Bumbling to a Save
Angel watched as Buffy took out the last vampire, admiring her form, her grace as she spun and drove the stake deep into his chest before he exploded into ash. Then she was backing off, madly brushing at her jacket.
"Ew. Okay, not as bad as demon goo, but I really need to remember to stake upwind," she wrinkled her nose.
"Thanks Buffy, you're a lifesaver, and I mean that literally," Xander offered as he climbed out of the bushes. The young man didn't even bother thanking Angel who had staked the other two.
"It's in the job description," she shrugged, "but aren't you out kinda late?"
"Huge with the lateage. My dad had a craving for beef jerky." Xander dug around in the bushes and came up with a small paper sack. "I couldn't really explain that I was creeped out walking in the dark because the vampires seem to be multiplying like radioactively mutated rabbits." Now Xander did glance toward Angel, and Angel considered just fading away into the shadow.
"Oh crap. Look at the time," Buffy gasped as she caught a glance at Xander's watch. "Mom is going to kill me. Angel, you can get Xander home, right?" She turned her bright eyes on Angel, and the determination to just leave faded and Angel found himself agreeing with a nod. And then she was gone, racing across a yard and leaping a fence with all the power and grace of a demon.
"Great," Xander breathed in a tone that made it clear that this situation was anything but great. Angel agreed with the feeling, but he'd promised to walk the idiot home, so he stepped onto the sidewalk and waited for Xander to pick a direction. When they'd found him, he was already in the bushes, so Angel didn't know which way was home. For long seconds, Xander just eyed him suspiciously before he turned and started walking west. Angel silently walked beside him.
"So, you're Angel," Xander said finally. Angel had been watching a fledge in the distance, and the question didn't register with him right away.
"Buffy's Angel, well not Buffy's angel as in guardian angel type angel because that would just be strange." Xander rattled the words out so fast that Angel just stared down at him blankly. "You know, what with you being a vampire," Xander added with a vague hand-wave in Angel's general direction.
"I got that," Angel said with a small frown. If Xander was going to talk, this was going to be a lot more awkward. He wished the boy would just walk in silence and grudgingly accept the protection Angel was grudgingly offering without the verbal torture.
"Oh, good," Xander nodded. "Sometimes people don't get my stuff, and explaining it… so not good for the humor, not that I was trying to be funny because I wouldn't joke about some big tragedy like someone being a vampire… or using a wheelchair. Wheelchair jokes are totally unfunny, and I would put vampire jokes—" he glanced toward Angel out of the corner of his eyes, and Angel braced himself for whatever idiotic adolescent comments he was about to make. "Who am I kidding?" Xander asked. "There are some great vampire jokes out there. I bet you've heard them all."
"I don't talk to people much." Angel looked at Xander meaningfully, trying to get the boy to understand that he didn't choose to talk to people much. The idiot completely missed the point.
"Are you one of those weird people who collects years of newspapers and has about a hundred cats?"
"You know, those weird people who collect crap and then when they die, their bodies disappear into their own apartments and the police have to go climbing in through the piles of newspapers and cats to get them out. Are you one of those? Because I have to tell you, you have the weird vibe going although I don't suppose you're going to leave a corpse behind for the cats to chew on after you've died."
Angel stopped and just stared at the boy, and Xander stopped, too. "What? No. I don't have cats. I don't like cats."
"No piles of newspapers from 1904 in some corner of your place?"
"No." Angel growled the word and started walking down the street again, almost hoping that Xander just wouldn't follow. Then he could leave this idiot behind without breaking his word to offer an escort home.
"Oh, okay. So, you really haven't heard any vampire jokes?"
"No." Angel kept his eyes straight ahead and tried to ignore Xander.
"What's a vampire's favorite snack?"
"We don't—" Angel started staying.
"It's a joke. You're supposed to ask 'what'," Xander interrupted as he rolled his eyes. Angel gritted his teeth and pushed down on the feeling of helpless stupidity that rose in him every time he didn't understand the world well enough to live in it. He hated that Xander could make him feel like that, and he hated that it was over something as stupid as a joke. But how was he supposed to know how two people talked to each other? He wasn't a person, and he'd spent a century trying to NOT talk to people.
"But I—" Angel started, determined to cut this conversation off.
"Say 'what'!" Xander demanded with a melodramatic sigh. Angel was caught between just saying it and getting it over or breaking Xander into several small pieces that would fit into a storm drain. He had to take several unnecessary breaths to push back the Angelus thoughts.
"Neck-tarines." Xander howled with laughter… or gave one good bark of it at least before he settled into chuckling.
"That's not actually funny."
"It is if you don't have to fight someone into doing the joke right," Xander shrugged. He glanced over and rolled his eyes at Angel again, and this time Angel didn't even understand what he had done that warranted the disapproval of this child. "Fine, here's another one," Xander said with a mightily put-upon voice.
"What does one lesbian vampire say to the other?"
"What?" Angel said obediently, hoping that Xander lived close… very close. He started eyeing random houses and wondering if he could get the owners to just take the boy in for the night.
"Same time next month?" Xander looked at him hopefully, the smile fading as Angel just frowned. "Get it, time of the month. Girls… their periods…" Xander waved his hand in some sort of sign that seemed to mean 'all that,' but Angel just stared at him blankly until Xander sighed heavily. "I give up. You're ruining my best material here. Look, I have a limited number of strategies for humor here. You're clearly not going for the eyerolling variety, and no way am I going for self-deprecating when I'm walking with this super cool seekret stalker dude that the girl I like likes. There's humiliating myself for laughs, and then there's going just too far."
"I don't want you—"
"So that leaves humor through brutal harsh truth, which again, you make difficult by having the whole hidden past going on," Xander cut him off without so much as an apology. In Angel's human life, that would have led to getting backhanded to the floor. In his vampire life, that sort of rudeness only led to a physical beating if someone liked you. If they didn't, they'd just kill you over it. All Angel could do is grit his teeth and enjoy the few seconds of silence before Xander started again. "So, how's the Romeo and Juliet thing going for you and the Buffster?"
"You do know they ended up dead at the end, right?" Xander looked up at him, and Angel took a firm hold on his temper as the boy kept right on talking even with Angel giving every sign that he was ready to snap. "I mean, just checking."
"Yes, I know how the play ended. I've seen it several times," Angel answered tersely.
"Good because some people, they're still all with the 'awwww, isn't that sweet' when I'm more about the 'hey, look, dead people on the floor.' It's the star-crossed lovers thing. It never ends well. Like that movie with the boat and the singing and the girl who it turns out is part black only no one knows it until she can sing that song about loving her man. That ended up badly. She ended up a bitter old alcoholic, or maybe that was him, but there was alcoholism and bitterness involved."
Angel narrowed his eyes and looked down contemptuously at the brat. So, that was his game. He'd dealt with Spike and his petty jealousies for enough years to recognize that expression. Now Angel felt a little more secure with his footing. This wasn't about him not being human enough to carry on a conversation; this was about the boy being so jealous of Buffy's affection that he couldn't see straight. "You don't think I should be with her," Angel said calmly. Nothing this cretin thought would change how Buffy saw him.
"Well, duh," Xander snorted, and that wasn't the reaction Angel expected. "I mean, you give pedophilia a whole new meaning. If sixteen and thirty is a bad, I don't even have a word for the badness that is sixteen and… how old are you, anyway?" Angel blinked, right back to feeling off-balance as that word sank into his consciousness. It was an easy enough word to understand with the Latin roots, but Angel had never even considered…
"I was born in 1727," he answered automatically, his brain still distracted by that brutal word Xander had just casually thrown out.
"Oh wow. If I could, you know, do math in my head, I would so be making comments about sixteen and way too freaking old. 1997 minus 1727 is… just freaky."
"Two hundred seventy."
"Okay, see, that's weird, you have to admit that's weird. My grandmother is sixty-two and she can't even work the VCR, so the idea of someone nearly three hundred years old dating Buffy with her current Third Eye Blind obsession? Way with the weird. Do you even know who Third Eye Blind is? You know, Semi-Charmed Life?"
Xander had that expectant expression. He knew full well that Angel had no idea how to work a VCR or who Third Eye Blind was. Angel had a better chance of finding a three-eyed, blind demon that knowing what the hell he was talking about. Not even bothering to answer, Angel just walked a little faster.
"I'm taking that as a no. Of course, do you even know how to use a radio?"
"Yes," Angel growled.
"I've seen them."
"So that's a 'no' on using the VCR front."
"We don't have to talk," Angel pointed out darkly, his tone the sort that would have sent William and Dru running for safety. "We can just walk in silence until we reach your house.
"Riiight. When all else fails, avoid." Xander nodded and got a smug expression on his face that Angel immediately wanted to smack off.
"I'm trying to be patient with you because I understand that you are jealous and more than a little petty over the fact that Buffy likes me. But if you think you can get me out of the way so you can make your--"
"Oh please. Not even. I watch movies like "Night of the Comet" as sock puppet material because every man on earth being dead but me, that's about what it would take for someone like Buffy or Cordelia to look at me, not that I ever looked at Cordelia, Cordelia was more Jesse's speed… or not Jesse's speed because Cordelia was always way faster. But me… I’m not even up to Jesse speed, so girls like that are totally out of my league. Nope. If I got you to drop off the face of the earth, I still wouldn't have a shot at Buffy. Doesn't mean I don't want you to drop off the face of the earth."
Angel strode forward, ignoring the man-child's voice and the dark fury in his gut and the stirring of his soul that had just now started asking a lot of questions that Angel hadn't even considered before.
"You know why?" Xander demanded.
Still not answering, Angel walked fast enough that Xander had to trot now.
"Avoidance… so doesn't work with me. I just keep talking right over the awkward silences. See, here's how I figure it. You're a vampire, and she's a vampire slayer. "
That warranted a strong glare.
"Yeah, I know that part's obvious," Xander shrugged off Angel's venomous expression, "but here's the bit you seem to miss. Her job is to protect people from monsters. You are a monster; therefore, she's supposed to protect people from you. But instead all she talks about is poor Angel… Angel almost got staked helping her on patrol… Angel had to kill his sire… and doesn't sire mean father because the whole Darla being a sire thing is giving me freaky thoughts about what she had under that skirt if she fathered you."
The fact that this man-child was poking at Angel's most pained and most cherished soft spots was nearly enough to make him reconsider his no-hunt policy. The only way he could deal with his own pain was to shove it off for later consideration as he focused on the idiot's misunderstanding of the word sire.
"She's the vampire who created me."
"Right. Whatever, so not the point. The point is that Buffy is all tangled up worrying about you. So, when the day comes that she has to choose between saving you or saving some poor schmuck who tried making out with some skanky vamp from the Bronze in a back alley, who do you think she'd save?"
"She's the slayer. She'll do her job." Angel had never fooled himself into believing that Buffy would chose him over her destiny. Hell, for a while he'd been confused about why she'd choose him over this boy with his dark eyes and soulful expression, but now that he was spending some time with the brat, Angel was beginning to understand why a slayer would want a vampire over this annoying man-child.
"Okay, let's assume that," Xander said without sounding convinced. "So, she saves random vamp snack and watches you turn to dust. Oh yeah, that's not going to screw her up, not at all. She broods, she gets all depressed and eats way too much chocolate and stops training, and then she's very quickly a dead slayer. Good plan, that." Sarcastic nod.
"That wouldn't happen," Angel said, clenching his fists to keep from grabbing the boy and breaking him. He didn't want that future for Buffy.
"Oh please, you really don't spend much time with girls, do you? They got depressed over Ross kissing the Xerox girl, so letting the 300 year old monster she thinks she's in love with die… oh yeah, that's major life-changing, Prozac-sucking depression."
Angel didn't understand most of that, but he still understood the general principle. He didn't want to understand it, but he did. And Xander, instead of letting Angel catch his balance and make sense of this whole new world view, he just kept barreling on. "Unless of course she picks you over the vamp snack. Then she gets to be depressed AND hear Giles go on and on about how he told her not to get involved with you because it would mean trouble. Yep, I am speaking the truth man, and you so know it. Denial, your name is Angel. And I'm still thinking that's a stupid name."
"This is your version of humor?" Angel asked with a grim laugh of his own. He felt as raw as if he'd just been worked over by three Fyarl demons.
"Trust me, from this side of the conversation, this is all sorts of fun… unless you plan on eating me for it." Xander looked at Angel suspiciously.
"I don't kill people," Angel said, even though just minutes ago he'd been reconsidering that policy.
"Then yeah," Xander shrugged, "I'm calling this funny." And now Xander fell silent. Now that his words had done their damage and Angel couldn't escape the thought that he was someone damaging the one person he'd sworn to protect, now that he was questioning everything he'd done in the last few months, now the brat was silent as they walked down the tree-lined street. He turned a corner, and Angel followed, his guts still roiling.
"I can't just stay away from her," Angel said firmly, even if he felt anything but firm right now.
Xander snorted, a derisive sound that made Angel want to rip his guts out… that made him want to turn the boy and then rip his guts out so it would last longer. "Oh, right, leave it up to the 16-year-old to have control. That's right up there with pedophiles blaming 6-year-olds for being too cute. Actually, it's kinda worse because at 270, you really should have a little more control and you're all supposedly atoning for past evil-man, which implies you really shouldn't be doing more evil. Way to show no control."
"If I didn’t have control, you'd be dead right now," Angel pointed out with grim amusement as he pictured what he would do to Xander if he didn't have control.
"See… with a face like that, I'm thinking you should be named Ra’s al ghul or something, not Angel."
The sudden shift in tone left Angel feeling like he was trying to walk through rapids. Every time he figured out how to keep his balance, the current changed and he was again left floundering. "Who?"
"My point exactly, the lack of pop culture references… you so don't have any business dating anyone less than two-hundred. He's a villain… always has that really evil expression on his face like you have when you're looking at me right now. He has too much forehead, too. I'll loan you my Batman comics. You'll like them."
"Don't have a life... I got that already. But I figure you need someone or something to distract you from this Romeo and Juliet thing you have going before you go and get your Juliet dead." Angel stopped in the middle of the dark sidewalk. Up to now he could put the child's words up to unintentionally meanness or dumb luck, but this… this suggested that the boy had just made a deliberate attack. Angel wondered how long he had practiced this little conversation in his own head before having the chance to say it.
"If she knew you were saying this to me—" Angel started.
"I'd be totally dead, yep, get that. But here's the thing, I don't have the slayerly powers for good or Willow's mad research skills. I've pretty much got the truth and nothing but the truth, so consider this my contribution to making the world a better place. Hey, we're here. Thanks for the escort. I really, really hope we don't ever have to do this again." Xander turned and darted into one more little square house that looked like all the others on the block, a little shabbier maybe.
"I—" Angel started, but the boy was already gone. Boy. He could so clearly see that Xander was a boy, a boy trying to attack in the only way he could because he was jealous. Why was it so hard then for him to see that Buffy was a girl? Angel shook his head, trying to settle these new and disturbing thoughts as he turned and headed back for his apartment, not sure that anything would be the same again after this night.