- *No Site Warnings Apply
“Are you sure about this? You didn’t mind?” Giles turned around and regarded me with that strange expression. That one that told me he was trying to figure me out.
Hadn’t he realized that that wasn’t possible? If I hadn’t figured myself out when I knew how bizarre I was, how could a stuffy, British watcher figure me out? Although to be fair, he really wasn’t that stuffy, but I like to stay with a stereotype. It makes things simpler.
“Xander? Are you alright?”
I looked up and realize I got stuck in my own twisted thoughts. Again. That had been happening a lot lately. I think it was the time of year. The holidays always caused me to had these weird periods of introspection. You knew when all my friends were off with their families. Their loved ones, doing that whole holiday thing. And I was in this weird nowhere state.
I didn’t had the family thing, and this time of year, I didn’t even had the friend thing. And I never really got the holiday thing. Sure I understood it in principle. In theory.
But I never had one of those warm fuzzy Christmas mornings. You knew the ones where you wake up at the crack of dawn and run downstairs, into the living room, or family room or wherever it is your happy family has put up the tree. And there were all these presents, and you drag your beloved parents out of bed and insist on opening them. And soon the house is filled with bags of trash, and shiny new toys and the smell of Christmas dinner.
I never had that. Never really knew it was more than something you see on TV until I realized that it wasn’t. Not just something you see on TV. Real people lived their lives like that. Maybe not too many I knew, but people did.
Jesse’s life had been like that before he died. Willow’s never was, but her parents tried to make up for it, in their own way. I think it used to bother her when we were younger. But these days she had her own life. Her friends, and her family, outside of family, so to speak.
And I was a part of that. Really I was. But at times, I really didn’t want to be. I didn’t want to be surrounded by these people I knew, who think they knew me and had this incredible yen for this time of year. They want to buy all these lights, and decorate their Christmas trees and, god forbid, even sing Christmas carols. They want to spend all of this happy holiday time with this makeshift family we’ve formed.
Not me. I just want to forget. I didn’t want to knew what Christmas could be like. I didn’t want to compare what this year could be with what all the years previous had been. I didn’t want to look at things with new eyes.
Because if I did that, I would had to admit to what I had been missing.
And if I did that, I would be able to look around at all my friends, in their happy lives, and loving relationships, and see how alone I really am. I would had to see that despite my part in this odd little family, living atop the Hellmouth, I had no one of my own. I was truly alone here.
And that would be frightening.
So, for once I was glad that the G-man had some mundane assignment for me. Because without it, I would be stuck, with no way out.
I blinked. Giles was looking at me strangely and I realized that I got lost again. Oh well.
“Hey, G-man. It was no big. I’ll take your little what’s-it to LA, drop it off in Deadboy’s hands, and then come right back here.” Even as I said the words, with that goofy grin plastered to my face I knew that it was a lie.
Oh sure, I would take whatever it was to Angel, and I would drop it off and leave, but I wasn’t actually planning on coming back to Sunnydale. At least not right away. Maybe a few days in some small motel between here and Los Angeles is just what I needed to get this holiday out of my head. A few days alone couldn’t hurt.
“If you’re sure?” Giles asked me as he turned away and walked over to his bookshelf, looking for some obscure relic.
After a few minutes, he pulled out a couple of books that were dustier than any books had a right to be and a small, oddly shaped box. The box was sealed and locked. I shrugged as I took the book and the box. “I was sure.”
And I was. I had a plan.
I left Giles’ apartment and made my way towards my car. I climbed in and started to drive off, not even bothering to stop by my apartment and get a change of clothes or pack a bag or anything. Not that it would matter. I would be alone as soon as I dropped this stuff off, and it wasn’t like I needed to dress up to see Deadboy.
I seriously doubt he would pay more attention to me than was absolutely necessary to get what I was going there to deliver. So, with that decided, I turned onto the highway, and made my way towards Los Angeles, and hopefully a quiet holiday weekend, away from my family, my friends, and other things I just didn’t want to think about.
“You’re not going to sit here and brood all night, are you?” Cordelia walked across the floor of the lobby as she waited for my response.
Her eyebrow quirked at me in that way, almost as if she was daring me to say that I wouldn’t brood, even though she knew damn well that brooding was sort of my default setting. It wasn’t even that I was terribly depressed, or feeling all that broody at the moment. It just seemed as though that was what I should be doing. So I would. Well, I would give it my best shot anyway. At least until she was gone, and I was left alone.
I looked up at her, with a slightly amused look, quirking at the corner of my lips. “No. No brooding.” I solemnly promised.
She didn’t look like she believed me, but before she could even utter her belief in the lie I just told, the doors swung opened and Gunn walked in.
“You ready?” He asked her.
Cordelia turned towards the vampire hunter and it gave me the first chance to look her over and I realized she was indeed ready. She looked completely different than I would expect to see her two days before Christmas.
She wore a comfortable-looking pair of jeans, a simple sweater, and a pair of running shoes. Running shoes. Almost as if she knew that she would spend several hours on her feet, with probably little time for a break. Which of course was a ridiculous thought, because, of course, she knew. It wasn’t like Gunn was going to blindfold her and drag her to the homeless shelter they were going to.
Actually, it was her idea. She kept going on and on about those visions she had earlier in the year, and all the less fortunate people in the world. Gunn offered to take her to meet some of those ‘less fortunate people’. I thought he was kidding, but she didn’t get the joke. Or at least she pretended not to, opting instead to start hounding him until he agreed to take her to do just that.
It was a lost cause. It was not like he could refuse her anything. So, here she was, going out on a date to a homeless shelter of all places. Things sure had changed.
She turned back around, eyeing me carefully, to make sure that I really was going to be okay. I smiled slightly, to let her knew that I was. She must had seen the truth, because she just smiled back and faced Gunn again. The two of them left and I was alone once more.
A sigh escaped my lips and I wasn’t entirely certain why I was sighing. I wasn’t really upset, or depressed, nor did I had any real desire to sit there in the dark and brood. Which was kind of odd if you thought about it.
The last few weeks had been pretty crazy. Finding out Darla was alive was a shock. And not just that she was among those of us actually walking around. But to find out she was alive. Walking, talking, breathing, alive. It shattered something in me.
I wasn’t really certain what it was. But here I was, a vampire, with a soul no less, living, or unliving, trying to help people, fight for redemption. Each day was a struggle. One that I was perfectly willing to live with. A struggle I deserved. A struggle I needed.
And then, all of a sudden, there she was. My sire. A vampire I killed. I dusted her. It went against everything bred into you as a master vampire. I took my Sire’s life. That sort of thing just wasn’t done. Especially in the Order of Aurelius. But yet, I did it.
And, for the most part, I wasn’t sorry I did it. I didn’t really regret it. I didn’t feel bad about it. I did what I had to do. To help Buffy. To save Buffy. It had seemed so important at the time. Like it needed to be done. And maybe it did. But not for the reasons I thought at the time.
Not because I loved Buffy above all others. Not because she was the love of my unlife and I knew I couldn’t exist without her. That reasoning seemed to make sense then. But now?
Now I saw that things weren’t at all like I thought they were. It wasn’t about me and Buffy. It was about the Slayer and the Vampire. Like we were the lead characters in some bizarre children’s fairy tale.
She was my redemption, my salvation. Only she wasn’t. Not really. I wasn’t really sure anyone gets that honor, except maybe myself. I was my own salvation. My own redemption. It wasn’t about someone else, someone good accepting me for what I was, which she never actually did.
But instead, It was about me accepting myself. Me realizing what I was, what I had always been, and what I would always be, despite the humanity I may one day earn. Becoming a vampire didn’t make me what I am, it just made me see what I was.
It was kind of ironic that it was seeing Darla, truly seeing her, for the first time since the soul restoration, that brought this reality home. Before, I never saw it. I never got it. I never got her.
Darla was responsible for me feeding on that gypsy girl. But I didn’t blame her for it. I didn’t even fault her for the way she reacted afterwards. If she had done anything differently, reacted better, I may never have become who I was today. I may never have started on this path to redemption. I may never have done any number of things that I had done.
Instead, It was likely I would have gotten over my guilt and pushed it all back, and became the killer she thought she created. Instead, I became a different kind of killer. And that was okay. That was right. It was who I was, at the core.
In all the years that I had carried around the soul, I had believed that it was a burden of sorts. A punishment for the things I had done. It was not. It was a gift. A gift I now realized and accepted.
I knew there were things that I still needed to accomplish in this life. Things that I would have to do before I could become human, but I had just recently realized that even when that happens, it wouldn’t change anything.
Sure, I would be human. I wouldn’t need to survive on blood or be as strong. I would be able to walk in the sunshine, and live a normal life, if that’s what I wanted. But it wasn’t. It wouldn’t be. Becoming human wouldn’t change who I have become. And that was okay.
I was okay with that. In fact, I was good. Happy even. Which could be a dangerous situation, in and of itself. But even that didn’t frighten me as much as it should.
I stood up from the couch and made my way through the darkened lobby. I wasn’t really sure where I was going or what I planned on doing. I only knew that sitting in the dark and brooding was about the last thing I wanted to do.
Okay, not very good word usage there, but it was the only thing I could think of to say. Or think. I was standing outside of the hotel that Angel was supposed to be living in and it was kind of big. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. Maybe something…smaller.
I knew I had been standing outside for about ten minutes and suddenly I was feeling the chill. It was cold here. Cooler than in Sunnydale. I liked that. There was a breeze blowing outside. It felt like rain almost, but it was hard to tell. It was so dark outside it made it difficult to see if there were any clouds in the sky or not. The only lights nearby were the ones created by the multitude of Christmas decorations, and they weren’t really enough to see the sky clearly. At least not this early, from this spot.
I heard a noise and it reminded me that even though I wasn’t in Sunnydale anymore, it wasn’t exactly safe to be outside at night. The person I was going to see was proof of that. Although I didn’t really believe Angel was dangerous. Well, not to me.
Not that he wasn’t dangerous in general, with or without his soul. I firmly believed that his soul hasn’t really changed him as much as he’d like us to believe. As much as Buffy needed to believe. I think there were changes. He didn’t just go around killing and maiming or anything, but at the same time he wasn’t somebody’s little cuddle-vampire, as Cordelia had once joked.
Well, It was now or never, I guessed. The sooner I went inside and delivered Giles’ books, and the strange little box, the sooner I could leave. Angel could be left to his own brooding devices and I could find me a nice quiet motel to spend the weekend…alone.
Why was it that thought had sounded less appealing than it did a few hours ago when I was at Giles?
Abandoning my troubled thoughts I pushed the door open and entered the hotel. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting exactly, but the darkness didn’t really surprise me.
“Hello?” I called into the darkened entryway. I could barely see, It was so dark inside, but I continued forward anyway. “Deadboy? You in here?”
“Xander?” His voice seemed kind of strange. There was a note to it I didn’t recall hearing before. Not that I had spent a great many hours talking to him or anything.
“Yeah, its me. I brought those books from Giles.” I walked a little further and I could make out a vague shape. “Angel?” I asked trying to determine if the shape was him, or something else.
Suddenly I heard a noise. Kind of like the click of a light switch. Yep definitely a lightswitch. Because then I was blinded by the lights. Not that they were very bright. Actually, as lighting went, It was pretty dim, but compared to the complete darkness of the previous few seconds, it was a shock to the system.
“Sorry.” Angel said as I tried to cover my eyes.
However, I had forgotten that I was holding a couple of heavy books and that odd box, so they all tumbled to the floor in a crash. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a big deal, but those books looked to be way older than the vampire before me. And that box? It looked breakable.
I looked down at the ground, almost afraid of the mess I had made. “Oops.”
I bent down to pick up the books and was surprised to find that the box was still intact. It was still sealed and locked too. I could have sworn it was made of glass. It had felt like glass.
“Sorry.” I mumbled as I handed him the books.
He took the books from me and helped me to my feet. I picked up the box and looked at it closely. I must have had a strange expression on my face because Angel reached out a hand and placed it on my shoulder, which I found kind of odd. I didn’t recall him ever touching me before, not unless there was some sort of fight or something, and he was picking me up off of the floor, like he did a few minutes ago.
“What’s wrong?” He’s asked me and it took me a minute to register the question.
“This box.” I told him when I did realize what he asked. “I thought it was glass. It should have broken. Weird.”
He took it from me and looked at it closely for a minute. “It was magically enhanced.” He told me.
“Ah.” I said, like that explained everything. Which it sort of did. I shook my head to get rid of the cobwebs, which had recently taken up residence. I was more tired than I thought.
“Well here are those books.” I walked over to the front desk of the hotel. I could see a bit better in the dim lighting. After I set the two books down, I turned around. Angel was still staring at the box and he had a perplexed expression on his face.
It seemed an odd expression to me, but I could only recall two Angel expressions. The I was-ignoring-you-because-Buffy-would-be-upset-if-I-killed-you expression and the didn’t-push-me-Xander expression. Of course during the Angelus months there were a few other expressions that I distinctly remember seeing on his face. And for reasons I didn’t want to think about, I actually missed those expressions.
But his current expression seemed…I didn’t know…bewildered somehow. Like he was seeing something that he hadn’t seen for a very long time. Hell, maybe he was. Obviously Giles wanted him to have this box for a reason.
“Deadboy?” I asked as I stepped closer. “You okay?”
Angel looked up at me then, taking his eyes away from the mysterious box. “Yeah, fine.”
“Oooo-kay. If you say so.” I grinned at him and headed back towards the door. “Well, it has been… brief.”
Did he just sound disappointed?
“Yeah, I…” I wasn’t really sure what I was going to say.
“You probably had plans. Christmas with the family.” Angel interrupted me.
Yeah. Let’s go with that, I had plans, even though I didn’t. “No, not really.” Why did I tell him that?
“You didn’t?” He sounds kind of surprised and when I turned back towards him I see another new expression on his face, only it was another one I couldn’t place.
“No. I don’t really do the holiday thing.” I told him as I walked back towards him. “You?”
“I was…I was going to decorate. If you’d like to stay for the weekend, you could help me. If you want.”
Was it just me or did he seem a bit out of sorts asking if I wanted to help him decorate? I took another look around at the hotel and I noticed how from this room, you couldn’t even tell that it was December, much less December 23rd.
“You’re kind of starting a little late here, aren’t you Deadboy?” I grinned at him and it was the first time since before Thanksgiving that it didn’t feel forced.
Angel shrugged and I could almost detect a smile curving his lips. “Yeah well, it has been awhile since I have done the holiday thing myself.”
I nodded. “We’re a pair, aren’t we?” I asked him and I noticed he was looking expectantly at me and for a minute I couldn’t figure out why, then I remembered that I never answered him.
“Decorate, huh?” I asked as my eyes swept the room once more. I found myself oddly wanting to spend the holiday here. Weird. “Okay. If you don’t mind.”
I couldn’t believe I asked him that. I couldn’t believe me, the ‘king of brood’ as Cordelia loved to call me actually asked Xander Harris to spend Christmas weekend with me. I was insane. I must be. That was the only logical explanation I could come up with. And even more frightening, I was pleased that he had said yes. Why was that?
More importantly, did I really care?
No, I really didn’t. And that was nice. I couldn’t remember the last time that I wanted some company. Real company. It had been weeks, maybe months, maybe even decades. Hell, maybe never.
It had been a rough couple of years. Although in all honesty, it had been a rough century. But these last few years were harder than I had thought. And the reason for that could be summed up in one uncomplicated word.
Only that was sort of the problem. They complicated matters. Only, I had learned that that wasn’t such a bad thing. People were important. People mattered. I sort of knew that before. That was why I had such a hard time after my soul was restored.
The guilt was staggering, but that wasn’t all it was. I wasn’t sure who or what I was anymore. Where I fit in. I wasn’t mortal, but I wasn’t vampire either. But that was sort of my problem.
My soul wasn’t the problem. Neither was the belief that I was neither fully human or fully demon. I myself, was the problem. It was only recently, after realizing my Sire was still alive, that she had in fact been brought back to life, that I was forced to remember the past. The way it really had been and not the way I had wanted to see it, in my guilt-filled mind.
I remembered the way things had been both before I lost my soul and after. And I was forced to admit that as much as my turning had changed me, physically, it hadn’t really changed who was on the inside, not really. It had given me a bloodlust, a desire to see pain, and inflict it on others, and the means and ability to do it. But it didn’t put the darkness in me. That wasn’t the demon’s doing. That was my own. I had realized that. Admitted it. You could say I had made peace with it. Made peace with myself.
And for the first time, in centuries, I was completely comfortable with who I was and my purpose. I knew what I was supposed to do, and for once my redemption wasn’t the only thing that was driving me. And that felt good.
Which brought me back to the holiday and how I had suddenly found myself not spending it alone.
I smiled more at the oddity of my current situation, but Xander returned the smile with one of his own. And I could see amusement in his dark eyes. It was an expression I hadn’t seen in a long time, and I realized I missed it.
“Shall we go, Deadboy? You may have an eternity, but I’d like to actually get the decorations up before Christmas.” Xander grinned and I could hear the laughter in his voice.
“Is that how its done?” I asked him as I walked towards the front doors. “I thought we did the decorating after the holiday was over.” I disappeared out the doors before he could comment and found myself smiling.
“How about this one?”
I turned to face him and see him holding up some weird looking ornament that looks like some sort of scary hybrid. A cross between a bear, an elf and the ghost of Christmas past.
I shake my head. “I don’t think so, Deadboy.”
“Oh, come on. It’s… It’s…”
“It was scary.” I supplied, and I couldn’t help but grin because he was smiling. Really smiling. And the smile reached his eyes, which I didn’t think I had ever seen before.
“Fine. Have it your way, scrooge.”
He put the hideous ornament down and left the aisle to go find something else. I watched him go and I couldn’t help the smile on my face, or the warm feeling that seemed to fill me. It was weird. Just a few hours ago I was content to spend the holiday alone in some cheap motel room, while all my friends did their own holiday things with the people they love.
Now, I was standing in the middle of some store, filled with crazy last-minute shoppers, with a vampire. And not just any vampire, but Angelus, part of the Scourge of Europe. The same man, who I would have sworn, just a few short hours ago hated me.
But to look at him now, hate isn’t anywhere close to what he’s feeling. And that’s the weird part. He is feeling something. I wasn’t entirely certain what, but I found myself with a sudden desire to either figure it out, or just to make sure it continued.
Not that I thought he didn’t feel things before, but it wasn’t so easy to detect. He used to get this look on his face. One of the two expressions I knew him to have, before tonight.
His face said that he was barely tolerating me and anything I might be saying because that’s what Buffy wanted. But his eyes, they were…blank. I think that was the only word I could come up with. Although that wasn’t even accurate. There was something in those eyes, but I could never decipher it.
He seemed to exist, but nothing more. Like he wasn’t really living, or unliving, as the case may be. He was just going through the motions. At least that was the way it appeared, for the most part. That’s what I saw. What the others pretended not to see.
Every once in a while I would glimpse something different. It was almost feral in its intensity. It was a rare form of passion I had never seen. But not just the passion of love, or even of hate. It was this passion for life. But almost as soon as I saw it, it was gone again, and the mask was back.
And that’s exactly what it was. A mask. But no else ever seemed to realize that. Or recognize it for what it was. No one seemed to notice that he wasn’t whom they thought. I knew everyone believed that he loved Buffy. I think even he believed it. But I never did.
I think that’s why I was so hard on him. I saw something in him. This fire, burning just below the surface, and I knew that whatever it was, whatever thing that would ignite it, it wasn’t the Slayer. It wasn’t Buffy.
She may have been some flammable substance capable of starting that fire, of causing it to burn right through. But, she wasn’t the correct substance. The substance. The one that would not only light the fire, and burn the flame, but would be ignited, and burn right along with him.
And where did all these fire metaphors come from?
I looked down at the box in my hand and realize I had been standing in the same aisle the entire time I was lost in my own internal thoughts. How long had it been?
“Come on, Harris. The store closes in an hour, and we still have stuff to buy.”
I looked up to see Angel standing at the end of the aisle staring at me expectantly. I was sort of frozen to the spot though. I felt a shiver run down my spine, and I wasn’t really sure why.
Something about what he said. It was not as if other people hadn’t called me Harris. People call me that all the time. Hell, he’s called me that before. But there was something about the way he said it. The way he said it this time. I couldn’t figure out what it was, or why it would effect me, but it did.
I blinked and discovered I hadn’t moved and Angel was stepping closer to me. Now he looked concerned. Another expression I didn’t think I had seen before. Certainly not aimed at me. And his voice. Again, something in the way he said my name.
“I’m fine.” I reassured him, holding up the box I was holding. “Just trying to figure out what one does with these?” I grinned and hand the box over.
Angel was looking at the box of odd-shaped ornaments carefully, as if he expected it to bite him or something.
“You really put these on your tree?” He asked me.
I shrug. “Who knows. I don’t…”
“…do the holiday thing.” He finished for me and we both smiled.
For a moment, one solitary second, the whole world seemed to align and I didn’t feel so out of place. But then some old lady with a cart full of fluorescent green garland pushed past us and the moment was lost.
When I focused on Angel again he was staring at the lady with this odd expression. What looked to be a cross between irritation at the interruption and fascination at what she could possible be thinking to buy fluorescent green garland. And I wondered if he felt it too. That moment in time.
I shook my head slightly, pushing all thoughts aside and walking towards my unexpected companion. I looked to see what goodies he had found while I floundered in a land of confusion.
“Uh… no.” I told him as I snatched the three boxes of tinsel out of his hands.
“What?” He looked perplexed, and I found myself mentally tabulating all the new expressions I had seen tonight.
“We are not buying tinsel.” I told him firmly as I walked past him and into the next aisle.
“Why not?” he asked as he followed me.
“Because, my dear vampire,” I told him as I dropped the boxes on a vacant shelf and left the dreaded aisle, dragging Angel with me. “Do you want to be pulling that crap off of the floor from now until new years? I for one will not ring in the New Year with tinsel-coated clothing!”
He didn’t comment and remained silent for several long minutes and I thought I had said something to upset him. I stopped and turned around, looking into his face. He has another new expression on his face, but like several of the others, I couldn’t place it. I guess I’ll need more practice.
“What?” I asked him as we started walking again, this time towards the lights display. “What did I say?”
“New Years.” He said quietly as we begin to search through the various colors and styles of lights that were still available.
For a minute I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, but then my brain replayed our conversation and I realized what I had said. Oops. “I, uh…” I wasn’t sure what to say.
“Would you…do you want to…could you stay?” He finally asked.
I stopped and thought about that a second. I wasn’t in any hurry to get back, although I knew Giles was expecting to see me the day after Christmas. There was something he said he needed me to do, but it wasn’t really that important, was it?
I picked up several boxes of lights before turning to face the vampire, a grin on my face. “Sure. You’re gonna need someone to help you pack all this shit away…for next year.”
“I think that’s everything.”
I turned around and backed up a few feet, trying to get the full effect. We’ve just finished putting up the last string of lights.
“It usually works better if you actually turn them on.”
I turned to glare at him. “Harris!” I growl, but there isn’t any menace in it and he must sense that because he just continued to grin as he walked over to the switch which should activate the lights.
He flipped the switch and the room was bathed in light. Bright, twinkling, multi-colored lights.
“Wow.” I whispered. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but it looked completely different.
“Yeah, wow.” Xander agreed.
I turned to face him and he had this look on his face. His lips were quirked slightly, like he wanted to break out in a full fledge smile, but he wasn’t quite sure if he should.
“We did okay with this holiday thing, Deadboy.” He whispered after several long moments of companionable silence.
When I turned to look at him I noticed he had stepped closer to me. His eyes were locked on me and now he was close enough to touch. If I wanted to touch him that was. Did I? I wasn’t sure, but I think I did. In fact, I was almost sure of it.
But before I could actually act on my newfound desire, the phone rang. It seemed to startle him as much as me. He blinked and our eyes lost that weird connection we seemed to have for a second.
“Hello?” I asked into the line when I made my way to the phone. I was still kind of lost in what could had been a moment, so I forgot to recite our slogan.
“Angel? It’s Rupert Giles. Is Xander there?”
“Yes. Hold on.” I turned around and hoped my disappointment doesn’t show on my face as I hand the phone out to my companion.
Xander took the receiver and shrugged in what I thought was an apology.
“Hello?” I heard him answer, and was that irritation in his voice?
“Giles?” There’s a pause and I wish I could hear what was being said on the other end of the line but he’s walked away and is now on the other end of the room and I had to strain to even hear Xander’s end of the conversation.
He was groaning now. “Is it really necessary?” He paused. “G-man, I was kind of in the middle of something here. Well not here-here, but here as in not-in-Sunnydale.” He turned to face me and he has that apologetic look on his face again.
What was he apologizing for?
“No, Giles, I really couldn’t. Yes, I’m sure.”
“They’re only books, what difference is a few days going to make?”
More silence on Xander’s end.
“I’ll be back after New Years.”
He turned back around to face me and walked towards me, with the phone in his hand still. “He wants to talk to you.” He whispered as he waved the phone at me. Our fingers brushed as he handed me the receiver and I forgot for a moment what I was supposed to do with the phone.
After a second, I realized that I was actually expected to speak into it. “Rupert?” I asked.
“Angel? Sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you could send Xander home with the volume on Korvahrn Demons out of the Demonology Compendium I sent Cordelia last month?”
I didn’t knew what it was about the question, which bothered me more. The fact that it seemed that the only reason Giles called was because he needed something and wanted Xander to bring it to him, or because the way he referred to Xander’s return to Sunnydale as me ‘sending him home’. Either way, I was suddenly glad that Xander apparently told him he wouldn’t be coming back until after New Years, which was still nine days away. Does that mean that he’ll be spending that entire time in Los Angeles, or was he being honest when he said his plans weren’t here? And will it matter to me if he will be going somewhere else?
I blinked as I realized Giles was speaking to me. “I’ll give him the book.” I told him absently. There was a pause on the other end as he hesitated before speaking.
“How…how is everyone there?” He asked me, almost as if he was afraid to hear the answer.
I smiled slightly, more at his awkwardness than at the question. “Good. Wesley went back to England for the holidays.”
“And Cordelia?” He asked, and it was clear to me, she was whom he was really asking about.
“She’s…” And I smiled again as I remembered where Cordelia was. “She’s working at a homeless shelter tonight.” I heard Xander snort and I turned around and grinned at him.
“I see.” Giles told me but I could tell from his tone that he didn’t quite believe me.
I was about to try and explain it to him when out of the corner of my eye I saw Xander trying not to laugh. I wasn’t sure if it was at the situation, which he must have surmised, or if it was at something else all together, but suddenly all that mattered was the expression on his face, and the complete lack of anything but humor in his eyes. And I no longer cared about explaining Cordelia’s whereabouts or the book Giles wanted, or anything that had anything to do with Sunnydale, except of course for the young man standing in the lobby of my hotel.
“Well, I have to go. Have a nice holiday.” Giles began and then hesitated. “I don’t suppose you celebrate Christmas, do you?” He asked, but before I could comment, he had continued speaking. I guess he didn’t really want to know the answer.
“Tell Xander I said goodbye.”
“I will. Goodnight, Rupert. And Merry Christmas.”
“I… Thanks. You too.”
He sounded flustered, but I found that more amusing than anything else and I disconnected the phone before anything else could be said. I set the phone down on the counter and walked towards Xander.
I raised an eyebrow at him in question and he just burst out laughing, apparently unable to hold it in anymore. “What?” I asked.
“I’m sorry, Deadboy.” He told me. “Just the image of Cordy at a homeless shelter.” He started to laugh uncontrollably.
“It’s true.” I told him.
“I know.” He managed in-between laughter. “That’s what so funny.”
I frowned. Did I miss something? “How much have you had to drink tonight?” I asked him, almost positive he hasn’t had anything because he’s been with me for nearly five hours.
Xander’s expression changed completely. His smile was gone. Gone from his face and from his eyes as well. What did I say?
“I don’t drink.” He told me quietly and then pointed towards the stairs. “Anyplace in particular you want me to stay?”
I was confused, but walked towards the stairs anyway, stopping at the front desk to get a room key. I guessed I said something to upset him, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. “Here.” I handed him the key and start up the staircase.
He followed me and it suddenly felt really cold. Even though I didn’t really feel the cold much. When we reached the room across from my own I opened the door and he stepped inside.
“Thanks.” He told me and began to close the door.
I stopped it before it shut completely. “Xander?”
“Yeah?” He asked and he seemed really tired all of a sudden, his earlier humor a distant memory.
“I’m sorry.” I wasn’t really sure what I was apologizing for but I suddenly realized that an apology was needed.
Xander smiled slightly, but it didn’t reach his eyes. He looked weary, just as he did when he first arrived here earlier in the evening. “It’s okay. I’m really tired. I’ll be alright.”
I didn’t really want to leave him alone, but I didn’t know what else to say so I nodded instead. “Goodnight.” I told him and stepped back, allowing him to shut the door.
I leaned against the door and sighed heavily. I wasn’t even really sure what happened back there. I was having a good time. A really good time, which was kind of surprising. I couldn’t remember the last time I had anything more than a barely tolerable holiday. But there I was, having fun. Decorating the Hotel’s lobby and joking around, after spending close to three hours in the insanity that was last-minute shoppers. The weird thing was, the crazy shoppers didn’t even bother me.
It was actually nice. To be out there, with people, and buying lights and ornaments, and garland, and explaining the complete and utter insanity of tinsel. And it was fun, and relaxing even. And the most mind boggling of all, it was with Deadboy. Angel of all people. I must have lost my mind.
Somewhere between Sunnydale and Los Angeles, I must have dropped it. Or better yet, maybe I deposited it in one of those rental lockers. Funny, I didn’t remember stopping at a train or bus station.
The kicker was, I was having more fun shopping of all things, with Angel of all people, than I could remember having in recent history. Even the holiday shopping trips I was shanghaied into by Willow or Buffy over the years didn’t even come close.
Why was it I felt more completely comfortable with a vampire who’s supposed to be my worst enemy than I do with my best friends? And why was it that when Giles called and asked me to go back to Sunnydale early and bring some book that he just had to have that I felt as though my entire world was tipped on its axis.
I didn’t knew why I was surprised by the call. It wasn’t as if I actually had a life, or plans of my own, or a place to spend Christmas while everyone else was with their families.
It wasn’t as if I mattered.
Even as I think this, I realize I was being a bit harsh, but at the moment, I didn’t really care. I was having a perfectly enjoyable Eve before Christmas Eve until that phone call. Did that even make sense? I was even confused in my head. No matter, it all boiled down to the same thing.
The holidays suck.
And not in that I-want-drain-your-blood vampire way. Although there was that.
And to add insult to injury, I couldn’t believe how I reacted to Angel when he asked how much I had drank. It just sort of bothered me.
It was true. I didn’t drink. It reminded me too much of my parents and the insanity of a Harris family Christmas. And that was one memory I’d like to forget. I knew that Angel didn’t mean anything by it. I was acting pretty strange. Giddy even.
How was he to know that the consumption of alcohol could be a touchy subject? It was not as though we’re actually friends. But I now realize that I’d like to be. And the idea that I probably upset him by letting my family history and Giles phone call get to me bothered me more than I’d like to admit.
Sighing again I straightened up and walked back out the door. However, once I stepped outside, I wasn’t really sure where I was going. There were so many rooms, how was I going to find the one room with the walking corpse?
Thankfully, the room across from mine had a light on underneath the door. I hope that meant that was Angel’s and not that there’s some ghost that needed light to haunt by.
I chuckled at my own thoughts and wondered if there was any significance to the fact that out of all the rooms in this hotel, Angel put me across from his. I moved towards his door, pushing my questions aside.
I knocked once and waited for a minute.
“Come in.” His voice sounded kind of distant but I assumed that was because there was a door separating us.
I opened the door and then stepped inside, closing it behind me. “Angel? I, uh… I wanted to apologize.”
Angel was standing at the window, which was opened and the closer I came to it, the more of the city’s Christmas lights I could see.
“It’s beautiful this time of year.” He spoke quietly. “I never really noticed it before. I never really thought I deserved it.”
I came even closer and then we were standing side by side, staring out into the night, brightened by zillions of Christmas lights, which looked kind of small from our perch three floors above ground.
“And now?” I asked, knowing that he wouldn’t be discussing this with me, if he didn’t want or need to.
He turned slightly to look at me. “Now, I want to see them. I want to see all there is to see. I want to live.”
I grinned at him a bit. “You do realize that technically you aren’t living?” I placed a hand on his shoulder slightly, not really certain if it was appropriate but hoping that somehow it was not only appropriate but wanted. “But breathing isn’t really a requirement. Look at me.”
He turned fully then and stared at me, a brow quirked in silent question. I sighed. “I breath, I live. But I don’t. Not really.” I turned to stare out at the city once more, taking my hand away. “I am sorry about earlier. Giles calling kind of bothered me, and then the alcohol comment just sort of set me off.” I shrugged and I was certain he was going to comment or ask a question.
Instead he turned back to the view and placed as reassuring squeeze on my shoulder. After a moment he did speak. “Tell you what, Harris. You don’t mock my desire to live, when I clearly don’t, and I won’t complain about how you should, but aren’t.”
I smiled then and bumped his shoulder. “Why don’t we help each other learn to live a little?”
He bumped back. “Why don’t we?”