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Title: Holiday of a lifetime

Author: Sarah

E-mail: taraka66@hotmail.com

Disclaimer: The characters belong to Joss Whedon, WB and Mutant Enemy. I've just

borrowed them.

Summary: Willow and Xander meet after a long time apart.

Rating: PG 13 (I guess!)

Author's notes: This is set eight years in the future.  Buffy, Willow and Oz

graduated from College four years ago.  Other than that no dramatic differences

from the existing time line.

Dedication: To everyone on the wxfic and Xanderships, especially those of you

who have been so kind about my previous stories.  Also dedicated to Willow and

Xander because without them who would I write about?

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Willow took her mail out of the mailbox and climbed the flight of stairs to her

apartment door.  As she climbed she flicked through the envelopes, it contained

the usual, bills, junk mail, the last envelope looked promising.  The

handwriting was familiar.  She smiled, it was obviously from Buffy.    She

unlocked her door and walked into her apartment.  She threw her keys onto the

little table just inside the doorway.  She hung her coat and bag on the hook and

took her mail to the couch.  She sat down and opened the letter from Buffy.

Inside was an invitation, a letter and a ticket.  As Willow read a huge smile

crossed her face.  About time, she thought.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Willow, we are pleased to invite you to the wedding of Buffy and Oz .

The ceremony is to take place Saturday 24th August on the island of Hope.

Please R.S.V.P

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There was also an accompanying letter which explained that Oz and Buffy had

finally decided to take the plunge and get married.  As the Slayer's life

expectancy is short they decided to get married in style, and hired an island

for the event.  Buffy had included her ticket to the island and explained she

was expected to stay for two weeks to really enjoy the island atmosphere.

Willow continued to smile.  She was really happy that Buffy and Oz had each

other.  They deserved happiness, especially after everything that had happened.

She had hurt Oz so much when they had been together, she couldn't decide who she

loved more, Xander or Oz.  In the end it didn't really matter because she didn't

have either of them.   Freshman year of College, she and Oz had broken up,

because of a lot of things, although there was one thing that had always stood

in their way since the incident in the factory with Xander.  It had been the

start of the end.  Oz had tried his best to put it behind them, but it had

started an insecurity that he couldn't resolve, basically because Xander and

Willow had a history that Oz and Willow didn't have.

It had taken Oz and Buffy a long time to get over the failure of their previous

relationships, and it wasn't until their Senior year in College that Buffy and

Oz realised that there was more to their relationship than friendship.  It had

come as a little shock in the beginning, but after four years together they had

finally taken the decision to make it official.  It was the news Willow had been

hoping for, for a long time.

As she remembered College, her heart ached as images of Xander floated in her

mind.  She hadn't seen or spoken to him for such a long time.  It hurt to have a

void in her life she never imagined would be there.  He had always been the

person she could turn to, talk to, he had been like the other half of her.  Then

after the fluke, things had changed, and not for the better.  Their friendship

had become strained, talking about trivial matters, not daring to explore deeper

issues.  She became afraid to be near him, his touch frightening her, with the

realisation of how it affected her.  The night he spent with Faith sealing the

end of their friendship.  She had chosen to tell him how she felt and he had

taken it and threw it out of the window for a night with Faith.  When she found

out it was as if her world had ended.  She always knew Xander never saw her

other than as a friend, but she had always hoped that one day he might have

opened his eyes and really see her.  She had thought Homecoming was the

beginning of that change, but obviously she meant nothing more than a quick

snatched kiss.  No match for Cordelia, or a quick moment of passion with Faith.

A tear involuntarily left her eye, she angrily wiped it away.  Annoyed with

herself at letting him ruin her life even after she knew that she would never

have the relationship with him that she really wanted.  She had tried to move

on, dating other people but nothing had worked out.  She couldn't help herself,

she always had to compare her date to Xander.  It wasn't intentional it was as

if something inside her couldn't let go.  She was scared that she would never be

able to let go.

She was brought out of her reverie by the sound of her phone ringing.  She

reached out her arm and picked the receiver up quickly.

"Hello" she spoke into the receiver, slightly embarrassed at her show of

emotions.

"Willow." Buffy spoke into the receiver excitedly. "Did you get the invitation?"

"Yes, Congratulations. It took you guys long enough."

"Hey, quality is a result of time.  Anyway we're not getting any younger.  I'll

be twenty five next birthday, which sees me receive an entry in the Slayer's

Record Book, for the oldest surviving Slayer.  Which I intend on keeping for a

long time."  Willow could imagine Buffy and her smile reassuring her friend that

she had no intention of giving into the undead yet.  "We decided now was the

time to make it official.  We're both in steady employment, well as steady as

you can get in Sunnydale, we're happy and we want to share our happiness with

our friends.  You are coming aren't you?" she asked almost hopefully.

"Of course I'm coming.  Wild horses, or even vampires wouldn't keep me away from

my best friends wedding." Realisation hit her as she spoke the last few words of

her sentence.  Xander was no longer her best friend, he never would be again.

She let out an audible sigh.

"Is everything ok Willow?" Buffy asked, concerned about her friend.

"Yes, I've just been dragging up old memories, that's all.  Nothing to worry

about, they'll go away again as quickly as they surfaced."  Willow stated matter

of factly.

"Dare I ask which memories surfaced?" Buffy asked quietly, knowing that the

probable source was Xander.

"Just someone from my past." Willow replied, not willing to drag them up again.

"Have you spoken to him?" Buffy asked, desperate to help her friend.

"No, I don't think I ever want to speak or see him again.  It would hurt too

much."

"Do you still love him?"

"No." the answer was a little too quick, Buffy thought. She decided to drop the

subject, unable to judge her friends true emotions from the end of a phone.

"Ok, well I've got to go and patrol in a few minutes, Giles and Oz asked me to

send their best and I really am looking forward to seeing you at the wedding,

it's been a long time."

"I'm looking forward to seeing you again too Buffy.  Give everyone a hug for me.

Keep safe too."

"I'll try.  Speak to you soon."

"Yeah, bye."  She waited for Buffy to hang up, the line disconnecting and being

replaced with a single tone.

She slowly hung up the receiver and looked again at her ticket and invitation.

In two weeks she would be travelling to a new place and seeing old friends.  Her

heart lifted, it would be like going home in a strange way.

Willow had left Sunnydale after graduation, deciding that now was the time to

move on. She had taken up a position with a large computer company in Los

Angeles, she really enjoyed her work, programming and updating software for the

company.  She could lose herself from reality in a world where no one new her

history or about the real truth of the world.  She had occasionally run into

Cordelia and Angel, but she tried to keep contact with them to a minimum, they

reminded her of home, Buffy and Xander.  Again he crept into her mind.  Why

couldn't he leave her alone?  Was she destined to think about him for the rest

of her life?  She sighed again.  She got up and carefully put the ticket and

invitation away and began to think about seeing her friends again.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Willow sat on the aeroplane lost in her thoughts.  In a couple of hours she

would be flying over the ocean to the Island of Hope.  Again she thought what a

pretty name the island had.  It seemed the perfect place for Buffy to get

married, it would signify the beginning of a new era, hopefully one filled with

happiness.  Willow looked out of the window, amazed at how the clouds could

float, she wondered what it would be like to walk in the clouds.  Xander and she

had spent a long time as children staring at the clouds making up stories.  They

had wondered what it would be like to touch the clouds.  They had even climbed a

tree in order to try and reach the clouds.  It had nearly ended in disaster when

Xander had fallen and broken his arm.  Again she was thinking of him, so much of

who she was, how she thought, what she felt, was down to him.  They had grown

together, developed together.  Without him, she wouldn't have had a childhood.

She would have been lost in books or her computer, he was the one who taught her

how to laugh, how to have fun.  Most importantly he was the one who taught her

how to love.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

She waited in the small waiting lounge, aware that the little aircraft would be

leaving in a few minutes.  She had felt perfectly happy on the large jet, but

somehow the thought of travelling on a little twin engine plane made her feel

nervous.  A long time ago she had accepted that she could die at the hands of a

vampire or demon, she wasn't really prepared to die in a light aircraft.  She

shuddered again at the thought of the little plane and how it was going to defy

gravity.  She admonished herself, her life now was full of irrationalities, at

times she was afraid of her own shadow, but at least she was happy.  Although

deep down she knew she was fooling herself, she didn't know if she could ever

truly be happy, or whether she had the right to be.

A woman came forward and announced the flight.  Willow stood up and inhaled

deeply.  It's now or never she thought.  You really want to see the wedding and

the only way you're going to see it is by flying on that plane.

She picked up her bag and followed the young woman out onto the tarmac.  Once on

the plane, she fastened her seatbelt and looked out of the window.  Trying to

lose herself in memories so that she didn't have to think too hard about the

impending flight.

She was aware that the plane was taking a long time in leaving the tarmac.  She

was about to question the flight attendant, when she saw the same woman who had

led her out to the tarmac leading another person from the airport.  Willow

watched intensely.  There was something familiar about the figure, but she

couldn't quite put her finger on it.  She waited and watched.  The mans face was

hidden from view by sunglasses and a silly baseball cap.  She smiled, obviously

someone with a sense of humour, she thought.

She became distracted from watching, by memories floating in her mind.  She was

completely lost in them when she realised someone was speaking to her.

"We're about to take off now, I'll be offering refreshments once we're in the

air, madam." the flight attendant smiled.

Willow returned her smile.  She inhaled deeply and prepared to take off.  Her

mind wandering back to the familiar passenger.  She turned her head to look over

her shoulder.  The man was sitting in the row of chairs behind her on the

opposite side of the plane.  She could only see the back of his head as he was

gazing intently out of the window.  Willow couldn't shake the feeling that there

was something familiar about him, that she should recognise.  She continued to

look at him, trying desperately to place her finger on it.

He turned suddenly, obviously aware that someone was watching him.  As he turned

everything suddenly fell into place.  The chocolate brown eyes that met hers,

were as familiar as they always had been.  His eyes registered shock, just as

her own must have done.  He seemed unsure whether to smile or grimace.  His lip

sort of quivered at the corner, something that he had always done when he was

concerned, even as a child.  Her heart somersaulted with the revelation, Xander

was on the same plane as her heading in the same direction, Buffy's wedding.

Willow silently cursed her friend, she must have arranged this, knowing that

they were bound to be on the same flight.  She allowed herself to smile quickly

before averting her eyes to the window to contemplate what she should do next.

End of Part One

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Part Two

Willow spent the rest of the flight looking out of the window, not daring to

look at him.  Not sure how she would react if he looked at her again.  She could

feel his eyes occasionally looking at her.  She resisted the urge to meet his

gaze.  Her heart pounding with the panic she felt.  After five years she

honestly thought she would never see him again.  He had left so suddenly that

summer, without even saying goodbye.  It was the summer her world ended, her

best friend leaving her confused and alone.  It had taken a long time to get

over him leaving and she hoped she would never have to face him, but obviously

fate with a little help from Buffy had taken it's opportunity to challenge her

wishes.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

He couldn't believe his eyes when he had turned to look at the person he had

felt watching him.  She hadn't really changed, her green eyes penetrating his,

silently looking for answers.  Her auburn hair framing her beautiful face.  She

had looked shocked as the realisation hit her, he thought  his face probably

mirrored her own.  He couldn't believe that after all this time he was on the

same flight as Willow.  His heart soared at the thought of seeing her again, it

hadn't crossed his mind that she would be attending Oz and Buffy's wedding.  He

had thought perhaps she was too busy in her new career to come and spend time

with her old friends.  He admonished himself, he knew that Willow would have

moved Heaven and Earth to have been there for her friends, she always had been

and always would be.  That one key feature of her personality was what he loved

about her the most, she always put others before herself, she always had, she

was the most selfless person he knew.  It was something he hadn't admitted to

himself in a long time, how much he loved her.  It had been the hardest thing he

had ever done, walking away, from Sunnydale and her.  She had been his life, the

reason for living, but things had changed.  He had hurt her too much by his own

stupidity, by not realising that the most perfect woman in the world existed

before his eyes.  When he realised how important she was to him, he had already

started to lose her and there was nothing he could do, except hurt her more.  He

had hurt her by dating Cordelia, he had hurt her even more by sleeping with

Faith.  He couldn't stand to watch her with Oz, the jealousy he felt when he

thought of her with Oz was still evident today.  She deserved someone who could

be her white knight, someone who could love her and give her everything she

deserved.   A long time ago he decided that he was not the one to do that for

her, he never would be.  He hoped that she had moved on found someone else, out

of all his friends she was the one he wanted to be happy, he needed her to be

happy.  The question was, was she?

He began to think about the past.  Why he decided to leave, in a way he was glad

he had left.  By leaving he had grown up, stood on his own two feet.  It had

been hard at first, but he had finally found something he was good at.  He

worked now at a children's shelter, helping them deal with abusive parents and

other troubles.  He had found it a relief to share his own troubled childhood

with others who had suffered similar fates, he found that he was good at

listening, a skill Willow had taught him a long time ago.  He had a lot to thank

her for, she was the one who taught him how to care, how to love, without her he

was sure he wouldn't have survived his childhood.  He had decided that working

with children was what he wanted to do.  He had studied hard and was finally

within grasp of his teaching diploma, he was then going to spend his time

working and teaching children who needed his help.  He smiled at the memory of

the children he had helped since leaving Sunnydale, finally he was making a

difference.

The plane touching the tarmac of the small airstrip broke Xander from his

reverie.  He glanced quickly over at Willow and watched her grimace as the small

plane bounced on the bumpy surface.  She obviously didn't like small aircraft he

thought.  He desperately wanted to reach out his hand and enclose it around hers

assuring her of his support.  But he knew deep inside that he could never be

that close to Willow again.  All he had was memories and he didn't have a right

to expect more.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The bumpy landing made Willow catch her breath.  She knew the plane couldn't

defy gravity for much longer, did she really need to see the plane test it's

suspension to the limits!  She tried to calm herself, she innocently thought how

reassuring Xander's touch would be at this moment.  As soon as she allowed the

thought to enter her mind she quickly banished it.  She could never allow Xander

to get that close to her again.

The small aeroplane finally came to a halt on the runway, well if you could call

it that, it was more like a dried mud track.  Willow's breathing finally allowed

to return to normal.  She slowly unfastened her belt, aware that in the next few

minutes she was going to have to communicate with Xander for the first time in

five years.

She stood slowly and casually made her way to the exit.  She smiled hesitantly

as she passed Xander pushing the moment of actual communication temporarily into

the future.   She followed the flight attendant to the small building which

Willow would have referred to as a shed rather than an airport.  Well I suppose

the place has culture she thought.   She looked around to admire the scenery, it

reminded her of the romantic places featured in the love story films which she

had made Xander endure when they were younger.  The opulent blue sea lapsed

gently onto the pure white beach.  The sound of the surf and beach meeting was

like music to her ears, it seemed like the island was a haven of tranquillity.

Either side of the runway there were fields of lush green grass, with the

occasional bright flower dotted in between.  Willow allowed herself to smile at

the beauty of the environment, this certainly was a beautiful place, ideal for

Buffy and Oz's wedding.  It really was a haven, somewhere she thought you might

find miracles happening.  In that instant Willow decided that the island's name

was perfect, it certainly was a good place to hope.

She felt Xander's presence before he had a chance to speak.   She could feel how

uncomfortable he was.  She thought that after all this time apart their

connection might have disappeared but obviously not, she could still sense his

emotions even now.  She inhaled deeply and decided to face him, the moment of

communication finally upon them.  The image that had haunted her for the past

five years, hoping silently that all of the pain and hurt could be resolved so

that she perhaps could finally move on.

She turned slowly , the breeze encouraging the loose strands of her hair to

dance.  She couldn't bring herself to look in his eyes, it was too dangerous, if

she looked into his eyes she didn't know what she might find, and that scared

her.  Instead she focussed on the bridge of his nose, concentrating on the

contours of his face.  He hadn't really changed, matured, grown even more

handsome.  She pushed that last notion as far as she could from her mind.  She

couldn't allow herself to think of him that way.  He wasn't even her best friend

now.  Was he even still her friend?

She hoped that by the end of their vacation they may have been able to build a

new friendship, at least one where they could communicate.  It was the one thing

that she missed most about being his friend, having someone to talk to, who knew

you as well as you knew yourself.  Then perhaps that void she felt in her life

would start to be filled again.

The silence was almost deafening, neither sure where to start a conversation.

Willow racked her mind for a starting point, she blurted the first thing that

entered her mind.

"So you're here for Buffy's wedding too." As she finished the sentence she

realised how stupid it sounded.  Why else would Xander be on a remote island in

the Carribean Ocean.  "It's been a long time hasn't it?  The weather's pretty

hot and the scenery's beautiful, and I'm going to stop now because I'm

babbling." Willow had tried to dig herself out of her first statement but had

managed to dig the hole even deeper.  Why wasn't there a Hellmouth to swallow

you up when you needed one? She thought.

After her embarrassment she finally had the courage to glance quickly at his

face.  She found a huge grin emblazoned across his face, his eyes sparkling with

the humour of the situation.  That made her feel slightly better.

"Well I'm glad some things never change." he replied.

"Well I'm still a world class babbler." she allowed with a small smile.

"Babbling was always one of you're quirkier characteristics. It's good to see

you again Willow." He smiled genuinely as he spoke.

"Yes you too." she couldn't believe how her babbling had broken the ice.  It was

almost like old times, she couldn't believe at how quickly she had allowed him

to break down the barriers. There was just something about Xander which

instantly brought down the protective barriers, which was probably why he could

hurt her so easily. She allowed herself to think that perhaps there was a chance

that their friendship could start again.

Their conversation was interrupted by the flight attendant and a man dressed in

overalls, his hands covered with grease.  Willow assumed he was the airport's

mechanic.

"Mr Harris, Miss Rosenberg, this is Bob Fields he will be taking you to the

cabin where you will be staying for your vacation.  If you have any needs I'm

sure Bob will be able to sort them out for you.  I will see you in two weeks

when the plane will arrive to collect you." the flight attendant said with a

courteous smile.  Bob nodded at the couple as she spoke.

"Well thank you, we'll see you in two weeks." Xander spoke with a puzzled tone.

Perhaps they were the last guests to arrive.

The flight attendant turned and returned to the plane.  Xander and Willow were

alone with Bob.  Willow smiled nervously, she was as confused as Xander about

the situation, it was as if they were being abandoned on a beautiful desert

island.

"Well if you'd like to follow me I'll drive you to the house.  Are they the only

bags you have?"

Willow and Xander nodded they both picked up their bags and followed the man.

Willow was relieved that she hadn't packed a lot of clothes, because by the time

they had finished walking to Bob's jeep her arms might have grown several

inches.

They loaded the bags in the back of the jeep and climbed in.  Willow squeezing

in the back and Xander taking the passenger seat next to Bob.

Bob began to drive slowly along the dirt track that could pass for a road if you

squeezed you eyes really tightly and imagined really carefully.  Fortunately he

was driving slowly, because by the size of the pot holes in the track Willow

thought that the landing on the plane would have seemed like gliding on ice in

comparison to a fast ride on this track.

She allowed herself to admire the scenery, she couldn't believe how blue the

ocean looked.  The palm trees that dotted the edge of the beach had grown into

beautiful specimens, guided by the wind and the rain.  She finally felt the car

slow down after what seemed like an eternity which was probably about ten

minutes.  She looked forward and almost gasped at the sight.  The house was like

a large wooden cabin, and was surrounded by luscious green palm trees.  To the

side of the house was a beautiful swimming pool.  It was like an oasis in the

desert.  What a beautiful place to spend the next two weeks.   She looked

eagerly awaiting Buffy, Oz or Giles to come out from the house.  Even by the

time they had unloaded the bags, there was still no sign of them.

Bob turned to them and spoke. "The refrigerator in the house is filled with

everything to keep you going until I go into town next weekend.  If there is

anything you desperately need the phone in the house is connected to my garage.

I will do my best to find whatever you need.  The house has it's own swimming

pool and tennis court.  The beach is only a couple of minutes walk away.  The

town though is a good half an hour ride in the jeep.  I'll come by next weekend

and pick you up to take you into town if that's ok.   Anyway better go, I've got

work to be doing.  Enjoy your stay now won't you."

Their minds quickly processing the information, not a word mentioned about the

wedding.  Willow was puzzled and about to ask about her friends when Xander beat

her to it.

"We're supposed to be attending a friend's wedding here next weekend, do you

know where our friends are?"

The man looked perplexed.  "You're the only guests booked in for the next two

weeks.  I don't know anything about a wedding.  Are you sure?"

Willow nodded, but suddenly becoming aware that the wedding invitation might not

have been as true as it could have been.

"Yes, although I'm sure our friend would have left a message, perhaps in the

house?" Xander asked eagerly.

"Well there was a letter there for the both of you.  It arrived yesterday it was

waiting at the post office in the town when I went to collect your groceries.  I

left it on the counter in the kitchen.  Perhaps that will explain the situation.

Anyway I really have to be going, enjoy your week."

Bob turned and returned to his jeep, leaving Willow and Xander stranded in

paradise together.

End of Part Two

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Part Three

Xander and Willow carried their bags into the lounge of the house.  Willow

marvelled at the building.  The walls were made of beautiful mahogany and shone

like mirrors, the room was furnished with comfy chairs and sofas, a large screen

television was situated in the corner and it was surrounded with some of their

favourite videos.  Was somebody trying to help them resolve their friendship?

Willow wandered off to find the kitchen and the letter she knew they both

desperately wanted to read.  The kitchen was situated off the dining room, it

was large and had huge windows which overlooked the swimming pool.  The pine

cabinets finished the room perfectly. It certainly seemed like paradise.  On the

counter there was one large white envelope.  It was addressed to Xander and

Willow and it was written by Buffy, her handwriting giving her away instantly.

"I've found the letter." Willow called to Xander.

He entered the kitchen just as she picked it up.  She carefully opened the

envelope and felt his eyes watching her every move intently.  With a deep breath

she took the letter out of the envelope and began to read out loud so Xander

could hear every word.

"Hi Xander and Willow,

You're probably wondering where we are just about now.  Well before I start

explaining that side I want you to understand we did it for your own benefit.

We know how you both have missed being friends and we wanted to do something

which would help you start again without any interruptions.

I know that I've probably stretched my friendship with both of you to the

limits, but I hope that someday you will forgive me.  (Oz and Giles knew about

the plan and supported it but because it's my idea please don't hold it against

them, you know how they can't resist the request of the Slayer.)

Well back to the main part of the plan.  As you've probably figured by now,

you're alone in a beautiful house on a beautiful island.  It's up to you how you

spend the two weeks, but remember you're there to have fun.  Please try and get

on with each other, I hope you can remember how to be friends again because I

hope you both know that you're two pretty special people, who helped to make my

situation all the more bearable. Please talk to each other, you used to be so

good at it!  I will phone the house on Thursday, unfortunately you can't call

out from the house, only receive calls.  I hope you will have both calmed down

by Thursday!

It's time to stop writing now, because I'm sure you both have plenty to talk

about at this stage and I'm sure they will not be wonderful comments about my

idea.  So I promise to turn off my Slayer sense, because I would hate to detect

bad vibrations coming from the Island of Hope.  I'll speak to you on Thursday.

Hugs to both of you.

Buffy."

Willow finished reading the letter and didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

This was like some ridiculous situation from a film that she would totally

enjoy.  Although at the moment she was not enjoying this situation.  It was a

good job Buffy wasn't within easy reach because she didn't know what she would

say or do to her.  She had put her in the worst possible situation, two weeks

alone with Xander.  It couldn't have been much worse if they had been trapped in

an elevator above the open Hellmouth, with a huge demons jaws snapping below the

dangling carriage.

Xander felt his jaw drop at the realisation of what Buffy had written.  He was

on a beautiful island, with the most beautiful woman he had ever known.  How on

earth was he going to survive the next two weeks.  Well, he thought to himself,

it could be the most interesting two weeks of his life.

"Well, we've got two weeks, no distractions other than the beautiful scenery,

and when I see Buffy again I'm not sure whether I want to strangle her or kiss

her." he joked, hoping to lighten the look on Willow's face.  She looked

absolutely shell shocked.

"Well, er, yeah, beautiful surroundings, distractions, there are plenty of

distractions, can't you hear the birds, yes there are definitely plenty of

birds.  Perhaps there are other animals too, to provide distractions." Willow

said in sheer panic, she couldn't believe that the only other human being within

a hour's distance by foot was Xander, the person she hadn't spoken to for five

years.

"Calm down Will, we've been alone before." his mind instantly wandering back to

the factory and her room when they had been choosing the clothes to wear for

Homecoming.  "Ok, so we haven't been alone in a non friend basis before." he

allowed.

"I'm perfectly calm, look can't you see I'm a vision of calmness." she tried to

look at him, take in the situation and breathe at the same time, it was proving

more difficult than she imagined.

"Yes I can see how calm you are." he giggled, he hadn't seen her like this for

such a long time, she still managed to stir emotions that he thought would have

disappeared with time.

"You're not supposed to laugh!" she exclaimed and succumbed to the giggle that

she had tried to suppress when he had begun to laugh.

When they finally stopped laughing they both had tears in their eyes.  Willow's

stomach ached, she hadn't laughed like that in years.

"Well, if we're stuck here for the next two weeks, I suppose we'd better sort

out the accommodation, like who sleeps where." she stated seriously.

"Well I hope there is more than one bedroom, otherwise I guess I'll be sleeping

on the couch for the next two weeks." he replied, hoping to lighten the mood

slightly.

She glared at him, "Well if you insist." she softened her look, liking the fact

that Xander was teasing her again, it certainly reminded her of old times.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Fortunately under further investigation they found the house had two bedrooms,

both beautifully decorated and enormous.  Willow chose the room that looked out

onto the beach, well you could see the sea if you carefully leaned forward

whilst on tiptoes, and looked carefully between the palm trees.  Although the

view didn't really matter, it certainly beat the view from her apartment window.

She unpacked her belongings carefully, glad that she had packed two swimsuits,

because she thought that with the opportunity of using the pool and the ocean,

she might have plenty of use for them.

When she was finally unpacked she went out to the lounge and found Xander

sitting on the couch reading a magazine.

He looked up as she entered and smiled, she looked a little more relaxed.  He

glanced at his watch.  It was nearly six pm and the sun was beginning to set.

"Well my lady, what do you want to do this evening on this island of

tranquillity?" he asked in his best Giles voice.

"I was thinking of eating and perhaps watching a video that Buffy obviously

carefully arranged to be here for us.  I just want to get used to the idea of

being here before I try any of the local offerings like the pool or beach."

"Sounds like a plan.  I suppose there are no Twinkies in our supplies." he added

the last sentence seriously.

"You're still not addicted to them?" she asked incredulously.

He grinned in answer. "When have you known me not to be seriously addicted to

them!"

She laughed in response, maybe these two weeks together would be a good start to

building their friendship again. She made her way to the kitchen, aware that

Xander was following her.   She opened the refrigerator and found it full of

fresh vegetables, enough certainly to last until the weekend.

They decided to make a light salad.  As she was exploring the cupboards she came

across a supply of popcorn and in the freezer there was an ample supply of their

favourite ice cream.

"Buffy thought of everything." she smiled.

Dinner was soon prepared and they sat and ate quietly at the kitchen table,

still amazed by the beauty of their surroundings.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

After they had eaten they decided that they would watch a video.  Xander looked

carefully through the selection, there was everything from Horror movies to

comedies, to romances.  He thought a comedy would be a good way to start,

because after the situation today they could do with something to lighten the

mood.  He selected "Dr Doolittle", with Eddie Murphy, he had really enjoyed it

when it first came out, he remembered the Scooby Gang had watched it when it

together.  As he picked it up he noticed one video pushed right to the back.  He

reached and picked it up, he couldn't believe it as he read the title. "A Snoopy

Christmas." He giggled, Buffy had certainly thought of everything. He would save

that one for a special night.  Well he was hoping there would be a special

night.

He heard Willow enter the room, he quickly returned "A Snoopy Christmas" back to

it's hiding place.  "Will ‘Dr Doolittle' do?" he asked

She nodded, glad that he had chosen a humourous film, not sure that she could

have handled a horror or a romantic film tonight.  She made herself comfortable

on one of the couches and waited for the film to start.  She watched him make

himself comfortable on the other couch.  The movie started and she tried to lose

herself in the movie.  Every now and then she succeeded although for most of the

movie her mind was drawn to the fact that for the next thirteen days she was

abandoned on an island with Xander.  It wouldn't have been so bad, but she had

actually dreamed about being abandoned on an island with Xander, it had been one

of her teenage fantasies. She had thought that if it had only been Xander and

Willow all alone on a desert island he might actually notice her.  Some hope she

admonished herself.  Here you are less than twenty four hours with the guy and

you're letting your mind explore these fantasies again. When will you learn,

Xander is not the guy for you he never was and never will be.  With that thought

she sighed.  She didn't realise she had sighed quite as loudly as she did until

Xander spoke to her.

"Are you ok?" he asked concerned that his company was boring her already.

"I'm fine just a little tired.  I think I'll go to bed after this movie has

finished, it's been rather a long and interesting day."

"I agree with you there, I never imagined I would ever be abandoned on a desert

island with you." he said lightheartedly.

Unfortunately Willow took his comment the wrong way.  "No I suppose you thought

you would be abandoned on a desert island with anyone other than me!  I don't

think I want to see the end of the movie. Goodnight." With that she rose from

her couch and made her way to her room.

She closed the door behind her and flung herself on her bed.  The tears began to

fall before she could stop them.  Well there's your answer for you Willow, ‘he

never imagined being abandoned on a desert island with you.'  She replayed the

sentence over and over in her mind, letting the pain of each word cascade

through her body.  Eventually the pain faded with the wonderful relief of

slumber.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

He couldn't believe her reaction, until he thought carefully about what he had

said. "I never imagined I would ever be abandoned on a desert island with you."

He realised then how harsh it had sounded, as if he didn't want to be on a

desert island with her.  In reality he had been pleased that he had the

opportunity to build his friendship with Willow again.  Obviously he would have

a lot of work to do if they were ever going to be real friends again.  Her reply

came into his mind. "No I suppose you thought you would be abandoned on a desert

island with anyone other than me."  It sounded familiar, it hit him. The pain in

her voice had sounded so similar to the time when she had found him and Cordelia

in the stacks.  She had said to him then "You would rather spend time with

someone you hate rather than spend time with me."  He felt terrible, they hadn't

been together for twenty four hours and he had already hurt her.  What is it

about you Harris, everything you do always hurts the person you care the most

about.  Xander made a silent promise to himself, he was determined that by the

end of this vacation he and Willow would be friends and he would never hurt her

again.

End of Part Three

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Part Four

Willow awoke the following morning aware that she was surrounded by unfamiliar

objects.  Then the realisation hit her like a bolt of lightning.  She remembered

being stranded on an island in the middle of a Carribean Ocean with Xander.  She

sighed and her heart sank as she remembered the conversation last night.  He

didn't want to be stranded with me.  He left me once and he must have had a

pretty good reason because he didn't contact me once in five years.  I must have

really hurt him.  "Stop it." she said out loud.  As soon as she heard her own

voice she pulled the spare pillow from the other side of the bed and put it over

her head.  Now you're talking to yourself, he certainly brings out the best in

you.  She heard a little voice of reason, ‘Your stuck here for the next thirteen

days on a beautiful island, make the most of it you probably will never have

another opportunity like this one again.'

A knock at the door stopped her train of consciousness.  She removed the pillow

from her face and called out meekly "Yes?"

"Can I come in?" he asked hopefully from the other side of the door.

Willow imagined his face was probably contorted to perform that perfect puppy

dog look that he mastered as a child.  He knew the instant he used it on her she

was like putty in his hands. She relinquished, knowing that if she didn't allow

him to come in he would be insufferable for the rest of the day.  Yet again

you're giving in to him Willow, she said silently to herself.

"Ok, give me a minute."  She suddenly remembered that she was still waring the

clothes from last night.  She quickly grabbed a tee shirt and changed, she

didn't want him to know that he had upset her so much that she didn't even

change for bed last night.

"Ok, I'm ready." She finally called, the duvet pulled up as far as it would go.

She wasn't really comfortable about him seeing her in her bed, well not really

her own bed, but for all intents and purposes for the next few days it would be

hers.

The door opened and he walked in wearing shorts, tee shirt and a ridiculous

apron he must have found in the kitchen.  It had a picture of a pig wearing a

chef's hat.  Willow stifled a giggle.  In his hands he had a tray laden with a

beautiful breakfast.  To top it all he had a pink flower grasped between his

teeth.  It was too much to bear. She couldn't contain the laughter a moment

longer.  She lost control and laughed harder than she had ever laughed before.

At first Xander couldn't understand why she was laughing, he was genuinely hurt

until he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the full length mirror on the

wardrobe.  Then he began to laugh too, he didn't realise how ridiculous he

looked until that moment.  Well, he thought, at least I've achieved what I set

out to do, I've made her smile, well more than smile, laugh hysterically, this I

think is a good thing.  His mind processed her image laughing, her hair falling

about her face, her eyes light and shining with the laughter.  He managed to

control his stomach, it churned as he looked at her taking in her beauty.  Why

couldn't he have noticed earlier how perfect she was?  Harris you were always

slow to notice what was before you, he admitted silently to himself.

When he finally had control of himself he walked forward and placed the tray

before her.  He had been up at the crack of dawn to make a breakfast she would

never forget, he wasn't sure the kitchen would forget either, he had pots and

pans galore to wash up when she had eaten.  He hadn't realised how much mess one

person could make in a kitchen if they really tried, and he had really tried.

She looked at him and smiled.  "Thank you, this looks really nice.  I didn't

realise you were such a gourmet chef!"

"Well just think you've learnt something new about me in twenty four hours, just

think what you can learn in two weeks."

"I'm trying not to." she teased.

"I have a confession." he said simply

"What you snuck a gourmet chef in, in your suitcase just to make excellent

breakfasts?"

"No, I'm sorry about what I said last night and I didn't really mean it how it

sounded.  I never imagined being alone with you on a desert island, basically

because I couldn't imagine being close to you again."  He stated seriously.

"Well that really wasn't a confession, but I accept your apology. I'm sorry for

how I reacted I think a lot of it had to do with the long air flight and the

situation here.  Do you think we can try the friendship thing again?" she asked

hopefully.

"Only if you promise not to look in the kitchen for the next hour or so."

"Why?"

"You know I didn't manage to bring the gourmet chef and the next best thing was

me, and I don't think I've mentioned this before but kitchens and I don't really

get on that well.  I've now got to go and tidy up my creativity.  Enjoy."  He

turned and left Willow with her glorious fruit salad and pancakes.

She watched him leave and then enjoyed every moment eating a beautiful

breakfast.   Maybe there is hope after all, she thought.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

She showered and changed after finishing her beautiful breakfast.  She took the

tray to the kitchen and found Xander in the middle of washing the whole set of

pans.

"I don't mean to be rude, but how many pans does it take to make a fruit salad

and pancakes?" she asked only slightly seriously.

"Well if you're a chef probably two maximum, but if your Alexander Lavelle

Harris at least the whole set.  If you don't use the whole set how can you

guarantee a perfect breakfast? It was a perfect breakfast wasn't it? He asked

seriously.

"Well almost perfect. No really it was delicious. Now why don't you let me help

you with those pans and then we can decide what to do for the day."

"You'll help me?"

"Of course I'll help you, we're friends aren't we?"

"Yeah friends sounds good." he grinned as she moved beside him to help with the

pans.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

When the kitchen was finally tidy Willow and Xander decided that they would

spend the day exploring the island and try to get to know each other a little

better.  They packed a small picnic basket and made their way out into the

glorious sunshine.

They walked along the track through the lush greenery towards the echoing sound

of the ocean.  The sand on the beach glistened in the sunlight.  Willow

carefully took of her shoes so that she could feel the warm sand between her

toes.  It had always been a fantasy of Willow's to walk on a beautiful Carribean

beach with the feel of the sand on her bare feet.  The fantasy had also included

walking with Xander who had been desperately in love with her.  Ok so she was

halfway there to her fantasy with the sand, it was better than being no where

near and sitting at her desk in her office.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Xander jumping and fidgeting.  She turned

to look at him more closely.  He looked quite ridiculous hopping first from one

foot then to the other, with a picnic basket in one hand and his other hand

outstretched to balance him.

"What on Earth is the matter?" she asked trying her hardest not to laugh, in a

strange way his movements reminded her of the Snoopy dance, however he obviously

was not dancing and he appeared in some kind of distress.

"I've got sand in my shoes and it's driving me nuts." he said as he suddenly

changed feet, the movement caused him to lose balance and he landed bottom first

in the sand.

"Well I should think you now have sand in your shorts, and I don't even want to

think about the irritation that might cause." she couldn't manage to restrain

herself a moment longer, she fell to her knees and laughed.  One thing was

certain she had laughed more in the past twenty four hours than she had in five

years.

"I can see that you are very sympathetic to my situation.  Perhaps you would

understand if you had sand somewhere uncomfortable." he said as he grabbed a

handful of sand with his free hand and carefully deposited down the back of

Willow's tee shirt.  Satisfied that he'd found his target he quickly turned and

began to run for his life.  Knowing that Willow would not let that attack pass

without some kind of revenge.

"Xander Harris, you wait until I catch you.  You'll experience sand in places

you never thought possible!"  She jumped to her feet, leaving her shoes with the

picnic basket and running after the fleeing form of Xander.

She was surprised how quickly she was able to catch up with him. "Haven't been

working out in your new career?" she called a few feet behind him.

She took advantage of him losing his balance and flung herself at him in a

tackle.  Her arms and body connected with his back and they both fell to the

ground.  Once he was securely on the ground she began to tickle him, just as she

had when they were smaller.  Her fingers remembered exactly where he was

ticklish and just when she thought she had him tickled into submission he

surprised her by flipping her over with his hands.  Drat she thought, I was

paying so much attention to where I was tickling I forgot to pay attention to

watch for the renowned flip trick.

She found herself on her back with Xander straddling her at the waist, he was

now exacting his revenge, his fingers tickling her.  She laughed unable to

control herself.  After what seemed like an eternity his fingers finally stopped

tickling her, much to her relief.

She looked up into his face for the first time since the incident began.  His

eyes glowed with the excitement and fun of the past few moments.  This was how

their friendship had always been.  It was then that she realised how close they

were together, it was the closest they had been since the fluke and the

basement.  She felt emotions and sensations rush through her body that she

hadn't felt in a long time.  She suddenly felt embarrassed and nervous, gone was

the innocence of the situation, and in it's place all of the old questions,

feeling and emotions had rushed in to flood her mind.  At the same instant she

saw the look in Xander's eyes change, as if he was recalling the same emotions

from his memory.

Without saying a word, Xander quickly stood up and offered his hand to help

Willow from the ground.

"Your still a perfect tickler." he said

"I had a very good teacher." she allowed.  "How's the sand now?" she asked

seriously aware that she had a huge grin on her face.

"Much better now thank you, it's all evenly distributed due to your careful

tickling.  I'm sure when I leave the beach today there will be more sand on me

than on the beach itself."

She smiled, "Thank you." she said simply.

"For what?" he asked puzzled.

"For making me laugh.  I've laughed more in the past twenty four hours than I

have in a long time."

"It was a pleasure, my lady." he bowed as he spoke using his best English

accent.

They walked back towards the picnic basket.  Tired from their exercise they

decided to sit a while and talk.

They sat side by side on the blanket the brought from the house.  They both

watched the waves lapping peacefully against the shore.  They both were trying

to think of the best way to start the conversation.  The past day had seen them

break down several barriers, except perhaps one of the most important ones, why

Xander had left, and what had happened to their friendship.

Xander finally broke the silence. "Buffy told me you're living in L.A working

with computers."

"You asked about me?" Willow asked, Xander had surprised her again.  She thought

that when he had left five years ago he wouldn't have bothered to keep track on

her life.  She thought that when he left he wanted to leave everything behind

including her.

"Of course I asked Will.  I wanted to know how you were.  Leaving was one of the

hardest things I've ever done, but I had to go, you understand that don't you?"

"No.  I couldn't understand then and I can't now.  You left without saying

goodbye.  You didn't let me know you were safe.  I spent a long time that first

year Xander wondering why you left and why you couldn't let me know where you

were.  Was I such a terrible friend? Even though we weren't as close as we once

were I still cared enough to worry.  I still do." she admitted quietly.

"I didn't know what to say when I left and after I left I couldn't think how to

start explaining.  So I did what I do best absolutely nothing.  I'm sorry

Willow." he said quietly.

"I need to know why you left.  Maybe that will help me understand."

"It wasn't anything you did that made me leave." he reached out his hand and

stroked a stray piece of hair from her face.  She turned to look at him.  He

noticed tears in the corner of her eyes, they slowly trickled down her face.  He

wiped them away tenderly with his fingertip.  His heart slowly breaking

realising that he had caused her so much pain.

"I left because of a lot of things.  The first and the most important reason was

that I was going nowhere Will.  I didn't know what I wanted." except you, he

added silently. "I wanted to find myself, find where I belonged."

"You belonged in Sunnydale with me and your friends."

"In leaving I learnt a lot Willow.  I learnt how to be me.  I know that sounds

ridiculous, but in Sunnydale I had to be Xander the person to be relied upon

with a joke to ease a situation.  The one who was expected to mess up.  Well

when I left I found out that I wasn't a loser I found out that there is a world

with problems, far greater than what we faced.  I ended up in Washington working

in a children's shelter.  There were so many children there Willow who didn't

have parents, family or friends to rely on.  They didn't have hope, they had,

had to learn how to survive without adult help.   I learnt a lot those first few

days I was there.  I learnt that I wasn't alone in having parents who didn't

care.  Do you realise that without you I probably wouldn't have survived my

childhood.  You were the one who kept me on the straight and narrow, but I had

to see if I could survive without you Willow, because I wasn't sure if I could.

I've been at the shelter ever since.  I've helped hundreds of youngsters find

their way Willow off the street and helped them deal with the situations they've

found themselves in. I've even found what I want to do with my life.  I've been

working to gain my teaching certificate Will, I'm going to teach."

Her face looked a mixture of amazement and understanding.  "I'm glad you found

what you wanted and needed from life, I'm just a little hurt that you didn't

want to include our friendship in it."

"Well if I remember our friendship wasn't exactly at it's best.  I thought it

was best to leave it and see what happened.  I couldn't stay and watch what was

left of our friendship disintegrate further.  I really missed you Willow,

staying away and not running back in those first few months was the hardest.  I

want to start again if you'll have me.  I really miss talking to you and

spending time with you.  Can you forgive me."

"I know we weren't exactly close, but you have been one of the most important

people in my life, and when you left it was as if a part of me left too.  I know

now why you left and why you couldn't call, I just wish I'd know sooner.  Do you

realise we've wasted five years.  Five years is a very long time especially when

you miss your best friend." she smiled silently absolving him from leaving her,

willing to make the first step on building a new and hopefully better

friendship.

She did then something completely uncharacteristic, she leant forward and hugged

him, needing to show him that she had forgiven him completely.  He hugged her

back, it felt so wonderful to be in his arms again, she knew now that Buffy had

done the right thing by abandoning them.  All she hoped now was that they could

continue to build their new relationship without letting other feelings and

emotions sliding in.  She could never tell him how she really felt and blow any

chance of them being friends again.  Their friendship was just too important.

The hug finally ended and he smiled at her, relieved that she had finally

allowed him back into her life, as a friend.  He couldn't ask for anything more,

he already had more than he had ever hoped.  He had his best friend back.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The rest of the day on the beach sped passed.  They moved away from talking

about the past, enough had been said for one day.  They enjoyed their day

together, building slowly their new friendship.

They returned to the house just before dusk.  Xander eagerly showered the

remains of the beach from his body, whilst Willow made a quick meal.  They ate

together and eagerly chatted about their first real day of adventure.

They continued their conversation in the lounge both curled up on separate

couches.  Enjoying the time talking about the past.  Their adventures as

children, before Buffy and the demons that had scared them in their childhood

nightmares became real.  Sarah McLachlan played in the background on the cd

player.

After a while when the conversation ended they listened to the music together,

something they had done as teenagers.  They had spent numerous afternoons after

school laying on Willow's bed listening to the latest cd. Willow had spent times

like that dreaming that Xander would for once take the initiative and kiss her,

but he never had.

As Willow listened to the music she let her mind wander to the new memories

which she would cherish from today.  The sight of Xander hopping around trying

to get rid of the sand, tickling him, him tickling her.  As the pictures swam

through her mind, she let them mould together with her dreams and she fell

asleep.  Dreaming of the day and their future.

The first Xander new Willow was asleep was when he heard a soft snoring sound.

It was the sound she used to make when they were little and still had sleepovers

even with footie pyjamas.  He smiled at the memory of Willow in her Tigger

footie pyjamas her long auburn hair braided  and a smile that would make him do

anything for her.   She used to snuggle next to him in the bed and he used to

feel like a Knight protecting her from her dreams, especially frog dreams.   He

wouldn't fall asleep until she had, making sure that she was fine, he would

listen for the sound of her snoring before he dare to close his eyes.

He tiptoed quietly over to where she was sleeping.  He marvelled again at her

beauty.  Her hair fanned around her face like a beautiful crown.  Her face

completely relaxed, the soft light in the room caused streaks of pure light in

her hair.  He had to pinch himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming, she looked

like a beautiful angel, who had been sent down to heaven to be the one person in

the world who truly cared about him.  He stood there watching her sleep.  Until

yesterday he thought he would never have the chance to be this close to her

again.

He didn't want to wake her she looked so peaceful.  He carefully picked her up,

she only stirred slightly to snuggle closer into his arms.  He realised then how

perfectly she fit in his arms, it felt wonderful to have her head snuggled

against his shoulder.  The wonderful smell of her hair gently tickling his nose.

He carefully carried her to her room and placed her gently on her bed.  He

pulled the duvet over her covering her shorts and tee shirt.  He had decided

instantly that the clothes she was wearing were completely appropriate for

sleeping.  There was no way he was going to danger their blossoming friendship

with any misunderstandings.

She looked so peaceful lying there, he couldn't resist leaning over her and

kissing her forehead gently.  "Goodnight my princess, sleep well."

She mumbled something about not tickling her there, then she rolled over and

continued to snore lightly.

He backed out of her room, glancing back one more time before he closed the

door.

He changed for bed and as he lay there waiting for slumber to take over he

thought about the remarkable day and the beginning to their new friendship

together.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Part Five

Willow dreamed quietly about the beach.  Images of Xander floated in her

unconscious mind.  She imagined Xander's fingertips tickling her, she giggled at

the sensations that had coursed through her body at his touch.

Then she dreamt he was carrying her.  Her head nestling against his shoulder.

She felt so safe in his arms.  She dreamt he carried her to her room and layed

her on her bed, he then kissed her sweetly on her forehead.  She smiled at the

dream.

She rolled over into the warmth of the morning light.  She carefully opened her

eyes aware of how happy and safe she felt here with Xander.

If she was completely honest with herself he was the only person who had ever

made her feel completely safe.  Oz had been kind and gentle but even he couldn't

make her feel as safe, secure and loved as Xander had.

Her mind quickly reprocessed that last train of thought.  Where did the ‘loved'

part fit into the picture.  She hadn't been awake properly, her mind was

obviously playing tricks on her.  If Xander ‘loved' her it could only be in a

friend kind of way.  He had demonstrated ‘lust' briefly but nothing more.

Another thought popped into her mind.  She didn't remember how she got into bed.

She thought hard recalling the events of the past night.  She could remember

talking with Xander, listening to music, after that she couldn't remember

anything else.  She decided not to worry over it, as she was sure she would

recall soon what had happened.

She pushed back the duvet and was startled to find she was still wearing her

clothes from the day before.  Willow what are you doing? She admonished herself

silently.  In the past two nights you have spent here you've slept fully

clothed.  Are you preparing for a sudden escape?

Once again her mind wandered back to the events of the evening.  If she couldn't

remember how she got to bed, then the only other thing she could think of was if

someone else had put her there.  The memories of her dream came back suddenly.

The dream of Xander carrying her, her head snuggling against his shoulder.

"Ooh" escaped from her lips as realisation finally hit her.  Xander had carried

her from the lounge and put her to bed.  At least he left me i my clothes she

thought.  At least she hadn't been embarrassed too far.

Her breathing slowed and some of the colour faded from her face and she felt

happier knowing Xander still cared enough not to wake her, but carefully put her

to bed just like a shining knight protecting his princess.

Why had that statement shot into her mind?  There was something familiar about

the word princess, it gave her a happy feeling deep inside.  She put that

thought to one side and decided the answer would come to her later.

She looked at her clock, 7am, Xander wouldn't be up yet.  She had plenty of time

to shower and prepare breakfast.  It was her turn to show her culinary skills.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

After she had showered she quietly made her way to the kitchen to attempt to

make Xander's favourite breakfast.

She carefully found all of the ingredients she needed and began to work.

After about twenty minutes work she was ready.  She'd found the Twinkies in the

cupboard the other evening, but hadn't told Xander, she had been saving them for

something special.  She counted this ‘thank you' breakfast as something special.

She had placed the opened Twinkies onto the freshly cooked pancakes and had

prepared chocolate sauce to go with the concoction.  As a child Willow had only

tasted Xander's favourite breakfast once. She had promised herself then she

would never eat it again.

She carefully arranged his breakfast on the tray and carried it to his room.

She put her ear to the door.  She could hear him snoring.  She knocked once and

waited.  She waited for what seemed like forever but she didn't get a response.

She decided that she'd waited long enough her hard work was getting cold. She

managed to open the door with her elbow.  As the door opened she saw the outline

of his body silhouetted by the sunlight.

As she got closer she couldn't stop herself from watching him.  He was lying on

his side, one arm underneath his pillow, the other casually thrown over the

other side of the bed.  His hair had been mussed up by sleeping.  It accentuated

his face making him appear even more handsome.  His eyes were slightly scrunched

up and he had the biggest smile on his face Willow had ever seen.

She carefully put the tray on the night stand.   She glanced back over to

Xander's sleeping form.  A strand of his hair had fallen across his eyes.  She

carefully outstretched her hand and allowed her fingers to push the errant

strand back into place.

He stirred at her touch.  Her hand instantly shot back.  Her heart pounding in

her chest.  She silently told herself to be calm, otherwise the sound of her

heart might wake him up.

She remembered how she had used to wake him when they had sleep overs.  She

thought it was the ideal way to wake him up.

She prepared her finger, worked out the angle and launched herself into battle.

Her fingers went straight for his ticklish, hypersensitive area of his rib cage

as battle commenced.  Her fingers tickled him ruthlessly.  As she tickled she

became aware that she was actually touching his bare skin, but she couldn't

control herself.  She was enjoying tickling him so much.

His face began to contort from the tickling, finally resting into a huge grin.

He spoke without opening his eyes.

"Wills I suggest you stop tickling unless you want me to start revenge tactics."

"Never!" she giggled back, carried away by the emotions, memories and her

senses.

As she tickled his body moved slightly, which resulted in Willow changing her

position causing her to lose her balance.  As she began to fall towards him she

felt his strong arms grab her waist and pull her over onto the bed.  The

momentum of the turn resulted in Willow laying on her back on the bed looking

deeply into Xander's eyes.

"I brought you breakfast." she said meekly with a silly grin on her face.

"I appreciate the breakfast, but tickling first thing in the morning?"

"You must remember our sleep overs, it was tradition for the first one to wake

to wake the other by tickling.  Unfortunately I hadn't got a feather duster to

hand!"

He smiled and looked at her intently as if he was mesmerised by her.

He couldn't believe how being in Willow's company made him relax.  He could be

himself with her, without her judging him.  She truly accepted him for who he

was, just as he accepted her for who she was.

Their faces were inches apart.  Their eyes still locked, both searching the

others eyes.  Willow became aware how close they were.  She couldn't allow

anything to happen, even though she desperately wished it would, they had just

started rebuilding their friendship.

"Xander.  Your breakfast is getting cold."

"Breakfast?  Oh yeah breakfast."  His eyes finally breaking contact with hers

and he carefully lifted himself off her and looked over to where she had placed

the tray.  "You found Twinkies!  This is my favourite breakfast ever!  You

remembered" he said happily, returning his eyes to hers.

"How could I forget, after I tasted your favourite breakfast I was nearly sick!"

His next gesture caught her completely off guard.  He quickly leant forward and

kissed her on her forehead.

"Thank you" he whispered as he moved his head away.

Willow stayed frozen to the spot for seconds.  Her mind recalling and relishing

the sensation of his lips on her forehead.

When her head finally cleared, she sat up and looked again at him.  She watched

as he carefully picked up the tray and began to eat.

He offered her a fork full of food "Are you sure you wouldn't like to try a bit

for old times sake?"

She shook her head.  "No I made it for you, now enjoy."  She climbed off the bed

and walked towards the door. "By the way, thank you for putting me to bed last

night." she smiled over her shoulder and opened the door.

He returned her gaze.  "I thought you were asleep." he offered.

"I was." she smiled again and turned and left the room.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Whilst Xander was preparing for another day in paradise.  Willow decided to read

by the pool.  It was something she had always wanted to do.  Sitting in a

luxurious setting readin gby her own pool.  She was certainly enjoying the

dream.

She quickly changed into her one piece bathing suit and fastened a flimsy floral

sarong around her waist.  She pulled her shoulder length hair into a ‘pony tail'

and applied suntan lotion to her arms and shoulders.

Ready, she picked up her book, sunglasses and suntan lotion and walked outside

to the pool.  She arranged herself so that her back wasn't exposed to the

sunlight, she hadn't been able to reach her back with the suntan lotion.

She couldn't believe how relaxing it was sitting by the pool in the glorious

sunshine, listening to the echo of the sea and the wildlife.

After a little while she heard Xander humming from the kitchen.  He was

obviously wide awake now.  He poked his head through the window "Hey Will,

thanks for breakfast it was great."

"I'm glad you enjoyed it.  I hoe you don't mind but I thought I'd spend some

time by the pool."

"No that's fine. I'll be out in a minute."

As she sat there waiting for Xander to appear an image flew into her mind.  The

image sent tantalising shivers up and down her spine.  It was the image of

Xander clad only in his ‘Speedo' swimming trunks, when he had been a member of

the swim team.  Even now Willow's heart beat faster at the though of Xander in

swimming trunks.

She didn't let her imagination provide her with images for too long.  He strode

out from the french doors which connected the kitchen to the pool area.  He was

carrying a text book and was wearing a tee shirt and shorts.

Willow's bubble of imagination immediately burst.  Oh well she thought, you

didn't really expect him to dress for a swim team meeting when all you're going

to do is relax by the pool.

He sat down on the sun lounger opposite hers so he could see clearly what she

was doing.  When he'd popped his head through the window earlier, he'd nearly

bumped his head on the frame with shock when he saw how beautiful she was.  Her

long legs covered by the flimsy material of the sarong.  The one piece swimsuit

certainly accentuated her body. Her auburn hair which shone like spun gold

pulled back from her face although a few loose strands had been allowed to dance

gently in the breeze.

He hadn't been able to control how his body felt watching her.  It had been as

much as he could do to utter a coherent sentence before making a hasty retreat

back into the relative safety of the house.

He had decided to wear loose casual clothes.   He wore his swimming shorts

underneath his other shorts in case he wanted to swim.

As he sat down he glanced quickly at Willow, she was watching him intently.

Well he felt she was watching him but due to the fact that she was wearing

sunglasses he couldn't exactly make out whether she was watching him or not.

He opened his text book, he would take his finals in a couple of months and

there was no way he was going to blow this opportunity like he had blown so many

in the past.

He could still feel her eyes upon him.  He liked the sensation, it reminded him

of when they had been at Highschool.  He always knew when Willow was near, or

when she looked at him.  Unfortunately it was a connection he had always taken

for granted.  Accepted as part of their friendship, when really it had been

indicated the strength of their bond and feelings for each other.  Only he had

been too stupid to realise how important that connection was.  When he had left

Sunnydale, he had expected to find someone he could love, like he loved Willow

but he never had.  Everyone he dated may have been beautiful or interesting but

the bottom line was, they weren't Willow.  He had come to accept a long time

ago.  She was the one he loved more than anyone or anything in the world, but

he'd blown his change a longtime a go in Highschool.  His destiny now was to

accept that the only relationship he deserved with Willow was friendship, and

perhaps that was even asking too much after his track record.

She tried to study him, making it look like she was reading her book.  She was

fascinated by the way his hair moved in the gentle breeze.  She hadn't realised

how many different colour there were in his hair.  She could pick out different

shades of brown and where the sunlight was particularly strong he even had

strands of auburn hair, that glinted like diamonds in a mine.

The image of Xander studying made her want to smile.  For years the only time he

had studied was at her insistence.  He always blamed his low grades on being

‘dumb', but Willow had always know how intelligent he was.  If he had only tried

harder he would have been able to attend college with her.  The problem with

Xander though twas that he was too stubborn to see it until he was ready.

Obviously he was ready now, because he'd bought his text book with him on

vacation!

After watching him for a while, she finally allowed herself to read her book.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

After reading for an hour Willow decided to cool off in the pool.  As she stood

up and took off her sarong she smoothed more sun tan lotion onto her skin.  As

she did she was sure she could feel Xander's eye on her.  She smoothed the cold

lotion on her shoulders and arms, and at the top of her back.

Just when she was about to go into the pool, she felt Xander standing behind

her.

"You missed a spot." he said.

"Oh"

He reached his hand around and took the bottle from her hands.  He poured a

little of the lotion on his hands.   He then rubbed the lotion onto the exposed

skin between her shoulder blades.  She shivered slightly at his touch.  The

lotion must be cold, he thought.  He continued to rub gently on her back then he

moved his hands to her shoulders, marvelling at the softness of her skin.  His

thumbs rubbed small circles on her shoulders, involuntarily she moved her head

from side to side.  A little sigh escaped from her lips.  He was pleased that

she was reacting this way to his fingers, he was reacting a little too well to

the close contact with her.

He realised that the situation was getting out of hand.  He wanted to turn and

kiss her more than anything in the world, but he knew he couldn't because she

would think he was taking advantage of the situation.  He released her from his

hands. "I think that's it." he spoke, aware that his voice was deeper, another

change she elicited from him.

She turned and looked at him, her face slightly flushed and her eyes shining.

"I'll race you to the deep end" she challenged.  She quickly turned and jumped

into the pool.

Xander couldn't resist a challenge, he took off his shirt and shorts and jumped

in after her.  She already had a fairly big lead, but he swam after her.  She

beat him to the deep end of the pool by a couple of seconds.  She waited for him

to surface, he did, directly below her.  She felt his hands grab her waist and

push her into the air.  As his face broke the water below her he smiled.  He

managed to hold her for a few seconds, before gravity began to take over.  They

both sank back into the clear water of the pool.  He finally resurfaced next to

her, both smiling at the exhilaration of the water.

"That was sneaky Xander." she said happily.

"Well I have to keep you on your toes." he grinned.

She floated on her back and looked at his face, his wet hair clinging to the

side of his face.  He suddenly dove under the water.  Willow knew what was going

to happen before it did.  She saw his outline under the surface of the water

heading directly towards her.  She felt his hands grabbing her waist pulling her

under the water.  She gulped a mouthful of air quickly before she felt her head

fall under the surface.  He pulled her down so that she was facing him.  Their

faces were once again inches apart.  She reached out her hands and pinched his

cheek gently.  He let go of her in shock and she quickly took the advantage and

surfaced.  As soon as she was near the surface she began to swim quickly for the

shallow end, knowing that Xander wouldn't be far behind.

She managed to reach the shallow end, placing her feet firmly on the floor.  She

waited for Xander to swim to her.  She couldn't see him.  Where was he?  He

should have surfaced by now.  She allowed herself to wait for a couple of

seconds.  She began to panic.  Where on Earth was Xander?

End of Part 5

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Part Six

She had waited for what seemed like an eternity.  She began to swim towards the

deep end, scanning the water for any bubbles, any disturbance.  Thoughts began

to race through her mind: What if he was hurt?  They were so far away from

anywhere.  She could feel the tears forming in her eyes, she was on the verge of

complete panic.  Her head quickly turned from side to side, trying to glimpse

any sign of movement.

Suddenly he surfaced, about two feet from where she was.  He was grinning.  In

an instant she was utterly relieved, happy and furious with him.

"That was a stupid stunt to pull, Xander.  I thought you had drowned." she spat

out the words  angrily, aware now that the tears were flowing freely from her

eyes.

His faced changed, and he moved over to her.  "I'm sorry Will, I just thought .

. . .  I don't know. I was just being me, and as usual I went and screwed

everything up."

"I thought you'd drowned Xander.  I was scared that there would be no way I

could get you any help.  I thought I'd lost you, just after I found you again."

she was sobbing now uncontrollably.

He admonished himself for being a complete idiot, he had really scared her.  The

look on her face reminded him of the time when he had fallen out of the tree

when they had tried to reach the clouds.  She had cried then and been in a

complete panic, sure that he was going to die from internal injuries.  They had

been playing Doctor and Willow had read the medical book to find out his

symptoms and one of them had been internal bleeding.  She looked just like she

had then, tears falling freely down her face which was white with shock.  He did

all that he could think of to comfort her.  He embraced her.  She relinquished

into his hold.  He stroked the back of her head and whispered words of apology.

"I'm sorry Willow, I promise to never play silly pranks again."

She lifted her head back and looked at him. "Well, you wouldn't be you without

your silly pranks.  Do you think you could just limit them to ones where I don't

think you are injured or dead?" she said, once again allowing him to make

amends.  She had realised in that moment when she thought he had drowned that

she couldn't bear losing him again.  He was just being Xander, and she had

forgiven him before for a lot worse.

"I promise." he said, genuinely meaning it, there was no way he was going to

intentionally hurt her again.  "I promise to never pull any pranks which might

suggest that I've come to a sticky, wet or hellmouthy end!"

After the incident in the pool Willow needed time to compose herself.  Xander

had fetched a large wooly towel from the bathroom, and he held it out to her.

She was shivering from a mixture of shock, relief and the coldness of the air.

She moved slowly into the towel.  She felt his strong arms envelope her.  The

warmth of  the towel and his body slowing her trembling.  His embrace steadied

her and she began to relax again.  After a moment, Xander guided her to the sun

lounger.  She sat down, allowing her legs to steady further.

Xander watched her intently, wracked with guilt. He couldn't believe how much

pain and worry he had caused her, especially after promising himself that he

would never hurt her again.  He was slightly more relieved as he noticed the

colour returning to her pale cheeks.   "I really am sorry Will."  The words

seemed pointless now,  the pain already caused.  He felt like a small child

again, knowing that he'd done wrong, hoping that the word sorry would make

everything right again.  He knew now though that sorry could never be enough,

not when he'd caused her so much pain.

He didn't know what else to do.  He wished, for the first time since he arrived,

that he hadn't come.  If he'd stayed away he wouldn't have managed to hurt her

again.  He felt tears forming at the corners of his eyes. Turning away from her,

he tried to hide his distress, because he didn't want her to make it better.  He

thought the pain he felt was the perfect punishment for the crime of hurting his

precious Willow.

Sure now that Willow was fine, he made his way to the kitchen.  When he was

inside and sure that she couldn't see him, he ruthlessly wiped his eyes.  He

decided to apologise again by making lunch, but he kept a close eye on her

through the kitchen window.  He noticed after a while she appeared to be asleep,

and relief swept through his body.  She had relaxed enough to fall asleep.

He prepared sandwiches and an outlandish tropical fruit drink they'd created one

Christmas.  He found a little cocktail umbrella, and although Xander thought it

was tacky, he hoped it would cheer Willow up, attempting to make amends for the

pain he'd caused her that morning.

He carried the tray of food outside. Placing the tray gently on the metal table,

he tried to be as quiet as possible. However, when the tray touched the surface

it made a slight clanging sound which caused Willow to stir.

Xander looked over his shoulder, hoping that she wouldn't be disturbed, only  to

find her emerald green eyes watching him intently, a puzzled expression on her

face. "I've made lunch if you're hungry,"he stated, trying to explain his

behaviour.

She smiled at him.  He really is upset about what happened, she thought.  She

could tell by the way his shoulders were slightly hunched over, and by the tiny

‘worry' lines around his eyes.  Her heart ached, he hadn't meant to worry her,

he had only been carrying on the game, just taking it a little too far.  She

cautiously got up and unwrapped the warm towel from around her.  Walking slowly

and steadily over to the table, she allowed herself to stand beside him.

Stretching out her arm, she gently took hold of his wrist.  He turned to look at

her.

"It's ok Xander, I know it was an accident.  I still want to be friends."she

said smiling at him.

Her words surprised him.  It was the exact same sentence he had said to her when

they were eight when he  had fallen out of the tree in her garden.  She had

blamed herself ruthlessly, sure that if she hadn't told him the story about the

clouds, he would never had the idea about climbing the tree to reach them.  Then

he wouldn't have lost his balance and fallen.  As he layed there on the floor,

her little face pale with shock, she had babbled relentlessly about how she

should have known better, she was sorry and she shouldn't have let him climb the

tree and the part that he remembered the clearest was when she said that she was

a terrible friend.

He had looked at her then and truly understood how perfect she was, he could

never have a better friend and he didn't want her to hurt anymore.  So he had

said the first thing that had come into her mind.  "It's ok Willow, I know it

was an accident.  I still want to be friends." He had known then, just as she

knew now, how necessary it was to ease the other's suffering.

She let her eyes glance down at the food that Xander had prepared, looking at

the plate full of outrageous sandwiches only he could make.  Then she noticed

the jug filled with an orange and red coloured liquid.  One of the glasses next

to the jug had a little purple umbrella balanced precariously on it's rim.  She

let out a little "Ooh" as she recalled how desperate she'd been as a child to

have an umbrella for her favourite Barbie.  She'd spent ages begging her mother

to buy her a pretty umbrella for her doll, and eventually her mother had given

in and Willow's Barbie had been the proud owner of a little pink umbrella. . . .

. . .

When Xander had seen the umbrella he thought it would make an excellent

parachute and he'd spent most of the day pestering Willow to let him try it out.

When Willow had refused, he'd pouted for a while, he even tried his favourite

puppy dog expression, but Willow was certain he wasn't going to use it for a

parachute, especially after how long it had taken her to get it.

However, when Willow left her room to find some Twinkies, Xander had launched a

sneak attack.  He took the umbrella and Barbie, deciding that she would make an

excellent parachutist. He snuck out onto Willow's balcony and launched Barbie

from his aeroplane with her  makeshift parachute.  He had been amazed by the way

she plummeted to the ground, gravity dragging her quickly to the Earth.  He'd

been forced to close his eyes seconds before impact.  When he'd finally opened

them, he didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  At the very second Barbie had

landed, or rather crashed, Willow's neighbour's dog had escaped and captured the

defenseless doll in its jaws and carried her off to bury it's treasure.

It was at that moment Willow had chosen to return, and she had found Xander

staring forlornly at the neighbour's gate, she could hear their dog barking with

excitement.  When she'd asked him what was wrong, he had looked at her with the

strangest expression, one of guilt, shock and utter amazement.  It had taken him

several minutes to explain his reasoning for sending Barbie over the edge of the

balcony.  Willow's face had turned from one of shock to pure anger.  Xander had

never seen Willow so angry before. She had demanded that he go and retrieve her

doll, before the dog could do much damage.  So he'd quickly visited the

neighbour in the hope of finding Barbie in one piece.

Unfortunately for Xander, Barbie was not intact, the dog had relished the idea

of a new toy and had been rather ruthless when burying her.  He had carried the

remains of Barbie back to Willow, hoping against hope that she would forgive

him, because he didn't think he could forgive himself, for allowing Willow's

favourite doll to be destroyed.

The look on her face had been a cross between  hurt and disappointment.   She

had refused to cry, insisting that they bury Barbie in the garden.  Xander had

tried desperately to apologise, unable to handle Willow being mad at him.  She

had explained she wasn't really angry with him, but she knew now that she could

never ‘marry him' because of the way he had treated Barbie.  Xander had been

completely amazed by her statement.  They had only been engaged for one day!  At

least she wasn't angry with him anymore, he thought.

Willow picked up the jug of juice from the table and carefully poured two

glasses.  When she had filled them, she took one and carefully sipped the juice,

unsure of what to expect.  A huge smile broke across her face as the taste back

memories of the time they'd created it.  "Xander it's the Snoopy fruit punch we

created one Christmas to accompany the Snoopy Dance!"

"I know" he smiled.  "I've got another surprise later." he added his eyes

glinting with mischief.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The remainder of the afternoon passed easily, both relaxing and trying to push

memories of the morning out of their heads.

After dinner, Willow sat on one of the couches flipping  through the television

channels, looking for something to distract her mind from thinking of Xander and

how close he'd been to crying over the pool incident.  She hadn't let on that

she'd noticed, not wanting to embarrass him, as he'd never really shown any

emotions. She knew that he'd learned from an early age that the best way to

survive was not to let anyone see your weaknesses.  He thought that showing

emotions was one of the biggest weaknesses he could have.  Seeing Xander nearly

in tears had shaken Willow to her very core.

The only other time she'd seen him cry was when she had fallen over in her

garden when they were playing ‘tag'.  As she had fallen, her head had bumped

the edge of a large flower pot, cutting her scalp.  Her head had hurt and Xander

anxiously ran off to get help.  The journey to the Doctor's office had been

hard, especially for Xander because he'd cried all of the way there, thinking

that she was going to die, or change from the bump to her head.  He'd been so

afraid of losing her, but he hadn't known how to tell her so he'd cried.

Xander had never let her see him cry again, putting up more barriers to protect

himself, making them so thick that even Willow had trouble breaking them down.

Her attention was caught by a repeat of ‘Scooby Doo'. She let the station hold

and she watched the episode.  Scooby, Shaggy and the gang were desperately

trying to solve the latest mystery. She allowed herself to forget reality and

enter the world of Scooby and the gang.   She was so engrossed in trying to

solve the mystery that she didn't hear Xander come into the room.

"Have I missed the chase scene yet?" he asked, aware that Willow was watching

one of their favourite cartoons from their childhood.

"Nope, it'll be on in a . . . . . ." she couldn't finish the sentence, as her

eyes focussed on Xander, and her mind went blank with shock.  She felt her mouth

drop open, and had to make a conscious effort to close it again, as her mind

swam with exciting sensations and emotions.

End of Part Six

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Part Seven

Xander stood before her in the suit he'd bought for the wedding.  Willow's heart

was pounding so fast that she thought it might burst through her chest.  Her

mouth was dry. He looked more handsome in that moment than she had ever imagined

he could be.  He had carefully combed his hair and his eyes sparkled with

delight at her amazement.  After finally catching, her breath Willow tried to

formulate a sentence. "Xander . . . . . you're . . . .er . . . wearing a suit! .

. .  In   . . . .er" All conscious thought left her.  She was at a complete loss

for words.

Without any further explanation he went over to the video and pressed the play

button.  Willow was still in a state of utter confusion.  Her body reacting in

ways she didn't think possible.  Her  mind desperately trying to process his

image and actions into a coherent form of understanding.  A small sigh escaped

from her lips.

A familiar piece of music reached her ears, her eyes finally able to break

contact with Xander's form, to glance quickly at the television screen.  The

picture on the screen showed Snoopy ready to dance.  As Snoopy danced, Xander

danced too.  His dancing was hilarious as usual, he was completely out of time

with the music.  It was the best rendition she had ever seen.  It had been

nearly eight years since the last time she had seen the Snoopy dance.  He

elicited all of the same emotions plus new and exciting new ones.  She couldn't

help but smile.

When the dance ended, Willow applauded and giggled.  She had one question to

ask.  "Why the suit?"

"I wanted to start a new tradition to mark the start of our new friendship, the

Formal Snoopy Dance," he smiled. "Really it was the only outrageous outfit I had

to hand."

"I feel under dressed." She smiled, her eyes quickly taking in her outfit of

denim jeans and pale purple tee shirt.

"You look beautiful to me Willow, you're perfect." Xander said before his brain

could put up the usual stop signs.  As the realisation of what he said hit him,

he felt his face flush, embarrassed by his honesty.  Could he not live with

friendship? His tongue obviously thought that it could operate quite happily on

his heart's desire without allowing his mind to interrupt.

His comment was completely unexpected, and the compliment he made reminded her

so much of their dress rehearsal for Homecoming.  He had never really

complimented on her appearance until then and he hadn't dared to since.  She let

her eyes look at him, she allowed herself to smile.  "Thank you Xander, that is

one of the nicest things you've ever said to me." She got up from the couch and

hugged him.  "By the way you look pretty handsome in your suit.  I'm surprised

you haven't got a whole horde of girlfriends in Washington."

"Willow! With my track record ? I'm the demon magnet, remember?  It's kind of

tough to find nnon-demony girls. Even in Washington."" The only one who comes

close is you, he added silently.  "At least there haven't been any giant insects

or body sucking mummies recently!"

"You've never exactly been lucky in lust or love," she teased gently.

"No, Cordelia was about the closest I've come to having a real relationship and

hey, look how that turned out." He cringed as he realised what he was saying.

Willow flinched at the memory, she moved backwards completely at a loss on how

to respond, her emotions and memories twisting and turning confusing her more.

Eventually she asked the question that had tormented her for a long time. "Did

you love her?"

Xander sat down on the couch. For the first time in a long time he was about to

really talk to Willow, something that he'd really missed.  "Do you really want

to hear about this?"

"I need to understand Xander," she stated simply as she sat next to him on the

couch.

"It was confusing," he started. "It was about lust in the beginning, it was a

secret, especially considering how we viewed each other.  We spent most of our

time in the janitor's closet trying to work out what was happening.  Then it

changed, when it came out in the open, no longer a secret it changed from lust

to something else.  I don't think I was ever ‘in love' with her because I know

if I was, the clothes fluke would have never happened.  I know I could never

‘cheat,'"  his voice softened to a whisper, "on the woman I love."

Willow felt her face redden at the memory of the clothes fluke, and at the way

Xander was pouring out his heart to her.  It reminded her of their childhood,

when they could talk about anything with each other. At least until they had

started to grow up and Xander had become interested in girls. He had continued

to talk to her but, it had been about how to get noticed by the latest girl of

his fantasies.  Willow couldn't compete and her heart had hurt more with every

conversation, until neither of them talked honestly with each other about their

feelings.

"When we broke up after the factory, it really hurt to know I caused her so much

pain, but I realised that perhaps it was a good thing that we broke up. She got

to get on with her life, move on, and she's happy now with Doyle."

"Yes she's happy.  She even drops by my office on occasion for a chat." Willow

smiled at the memory of Cordy's last visit.  She had dropped in to mention

Buffy's wedding and how much she and Doyle were looking forward to it.  Although

Angel was going, she thought it would be hard for him. "She knew!" Willow

exclaimed realisation hitting her like a bolt of lightning.

"Who knew what?" Xander looked at her completely puzzled.

"Cordelia knew about the wedding, therefore she knew about Buffy setting us up!

She didn't say a word!"

"She must really have developed self control," he exclaimed humour in his voice.

Willow smiled.  "I suppose her visit was like her consent to the past being the

past.  I think she's probably forgiven us now."

"You think?" He asked teasing her, his eyes glinting in the evening light.

"I hope so," Willow added, suddenly aware how close she was to Xander.  She

really shouldn't be feeling this way about him, they were attempting to forge a

new friendship, she didn't want to complicate that.

"Willow? Now that we're being so honest with each other, can I ask you a

question?"

She nodded her head in agreement.

"Did you love Oz?" He had wanted to know the answer to that question for so

long.  When she had been dating Oz it had almost ripped his heart in two.

"Yes I did,." she admitted quietly.  "He was the first person to notice me for

who I was. He noticed that I was more than just a study buddy, or a friend, he

noticed that I was  a girl.  He was always so kind and gentle and I did love

him.  But it wasn't the type of love which could last forever, the type to

withstand all obstacles.  That's why when Veruca came along I was happy for him,

because I knew that I was no longer in love with him.  He was so good to me that

I didn't want to hurt him by breaking up, so I was relieved when he was

attracted to Veruca.  The clothes fluke was the beginning of the end in a way.

He couldn't really trust me again after that, even though he tried." She looked

into Xander's eyes and saw complete understanding. "And now he's with Buffy and

really happy. In a way I wish I could have what they've got.  It must be nice to

be with someone who you love and who loves you back."

"The  fluke ended both of our relationships," Xander stated simply, "and our

friendship."  Trying his best to ignore Willow's last statement, he wished that

he could be allowed to love her like that, but he knew that friendship was the

most important thing for now. Maybe later, he allowed himself the chance to

wish.

"But we have a chance now to start again?" She asked hopefully.

"Yes we do, don't we?"

They sat there a long time that night just enjoying the beginning of a new and

special friendship.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Willow awoke to find the sun spilling through her window.  Her eyes squinted to

get used to the bright light which had shattered her dreams.

She stretched and then rubbed the last remnants of sleep from her eyes.  She

briefly thought of Xander and the time they spent talking the night before.  By

being honest with each other finally, their friendship was starting to have a

promising outlook.

Willow wondered what lay before her in this paradise.  She stifled a yawn and

decided to find out.

Xander wasn't awake by the time Willow was ready for the day's adventure, so she

took the time to sit and reflect on the past few days.  She couldn't believe how

comfortable she felt with Xander, even after the time they had been apart.  It

was like coming home, everything felt right.  For the first time in a long time

she felt almost complete.

She heard the sound of Xander banging and clattering in his room.  He could

never do anything quietly, she thought.  She waited patiently for him to emerge

from his room.  He appeared finally, dressed in black denim shorts and a white

tee shirt.  His hair was still kind of mussed up from his slumber.  He yawned as

he walked forward, completely oblivious to the fact that he was being observed

intently by Willow.

"Did you sleep well?" She asked.

Xander jumped with shock, he still wasn't completely awake and he hadn't noticed

Willow sitting quietly on the couch.  "Willow, you could have announced your

presence.  You know it takes me a while to wake up." He yawned again as if for

emphasis.

"I was just sitting here, wondering what to do today."

"How about a game of tennis?"

"You don't know how to play!  And I haven't played since High School when

Principal Flutie insisted that tennis was compulsory for all girls."

"But it could be fun! And you could teach me. Surely it can't be that hard to

hit a little green ball over a net?"

"Well don't say I didn't warn you!" she exclaimed, mulling over whether this

would be a good idea or not.

After searching the closets, they finally came across two tennis rackets and

some balls in a cupboard in the kitchen. As they walked to the court, the sun

was shining brightly, its golden light filtering through the greenery.

The tennis court was surrounded on three sides by huge palm trees, their leaves

floating and rustling in the gentle summer breeze.

Willow decided that she would serve first, hopefully giving Xander the

opportunity to observe her style.  She carefully held her racket and tossed the

ball into the air.  Her eyes followed the ball carefully and  was pleased when

her racket came into perfect contact with it.  The ball flowed over the net and

bounced at Xander's feet.  He swiped his racket in a hopeless attempt to hit it.

As he swung his racket, the momentum of the swing caused him to twist.  His face

contorted into a look of pure concentration.

Willow couldn't help but giggle at his desperate attempt at hitting the ball.

"It's not funny Will! Im just rusty that's all.".

"Rusty is not the word I would have chosen to use."

They continued to play, with Willow playing and Xander missing.  Eventually

Willow couldn't watch a moment longer.  Xander's last attempt at returning the

ball had caused him to completely lose his balance, skid on loose grit and end

up on his stomach on the tram lines.  Willow quickly jogged around to the other

side of the net.  "Let me help," she said as she offered her hand to him.  He

accepted and she helped him to his feet.

"Ok Will, I think that is enough of a warm up, I want to know how it's really

done.  You make it look so simple."

"Well it has a lot to do with the calculation of the balls trajectory and the

amount of force necessary to propel the ball over the net."

"That sounds rather complex ,Will," Xander said pulling a face.

"I'll show you," she said smiling.  He looked like a little boy, his face all

squashed with disappointment and dejection.

She stood by his side and demonstrated how to hold the racket.  She watched as

he carefully copied her, then she held her racket in one hand and the ball in

the other as she  demonstrated how the hand with the ball went up and the hand

with the racket moved backwards.  She waited for Xander to do the same.

"I feel like Superman ready for take off," he commented, feeling completely

silly.

"We don't have to do this if you don't want too."

"No I insist. I am going to get the ball over the net if it's the last thing I

do!"

Willow released the ball from her hand, her eyes following it and bringing the

racket up and around to meet it as gravity tugged at it.  Her ball flew

effortlessly over the net.  She waited patiently for Xander to copy her.

He released the ball and brought his racket round.  The first time he completely

missed. The second time however, racket and ball met, the ball pounded forward

and landed smack in the centre of the net.  His face fell.

"At least you hit the ball," Willow offered.

"Yes I s'pose that's  improvement. Now all I've got to do is get it to go over

the net."

"Nothing is ever simple Xander, remember how hard you had to practise spelling

you're name in Kindergarten.  It's the same in tennis, practise makes perfect."

"Well, my parents did insist in giving me a complicated name to spell, it would

have been much simpler if they'd decided to call me Ben."

"But then you wouldn't have been you. Xander fits you so much better than Ben!"

she exclaimed, her eyes glistening with mischief.

"I suppose so. Well I'm going to try again."  He mentally recalled all of the

steps and gently tossed the ball into the air.  His racket met the ball and it

sailed effortlessly to the other side of the net bouncing where it should.  He

leapt into the air with a mixture of excitement and relief, and before Willow

had a chance to move he had embraced her and was swinging her around.

"Well done.  Do you want to play a game now that you've mastered the art of

getting the ball over the net?"

"It's the first step to world tennis domination." Xander teased.

The game progressed slowly, but at least Xander was able to return the ball and

Willow had the opportunity to return it.  They didn't score the game, and Willow

didn't play her best. She knew from experience that Xander found it difficult to

lose quietly, so she gave him the best chance possible of keeping up with her.

Xander's confidence grew, and he began trying more and more complex shots.  He

served the ball more furiously than he'd served before.  The ball flew with a

power Xander didn't think he would ever achieve.  As he watched in amazement,

realisation began to dawn, the ball was headed directly for Willow.  He honestly

didn't think she would be able to deflect the ball away from her.

Willow watched the ball fly towards her.  She was prepared to meet the shot with

her racket.  Her mind quickly processing the calculations necessary to return

the ball succinctly to Xander.

She prepared to return, but her calculations must have been off slightly,

because the ball came closer to her body than she expected, and instead of

coming into contact with her racket, it hit her with a resounding thud in her

stomach.  The wind was completely knocked out of her and she deflated quickly to

the ground.

Xander watched Willow fall to the ground.  She was gasping for breath and

holding her stomach tightly.  Before his mind could question, he ran across the

court and leapt over the net like a hurdler in a race.  He was at her side in

seconds.

"Will, I'm so sorry. Are you ok?" he asked his voice and face full of concern.

"I. . . . . . . .am . . . . . . .going to . . . . . be . . . . .fine. . . when I

. . . can breathe," she uttered between gasps for breath.

Xander reached out and began to rub her back, hoping to calm her and help to

return her breathing to normal. After what seemed like an eternity, her breath

slowed and the colour returned to her cheeks.

"I think I taught you a little too well," she smiled wanly as she rubbed her

stomach where the ball had hit her.

"I think we should stop now.  I've caused more damage and managed to hurt you

again."

"It's ok, it was an accident, it was probably my fault for not calculating

correctly where the ball was headed."

He helped her up, his hands gently supporting her waist.  He looked at her, she

was still subconsciously rubbing her stomach.  Xander winced at the memory of

the ball careening towards her and the look of shock and pain on her face as it

hit her.

"Xander, it was an accident, I'll live.  We'll play tennis again before the

holiday's over." Willow smiled, hoping that she was reassuring him.

"I don't think I want to see a tennis racket or a tennis ball again," he stated

firmly. "Unless it's to defend the Hellmouth. I obviously have some awesome

power, I wish I'd discovered that earlier, I might have saved us from a few

dreaded demons with my serve!"

They walked back in comfortable silence, Willow still reeling from the pain of

the ball.

End of Part Seven