He doesn’t know why he’s the one bringing the news. Of everyone left, only Spike hates Angel more than he does, and even that’s a toss-up. Spike may have tortured him, but Xander sent him to Hell – or made damn sure Buffy did, but it’s the same thing really, and Xander would have done it himself if he wasn’t mortal and no match for vamp strength – so that might just make them joint presidents of the “We Hate Angel” club, of which no one is treasurer.
So again – why is he here? Why is he the one bringing Angel the news of Buffy’s death as if he gives a damn whether Angel hears it in person, on the phone, or reads a blurb in the obituary column?
It’s Willow’s fault, the way everything he doesn’t want to do but does anyway usually is. She’s the one who turned to him with liquid eyes and told him he was the only one who could do this. And he’d melted. Because she’d just saved Tara and needed to be with her, because Buffy was gone and maybe getting away from the town where she’d sacrificed everything was a good idea when all was said and done…and maybe because he wanted to watch Angel hurt the way the rest of them did.
But the words are spoken and he’s seen that satisfying flame of anguish and guilt spark gold in Angel’s eyes, so why is he still here? All he knows is that he is.
The lobby has emptied of all but the two of them, and he’s wishing that Cordelia was still standing there in that distracting sparkly get-up she was wearing, or that guy, Gunn, the scared-looking girl with the wide eyes, hell, even Wesley would be welcome right now – anything but being all alone with Angel.
“Are you gonna be okay?” Xander finds himself asking, and Angel looks at him as if it’s the stupidest thing anyone’s ever said. It might be, but it’s rude of him to be so condescending anyway, because, hey, Xander didn’t actually have to come here at all. He could have stopped at a motel, called Angel to say “Buffy’s dead, bye-bye”, spent the day and night getting drunk in a depressing room, gone back when he sobered up, lied to the others when he got back, and no one would have been the wiser. So really, Angel has a lot of nerve.
There’s no answer, of course, from the King of Brood. It’s harder than talking to Oz. Well, maybe not harder, but more annoying, because Xander actually liked Oz at one time, and maybe sort of still does, and he’s never liked Angel. “Where were you?” he tries, thinking another tack might at least get him a syllable or something.
“Pylea,” Angel says, and it’s absolutely meaningless to Xander, but he’s not going to ask for an explanation. He’s not curious enough to give Angel any more chances to make him feel stupid.
There’s more silence and Angel’s staring at him now. It’s pissing Xander off, really, because again it’s making him feel like some loser who’s getting it wrong. He really hates Angel for this, not that he didn’t already hate Angel a lot anyway. “What?” he asks, with a whine in his tone that makes him wince.
“I was wondering when you were going to leave.” Direct and to the point, he’ll give Angel credit for that.
No, actually, he won’t. “You’re welcome.” And this time there’s the confident sarcasm he was trying for last time.
Angel snorts harshly. “I’m supposed to be thanking you?”
“Yeah, actually. Or at least expressing some condolences or something. Because I’ve got a newsflash for you, buddy – you’re not the only one who lost someone. We all did. Buffy mattered to us. So yeah, maybe a thank you to me for respecting your right to be told and an ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ would have been nice.”
“It wasn’t your idea to come here.” He might be correct, but it still annoys the hell out of Xander that he said it.
“Maybe not, but I came. It’s not like I had to, either. I could have called you from a payphone and no one would ever have known.”
“You’re right. So why didn’t you?” There’s that accusing look, one of many that Xander hates.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because I thought that Buffy wouldn’t want you to hear this news over the phone.” And then something snaps within him and he gets more honest than he’d ever dreamed he’d be with Angel. “Or maybe because I wanted to see you suffer as much as we’re suffering and there’s no way to get the full experience if you don’t see it live.”
Angel’s eyes flash gold and for moment Xander’s afraid that he’ll be seeing Buffy again a lot sooner than he thought. But all that happens is one spoken word. “Leave.”
Is it this relatively tame reaction that makes him bold? Who knows? But he finds himself remembering a request from Dawn that was half a weak attempt at a joke and half something she wanted him to say and he decides to take it literally. “Dawn wanted me to give you something.”
“What?” Angel barks.
“This,” Xander says as he moves quickly and wraps his arms around an astonished Angel. A hug from Dawn. Ha!
He figures this will be a quick ‘fuck you’ to the vampire he’s hated since the moment he met him, the vampire who had something Xander doesn’t want to admit he still wishes he’d had, but it doesn’t go that way. Just as it always happens, Angel gets the better of him.
In seconds, his body is moved, head tilted, and lips crash against his like a train. His first reaction, of course, is to push uselessly against Angel like some helpless damsel, and it’s bad enough that his efforts do nothing but provoke a chuckle which rumbles in the chest pressed against him; but what’s worse is the desire to stop pushing and hold on tight that follows, the urge he’s fighting with all his might.
Luckily, this all ends before he can lose the war. Angel lets go unexpectedly and Xander stumbles back, tripping and nearly falling, and he pretends the blush he can feel is embarrassment at being clumsy. His mouth is swollen; he can feel that, too. Damn it. If Anya notices when he gets back to Sunnydale… It won’t still be like this then, will it?
“Leave,” Angel says again, and Xander complies. There are tears in his eyes now. Anger, shame, humiliation – pick one or all of them. They send Xander out into the street before he can give those to Angel, too.
There are thoughts flooding his brain, and Xander doesn’t know how to deal with them. Things like him having something that belonged to Buffy and feeling like a grave-robber; things like wondering if there was something else in all that hatred besides just righteousness and jealousy; things like wondering just who he is anymore.
There’s nowhere to go that doesn’t hurt now; no distractions. There’s missing Buffy desperately on one side and Angel’s kiss with all its baggage on the other. Not even country music will make the drive back home or the days to come bearable.
Angel is every bit as evil, every bit the demon Xander had always said he was and now that he has proof, real proof, that the soul doesn’t mean a damn thing, he can never share it with anyone.
Buffy is dead.
Why hadn’t he just stopped at a motel?