The first time Willow ever visited Xander in the hospital, she followed his Uncle Rory down the tiled hallway, shivering in the air-conditioned chill and and clutching her wrapped package with determined unworry. The doctors hadn't really cut off Xander's ears to fit him with a permanent skull-brace. Uncle Rory said things like that a lot, but they weren't true. Usually.
All the same, how glad was she to see Xander lying back against the pillows with his ears still stuck to the sides of his head, all earrish-looking and flared out a little, as Xander-ears were supposed to be? She was pretty darn glad. She plopped on the bed next to him. He blinked awake at the jostling, and she winced. "Sorry! Sorry. How're you feeling?"
"Wounded," he said.
"Yeah, that hairless thing that knocked you over? So not an iguana. I don't care what Mayor Wilkins said about a circus." She paused to eye Xander more carefully. He looked awfully tired. "So, does your head hurt a lot?"
"I think they gave me painkiller stuff," he mumbled, eyes drooping. "My scalp feels a little naked, though." He twirled a finger towards the place where the hair had been shaved for the stitches and the bandage.
"Ooh!" Willow said. "I have something for Xander nakedness. Um." She ducked her head so she didn't have to see him see her blush all over her face, but when she finally dared a glance his eyes were closed. "No!" she said, and he started awake. "First present, then sleep. Open." She handed him the package, wrapped up in the funnies - Peanuts on top, of course.
His fingers were a little fumbly, so she helped him tear the paper off and there it was: the battery-powered propeller beanie that had looked really Xander in the store and now seemed kind of silly. "It's to cover the bald spot," she said, and then wondered if 'bald' was insensitive. That was one of her mom's big words this month, insensitive. "It doesn't make you fly, though." Now it looked even sillier.
"Maybe you just have to wear it right," he said, and he was grinning, so that was okay. He even let Uncle Rory take a picture later.
Willow waited until the smother of hushed voices was gone, until Kennedy declared she needed a shower and even Buffy took her splintered-glass remorse elsewhere. Willow looked at Xander and Xander looked back – oh, God - and between them they managed a really lame pirate joke that almost broke them both. For a moment all Willow could hear were the rustle of him shifting under the hospital sheets, and all she could see was a dark Xander-shaped blotch, hazy and dim through the salt washing her eyes.
She blinked and blinked again, biting her lip just to feel something as simple and innocent as pain. Then she took a deep clogged breath, and another just in case the first was a fluke. "Brought you something," she said finally, scooting off the bed.
"What's getting your eye poked out without presents?" he said lightly, like he had a chance of convincing her this was going to be okay, like the apocalypse hadn't already come. She hiccuped back a sob that was she wasn't going to cry, damn it. He needed better than that.
She slid the envelope from her purse. It was thicker than if they'd been best friends in any other cute little SoCal town. That first broken arm? Well into the loopy stage of a library all-nighter, they'd found Xander's giant pink iguana in a demonography and giggled for twenty minutes straight at its name, which sounded like – but couldn't be – but really honestly was Fuzzy Wuzzy. Only, yanno, transliterated.
And here, slick between her fingers, was evidence of the iguana aftermath years previous: eleven-year-old Xander being wheeled out of the hospital with a beanie on his head and grinning like he was getting paid per tooth. Willow handed the photo over.
"The finest in areodynamic headgear," Xander said, scrutinizing the first photo.
"It never did fly."
"Mockest thou not the beanie."
Another one: Xander, post-pneumonia caught from Christmas-day camping. She'd picked out an elf-cap that time, a good twelve inches high with the best set of bells between Sunnydale and Notre Dame. Pneumonia immunity, she'd told him; it came with the North Pole gig.
Xander took that photo, too, eyeing it – oh, God - in silence.
Another: Willow, just after her extra-special Angel-minion concussion. a stocking cap bright as a bag of Skittles, a huge fluffy pom-pom on top. She'd really liked that one. No telling where it was now.
And more, from troll attacks and wall attacks (that had been embarrassing) and other mishaps typical for demon-infested suburban childhoods.
"So..." Xander trailed off.
Willow sucked in a breath. "I just wanted..." Okay, give it time. Words again. "We've done this a lot, you know? Hospitals and blood and... stuff."Another pause, another breath. "And we're still here."
Xander glanced over the room. "Think they'd mind if we canceled the reservation?"
"You're not getting this!" Maybe because cute little mementos of Discharge Days past couldn't make any sense in a world with so few raw materials for sense-making. She waved the pom-pom picture in his face. "That was what you call heavy literature that fell on me, and not that I don't love books but not so much on my head, and I could have died, but I, you know, didn't." She thumped back onto the bed. "We might still die tomorrow or whenever this all goes down, and with our record lately someone probably will" – Kennedy? Giles? Buffy again, and could Willow live through another Buffy-burial? – "but we haven't yet. And you, you..." Okay, there were the tears, ambushing. She sniffed through them. "And we're still here. So for now maybe all we can do is..." Was there supposed to be a point to this?
"...wear funny hats," Xander finished.
Close enough. "Yeah."
"Sounds like insane Willow logic to me." The smile was weak, but it was real. "So, about that tricorn. 'Cause Blackbeard, he wore tricorns."
So much for that last fear about 'insensitive.' You'd think she'd have gotten over that with Xander by now. "The shops were all closed," said Willow. "Sorry. We're talking stampede conditions out there."
He shrugged, almost convincingly non-chalant. "Yeah, well. You'll just have to owe me. Yeah?"
She nodded, firm, tears dammed for now. "We save the world again, and you'll get your dastardly pirate hat. Promise."