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Exploring the Universe

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The first time he really noticed her, she was sitting at their kindergarten work table rocking back and forth. She looked up for an instant, as if she could feel his scrutiny, and he had been shocked by the quiet devastation on her face. Her crying wasn’t what had surprised him; after all, nearly half the class had cried at one time or another already and it wasn’t even ten o’clock yet. No, what surprised him was how silently she was suffering. Everyone else had gone for the attention-getting screams, but this little girl with the fascinating red hair wasn’t seeking notice.

His feet moved and before he knew it he was standing by her side. “You’re gonna have to cry a little louder if you want the teacher to come over.”

She shook her head frantically, then stilled.

“What’s wrong?”

She gave a dainty, heart-wrenching sniff, but refused to look at him.

He knelt beside her chair. “Come on. You can tell me.”

Looking at him, tears running down her cheek, she took a moment to study his face. After what seemed like an eternity, she slowly opened her hand to reveal a broken yellow crayon.

“Oh. Oh. Breakage.”

She nodded miserably, but remained silent as she once again clutched the damaged waxy carcasses.

“Hand them over.” He held out his hand with quiet authority.

Blinking, she shook her head in little movements, still trying not to draw attention to herself.

“Trust me.”

She hesitated, then slowly opened her pudgy little hand. He took the crayon fragments from her and casually walked to the other side of the room. Never taking his eyes off the teacher, he deposited the remains in a tub then moved back to her side.

“See, easy as cake.”

“Pie,” she corrected in a whisper.

“What?”

“Easy as pie.”

“Well, yeah, I like cake better. You get frosting that way. Can’t beat frosting.” He didn’t understand why her smile made him feel important, but it did. “I’m Alexander,” he told her.

“I’m Willow,” she offered shyly.

“You stick with me, Willow, and we’ll go far.”

Her face grew brighter. “Okay.”

He never dreamed that befriending this shy little girl would change his entire world.

*-*-*-*-*-*

As the years passed, he discovered that as long as he had Willow by his side, he could face just about anything; whether it be learning to live with an out-of-control alcoholic father or math which might as well be written in Latin (and he wasn’t entirely certain it wasn’t).

Together they had survived the loss of Jesse, Apata, Oz, Cordelia, Anya, Tara, Buffy (a couple of times) and a host of others. They had seen good people go bad and bad people seek redemption. They had discovered that even though each of them had power, they still didn’t quite fit in with those around them, but that was okay...because they had each other.

After Tara had been murdered and Willow had lost control, hell-bent on destroying the world, he found he still wanted to be by her side.

It's just, where else am I gonna go? You've been my best friend my whole life. World gonna end ... where else would I want to be?

In the end, it had been his love which had reached her and thus saved the world; a love she couldn’t deny, a love which was their bedrock come hellmouth or heaven.

She had been gun-shy, or rather, magic-shy afterward, and still their bond held.

It held even as they fought the minions of The First and destroyed not just the Hellmouth, but Sunnydale as well.

Standing on the edge of the crater that had once been their home, knowing they had activated all the Slayer Potentials, knowing they were no longer the last line of defense for mankind, they had been stunned to realize they didn’t quite know what to do with themselves.

Giles had been all for heading straight for Cleveland and closing up the next hellmouth, but he had been outvoted by the majority in favor of sleep.

The next several months had been spent scrambling to set up potentials with new watchers and returning slayers to their families. Never again would girl-children be separated from their families and raised with the sole purpose of being trained to die.

All the while, he stayed close to Buffy and Dawn, worried they would simply disappear one night under the cover of darkness.

Caleb had called him ‘the one who sees’ and yet he couldn’t see his own future. He chalked it up to his only having one eye.

Giles was busy setting up the new Watchers’ Council, Kennedy seemed to be doing her best to keep Willow occupied, and he contented himself with watching over Dawn.

It was decided that Buffy would head the North American Watchers’ Council. After all, what better way to keep the Council honest than to have a Slayer presiding?

Finally, the morning came when he, Buffy and Dawn were to head for Cleveland. Buffy decided that even though she wouldn’t be the Slayer in charge, the Watchers would no longer make decrees and judgments from a distance, but would be nearby to offer whatever assistance they could.

Saying their goodbyes was harder than any of them expected. He was surprised that Willow hadn’t been there to see them off, but then again was glad she hadn’t made an appearance. He didn’t know if he was capable of surviving a Casablanca moment with her.

After much hugging and tear works, they were on the road. They hadn’t driven more than a mile when he saw a familiar figure sitting on a trunk on the side of the road with her thumb held out.

He pulled their van over to the side of the highway, put it in park and looked at Buffy for an explanation. Buffy, however, simply shrugged her shoulders and gave him an innocent look he didn’t quite buy.

He got out of the vehicle and walked back toward the other half of his soul. “Will?”

“Going my way, soldier?” she asked, flashing him a nervous smile.

“For you, always. But where’s Kennedy?”

Willow shrugged. “I think she’s been assigned to Denver, where there are apparently a number of ski bunny overbites in need of slayage.”

“And you’re not going with her because--?”

She frowned at him. “Hello. Remember me? Rudolph nose? Eskimo suit? So not attractive.”

“But I hear the warming up process ain’t so bad.”

“Yeah, well that leads to overheating, exhaustion, colds, walking pneumonia. All not so good.”

He smiled softly at her. "Will, really, what are you doing here?”

She fidgeted slightly. “You told me once that I’d go far if I’d stick with you.”

He blinked at her in confusion. “What? You don’t think we’ve already been to the moon once or twice?”

“There’s still a universe to explore, Scully,” she countered.

“Didn’t we try that once already?”

She dropped her gaze to the ground by his feet and nodded. “Wrong time. Wrong place.”

“And you think now is the right time and place?”

Shrugging, she lifted her face to meet his. “Who’s going to keep me from going all black and veiny when I get cranky?”

“What about the gay?” He reached out and tenderly caressing her cheek.

“It’s a label, not a rule.”

“Will,” he whispered, “Anya just d--”

She cut him off by pressing her fingers gently over his lips. “Walking beside is good for now.”

He nodded, then stepped forward and wrapped her tightly in his arms. “I think we’re going to go far, Red.”

“Near, far--”

“Don’t you dare go all Celine on me.”

Willow giggled and pulled back enough so she could grin up at him. “So, going my way, soldier?”

“Always,” he whispered, pressing his lips to her forehead. “Let’s get your trunk in back.” Releasing her, he stooped to pick up the trunk and urked as he tried to lift it.

“You so did not drag this out here.”

She scrunched up her face and wiggled her nose at him. Shaking his head in amusement, he straightened and opened up the back of the van. Willow wiggled her fingers. One second the trunk was on the road, the next it was packed neatly in the back with all the other luggage.

“Show off.”

She laughed as he shut the door. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and guided her to the sliding side panel and into the van.

Back behind the wheel, he looked at Buffy, who was looking at him with tear-shiny, eyes even as she reached back and squeezed the hand of her best friend. Dawn was squeeing with delight and hugging Willow as tightly as she could.

“To Cleveland?” he asked.

“To Cleveland,” the women of his life answered.

Feeling decidedly wicked, he looked in the rear-view mirror. “Have I mentioned I’m thinking of piercing my tongue?”

Dawn shrieked with horror. “Ewwwww. I do know what that means, you know?”

“Xander, really,” Buffy said as she launched into a parenting speech that would have made her mother proud.

Willow, on the other hand, just waggled her eyebrows and grinned at him.

Exploring the universe suddenly looked very promising.

~End~