Title: The One With the Blue Vervain
(aka: Willow and Xander are so BFF)
Summary: Very fluffy friendship fic - Willow and Xander work on a project over the summer between seasons 2 and 3.
A/N: Squint and you'll see subtext, but this is intentionally friendshippy. The title is a nod to the tv show Friends, whose ep titles always start "The One With..." because I've been watching way too many Friends episodes lately, and besides, "friends" is the theme here!
Thanks to: lillianmorgan for the beta. :D
Disclaimer: I'm no Joss.
Xander threw down his stake as the vampire continued running into the distance, unharmed.
"We suck at this!" he practically growled.
Willow bent down to pick up the stake and straightened to give him a concerned but disappointed look. "No, we don't. We're doing the best we can but we're just not cut out for this stuff like Buffy is. I think we did a real good job the other night! You were great." When Xander only shook his head in annoyance, she touched her hand to his arm. "Hey, come on, you were. Lighten up. We only have to do this until Buffy comes back."
"If she comes–" Xander caught Willow's sharp look in response to that distinction and shut his mouth. Arguing never lead anywhere with her faith and his cynicism, but he'd sooner just drop it than take it back or apologize. He changed the subject. "Where was Oz tonight, anyway? We always do better when there's more of us."
"Dingos rehearsal," she answered. "Devon got back from his trip yesterday, so they're going to be doing that a lot more now."
"Great," Xander responded sarcastically. "That'll make it so much easier. Come on, I think we've done enough failing for tonight. I'll walk you home."
Willow nodded wordlessly and began walking alongside him. After a moment, she cautiously asked, "Hey, do you mind helping me with something?"
"Just a project I'm working on."
"A project?" Xander asked, a hint of a skeptical smirk on his face. "Will, you know, once school closes for summer break you're allowed to stop doing homework. It's expected, even."
Willow gave a slight glare before her face became slightly sheepish. "It's more of a… magic kind of project. A spell."
Xander's face actually turned somewhat serious at that. "Does Giles know about it?"
"Yes!" Willow answered firmly. Off his look, she admitted, "Well, no, not specifically. But I did tell him I was interesting in learning and practicing more. I've been given the lecture on not trying anything too risky, believe me. And it's not risky! It's really not. It's just a teeny spell I want to try out. It's good practice. Will you help?"
Xander sighed. "Well, I don't know. I might be too busy to lend my services." Off her slightly disappointed face, he chuckled. "Come on, you know I will. What do you need me to do?"
Willow smiled brightly. "I just need you to help me get a few things. Do you still happen to have any of your old G.I. Joes?"
"No!" Xander responded quickly, and gave a short laugh. "Willow, I'm seventeen years old. I threw all my old toys out years ago." He paused, trying to avoid Willow's steady gaze. "Okay, yeah, they're under my bed."
"Great! I need one," Willow responded.
"One of the ingredients of your spell is a G.I. Joe?" Xander asked suspiciously.
"Well, you know, I need a general children's toy of the more… masculine… variety," Willow answered shortly. "So none of mine would work. And, um, yeah, I think that's all I need for now. I'll have to recheck the spell instructions. Bring it to my place sometime tomorrow?"
"Sure thing, Will," Xander replied, giving a slightly confused shrug.
Xander knocked on Willow's door mid-afternoon the next day. Willow answered with a welcoming smile and ushered him inside.
Xander reached into his backpack and pulled out a G. I. Joe. "One children's toy of the masculine variety at your service! As ordered."
Willow smiled and took it out of his hands, then frowned. "It looks kind of new!" she observed.
Xander shrugged. "It was the last one anyone ever bought for me, when I was already pretty much grown out of that stage, so I never really got around to using it. I figured it would be better for your spell to have one that was still all shiny and un-messed-with. Straight from the box!"
Willow's frown deepened. "Actually, I really need an old one. Could you go back and get another, one you actually used to play with?"
Xander's face fell. "Why does it need to be old?"
"It's just more," Willow shrugged, searching for the words, "genuine that way. Sorry to make you go back, but… please? It's really important."
Xander's shoulders sagged as he sighed. "Fine!" He gave a weak but friendly smile. "So far this is the most excitement I've had all summer. Man, I miss Cordelia." He paused. "I can't believe I miss Cordelia. All right, I'm off to get an old and used version. Don't go anywhere!"
Willow smiled thankfully and began leading him to the door. She suddenly stopped and grabbed his arm. "Actually, wait! There's something else."
She started running back through the house and Xander sighed and then followed. "Great! There's something else." He found her in the living room, reading over a page from a book that obviously contained the spell instructions.
Willow looked up at his approach, though carefully kept the page hidden from his view. "I forgot to get some more wormwood and blue vervain from the magic shop. Will you pick me up some? It's only a little out of your way and I still need to find a few things I know I have in the house somewhere. I'll give you the money for it."
She was already reaching for her wallet and her purse, and Xander had no reason to refuse.
The bell tinkled over the magic shop's door as Xander entered. The clerk jumped to attention and stood up with a straighter posture and a helpful smile on his face. Xander returned the smile with a nervous one of his own and shifted the backpack on his shoulder, now containing an old and used G. I. Joe action figure.
"May I help you?" asked the clerk. "Looking for anything in particular or just browsing?"
"Yeah, I'm here for particulars," Xander replied quickly. This place, and something about this man, gave him the creeps and he was eager to get what he needed and get out as fast as possible. "I need wormwood."
"Wormwood!" replied the clerk brightly. "Mind if I ask what you're planning on using it for?"
"It's for a friend," Xander replied somewhat brusquely.
"Ah," the clerk replied, keeping a smile on his face despite Xander's curtness. "I see. Well, I've got a bottle of wormwood just behind the counter here, so let me ring that up then!"
Xander stepped towards the counter as the man fetched the bottle and punched the purchase into the cash register. Xander reached into his pocket for his wallet and found himself empty-handed, before remembering that he'd put his wallet in his backpack. He pulled it off his shoulder and opened it, exposing his old toy in search for his wallet.
"G. I. Joe?" the clerk remarked, a small, unreadable smile across his face. "It's nice to see a young man your age unashamed to still carry around an action figure like that."
"Oh, no, no!" Xander quickly began to protest, but the clerk waved his hand to shush him and then indicated for him to lean in slightly, as if he were going to tell a secret. Xander, against his better judgment, did so.
In a low voice, the clerk explained, "I understand. I still play with them, too!"
Xander leaned back again with a nervous laugh and nod. "Alrighty then! That's… nice. For you."
Xander simply walked into Willow's house this time, waiting at the door only being a courtesy necessary when he knew her parents were home. He headed straight for the living room to find Willow sitting with a calendar on her lap, circling a specific date. He pulled out the G. I. Joe and set it on the table, and held out the bag from the shop for her to take.
"Great!" Willow responded, as she set down the calendar and took the bag. "I just have a couple more things I need to prepare…" Looking into the bag while speaking, she suddenly stopped. "Xander… the blue vervain?"
Xander gave a sigh, then a resigned nod. "Right. The blue vervain."
The bell tinkled over the magic shop door.
"Oh! Back so soon?" greeted the clerk upon seeing Xander again.
"Blue vervain," Xander said simply, with clenched teeth.
The clerk nodded knowingly – as if he thought he knew something Xander was sure he was wrong about. "So you forgot an item. I think your subconscious is trying to tell you something. There's probably something else drawing you here. I'm going to suggest that you take some time to actually look around, and–"
"Blue! Vervain!" Xander snapped.
The clerk looked hesitant for a moment, but then the same helpful smile he'd been wearing all along returned. "Alrighty then!"
Willow accepted the bag held out to her and looked up at her friend in concern. "You okay? You look kind of tired. And mad. Oh, are you mad at me?"
Xander waved at her dismissively. "Nah, just… tired. I'm really starting to wonder what exactly this spell is supposed to do."
Willow shrugged and started assembling all of the pieces necessary for the spell. "Just practice, like I said. A simple conjuring."
Xander tossed his head in mild annoyance. "Better conjure something good. I've been running all over the place for this thing."
"It'll be good," Willow reassured him. "I mean, I hope."
As Willow continued laying out all of her ingredients, Xander leaned forward curiously. "Why do you have a calendar from 1988? How do you even have a calendar from 1988?"
"It's just… one of the things we need. And my dad has this habit of never throwing stuff like that away, so it's just a matter of looking." She laid out the final item, a plain, brown, canvas bag. "Okay. I think I'm almost ready to start sprinkling herbs and chanting, and when I do it'll be a good idea for you just not to talk, in case sending any other words into the universe during the process will cause us to accidentally conjure something… bad."
"Something bad?" Xander asked suddenly. "Like what kind of bad? Like big, scary, covered in slime, zillion-toothed monster bad?"
Willow looked alarmed at the possibility which apparently hadn't crossed her mind, and then laughed nervously. "No, more like 'the bag becomes liquefied' bad. It's just a small conjuring spell, after all. And nothing bad will happen if I just do it straight by the book, so no interruptions."
Xander began tapping his finger nervously against his knee. "Are you sure about this, Will? I mean, if there could be bad consequences for one little mistake… Are you sure you're ready for this?"
Willow nodded, confident with herself in the face of doubt. "It's going to go totally fine. There aren't even any potentially dangerous ingredients here."
Xander shook his head. "That's not what I meant. I mean, are you sure you're ready to really get into witchcraft at all. I mean, today it's simple conjurings. Tomorrow it could be… turning invisible, exploding demons from within, raising the dead! It's just a big thing that could grow really fast. I've heard the way Giles talks about this stuff, Wills – I'm not an idiot. I know this isn't just fun and games. I don't want this to change you. Are you sure you're ready?"
Willow was silent for a moment, realizing that this wasn't just coming from idle worries that she was about to explode something. Xander had obviously been putting a lot of thought into this, and was genuinely worried about her. She took a long pause to think about what he'd said, then nodded resolutely, sure that this was what she wanted to do. This was how she wanted to help fight in the long run. She looked back to Xander and gave him a reassuring smile and touched her hand gently to his arm. "Xander, I promise. I'll be okay. I'll move up gradually, I'll take it easy, and whenever you think I'm in under my head, trying too much too soon, just tell me. I'll listen."
Xander smiled back and squeezed the hand that still rested on his arm. "Okay. If you say so, I believe. Try your conjuring thing."
Willow nodded and turned her attention back to the spell book and her ingredients. She opened a couple of bottles in preparation and was then ready to begin. She looked back to Xander. "Remember, no interruptions. Omne–"
"Good luck!" Xander inserted. Willow glared and Xander flinched. "That was the only thing, I promise. I'm locking my lips now. Go on. Chant."
Willow looked at him for a moment longer then, reassured that he really was done, resumed her reading from the book. Xander watched intently and quietly as she chanted and sprinkled an assortment of herbs – the wormwood, blue vervain, and a few normal household cooking items – over the bag, calendar, G. I. Joe, and a few trinkets. It was barely a minute before she stopped. She sat back and looked hesitant and disappointed for a moment as nothing happened, but a second later, the bag gave a slight glow and expanded in width. Xander's eyes widened slightly in apprehension.
Willow hesitantly picked up the bag, looking hopeful but prepared to be disappointed at what she would find inside. She opened it and peered in, and a huge grin spread across her face.
"What is it?" Xander asked. Willow pulled out the item and showed it to him excitedly. "Snuffy Bunny?" Xander's voice had turned bewildered and small. "Is that – is that Snuffy Bunny?"
There in Willow's hands was Xander's old favorite stuffed animal, the one all the other kids had teased him for carrying around so much that he started carrying it in his backpack – an efficient solution until the day their first grade class had gone on a field trip and he'd accidentally left his backpack on a bench and was told that there was no time to go back for it before the bus left. Willow had barely gotten out the words, "Yes, it is," before Xander had her swept up in a fierce hug.
"You were so sad that day," Willow said as she squeezed him back tightly. "Remember? You were so upset that I promised you I'd find him for you again someday."
Xander pulled back and held the old bunny wonderingly, looking back to Willow with wide eyes. "Why…"
"You know," Willow began, starting to unconsciously fiddle with the bottle of blue vervain. "With Buffy… taking a break, I'm starting to think about how important it is to look out for the people we still have around. And I think we do that pretty well. The other night, you were the one who got rid of that vampire that attacked me. Remember? I was all shaken up, and you promised me that you'd never let anything hurt me as long as you're around. And I know you won't, because friends keep their promises. And with this magic stuff, well, I finally had a way to come through on one of mine."
Xander, looking between his friend and his old toy, looked as if he was trying not to cry. He grabbed her into another tight hug. "You're the best friend ever, you know that?"
As they pulled away again, Willow smiled. "Yeah, I really am, aren't I?" Her smile turned sheepish. "Plus, I really did need the practice." She started gathering all the other pieces she'd used in the spell, and Xander's eyes fell on the calendar yet again.
"1988…" he remarked thoughtfully. "And you circled–"
"The day that you lost him," Willow finished. "It was hard to remember the exact day, trust me. I had to go through a lot of old papers and notes from teachers to figure that one out. But it had to be the exact day so it wouldn't bring back something else you lost on some other day. And the G. I. Joe was necessary because it had to be something else that had a similar significance to you in the same time."
"Which was why it had to specifically be an old one I played with rather than just 'a general children's toy of the masculine variety'," Xander said teasingly, poking her on the shoulder. "You little liar, you."
Willow whacked his hand away. "I wanted it to be a surprise!" She paused. "You know, in case it didn't actually work."
"Right. Liar," Xander responded with a smirk. He hugged the stuffed animal to him without embarrassment, knowing that Willow wouldn't judge or tell when it came to his attachment to the old toy. "You know, I was really going to get on your case about making me run around and flash dolls at creepy salesmen if it turned out to be for conjuring something stupid, but I guess I can't really complain now."
"Flash dolls at creepy salesmen?" Willow asked curiously.
"The guy at the magic shop? Creepy."
Willow gave him an argumentative glare, but then dropped the issue, and looked back at the bunny in Xander's hands. "He looks just the same as I remember. So what are you going to do with him now?"
"Snuffy Bunny?" Xander replied, holding him up and looking at him. "I don't know. I think I'm actually old enough now that he'll probably end up with all the other old standbys under my bed." Off Willow's look, he quickly corrected himself, "On my bed. Definitely on my bed."
Willow picked the toy out of Xander's hands and peered at him thoughtfully. "I've got a lot of nice memories back from this guy's time."
"Yeah," Xander answered quietly. "Me too."
A/N (saved for the end to not spoil the plot): The idea of Friend A sending Friend B on something of a wild goosechase just so they can give a meaningful gift to Friend B was blatantly stolen from the movie Garden State.