- *No Site Warnings Apply
- Canon Divergence
- First Time
I woke up with this odd feeling that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Or maybe it was that I was where I was supposed to be. But the feeling was so foreign that I didn’t recognize it.
I opened my eyes and looked around the darkened room, and for a moment I wasn’t entirely certain where I was. My brain was still foggy with sleep, and the darkness in the room wasn’t helping. I was still dressed in the jeans and t-shirt I’d been wearing last night, so I climbed out of the unfamiliar bed and took a look around the room.
It was a little musty as if no one had spent any time there in a long while. My eyes raked over every surface and I was struck with how… old it looked. Not old as in worn out, but old as in it had been furnished either a long time ago, or with antiques.
The weird thing was, I kind of liked it. It seemed like an oddity, that I, of all people, would like such a thing, but I did. I felt it could use some redecoration, no doubt about that, but it wasn’t horrid or anything.
It was actually better furnished than some of the rooms in Giles’ condo. I laughed at that. How bad did a place have to be to be worse off than the G-man’s?
The drapes in the room were a deep maroon and they were closed tightly, blocking out any trace of the day’s sunshine, assuming of course that it was daytime. Which made sense considering who lived there. I wondered if all the rooms in the hotel were like that or just a few of them. If they were all like that, did he come into each one and close the drapes himself, or have Cordy do it, or was it some cosmic coincidence? Was he restricted to only those rooms that had the proper curtains?
Not that it really mattered, I supposed. I think it just kept me from thinking about the bizarre turn my life took the previous night. It was kind of strange thinking about how I spent the evening. The drive to LA was uneventful, but once here, things began to spin wildly out of control.
But not in a bad way.
Despite the oddity of the situation I now found myself in, I felt good. Really good. Better than I’ve felt in a long time.
I hated the holidays. Really, really hated the holidays. I think I mentioned that. But suddenly, they didn’t seem so bleak, so depressing. Suddenly they seemed almost… merry. Okay. It was official; I had gone over the deep end. Too many hours spent shopping for lights and other decorations, too much blinding, colorful brightness from said lights. That was the only explanation.
A knock at the door interrupted my bout of introspection.
“Yeah?” I called through the door, feeling oddly out of place all of a sudden.
The door opened almost before I yelled my acknowledgment and the grinning face of my ex-girlfriend peeked in. “Xander?”
“Cordy.” I smiled.
Before I could blink I found my arms full of one former Sunnydale High cheerleader, present seer, and continued friend.
“Cordy! It’s good to see you too.” I hugged her back and was kind of surprised at how pleased I was to see her.
“When’d you get here? Why are you here? How long can you stay?” She asked all at once.
I laughed. “Last night. I came to bring some dusty old books for Giles. I’ll be here until New Years.”
“That’s great.” She was smiling at me but I noticed there was an odd look in her eyes. But before I could think about what it meant, it was gone.
“How are you?” She asked me as she stepped back. “Looks like you got the old brooding scrooge to brighten up the place.” She grinned at me, almost as if she knew something I didn’t.
“I’m good,” I told her, and it was true, for the most part. I shrugged as I thought about a response to her comment on the Christmas decorating we had done. “It was his idea. I just helped.” I stepped a little closer to her. “Did you know he wanted to buy tinsel?” I shuddered at the very thought.
She laughed and took my hand as she guided me over to the small couch in the room. “So, give me the dish. What’s been going on in good ol’ Sunnyhell? How’s everyone? Giles? Wills? Buffy?” She wrinkled her nose at me at the Slayer’s name, and then her voice dropped a little. “Anya?”
I cringed slightly at the last name. Not that Anya herself had upset me. It was just that thinking of her had reminded me of the way things ended, and why. Cordy must have noticed my reaction because she placed both hands on my shoulders and turned me slightly so I was facing her directly.
“Okay, Xan. Tell me. What happened?”
I shrugged, not wanting to discuss it, but at the same time, wanting to discuss it with someone. Needing some sort of objective sounding board. Not that Cordelia could really be considered objective in the strictest sense. Cordelia was the reason Anya and Xander had even met. Though to be fair, Xander had caused that situation to start with. “We broke up.”
She arched an eyebrow. “Why?” She asked simply.
“She discovered she wasn’t my type.” I told her finally, after several long seconds.
“Wrong type?” She asked. “As in, not blonde enough? Redhead, brunette…or as in not male enough?”
My eyes widened. “Well, yeah, actually.”
She laughed then. “Well, I could have told her that.”
“You could?” I asked, feeling as if I just stepped into the twilight zone. “So how come you never told me?
Cordy shrugged then. “You knew, Xan. You always knew.”
We were both quiet for a few minutes and then I nodded my acceptance of that fact. “I guess that’s why every relationship ended so horribly, huh?”
Cordy seemed to be thinking about that for a minute before she responded. “Yeah, maybe. But I don’t regret our relationship. It was really important. You were something I needed. Someone I needed at a time when the world was shifting under my feet. I’m sorry about what happened, afterward.”
I grinned at her. “I deserved it. I’m sorry I hurt you.”
We were silent for a few more minutes before she stood up and pulled me to my feet.
“Come on. I ordered dinner. You still eat Pizza?”
I followed her out of the room. “Pizza?” I know my eyes were slightly glazing over at the thought. I don’t remember the last time I actually ate. But then something else she said seemed to register. “Dinner? What time is it?”
Cordelia glanced at her watch. “9:30.”
I stopped in my tracks. “Nine-thirty? As in PM?” I asked incredulously. I can’t believe it was so late.
“Welcome to life with the undead.”
I smiled to myself as I heard Delia coming down the stairs with Xander. He was still griping about how an entire day disappeared. He didn’t sound upset though, and that pleased me. Probably more than it should.
Although I wasn’t entirely sure if his good humor would remain once Delia told him she was going out again tonight and he’d be left alone with me. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be too upset.
I knew we had agreed to start fresh this week, and forget about how things went before, and try and help each other out with this holiday thing, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much of that was exhaustion from the previous nights shopping expedition.
“Angel! Look who I found?” Cordelia asked as they finally made it into the lobby.
“Xander.” I smiled at him. He smiled back and I couldn’t help but notice that it was a real smile. I didn’t think I had seen too many of those and I made it a point to see more of them, often.
There was something about the way he said that. I knew I should be offended that he was still calling me that. After all this time, after the rather pleasant evening, we spent the previous night, despite the minor bout of tension, which I still didn’t understand.
But somehow it didn’t sound the same coming out of his mouth as it used to. Either the way he said it was different or the way I heard it was. Either way, I really didn’t mind it so much.
“You hungry?” I asked him as I motioned towards the pizza box, which was sitting on top of the counter. His eyes seemed to glaze over a little and I heard his stomach rumbling. I couldn’t help but chuckle at him.
“Look what I brought!” Cordelia asked as Xander began eating. I followed her with my eyes as she went over to a couple of shopping bags she set on one of the couches.
She pulled out a tangle of what looked to be plastic plants. There were leaves everywhere and these little red berry things peeking out of every side. I raised my eyebrow in question.
“It’s mistletoe.” She told me in that voice that said I should have known that.
“Mistletoe?” Xander repeated, and if I didn’t know better I’d say he looked a little green. Actually, he looked kind of cute like that. Did I just think that? I was way too old to be thinking anyone looked cute.
“Yes, mistletoe.” Cordelia confirmed, as if she was talking to a child.
“What do you do with it?” I asked, feeling every single one of my two hundred plus years.
“You hang it silly.” Cordelia told me, still using that voice.
“O-kay.” I told her, making it clear I was still confused. Xander must take pity on a poor, ancient undead guy because then he grinned at me, in between bites of pepperoni pizza.
“You hang them around the room, and when two people stand underneath it, they’re supposed to kiss.”
Okay. That made even less sense. Why would people want to do that? I saw this odd little smile on Cordelia’s face and I had a thought. I smiled back at her. “Hoping to catch Gunn?” I asked her.
Her cheeks started to flush and I could almost see the flow of blood under them. Although her expression was edging towards indignant.
“Gunn?” Now Xander was looking confused.
“He works with us.” Before I could comment further, the object of our current discussion entered through the front doors of the hotel.
“What’s up?” He asked as he looked around the room, his dark eyes settling on Xander. “Who are you?”
Xander climbed off of the counter, where he was sitting next to the half-empty pizza box and grabbed a napkin from the counter and wiped his mouth. “Xander. You must be Gunn.” He held out his hand to shake.
Gunn eyed him strangely, as if he was checking him over to see if he was really who he said he was or if he might be some sort of demon in disguise and I had to wonder what exactly Cordelia told him.
“Yeah.” Gunn shook Xander’s offered hand. “Charles Gunn.”
“Come on, we’re gonna be late.” Cordelia grabbed Gunn’s arm and started to lead him away.
“Where are you going?” Xander asked curiously.
Cordelia’s eyes sparkled. “Shopping.”
Gunn groaned and I could tell Xander sympathized with him. “Good luck.” He chuckled.
“Hey! It’s for a good cause!” Cordelia sounded indignant.
“A good cause?” Xander shook his head as if he didn’t quite believe it.
“Yeah.” Cordelia sighed and this sad look covered her features. “There were these kids at the shelter last night. Their parents died in this fire last year, and they don’t have any family, and no one to spend Christmas with.” Her eyes misted over slightly as she looked away from Xander and at a spot on the wall. “They didn’t even know that people are supposed to get gifts for Christmas.” Her voice sounded really sad.
Gunn placed a hand on her shoulder. “The youngest is only six months old, and the oldest is four. Even before the fire…their parents…well things were rough.”
Xander nodded his understanding and Gunn took my seer outside. I could hear Gunn’s voice just before they got into his truck. “So that was Xander.” I chuckled.
“Wow.” Xander’s voice brought my attention back to him. He was back to sitting on the counter, but he was done eating. “She sure has changed.” He spoke quietly. “Not that I’m surprised really. I think I probably knew her better than anyone else in Sunnydale. But still. Wow.”
“Yeah.” I agreed. “I think living on her own had a lot to do with it.” I told him as I walked closer. “And all those visions she got a while back. They really affected her.”
“Yeah.” It was his turn to nod. “She told me about those.” Then his gaze locked onto mine and I could see a mischievous sparkle in those eyes. “So what do you do for fun around here?”
“You have got to be kidding me?” I asked as we took a seat at one of the tables. I looked around at the different people in the bar.
“A karaoke bar?” I asked him. “A demon karaoke bar?”
He smiled at me. “Well, I am a demon.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, I started choking on the drink that had just been set in front of me and I had just taken a swallow of.
I’m not sure what shocked me more. The fact that he was smiling, at me. Or the fact that he was talking about his being a demon so easily. It was different, not something I would have ever expected from Angel. But I liked it. I liked it a lot.
“Are you going to sing?” I asked him with a grin.
“Uh… no.” He told me, and I swore that if he was living, I would think he’d be blushing.
Before I could comment, a shadow fell over our table. I looked up to see someone standing next to me. He was green and way too cheerful. I supposed I should be surprised by how at ease I felt in this demon bar, surrounded by nothing human. But I wasn’t uncomfortable. In fact, I felt more at ease than I had in a long, long time. I supposed it might have been all that time I had been spending with Spike recently.
“Hey, Big Guy. Who’s the friend?” The green guy said with a big smile to Angel.
“Xander.” I answered and held out a hand. I felt sort of like I had been on some sort of introduction tour. First Gunn, now Jolly Green.
“Nice to meet you. You want to try your hand?” The green guy asked me.
I’m confused for a second but then he motioned toward the stage and I realized what he was asking me. “No, I don’t think so.”
“No?” He asked, as if he was testing the air. He looked slightly disappointed for a second and then shrugged. “Maybe next time.”
Before I could reiterate how I was not going to get up in front of a bunch of strangers and sing, he turned his attention to Angel. “What brings you here?”
As the weird, happy green guy and Angel talked quietly, I started to think about the weird turn of events of the night. I gathered from the green guy’s attitude when Angel told him he wasn’t there on a case, or any other dire emergency that Angel didn’t usually come to the bar for pleasure. Which then brought up the question, why now? Why tonight? Why with me?
And then, another question sprang forth. I rewound my conversation with this strange demon who is still talking amicably with Angel and I found myself wondering why it was I was adamant about performing karaoke in front of a roomful of strangers and not a roomful of strange demons. Did that say something about me? And if it did, what?
Just the very idea that I was sitting there, in that bar, calmly, was some sort of statement. I couldn’t even think of a way to explain the situation to anyone back in Sunnydale. Except maybe Spike, he wouldn’t really care. Or Willow, I didn’t really think she’d be surprised. But everyone else?
Giles? He might find it fascinating, surely, but highly dangerous. Riley, who I had begun to like, to a point, wouldn’t be able to understand it at all. And Buffy? She’d just freak, there was no doubt about it. I didn’t think she’d even wait for an explanation.
I knew they had gotten the occasional piece of information, or help from a demon, here or there, but more often than not, it was under duress. I couldn’t imagine them even knowing about a place like this, which was obviously some sort of demon sanctuary, completely different than Willy’s. In fact, I was pretty sure if she knew about it, or a place like it in Sunnydale, Buffy would just as soon come in and start slaying. You know, slay first, ask questions later, or perhaps never?
I started to laugh. It was quiet at first but then it became uncontrollable. And soon I felt tears in my eyes as I tried to stop. I looked up and noticed that the green guy had gone and Angel was staring at me with another one of those expressions I didn’t recognize. This one was concern, I thought.
“What’s wrong?” Angel asked me as he reached out a hand to touch me.
His cool fingers clasped around my arm and I could feel my laughter start to bubble up at his obvious concern. I started to laugh again. His grip tightened around me as I took in a great big gulp of air.
When I looked up into his dark eyes I could see that the concern had been abated and there was now some humor in his eyes. I shook my head, willing my laughter down as I told him about my thoughts, hoping he wouldn’t find any of it offensive. I realized that it probably wasn’t as funny as I thought it was right at that moment, but it felt too good to laugh to worry about it.
When I was done explaining it to him, I heard him chuckle and I was glad to see he wasn’t upset by my embarrassing display.
“Sorry.” I told him, as I brought myself back under control.
“No, you’re right.” Angel shook his head, presumably at the oddity of those words. “I don’t really think Buffy would be too likely to be seen in a place like this.” He looked up at me then. “You aren’t uncomfortable?”
I shook my head, feeling unaccountably comforted by his concern. “No.” I reassured him. “I’m sorry. You probably don’t want to talk about Buffy.”
He laughed then, and it was my turn to look concerned and confused.
“No, actually, I don’t mind. It was over between us a long time ago.” He laughed mirthlessly. “It was over before it began.”
“I’m sorry.” I told him sincerely.
He shook his head and his smile was back. The real one. “No, really. It’s okay. I’ve moved on. She’s moved on. She’s with what’s-his-name now.”
“Riley.” I told him although I know it wasn’t so much that he forgot his name as much as it was that he didn’t want to use it.
“Yeah, Riley.” He told me, putting special emphasis on the name. It was kind of funny the way he said it, because, he didn’t seem to be especially fond of the former commando, but he didn’t seem jealous either.
“He’s not so bad.” I told him. “I kind of feel sorry for him.”
“Oh?” Angel raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah. His whole life has been shit canned, pretty much. I mean he was in the military, which he loved, and he had this girlfriend, which he loved. Life was good. And now…well, it’s not.” I looked down at the table and traced the rim of my glass.
“What do you mean, was?”
“Well, after that whole thing with Adam, the Initiative was taken apart, and what with everything he’d been through, the lies and the implant, he decided not to go back. So now he’s out of a job. He’s wandering around, with no life, no purpose. It’s kind of pathetic.”
I looked up at him then, trying to gauge why he was interested. It seemed to be simple curiosity, so I continued. “He doesn’t think she loves him.”
I shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. He isn’t you. At least that’s Riley’s reasoning.”
“And what do you think?” He asked me.
I thought about my response to that. What did I think? And was I willing to admit what I thought to him? Yeah, I thought I was. “I think he’s right, and I think she doesn’t know a good thing when she has it.”
He seemed surprised by that and it was a few minutes before he responded. “You hated it when we were together.” He commented and I’m not sure if it was just an idle comment or if it was in direct response to the conversation. Either way, I decided this was as good a time as any to set the record straight.
“No. I hated the way things were. The blinders everyone insisted on wearing.”
“Blinders?” He asked and I could see the confusion on his face. Another expression for me to catalog.
“Yeah.” I sighed. “Well, it’s true, I did have a crush on Buffy, in the beginning. Another shining example of my adolescent insanity.” I smiled slightly. “That and my need to deny certain things about myself.” I waved a hand slightly in the air, really not wanting to get sidetracked on that discussion.
“But, what really bugged me, back then. Hell, sometimes even now, was the way everyone acted.” I paused and took a good long look at him, aware that what I was about to say could be taken the wrong way. “Look, Angel. I don’t want to piss you off here, or offend you or anything, but…well you asked.” I hesitated, waiting for him to say whether he really wanted to hear this, or not.
“I did. And I do want to know. I won’t be upset.”
I stared into his dark eyes, searching and I found I believed him. I believed that he wouldn’t be offended, or irritated. Or, at the very least he believed that he wouldn’t. I nodded, and began to tell him the truth. My truth, which I haven’t actually verbalized to anyone before.
“You’re a killer.” Great way to begin, I smiled inwardly, more at the fact that this big, strong, vampire I was talking to didn’t even flinch at my words. “You. Are. A. Killer.” I said again, a little more slowly, but my words were still softly spoken, not accusatory, or anything. “You know it, I know it, they know it. And back then, we all knew it too. Well, maybe not at first, but by the time we all really knew who you were, we knew you were a vampire. Vampire equals killer. There was no other way around it.” I told him and looked at him again to make sure he wasn’t ready to kill me.
He was still staring at me with that expressionless face, but his eyes were warm, so I guessed that was a good sign.
“Soul or no soul. Still a killer.” I took a drink and let the cold liquid slide down my throat. I’m kind of surprised that he remembered that I don’t drink alcohol when he ordered the drinks.
“No one wanted to accept, or admit, or whatever, that your soul didn’t change what you were.” I continued.
“And you did?” He raised his eyebrows at me.
I shrugged. “Yes. No. I don’t know.” I paused as I thought about that. “I do know that I wasn’t willing to believe that things had changed so much after you got your soul. That you were so different.” I shook my head, realizing I wasn’t expressing myself right. “That’s not right. You were different. You didn’t feed off humans and you had this whole guilt thing going on, which by the way, you did really well with.” I grinned. “But, you were still the same. Weren’t you?”
“Weren’t you?” He asked me again, and he suddenly seemed unsure, whereas a few moments ago he was certain that what he was saying was the truth.
I’m amazed at his insight because everything he said was true. No one else really saw it. Not even myself. But yet, he did. This fact changed everything I have always believed about him. About the reasons he hated me. He had good reasons. Not the ones I always believed him to have. It wasn’t about Jealousy. Although there was that. He admitted as much.
Although I found myself wondering what it was he was talking about. What about himself was he trying to deny that would have led him to pursue Buffy?
I was staring at him, I realized and he was staring back, and I realized that I still hadn’t answered him. I smiled in a way that I hoped was reassuring. “Yeah, I was.” I confirmed.
He gave me a small little private smile, barely a quirk of the lips, and for the second time in two days, I realize I really wanted to get to know him.
“So, you want to…” He trailed off and I thought he might be blushing but in this darkened room it was kind of hard to tell.
“You ready to go?” I asked him as I finished my own drink.
“Yeah.” He nodded, as he downed the last of his soda.
We both stood up and leave the bar quietly, each lost in our own thoughts. We walked the entire way back to the hotel in silence. But it was a companionable silence, and I’m glad that we didn’t run into trouble on the way. I wasn’t all that eager for a fight tonight.
The only lights inside the hotel when we got back were the Christmas lights we hung the previous night. It was still dark inside though, and I could hear the soft sounds of what I thought was Christmas music coming from the small portable stereo Cordelia kept under the front desk.
The tree was casting an odd kind of glow and some of the gifts underneath were reflecting off the lights. Xander stepped in front of me and he was staring at the tree with this odd look on his face, almost wistful and I wished I knew what he was thinking.
“It’s beautiful.” He whispered.
“Yeah, it is.”
“You know, Christmas was never really a good holiday for me.”
He was talking so softly, and with such emotion in his voice that I knew that whatever he was about to say was something he hadn’t really shared with anyone else, and I felt awed to be the one he shared it with, no matter what it was.
“My family. They drink. A lot. Christmas was always an excuse for more. More alcohol. More insults. More violence. More pain.” The last was whispered so quietly I could almost feel the pain reflected in his voice.
“I used to take my sleeping bag out and sleep outside, just so I wouldn’t get caught in the mess that was the Harris Holiday Tradition.”
My dead heart ached at the way he spoke about his holidays before this year, and I wanted nothing more than to show him how they were supposed to be, even though I wasn’t really an expert. Still, I wanted to learn, and I wanted him to learn as well. Maybe we could learn together.
“We can start a new tradition,” I told him and I knew I sounded a bit hopeful.
He turned around to face me. The smile on his face was enough to free me from any concern I had that he would be upset.
“I’d like that.” He took a step closer to me and then he was close enough for me to feel his body heat radiating from him, warming me.
I opened my mouth to speak but before any words could be uttered I heard footsteps on the stairs. We both turned to see Cordelia running down the stairs, with Gunn several feet behind her. I wondered briefly what exactly they were doing upstairs, but then realized it was none of my business.
“Hey.” Xander smiled at them. “How went the shopping? I see you’re still in one piece.”
“Barely.” Gunn made his way into what was once the lobby of the hotel.
“Ooh, look.” Cordelia pointed to us and then turned her head back towards Gunn. He nodded at her and chuckled a little.
I felt a little confused at the display and I thought Xander did too because he turned around to look at me in bewilderment.
Cordelia was pointing at us again, with a big grin on her face. Actually she was pointing above us. I suddenly got this odd feeling and was almost afraid to look. But look I did. Xander followed my example by tilting his head to see above us.
Sure enough, hanging just above both of our heads, was a sprig of that mistletoe stuff Cordelia was attempting to explain earlier. It was obvious she went to work hanging it when she got back from shopping.
I heard Xander groan and I couldn’t help but agree with the sentiment.
“Well, don’t just stand there, like a couple of rejects from a day at the mall, kiss already!”
Xander turned around to face me and I could see an odd look in his eyes. It wasn’t revulsion, which was good. But I couldn’t really place what the emotion was. I moved forward slightly, giving him plenty of time to back away.
He didn’t, and I was unexpectedly very glad about that.
My lips hovered over his for a second, not entirely certain I should be doing this, holiday tradition, or not. I continued forward, and pressed my lips to his, ever so gently, intending a quick, chaste kiss.
However, that was not how things went.
His lips pressed firmly against mine, almost molding to mine, in an odd sort of intensity. The kiss was closed-mouthed, but anything but chaste. I could feel his body heat through his lips and was tempted to open my mouth and invite his tongue out to play.
Before I could act on any of my less than honorable intentions, I heard Cordelia walking closer and Xander pulled away. Cordelia was grinning at us when we turned back to face her.
“Merry Christmas!” She told us as she hugged us both. “It just wouldn’t be Christmas without some mistletoe kissage.”
“Merry Christmas.” Xander’s voice seemed a bit strangled but maybe I was hearing things because he looked all right.
Gunn chose that moment to say his good-byes and Cordelia went to walk him out, again leaving us alone.
“That was…” Xander spoke quietly.
“Yeah, it was.” I agreed hurriedly, afraid to hear what he was going to say.
“I’m gonna turn in,” Xander told me as he moved away. “I’m kind of tired.”
“Okay. Goodnight.” I was kind of sad to see the night end so quickly. “We’ll probably have to spend the evening here tomorrow. I don’t think much is opened tomorrow.”
Xander turned around to face me just as he reached the stairs. “No, probably not. That’s okay though.” He smiled at me. Another one of those small ones. “I’d like to spend the day here. With you.”
I smiled back. “I’d like that, too.”
“Goodnight, Angel. Merry Christmas.”
“Goodnight. Merry Christmas, Xander.”
He began walking up the stairs and when he had nearly reached the top, I heard him whisper. “Merry Christmas, indeed.”
I chuckled to myself, agreeing completely with the sentiment.
Merry Christmas, indeed.