Dangling Conversations by Mara



“So, red or white? I mean I’m probably having the trout and since that’s fish then white would probably be best for that, or would it? I mean trout’s meant to be a pretty strong flavor so maybe red would be better? Which are you having?”

He didn’t look up from the menu, “Um. I don’t drink wine anymore. But you go ahead.”

“Oh.” There was clearly a story behind that self-conscious admission and in the old days she’d have pushed until she found out what it was - but there again, in the old days she wouldn’t have had to push, she’d already know. “Well, uh… okay then, I’ll have whatever you’re having then.” She smiled brightly, trying to get a response from him.

Xander turned to the waiter with a studiously neutral expression on his face, “Two club sodas with lime - no ice.”

She frowned as he turned back to her and explained. “When you see some of the things that get done to the water supply you soon get used to not trusting it, so,” he shrugged, “No ice. Is that okay?”

Willow nodded and pushed an errant strand of hair back behind her ear. She was at a loss as to what to say and that hurt more than she would ever have thought possible. This was Xander for crying out loud! They could always talk for hours about absolutely nothing and then call each other as soon as they got home and do it all over again. Her frown deepened a little before she forced her forehead to de-crinkle, when was the last time they’d actually done that? She had a sneaking suspicion it was longer ago than she realized - or wanted to admit.

Her frame of reference was gone. He might be Xander, but he wasn’t really *her* Xander. Not any more. Too much time had passed since they last spoke, too much water under the bridge.

This was a mistake.

She lifted her menu again, knowing that she was just avoiding the issue, but dammit she was trying, wasn’t she? It wasn’t her fault if he’d turned all monosyllabic was it? Heck, right now he’d probably give Oz a run for his money in the laconic stakes. She didn’t quite manage to stifle the giggle that emerged at that thought.

“What’s funny?” He asked.

She looked up feeling a little guilty at the thoughts that had been going through her head. “Oh, it’s… nothing. Not important.”

He nodded and seemed content to leave it at that. Willow fought the frown that was again trying to wrinkle her forehead. Eventually he put down his menu. “So, what…”

“Has anything…” She stopped as she realized they were speaking simultaneously. “You go ahead.” She said.

“I was just going to ask what you’ve been up to lately, that’s all.” He still wasn’t looking directly at her and she wondered what it was about her that had become so abhorrent to him that he couldn’t stand to see her for long.

“Same old, same old I guess. We’re still trying to work out the details of the spell - there’s so much we don’t really know about it, what’ll happen to the next generation? Were all the Potentials alive called or was it just those between certain ages? Will it last? How is it affecting those who didn’t know anything about the kind of big bads that are out there - or even the little bads? There’s just so much we don’t really know, so we’re kinda breaking it down and trying to figure it out bit by bit.” Willow realized she was on the verge of babbling again and reined herself in. Xander didn’t seem to notice; he was staring at his hands so intently she found her own gaze drawn to them to see what was so fascinating.

“Yeah, it screwed up a lot of peoples’ lives. Shame no one thought to ask them what they all thought before hand.” His voice was level, not accusatory at all but Willow felt her defenses go up nonetheless.

She bit down her initial reaction, they hadn’t really had a choice - the spell was the only way out of the mess they were in, the only way to save the world. He knew that, he’d been there at the time. But sometimes, when she saw some of the reports people out in the field sent in, she wondered if it *had* been the right thing to do. Xander was one of those who saw what was going on first hand, and he was only voicing her own doubts. Why was she getting so upset at what he was saying?

“Excuse me; I think I need to go powder my nose.” She mumbled as she got to her feet, a little surprised to see him stand quickly - not to follow her, but out of manners. It was such an old-fashioned Giles-like thing that she was shocked to see Xander do it; it threw her completely off balance.

She didn’t know who he was anymore.

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

“He hates me.”

“Who? What? Willow is that you? Who hates you?”

“Xander”

“No he doesn’t - Xander could never hate you Willow! What made you think that?”

“He does! Look at what he’s done, what he’s still doing out there - he’s making a real difference out there! And what have I done? Worked on my tan.”

“Willow - you’ve been doing so much more than getting a tan!”

“I know, I know. It’s just… that’s how it must look - he comes back from god knows what and he’s only really got the clothes on his back and here I am in a Versace dress that cost more than the price of three wells and a hospital! That’s what he sees when he looks at me now. He hates me.”

Buffy sighed. “So it’s not going well then?”

“What do you think?”

“I think you’ve snuck away to the bathroom so you can call me rather than talking to him. What’s up with that?”

“I… I don’t know Buffy, I just…” Willow took a deep breath. “I don’t know what to say to him anymore.”

“Where are you?”

“In the bathroom.”

“No silly, what restaurant?”

“La Rosetta”

Willow pulled the phone away from her ear as Buffy’s whistle threatened to perforate her eardrum.

“La Rosetta?”

“Uh huh. Why?”

“You’re in one of the - no, hang on a second - *the* most expensive restaurant in Rome and you’re wondering why things are a little awkward?!” Willow shifted a little uncomfortably, she hadn’t really thought about it like that. Buffy carried on, “Hold on - /why/ are you in the most expensive restaurant in Rome wearing a Versace dress? Anyone would think you’re trying to impress…. Oooooo!”

Willow cringed a little and tried to jump in before Buffy could say anything more. “Bu…” She may as well have lost the capacity to speak for all the attention her friend paid.

“You *are* trying to impress! When did this happen? Does he know? You have to tell me all the details! Why aren’t you gay anymore?”

Willow felt the blush start and cursed herself for it, it was going to be a full-blown classic redhead blush, she just knew it.

“I’m not *not* gay, it’s just… I don’t think labels matter anymore, y’know? It’s not someone’s…” she struggled for a word, a little frustrated she still couldn’t talk about sex without getting embarrassed. Finally she found a compromise, “it’s not the gender that counts - it’s the person. At least for me.”

“Willow?”

“Yes Buffy?”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“’Cause you asked.”

“Why aren’t you telling Xander?”

“’Cause I can’t talk to him.”

“Why not?”

“’Cause it’s uncomfortable.”

“That’ll be the Versace dress. You should take it off.”

“Buffy!”

“What? Oh! I didn’t mean like that! I just mean… Look, it’s a *really* nice restaurant - or so I’ve heard - and I’m sure it’s a really nice dress - which, by the way, can I borrow sometime soon? - but is it really you? Or Xander? Why don’t you blow it off, come back here - I’ll make sure Dawn isn’t planning to come home tonight and I’ll head out as well. You’ll have the couch, my prodigious DVD collection - although I think Andrew might have left some of his in there last time he was in the country, but hey Xander might like the Wrath of Cain for all I know - and you can have the run of the fridge, so long as you stay away from my gelato. Whaddya say?”

“It’s Khan.”

“Huh?”

“The film? It’s the Wrath of Khan, not Cain.”

“Geek.”

“Pimp.” Willow smiled as they automatically fell into the old patterns. She was about to refuse Buffy‘s offer, this whole evening was turning into a disaster, there was no point prolonging it, she’d been an idiot to think there was anything there, she’d just been missing having Xander around, as a friend, that’s all it was.

She opened the bathroom door and peered out, part of her expecting to see an empty chair where Xander had been. Instead she saw him still at the table, sipping at his drink and looking around the room. He looked a little uncomfortable, a little restless maybe, but he was still there. Before she could duck back into the bathroom he looked over in her direction and saw her on the phone, the blush was starting to reach her face know and being caught out like that set her cheeks aflame. He didn’t look away and she forced herself not to either. Finally, after what seemed like the best part of an eternity, he grinned at her and she found herself automatically smiling back.

“Buffy?” She said into the phone, pushing the strand of hair back behind her ear again. “We’ll be there in about a half hour, okay?”

“Absolutely! Now about that dress…”

Willow’s smile widened and she hung up without answering.

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

“Who was that?”

Buffy turned and grinned at her sister. “That was Willow. She and Xander are coming over soon and we’re not going to be here.”

“Huh?” Dawn looked up from where she was lounging on the couch watching one of the DVDs she’d convinced Andrew to leave behind.

“Willow has something to… discuss with Xander.”

“Oh.” Dawn managed to grab another handful of popcorn before her sister cleared the bowl away. “Would this be the same something that Xander told you he wanted to ‘discuss’ with her when he called earlier?”

Buffy smiled. “Exactly.” She knew how George Peppard felt now; it really was a great feeling when a plan came together.

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

“You were right, this is much better.” Xander smiled at her as he leaned forward to grab some more popcorn.

Willow nodded and waited for him to sit back before she leaned into him again, “Yup, I kinda think they might have frowned on this at the restaurant.”

He laughed gently and they sat in silence for a while as the movie played on the large screen TV in front of them. Willow had no idea what film it was, she hadn’t taken any of it in, if she was to be quizzed on it later she doubted whether she could even tell who the stars were or if it was a romantic comedy, a horror or even a documentary. What she was aware of was the fact that as soon as they’d sat down his arm had automatically gone around her shoulder and she’d found herself resting her head on his chest. The sound of his heartbeat was making her drowsy and she wondered when was the last time she’d been this comfortable? He was her Xander again, just quieter.

“Willow?” She lifted her head and looked up at him. “Just checking you’re still with me.”

She lowered her head again and bit her lip, she was starting to get nervous, she should say something now before she chickened out completely.

“Xander?”

“Uh huh?”

She didn’t look up; this would be easier to say without looking at him. “You know how… I’m not… I….” Okay, maybe it wouldn’t be easier at all.

“Willow? What’s wrong? Are you…” He lifted his arm and shifted around to look at her. “Are you okay?”

She felt hot tears form in her eyes, “No. I don’t think I am. I mean, this is the most important thing I think I’ve ever said and it could ruin the thing that‘s always been the most important to me. What if you never want to talk to me again? I don’t think I could cope with that, so maybe it’s better if I just forget all about it. Yes.” She nodded to herself, “That’s probably the best thing to do - for everyone. That way I don’t say anything, you don’t hate me and we can go back to just being good old Willow and Xander, right? Okay then, that’s settled.”

“Willow - stop, breathe. You’re kinda freaking me out a little here.” He was holding her shoulders gently and all she could feel was the warmth of his hands spreading through her. She closed her eyes, willing away the tears.

“I’m okay, really. I’m… I’m sorry.”

She felt his hand under her chin and she opened her eyes as he tilted her head up. He was looking at her with a worried expression on his face, his gaze tracked over her, looking for something wrong - something he could fix. His fingers came up to her cheek and he brushed away the tear that had escaped.

“Hey. You’ve nothing to be sorry for. I…” He stopped and looked away. “I should probably go, I’m just making you uncomfortable - it’s me who needs to apologize.”

He started to stand but Willow grabbed his hand and pulled him back down onto the couch, more than a little surprised at her actions. “No. That’s not true. There’s this huge… cloud hanging over us right now. I know what’s causing it and I’ve just been too much of a coward to do anything about it. Till now.” She took a deep breath, it was now or never. “Xander? I like you.”

He frowned, “Yuh-huh. I like you too Willow, you’re my best friend, liking you kinda comes with the deal.”

She rolled her eyes, “No. I mean, I *like* you.”

“Still not getting you Will, did you…” He didn’t get a chance to finish whatever he was going to say because just at that moment Willow had had enough. She leant forward and pressed her finger to his lips to quiet him.

She smiled as his eyes widened in a silent signal that he’d gotten the message. He looked as if he was about to speak again but she was riding high now and wasn’t about to let anything bring her down. Before she really knew what she was doing she was kissing him and it was as if the years had melted away and she was back in High School again.

At first there was no response from him and she was on the verge of pulling back when she felt his hand reach up to cup the back of her head pulling her gently towards him, deepening the kiss. She smiled against his lips and eventually, regretfully, acknowledged the need for oxygen and drew back for air to find him watching her intently.

“Willow?” He said.

“Yeah?”

“I like you too.”

His fingers reached out and caught the errant strand of hair, he tucked it gently behind her ear and dropped his arm down to her shoulder, drawing her back towards him. She rested her head against his chest again and smiled at the warmth she was feeling. This felt right.

“You couldn’t have said anything before?”


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