Nathan wandered into the main room to find Buck watching Willow and JD geeking out over a computer.
“Nate,” Buck gave Nathan a long look. “How you holding up?”
“I’m… I have no idea.” Nathan sighed. He’d had an hour or two of sleep but it had been hard to stop thinking about last night. “What are those two up to?”
“Now? No clue, they’ve been babbling techno-nonsense for the last half hour but earlier they were booking a flight for Willow back to Cleveland.” Buck answered.
“A flight? Why doesn’t she just…” Nathan trailed off not knowing how to describe it.
“Good morning, Nathan.” Willow piped up. “Magic isn’t something that should be relied on for everything. It has a price, and personal experience has shown me that it is not something to be abused. So except for emergencies, like last night, I try and do things conventionally.”
“How did you know? About Xander I mean.” JD asked.
“Before he came here, he gave me permission to place a spell on him that lets me know if he’s okay.” Willow smiled. “We worry, and back home Xander was known as a demon magnet, especially when dating.”
“Oh, we know.” Buck laughed. At Willow’s curious look he launched into a retelling of Xander’s adventure at the cinema.
Willow entered the kitchen with a smile still on her face. Buck’s eyes had lit up as he was telling the stories about Xander’s exploits and she could easily see why he had a reputation as a ladies man. She was startled out of her thoughts as Josiah cleared his throat.
“Hi. Josiah, right?” Willow hadn’t missed the discomfort she seemed to cause in the man.
“I am. Good morning, Willow.” Josiah took a seat the table. It was hardly this young woman’s fault that he had trouble dealing with the ‘magic’ part of Xander’s past.
“I’m sorry I make you uncomfortable.” Willow offered as she stared thoughtfully at her cup of coffee. “Xander says that you’ve helped him a lot. I really appreciate that. We didn’t get a whole lot of support growing up. I’m glad he’s getting it now.”
Josiah was unsure whether she was referring to their fight with the supernatural or the obvious evidence of poor parenting they’d found in Xander’s past.
“Xander speaks fondly of you as well.” Josiah felt an answering smile as her face lit up at his words.
“We’ve been friends from kindergarten. Had some rocky patches along the way but he’s my brother in all but blood.” Willow blushed, remembering she was talking to one of Xander’s biological Dad’s friends. “Blood’s important too.”
“We are firm believers in family is what you make it, Willow.” Josiah said without hesitation.
“That’s good to know. Took us a while to fully grasp that but we got there in the end.” Willow smiled. “Thank you for lending us your grandfather’s journal. It caused quite a stir, a lost watcher family being rediscovered. Not that we expect anything from you.” Willow added hastily. “You’ve got your hands full with your job already - we know that - but still, exciting none the less.”
Josiah let out a deep chuckle. “I take it the rambling babble is catching.”
Willow blushed. “I was always the babbler but Xander kinda adopted it to make me feel better.”
“That doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. He uses it quite effectively.” Josiah caught Willow’s questioning glance. “The uninitiated seem to fall over themselves to give him unsolicited information when he slips into one of his ‘spiels’. I’m sure that much of the time it’s not intentional but I have also witnessed him putting it to good use.”
“I always knew he was smart; it was just the kind of practical smart not book smart. There weren’t many teachers who recognised that in him.” Willow’s pride in her friend shone through.
“He is indeed an extraordinary young man, not least by the quality of his friends.” Josiah said.
“I could say much the same about you, Josiah.” Willow grinned.
The big man’s laughter echoed through the house.
Chris heard the soft footfalls entering the barn. He’d been expecting this visit ever since their meeting in the hall the previous night.
Chris turned to face her. He debated making an issue out of the name but decided to wait and see what she had to say first.
“Our little group, we don’t make idle threats. I’m sure Abby or Spike have given you a shovel speech or its equivalent. I understand that you didn’t mean to shoot Xander but we both know you’ve done more damage that.” Chris stiffened as Willow suddenly seemed much more threatening and the atmosphere in the barn became oppressive. “I can assure you that the danger from a several hundred year old master vampire is nothing compared to what I’ll do to you if you ever hurt him like that again.”
“Miss Rosenberg,” Willow quirked her eyebrow at his address. “As I have previously stated I don’t appreciate being threatened in my own home. However, I do understand. I don’t promise anything I can’t keep but I certainly won’t hurt Xander or Abby if I can possibly avoid it.”
“I can respect that,” Willow gave him a cheeky grin “Chris. The girls, myself in included, love Xander. He’d do anything to protect us, which means he can be a little reckless with his own safety if someone’s threatened. If you want, we have lists of things to watch out for with him, if you think you’ll need it.”
Chris let out an unexpected laugh. “I think I could do with a manual for my boys too.”
“I’ll send you ours; you can use it as a template.”
Ezra headed to the guest room to check on Xander. He paused as he found Willow at his son’s bedside staring sadly at Xander’s uncovered torso.
“It’s fine, Ezra, come on in.” Willow’s face was twisted in sorrow. She reached out and traced the parallel scars across his chest. “These are mine.”
Ezra was speechless for a moment. Xander’s scars had been the source of a nightmare or two since he’d known his son but he hadn’t realised that some were inflicted by friends.
“I guess from your face he hadn’t told you about these.” Willow let out a long sigh. “There’s no excuse good enough but I was grieving and hurting and for a moment I felt the whole world’s pain and it just seemed better to end it all. He stood between me and the end of the world, no shield or powers, just the simple fact he loved me.”
“I mean no offence, Willow, but the more I learn the more horrified I am by what he’s had to go through.” Ezra tried to put this latest bit of information into the part of his mind of things to keep locked away. He’d go insane if he really stopped to consider just how many times he’d nearly lost his son before he’d even met him. The pair of them fell into silence for a while.
“I don’t recognise this one.” Willow said, pointing to his side.
“Ah, that is the injury that caused my first parental myocardial infarction.” Ezra stated with a wry smile. “I found him on my doorstep after his visit to Cleveland. I had just finished an undercover assignment and in my exhausted state he convinced me that I not take him directly to hospital. When he collapsed…”
“Sorry. We should have kept a better eye on him.” Willow’s eyes traced once more over Xander’s various scars.
“It was no problem. It felt gratifying to be able to render assistance,” Ezra swallowed, before continuing softly. “To be trusted to care for him at such a difficult time.”
“Thank you. You’ve done wonders for him, you know that don’t you, Ezra? We’ve been papering over the cracks as we’ve stumbled from crisis to crisis but you’ve helped him shore up his foundations. He’s flourishing here.”
“I am glad I can be of help, even though he is a grown man.” Ezra said.
“Oh, I don’t think he’ll ever be truly that.” Willow laughed softly.
Xander and Willow stood on Chris’s porch saying their goodbyes.
“Call me when you land in Cleveland, please?” Xander pulled her into another hug, twisting to protect his shoulder.
“Sure, thing. Try not to get shot again anytime soon.”
“Har-de-har-har.” Xander gave her a mock shove toward the stairs. He frowned as Vin came out with his jacket on.
“What are you…? I thought Buck was driving you into town, Wills.” Xander looked between the pair of them.
“Nope, Vin offered.” Willow climbed into the truck. “See you soon, guys, under better circumstances I hope.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Xander looked for support from the others but found only confusion.
Nathan spoke up first. “You’re more worried about Vin taking your female friend to the airport than Buck?”
“Willow would never fall for Buck’s shenanigans but Vin… Vin’s all quiet and shy and the girls always go gooey for that kind of thing. Oh god, or worse she’s going to co-opt him into keeping an eye on me; he’ll never resist the resolve face; she’s going to steal my friend, convert him to the dark side and then Vin’ll be torn,” Xander slumped before heading back into the house, trailed by the laughing men of Team 7. “This is going to be disaster…”
Thank you, dear reader, for sticking with me!
The reviews are always, hugely appreciated and I do apologise for not replying more. It's been fascinating seeing your opinions on my take on things and so often varying from mine. For the record I like Chris, I haven't intended to 'bash' him, honest! :)
Thanks again and Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukah/Good Solstice/(insert festival of choice)!
Ooops and of course huge thanks to RevDorothyL and Siluria for their hard work polishing this -- all remaining errors are mine!