Love, Pimples, and other Bad Things
"Willow, I need this," Xander looked at Willow with that pleading expression that always went straight thought to her heart—bypassing all common sense.
"But Xander... she's..." Willow grimaced as she tried to figure out a nice way to say it.
"Technologically challenged? Um, yeah. That would be why I need you to help her. Come on Wills, you got me through Algebra."
"You weren't that bad."
Xander gave her an incredulous look, and Willow wrinkled her nose. Okay, he had been that bad at algebra. "I could just do Andrea's reports for her," Willow said hopefully. After all, that's how they'd gotten Xander through algebra all those years before.
"Um, Willow, no offense, but you know how I still need your help to figure out projections based on growth?"
"I don't mind," Willow hurried to reassure him. He gave her a look that made it pretty clear that had not been his point. "And you mean that you really would have preferred to just learn it the first time around," she finished softly.
"I'm kinda hoping you'll have that much patience with a little less of the doing her homework for her," Xander agreed gently.
Looking back, she really hadn't done him any favors by doing his work. He could do complicated mathematics in his head when it came to construction, so he clearly could do math, but he still kind of sucked whenever an 'x' got involved. Maybe he would be better if she hadn't done his homework in some misguided attempt to get his attention. She sighed.
"So, Andrea, huh?" she asked, wrinkling her nose. Picking up a glass, she twirled it in her hands, running a finger along the edge. This was so not what she wanted to do with her free time.
"Hey, she's fourth generation watcher. We don't have too many of those left."
"Fourth generation kicked out of watchers. Or rather fourth generation before she got kicked out," Willow corrected herself. A voice called in the hallway just outside the kitchen, and Willow stopped, her mouth drawn into a small pucker as she waited to see if someone was going to come into the kitchen. Xander froze with her. Yep, talking behind backs was definitely more stressful than demon fighting. Now Willow could tell it was one of the slayers calling out to another one. The two girls laughed and then heavy footsteps pounded up the stairs to the bedrooms. Willow breathed a sigh of relief. Then again, if they got interrupted, maybe she could just avoid Xander until he found some other way to solve the Andrea problem. Oh well, too late now.
"The getting kicked out makes her even better. When really morally sucky people think you suck? That would be of the good," Xander pointed out. "However, her inability to text is doing bad things to my schedule, and someone is going to end up not getting backed up. You have to get her on the system and you have to get her to actually use it. Willow, please?" Xander asked. He looked at her, and all Willow's arguments just shriveled up and died.
"Fine. But if she can't learn to use it, that is so not my fault."
"Nope. Totally not your fault," Xander agreed with a big boyish smile. Willow sighed.
"Hey, Andrea." Willow put on a big smile when she saw the woman sitting on the end of the overstuffed couch, her one leg pulled up under her and a big book propped up in her lap. Andrea was quiet, with black hair and dark eyes that might have made her mysterious except that she had a round, dolllike face that didn't seem to really go with the mysterious type.
"Oh. Hello." Andrea looked startled at the greeting. She looked up with a wariness that made Willow's nerdy heart hurt. Yeah, some of the slayers were not the nicest about Andrea's failings, and it was really hard to get fifteen and sixteen year old girls to really understand that even adults felt the pain of getting made fun of. Willow made a mental note to sic Xander on them again. He could do guilt like nobody's business. "Did you need something?" Andrea asked, her accent all English, but way more timorous than Giles ever sounded.
"Nope." Willow tried for cheerful. "How are you liking Cleveland?"
"It's... I mean, not that I have a lot of experience traveling, but it might be called by some rather... um..."
"Cold?" Willow guessed.
"No, not really."
"Oh yeah. I guess being from England, it doesn't seem as cold here. Being from California, it seems cold. Cold and really cloudy. Sometimes I miss seeing the sun, you know..." Willow perched on the very edge of the couch next to Andrea and let her words trail off.
"Actually, Glasgow is both cold and rather wet. I was going to say boring."
"Oh." Willow squirmed. Andrea was nice enough, but they never seemed to be able to talk. "Not much action on the demon front lately, huh?" The minute the words slipped out, Willow cringed. There had been action. Big action. But Xander had been sidelining Andrea because she was so very not-good with the tech.
"I should go... check my... um..." Andrea stood up, her eyes darting wildly like she was trying to come up with the name of something... anything she could check. In the end, she fled without saying anything. Willow sighed and sat back on the couch. Score one for useless. Yep, she was a big old useless girl when it came to Andrea. Reaching over, she picked up the book. Rudolfus' Treatise on Demon Culture. Okay, time for take two, and this time she wasn't going to talk about the weather. Willow set her face, clutched the book to her chest and headed after her.
Willow had stuck her head into nearly every room in the house before she finally spotted Andrea through the front windows. She was sitting on the wide rail around the front porch. Moving slowly because she didn't want to startle the woman into falling into the rose bushes, Willow headed out the front door.
"Nice weather, huh?" she asked. Okay, she officially sucked at this. Xander was way better with people than she was; he should talk to Andrea.
Andrea nodded and scooted back like she was trying to shrink in on herself.
"You forgot your book." Willow held the old volume out like a peace offering. "He has some really interesting stuff on vampire clans."
That made Andrea sit up a little straighter. "His observations of the hierarchical structure is fascinating. Simply fascinating."
Willow took a step closer to allow Andrea to take the book. "I know what you mean. The first time I read about the status and dominance display, all I could think about was Spike and Angel. I mean, you should have seen them back in Sunnydale. It was all grrrrrr this and rrrowrrr that." Willow raised her hands and made little vampire sock puppets out of them to mimic Spike and Angel growling at each other.
"Truly? Did you see them?"
Willow nodded. "Not all that often, but Spike used to talk a lot, and he would go out of his way to make Angel sound all stupid, and then this one time, Angel came to visit, and he didn't tell Buffy he was in town, and he slammed Spike into a wall. And then when Spike took this ring to L.A, this ring that made him sunproof?"
"The Gem of Amara?" Andrea leaned forward. "Oh dear, I had heard that story, but I had believed it apocryphal. How did Buffy defeat him if he actually had the ring?"
Willow looked around. "Promise to never, ever tell?" Willow asked. Andrea nodded with big eyes. Willow moved closer and leaned against the rail. "Spike has total girl hands. His fingers are long and thin and the ring just slipped right off. Buffy reached out," Willow reached out to grab Andrea's hand in her own, "and just yanked it off." Willow meant to yank her hand away, she really did. Instead, she stood there, immobile and staring into Andrea's eyes for the space of two breaths. Only then did she pull her hands away.
Andrea looked down at her own hand, at Willow's hands, at the narrow inch that separated them. Willow's heart started pounding faster, and suddenly she wished she had left more space between them, but she was oddly reluctant to back away.
"And the ring came off that easily?" Andrea asked softly.
"Girl hands," Willow answered just as softly.
Andrea nodded. Willow could see her swallow nervously. "Hey, do you want to look at some online sites with some really cool demonology research?" Willow asked. Maybe if she could get Andrea more comfortable with computers in general, the woman wouldn't get so thumby and bumbly when she was trying to use the Blackberry.
"Are there accurate sites online?" Andrea finally looked up and made eye contact with her.
Willow smiled. "Totally. I mean, yeah, there's lots and lots of crap on the internet. Whole dump trucks full. Entire landfills' worth of crap, although some of that crap is really pretty." Willow blushed as she thought of a few of the sites she liked to visit that had nothing to do with accuracy and research. Sometimes accuracy in costumes really was not to be desired. The Elizabethans were never quite as sexy as one of Willow's favorite bookmarks. "But if you know where to go, there is some really cool stuff online. There's this one demonologist in Canada who had done some follow up work on Rudolfus' Treatise, and don't quote me, but I think he's a vampire."
"Really?" Andrea's eyes opened impossibly large.
Willow nodded solemnly. "Come check it out." Getting up, she backed up a step and waited for Andrea. For a second, the woman looked panicked, like she had found herself in a trap. Willow gave her an encouraging smile, and she could almost see Andrea straighten her own backbone before she gave a tight little nod and then stood up to follow.
"Oh dear. That is... that's..." Andrea waved her hand at the screen.
"I know!" Willow squealed and fell back laughing as the vampire hunter danced half naked around the room.
"That is wrong. This technique is..."
"Kinda sexy?" Willow filled in. Andrea looked over in horror. "Oh please, just because I am ninety percent gay doesn't mean I don't appreciate two really hot guys kissing."
"Oh." Andrea's voice was small, and she started blushing. "I had no idea that one could find things like this simply by searching for vampires."
"I did warn you about the crap online, right?" Willow asked playfully.
"Perhaps not strongly enough, but yes," Andrea agreed. She almost sounded like she was teasing back, and Willow sat up on the edge of the bed so she could see the video. "One does wonder how he captured a vampire in the first place. His judgment does seem rather flawed."
"I think the vampire is kinda happy getting caught," Willow said as the video continued. The vampire was tied up in the middle of the room while the buff hunter was now dancing naked around him, cutting his own chest just under the nipple to let the vampire smell blood.
"Those ties are inadequate," Andrea pointed out as the vampire in the video started twisting free.
"Oh yeah. Sexy boy is about to be dinner," Willow cackled. "Does it strike you as funny that people are so into sexy vampires?"
"Indeed. I find most vampires rather unappealing given their lack of personal hygiene. Oh good lord, is he..." Andrea's voice cut off suddenly. Willow covered her mouth to keep from giggling as the half-naked vampire hunter now basically humped the tied up vampire. Only he was not going to be tied up for long at the rate he was working his bond.
"I don't know. Spike and Angel were both very sexy. Of course, they were more into modern plumbing than most of the fledges we come across."
"Well, I suppose that is good. I must admit, after years of listening to my father rant about the inadvisability of allowing a vampire to have contact with a slayer, it's rather odd to discuss their personal hygiene as if they were normal people."
"They are normal people," Willow insisted. "Okay, they're dead normal people, but they're normal in that they have souls and know right from wrong and occasionally do really, really stupid crap. OH!" Willow clapped a hand over her mouth as the vampire in the video finally pulled his bonds free and bit the hunter.
"That was rather predictable. I say, he really had no business hunting vampires at all. I wonder what real vampires think when they watch something like this." Andrea cocked her head and looked at the screen.
Willow giggled as a thought came to her. Andrea looked over, confused. Scooting forward, Willow leaned close. "Do you want to send Angel a link? We could ask Spike to watch him and then report back."
"Watch it?" Willow considered. "If it was from me, he'd think there was some deeper meaning. Probably."
"Good lord. Are we considering prank calling vampires?" Andrea asked, and now she started giggling.
"Yes!" Willow fell back on the bed. "Oh god. We have to go get Xander. He'll kill both of us if we don't let him in on this one. Willow darted out of the room as she heard the soundtrack restart. Yep, Andrea was watching it again.
Willow walked in and collapsed into the chair next to Xander. He looked away from his screen and considered her with concern. "Willow?"
"How could you do this to me?" she asked in despair.
"Um, I’m coming up empty here. Would you like to tell me what I did so I can start apologizing now?"
Willow sat up and looked at him sadly. "You did it on purpose."
"I do lots of things on purpose. For example, I buy Hawaiian shirts on purpose."
"You asked me to help Andrea." Willow tried to keep the whining out of her voice, but she couldn't prevent a hint of it from coloring her tone.
"Well, yeah. She's actually logging onto the slayer system and following the GPS directions and even reporting in using her blackberry. I'm calling that a total success."
"I'm not." Willow fell back against the chair. She couldn't feel this. Not again. "I'm calling this a big opposite of success."
"Okay, you're going to have to explain that to me in small words because that is not making sense." Xander swung his whole body around and leaned forward to rest his hands on Willow's knees. "Wills, you're freaking me out here. What's going on?"
"Let's open a restaurant in Santa Fe. We could move there tonight. You could fix your eggs and that meatloaf thing you do, and I could keep the books. We could pretend that none of this even exists." Looking into Xander's gaze, Willow could see something close to panic starting to gather.
"Willow, please tell me you didn't do something magically unwise," he begged.
"Which is still not telling me what you did."
"I think I'm falling in love."
Xander sat back. "Oh."
"Don't 'oh' me, mister. You asked me to work with Andrea. You set me up."
"Hey, I just wanted our most experienced watcher to be better with the watching. Paper and pen are not really working in the twenty first century."
"But why me?"
"Because you're the closest thing we have to a teacher."
"But..." Willow sighed. Xander taking the logical position was not exactly what she had wanted. "Can you just commiserate without being all logical?" she asked.
"I can do that. So, you want sympathy for falling in love?"
"Yes." Willow crossed her arms. "After Kennedy, I swore I would never go there again. You heard me swear."
"There was rum involved. I didn't know that rum swearing actually counted." Xander was almost looking amused, and Willow glared at him.
"Love and I are not buds. We're more like people who know each other and really, really hate each other. You have a duty as my friend to keep me from doing anything stupid ever again."
"And letting yourself fall in love with Andrea would be stupid?" Xander asked as if that wasn't already obvious. Willow just glared at him until he sighed and held up a hand in surrender. "Okay, so maybe love isn't the smartest thing in the world. It makes us all sweaty and paranoid, and can I just say that it's unfair that I'm coming up on thirty soon and I still have to worry about breaking out if a girl smiles at me more than twice in a night? I get that, Willow. But that doesn't mean it's stupid."
"Yes. It is. Falling in love means screaming fights and doing stupid stuff and big messy emotional break-downs and wonky magic."
"I think falling out of love does that," Xander pointed out.
"Only with nothing the same. Willow, if you like Andrea, maybe you should see if she likes you."
"I can't. If she does, then that's going to be too weird."
"Maybe it would be nice."
"Kennedy," Willow sing-songed at him. That one name should be enough to convince anyone that love is not worth the nuclear winter that was sure to follow.
Instead of having the big ah-ha moment, Xander just sighed softly. "Oh, Willow," he whispered.
"Don't give me that. Love bad. We agreed."
Leaning forward again, Xander caught her hand. "We agreed that love with Kennedy was bad. Kennedy loved uberwitch Willow. She loved fighting and adrenaline and power. She wasn't really good at loving the real Willow."
"The one who's a giant dork who wants to run away to Santa Fe?" Willow asked. That's what it felt like, that the real her was totally out of place and lost and flailing through life.
"Yep, that's the one," Xander agreed, which wasn't actually that reassuring. "The dorky one who gets all tongue tied. That's who I fell in love with back in kindergarten, and that's who Tara fell in love with."
Xander's words cut Willow open. She sucked in a breath and recoiled from him, the pain of losing Tara still as raw as ever. Xander just kept looking at her sadly. "We love the real you. I think Andrea is falling for the real you, so instead of moving to Santa Fe, you might want to think about whether it might be worth risking the pimples to just talk to her." Xander stood up and stepped close enough that he could rest a hand on Willow's shoulder for a second before he walked out of the room and left Willow alone with the monitors and the computers. The screen saver kicked in and electronic fish filled the screen.
"Hey, Andrea," Willow said shyly. Andrea was staring at her new computer with all the concentration that she possessed. It was cute. Willow frowned at that thought, but when Andrea looked up at her and smiled, Willow could feel her own expression shift. She liked making Andrea smile.
"Willow. I was just surfing the Internet. I think I lost track of time. If I didn't know better, I would think that the technology was attached to some sort of time dilation device because I do tend to lose all sense of time when I'm on this thing." Her smile widened, and then, as Willow didn't answer, that smile slowly faded into something more timid.
"I was... um... hoping you'd like to go out for a coffee with me," Willow blurted before she could lose her nerve. If this didn't work, she was going to turn Xander into a giant toad.
Andrea's answer came in the form of a brilliant smile that transformed her entire face.
"I like coffee. Or I don't, but I could, and I would definitely like to go to coffee with you. Oh dear. I'm not sure that came out right." Andrea cringed.
"No, no, that came out just perfect." Willow held out her hand in invitation.