"I can take you home… I don't actually need help," Angel said to the night in general even though the words were for the boy who walked several feet away. The need for distance left Xander walking the curb like a balance beam, and Angel wasn't sure if Xander did that to keep a physical distance between them or because he still amused himself with such childish things.
"Yeah, yeah. You're big with the not needing me—got it. Unfortunately, Giles told me to come along, so this is me coming along."
Angel didn't answer, so for long minutes, they stalked down the dark street toward the mausoleum without any further discussion. At least, Angel stalked. The way the boy kept slipping off the curb, he came closer to stumbling toward the mausoleum. A block later, the boy gave a pained sigh.
"I only wanted to let Giles know, and to see if Buffy wanted to come." Angel defended himself from the unspoken censure.
"Buffy and Willow are off doing the annual neck-tie and Plaster-of-Paris holiday."
Angel paused a step. "What?"
"Father's Day," Xander made an exasperated snorting noise that made Angel feel incredibly stupid and left him wishing he could stuff the boy in a box marked Timbuktu and drop him in the mail. And if the boy wasn't breathing on the other end, well, that wouldn't be his fault.
"You know, the holiday that single-handedly supports the entire ugly tie industry." Angel didn't even have time to process that before Xander kept right on going with a condescending tone. "What? Did you spend all 200 years under a rock?" Angel stopped and let the boy get ahead by several feet as he fought an urge to disappear and leave the boy to get eaten by some random vampire.
"I never lived under a rock," Angel nearly growled as he pushed aside his anger. He passed through another pool of yellow light before stopping in front of huge iron gates. Xander was far enough ahead that it took a while for him to notice and double back. Angel used the moment of peace to examine the newly installed lock.
"Didn't you say you were here earlier?" Xander asked after trotting back. "That's not looking very open."
"It was open before," Angel said. Reaching out, he closed his fist around the lock and yanked to snap it free. Xander's gasp and the twists of almond-sweet fear rising in the air were a bonus. He didn't mind reminding the boy that he had power the boy could never hope to match.
"Show off," Xander muttered, but he followed Angel into the cemetery. Obviously someone knew something valueable had shown up in the graveyard, but you couldn't just slip a runestone into your pocket, so hopefully the it hadn't mysteriously moved. Now that Giles had prepared a place for the power magical source, Angel just wanted to get the thing back to Giles and get home. Whether Giles had sent the boy out of a not-so hidden distrust or a simple need to have some peace and quiet, the result was the same. Angel dearly wanted the night over.
"So, why aren't you with your father?" Angel asked as the obvious question finally occurred to him. He surprised Xander so much that the squelchy sound of sneakers in the damp earth stopped. Angel turned to see Xander frozen in the weak light of a half moon, the boy's face momentarily open and pained. The expression passed faster than the owl that chose that moment to swoop down between them.
"We already did the 'traditional gift giving with a side of obligatory and totally not-heartfelt thanks' portion of the evening." Xander smelled of chalky, dry panic now. He shrugged. "Annoying you and Giles is my reward for picking out a tie not nearly as hideous as the once chosen by Buffy whose shopping savvy is really limited to miniskirts. I wonder how she slays in those things without giving the vamps a peeping eye's view of her…"
Xander stumbled to a stop, his eyes wide and looking at Angel. It took a second for Angel to connect his own relationship with Buffy to Xander's sudden nervousness.
"Hey, loadstone ahoy!" Xander changed the subject, pointing into the darkness where a soft glow turned a small half-circle on the ground a dull yellow.
Watching Xander trot ahead, Angel felt an unfamiliar emotion. He'd certainly never expected to have anything in common with Xander, but he'd seen that flash of expression in the mirror often enough to know it. And even after his days of using mirrors, he suspected other's would catch glimpses of it if they waited long enough.
"So, is this the rock with the power to make Giles babble like Willow on caffeine?" Xander asked as he used a stick to poke at the black stone tucked beside the mausoleum.
"Let me use the bag," Angel said as he pulled out the magicked fabric Giles had provided. Xander took several steps back, an expression of boredom once more firmly in place. Using a stick and the bag, Angel scooped up the small rock, swaddled it in the charmed bag, and tucked it into a pocket.
When Angel turned back toward Giles' apartment, Xander followed, weaving between the headstones while always keeping a certain distance between them. Angel found himself missing the boy's constant, pointless babbling that relieved Angel from having to fill the silent space between them. Even more, he wished he hadn't seen that expression which made him feel the weight of the uncomfortable silence. The boy's shoulder's hunched, and the chalky, stale fear from earlier still swirled through the night air.
"My father hated the book I got him for his birthday. He said no educated man would stoop to reading such pointless drivel," Angel offered.
At first, he didn't think the boy understood. The uneven slip-squelsh of sneakers sinking into damp earth continued until they reached the gate. The weak light of the moon made the sidewalk shimmer so that the clods of mud left by Xander's shoes became dark islands. Once of the sidewalk, Xander stopped, blocking the gate with his body.
"Fathers." Xander said the word with a sad resignation that Angel understood. Of course, with him, there was a lot more guilt twisted in with the sadness. Xander stepped to the side allowing Angel ahead of him.
"Fathers." Angel agreed as he turned the direction of Giles' house. Xander followed. They covered three blocks, the sound of their shoes slapping the concrete interrupting the crickets as they walked.
"Are we having a moment here? Is this male bonding we're having here?" Xander suddenly asked.
"I hope not," Angel shrugged without any rancor.
"Me too." Xander agreed with a sarcastic tone that now somehow made Angel feel like he was part of the joke instead of the target of it. Maybe it was the fact that this time the boy walked on the sidewalk next to him.
"I mean, if we're having a moment here, Giles is definitely going to make us research for apocalypses, and I've already had my yearly allowance of apocalypsi. The dust in those apocolypicy books of his is more dangerous than some demons. I'm going to end up with emphysema." Xander complained.
"So no telling Giles," Angel agreed. Xander glanced sideways at him, but Angel just gazed back.
The boy might be annoying, but he definitely wasn't worth the postage to Timbuktu, Angel decided as they walked through the night in silence.