Rating: Still FRT for the swearing. Nothing smutty for a while...
Disclaimer: I own my occasionally questionable sanity, seven pairs of shoes, and two espresso machines. I do not own the Buffyverse. The actors are probably grateful.
Prologue's here in my memories
I staked Jesse. I staked a demon. I staked Jesse. I staked—
Xander gripped the stake tightly and fought for balance as a wave of vertigo washed over him. A faint sound of chanting echoed in his head, and for a brief moment he thought he could smell beer and burnt wood. He regained his footing and looked around the Bronze. Buffy was laying into the whaddayacallems, minions, like they were toothpicks. Seemed like she was having fun, too. Willow was watching from behind one of the tables. That quiet guy, Angel, stood in the shadows against the wall, ready to jump in if either girl needed help.
I staked a demon—I staked Jesse. My best friend. A demon. Still Jesse.
He dropped to his knees next to the spray of dust on the floor and began to scoop it into a pile. A pair of large, dark shoes entered his line of vision.
“What are you doing?”
Deep voice, quiet. Mild. Angel. Xander looked up and met the eyes of his—what, friend? Teammate?
“I can’t leave him on the ground,” he said. It made sense to him.
Angel’s eyes scrunched up at the corners, like something hurt him. “I’ll find a cup for you,” was all he said in reply, though. He glanced around the dark club and headed to the bar.
Xander stayed where he was, on his knees on the dirty floor of the Bronze, guarding his last connection to Jesse and waiting for the big man to return.
Jesse? Jesse, man, I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry. I didn’t mean to—you know I didn’t mean to, right? I mean—fuck, Jesse, I swear to GOD—you were pushed, remember? I promise, I won’t let Buffy’s Slayer shit make me forget you—that you—were still you—even after…
He blinked at the sound of Angel’s voice and was surprised not to find tears in his eyes. He heard a quiet sigh above him, and suddenly Angel was squatting down at his level.
“Xander, snap out of it. I found you a cup. Got a lid, too. Come on, kid. I’ll let you space out later.” The soft rumble of Angel’s voice brought him slowly, painfully, back to awareness.
The cup was held out to him; he fumbled for it with shaky fingers. As he scooped Jesse’s dust past the lip of the cup with his palm, he offered Angel a weak smile. “Is it wrong that I’m not crying?”
Angel reached out for him, paused briefly before he finished the gesture. He squeezed his shoulder comfortingly, paternally. “No, it’s not wrong. You’ll fall apart later.”
Xander capped the cup and stood jerkily. “My dead best friend is in a Styrofoam cup,” he said wonderingly. He turned to Angel. “There’s something fucked up about that.”
Angel got to his feet as well. His eyes, sympathetic moments before, were hooded and dark. “Your best friend was a vampire at the end. Don’t let grief cloud your judgment.”
“Fuck you, man,” Xander said angrily. “That was Jesse, right up to the end. Even with the whole demon thing. It was still Jesse.”
“Do you think you’re going to stick with that belief?” Angel asked. “The Watcher will tell you that demons are soulless, evil creatures, and that you shouldn’t feel remorse or guilt.”
“People with souls can be just as bad,” Xander said. He rubbed his left eye absently. “Can we get out of here? I feel—I dunno. Not good.”
Angel looked across the room. “I think Buffy’s done playing with the Master’s Vessel. Come on. I’ll walk you home.” He made eye contact with Willow and mouthed ‘We’re leaving.’ She nodded back, her attention mostly on Buffy.
Xander shrugged. “Can I crash with you tonight? Don’t feel like dealing with my folks after all this.”
Angel seemed to stiffen in the night air as they stepped out of the club. “I’m, um, unaccustomed to having guests in my apartment. And you don’t even know me.” He eyed Xander and added carefully, “But if you think your parents won’t mind, you’re welcome to take the couch.”
Angel grunted. “This way, then.” He lengthened his strides, and Xander hurried to keep up.
They passed dark windows of stores and restaurants, and Xander halted at the sight of his dead-looking reflection. “I look like crap,” he said. His stomach growled. “Got any food back at your place?” He tried to catch Angel’s eyes in the surface of the window, but couldn’t find his image anywhere.
“My pantry needs a little restocking, but I think I could manage something,” Angel said. “Are you coming? It’s just a bit farther.”
Xander turned around. “Yeah. Coming.” He yawned and rubbed his left eye again.
“Is something wrong with your eye?” Angel asked, faint concern in his voice.
“I dunno.” Xander rubbed it harder, and pulled his hand away from his face reluctantly. “It just started feeling funny. Doesn’t hurt, it’s just weird. Kinda itches.”
“You can put ice on it when we get to the apartment,” Angel offered. “It’s just around the corner here.” He gestured down a well-lit street to a tall apartment building.
“Cool,” Xander said. “Right in the downtown and everything.” He yawned again, cradling the cup to his chest.
Angel smiled faintly at him as they strode into the lobby. “Long day, huh?”
“Yeah.” He blinked the encroaching sleep from his eyes. “The longest.”
“Well, I have a very comfortable couch,” Angel said. He steered Xander into the elevator and pressed the button for his floor, digging into his pockets for his key.
“Good to know.” Xander followed Angel out the elevator and down the hall to his door.
Angel pushed the door open and gestured. “Come on in. I’ll find you some extra blankets.”
Xander stepped past him and wandered into the living room. It was sparsely furnished, with a mismatched armchair and sofa, and a bulky television set. There weren’t any pictures on the walls, and heavy curtains were pulled over the single window. It’s like he hardly lives here, he thought, setting down Jesse’s makeshift urn on top of the TV.
He turned this over in his head as he walked out and into the kitchen. Ooh. A coffee machine. “Hey Angel,” he called out. “Do you mind if I make some coffee?”
“Nah, go ahead,” came the muffled reply. “The coffee’s in a bag in the fridge. Make enough for two, will you?”
Xander opened the door to the fridge and stared, incredulous, at the next-to-empty shelves. That’s interesting. On the top shelf were a carton of orange juice and a large thermos. Below that was a saran-wrapped bowl of what looked like oatmeal. A small brown paper bag in the fridge door finished off the inventory. He took the bag out and, after a moment of indecision, gave into curiosity and grabbed the thermos as well.
He waited until the coffee was set to start percolating, and unscrewed the lid of the thermos. A faint metallic scent rose from the inside. He looked down at the vivid red contents and couldn’t summon up any emotional response. “Hundred to one that’s not cranberry juice,” he said aloud. He heard footsteps coming into the kitchen and looked up from the thermos. Angel stared back, a wary expression on his face. “Should I be freaking out now, or are we cool?” he asked.
Angel looked down at his hands, and back up. “It’s pig’s blood,” he said, voice low. “I buy it from the local butcher.”
Xander shrugged. “No snacking on the tasty humans?”
“Can’t,” Angel said. “Or won’t. It’s been so long, I’m not sure which one it is any longer.” He moved to the cabinet and grabbed three mugs. “Got cursed with a soul about a century ago. It makes things…difficult.”
Xander accepted the mug of coffee and passed him the thermos of blood. “Difficult how?” he asked. He sipped at the hot, black coffee.
Angel poured a measure of blood into the third mug and stuck it in the microwave. He leaned against the counter and rolled his mug of coffee between his hands. “Think of it this way. Humans all have basic urges, instincts, and wants—food, sleep, sex, violence, companionship. They also have a society-imposed moral code that gives them ingrained inhibitions. You might get hungry, but you won’t stop in a restaurant and eat off someone else’s plate. Unless you get off on it, you’ll wait until you’re home to have sex. And so on and so forth. For the most part, humans are self-policing creatures.”
Xander nodded. “I’m with you so far.”
Angel took his mug of blood in his spare hand and inclined his head toward the living room. “Let’s go sit.”
Xander followed him back out into the living room and flopped down on the couch, now piled with blankets and a pillow. Angel took the armchair and continued his explanation.
“Demons have the same instincts and desires, but the urge to obtain them is far stronger. We also have next to no inhibitions. If we’re angry, we kill people. If we’re hungry, we go out and drain someone dry.” He paused and took a drink from one of his mugs.
“So,” Xander prompted.
“So imagine a demon with over a century and a half of torture, murder, and rape under his belt suddenly finding himself with a human conscience and moral compass.” He raised his eyebrows at Xander. “I do what I must to survive, but I don’t give in to the demon. He is—chained, I suppose you might say. It’s become easier to ignore him as time has gone on.”
“Is that a good idea?” Xander asked. “I mean, I’m no psychology expert, but if you keep pushing part of yourself away like that, you’re going to end up with some serious issues.”
Angel stood up. “I don’t know. I’m more interested in keeping people safe than in my mental health.” He drained the mugs in quick succession and walked to the hall entrance. “Good night, Xander. Wake me up if you need anything.”
“Hey Angel?” Xander said suddenly. Angel stopped, his hand over the light switch. “Thanks.”
The vampire gave him a small smile and turned the light off. “You’re welcome.”
He tossed and turned on the couch, restless in his sleep. Disturbing images swept through his mind.
Blood in my mouth, the pack surrounding me. Angel, bleeding, wooden stake held high behind the blonde vampire woman. Dark haired woman, light haired man, English, drinking blood. That musician guy, Oz, turning into a wolf in the library. Angel laughing, taunting, Angel-not-Angel. Angel stabbed. New Slayer—evil Slayer? Angel, what happened? The mayor, the mayor! College—why am I not in college? Blond man again, hurt, dinner—Buffy, let him in.
He bolted upright in his makeshift bed, panting.
“What the hell?”
The faintest cracks of light shone around the heavy curtains. He struggled to drag himself fully awake, taking huge gulps of air in the dark room.
The light flipped on above him.
“Xander? Are you alright?” Angel leaned on the wall sleepily, hair mussed, shirt tugged askew. “I heard your pulse going crazy out here. Were you having a nightmare?”
“Nightmare?” Xander rubbed kernels of sleep from the corners of his eyes. “I—shit, I’m not sure. It was weird. Lots of pictures of people, like I was watching things happen. But I know this stuff’s never happened before. I mean, there were people I’ve never seen in my dream.”
“Tell me about it,” Angel suggested. He rubbed his hand across his hair and sat heavily on the couch next to Xander.
“Um.” Xander pressed his thumb and forefinger lightly into his left eye socket. “There was blood in my mouth, first—it felt like I was an animal. Then I saw you about to stake that blonde vampire woman—I saw a dark haired woman and a blond man drinking blood together—” he broke off.
Something flickered in Angel’s eyes at his words, and the big vampire clenched his hand into a fist atop his knee. “Go on,” he said evenly.
“A kid at school was a werewolf,” Xander continued. He bit his lower lip. “You were—not you. I think your demon had control. You got stabbed; Buffy stabbed you. A lot of it I don’t understand after that—I think there was something wrong with the mayor, like he was trying to do something. I wasn’t in college—that was about the only thing that made sense,” he said with a soft snort. “I saw the blond man again, the vampire. He showed up at Buffy’s looking weak and injured—it was horrible.”
“Anything else?” Angel asked. His knuckles were white against his already pale skin.
“No,” Xander said, “I woke up right then.” He looked at Angel anxiously. “What do you think this is all about?”
“I don’t know,” Angel said grimly. “But I suggest you call the Watcher and tell him that we’ll both be coming by the library this evening.” He stood up and walked to the armchair, where his coat was lying across the back haphazardly. He pulled a slim black wallet from a pocket and tossed a few bills to Xander. “Go get some groceries and decent clothes. I don’t want to risk you staying anywhere but here if you’re having prophetic dreams. Someone will have to look out for you while you sleep.”
Xander swallowed hard. “You—um, thanks,” he said. “You don’t have to do this.”
“Yes, I do.” He turned and walked out of the room, saying over his shoulder, “Go. Buy food. Healthy stuff. Wake me up again when it’s sunset.”
Xander stared absently at the space Angel had just been in, clutching the crisp twenties in one hand. He’s one weird vampire, that’s for sure. He grinned and stood up, stretched his arms above his head. Still, now that he mentions it, I am kind of hungry. I bet a walk would clear my mind, too.
He shrugged his jacket on and ambled out of the small apartment, thumbing the light off as he went. Life’s gone down the rabbit hole these days. Heh. Makes things interesting.
On an odd side-note: I was laying around wondering what kind of stories Spike could tell Xander--or his straight-laced Sire, Angel--about his adventures on his own, and when I thought about Spike at Woodstock, the weirdest quote popped into my head. I could just picture Spike saying this... "And when I finally came to, I was naked, sandwiched between two Deadheads, and had a ring through my tadger." *snicker* I have too many plot bunnies to believe, so I'm tossing it out there for whoever wants to use it.