Should Have Gone


Xander hobbled into Stevenson Hall, clutching his bruised abdomen. Doing his best to ignore the cramp-like pain jolting through him with every step he took. His forehead felt tingly while the deep gash just below his hairline started to heal with the aid of his nifty Slayer healing factor. Luckily, this late at night the dorm was sleepy and Xander made it all the way to his room on the second floor unnoticed. Xander wanted to slip into a steaming hot shower, and right at that moment it was a toss up if he'd take off his clothes first. Then after doing the burning, stinging iodine thing for his wounds and getting into some clean, non-rippy clothes, Xander planned on going in search of Riley to tell him Forrest was dead. Xander dreaded having to do it and really didn't wanna; Forrest acted like an asshole from day one but he'd put his life on the line for Riley everyday and Xander respected that, if little else, about the man. So, hate him or not, Forrest was Riley's best friend and his death would hurt Riley deeply.

Xander used his key and let himself into the dorm room he shared with Oz, and closed the door by leaning back hard against it, sighing. God, everything hurt! That freak, EVE, really pounded on him; Xander couldn't remember the last time he got beat so thoroughly. His first bout with Spike came pretty close. Still, the Bleached Wonder couldn't hold a candle—preferably one that would burn wildly out of control, thus consuming him in a fiery death—to EVE when it came to handing out smackdowns. Xander pulled his back away from the door and grunted his way over to the bathroom, fantasies of pulsating streams of hot water working their thrumming magic on his aching muscles danced in his head. He had one booted foot on the bathroom's linoleum floor when all his hopes and dreams, for the immediate future, anyway, died with heavy and intrusive knocking at the door.

Xander closed his eyes. "Dang, I was sooo close" he murmured, despondent. How'd he expect anything else from this pox-ridden day?

Xander seriously considered ignoring whoever was at the door, but figured with a half demon, half human, and half machine—Xander shook his head and just knew something couldn't be that many halves— super villain out there, he should stay alert. Keep his eyes and ears to the grindstone or something equally as baffling and British Giles would tell him to do. Xander had dragged himself half way to the door when the person on the other side said"Xander? Are you okay? I smell blood."

Xander stopped dead in his tracks, totally gobsmacked by the realization his ex was here. Here in Sunnydale… standing right outside his dorm room. Oh, god.

"Angel"

Advancing the rest of the way to the door, Xander bit his lower lip briefly before curling his hand around the doorknob. He opened the door. Angel stood revealed in all his dark, good-looking glory just outside the threshold. Xander remembered a time when he would have grabbed Angel by the lapels of his trench and dragged him into a blistering kiss for looking so damned edible. Xander also recalled a time when Angel and all his dark, good-looking glory, would have inspired a huge helping of ridicule to go with the gooey feeling in his gut.

Things change—big time.

"Hi. Can I come in"

Xander doesn't respond for a moment, and fully takes in Angel's appearance. He knows Angel's body inside and out, can be blindfolded and identify every inch by touch alone, so Xander instantly perceives Angel's been beaten by the slight discoloring of usually flawless, pale skin. There are light bruises around his eyes, and a faint trace of blood inside the corner of his mouth. Another ten minutes the bruises'll be gone. Xander almost asks what happened.

Xander wants to clean that blood away with his tongue.

"Xander, you all right"

"Yeah. Sure."

Angel doesn't look convinced. "May I come in? Please"

"Okay."

"Um" Angel begins, his eyes turned up as he inspects the threshold"I'm gonna need more than that."

Angel looks down in time to see the smile form on Xander's lips. "You may enter, sir."

Angel entered and Xander closed the door. Angel's back is to him. He seemed to be staring down at Oz's bed. Xander, elated there was no hasty need for conversation between them, let Angel do the avoid-y thing. He was so down with avoidance right now.

"How's Oz"

Xander smiled a bit. "Cool."

"Great. Great" Angel replied absently, still inspecting Oz's bed. Angel's tone sounded a lot like Giles' bored participation in one of Xander's debates on who'd win a fight between himself and Bruce Lee.

"What brings you to town, Angel" At that Angel's eyes finally met Xander's.

"I didn't want to leave things the way we left them in LA."

"And how's that"

"Xander"

"What? I really wanna hear your take on why you protected Creed after what he did to Willow."

"He didn't do anything to Willow."

"He tried. If she didn't pack some serious mojo, Creed would've raped her."

"He tortured Wesley."

"What"

"For hours." Angel sat on Oz's bed. Bending forward, he placed his elbows on top of his thighs and clasped his hands between his knees, Angel continued"Would have killed him if I hadn't stopped it."

"Let me see if I grasp the complexity of your whole let's protect Creed platform. He brutally tortures and tries to kill one of your friends and you're still sheltering him? Wesley must be loving that wacky policy."

"Actually, I wouldn't say "brutally". More lengthy than anything" Angel said, looking introspective. "It was rather amateurish, if you ask"

"I didn't" Xander barked, wide-eyed. Angel critiquing other people's torture techniques totally wigged him out.

"Sorry."

When Angel looked properly chastised, Xander went on. "Right. So. Creed… You're out of your mind"

"No. I'm guilty." Angel stared into Xander's eyes forthrightly. Dark eyes trying, as if by will alone, to communicate the pain and regret of a hundred years. "He can rape a hundred women. Torture a hundred men, or kill a hundred assorted men, women and children and he'll never come close to matching the crimes I committed."

Xander had to sit down. What he really needed though was to lie down and fall asleep with an empty tub of chocolate fudge ice cream resting on his lap and a spoon in his mouth. But there would be no chocolate-y-goodness for Xander. Buffy ate the last of the ice cream the day before. Buffy is an ice cream pinching she-wolf.

Sitting. I can make sitting happen. Xander lowered onto his bed, easily discernible from Oz's by the lack of hospital corners Oz managed to work with his bed covers. Xander seated himself on the corner of the bed, at the foot, and if he moved a little to his left he'd be sitting right across from Angel. But that's too close. Hell, sometimes occupying the same city block as Angel is too damned close.

"That wasn't you" Xander manages after an agonizing minute of silence.

"Giles might disagree. A lot of other people might, too."

"Okay, you know what? I get it" Xander exclaimed much too abruptly. "It's all about forgiveness. I think I've had this conversation before."

"Xander, this isn't about anyone—you, Wes, Willow, or even Creed—forgiving Creed. It's about redemption."

"And you're so sure he wants redemption you're willing to put Wesley and Cordy, and god knows who else, in harm's way"

And right away Xander knows he shouldn't have asked that question. It cuts right to the bone. Except the meat and the blood isn't Creed's. It's the viscera of everything that went wrong between them.

Angel smiled ruefully. "I think we all can agree Creed's no Angelus."

"You're so right. He's worse."

Angel's smile fades and he bows his head to gaze at his clasped hands. "He could be. But I won't let him. I'm going to help him find a way back into the light." Angel raised his head and looked at Xander. "Like someone did for me once."

"Angel"

"Who gave you this" Angel interrupted, raising his hand to lightly brush the back of his fingers against Xander's temple, making Xander tremble and want to turn his face into Angel's touch. He catches the scraps on Angel's knuckles before the hand hastily moves away.

"The Bride of Frankenstein. Angel"

"You need help? I can stay another few days."

"I"

Riley, wearing his Initiative fatigues and flack vest, kicked the door open and limped inside the room. Looking all sweaty and angry and sexy (Focus, Xan-man, because. Wow. So not important right now), Riley steadies himself by leaning on the mini-frige parked by the door and lifts his right arm, leveling his sidearm at Angel.

"I told you to stay away from him" Riley said, maintaining his bead on Angel as the vampire stood up.

Xander rose to his feet as well. Looking from Angel to Riley, Xander quickly reaches the conclusion Angel's fading bruises and raw knuckles were made at the same event where Riley procured his busted lips and the puffy, purple skin around his eyes. Xander tilted his head back and stared at the stucco ceiling for a second, then at Riley, and said"Angel, tell me you didn't beat up my boyfriend."

"It sort of happened by accident."

"Well, you should get those fists insured, Angel. I don't think there's ever been such accident-prone fists" Xander replied, making a show of appraising the number of welts and lacerations marking Riley's face with his stare.

"Get away from him" Riley demanded.

Angel takes a step towards Riley. "Put the gun down, boy."

"That's the second time you called me boy tonight." Riley cocked the gun's hammer back with his thumb. "Don't do it again."

"Knees are knocking. Look at you. You can barely stand."

"Don't need legs to give you religion, vampire" Riley responded.

"Guys, it's a hoot watching you two whip em' out and all, but seriously" Xander wisecracked, very worried about gun-toting Riley, but hiding it pretty darn well.

"No joke, Xander. This thing tore through four of my men."

"Men" Angel quirked his left eyebrow. "Really"

Xander quickly stepped in front of Angel. He didn't let it show how glad he was Riley pointed the gun away from them. Normally, Xander wouldn't have doubted Riley's control, but the commando's hazel eyes crackled with that deranged withdrawal glow.

"Angel isn't hurting anyone now" Xander said. "He's done with the hurting. Right, Angel"

Xander feels Angel's front press against his back. If not for Angel's poorly restrained hostility, Xander's reaction would've been less than decent. Xander took a step forward just in case his sense of propriety failed him, which, unfortunately, happened more often than he cared to admit.

"Might hurt you" Angel said over Xander's head.

Riley re-established a bead on Angel, also over Xander's head. "How I wish you'd try."

Have I ever acted like that? Xander wondered. He didn't think so. Engaging in pissing contests of this magnitude was beyond him. Even after he became a slayer. Throwing up his hands Xander walked away from Riley and Angel in disgust. "Fine, you nimrods have fun." Angel and Riley wasted no time getting into each other's personal space after Xander moved away.

"Looks like you lost your human shield" Riley told Angel. "Want to try hurting me now? And see how fast you start dying"

"You need to re-evaluate your position, boy, you're in some serious shit."

Riley pressed the business end of his gun against Angel's chest. "Show me."

"Dude" Xander cut in, his voice lazy and conversational"you can cut the sexual tension between you two with a knife."

Xander kept a straight face as Angel and Riley turned away from each other and looked at him. Xander nodded and said"There's a giant phallic symbol and everything. Very hot. We should push these beds together and just go for it. Total menage-a-trois."

Riley 's mouth fell open in horror, a blush creeping up from his neck into his face. "You-You're not serious" he asked.

Angel with a smile both wry and teasing said"It's hard to tell sometimes."

Riley scowled and lowered his gun. "Don't even joke about stuff like that, Xan."

Angel's face went blank and turned his dead gaze on Riley. Seeing his efforts to dial down the tension in jeopardy Xander strode up to Angel and rested his hand on the vampire's chest. "Angel, I need to talk with Riley. Alone."

Xander ignored the wounded expression that shifted across Angel's features. Had to. If he didn't ignore it, he might act on the frighteningly natural desire to console Angel with kisses and naughty touching. However, mackin' with Angel in front of Riley—not a good idea. And Angel's feelings couldn't be a priority right now; Xander really needed to talk to Riley.

"Fine" Angel said with resignation, the flicker of hurt leaving his face as quickly as it'd come. "We still gonna talk" he asked. Xander nodded. Angel raised his hand and placed it over Xander's before moving away. Angel deliberately crashed into Riley on his way out of the room. The slight in no way disturbed the supremely satisfied grin on Riley's face. Xander frowned at the stunning display of childishness. It was especially disappointing coming from Riley because Xander was supposed to be the immature one in their relationship, and there can only be one.

Remembering he was about to tell Riley his best friend was dead Xander's disappointment gave way to concern and sympathy. Riley missed the anxiety that took root on Xander's face, and strutted up to him. Riley reached out his hand and with his forefinger hooked one of the front belt loops on Xander's jeans and pulled the smaller man close. Xander brought his hands up and pushed away from Riley. "We gotta talk" Xander told him.

"Oh, geez! You're going to dump my ass just a sure as I'm standing here" Riley blurted out.

"What… the hell are you talking about"

Riley loped over to Oz's bed and sat down hard. Burying his face in his hands. "I don't believe this! Your ex is back in town five minutes and, wham! We're history"

"Ri, I am not breaking up with you" Xander chided then gently added"Now shut up and listen, will ya"

Riley raised his head. "So you're not leaving me for master of pain out there"

Xander shook his head and sat down beside Riley and licked his lips, not sure how he should proceed. "I… shit." Xander decided straight up was the way to go. "Riley, Forrest is dead. Eve killed him."

Riley eyes glazed over, all emotion bleeding away from them. "Ri"

Riley slowly stood up. "I have to go" he said and walked stiffly to the door.

Xander got up and followed. "Wait… do you want"

"I have to go" Riley said again, and with that opened the door and marched out. Continued mechanically down the bare hallway and vanished behind a corner. He'd completely ignored Angel, who stood back against the wall adjacent to Xander and Oz's room. And, okay, it's not like Xander expected Riley to break down and sob in his arms or anything, but he thought Riley'd express more emotion than that.

"I'm sorry about his friend" Angel said.

Xander stared down the empty hall a beat longer before he turned to Angel. "Forrest was a… well, the term jerk wad wouldn't be an exaggeration, but him and Riley were close. I should go after him. Riley, not the dead guy."

"Sounds like he wants to deal by himself."

"Maybe" Xander conceded, but couldn't help feeling something was off. "Angel"

"Yeah"

"I want you to stay." At that Angel gave him insinuating look.

"Don't get excited" Xander said, and Angel's grin degenerated into a leer. Annoyed, but not entirely unaffected by Angel's flirting, Xander put on his most chastising expression (it looked a lot like Giles'), and said"For the lovah… Angel, it's about business."

Angel shrugged and his smile shrunk a bit. "I know. What do you need me to do"