Justice League Xander:
An Arrow's Flight

By Paradox761
Paradox761@mail.com
http://memberstripod.com/~Paradox761

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, nor do I claim to. No copyright infringement is intended, so please don't sue. I don't have any money anyway.

Spoilers: “Halloween” (BtVS), “Graduation” (BtVS), “Pangs” (BtVS), “Grave” (BtVS), and “Patriot Act” (JLU).

Summary: When Xander dresses as one of his heroes for Halloween, the path his life takes is changed forever. Will his friends be able to deal with the choices he makes? (note: this is *not* YAHF)

Author's note: This story is part of the “Justice League Xander” series, the rest of which can be found at my website (link above). Special thanks to Ravus01, zeo_knight, ashez2ashes, Cylon_One, Magewind, Joshua Richardson, Bobboky, yorath_thewolf, nutjobb82, hatten, Tjin, Vlad, Dennis Sicz, and Garg oyl for all the feedback and support.

Previous Part: http://members.tripod.com/~parabeast1761/AAF1.htm

*
(2/?)

November, 1999

The door of Giles’ apartment opened to reveal the smiling form of Xander Harris, holding a pie. “Happy Thanksgiving,” he said.

Willow nearly tackled him with a hug, almost knocking the pie out of his hand. “Xander!” she squealed excitedly. “It’s so good to see you, I’m so glad you could come.”

“Me too. Come on, let me come in and put this pie down so I can hug you with both arms.”

Willow broke the hug so Xander could come inside and closed the door. “Welcome to our ritual sacrifice of a turkey to celebrate white European imperialism,” she said.

Xander put the pie down on the dining room table and took off his coat. “You really are getting better at magic, aren’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

“You were just channeling your mother, right?”

Willow mock-glowered. “Very funny,” she said. “What kind of pie did you bring?”

“Peach.”

“Oh, my favorite, thank you!” Willow exclaimed, hugging Xander again.

“I didn’t make it or anything Wills, I just bought it.”

“Still, it was sweet,” she said.

“So,” Xander said as the hug broke. “Why do you have a vampire tied to a chair in the dining room?”

“Oh, him,” Willow said. They both looked over at Spike like they had just noticed him there. He sneered at them, but given his position it wasn’t very intimidating. “That’s a long story.”

“What, no hugs for me Whelp?” Spike said with a smirk.

Xander turned back to Willow. “Are you guys out of stakes? I might have one in my truck, I can go look?” he asked casually. Spike’s smirk fell.

“No, thanks though. We’re keeping him alive for a reason, he might have some information on these weird military guys that we’ve been seeing around town lately. Plus, he doesn’t seem to be able to bite people for some reason, so he’s mostly harmless.”

“Hey!” Spike objected to his description. The pair ignored him.

“Okay, let me know if you change your mind,” Xander said. “Where is everybody?”

“Buffy is in the kitchen cooking, and Giles is doing some research at the public library.”

“Research? Is something going on?”

“Isn’t there always in this bloody town,” Spike complained.

Willow looked reluctant. “There was an...incident yesterday, during the groundbreaking ceremony for the new anthropology building on the UC Sunnydale campus. One of the construction workers fell into a hole, which turned out to be the old Sunnydale Mission, which had been buried during an earthquake. And then this morning the curator at the cultural center was found dead, with his ear cut off and there was a Chumash spear missing. Buffy and I think there might be a connection, so Giles is researching the Chumash in Sunnydale. But that doesn’t mean we still can’t have Thanksgiving. You don’t have to worry about a thing, we’ve got it all under control, it won’t ruin your trip.”

“Easy Willow, breathe. Don’t worry about me. This is Sunnydale, I fully expected there to be weirdness, I can deal. Nothing is going to get ruined.”

Willow smiled. “I know, you’re right. It’s just...you’re only going to be here for a few days, and I just want everything to go perfect.”

“It will, I promise,” Xander reassured her.

That’s when Buffy came out of the kitchen, wearing an apron with a bowl in one hand and a whisk in the other. “Wills, I need your help with the mashed po...Xander!” She put the bowl down next to Xander’s pie and ran over to give him a hug.

“It’s good to see you too, Buffy,” Xander said. “How’ve you been?”

“Not bad,” she said as the hug broke. “Starting college has been a little stressful, on top of all the usual hellmouth related stress. But I’m dealing.”

“A little birdie told me that you’ve got a boyfriend now. I’ve heard he’s nice, is he nice? I bet he’s nice,” Xander said with a teasing smile.

“He’s...nice,” Buffy said, not being able to think of another word.

“See, I told you,” Xander said, turning to Willow. “Did I call it or what.”

“Riley and I just started dating, so we’re still really getting to know each other. But he’s a sweet guy, I like him a lot,” Buffy said.

“Bloody hell, I think I might vomit,” Spike growled. Again, no one paid any attention to him.

“So what about you, how have you been? How are...things?” Buffy asked.

“Things are good,” Xander answered. “I’m still working for Ollie, helping to run a couple of his charities. He’s been teaching me a lot about business.”

“That’s great. What about...other things? You know, *things*”

Xander looked confused for a moment until he realized what she was talking about. “Oh, *things*. Things are fine, going quite nicely actually.”

“You lot are about as subtle as a freight train, you know that?” Spike said. “I know all about the whelp playing boy wonder to that bloke who thinks he’s Robin Hood up North, so you can stop talking in your unbreakable code.”

Xander shot an incredulous look at Spike, and then whipped his head over to Willow. “Did you...”

“No!” she insisted.

“Nobody had to tell me anything whelp, it’s not that hard to figure out for anyone who knows you and has half a brain. Which means your identity should be as safe as a baby in its mother’s arms.”

Xander sneered and started toward the bound vampire. “I hope Giles still has that dust buster, because things are about to get real dusty in here.”

“Xander, wait!” Buffy said, putting her hand on his arm to stop him. “We need him alive...for the moment anyway. I promise, he’s in no position to tell anybody anything.”

Spike just smiled. “She’s right, mate. Your secret’s safe with me, cross me heart and hope to die.”

“You’re already dead,” Xander pointed out.

“True enough, but the lady has a point. Who am I going to tell?” Spike smirked. He knew the slayer wouldn’t let anything happen to him, so he had nothing to fear.

Xander stared Spike down a moment longer before responding. “Fine,” he said. “Come on Buff, I’ll help you in the kitchen.”

Xander and Buffy walked into the kitchen with Willow not too far behind. “I’m sorry if I overreacted in there. It’s just...I told GA when this whole thing started that there were going to be certain people that I wasn’t going to be able to keep this from. He told me something that I never forgot. The more people who know, the more dangerous my life would be. Up until now it’s been a trade off that I’ve been willing to make, but *him* of all people...” Xander trailed off as he pointed toward the dining room where Spike sat tied to a chair.

“It’s okay, Xander,” Willow said. “We’ll keep your secret safe, I promise.”

Buffy decided that a change in subject was in order. “Your life didn’t look that dangerous on the cover of Teen People last week,” she said with a playful smile. Xander put his hands over his face and groaned. Willow frowned but neither Buffy or Xander noticed. “How is Cordelia by the way?”

“The last time I talked to her, she was fine,” Xander said. “We’re not a couple, I just help her with a photo op now and then to help her stay in the tabloids. It works quite well actually, the buzz was enough to get her that part on Dawson’s Creek.”

“And what are you getting out of this arrangement?” Willow asked with more than a little venom in her voice.

“Besides my own share of good publicity, a favor owed from Hollywood’s next big starlet. In my line of work you make all the allies you can. You never know which ones might pay off down the road.”

“Speaking of allies,” Buffy said, changing the subject again as she could feel Willow’s unease. “What’s it like being part of the Teen Titans now? That’s got to be exciting.”

Xander smiled. “There’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure. Don’t get me wrong, I love working with Green Arrow, and he’ll always be a mentor to me, but being part of a team again feels nice. We all have something special to contribute, and when we’re working together and it’s all clicking, it just feels like we’re...unstoppable. I don’t know if that makes sense.”

Buffy smiled. “Oh, it makes perfect sense.”

“You are being careful, right?” Willow asked a little sheepishly. “I mean, you’re not getting yourself in over your head, are you?”

“No Willow, I’m not. I’ve got plenty of people watching my back these days, you don’t have to worry.”

“I know, but I do,” Willow said.

“I know,” Xander said, putting a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “And I love you for that. But honestly, I’m fine. I promise.”

It was then that the trio of friends heard the front door opening. They filed one by one back into the living room, where they saw Giles pushing the door shut with his shoulder as he tried not to upset the stack of books he was holding.

“I’d offer to help you with those Rupes, but I’m a little tied up at the moment,” Spike said, snickering at his own joke.

“Do shut-up, Spike,” Giles said, not even looking at the vampire.

“I’ll help you with those, Giles,” Buffy said.

“Oh, thank you Buffy, I appreciate that.” Buffy took the books and set them down on the coffee table. That’s when Giles finally looked up and noticed Xander in the room. “Xander,” he said, with a warm smile. “It’s good to see you my boy, how are you?” he asked, extending his hand.

Xander took his hand and pulled the older man into a hug. “Good to see you too, G-Man,” he said. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Yes, happy Thanksgiving to you too. I’m sorry I wasn’t here to give you a more proper welcome. As usual we’re in the middle of a bit of a crisis.”

“I wouldn’t have expected any different,” Xander said.

“Crisis?” Willow asked with more than a bit of panic in her voice. “I take it you found something then.”

“Quite a few somethings actually,” Giles answered. “I believe what we’re dealing with here is a Chumash vengeance spirit, called Hus.”

“A vengeance spirit?” Buffy asked. “Who is he reeking vengeance on? And for what?”

“Well, the Chumash were a largely peaceful tribe until white settlers came and took most of their land. And in return, they gave them malaria, smallpox and syphilis, tried to convert them to Christianity, and generally treated them as little more than livestock.”

“Oh my god, that’s horrible,” Willow exclaimed.

“So what makes you think this Hus guy is the one responsible for the murder?” Buffy asked.

“Murders, I’m afraid,” Giles said. “I decided to stop by St. Anthony’s on my way back from the library to see if I could learn anything more about the church’s involvement with the Chumash. Father Gabriel has been killed too, and one of his ears was severed. A Chumash custom, to prove the kill was successful.

“Oh god,” Willow exclaimed again, putting her hand to her mouth.

“As terrible as that is, how do we know that this isn’t just some pissed off flesh and blood human being we’re dealing with?” Xander asked. “What makes you think it’s supernatural?”

Giles took a folded newspaper from his back pocket and handed it to Xander. “This,” he said.

Xander took the paper and read the headline. “Construction worker hospitalized after falling into old Sunnydale mission.”

“Read the third paragraph.”

“Though his physical injuries were minor, Johnson remains in the hospital pending the review of some rather odd test results, which came back positive for malaria, smallpox and syphilis,” Xander read. He looked up. “I see your point, that would be a rather odd coincidence.”

“Quite,” Giles said. “Hus is avenging the crimes committed against his people, it’s the only explanation. And there’s no telling who could be next.”

“So how do I kill it?” Buffy asked, getting straight to the point.

“Kill it? We can’t kill it,” Willow said. “He’s not evil, he’s just doing what was done to his people. We should try to help him to move on.”

“Willow, he’s already killed two people, we don’t have time to get him into group therapy, we have to stop him,” Buffy said.

“I’m afraid that Buffy is right. As tragic as what happened to the Chumash is, we can’t let Hus continue his reign of vengeance. These killings may be symbolic, but the victims are still innocent.”

“So we’re just going to prove him right, is that it? Wipe him out just like our ancestors wiped out his people.”

“Whoa, let’s just settle down here for a minute,” Xander said. “Now correct me if I’m wrong Giles, but you can’t exactly kill something that’s already dead, can you?”

“You’re correct Xander, what we’re talking about here is vanquishing the spirit,” Giles clarified.

“Which means what exactly?”

“Removing his power base from this plane and forcing him to move on to the next.”

“Sounds like a win/win to me,” Xander said. “He gets to move on, and we stop him before the body count gets any higher. What do you think, Willow?”

Willow frowned but she nodded.

“Great. So what’s involved in this vanquishing, G-Man?”

“I’ll have to do more research, but it shouldn’t be too complicated.”

“Okay, how about this. You stay here and keep researching and Willow and I will go and scope out some possible victims, try to warn them and figure out what Hus’s next move will be.”

“Sounds good,” Buffy said. “That’ll give me a chance to finish dinner. You have your cell phone on you?” Xander nodded. “Call if you run into any trouble.”

“You bet.”

*

Willow sat in the passenger seat of Xander’s candy-apple red Chevy Tahoe, staring out the window. “I don’t understand how you can be so cavalier about this.”

“I’m not being cavalier, and neither are Buffy and Giles. Just because a decision was made quickly doesn’t mean it was made hastily. Buffy’s been doing this a while now, she knows what she’s doing. And she knows that if she hesitates, it could cost lives.”

“It still doesn’t feel right.”

“Something GA told me once, the right decision isn’t always the easy decision.”

“I think I’ve had enough Green Arrow pearls of wisdom for one day,” Willow mumbled.

Xander took his eyes off the road and looked at her, surprised by the malice in her voice. Willow didn’t face him. “Where to first?” he asked after a moment.

“The Dean of UC Sunnydale lives close to campus, let's try there first.”

*

Willow and Xander walked down the front steps of the house. Willow looked aggravated, and a little embarrassed. Xander was carrying a small paper plate with a slice of pecan pie on it and holding a plastic fork in his other hand. “I’m sorry for the intrusion, thank you again for your time,” Willow said sheepishly toward the door of the house. Xander just held up his pie and smiled in thanks. The door closed without a response from the occupants. The two slayerettes made their way down the front walk back toward Xander’s truck.

“I thought that went well,” Xander said around a mouthful of pie.

Willow turned and glared at him. “He thought we were crazy.”

“His wife was nice. She gave me pie.”

“I think it might have gone better if you hadn’t led off with ‘Everybody got both ears?’.”

Xander took another bite of pie. “The direct approach is usually the best approach,” he said. He didn’t bother telling Willow where that little piece of advice had come from, and she didn’t bother asking. “If they had had any interaction with Hus, we would have been able to tell. And if not, they would have thought we were crazy anyway. No point in beating around the bush.”

Willow just frowned while Xander juggled the pie and his car keys before unlocking the doors. She got in while Xander walked around to the driver’s side. “I’m worried about you,” she finally said.

“Willow, we’ve been through this. I’ve got good people watching my back, the best.”

“I don’t just mean that. I mean you, your personality has changed. The Xander I knew never would have walked into that house so brazenly.”

“Maybe I am more confident now. Is that such a bad thing?”

“It can be if you’re over confident. I read the papers, Xander. A month ago, in Jump City, when Control Freak came looking for the Titans and found your team instead. They said you used a bridge suspension cable to launch yourself like a human arrow at a bunch of incoming missiles. Am I supposed to read that and *not* worry about you?”

“You can’t believe everything you read in the papers.”

“That’s not a denial.”

“You noticed that, did you?”

Willow just rolled her eyes and turned to face the window.

Xander finished his pie, folding the paper plate in half and sticking it into his door panel. He reached up and started the car. “Where to next?”

“Just drive,” Willow answered. “I need to think.”

*

The next stop turned out to be the Espresso Pump. Caffeine helped Willow think. They were walking out with their coffees in hand when they ran into a familiar figure that surprised them both.

“Angel!” Willow exclaimed in surprise.

“Willow.”

“Angel,” Xander said.

“Xander?”

“What are you doing in Sunnydale?” Xander asked.

“What are *you* doing in Sunnydale?” Angel countered.

“This is starting to turn into a bad Abbott and Costello routine, why don’t we all just sit down,” Xander suggested, pointing to one of the tables that sat outside the café. Angel nodded and they all sat down.

“You’re not, like, evil again? Are you?” Willow asked.

“I don’t think he’d be joining us for coffee if he were, Wills,” Xander said, taking a sip from his cup.

“I just…I just wanted to see how Buffy was doing,” Angel said.

“Does she know you’re here?” Willow asked.

“No. And please don’t tell her, I don’t want to upset her. It’s just…this friend of mine in LA, he has these visions. He saw Buffy in one, said it looked like she was in trouble. I just…I needed to make sure she was okay. I saw Giles earlier, he said that there wasn’t anything major going on and that Buffy is doing fine.”

“She is,” Willow agreed. “It was hard for a while but she’s dealing, things are getting better for her.”

“I’m glad,” Angel said.

“Yeah, if it weren’t for this Native American vengeance spirit, I’d say things were peachy with a side order of keen,” Xander said.

“Native American did you say?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Doyle’s vision. He said that he saw Buffy fighting with a Native American.”

“What else did he see?” Xander asked.

“He saw a knife, and parts of the room where they were fighting. From the description, I think it was Giles’ place.”

Willow and Xander shared a look, then they both quickly started to get up from the table. “Good seeing you again Angel, we should do this again real soon, good luck in LA, have a nice life, see you in the funny papers,” Xander said in a rush as he reached out and shook the vampire’s hand. He patted him on the shoulder quickly and then he and Willow made their way briskly to a red SUV parked in front of the café. They got in and took off down the street.

Angel just sat there for a second, watching the truck’s taillights, unsure about what had just happened. After a few seconds of stunned silence, he jumped up from the table and started down the street himself to where he had parked his car.

*

Xander’s Tahoe screeched to a halt outside of Giles’ apartment. The pair got out and Xander walked around to the back of the truck, unlocking the gate with the remote in his hand. “What are you doing? We have to get inside, Buffy could be in trouble,” Willow said.

“I know,” Xander said. He opened the gate and then pressed another button on the vehicle’s remote. A secret compartment in the floor of the truck popped open. Xander lifted the lid to reveal his Speedy costume folded neatly sitting next to his bow and a selection of arrows. Willow looked at him. “What can I say, I believe in being prepared.”

“You said that this was going to be a Speedy-free vacation, Xander. You promised,” Willow complained.

“Unfortunately, no one told Hus that. Vengeance spirits can be so inconsiderate sometimes,” Xander quipped as he pulled out his quiver and started filling it with arrows. “Besides, you didn’t expect me to come to Sunnydale unarmed, did you? I was expecting vampires so most of the arrows I brought are wood tipped, but I should still have some trick arrows in here too. Let me see, boxing glove arrows, yes, explosive tips, definitely not, buzz saw arrows, maybe…”

Willow watched as Xander sorted through the arrows, deciding which ones he would need. She saw one arrow sitting by itself in a plexiglass case. “What’s this one,” she asked, reaching for it.

“No, don’t touch that one,” Xander said quickly. “That one is…for emergencies only.”

“You don’t think this is an emergency?”

“Are you kidding, in Sunnydale? This is just another Thursday. Come on,” he said, sliding his quiver onto his back and picking up his bow. Willow frowned again as he closed the truck’s gate. “What? I’m leaving my costume in the truck, so technically I haven’t broken my promise. Come on.”

Xander started across the street and through the small courtyard in front of Giles’ apartment, Willow followed close behind. “We’re probably overreacting,” she said. “I’m sure Buffy and Giles are fine.”

“Maybe,” Xander said. He opened Giles front door and saw Buffy on the living room floor wrestling with a Native American man holding a knife. Spike sat tied to the same chair he was in earlier, only now he had several arrows sticking out of his chest. He looked rather bored by the whole thing. An arrow sailed passed Xander’s head and embedded itself in the wall by the door. Xander looked up and saw more Chumash spirits with bows and arrows on the second floor landing. “Then again, maybe not.” He grabbed Willow by the arm and the two of them dived behind Giles’ couch. That’s where they found Giles laying, furiously looking through a book that sat on his chest. “You sure know how to throw a party, G-Man,” Xander said. “Replace the arrows with broken beer bottles and this would be a traditional Harris family Thanksgiving.”

“I’m glad you approve, Xander,” Giles responded dryly.

“You any closer to that vanquishing thing?” Xander asked.

“I would be, but most of the ingredients I need are still in the kitchen,” Giles answered.

“Of course,” Xander said. He pulled an arrow from his quiver and knotted it. He peeked over the couch, then popped up and returned fire before quickly ducking back down. The arrow struck the wall just over the Chumash’s heads. “I count three on the stairs,” he said. “I assume Buffy’s dancing partner over there is Hus.”

“You assume correctly,” Giles answered. Xander pulled two more arrows out of his quiver. He held them up and tore a piece of the fletching off of each. “What are you doing?” Giles asked.

“Just a little trick I saw once.” He knotted both arrows and popped up again, taking quick aim and drawing his bow, he fired then ducked back down. The two arrows curved outward to either side and quickly found their targets, before passing right through them and sticking into the wall.

“And just where exactly did you see that ‘little trick’?” Giles asked.

“Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves,” Xander answered.

“Of course,” the watcher deadpanned.

“That was amazing!” Willow exclaimed, clearly impressed.

“It would have been more amazing if it had worked,” Xander said. “Incorporeal?” he asked. Giles nodded. Xander looked up from the floor at Spike. “Their arrows seem solid enough,” he said, just as another one slammed into the bound vampire’s shoulder.

“Bloody hell! If one of those hits my heart, I’m going to be very cross!” If the Chumash spirits understood him, they gave no indication.

“I can try my buzz saw arrows, it might scare them,” Xander thought aloud.

“Absolutely not!” Giles insisted. “There’s already been enough damage done to my flat, I’ll never get my security deposit back now! Besides, conventional weapons will have no effect, the only thing that might hurt them would be spiritual weapons, like…” Giles trailed off and turned to look at Xander.

“Like the weapons that they’re using,” Xander finished. “Buffy!” he called out.

“I heard, way ahead of you,” she responded. Xander peeked over the corner of the couch to where Buffy and Hus were fighting. Her arms were covered with shallow cuts from defending herself from more critical injury. Xander could see the wheels turning in her head, she was waiting for her opening. Finally Hus made a lunge and she grabbed his arm. She trapped his elbow with one hand and shoved his knife hand away with the other, forcing the blade into the vengeance spirit’s chest. He gasped and looked up at her, for a moment their eyes locked. “I’m sorry,” Buffy said softly.

Xander’s eyes moved from Buffy back to Spike, and the arrows sticking out of his torso. He briefly thought about using one of them with his own bow, but he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to get them out cleanly and quickly enough. That’s when another plan formed. “I have an idea, you two stay here,” he said.

“Xander, wait!” Willow objected.

But it was too late. Xander moved from behind the couch to behind Spike’s chair. He used the vampire as a shield, pushing the chair closer to the stairs. “Hey, what the hell are you doing whelp?!” Spike shouted. Xander ignored him as he pushed forward. A few more arrows struck the vampire before Xander made it to the stairs. He jumped out, tackling the spirit at the bottom of the steps and cracking him in the side of the head with his bow. He quickly pulled two arrows out of the Chumash’s quiver, stood and fired them both in quick succession at the two Chumash who were still standing at the top of the stairs. He struck the first in the chest, and the second in the head, sending them both to the floor instantly. This gave Xander more time to grab another arrow and fire it into the first Chumash at the bottom of the stairs. A second later, all four bodies turned to smoke and disappeared.

For a moment, no one said anything. Finally, Giles stood from behind the couch. “Good lord, that was fast,” he said.

“They don’t call me Speedy for nothing,” Xander said with a wink. “Is that going to do it for these guys Giles, or should we set a few extra places for dessert.”

Giles seemed to think about that for a moment. “No, that should do it.”

Xander smiled. “Good.”

“Bloody hell!” Spike exclaimed. “You used me as a human shield!”

“Oh, don’t be so melodramatic, Spike,” Xander said. “You have to be human to be a human shield.”

“He’s got you there,” Buffy added.

“Oh, do shut-up! Look at me, I look like a bloody pin cushion!”

“Let me give you a hand,” Xander said, walking toward the vampire. He wrapped his hand around one of the arrow shafts and smiled down at Spike. “Don’t worry, it’ll only hurt a lot.” With that, he yanked hard and pulled the arrow free. Spike’s scream was no doubt heard for miles.

“Speaking of things that are painful and nobody wants to look at, my turkey is ruined,” Buffy said with a frown.

Xander walked over to his friend and put his arm around her. “Don’t worry about it Buff, the turkey doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re all here together.”

Giles walked over and gave Buffy a smile. “Absolutely,” he agreed.

Willow ran over and hugged Xander on the other side. “Well said,” she said.

“Bloody hell! That hurt like a mother…”

“Who wants pie?!” Willow called out. Everybody laughed. Well, almost everybody.

The hug broke up and Giles sighed as he looked around at his apartment. “Would you all mind helping me tidy up a bit first?” he asked.

The group all agreed and set out to start picking up. Xander made his way back to the stairs and started pulling the arrows out of the wall. “A little spackle and paint and these holes should patch up nicely, G-Man,” he said. His time helping Ollie fix up his estate had paid off, Xander had learned more than a thing or two about home repair. It was funny, Xander thought. As much as things had changed for him since leaving Sunnydale, being back made him feel like nothing had changed at all. It felt warm and safe, the way coming home should feel, he thought.

“It’s good to come home,” he said out loud to himself with a smile. “It feels just like old times. Especially with Angel being around and all.”

The background noise in the room behind Xander stopped. Even Spike’s complaining stopped. He could feel four pairs of eyes burning a hole in the back of his head as the realization of what he had said and who he had said it in front of began to sink in. The arrows in his hand fell to the floor, and his head fell gently against the wall in front of him. He closed his eyes and tried to will the words to come back, but it was too late. “Shit.”

*

Later that night Willow was in the kitchen washing dishes when Xander walked in. Giles and Spike’s raised voices could be heard from the other room as the door swung shut behind him. Willow turned and smiled at her friend. “What are those two on about?” she asked.

“Apparently they’ve found the one topic on which they both agree,” Xander said. “American football is bullshit.” Willow laughed. “They’re kind of making it hard to enjoy the game.”

“I can imagine.”

Xander picked up a kitchen towel and started to dry the dishes as Willow washed them. “So, how hard do you think Buffy is going to kill me when she gets back?”

Willow chuckled again. “Oh, I don’t think she’s really mad at you. She’s not really mad at Angel either, she’s just…confused. She was finally just starting to put him behind her and now she’s being forced to think about him again.”

“It hasn’t been easy for her, has it?”

“Trying to adjust to college life on top of dealing with this, plus the slaying. No, it hasn’t.”

“I wish there was more that I could do for her.”

“She just needs her friends to be here for her right now, that’s all we can do,” Willow said. She turned, giving Xander a look to punctuate her words. If he noticed he gave no indication.

“Yeah, I guess so,” he said.

“Besides, right now I think she’s more upset that her Thanksgiving dinner didn’t go as smoothly as she would have liked.” Xander chuckled. “Seems like every time you come for a visit, all Hell is breaking loose.”

“The Norman Rockwell thing just isn’t us, Wills. It wouldn’t feel right if there wasn’t something going down, it’s the Hellmouth’s way of welcoming me home.”

“Still, I was hoping for a warmer welcome than this,” Willow said. “I wanted everything to be perfect for your visit.” She paused. “I wanted you to see what life could be like here again if you came back.”

Xander frowned and put down the plate that he had been drying. “Is that what this is about?” He paused, gathering his thoughts. “Willow, I understand that you miss me, I miss you too, but I have another life now. I have responsibilities, I can’t just turn my back on them and move back to Sunnydale.”

“Oh, but you can turn your back on us, is that it?” Willow asked, her irritation clearly showing in her voice.

Xander’s voice remained calm. “Is that what you think? Willow, if I thought for one second that you guys really needed me here then I never would have left. But I wasn’t contributing anything here, I was just in the way. I had to find my own place in the world. And I’m sorry that that took me away from you, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t care. You’re still my best friend.”

“This isn’t about me missing you. You contributed a lot here, more than you know, maybe more than any of us realized until you were gone. And you can contribute a lot more.”

“Not anything meaningful.”

“Meaningful?! You don’t call what you did at graduation meaningful?! Or what you did today?”

“I helped, and I’m more than happy to help you guys whenever I can. But being Speedy…it gives me a chance to contribute something more, to do something important.”

“Well we might not have any flashy costumes or wacky props, but I think that what we do is pretty damned important! Why do you have to dress like a circus acrobat to feel like you’re contributing?”

“You’re not listening to me. I’m not saying that being Speedy is more important than the fight in Sunnydale, I’m just saying that it’s a better fit for *me*. It gives me a chance to accomplish something.”

“What are you accomplishing?! All I see is a lot of stupid risk taking for nothing!”

“Nothing? So because we’re not saving the world from being sucked into hell, we’re doing nothing, is that what you think? I take a lot of pride in what I do, and what my friends do. We make a difference in the lives of a lot of people, whether you want to see that or not. We can’t all save the world Willow, some of us have to be content just saving some of the people in it. And that doesn’t make you better than us, and it doesn’t make what we do unimportant.

“Why can’t you just be happy for me? Why can’t you just be happy that I found something that I’m good at, something that makes me happy? Why can’t you be proud of me?”

“Proud of what? You run around in a silly Halloween costume and shoot boxing glove arrows at petty thugs. What is there to be proud of?”

The second the words left her mouth, she regretted them. When she saw the look on Xander’s face, she knew that she hurt him worse than she ever would have thought herself capable. The silence seemed to stretch for days. Xander had his eyes on the floor, he couldn’t even look at her. Willow tried to think of something, anything to say. But her brain refused to cooperate. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Xander turned and started toward the kitchen door.

“Xander, I’m…”

He stopped and held up his hand, stopping her sentence before she could finish it. “Don’t,” he said. “Just…don’t.” Again, the silence seemed to stretch, but this time Xander was looking right at her. “My entire life, since I was five years old, all I ever wanted was your approval, your respect. I never cared what anyone else thought, not my parents, not teachers, not the other kids who all thought I was a loser. You believed in me, and what I wanted more than anything was to prove you right. To prove all those people wrong who thought that I would spend the rest of my life trapped in my father’s drunken shadow. I was going to become a man, even if I didn’t have anyone to show me how. And when I found my chance I went for it, and I worked harder than I have ever worked in my whole life to get it. And I did, I succeeded, I became the man that I always knew I could be. And so what if all those people who never believed in me would never know. The people who really mattered knew, and that was all I cared about. More than anything Willow, in my entire life, all I ever wanted was for you to be proud of me,” Xander said. “But I guess that’s never going to happen.” And with that he turned and walked out of the kitchen.

“Xander, wait!” Willow called out. But he didn’t wait, he didn’t even slow down. The kitchen door swung closed and then she heard the front door open and close. She wanted to go after him, but she didn’t know what she would say. What could she say? All she wanted was her best friend back, and with one careless comment she had cut him deeper than any knife or arrow ever could. She grabbed a kitchen chair and sank down into it. Her head fell into her hands and she cried. She cried, and she racked her brain trying to figure out how she could fix this.

But what Willow didn’t know was that that exchange would be the last words either of them would speak to the other for almost two years.

TBC...