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In the solitude of his room, Will stared at his computer screen. The Google logo blinked with multi-colored lights woven into it heralding the holiday season. His fingers twitched over the keys, hesitating. With a sigh of resignation, he quickly typed in a name.

Alexander Harris. Xander Harris, as Buffy knew him.

For some reason, the one-eyed man had been haunting his dreams, and he felt the need to do something. Unfortunately, talking to his parents or even to Buffy didn’t seem like viable options.

There were several pages of results, none of the Harris descriptions matched the man he was looking for until he came across a newspaper article. “Mr. Alexander Harris, forty-three years old, released from prison after serving seven years for complicity in the kidnapping and torture of… blah, blah, blah. The rest of the words faded into meaningless drivel before Will’s eyes. A quick skim of the article revealed the information he needed, and a few more clicks led to the address he had sought. The man, designated a child molester, was forced to report his status wherever he moved to. He was now located in… Ventura!

“This has to mean something,” Will murmured. “He’s only about an hour away. I don’t even have to tell the ‘rents what I’m doing.”

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

Buffy’s voice in his ear startled Will. He’d been so engrossed in thought that he hadn’t felt her presence at all. He thought for a moment before answering.

“Yeah, Buffy. I think I do. I know I do. I have to.”

“At least I’ll be with you.”

Will looked at her heartfelt expression and sighed, knowing he was going to hurt her. “I’m so sorry, sweet girl, but this is something I have to do on my own. I’ll be fine. I promise.”

She cupped his chin, her barely felt presence a comfort. “I’m sure you’ll be fine, Will. But you don’t have to go through this alone. You know I’m as here for you as I can be.”

He nodded, but firmly said, “Any other time I would love to have you with me, Buffy, but not this time. I need to face him alone. Even though I know he won’t see you, I’ll feel different. Not really sure what direction our conversation will go in… if he’ll even talk with me… but I have to try.”

Watching as the brief look of hurt crossed her expression, Will held his hand up, fingers splayed. After a brief double-take, Buffy matched her hand to his, and he felt a slight warmth along with the little tingle he always felt.

“What’s wrong, Buffy?” he asked, noticing the slightly disappointed look on her face. “What were you expecting, sparks? Fire?”

And there was a second double-take.

“I – I… Maybe after this thing with Xander is over, I’ll tell you about it,” Buffy sighed. “This just isn’t the right time to get into it.”

Will nodded. “This is about Spike, isn’t it?” he asked.

A small, indelicate snort made Will laugh. “Nice to see you didn’t lose your insightfulness in this incarnation,” she said, looking at him fondly. “Always at an inopportune time, too.”

“I’m gonna hold you to your promise, you know.”

This time it was Buffy’s turn to laugh. “I don’t doubt it at all.”

***

Xander sat in the middle of his livingroom, eying his latest driftwood creation-in-progress. If he angled his head just right, his perception wasn’t hampered by his missing eye. Now, if only he could also miss the damned arthritis in his knees and fingers, he would be a happier man.

These days he was just grateful for his freedom. Even though they were no longer close, Willow had finally gone to the Council’s authorities and raided Roger Wyndham Pryce’s lab complex for the detailed notes he’d left behind. They went a long way towards getting him an earlier release.

He put down his work, and turned his face to the window, basking in the sun like a cat. The sharp knock at his door startled him. The only visits he got were from delivery men, and he hadn’t ordered anything, materials or food lately.

“Coming,” he said, gathering his cane from the floor before getting up. “Hold your horses,” he added in a louder voice when the knock sounded again.

“Holy moly… Spike?” An unmanly squeak he’d forever deny making erupted as he took a step back. “No, wait… Will? Is that you?”

The young man stood still, taking stock of Xander. Xander knew from staring into the mirror to shave every morning exactly what the lad saw – an aging man with a slight hunch in posture, long hair pulled back in a low ponytail – more salt than pepper, leaning heavily on a cane topped with a wooden Tweety Bird. Not the most glamorous he’d ever been – or, to be honest, mature – look. The boy stood there, not saying a word for so long, Xander wondered if he’d reverted to being non-verbal.

“You gonna stare at me all day, or are you gonna invite me in?”

Xander’s Sunnydale brain sat up and took notice. “Are you a vamp again? But you can’t be… standing outside in the sun. Unless you’re a daywalker. Or a new-fangled kind of vamp…”

Will rolled his eyes at the babbling, and stepped across the threshold, settling the matter in one easy step.

“Oookay, then,” Xander muttered, looking at the boy. No, not a boy, a young man well on his way to becoming the spitting image of the vampire he knew so long ago, though with darker, more natural looking hair. “Mind telling me what the hell you’re doing here?”

After a slight hesitation, Will said, “Honestly, I don’t have a clue.” He rubbed the back of his neck nervously, a very familiar gesture, Xander noted.

He, too, felt a touch of the heebie-jeebies. “Look, kid…” he started, staring down at the floor.

“Stop!” Agitation was clear in Will’s face. “I know I didn’t come here for an apology. First of all, it’s just words. Second, I’ve had lots of time and plenty of therapy trying to deal with the whole mess. Nothing you can say will change what’s been done in the past.”

“I know, but…”

“No, really,” Will continued. “I guess… well, I guess I wanted to thank you.”

Xander was floored. “Huh?” was the only intelligible thing he could come up with.

“Do you mind if I sit down?” Will asked, and was motioned to an overstuffed easy chair opposite the sofa. “I don’t remember much of the end of the whole ordeal, but I do remember you there. You did try and help me; to offer some comfort.”

“Gods, kid.” Xander put his head in his hands. “If I’d had any idea what that bastard was gonna do… if I’d had any idea that his “dangerous demon” was only a human child, I would have done anything I could have to stop him.”

“Even knowing it was me?” Xander could see the naked curiosity and trepidation in Will’s eyes.

“Yeah,” he admitted, as much to himself as to Will. “I was so angry back then. I hated you – well, the thought of you, anyway. Seeing you, actually holding onto you, hit me in a way that words never did. And the sheer hatred from Wyndham Pryce was nauseating.”

Will chewed his bottom lip, as if debating his next words. “Well, for what it’s worth, I-I forgive you for being a part of that whole mess.” He, too, stared down at the floor. It was obviously hard to look Xander in the face.

“As long as we’re both in the forgiving zone, are you curious as to why I look like a pirate?” For some reason, Xander wanted to reassure the kid… tell him something good.

“I guess,” Will replied, looking up.

“Well, I’m sure you’ve heard of Buffy… the vampire slayer, right?”

Will nodded, definitely curious as to where Xander was going.

“Me and Willow and sometimes Spike used to go out and dust vampires with Buffy, back when we lived in Sunnydale. During one of our annual apocalypses, we ran into a madman – Caleb.” Xander rubbed his eyepatch as he talked; a slight pain had begun to build in the socket.

“We were outmatched that time, and Caleb was demonically strong… he caught me and shoved his thumb into my eye.”

Looking a little green, Will covered his mouth.

“The only reason I can see at all,” Xander continued, “is that you – Spike, saved me. He carried the guilt around for days that he wasn’t fast enough to save both my eyes.”

“Thank you for that.” Finally looking Xander in the eye, Will asked, “You used to be close friends with Buffy, right? Can you tell me about her… about Buffy?”

A little startled by the non-sequitur, Xander muttered. “It’s always about the Buffster, isn’t it? Is there anything in particular you want to know?”

Will thought for a moment, and then said, “Anything. About what she was like, what she liked.”

“So I guess there’s no good news on breaking that statue spell?

“Not yet.”

“Damn,” Xander swore. “Where to start, where to start… Buffy was the new girl in school, and it was like the heavens opened, and an angel fluttered down. She was all girl, and even talked to the ‘uncool’ kids without making them feel like dirt.”

Will was looking at him now in rapt attention.

“Turns out, not only was she all girl,” Xander continued, “but she was all gladiator, too! Thanks to Buffy, Willow and I discovered the shiny, happy world of vampires and demons. And the fact that our school librarian was her Watcher. We both used to help Buffy do her thing on patrol.”

“So she was okay with you putting yourselves in danger?”

Xander thought for a minute. “Well, I guess you can say we didn’t exactly ask her. She sorta saved Willow’s life, and I ended up killing one of my best friends who had been turned. After that, we just kinda hung out together. Whither she wentest, we followedest. And yes, before you ask, there were injuries a-plenty.”

“Like the eye business.”

Xander nodded. “That was the worst of it,” he admitted.

Now it was Will’s turn to think. “So why did you stay with her? What was it about her that made you put yourselves at risk?”

“Buffy was good. She was righteous without becoming preachy. She always flew under the radar, never asking for credit as she battled to keep Sunnydale safe for humanity, and ended up saving the world quite a few times.” Xander smiled. “What about that doesn’t inspire love and loyalty?”

“Huh,” was all Will said.

They were interrupted by a knock on the door.

“Geeze Louise, I’m awfully popular today,” Xander said, and got up to see who was there.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Harris. I’m Officer McMurtry.”

“And to what do I owe this great pleasure?” Xander asked, warily.

“One of your neighbors called in a complaint – said you had an under-aged boy in the house and they were worried for his safety, what with your designated status.”

“I – I…”

Will spoke up as Xander floundered for words. “Excuse me, Officer. My name is William Dowell, and I’m eighteen and a half, thank you – not under-aged. Besides, I’m visiting Mr. Harris of my own free will and all we’re doing was talking. He’s not a threat to me in the slightest.”

“I’ll need to see your I.D., Mr. Dowell, although it is a relief to know there’s nothing funny going on,” the officer said.

“And what would happen if the man and I were in a consensual relationship?” Will’s ire was growing by the second. “Would you still rush over and butt into his business? Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?”

“Whoa, son. Calm yourself down.” Officer McMurtry handed Will back his I.D. “When a complaint comes in against a registered sex offender, we’re obligated to check it out. Better a few minutes of an uncomfortable situation than an injured child.”

“But…”

Xander put up a hand to stop him. “It’s okay, Will. What’s a little indignity? At least I have my freedom.” He turned to the policeman. “Anything else I can do for you, Officer?”

“That’ll be all, Mr. Harris. Sorry to have disturbed you and your guest, but you understand…”

With a dismissive wave of his hand, Xander ushered the officer out of his house and locked the door. When he turned, he asked Will, “Why did you stand up for me?”

“Well, I know the truth, for starters, and I hate being labeled, Will said. “A person should be able to be seen as an individual, not one of those, whatever those are.”

Xander nodded. “I’ve been accused of thought like that. Did it to you… Spike, often enough.”

“And yet, here we are,” Will mused. “Where do we go from here?”

“On, I guess,” said Xander. “There really aren’t many other choices. Wallowing in the past is nothing but self-destructive. Believe me, I know it first-hand.”

Standing up, Will nodded his head in agreement. “Guess that’s all there is to say. Time for me to get home and you to go back to whatever it is that you do.”

“What you did, coming here, means a lot to me,” said Xander. “Can I get you anything, first? A nice, frosty nectar?”

At the proffered beer bottle, Will shook his head. “Two things,” he said. “First, still got a couple of years left before that would be legal, but more importantly, I wouldn’t drink before driving. I’d appreciate some water, though.”

Sorry, kiddo, I wasn’t thinking.” Xander hung his head just a little, snorting at the realization that Will was more responsible than he was at his tender age. And definitely as unlike Spike as could be, at least in one aspect. He took out a pitcher of ice water and handed Will the legal frosty libation.

“Thanks,” Will said, downing it quickly. “Time to head for home. It’s time to move on for us both.”

With those final words, Will headed for the door, Xander following right behind. He got into his car, buckled his seat belt and rolled down the window. “Merry Christmas,” he said with a small nod of his head, and backed out of the driveway, heading for home.

Xander stood outside long after Will’s car faded from sight, smiling, and for the first time in ages, his heart lifted.