. “I’ve actually thought about it a few times, but the question is way too broad for an answer. In what sense you mean it?”
“Well, if, when the Slayer before Buffy died, and you were Called instead of her, what would you do?”
The redhead smiled. “I’d probably get scared beyond my wits, cause, y’know, vampires and stuffy Brit Watchers are kinda of a scare at first sight - on second thought, vampires are scary on all sights. Stuffy British Watchers not so much, they’re like overbearing, annoying and overall weird father figures once you know them.”
“Giles is, I dunno about the rest,” Xander replied, getting a nod from his best friend. “But you’re rambling,” he said with a smile.
“I am, right. Well, as I said, I’d probably get all wigged, but then I think I’d go ahead and fight them. And still be scared most of the time,” she completed.
“Would you let others help you? Fight by your side?” he asked.
She looked at him with pain in his eyes. “I dunno. I wouldn’t want to see one of my friends hurt, or worse, because of me. But I know now that a Slayer can’t fight alone, it’s suicide. So, I’m divided. Yes, because I wouldn’t want to die, and no, because I wouldn’t want you or anyone else to die.”
“Dying is part of living, Will. I’ve learned to accept this, but I understand,” he said with a saddened smile, his hand grabbing hers and squeezing in a supporting manner. “And why would you fight?”
She looked at him sideways. “Huh?”
“Why. Would. You. Fight?” he enunciated carefully, but with a smirk on his face.
“Because it’s the right thing to do?” she replied with another question.
“What about your Calling?”
“Well, it’s part of it. A big part of it, to be sure. But knowing what I know nowadays, I’d fight them the same. Like what we do now, even without - Buffy,” the redhead said, her voice constricting with every word.
“Okay,” he asked, glad for her answers.”I didn’t ask those questions to drive you on to what I wanted to hear, it was because I needed to know if what I’m about to tell you is right, and I do trust your opinion more than anyone alive. Now, this is what happened last night,” he said, pulling the Sword of Power from its dimensional sheath, and letting the impressive blade rest over the small table right in front of them.
“H-how did you do that?” she asked, her eyes switching like mad between the Sword and her friend.
“Magic, what do you think?”
She looked at the blade with wonder in her eyes. “Nice sword. Did Giles let you keep it?”
“It’s not a question of keeping it. Look closely at the sword, Will.”
She did, then her eyes went slightly unfocused for a second, and suddenly her head turned around as if slapped. Xander stood up with a bang, coming to her side immediately.
“What happened?” he asked, all concerned about her.
Willow shook her head as if to dispel whatever effects she had felt from the sword. “I-I’m fine, I j-just tried a spell I found out a while ago to see magical auras, and this sword is like a, a navy beacon. It almost blinded me. Where did you get it?” she said, finally opening her eyes, surprise and a bit of fear in her voice.
“Actually, it came right into my hands, in a manner of speaking. Here, read this,” he said, passing the folded letter to her. Willow read it three times, pretty much like he had done, her frown growing with each read. She lowered the letter and closed her eyes, and Xander could almost see the wheels turning inside her amazing brain. When she opened them a few moments later, she jumped up.
“That’s the Sword of Power!” she screamed, pointing to the blade.
“Got it in one, Willow. And it works, too,” he said with a smirk. “I tested it.”
“S-so…so…so, does it mean that you’re …. HIM????”
“Oh, okay,” she replied, way too calmly, and promptly passed out.
Luckily, Willow was still over the sofa, so when she fainted, she simply sat back down and tilted to one side. Xander, seeing this, jumped to support her. Once he had her more or less sitting straight, he gave her a couple of soft taps to wake her up.
“Wills? Wills? Wake up, Willow,” he said, worried. The redheaded genius started to come to, and Xander let her go.
“Whu-? Wha-? W-what happened? X-xander? What’s going on?”
“You fainted, Wills,” he said, now finding the situation amusing, which reflected in the smirk he was sporting.
“I fainted? Why? I remember…” and once she did, she jumped back, holding him at arm’s length. “What in heaven’s name did you do this time, Xander?”
“Me?” he said, the insufferable smirk growing. “Well, nothing much. Just the usual Hellmouth routine of the weird finds us. In this case, a magical sword that any sixteen year old male who had a TV knows the meaning of comes right into my hands. And guess what? It’s not cheap plastic, and it works. That’s it.”
“Tha-tha-that’s not… that’s not…”
“What, possible? Need I remind you of some facts, oh She-Who-Dates-A-Werewolf?”
Willow’s eyebrow raised, and at the same time a heavy blush took her over. “That’s not the same…”
“Willow,” he interrupted, “you were turned into a ghost for a night, I became a soldier, Buffy an annoying 18th century ditz - the pack - need I to go on?”
The redhead sighed. “Ok, ok, I get you, nothing’s impossible. Now, how did this happen?”
“Well, *that* is the strange stuff. You see…”
Xander and Willow discussed things for a while, especially how did the TV show came to be. The Sword had been in the possession of the Council for some time now, and they believed that no one had blabbed to the people responsible.
The redhead teen looked at her best friend, a theory forming into her mind.
“You told me you dreamed about the previous owners of the Sword. Did you see He-Man on any of the dreams? Or someone that resembled him?” she asked.
“I dunno, I think not. At least I don’t remember seeing the face of any of them. It seemed as it was me in their bodies, like I am now. Am I making any sense?” he replied, confused.
“Yes, and that’s what I wanted to know. You remember seeing anything else from the cartoon? Some of the other characters? Anything, except Grayskull, the Sorceress and Battle Cat’s skeleton?”
“Some of the - things - I fought reminded me of Beast Man, and I think I saw someone that reminded me of Hordak,” Xander mused.
“Hordak? As in She-Ra’s Hordak?” Willow’s eyes growing wide.
“The same,” he nodded.
“Oh…wow. I mean, do you realize what this might mean, Xander?”
“Aside from ‘wow, I’m He-Man?’ I have absolutely no idea, Will,” he replied, looking at the sword currently resting between them.
“I-it could mean that She-Ra might exist somewhere," the redhead replied, awed.
Xander's eyes grew, but the awe was replaced by amusement and a smirk a second later. "Don't worry, Wills, if I ever find the Sword of Honor, be sure I'll give you first dibs on it."
Willow's skin color suddenly matched her hair. "I-I..."
He laughed. "Wills, no one else I'd like to have by my side as the Princess of Power," he replied seriously. "Honestly, if this is all true, how did we end up having a cartoon based on it?"
"Xander, you said you dreamed of other selves, other beings who used the sword and its powers. What if whoever created the concept wasn't the person who would get the sword before you?"
"Kinda like the girl who was the Slayer before Buffy?" he mused.
"Exactly. He'd have mostly the same dreams, but without the sword to make the transformation, he'd just be a normal guy with an interesting idea for a cartoon."
The brunette stood up, and started pacing, his face stormy. "How many people suffered because a group of stuffy pompous overbearing twits overdressesed in tweed held on this sword, Wills? Can you imagine what a team of Slayer/He-man could do to the underworld?"
Willow shook her head. "You're not thinking this through, Xander. I agree with the general sentiment, but think about it - We don't know if the power can be accessed only for good, not taking into account that 'good' is very much subjective."
"You think way too much, Willow, and while I understand the good being subjective bit, how facing vampires and demons might be considered anything else but good?"
"Who or what would guarantee that the Slayer and He-Man would only fight vampires and demons, not taking into account that not all demons are bad? Taking sides in a human dispute might be considered evil? Stopping a war is always good? I dunno... Perhaps this is the reason why the Sorceress exists, why the Watchers train the Slayers. You're just a teenager, Xand, and so is Buffy. While you have the heart, you don't have the experience to face some decisions on your own," she said.
"And you do?" he asked.
"I - this is not me we're talking about," she replied, a bit more crossly than she intended.
"Might as well have been, Will. I'm not saying anything, I just want - I know this is a lot of power, Willow. So much that it scares me, a lot. But someone, something, saw me fit to have this power, by some reason. The question is, should I use it? And if so, how would I go about and not misuse it?"
"I - don't know. I'd say to follow your heart, but we both know that it, while as marvelous and big as it is, is not always in the right place, Xand. You let it control your decisions too much, you should let your brain engage once in a while as well. I love you because of it, but - please be careful. That's all I ask."
Xander remained silent for a while, thinking it through.
"So, wait for Giles?" he finally asked.
"I'd say yes."
"Same decision I arrived at. Willow, thank you," he said, and grabbed her in a bone crunching hug that could briefly be compared to one of Buffy's.
"Air..." she croaked.
"Oops, sorry, Wills," he said, sheepishly, letting her go.
"No worries, Buffy does that..." she said, but realized what she was saying and her voice trailed off. A moment later, Xander was back to hugging her, and the tears started to fall.
"Shh, shh," he said, his heart constricting very painfully. After a good while, Willow stopped crying, and just shuddered once in a while. "You ok?" he asked.
"What did we do wrong, Xander? Where is she?"
The male teen sighed, crushed about what he had done, why he had done it, and the consequences of his actions. "You just said that my heart isn't always in the right place, Will. This time it was, and I've been regretting every single moment since then."
"What did you do, Xander?" the redhead asked, eyes ablaze.
"I'm, I'm a coward, Willow. I acted on my fear and did something monumentally stupid."
"What?" she prodded, hardening her eyes.
"I lied to Buffy. Because of fear, I lied to her."
"Fear? Fear of what?"
"Fear that we all would end up dead. You see..." he tried to start, gulped, and looked her straight in the eyes. "Look, I will tell you, but before I do, I just want to say that I love you, and that's one of the reasons I did what I did."
"I know that, Xan," she said with a smile.
"No, you really don't. You're... you're the sister I never had, the best friend a guy could ever hope to have, and half of my soul is yours, because you take far more care of it than I do," he said with his lopsided smile in place. He was surprised a moment later by a tackle and a hug that, at least, had bruised his ribs. "And I know... I know that you like me... you like me *that* way, and while I'm deeply honored because of it... Willow, I couldn't... I can't love you like that. I'm... I can't wire my brain and my heart to see you as anything else than my best friend, and I would never, ever want to hurt you because I can't respond to those feelings the same way. Forgive me?"
Willow's blush matched her hair. "You...you knew?"
"Hey, I may be blind and kinda oblivious to things around me, but I'm not that stupid," he said with a smile. "I've known for a while now, and I spent many a nights thinking about what ifs, Will. But every same line of thought ends up with the same reasoning: I love you, I need you in my life, but I'm not going to throw away what we have if I can't respond to those feelings in the same way. And I can't. So, forgive me?"
She stayed silent for a while, Xander realizing she was deep in thought.
"Y-you..." she gulped, forced herself upright, sighed and looked him straight in the eyes. "Since you helped me in kindergarten, my life changed, Xander. Now I know it was because you were the first one who noticed me, and that was as important back then as it is now. You know me, you are my best friend, and I'm being a selfish bitch here, and I intend to remain being so, where we are concerned. Got me?" she asked, and he nodded affirmatively, smiling all along. "That said... you know my parents, Xan, same way I know yours, and I know that you care more about me than they do, same way I care about you more than yours do, as well. What you said forced me to acknowledge one thing just now, something I didn't have the courage before... I did...and still do, but you know you just can't flip a switch and forget or change someone's feelings like that," she snapped her fingers, " is that I loved...love you because you were there for me. You never forgot about me, you never left me without care and you always showed me I lived in your heart, so it was, it is so damned easy to fall in love with you. But I can't control your heart, and I fear that our friendship has maybe ruined one thing, and that is that what we have will never go beyond friendship. So, I can't forgive you because there's nothing to forgive. I love you, my friend, and I shall remain loving you for all my life, and that is final."
This time, the bone crushing hug came from both parts. Willow, however, reddened once again after they separated, looking at her best friend through her lashes. "Could I ask for one small favor? Just one thing?"
"What would I refuse you, Willow?" he replied with a smile.
"You might, this one. I'd like one kiss. Just one, never to be repeated again. I just want to..." she started to fret, but was silenced by Xander's finger resting against her lips, the smile on his face showing that he understood. He removed the finger and came closer, the smile never wavering, while Willow's green eyes grew. He wished to say he was being brave and smooth, that this kiss would be just that, a kiss, but Xander had, as did Willow, some expectations about it. While he believed his were less than his redhead friend, they were as important as hers.
His main one was, what if he enjoyed it more than he expected?
This venue of thought ended, or started, depending on the outcome, when their lips met. First thing he noticed was that she tasted a bit like cinammon, and something else that he could only describe as 'Willow-taste'. There was also a hint of minty-fresh toothpaste, which fitted him just fine. What it lacked, however, was chemistry, the spark he so desperately wanted and didn't want to feel. He backed out a moment later, eyes searching his best friend's reaction.
Willow had her eyes closed, and she remained so. When she started trembling, Xander did what he always did, he hugged her, but for the first time, she pushed him away slightly.
"Xander, go. Please. Just...go," she pleaded, tears running from behind closed lashes.
"Willow, I'm sor-" he started, his heart crumbling with her words, but she interrrupted before he could finish.
"I'm not mad at you, I don't hate you, but I need some distance, some time to think. Please, just go."
He stood up, grabbing his sword, tears now staining his own eyes. "I'm so sorry, Willow," he said, moving to her door and sheathing the majestic blade. "I love you."
After the door had closed behind him, Willow opened her eyes, tears falling down like a river. "No, you don't."
It would be a while before either of them realized they hadn't spoken about Xander's fears and what they had to do with Buffy.
He never felt so lost in his entire life. He had hurt Willow, his Willow, and the mere thought of it was enough to make him despair. His feet took him on a long trek until he reached Kingman's Bluff. He stood on the edge, looking at the sea below, remembering the entire situation. A scream came from deep within him, scaring the few animals that lurked around. He only stopped when his throat was rough and dry.
While it didn't clear either his heart or head enough, it gave him room to at least go back to thinking. It was as he had said to Willow, he had known for a while that she had a very big crush on him, but he just didn't feel like that towards her. What could he do? He would trudge on, that much was certain, but he feared that his relation with the redhead was damaged forever. It could have gone better, he could have postponed and eased things up on her, but one thing Xander had learned was that if you left things to chance living on the Hellmouth, odds were always against you.
Besides, they were both in commited relationships, and he actually liked Cordelia a lot. If only she would accept going further - and by further he meant going public, not going past second base - on their relationship. His only hope in this entire mess was that Willow wasn't leading Oz on, because he actually liked the laconic werewolf, and the guy didn't deserve it.
Sighing, he turned back on, and started trudging back home, finally feeling how tired he really was.
Xander opened the door to his room, physically and emotionally exausted. He figured he must have been up for an entire day, and now, after the entire ordeal, he crashed on his bed without even taking his clothes off.
He was asleep in a couple of seconds.
And the dream came.
Xander appeared right at the antechamber to the Sorceress' resting place. As before, the symbols at the huge doors went out one by one, and the doors opened. He walked on in, going straight to the crystal enclosure. He looked to the woman inside it, trying to figure out what he was doing back here, and that's when he noticed a reflection on the surface of the crystal. He turned around quickly, surprising both himself and the other person in the chamber with him.
Their actions were both eerily similar and surprising, two swords were drawn from their backs and held in defensive positions.
"What the..." echoed Xander, and he noticed that the woman said the same thing, but nothing came out of her mouth. "Who are you?" he asked, looking her over. Military BDU's, tall, blonde, really beautiful, older, held herself like a warrior, not like a paper pusher. The tags put her as a major, but he couldn't actually read the name, the letters looked like gibberish. Strange patch as well on her shoulder, something he had seen before somewhere.
Xander finally lowered his sword, and she did the same a moment later, her eyes tracking the blade on his hand. "You got one too, yeah?" he continued, trading his surprise for a smile.
She looked back at him, trying to speak once again, but nothing came out. The teen finally noticed it wasn't her faking, she really couldn't emit any sounds. She was getting frustrated over it, and from the looks he was getting, she wanted to ask like a ton of questions.
"Look," he continued, "I know you can't say anything, or better, you can, but I can't hear you, so let's try to make some sense over all this, ok?"
The blonde woman visibly sighed and calmed down, nodding her affirmative.
"Ok, well, my name is Xander. Can you try and tell me yours?" he said, extending his hand for her to shake. She came closer, and extended her own.
Two seconds later, over different parts of the same country, two people bolted awake, the same thing escaping their mouths.