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Summary: It’s Halloween, and Xander lost a bet. Unfortunately, Willow has an idea to help him out.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Xena-Hercules > Xander-CenteredDianeCastleFR1559184,20936634193,10923 Oct 1217 Nov 14No

NOTE: This chapter is rated FR13

Surprise / Innocence, part I

A/N: Disclaimer, author’s notes, etc., are at the beginning of chapter 1; spoilers are through “Surprise” and “Innocence”.



Xander trotted to school, for the last time this year. It was the last day of school before Christmas break, which he wasn’t looking forward to. It was also Friday of Egg Week, and Willow was still mad at him. The bruise on her face was really vivid, and he couldn’t look at it without feeling awful. Not to mention that she was glaring at him every time she saw him. He had his part of the Egg Baby assignment written up, but he was going to have to give it to Buffy to have her hand it over to Willow.

Egg Week wouldn’t end until in the afternoon, when everyone turned their eggs back in. No one remembered how their eggs got smashed the day of the ‘gas leak’, and Mr. Whitmore was pretty much letting everyone off the hook for that day, because he couldn’t remember what he did with a couple whole trays of eggs. Not that Xander was going to enlighten him. Ever. Especially with that whole ‘I hit you with a big wooden mallet’ deal. But Willow and Buffy – and hence the Xan-man – were getting extra credit for being the only ones who didn’t smash their egg babies.

Xander also wasn’t going to tell Mr. Whitmore about the whole ‘Willow forging your handwriting and codes on a new egg’ dealie. Willow even had a special red gel pen so she could make the forgery look perfect. Xander thought that was going a bit too far for an ‘A+’ but he wasn’t saying so.

No, he wasn’t saying much of anything, because his Willow was really angry at him. It wasn’t his fault he had to hit her. She had been trying to knock him unconscious with a twenty pound chunk of steel! And she hammered him right in Little Richard And The Two Backup Singers. She was just the one person who remembered things clearly enough to recall his fist meeting her face. Nobody else he’d talked to remembered anything, except Cordelia, and he hadn’t gotten a chance to punch her in the face.

Too bad he couldn’t have gotten to hit Snyder. Maybe with that wooden mallet, too. But with his luck, Snyder would have remembered that even if he didn’t remember anything else.

And anyway, he had something he wanted to talk to Giles about.

Giles was back to normal, like everyone else who had gotten their recommended daily allowance of neural clamping. However, Giles had been relentlessly cleaning every shelf in the library ever since he found two more cracked-open bezoar eggs hidden away on the upper shelves. Ugh.

Xander hiked into the library and said, “Hey, G-man.”

Giles stepped down from a stool, where he had been inspecting a whole shelf of science texts. “Xander. Would it be possible for you to refrain from calling me by that accursed nickname?”

He pretended to think about it. “Umm, I can come up with something worse if you want?”

Giles muttered something under his breath, which sounded like the Latin for ‘may the gods give me strength’.

So Xander pushed on to what he wanted to talk about. “So anyway, you know how the Buffster has so much trouble remembering demon names after you say ‘em?”

Giles patiently said, “Buffy has many sterling characteristics, so I don’t see that it will do any good to persist in picking at some of her quirks.”

Xander said, “Yeah, that’s what I say. But last night I had this dream, and I remembered something. The other day, when you guys were all egg enslave-y and of the weird, well, brain-controlled Willow slipped up and told us the hatchlings were doing what the mama bezoar wanted. That was when we found out what we were up against. But when we came in here to do the research, Buffy couldn’t come up with the word. She called it a ‘bozo’. And she called Mrs. Wigorski ‘Mrs. Wig-corset’ too.”

“Yes Xander, I’m sure that was very amusing, but-”

Xander cut him off. “So last night in my dream I had another Xena memory. One of Joxer’s relatives.”

“Joxer?” Giles asked tentatively.

“Joxer. Totally lame fighter, but he thought he was hot stuff. And he had a major crush on Xena’s partner. And most of his relatives were lamer than he was. So basically, he was the ‘me’ of the Xena era. But he had this one cousin who was like the village idiot. The guy could never get names right or anything, and the entire village made fun of him about it. But when Xena talked to him, he knew everything. Everybody’s family tree, and birthdays, and farm sizes, and everything Joxer or Gabrielle had ever written to him. The guy just couldn’t pick up words he didn’t already know if someone said them to him, instead of writing stuff down, which no one did because most of the village was illiterate. If someone said a word to him, he only got the consonants. If he saw the words written down, he was fine.” He paused for a second. “What if Buffy has a learning disability?”

Giles lifted one index finger to refute the teeny little Xander-arguments, and he froze with his mouth open. He stood there like that for maybe three seconds, and he said, “Good lord.” Then he marched up into the stacks. In under a minute, he came back with three books. One on teaching difficult kids, one on learning disabilities, and one on Slayer histories. He shoved the second one into Xander’s arms and said, “Research.”

It took them about five minutes to find stuff. Maybe less. Xander said, “Hey, there’s a whole chapter in here on ‘auditory learning disabilities’. There’s like three that sound like they could be the right thing, just from looking at this table here.”

Giles said, “In order to facilitate many of the Slayer talents, like sound detection and stalking and situational awareness in battle, one would probably need to give up some other characteristics. And since we have one of the very few Slayers in history to learn more than is in Watcher tomes, and the first Slayer on record to have a normal high school experience while a Slayer-”

“There’s nothing normal about this high school experience.”

Giles pretended to ignore him. “-we would be the first people ever to discern this. Virtually every other Slayer has simply been trained by reading books, or has not been trained like this at all.” He took off his glasses and grimaced. “And I have been pressing Buffy to do better in French class, which has a very large aural component. How much damage have I done?”

Xander said, “None. Will’s been keeping her going. And that Halloween thing came just in time for her midterm exam before it started fading away some.”

Giles looked like he wanted to kick himself. A lot. “I have to find a way to get Buffy out of that class. At once.”

Xander said, “Oh, I bet Snyder’s gonna be thrilled with that.”

Giles looked like he was ready to punch Snyder in the face. “I will deal with that when the time comes.”

Xander crossed his fingers that when the time came, it would involve lots and lots of face-punching. It certainly couldn’t make Snyder look any uglier.

As soon as Buffy bounced in, Giles said, “We’re going straight to the school counselor offices.”

Buffy’s face fell. “What’d I do wrong this time?”

Giles said, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. This is all my fault.”

She asked, “Okay, what’d you do wrong?”

He frowned, “I failed to notice that you may have a Slayer trait which could impact your ability to identify sounds in new words.”

She looked up at him in surprise. “You mean being a Slayer makes me stupid?”

“No!” he snapped. “You… You’re not stupid. You simply don’t hear like normal people do, and it could be affecting your schoolwork. At a minimum, we should get you out of French.”

Buffy stopped short. “You’re gonna get me out of French class? Okay! I’m all for this one! Whatever it is. Even if it involves poking me with needles or something.” She stopped and fished her teen health assignment out of her backpack and shoved it into Xander’s hands.

Xander totally wanted to go with them to the school counselors’ office and watch the learning disability testing or whatever, but Giles made him head off to class. And Buffy wanted him to go turn her assignment in, since she was going to miss class. So instead of tagging along, he went right into the room and went over to Mr. Whitmore. He explained, “Hey Mr. Whitmore, Buffy won’t be here today, because she’s in the school office getting tested. I dunno for what, but she’ll have a note for you. Or Mr. Giles will. Or the counselors, because she’s there. And she’s got her egg baby with her, too. And here’s her assignment.”

He sat down, and Willow sat down next to him. But she didn’t look happy about it. She whispered, “What about Buffy?”

He whispered, “Hearing disability. Maybe. Makes it hard for her to pick up new words just by hearing them.”

Willow’s eyes got big. “Oh! Right! Like…” She glanced around at all the other kids in class. “…you know. And French words. Which would totally explain why she’s better at the written homework than the orals!” She thought for another second and added, “And would make total sense, because the you-know-who only needs to hear a noise and track it, not be able to pick up vowel sounds and decode it.”

He took advantage of Willow actually talking to him to hand her his part of the assignment, which he knew was way, way smaller than her parts. Because Willow Rosenberg didn’t do ‘good enough’. She did ‘so massively over the top that she got an A+ and everyone else looked like doggie doody by comparison’. Everyone in the school ought to know that, and want to be her partner in chem class or health class or any class she was in. So she slipped it into her notebook with her completed egg diary and a written section on parenting their egg, which was supposed to be at least two pages, but Willow’s thing looked like it was maybe thirty pages long.

Then, after Mr. Whitmore ended the class, Xander and Willow rushed down to the school offices to find out how Buffy was doing. They got into the office in time to catch Principal Snyder getting in Giles’ face. Snyder snapped, “You are not going to let that scapegrace ditch a class she is doing badly in!”

“In which she is doing badly,” Giles corrected ruthlessly. “And yes I am. She has a hearing disability which is covered by the state K12 rules and has to be addressed by the school. Unless you want her mother suing you.” Snyder’s eye twitched. Giles went on, “But I don’t see a problem, since I could teach a small Latin class one period a day, and she could be in that.”

Snyder growled, “Latin? And who else would possibly be interested in something like that?”

Giles loomed over him and stated, “Well, why don’t we advertise it, and see if anyone shows any interest?”

Snyder snapped, “These cretins? Wanting to take Latin? What planet do you live on, Giles?”

Giles glared down into his face and snapped, “That is MISTER Giles to you, Principal Snyder.”

Xander smirked, “They call me MISTER Giles!”

Both principal and librarian turned and glared at him. Uh-oh.

Willow instantly stepped forward and rescued him. She said, “Ooh, I’d like a Latin class! Latin’s really interesting, and a good grasp of Latin helps in all sorts of areas like biology and medicine and-”

Snyder growled, “I meant anyone other than Rosenberg.”

Xander gave everyone his goofiest look and said, “Hey, Latin’s gotta be great, because everybody’s heard of the ‘Latin Lover’ and all that, so sign me up too!”

Snyder growled, “Harris!” He turned to Giles and said, “This is the sort of imbecile you’ll get in a Latin class around here.”

Giles said, “I believe that you are underestimating the capabilities of your students. I’m sure Mister Harris will do just fine in the class.”

Buffy looked at both him and Willow, and mouthed, “Thanks.”

And naturally, Willow had a notice for Giles’ upcoming Latin class printed off and up on all the school bulletin boards before lunchtime. Sometimes Xander wondered if Willow had Barry Allen-like powers so she could run off at the speed of light and build her own printing press before you could finish blinking.

And at the end of classes for the day, they found out from Mr. Whitmore that they were the only students in the whole school who still had their original intact egg babies, not counting Carl Whitson who had cheated by hard-boiling his egg so he didn’t have to worry about breaking it. It was pretty obvious to Xander that Mr. Whitmore was going to give Willow an ‘A+’ only because you couldn’t give anyone an ‘A++++++’.



The next morning was the start of the usual holiday badness. Saturday, with his mom and dad in pre-hangover sleep in their bed, and Uncle Rory in pre-hangover sleep on the couch, and at least two out of three of them snoring loud enough to pretend they were jet engines. He really hated the Christmas holidays. His dad drank more, and his parents fought more, and Uncle Rory came over and made things worse, and if more relatives came over, the whole thing turned into an episode of COPS. And he knew relatives were on their way this year, and his dad hated all of his mom’s cousins, so extra badness was looming on the horizon.

But he wasn’t going to sleep outside in a pup tent this year. No way. He was going to go hide out at Willow’s instead. Even if she wasn’t speaking to him yet, she’d let him camp out in her basement. And if she was really super-ultra-mad at him, he’d hide out in the attic at his house instead. It wasn’t any colder than the back yard, and it had the protections that a house did against vamps. Well, at least he thought so. Maybe he should ask Giles.

Did anyone else at school have the kind of family that made you go hide out in the back yard? Or on the roof? What the heck, this was Sunnydale, so there were probably dozens of kids with even worse problems. For all he knew, there were plenty of kids who lived in places that had no natural wards against vamps. Man, that would totally suck.

He snuck out of bed, showered as quietly as he could, and hit the kitchen for a fast breakfast. He chugged a big glass of milk, grabbed two poptarts, made sure he had his backpack, and headed off to Willow’s house.

Naturally, Willow was already up. She got up on weekends and holidays the same time she got up on school days. But that was all part of what made her Willow. He was only getting up early to get out of the house before the holiday yelling and screaming started up.

And he sure wasn’t bringing his backpack so he could work on school assignments. No, school assignments over the holidays were evil and wrong, and probably connected to the Hellmouth. Even if he had homework in English and ancient history and chem and computer science. He was bringing his backpack so he could be ready to camp out at Willow’s if he needed to. He had his slaying supplies in the side compartment, including two definitely-not-a-chakrams and the usual gear. He had three changes of clothes plus a toothbrush and hairbrush and a stick of underarm deodorant. And he had four packs of Twinkies and a pack of Hostess Cupcakes for emergency rations.

He was knocking on Willow’s front door before he even finished his second poptart. Willow opened the door and glared at him, “Poptarts? These aren’t those awful fake strawberry ones with extra pink icing, are they?”

“Nope!” he grinned. “Chocolate filling with vanilla icing. I prefer the intrinsic richness and je ne sais quoi of the vanilla filling with chocolate icing, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. And this is what mom bought.”

“Oh, je ne sais quoi, huh? Where’d you get that?”

He admitted, “Oh, you know, sitting around while you tutored the Buffster in French.”

She actually smiled at him. “That was so smart of you to figure out about Buffy’s learning disability! And I think a Latin I class would be so awesome!”

He rolled his eyes. “Will, aren’t you somewhere up past Latin IV already? Like maybe Latin CCCXVI?”

She gushed, “Oh, I can do translations okay, but I really want to learn all the declensions and conjugations, and increase my vocab, because knowing the Latin for ‘brutal murder’ and ‘end of days’ doesn’t really help on your SATs any.”

She stepped out and locked the door behind her, before he even had a chance to dump his stuff off in her basement. She said, “Come on, we have to get over to Buffy’s right away. It’s a crisis.”

He gulped. What was it? Demon attack? Insane mages? The Scourge of Europe? His mind just kept coming up with worse and worse stuff.

She said, “Buffy’s dad had to go do a business trip and couldn’t take her for Christmas break. She’s totally crushed, so we need to go over and cheer her up.”

“How do you cheer someone up from that?”

She smiled, “With ice cream! And movies. And being there for her.” She winced a little bit when she did the big smile, because of the bruise on her face. That just reminded her she was mad at Xander, so she hardly talked at all to him the rest of the way to Revello Drive.

He really didn’t think it was fair. She was the one who tried to hit him over the head with a big ol’ microscope. She was the one who hammered him in the junk with a twenty pound weight. She was the one who went after him with a freaking scalpel! He didn’t even hit her with the chair he’d been holding. He still had a big bruise on his chest thanks to Cordelia, and a bruise around his artillery piece. Okay, it wasn’t really her that did all that stuff, thanks to that whole ‘neural clamping’ creepiness, but still!

And then stuff at Buffy’s house was super uncomfortable. Buffy was trying hard not to cry, and Mrs. Summers was mad enough to bite the heads off live husbands and trying not to show it. Man, the only way it could be worse was if there were little Summers-ettes running around crying because daddy ditched them for a business trip. And seriously, a business trip over the Christmas holidays? Was there such a thing?

Xander didn’t have a whole lot of great expectations when it came to dads, anyway. The ones he knew were pretty much like Al Bundy, only not as fun to be around and not home as much. His dad… well, the less said the better. Willow’s dad just wasn’t around anymore. Jesse’s dad had been a big jerk to Jesse for years because Jesse wasn’t a three hundred pound football star. Jonathan’s dad had divorced his mom for some bimbo and never came back. The Wells brothers had a dad, supposedly, but even Andrew never talked about the guy. Kyle’s dad was doing twenty-five to life upstate. Heck, Giles was more of a dad to Buffy - and even to Xander and Willow too, although he wasn’t supposed to even let them hang around – than any of their real dads. And how pathetic was that? Xander couldn’t remember the last time his dad had patted him on the shoulder and told him he did a good job on something.

At least Joyce saw how broody he was getting, and made him a big mug of hot chocolate. Apparently, chocolate was the solution to everything for girls. And women. Not that Xena was a big help to him on that one, because chocolate didn’t exist as far as she knew, and when she was depressed she went and found some badguys to beat the snot out of.

Ooh yeah! He should get Buffy out for some serious Slaying to cheer her up. Even if it meant getting Captain Forehead involved. And he should keep up the swordfighting lessons with her, even if it meant getting beat up three times a week.

But as far as Willow was concerned, the answer to heartbreaking crises like this one was chocolate, Lifetime original movies, and more chocolate. As far as he knew, when Willow was down in the dumps at home, the answer was reading textbooks, or working in her science-y basement on her computers or with her chemistry gear. She even had a real vent hood over her chem table now, since Xander had set one up and tapped into the vent pipe for the clothes dryer, because drilling a large hole in the Rosenbergs’ basement wall would not have been a big hit.

While Buffy and Willow were under a blanket watching a Lifetime movie that even his Xena memories didn’t want to watch, Joyce cornered him at the kitchen table and grilled him. “Xander, I know Willow is Jewish, but why isn’t she home with her family? I mean, there’s Chanukah too, right?”

He said, “Oh, you know how Willow is. There’s nothing more important than her friends.”

Joyce stared at him for several seconds and said, “I called her house. No one answered.”

“Yeah, they really get wrapped up in playing that dreidel game, y’know.”

Joyce firmly said, “Sheila is still on that book tour. Her publicist just got back to me. She’s in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. this week. Who’s taking care of Willow over the winter break?”

“Oh, I’m sure there’s… someone… coming in to check on her… pretty often… and… stuff.” Wow, could he be any more sucky with the lying thing?

Mrs. Summers just stared at him and tapped the kitchen table with her fingernails. “Is anyone supervising you two when you’re over there with her?”

He gulped. “Well, Willow’s supervising me, and you know she’s not gonna do anything wrong.”

“Xander, she’s still a teenager, like you, and teenagers are ruled by their emotions in ways we don’t even understand until we’re a lot older.”

He took a chance and asked, “Is that why she’s so mad at me now?”

Mrs. Summers frowned for a moment and asked, “Why do you think she’s mad at you?”

He lied, “Because I’m a lousy egg baby parent? I got Mr. Giles to watch the egg a couple days when I had chemistry, and she was really mad at me about it. And then we had that gas leak, and she must’ve fallen on something, but she had this really fancy egg baby carrier she made from one of her old baby carriers, and the egg didn’t get broken, but somehow it’s all my fault, I guess. But she’s hardly even talking to me, and before when she wasn’t mad at me all we did was kiss, and now she won’t even let me kiss her anymore.”

Mrs. Summers exhaled slowly. “Xander, you have to understand something. Something I didn’t understand when I was a teenager, and I doubt Willow understands, no matter how brilliant she is. Teenaged bodies run on hormones. They make you do stupid stuff, as I can attest, not that I’m ever going to admit that anywhere around my daughter. But you can be planning on nothing more than kissing, and still end up losing control and going a lot further than either of you really want. And those hormones will keep you from making a rational decision in the middle of things, which can create a small disaster.”

Was she saying she thought Willow could get so caught up in things that she’d stop being rational Willow and go all hot, slutty skankiness until it was too late to stop? He didn’t think his Willow would ever do that.

Not that he didn’t want to imagine it. A lot.

Mrs. Summers stared at him and finally said, “I’m guessing from your expression you don’t think Willow would ever do that. But maybe you two could spend more time over here, where there’s some responsible adult supervision.” He started to say something about his house, and she cut him off, “And when I called your house to ask about you and Willow, your father was already drunk and having a screaming argument with someone named Rory, so I don’t think that’s a suitable place for you two.”

Xander blushed bright red with embarrassment. “Rory’s my uncle.”

Mrs. Summers said, “They were yelling about someone named Lily coming by?”

Xander admitted, “Cousin Lily. On mom’s side of the family. And her kids. Dad hates her.” He didn’t mention that he didn’t like Lily’s kids, and they didn’t like him.

Mrs. Summers gave him a sad look. “If you want to spend more time away from your home for a few days, you can stay over here. And Willow can too.”

Mrs. Summers got up and marched into the living room, where Buffy and Willow were getting all weepy over something on the tv. He guessed from the hospital room scene that the woman was about to die of some tragic illness. She said, “Buffy? Let’s invite Xander and Willow to stay over here for a few days or so. Willow’s all alone in that big house, and Xander’s family has guests crowding in. So Willow can sleep over in your bed, and Xander can sleep on the hide-a-bed in the sewing room. Assuming you kids can behave and go to bed at a reasonable hour and all that.”

Willow said, “I had some computer science work I wanted to do on my computers at home, but except for that, I’d love to! This is so nice of you!”

Xander said, “Yeah, Mrs. Summers.”

“Joyce.”

“I mean Joyce. And I know what we can do. I mean, I’m lousy at regular chores, but I bet you have things like loose doorknobs and squeaky hinges and torn window screens that you need somebody to fix, and I can do all that for you.”

Buffy said, “Can you fix windows? Because we’ve got a couple windows that the cold air leaks through at a couple places around the glass parts.”

He grinned, “Sure! I can reglaze windows. That’s easy with the right stuff.” He looked over at Mrs. Summers and said, “And I can work on your car, too.”

Joyce said, “That sounds marvelous, Xander. Maybe you two can get Buffy to do her portion of the household chores.”

Willow said, “I can do cooking! I know Buffy doesn’t like cooking, but she can do the cleaning part.”

Buffy asked, “You think Xander can fix that leaky toilet?”

Willow said, “Sure! Xander can fix just about anything!”

It had been so long since Willow just busted out with something really nice about him without having to, that he just sort of stood there with his mouth open, like a fish.

Mrs. Summers said, “I really would feel a lot better about you two if I knew where you were. And Buffy can use the cheering up.”

Xander looked over at Willow and said, “Well, I’d be happy cheering up Buffy and keeping Willow from being lonely and doing something to help you, like fixing doors and stuff.”

Buffy said, “Yeah, and it would be great if Xander could come over here and not have to be at his house.”

Mrs. Summers asked, “Are the holidays always like this at Xander’s house?”

Nobody knew what to say. Xander tried a big, goofy grin. “Oh yeah, those wacky holidays when the relatives drop in. The nuttiness never stops.”

But at the same time, Willow said, “All the holidays, just like usual.”

And Buffy said, “Nope, there’s nothing goin’ on at Xander’s house.”

And then they all looked at each other. Xander tried, “Umm, yeah, what Buffy said.”

But at the same time, Buffy said, “Well, what Xander said.”

Mrs. Summers looked at the three of them and said, “You three are the worst liars ever.” She focused on Willow. “Now then, when will either of your parents be back in town?” Xander started to speak, but she silenced him with one quickly-raised palm.

Willow struggled, “Well, you see, there’s this thing, and then, you see…” She babbled for twenty seconds or so before she sort of trailed off into nothing.”

Mrs. Summers pointed at Xander. “How many days a year does your father not drink too much?”

Xander opened his mouth and then closed it. He but finally said, “Can I take the fifth amendment?”

Mrs. Summers said, “This is not a court of law.” She turned to Buffy and asked, “How many people at school know about Xander’s situation, and Willow’s, and do nothing but make fun of them for it?”

Buffy winced, “Pretty much the entire school. Especially Cordelia and her Cordettes. And the jocks. And Kyle’s thugs. And…”

Mrs. Summers held up both palms. “Okay. So the only teacher who’s at all helpful is Mr. Giles? And this is why you spend so much time in the library with him and Xander and Willow?”

Buffy fibbed, “Well, pretty much. Although Cordelia’s had it in for Willow and Xander since about third grade.”

“Kindergarten,” Xander butted in.

Mrs. Summers asked, “And all those times when you said you had Mrs. Rosenberg’s permission to spend the night at Willow’s, you were going over there so she wouldn’t be all by herself?”

“Well…” Buffy stalled.

And Mrs. Summers stepped forward and gave Buffy a huge hug. “You’ve been sneaking out at night and lying about it to protect Willow? You’re such a good girl. But sometimes you need to tell an adult. You have to trust that grown-ups can help you!”

Xander said, “I don’t think anyone can help. Not really. Not around here. I’d rather just get by at home until I’m out of high school and I can get a job and get my own place.”

Willow gasped, “But what about college?”

Xander sighed, “Look Will, I know you can go to any college in the world, but my folks aren’t gonna pony up the dough for me to go even to UC Sunnydale. At best, I can work for five or ten years and build up enough of a nest egg that I can take night classes someday.”

Willow snapped, “That’s not okay! You have to go to college!”

He tried again, “I’ve been thinking about it, and there’s no way. I’m gonna end up working at Sid’s Auto Body with Uncle Rory, or working construction for Sid’s brother Mike, or else I’ll be stuck doing something that doesn’t pay a living wage.”

Buffy looked at her mom and said, “That’s not fair!”

Mrs. Summers said, “That’s the way it is with a lot of families. Like us. We’re going to be scraping by with your college funds, as it is, honey. And with your father not paying what he’s supposed to into your college fund, you may be working at a fast food place here in town while you go to college.”

Willow scowled, “There has to be a way to help Xander! I… I need to get on my computers and search for college scholarship information.”

Xander said, “It won’t do you any good. My gradepoint is gonna knock me out of any kind of financial help. Just let me find a decent job and earn enough that I can think about college for later.”

Willow insisted, “You need college! Everyone needs college!”

Buffy pointed out, “Willow, you’re not even gonna be around here to tell if Xander’s going to classes. You’re gonna be at Cal Tech, or MIT, or Harvard, or Yale, or-”

“Or Oxford!” said Xander. “Or some fancy Swiss university for the world’s biggest science brains!”

Willow admitted, “Dad wants me to go to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, but mom wants me to start at Harvard.”

Mrs. Summers asked, “And can you get into those schools?”

Xander glared at her. “Sure she can! She’s got an A-plus average, and the highest SAT score in the state for early SAT-takers, and she’s won her grade of the state math contest two years in a row, and she’s so good on computers that computer companies are already trying to hire her, and that’s not even counting the college credit courses she takes online!”

Buffy said, “And she’s the star of Giles’ Archaeology Club, and she’s reading like five ancient languages including Latin.”

Willow said, “Twelve, but… umm… I don’t want to brag or anything.”

Mrs. Summers jumped topics, “And she’s going to be helping you with this Latin class thing?”

Willow said, “Well sure, but Buffy’ll do way better than in French, because there’s not all that listening and talking stuff, and it’s just reading and translating and writing, which she’s way better at.”

Mrs. Summers smiled at Buffy fondly. “It just seems so hard to think of my little cheerleader who didn’t want to take anything that had homework, as a student who’s going to be learning Latin.”

Xander said, “Well, I’m gonna take it too, and if I can learn it, anyone can.”

Mrs. Summers looked at him with the saddest expression on her face, and she finally said, “Buffy, I wish you’d talked to me – I mean, really talked to me – about Xander and Willow a year ago.” She swallowed hard and said, “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Xander watched her walk upstairs, and whispered, “What’d I do wrong?”

Willow hugged him, but not long, and said, “I think you were just being Xander.”

Buffy said, “If you two were seven instead of seventeen, I think she’d be trying to adopt you.”

Willow said, “Sixteen. Not seventeen until spring.”

Xander said, “And then we’ll throw the wildest seventeenth birthday party bash ever seen in the whole state of Califor-nye-ay!” The girls just glared at him. “The wildest birthday party ever seen in Sunnydale?” They kept glaring. “A nice, quiet party with cake and ice cream and old movies and no wild bashiness?”

When both girls nodded, he tried, “But what about the birthday spankings?”

“Xander!”

Buffy pointed at him and said, “You are asking for lumps of coal and switches in your stocking this Christmas!”

“Are the switches for the birthday spanking?”

“XANDER!” By then, Willow’s face was bright red.

Buffy rolled her eyes and said, “Why don’t you get out those lumps of coal and go do something carpenter-y with them?”

Willow smiled, “I know! Let’s put together a list of all the tasks they need someone to do around the house, and then we’ll prioritize them, and then we’ll see what Joyce has on hand to work with, so we’ll know what she needs to buy.”

Xander said, “I can borrow a lot of the tools and stuff, and the ones I can’t borrow, I can get a lot cheaper than having her go over to Merriman’s Hardware and buy stuff.”

Willow nodded happily, because she was always happier when it was planning time. Or studying time. Or stuff like that.
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