What’s My Line, part V
A/N: Disclaimer, author’s notes, etc., are at the beginning of chapter 1; spoilers are through “What’s My Line”.
Xander was fixing himself some breakfast. They were out of milk and eggs, and poptarts and eggo waffles and stuff. And the last banana was way too mushy to eat, and he couldn’t go over to Willow’s for breakfast anymore, so he was having a Captain Crunch sandwich. He hated using the free meal program at school, because people like Cordy liked to rub his face in it. But he might have to grab a decent breakfast in the school caff before classes, and maybe eat it in Giles’ office. It wasn’t like his mom did this every morning, or even a quarter of the mornings, but some mornings were worse than others for her. At least she tried most of the time, and even packed a lunch for him when she could. And she got to work on time and didn’t lose her job, unlike some people he could name.
The phone rang. He grabbed it quick, because neither of his folks would be happy if something woke them up to a bright morning hangover. “Yeah?” he asked quietly.
Giles hastily asked, “Xander, have you seen Buffy?”
“Not around here,” he said. “Should I check under the couch?”
“Oh, quite droll. But this is serious. She apparently didn’t go home last night. And I rang her up and let the phone ring fifty times, but there was no answer. You don’t suppose she could have simply unplugged the phone?”
Xander said, “Uh, no way. It’s a statistical impossibility for a sixteen-year-old girl to unplug her phone. Trust me on this one.”
Giles paused, “Well, perhaps my words of caution were… a little too alarming.”
Xander hit him with the sarcastic. “Ya think?”
“Very well, I need you to round up Willow, and the two of you go check Buffy’s house. We need to become more proactive, because I was able to locate a description of the missing Du Lac manuscript, and its purpose is a dark ritual to restore a weakened vampire back to full health.”
Xander gulped. “Maybe a vamp like Drusilla?”
Giles said, “It could very well be. And given the nature of Angel’s childer, this could very well be the start of another rampage by the Scourge of Europe if she is cured.”
Xander said, “Why couldn’t somebody just stake that guy about two hundred years ago?”
Giles gruffly said, “Angelus was one of the most feared and dangerous vampires in Europe for most of a century. An entire army of vampire hunters led by the legendary hunter Holtz couldn’t stop him. So I think it is safe to say that a great many men attempted to ‘stake that guy’ and were horrifically unsuccessful in their attempts.”
“Great.” Wow, that story really made Xander want to make the friendlies with Angel. Good thing that Gypsy curse wasn’t about to break. All they’d need would be a healthy Drusilla, a pissed-off Spike, and a feral Angelus on the loose in Sunnydale. At least Darla was dusted.
He grabbed his Captain Crunch sandwich and his backpack, and he rushed over to Willow’s house before she took off for school. He just hoped she’d listen to him. And he hoped she didn’t leave early so she could get to school without him seeing her. Maybe he’d better run most of the way.
He’d been running more lately, and he’d thought he was used to running with his backpack on, but this morning the stupid thing seemed a lot heavier than normal. Maybe if was the whole ‘have to catch Willow before she takes off’ dealie.
He knocked on her front door and rang the doorbell, even if he figured she’d be back in the kitchen eating breakfast and making herself a nutritious lunch that had just the right amounts of the four food groups. And if he was super-lucky, a Snickers bar for him.
Willow opened the door cautiously. “Umm, Xander, what are you doing here?”
“Marching orders from Giles. Hip-hip, cheerio, and all that.”
She checked, “Giles wants us to do something? Before school? And not at school?”
He nodded. “Right. He wants us to go over to Buffy’s house and check on her. She’s doing the avoid-y thing after last night. And she’s not answering her phone.”
“Then she’s not there,” Willow said. “And… Hey, what’s that in your hand?”
He hid the last third of his breakfast behind his back and said, “Just food.”
He whined, “Oh come on, Will!”
She frowned and said, “Xander Lavelle Harris-”
“Hey, no revealing the middle name!”
She kept going, “-you are going to show me that ‘food’ right now.” She even gave him the resolve face, which was totally not fair!
He really didn’t want to, but his hand came up all by itself and gave her the last chunk of breakfast. She looked at it and frowned, “Xander, why are you eating a Captain Crunch sandwich? I mean…”
Xander could see it in her eyes as she figured it all out. It wasn’t like Willow didn’t know about his parents, or where he lived. She suddenly got all teary-eyed and grabbed him by the wrist. She led him through the house to the kitchen, fussing, “Oh I’m the worst friend ever, why didn’t you come over here and eat breakfast with me, and I didn’t even pack a Snickers bar or anything for you for lunch, and I know you hate doing the school breakfast thing, and Cordelia is such a huge B-I-T-C-H about it, and you had to sit in the corner on the hard floor last night, and I’m so sorry I just can’t deal but sometimes I just wanna turn around and run right through the wall and get away but I can’t do that either, and it’s not like Buffy making that high tea, because I’ll never be able to walk through walls but she could learn to cook, even if she worked that dough so hard she killed it, you really shouldn’t let Slayers knead bread or beat eggs, and we couldn’t tell Buffy’s mom why everything came out all weird, and-”
He put three fingers lightly over her lips. “It’s okay, Will. Just stop and breathe. Okay?”
So he explained about Giles and the phone call, while Willow whipped up a three egg omelet with spicy kosher sausage and chopped green peppers and chopped onions and black beans and shredded cheese, and then dumped it on an extra-big flour tortilla with some salsa and rolled it up so he had a super-sized breakfast burrito.
He took a bite of the hot, cheesy, spicy, sausage-y goodness and said, “Willow, you are my favorite breakfast chef ever.”
She smiled. Then she threw his Captain Crunch sandwich in the trash and insisted, “No more eating like this! You just come over here and get some real food. Even if mom’s here. And no talking with your mouth full.”
So he took a really big bite and chewed twice and then opened his mouth really wide and said, “Fank oo.” She gave him a look, but then she giggled.
She stuffed her lunchbag into her backpack and shrugged the pack on. Then she locked the doors and the two of them hurried on over to Buffy’s house.
As they went, she talked to him like she hadn’t talked for maybe a couple weeks, ever since the big Xena reveal. She told him about Mrs. Summers being out of town for eight days on a big buying trip for her art gallery, and she told him about Angel asking Buffy out on a date and picking ice skating because Willow told him how much Buffy used to love skating, and she told him about Giles trying to spend time with Miss Calendar without Buffy finding out, which Buffy totally knew about anyway.
They got to Buffy’s block, and the place was deserted. Not even a car in a driveway. Not even old Mrs. Whatsername standing on her porch doing the ‘hey you kids get offa my lawn’ bit. Well, it wasn’t like there were kids playing in the street ordinarily, anyway. Still, it just added to the creepiness factor.
They walked up onto Buffy’s front porch and rang the doorbell. Then Willow started knocking and calling out, “Buffy? Buffy?”
Meanwhile, Xander started checking if any of the windows was unlocked. He lucked out, and found one of the porch windows wasn’t latched. He wondered if Buffy left them like that for easier sneakage. He pulled open the window and slipped inside. Then he shut the window and let Willow in through the front door.
Willow said, “You check upstairs. I’ll check the kitchen.”
He trotted up the stairs, hoping he wasn’t going to find something embarrassing that would get him into trouble. Like a sleeping Buffy naked in a bathtub, which would probably get him punched from here to Costa Mesa.
He heard the doorbell ring, and his first thought was that Willow could get it.
His second thought was that he hoped no one had called the cops.
His third thought was that there hadn’t been anyone around to see them and call the cops.
His fourth thought was more a Xena thought. How could anyone have gotten to the front door that fast, unless they were lurking around just waiting for someone to show up?
Like maybe an assassin looking for Buffy.
He sprinted down the stairs and got to the front room in time to see a short, balding loser with a big case in one hand push past Willow… and turn into a mass of bugs. His first thought was that Xena would have thought fast enough and moved fast enough to stop that creep from getting in.
He didn’t even stop to think a second thought. He ran over and grabbed Willow, yanking her away from Bug Guy as the guy reached out one bug-filled sleeve to eat her face off or something. “Run!” he yelled, and they sprinted for the back door.
The back door was already swarming with mealworm-looking bugs. The back door. The doorknob. The floor in front of the door. The ceiling over the door.
He was still holding Willow’s hand, so he just hung onto her and ran down the stairs into Buffy’s basement. He slammed the basement door and looked around. But the windows were all small things even Willow couldn’t get out of, and if they opened up one of the windows they’d probably be up to their ears in bugs in no time.
Willow twisted away from him, but she wasn’t being grouchy. She was being smart. She stepped over to the door and locked it. Then she stood there and stared at it. She finally said, “Umm, Xander? I don’t think this is gonna work.”
“Why not?” he asked. “I mean, that guy, he might be made of flesh-eating worms or whatever, but did you see his build? There’s no way he’s busting through that door.”
Willow pointed at the big crack at the bottom of the door. “I don’t think Norman needs to bust it down.”
Xander fussed, “Norman? Norman? You two stopped and made with the chit-chat first? Maybe had dinner and a few drinks?”
Willow kept staring at the crack under the door. “When I opened the door, he said his name was Norman Pfister, and he was with Blush Beautiful Skin Care and Cosmetics. He asked me if I wanted some free samples, and when I tried to shut the door, he went all buggy on me.”
“Free samples, huh?” Xander said. “I guess it’s a real good thing it was you with me, and not Buffy. Or Cordy. They would’ve invited him right in and ended up getting wormed.”
Willow carefully said, “I think we’d better find something to cover that crack before he gets down here.”
Xander looked all over the place, but he wasn’t looking at a guy basement with four hundred power tools and cases of gear. What was he going to do? “Wait! I got it!” He grabbed the roll of duct tape, which looked like it had never been used. He hastily put a couple strips over the crack at the bottom of the door, and then taped all around the door, just in case.
“There,” he grinned. “We ought to be set now.”
There was a sickening smoosh against the other side of the door, and Willow jumped back from the door.
He nervously said, “Umm, maybe a little more duct tape wouldn’t be of the bad.” He put three more strips over the bottom of the door, another strip up each side of the door, and a piece over the keyhole, just in case. Then he stepped back until he bumped into the washing machine. And he had an idea.
He said, “Will? I bet you could squeeze into the dryer. The door’s probably tight enough to keep any bugs out. You could hide out in there until Bug Guy’s gone.”
She uncomfortably asked, “And what would you do?”
He said, “I was thinking maybe… the Sundance Kid running at the Bolivian Army.”
Willow looked aghast. “The Sundance Kid got killed! That’s not a good plan!”
He said, “Yeah, I know. But you’d be safe.”
She frowned and stepped up really close to him, “Well, that’s not good enough, buster!”
He admitted, “It’s good enough for me. As long as you’re safe…”
She looked up into his eyes and pouted, “But who’d be there for me the next time? Or the time after that? Who’d step in between me and Cordy’s posse and be all snipe-y with her… so they’d leave me alone?”
Ooh, he’d hoped she hadn’t noticed that part.
Willow put her arms around his waist and murmured, “I don’t wanna get eaten alive by bugs, but I don’t want to lose you, either. I-”
But she was too close, and she had her arms wrapped around him, and she was looking up at him with those big Willow-eyes. He didn’t let her finish whatever really smart stuff she’d been about to say. He leaned forward and kissed her. Hard.
He knew she’d pull back and be mad at him. But she didn’t. And she wasn’t. And she didn’t stop kissing him, either. She kissed him back. And then her tongue was sliding sensuously into his mouth, and he forgot all about them being in terrible danger.
He forgot about everything for a while, except his Willow.
Xander had no idea how long it was before Willow pulled back, but his brain had stopped working for a long time-like interval. Willow was all starry-eyed and panting, and her cheeks were flushed, and her lips were swollen and reddened. She looked so hot he almost grabbed her and started kissing her again.
He would have too, except Willow pushed back from him and stepped away, all the way over to the other side of the clothes dryer. Willow leaned against the dryer and panted, “Uhh, Xander… We’ve got to get… out of here.”
His brain was ignoring all that. His eyeballs dove down to Willow’s heaving chest, and he knew his brain was going to have to disavow all knowledge of their actions when Willow yelled at him and his eyeballs in a few seconds. “Huh?”
Willow grabbed a small cardboard box off the shelf and threw it at him. It bonked him in the chest and he instinctively caught it. “Xander! Pay attention!”
He blinked a couple times, and swallowed, and made his brain focus on Willow’s words instead of her lips. Because he wasn’t exactly known for his concentration, but he was concentrating on her mouth really hard.
“Xander! We have to find out if it’s safe, and then we have to get out of here!”
Oh yeah. They had a killer-guy made of people-eating bugs roaming loose trying to eat Buffy for some weird order of assassins. And somehow, Xander Harris was supposed to be the rescuer on this one.
He thought for a second and said, “Tools. They have any tools?”
Willow said, “Not counting the stuff Buffy has hidden in the bottom of her chest up in her room? Probably not much. Joyce isn’t really handy around the house, and let me tell you, never ask a Slayer to tighten a couple screws on your new bookcase for you, because where she didn’t strip the threads, she broke the heads off the screws.”
Xander poked around and found a dusty toolbox on one of the shelves. Inside it was the usual assortment of stuff that a girl picked up for her first tool-oriented projects. A couple screwdrivers, a lightweight claw hammer, a set of eight socket wrenches in a plastic bag, a pair of tinsnips, a pair of needlenose pliers, and an unused paintbrush.
He took the flat-head screwdriver and jabbed a hole in the duct tape covering the crack under the door. Then he scooted back a couple feet, just in case.
“Maybe it’s a trick,” Willow nervously suggested.
He stabbed four more holes and waited some more. Still no bugs or worms or anything. He said, “We could always go back to kissing for a while, just to make sure…”
She gave him a small smile and said, “Not this time. We have a mission.”
“We’re on a mission from God,” he intoned.
She giggled and said, “Are the bugs really gone?”
He said, “Dunno. But grab that broom and the duct tape, because if this doesn’t work, we’re gonna have to sweep the invaders back out and tape things up again.”
“Gotcha,” she nodded. She slipped her petite wrist through the duct tape and grabbed the broom so she could do some ferocious sweeping.
He gave her a smile and then tore off half the duct tape at the bottom of the door. He jumped back and…
“Okay, here goes… something stupid,” he muttered. He pulled off all the rest of the duct tape and yanked open the door. “No bugs.”
“No bugs? Are you sure?” Willow asked uncomfortably.
He was about to say no, when another Xena memory filtered into his brain. Egypt. Those flesh-eating beetles. Man, those were nasty. And that trap above that door to dump a huge ewer of the things on whoever walked through the door. Good thing Xena went in through the window instead.
And since when did he know words like ‘ewer’?
“Willow? Got a mirror?”
“Why would I have a mirror?” she frowned. “Am I supposed… Oh. Right.” She fished through her backpack and pulled out the cosmetics case Buffy got her for her birthday. She handed the compact to Xander.
He flipped open the compact and held it so he could get a peek at what was over the door.
“Oh jeez!” He jerked his arm back as fast as he could. “They’re on the ceiling, waiting for us to walk out so they can drop on our heads and eat our brains!” He took a breath and added, “Well, your brain, because mine isn’t worth bothering with.”
“Xander, stop being mean to yourself. There are plenty of people being mean to you already.”
He smiled to himself. That was his Willow! If there hadn’t been a blob of man-eating creepy worms lurking on the ceiling just the other side of the doorframe, he would’ve kissed her.
Well, he would have tried, but she probably would have stopped him. He reminded himself that just because she fixed him breakfast and then let him kiss her silly because they were about to be horribly killed, that didn’t mean she was done being freaked about the whole Xena thing and any Xena-ness lurking inside him.
After all, every time she saw him get a right answer in class, or get a decent test grade, or do sword stuff with Buffy, or do research for Giles, that was a big reminder that he had memories in his head that hadn’t been there before Halloween. And she wanted Xander, not Xena. How had he not ever noticed that his best bud was majorly crushing on him for probably years? He was so stupid.
He turned to Willow and asked, “What are we gonna do, Butch?”
She said, “Well Sundance, running right at the whole Bolivian army isn’t a good idea…” She stopped and looked at the little cardboard box she had thrown at him. And she smiled. “Unless you’ve got bulletproof body armor.”
He looked at the box, and he got it. “Willow-mine, have I ever told you that you’re the smartest person on earth?”