Best Friend (Chapter Twenty of Soulmates)
There’s a knock on her door. Her mother always does that now, making sure Willow is “up” for any sort of company, even though it’s only that of her parents. She and Ira appear to have taken the Chronic Fatigue diagnosis as gospel.
There’s a bit of uncertainty as to whether Willow or her doctor have the greatest amount of contempt for Willow’s parents. She thinks the doctor probably wins that sad contest though - Willow has long since grown accustomed to how little her parents actually know her.
She tells her mother to come in and is surprised when her mother says she has a visitor.
Xander is here. Willow’s a bit taken aback at that; he’s been good about keeping his distance and giving her space. This must be something important.
“Hey, Will.” He looks uncomfortable, his weight shifting from foot to foot, his hands fidgeting.
Her mother leaves and closes the door behind her, Xander being the exception to the “no boys allowed” rule that she’s almost never around to enforce. They’re alone. Willow is alone in a room with a male. She can handle this. After all, she did just fine being alone with Oz. It’s Xander and she’s perfectly safe.
Willow straightens her blue flowered robe. It’s new, as are her pajamas. She has several new sets. With matching dressing gowns. A gesture of perfunctory thoughtfulness from parents so concerned about her well-being that they’ve planned another trip though their daughter is still supposed to be quite ill. They’re leaving tomorrow. It’s just as well. How much comfort are they, really?
“So what brings you here?”
Nervous - Xander looks extremely nervous and Willow is now beginning to worry. There really is a something to this visit and she’s pretty sure it’s not a something good. Has anything happened to Buffy? Willow had come home early, as usual, yesterday and Giles had called to ask her to look up something called The Glove of Mynhegon online for him. She’d called him back with what she’d found out. Did her information come too late? Has she failed her friends (and the world) somehow?
She keeps waiting while Xander just keeps fidgeting and making noises as if he’s about to say something that never quite leaves his mouth. As he continues to stall, she’s becoming ever more terrified of something that, for once, is not about what happened to her. Is it wrong that there’s something almost welcome in that?
“Xander? What is it? Did something happen to Buffy?”
That seems to break the logjam and words are finally spoken, if extremely incoherently. “No. I mean yes. I mean, she’s fine, except that she’s not. Angel’s back.”
Oh. This really isn’t a something good. She’d been hoping, as the weeks passed and his return was never made public, that maybe, just maybe...but deep down, she’d known this day would have to come. And of course, she’d already known he was here anyway. It’s not as if this news could shock her.
Still, it seems her distress has passed itself off as surprise as well as dismay and that’s all to the good. As much lying and prevaricating as she has to do anymore, it’s such a relief when she doesn’t actually have to do it at all.
“I know. It’s a shock to all of us, except for Buffy, believe me.”
“How? I mean...”
“I don’t know exactly. Buffy wasn’t big on the explaining thing. She never would have said a word if I hadn’t caught them making with the bad touching.”
Touching? Xander caught Buffy and Angel...? Willow fights to contain the joyful hope that springs up within her. She tamps down her reaction, not wanting to invite suspicion about her response to the “surprising” news. Curiosity, though, would be perfectly blameless, so she allows herself a question.
“You caught them kissing?”
“Well no, not kissing exactly,” Xander allows, damping Willow’s spirits considerably. “But they were wrapped around each other and that was wrong in more ways than I can count.”
“Did she explain? Did she say how long he’s been back? Why hasn’t she told us before?” Willow cares nothing for the answers to those questions, but she knows they are the ones she is supposed to ask, and so she does.
“Not really, no. I got the impression that he’s been on parole from Hell - which is where he belongs, by the way - for awhile. Only she just never thought to give us a heads up.”
That Angel belongs in Hell forever is hardly something Willow is inclined to disagree with, though for some incomprehensible reason she feels slightly guilty about that. She hopes that her emotions are just self-preservation, not wanting to go through the ordeal along with her rapist. More than likely, however, they are the result of her pathetic softheartedness, even towards the vampire who has ruined her life. One more reason to hate herself, as if she hasn’t found enough grounds already.
“How did you end up catching them?” That’s something she genuinely does want to know. Because she’s hard-pressed to come up with the answer herself. Where could they possibly have been that Xander would come upon them?
“I was at the cemetery looking for that Glove that Giles was after when I saw Angel coming out of a crypt - with the Glove, as it turned out. I followed him back to the mansion and caught them together.”
Willow’s surprised at that. Xander tailed Angel without being noticed? Maybe Angel was really distracted - hopefully by thoughts of his real true love. Oh, if only that were so. Wait: Angel found the Glove of Mynhegon?
“So what happened?”
“We had a kind of intervention, not that it did a lot of good. I think Buffy needs deprogramming.”
“I kind of mean with the Glove.” Willow requires some time to collect herself, to not give herself away. Focusing on the Glove is as good a distraction from her racing emotions as anything - and she genuinely does want to know the details. Anything that might assuage her guilt over her inability to do more.
“Oh, yeah, well, that’s kind of a funny story. You know Faith’s new Watcher? The even-more-British-and-stuffy-than-Giles Gwendolyn Post?” Willow nods, saddened that she can’t find Xander’s dig at Giles the least bit funny. “Yeah, well, seems like she was kicked out of the Watcher’s club a while back and Giles never got the memo. The Glove was her whole reason for coming to town. Anyway, she tricked Faith into helping her try to get it and she almost managed but Buffy sliced her hand off with the Glove on it and she went up in a big burst of otherworldly flame. The Glove’s toast, too. So now we’re all safe ‘til the next apocalypse...or we would be if Angel was still slow-roasting.”
“He doesn’t have his soul?” Stupid as it is, she’s pretty sure that’s a question she would have asked had she not already known of Angel’s return...and if she didn’t already know that having a soul hasn’t done the least bit to render him harmless.
“No, he has it. But c’mon, Willow. Soul, no soul, he’s a vampire, a demon. He’s not a good guy and he never will be, no matter what Buffy thinks. She may be the Slayer, but she’s got a blind spot the size of a boulder where Angel’s concerned. Okay, he helped destroy the Glove, I’ll give him that, but I’m still not inviting him to the Christmas party. He’ll turn evil again and I’ll be saying ‘I told you so’...as long as I’m still actually alive to say it.”
What can she say? She knows what she would have said and she knows she should say it now, but she can’t. She can’t say the same old Willow things, can’t come to Angel’s defense. Because, really, she has to agree with everything Xander has said.
Hopefully, him knowing she’s been raped will at least give Xander reason not to wonder at her subdued reaction to the snarking she’d once thought was completely unreasonable.
“Buffy loves him, Xander. You can’t just expect that to change.”
Silence follows - awkward, difficult silence. It never used to be like this between them. Not even Cordelia had made it so impossible for them to talk to each other. Tears well up in her eyes.
“Are you okay, Willow?” Now there’s a question. Much to her surprise, Xander immediately regrets it. “That was stupid, huh? I mean, of course you’re not okay. I’m sorry, Will.”
His consideration only makes her tears flow more freely.
“Oh God, Will. I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
“No really, Xander, it’s okay. It’s just...”
Xander, naturally, mistakes the reason for her tears. “You were thinking about Oz.”
Bless him. He might be sadly lacking in insight, but she is glad of that right now. He’s made up her lie for her. “Yeah.”
“I don’t want to pry or make you more upset or anything but...what happened?”
“I just...I just couldn’t handle the pressure.”
Of course, once again, Xander gets it all wrong. “He was pressuring you to...after what happened?” He starts pacing again, hands clenching into fists. “I’ll kill him.”
Oh god. “No! Xander, it’s not like that.” She wants to reach out and touch him, calm him, but she can’t. Not even Xander. “He wasn’t pressuring me to do anything. It’s just...he expected me to get better. He expected me to be okay someday and...I just can’t handle that.”
“But you will, I mean...”
“No, Xander, I won’t.”
“Xander! Listen to me, okay? This isn’t going to go away. I was raped.” Xander turns away. Damn him. What right does he have to act like this is something terrible for him? “Look at me, Xander. I - was - raped. And tomorrow, I am going to wake up and feel just as horrible, just as dirty and degraded, just as sick.”
He opens his mouth to interrupt, but Willow’s eyes stop him. She’s begging him with everything she has to just listen. And he does.
“Maybe someday, a long time from now, I will be able to sleep, I will be able to go about my daily life, maybe even have a good day or two, but I am never going to be the same. It doesn’t work like that. I don’t know who I’m going to be. All I know is that I will never be the same girl that I was before I was raped. And you have to deal with that. Or not. You can walk out of here right now and never come back, never speak to me again and I’ll forgive you, okay?”
She’s lying of course. She’d want to, but she’d never quite be able to forgive him. But since he’d never know either way, the lie is so much easier to tell.
There are thoughts, sad and difficult, going on behind his eyes for a moment. Like Oz’s words - Willow is humbled by what Xander is willing to give her.
“I’m not going anywhere. I can’t believe you think I’d ever do that. Maybe you don’t know who you’ll be, but I know that no matter who that is, you’ll still be Willow. You’ll still be my best friend, and I’ll still love you.”
That’s her Xander. He doesn’t get it. Or maybe he does and she’s the one who doesn’t get it. Either way, she’s grateful. She needs him. He’s everything she was before she ever knew demons existed. He’s her humanity and without Xander, she might just get lost - lost in a world of vampires and soul bonds and hopeless despair. She’s so thankful that her childhood dream of being his girlfriend never came true. Because what they are, what they can be right now, is so much more. She’s glad he’s stopped leaving her alone. Funny that, in this case, no didn’t really mean no at all.
That’s not a thought she ever needed to have.
“Will, it’s okay. I heard what you said, really. I just can’t accept that some human creep, hell even a demon creep, could destroy my Willow. It’s just not possible. Not you...no one can destroy you.”
That’s it. How did he manage to hit on the truth without having a clue? Another person who has a bond with her devoid of any magick but still so powerful. She sits down on her bed and starts...bawling. Not crying, bawling.
Sadly, she’s loud enough to actually attract the attention of her usually unobservant mother. The door opens. “Willow? Is everything alright in here?”
A cover story, she needs a cover story before Xander is banned from visiting her again. “It’s this science fair thing, mom. Xander was telling me about it and I’m not going to be able to do anything for it and...”
Xander looks at her with something like awe as her mother swallows the tale hook, line, and sinker. Not that her mother is tough to deceive.
Sheila pats her daughter on the shoulder in what Willow figures she believes to be a consoling manner. “There, there now, sweetheart. I’m sure the universities will understand. After all, you’re suffering from CFS and no one expects you to tax yourself. You’ll still be accepted to all the top schools.” She turns to Xander. “I think Willow’s had enough excitement for today. She needs to get some sleep.”
“Sure thing.” Xander waves slightly at Willow as he lets her mother guide him to the bedroom door. “See ya later, Will. Sorry about the science fair.”
“Thanks, Xan. See you soon.”
With that, and an admonitory glance from her mother, the door closes behind the both of them and Willow is alone with her thoughts.
She’s finally gotten something back. Xander. Sure, he came there to bitch and moan about Angel, but it didn’t all end up being about that. He cared. About her. For the first time since Buffy came to Sunnydale, Xander’s first concern was for his best friend. It feels...like the first ray of sunlight she’s seen since Angel had plunged her world into the darkness that was his home, like the first food she's been able to taste. She doesn’t quite know what to think or what to do. Except just bask in it, let it fill her, suck every bit of the marrow of goodness within its bones. This may be all the meat her soul can feed on for who knows how long.
There’s also the matter of what she’s learned from him. That, too, is hope. Angel and Buffy. Xander saw them together. Together. As in, arms-wrapped-around-each-other-boyfriend-and-girlfriend-style together. He couldn’t be wrong about that. He couldn’t be.
It’s been weeks, after all, since she’s seen Angel or felt anything more than the vestigial presence of the bond. That has to be a positive sign. He must have regained his senses and realized that it’s Buffy who he loves, Buffy who is his soulmate. She prays that is the case.
It won’t make what happened go away, won’t repair the untold damage Willow has suffered, but it will...help. At least somewhat. She’s certain of that. It will at least make her feel safe and help her build a world that makes sense out of the ruins of her life.
It has to be true
There’s only one place she can go to for support of Xander’s conjecture, for the wings her hope needs to soar above her misery. So she picks up the phone and dials a number still familiar in spite of the weeks it’s been since she used it.
Her voice is quiet, but her friend still hears her. “Buffy? Can we talk for a minute?”
“Willow? Why are you whispering? Are you okay?” Buffy sounds panicked and Willow hastens to allay her fears, not wanting her friend on her doorstep.
“Yeah. I’m supposed to be sleeping. Xander was just here.”
“Oh.” There’s silence, not the first awkward silence she’s shared with a friend today. “I guess he told you about...”
“Are you mad at me?”
The million dollar question. Is she angry at Buffy? Yes? No? Both?
“Of course not, Buffy. I mean, yeah, maybe you should have told us, but...I guess I kind of used up my anger on other things, you know?” She wonders if she’s ever told a bigger lie in her life. She’ll never run out of anger, not now...no, not now.
She’s not sure if Buffy believes her. Her next words seem, for some reason Willow can’t put her finger on, a bit cryptic. “I just didn’t know how to tell you. I was worried that...you’d hate me.”
“Why?” Indeed, why?
“You told me to kick his ass that night and I figured you wanted him gone forever and...”
“What?” Willow never said that, she knows she never said that.
“That night...with Acathla. Xander said that you told him you wanted me to kick his ass.”
Willow wants to speak, but her tongue won’t work. Xander said...but she hadn’t. Oh God. He’d lied. That stupid, selfish bastard had lied. If Xander had told Buffy what she’d really said, told her that Willow was working the restoration spell, maybe Angel wouldn’t have been sent to Hell, maybe the bond would have been weaker, or non-existent, maybe...oh God.
How could he have done this? His stupid childish jealousy has cost Willow everything, everything. It’s all Xander’s fault.
She’s lost her best friend. Lost him for good and for all. All the feelings she’d had, the closeness she’d felt with him for the first time in so long...it’s gone. No, not really gone, but degraded and transformed, and it leaves her feeling brutalized all over again. She wishes Xander had never come here today. God help her, she wishes it was Xander, not Jesse, who had been turned and staked.
Damn him. Damn him to Hell.
“Buffy, I have to go, okay?”
“Will, is something wrong?”
“No, I just...my mom’s coming and I have to get off the phone. We’ll talk later, alright?” She doesn’t wait for an answer, just hangs up and runs for the bathroom, barely making it in time before what little food she’s managed to eat today comes right back up. She feels betrayed and violated and more alone than ever. When? She wants to scream. When is the pain going to stop?