Rift Repairs

by Christina K
Copyright 1999

Something I should have written ages ago, probably, but hey, at least it won't get Joss'd. I think. Speaking of whom --- all hail Joss the Evil and Brilliant, all characters belong to him, all money belongs to him, just tying up some loose ends.

Set right after "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" last season; Xander and Willow friendship, silliness, Amy, Jenny, and a bit of angst. Thanks to Perri, Dee, Lizbet & Celli for comments and beta'ing. More comments would be adored.

Xander walked into the cafeteria just in time to see Willow walk out. Okay, not exactly true. The truth was, the second he walked in Will stopped laughing at whatever Buffy was saying to her and looked sick. Then she stood up, said something real fast to Buffy, picked up her lunch tray, and headed for the exit. He made his way across the caf to Buffy and took the seat across from her, feeling lousy. Which wasn't helped by the sympathetic expression on the Slayer's face.

"She's still not speaking to you, hunh?" Buffy offered him some cheezy chips, and Xander took them glumly, reaching into his satchel for his lunch with next to no appetite. Something which was becoming way too usual, these days.

"No. I've left fifty million messages, and she hasn't returned one of them. I've groveled until the message tape runs out, and her mom's called me and asked me not to do that any more." He grimaced and took a bite of his sandwich, barely tasting it. "I've sent notes. I've even sent her e-mail. All it did was make her block my messages. What's it going to take? It's been five days, Buff. Cordelia's managed to forgive me, and I nearly got *her* killed. Why can't Willow?"

"She's embarrassed, Xander. It's going to take more than an apology--- she needs enough time to forget some of the flinch-worthy details." Buffy shrugged and smiled at him with affection, and none of the overblown lust-driven insanity she'd turned on him right after Valentine's Day. "Maybe you should just leave her alone for a while."

"Maybe. But that could be a long time." It was probably one of those so-called signs of maturity that he wasn't sorry Buffy was back to normal. That the *world* was back to normal. No hordes of love-crazed psychotic females demanding his attention, no death threats, no obsessed vampires. He hadn't been able to enjoy any of it while it was happening, not with trying not to get murdered by one jealous woman or another, or trying to keep Cordy from getting lynched. But even now, when he had the occasional wistful thought about what it *could* have been like, it was usually followed up really fast by gratitude that it hadn't been any worse. The memory of Buffy's mom feeling him up usually killed any dreams of what could have been in about ten seconds. The memory of Drusilla breathing in his face and calling him her kitten killed it in about two. Normal was good. Normal was fine.

Unfortunately, normal right now didn't include having his best friend back.

"You'll see. Let her chill out with Oz. She'll let you know when she wants to talk." The bell rang, and Buffy patted his arm before getting up to leave.

"I guess." Of course, Will might also decide to never speak to him again. She might decide that one Xander Harris was so unspeakably creepy and such a rotten excuse for a human being for even a brainless teenage male, that if she never saw him again, it would be too soon.

No. Not possible. They'd been best friends forever, since before he could remember. He wasn't going to let one stupid spell trash that. There had to be a way to get through to her.



Students streamed past them leaving Miss Calendar's classroom, and Willow spun around, her mouth forming an O and then going all wavery, like she wanted to cry. He hated that. Xander stepped out of the doorway, reaching for Willow's arm, but she angled her body away from his and started walking down the hall, clutching her books to her chest.

"I have to get to math," she said, her eyes avoiding his, her shoulders hunching further. "We're having a quiz."

"It'll just take a second. I just have to tell you I'm sorry, and I never meant---"

"I can't talk now, it's a really bad time, I have to be in class," Willow gabbled, then ducked her head and somehow managed to get through a break in the crowd, streaking down the hall like one of Buffy's worst monsters was after her. Xander stood in the middle of the hallway, his hands on top of his head, groaning internally. //Nice going, Harris. Threaten to humiliate her in public, instead of just in private. Very good. Very considerate. You asshole.// He turned and banged his head against a locker, then did it again, as Giles's voice in all its acid-tinged fury mentally backed up his own conscience. //"I can't believe you were fool enough to do something like this!" Oh, yeah. Talk about over-achievers.... //

"Xander?" He jerked his head up, interrupting the rhythm he had going with the locker, and saw Miss Calendar watching him from the classroom doorway with a bemused expression. "Is there something wrong?"

"No. Willow hates my guts. And she probably always will. But I deserve it for what happened with that love spell, so that doesn't really qualify as being wrong, does it?"

"I suppose that would depend on your point of view." Miss Calendar arched an eyebrow at him, and embarrassment smacked him upside the head and asked him what the hell he was thinking of.

"Oh, jeez. I forgot you'd remember! I mean... I'm soooooo sorry." He scrubbed at his face with one hand, wondering if he was ever going to be done repeating those words, and if the humiliation he was feeling now was some kind of payback for what Willow went through because of him. Hell, for what *all* the women in Sunnydale had gone through. But at least all the women in Sunnydale didn't remember it very well. Just Willow. And, oh yeah, Miss Calendar. "I am really, really, really, really sorry for asking Amy to cast that spell. I'm sorry it made you act weird. I'm pond scum. I'm worse than scum, I'm an oil slick, I'm---"


"I should be stoned to death. Flailed." Xander paused, wondering if flailing was what he thought it was, then decided that it probably wasn't and hurried on. "I should have been torn to pieces, and I'm sorry that you didn't get to do it. I should be dead. If it helps, I'd rather *be* dead that have Willow hate me like she does now, but it probably doesn't."

"Xander, it's okay."

"It is?" He paused in mid-rant, and blinked at her.

"Giles came by to explain how you caused that mess. And why. I can't say I'm thrilled to remember how I acted," Miss Calendar said dryly, while Xander wished that the nearest locker would just open up and have him for lunch, "but I know that wasn't what you had planned." She frowned at him severely. "Although what you planned wasn't much better."

"I know, I know. Giles gave me the whole speech," Xander said, cringing a little at the memory. "Trust me, I'm never turning to magical forces for help with my love life again. Their idea of affection is just a _little_ too wacky for me." He let out a long breath, and grinned determinedly, then frowned. "Giles talked to you?"

"For about five minutes. Yeah." The computer teacher smiled, a very tiny, tired smile, and Xander suddenly felt twice as guilty, and pretty damn confused because of it. Miss Calendar had screwed up. Big time. She should've told Giles, or Buffy, about the whole gypsy curse a *long* time before she did. If she had, maybe Angelus wouldn't be stalking Buffy now. Xander had been totally behind Buffy after her birthday, all the way, in blaming Miss C. She deserved to have Giles break up with her, she deserved to have Buffy and the rest of them dissing her in the halls. She was the bad guy. On the other hand, he really didn't have room to talk, did he?

"Listen...." He stopped talking, not sure what he wanted to say. Miss Calendar just stared at him calmly, with that very slightly amused expression she had when he'd give some lame excuse for not turning in his homework. She probably knew what he was going to say better than he did; he didn't have to say it out loud. But he wanted to. "I'm sorry about the way I acted last month. When, you know... right after... Buffy's birthday. And this week, too." He cleared his throat, forced himself to not look away. "I know Buff's still mad at you, and she's my friend. But... it's not like you could have known what would happen. Like anyone could have. So... I'm sorry."

She nodded slowly, her mouth quirking up. "Thanks. I appreciate that. I just wish some other people could be as forgiving."

"Giles'll get over it. Eventually." He shrugged, smiled a little. "He'd be crazy not to."

"Maybe. And maybe it'll take more than time." Miss Calendar straightened up, then softly added, "Let Willow alone until she's ready to talk, Xander."


The mall was crowded for a Saturday, considering that Valentine's Day was over a week ago. The candy shop and card store both had sales going, and the jewelry outlet had slashed their prices down by half. Xander stood in front of the confectioner's, trying to decide if Willow would think he was bribing her if he bought her some candy. when Amy Madison bumped into him.

"Sorry--- Oh!"

"Ahmswhaha," Xander said, or something close to it, feeling his mouth set in a fake smile as he nodded inanely, his heart rate tripling in a flight-or fight response. The blonde witch didn't look any more thrilled to see him than he did to see her. Any time they'd been in the same class over the past week, they'd managed to keep the entire room between them without saying a word to each other. He'd been planning on avoiding her at least until graduation, when hopefully he'd be able to get a job in Pakistan or Guatemala or somewhere else that didn't have direct flights from Sunnydale.

"I didn't see you there," Amy said stiffly, hugging her package to her chest.

"Obviously not," he agreed, starting to back away, his eyes darting around in search of an escape route.

"Amy, who's your friend?" An older guy who was probably Amy's dad joined them, smiling at Xander.

"Uh, this is Xander. From school."

"Great, why don't you stay here and talk to him---" Amy's eyes widened like a bullet-stricken deer's, but her dad was oblivious, "---while I go into Radio Shack. I don't want you to see what I'm getting for part of your birthday present. Okay?"

"Okay, Dad." Amy smiled weakly as her father walked over to the other store, then turned and glared at Xander. "Why didn't you say anything?!"

"Like what, your daughter hates me, don't make her talk to me?" Amy's eyes were slits of rage, and she looked a lot like she had right before she shot red lightening at Buffy. "You're not going to turn me into an rat, are you?"

"Why shouldn't I? Why shouldn't I turn you into a rat, or a *jackass*, or ---"

"Well, we're in public," he said weakly, trying to come up with something better and failing spectacularly.

"I could do it on a time-delay. I could say the spell, and you could

turn into a rat when you got home." Xander blinked at her, trying to not to move, and Amy evidently took his frozen expression for one of doubt. "I *could*!"

"And I'd deserve it, but I'd really appreciate it if you wouldn't," he said hastily. Amy snorted, her lip curling up in disbelief. "I know--- it's lame, it's pathetic, but it's the truth. And here's more of the truth: I'm sorry. "

"*What* are you sorry for?" she demanded suspiciously.

"Uh-unh, I've played this game with Cordelia. You're not getting me that way." Xander took a deep breath, hoping to head her off before she got mad at him again and started to invoke Hekata or Hermione or Heloise or whoever it was. "I'm sorry for everything. Beginning, middle, and end. I'm sorry I blackmailed you, I'm sorry I asked for a love spell, and I'm sorry about... well, the spell," he ended awkwardly, not wanting to get into the sordid details of her behavior while she was enchanted. //I wonder if they need volunteers to go to Guatemala *now*...//

"Hmmph." Amy crossed her arms, still looking disgruntled. "You got me in trouble with Giles, you know."

"I did? Oh, man. I've been there. Very recently. I'm sorry about that, too. That's gotta be--- no fun at all," he said, wincing.

"Yeah. He's making me do a lot of remedial spellwork and reading these *huge* books on metaphysical ethics. I can't even pronounce half the words. Forget about knowing what they mean." Amy relaxed a little, uncrossing her arms and leaning back against the store window

as she shook her head. "Not that I didn't have it coming, I guess."

"Yeah?" Xander said cautiously. He kept watching her for signs of impending spell-casting and cursing, but he was beginning to believe she was going to let him live. Possibly even as a human. "I should have just let you tell on me, it would've been a *lot* less painful. Threefold rule of magic kicks in again--- and kicks in my head." She rolled her eyes heavenward. "Plus now I owe Hecate a big spellcasting favor to balance the scales for turning Buffy into a rat. It's for the sake of the world, or society, or something--- and that kind of spell is *never* easy. I'm going to have to spend three nights awake just to get it finished!"

"Ah." He wasn't really following what all of that meant, but it sounded like supernatural grounding. A little lost, he said, "Gotcha. Umm, I wish I could make it up to you. In a way that would *not* involve me being covered with fur."

"There's no *WAY* you could make this up to me. It's too huge." Amy walked over to a nearby bench and collapsed on it, looking depressed. Xander joined her after a second, thinking how the love spell business was massively more complicated than it looked. //Well, duh. There's a reason why it doesn't work out in fairy tales. *You* just had to learn the hard way.//

Amy straightened suddenly, her eyes lighting up as she turned to him. "Unless...."

"What?" Xander really didn't want Amy to stay mad at him, in the interests of self-preservation if nothing else. And maybe they weren't good friends or anything, but she was one of the few people at school who knew that he was helping Buffy with the Slaying stuff, and therefore didn't automatically think he was a loser. //No, she's got good reason to *know* you're a loser.//

On the other hand, the expression on her face right now did not fill him with confidence.

Amy grinned. "You have to help with the spell. Next weekend. You have to help me stay awake, as well as cast the spell."

"Next weekend? Cordy and I...." Amy's eyes narrowed *exactly* like they did right before she invoked Hecate. "We can reschedule. I'm sure she'll understand." And make him pay. And pay and pay. Unless.... "Can I get Buffy or Cordelia to help out?"

"Sure, if they'll agree."

"I think I can make it work." Xander frowned. "As long as we're not being turned into anything, and there's no blood involved. There's not, right?"

"Right. Don't worry, it's mostly just lighting candles once every two hours and saying the right prayers to the Goddess." She patted him on the shoulder, and Xander breathed a mental sigh of relief. She wasn't going to make him crave cheese. Everything else was negotiable.

"Cool. It's the least I can do, after talking you into that mess. And for, you know, the bit with--" He raised his eyebrows, nodding significantly. "You and me."

Amy shrugged her shoulders and smiled at him. "Forget it. It was kind of fun, almost. I got to turn Buffy into a rat. I got to be in love for a little while." She was quiet a second, then said, "I've never felt like that about anyone. Or anything close to it. It was kind of cool, when it wasn't scary and out of control. Is that what you feel about Cordelia?"

"Kind of..." The urge to kiss Cordelia was always out of his control. Beyond that, he *did* like that she was tough, and didn't give up. And beyond that... well, beyond that, they were into the not-as-much-fun part of her trying to dress him like a Ken doll.

"Why?" Amy demanded. "She's a pain. She's mean, and stuck-up, and bossy, and---"

"I have no clue," Xander admitted. "I don't. I just do."

"And she feels that way about you?"

"She has to, it's the only reason I can think of that would make her tell off Harmony for my sake."

"Wow. That is love." Amy grinned happily. "So it worked, even if it didn't work like we planned."

"Yeah. I lucked out." He thought of Will, and his good mood and the relief that Amy didn't hate him dimmed a bit. "Mostly."


"Willow hates my guts."

"Ohhh. She remembers."

"She remembers. And she may never speak to me again. I don't know what to do. I can't think of anything to show her how sorry I am." He slumped down on the bench, back to having to think again. //Further proof of why you need Will: she always did the thinking....//

"That's rough. Not that you don't deserve it..."

"Right, right... right."

"But Willow's always forgiven you. Even if it takes years, she'll get over it at some point. She's gotten over every other thing you guys have fought over."

Amy's dad walked out of the Radio Shack and waved to her, and Amy got up from the bench with a stretch. "Good luck. I hope you think of something," she said, shrugging ruefully, then waved good-bye as she walked over to her dad. "See ya."

"Thanks." Xander waved good-bye without getting up, then called, "I'll call you about the... weekend thing."

"Later!" Amy called back over her shoulder.

Xander slumped even lower on the bench, wondering how he was going to talk Buffy or Cordelia into helping him help Amy with the ceremony; or, failing that, how he was going to have to make it up to Cordelia for cancelling out on her. It wasn't going to be easy either way, but neither option would be as hard as getting Willow to talk to him.

Maybe she'd always forgiven him before, but that didn't mean she had to now. He couldn't remember a time when she'd been this mad....

Wait. Wait. Wait.

"That's it," he muttered, awestruck. "That's it. She'll *have* to talk to me if I do that...."


Xander rang the Rosenbergs' doorbell nervously, half-hoping, half-dreading that Willow would be the one to answer. The door opened, and her mom stood there looking sympathetic, the same look Buffy gave him when Willow bailed at lunch yesterday. She might not have known why Willow hated him, but she definitely felt sorry for him. He would have preferred just having Will there, actually speaking to him again. "Hi, Xander. How are you?"

"Hi, Mrs. Rosenberg." He held out the package he'd carefully wrapped in pink paper, with a white bow sloppily tied around it and the card taped on so it wouldn't fall off. "Could you give this to Willow?"

"I don't know if she...." Sheila Rosenberg's voice trailed off, and then she smiled understandingly at him as she took the present. "Of course I will. Do you want to wait inside?"

"No. It's okay. Just make sure she opens it, all right?" He bobbed his head at her and shrugged, backing away. "It's nice to see you. Thanks. I gotta go."

"Xander---" He turned around at the foot of the steps and looked back. "Did you hear about the Marinos?"

"Hear what?" He'd tensed at the mention of Jesse's family, the way he always did. What was there to say about them? Or to them? Jesse was dead. He'd been dead a long time. The last thing he wanted to do was talk about *why* he was dead with anyone, especially Jesse's folks. Especially since they still didn't know.

"They're moving away." Mrs. Rosenberg looked down at the package in her hands and sighed, shaking her head. "It's been so difficult for them, with Jesse gone, and his father finally put in for a transfer to San Francisco. They're putting up a memorial marker in the cemetary for him, before they go next week." She looked up, and there must have been something in his expression, because she opened the screen door wider and said, "Please, Xander. Why don't you come inside? I know Willow wants to talk, she just.... You know how she is..."

"No." Xander shook his head violently. "I can't." That sounded wrong. "I mean, I have to be somewhere. Now. Uhh, thanks. Thanks for telling me. Tell Willow---" There was nothing he could tell her mom to tell her. Nothing he could tell anyone, really. "I'll see her around."

He fled.



Xander's head jerked up from contemplating the ground between his feet at the sound of Willow's voice. "Will!" He stood up, letting the swing clink loose as he let go of it, wanting to hug her. He shoved his hands in his pockets instead, knowing that was probably too much to ask for. "How are you doing?" He noticed that she was holding his present in her hand, and smiled in relief. At least she hadn't put it down the garbage disposal instead of opening the box. "You got it."

"Uh-hunh. I did." Willow nodded shakily, and smiled, just a little, then said diffidently, "Do you mind if I take a swing?"

"Go right ahead." He gestured expansively around the almost-empty playground and untangled the swing he'd been using a second before. "We're the masters of the universe here. Except for the kids with the dump truck in the sandbox."

"Thanks." She sat down in the one next to him, toeing the ground so she swung back and forth just a little, and he sat down again and began turning in the swing, making the chains twist around themselves. He couldn't look at her. He was too glad she was there, and if he said the wrong thing and hurt her feelings again, there was no way she'd ever forgive him. Maybe she still hadn't. But at least she was talking to him.

"Do you remember when we were seven, and I fell off one of these and split my lip open?" Willow asked suddenly, watching the kids in the sandbox.

Xander smiled. "Yeah. We were having the swinging contest, to see who could go highest, and Jesse was saying he was going to wrap the swing around the top of the set, and---" He stopped talking abruptly, and quit twisting the chains, letting them unwind and twirl him around in a circle before coming to a skidding stop.

"My mom said she told you about the marker for him."

He nodded, finally managing to meet her eyes. She looked so sad, not nervous and embarrassed, the way she had every time she'd seen him for the last week. He swallowed, hard. "So they finally gave up. Can't say I blame them."

"I wish...." Willow ducked her head, her hair falling in her face the way it used to. She didn't do that as much anymore, he realized. Didn't hide when she had something she wanted to say. Her voice was low when she spoke again. "I wish we could tell them the truth." She shook her head and straightened in the swing, one hand clutching the chain as she faced him. "Do you miss him?"

"Yes." Xander stared at her, wondering where that answer had come from. He hadn't thought about Jesse in months, and he could've sworn that he'd managed to get over it. But it was the truth. He missed Jesse a lot. Right then, Xander could think of fifty things that he wished he could tell him about, and another fifty things he wished Jesse was going to be there for. He reached out for the present Willow was still holding, and she let him take it from her. "We buried this, you know."

"Is that what you did?" Will leaned her forehead against the chain, biting her lower lip. "I always wondered why you didn't give her back."

The Malibu Barbie was wearing a short blue dress and one shoe, her plastic face a little dirty, and the nylon hair was sticking out weird, but otherwise she was okay. "We put her in a shoebox, and we were going to hold her for ransom. Cookies." He grinned, remembering digging under the trees in his backyard, and how his mom had yelled at them for it. "Your mom was making sugar cookies that week. But you were too upset to listen after I said I took her..."

"...and I said you weren't my boyfriend, and I was never going to talk to you again, and that you and Jesse were the meanest boys in the world."

Xander handed the doll back to Willow and nodded. "Yeah. You were pretty mad at me." Willow took the Barbie, and with her looking at the doll instead of him, he could say, "After you were talking to us again, I was scared that if I ever brought her back, you'd get mad all over and decide we weren't even friends."


"It was a pretty rotten thing to do."

"It wasn't that bad. You didn't mean to scare me. I was mostly afraid you'd break her, or lose her---" Willow was shaking her head, sounding like her normal self, almost.

"That wasn't what I meant." Xander could feel the metal of the chains bite into his hands, he was holding on so hard. Willow froze, and he knew he'd blown it. He should have kept his mouth shut, just acted like everything was okay, talked about Jesse and the doll --- instead, he had to mention the spell, and now it was all a mess again. "Forget it. Never mind."

"No," Willow whispered. "I can't forget it." Xander closed his eyes, wishing he was a million miles away. Or just back in time, to before Valentine's Day, so he could undo what he'd done. "Xander, why?"

"I don't know..." That wasn't even close to good enough. He owed her better than that. "I was just--- I was really pissed off, Willow. Everyone was laughing at me, like me dating Cordy had been a huge joke and it was time to let me in on the punchline. I just wanted her to know what that felt like." He shrugged, then rolled his eyes. "I knew it was wrong, but I made Amy do it anyway because I didn't think I could get Cordy back for real. And it's not like I thought I'd ever get another girlfriend, so...."

"You turned to the dark side."

"Yup. Darth Vader, that's me." Xander toed the ground, moving the swing around in a circle, then stopping to meet Willow's eyes. "I didn't think anyone but Cordy would get hurt. And not even she was supposed to hurt that much. I never...." He took a deep breath. "I never wanted to hurt you, Will."

"You did, though." Willow stared back at him, not mad, not hurt, just calm, and Xander flinched. She really hated him. Willow turned her swing to face his, her expression becoming more open and vulnerable. "Why do you like her so much? You used to *hate* her. When Jesse was going on an on about her, you'd make faces and gag. What happened?"

"I don't..." //No, no I-don't-knows. Try to be honest, Harris.// "At first... it was just that she was cute. And she thought I kissed pretty well. It was cool. Weird, but cool." Willow ducked her head down again, and he groaned mentally, but kept going. "I guess part of it was feeling like we had something in common, that we weren't the brains like you and Giles, or the muscle, like Buffy. We were just--- there. Trying to help. And after a while... She isn't as bad as she used to be. But, I..." He groaned, giving up. "I don't know, Will. If I _did_ know, do you think I'd have kept it a secret? I couldn't explain it to me, how was I going to explain it to you?"

"Hunh." Willow studied him for a minute, and Xander felt like crawling away, like he was the lowest animal on the planet. "So that's why you didn't tell me?"

"Mostly. I knew you'd think it was lame, me liking her--- more than liking her--- and I didn't want to lose you. I didn't want you to stop being my friend." He could leave it right there. But that would be lying. "And... what you said, a month ago, about how I'd rather be with someone I hated, instead of you...." Willow looked away, and the rest came out in a rush. "I never thought you thought about me like that. Never. I was Dense-boy, yeah, but I never got it. I mean, you're my bud, why would you want to *date* me?" Willow turned back at him and raised her eyebrows and jerked her chin down, a look she had to have stolen from Giles. "So, I'm a moron for not thinking of it. I admit it. I *should* have thought of it."

"But you didn't."

"Yeah." Xander grinned suddenly, and then looked away, choking on a hysterical laugh.

"What?" Willow demanded, then kicked him in the shin, lightly, when he shook his head. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing. Me."

"Tell! Xander---"

"You'll hate me again."

"I won't hate you."

"Yes, you will."

Willow's eyes narrowed, and then she grinned and poked him under the ribs, her fingers moving fast. "Tickle death!"

"God, no! Willow!" he howled, trying to avoid her, then trying to tickle her back. Willow dodged his hands and managed to push him off the swing, putting her foot on his stomach before he could get up again.

"Tell," she threatened, looming over him, holding up the Barbie in one hand, her fingers curled on the other, "Or you'll never breathe again, Xander."

"Okay, okay, okay... you've been practicing."

"Oz in a good tickler." Willow's smile was shy and just a little bit smug.

That brought him back to the present with a bump. "Really." He stood up, and brushed off his jeans, debating whether or not to tell her what had really set him off. //What the hell. She might kill you, but at least you'll have said it.// "I was just thinking that if we'd had any sleepovers after we turned thirteen, and you wore my shirt during them? I would have thought of you that way."

"Xander!" Willow's eyes were huge, and her voice had gone up to a squeak, but she didn't seem *too* mad. She jumped up from the swing and hit him over the head with the Barbie doll, and kept hitting him until he started tickling her again. She retaliated, until he got her under the armpits, and then they were both laughing hysterically until they fell down, rolling apart and giggling.

"Heeeee," Willow breathed out, choking a little, then she sat up and looked around for the Barbie doll. Finding it, she got to her knees, using Xander to steady herself as she scrambled to her feet. She offered him a hand up and he took it, staggering a little as he stood. "Even if you didn't mean it? It was a nice thing to say."

"I did mean it." Xander bent over, his hands on his knees while he tried to get his breath back. "It's probably a good thing our moms didn't let us have slumber parties together after your twelfth birthday party."

"Probably that was more because my mom got sick of the mess, afterward." She was smiling, for real this time, no holding back, and Xander let his face drop back down so she couldn't see his expression. She forgave him. She didn't hate him. He hadn't completely trashed their friendship. //Reprieved. Thank you, Mr. Governor. No electric chair for me...//

"Xander? Could you do me a favor?"

"Sure, anything. You know that." He stood, blithely sure there wasn't anything she could ask that he wouldn't do.

"Could you go with me to Jesse's memorial?" Willow's eyes were pleading, her voice sounding strained, even as it got softer. "I don't want to go by myself. He was your friend, too."

"He was my best friend. Next to you." Xander tipped his head backward, staring at the clouds overhead, knowing he had to do it, and hating it. "I'll go. I guess. I hate dealing with it. But it's not like I don't care, you know."

"I know now." He brought his head down and stared at her, and her mouth quirked sideways. "I wasn't totally sure, for a while...."

He closed his eyes, wincing. "I was that big a jerk, hunh?"

"Off and on." She put her arm around him and started walking toward the street. "But it wasn't a total surprise. You *are* the guy who stole my Barbie."

"And gave it back. Let's not forget this, okay?" He dropped an arm around her shoulders, and pushed thoughts of Jesse's memorial out of his head. If he could face Willow when she was mad at him he could face memories of Jesse, no matter how much they hurt. And it was what she wanted, so it was what he'd do.

"Twelve years later." Willow rolled her eyes.

"But still in great condition."

"So I guess I owe the kidnapper some cookies, hunh?"

"Well, owe is a strong word... but I wouldn't turn them down..."

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