This morning I awoke perky, finally free of the flu-like-thing that I've had for a week. And what happened this aftenoon? I broke my finger. I've decided if I have to be in pain, everyone else does too.

Xander visits Sunnydale one last time, told through Willow's eyes. Spike/Xander, pretty dark, PG ... what? It can still be dark and be PG!

Long Term Investment

Nasty Shrew

It was the subtle differences at first – so subtle Willow sometimes wondered whether she had seen them at all. Maybe the colder hint to his smile was just her imagination, perhaps the edge to his voice was just a sign of age, of maturity.

Xander had visited Sunnydale once every year since he’d left, sometimes with Spike and sometimes without. This year he had come alone, dressed to the teeth in black and dark reds and subtle tones, bringing exotic gifts wrapped in designer paper. Beautiful gifts, sometimes a hint too impersonal, a little too removed.

But Willow loved her oldest friend, loved him so much she could pretend that Xander hadn’t changed more than any of them had – she could pretend she still understood when he made a joke or smiled at her just so. She could ignore the little changes, his clothes, his hair. There were some things she couldn’t pretend not to notice. Things that made her come to a startling conclusion; that the man who sat opposite her was nothing like the friend she remembered.

“What do you mean, you ‘took care of her’?” she asked, fork of pasta half way to her mouth and dread rumbling through her stomach because she didn’t want to know.

“Willow, it’s not like I had much choice in the matter. This woman threatened to use you against me,” he said, flippant, matter of fact and so Not Xander.

“She … this woman was human!” Buffy’s fork dropped to her plate with a clatter and her eyes were wide and terribly young.

“Barely,” Xander snorted, sarcasm that bit into her flesh. He brushed hair away from his mouth as he ate bread, sipped wine, seeming oblivious to the tangible shock.

Xander had killed someone, killed someone. Made someone dead, took their soul, sent it somewhere else. Killed, murdered, slaughtered, exterminated, assassinated, executed, slain and sometimes Willow hated being smart because the words never stopped coming.

Xander didn’t seem to care.

“What have you done?” she whispered, stupid question Willow you know what he’s done, he’s extinguished another human life and he doesn’t care, doesn’t care at all. Willow gripped the table and willed the world to slow down please because she needed it all to stop, rewind, back up so she could think.

“I did what I had to,” he said, gentler now, big hand warm, human and oh Goddess he was human with a soul and he still didn’t care. She flinched and Xander’s eyes hardened almost imperceptibly. “I have to go, Spike is expecting me,” he said, standing, pushing back his chair, his napkin dropping to the floor. Xander always put his napkin on his lap now, never tucked into his shirt like before. He never did anything like before.

“We don’t know who you are anymore,” Buffy said, not a question, breaking after she said it as though her words made it true. Willow knew she should say something, should help Buffy because she’d been through so much since her mom, since Giles but for once no words of comfort spill from her lips because Xander is, was, is her friend too.

“People change,” Xander replied, his voice sad and it felt like someone was hacking away at the cord between them, severing a tie that they had always taken for granted. Maybe that was what Xander had come for – to cut that connection for good.

Then he’s gone and Willow watched Spike, standing in the garden. He took Xander into his arms and kissed beneath Xander’s eyes, lips moving in murmured words that she couldn’t hear. She turned, saw the Slayer crumble, watched the resolve drain from her face. She looked back and saw Spike’s eyes flick through the window and see Buffy vulnerable and so like a child with nobody left to hold her, broken, alone – the Slayer looked utterly defeated, no sword or spell in sight. A small smile flashed across Spike’s face and he lit a cigarette before he walked away - Xander by his side, as though drawn by an invisible chain.

Willow considered, noted, finally clicked.

That had been his purpose.

The End

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