Description: Xander goes to visit Angel in the aftermath of "Graduation Day, Part 2", with some issues to resolve. . .

Disclaimer: None of the characters appearing in this story belong to me, they belong to their owners/creators. I just wanted to sew up some loose ends.

Rating: PG, for theme, language, and a right cross.

Time Frame: Immediately after GD2 (this is your spoiler warning, folks).

CEASE FIRE


Angel closed the suitcase and locked it, then took a moment to look around the room. This place had been the site for so much that had been significant in his life. . .now he would abandon it. He thought of sending Buffy a note suggesting that she use it as a residence to save her mother money. . .but he knew that it would hold too many bad memories for her. He picked up the suitcase and prepared to take it out to his car when he felt a presence. He waited for a moment, expecting to hear the person call out to him. He wasn't surprised when he heard the intruder call out, "Angel."

He turned and saw Xander. He felt a surge of bitterness, and didn't hesitate to express it as he snapped, "What in the hell are you doing here?" He dropped the suitcase and glared at the young man who had so hated him over the last few years.

Angel was surprised when Xander smiled rather self-consciously and replied, "Uh, I figured you'd be getting out of here pretty quickly in case Buffy decided to come over, and I needed to see you before you left."

Angel smirked, and commented sardonically, "What's the matter, Xander? Did you want to make sure I was really taking off? I am, and you won't be seeing me again any time soon. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to get to where I'm going before dawn." He picked up the suitcase and was startled to hear Xander's next word: "Wait."

Angel locked eyes with the young man and saw a determined look there, not the contempt that he was so used to seeing there. He put the suitcase down, and replied, "All right then, what is it?"

Xander looked uncomfortable: he shuffled his feet around and stared at the ceiling for a moment, only stopping when Angel began to look visibly impatient. He cleared his throat and started, "Uh, Angel. . .we talked to Buffy after you left the hospital this morning, and. . .I was too hard on you. Buffy made it clear to us that she wasn't going to take no for an answer, and told us what she did to you, and the shape you were in when she did it. I'm still not thrilled about what you did, but I know that Buffy can be hard to say 'no' to when she is determined to get her way."

Xander looked uncomfortable, and Angel realized, from what he recalled from Angelus' memories and what Oz had told him several months back, that he was thinking about that backfired love spell that had every woman in Sunnydale except Cordelia pursuing him. He laughed, and Xander gave him a hard stare and asked, "What's the joke?" Angel grinned and replied, "Angelus was so pissed off at you over that love spell thing. . .he was going to kill you, then Dru steps in and declares her undying love for you. For a second, he thought that Dru was going to turn you and that he'd have to put up with you forever." Angel chuckled, then noticed the look that Xander was giving him. Angel stopped, then retreated: "Uh, I guess you had to be there."

Xander stared at him for a long moment, then smiled and commented, "Nah, I can see why he would have been annoyed. Soul or not, I've always been a bit of a thorn in your side, Angel."

Angel walked over and sat in a large armchair, and Xander did likewise on a bench nearby. After a moment, Angel turned to Xander and replied, "Not always. . .I never did thank you for saving Buffy when I couldn't, Xander, and for having the courage to make me take you there. If I had known she was going to do what she did, I think I would have followed, and maybe it would have made a difference. . .but once she had gone, it all felt so hopeless, and I was terrified of what the Master would do to me when he emerged. . .you put it all in perspective for me. Thanks."

Xander was startled into silence for a long moment, then managed to reply, "Ah, you're welcome. I seem to recall that I would have been a corpse a time or two myself if you hadn't been around. Hanging around the group as long as I have, I was bound to do something like that at least once." He started to say something else, then stopped. Angel grinned and commented, "Of course, there was also the time the Hellmouth was about to open and you saved all of us from being blown up."

Xander turned pale and stammered, "Uh, I uh. . .how in the hell did you find out about that?" Angel grinned and replied, "Everyone knows, Xander. You left their bomb intact in the basement. . .did you think that no one would hear about it? I have sources all over town that saw you hanging out with those zombies. . .and Jack's body was found chewed up in the basement. . .Oz doesn't know that part." He looked at the startled young man and commented, "You did a good job, Xander. . .even if the rest of us were caught up too much with what was going on to let you know. . .and you seemed to enjoy keeping the secret, so we never let you know we knew." He winced, then commented, "Unfortunately, Buffy never let you in on Faith's attitudes about men, or she might have saved you some grief."

Xander looked down at the ground, then looked up and replied, "I don't think it would have made a difference. Angel. I really cared about her. . .it wasn't just that she slept with me. . .I understood that she'd had a rough time of it, and I thought she'd be willing to listen to me. . .to not wander off into the darkness." He sighed and commented, "I guess you think I'm a damned fool."

Angel looked at him for a long moment, then replied, "You haven't made it easy on me, Xander. . .and I'd be lying if I said that I didn't derive a little satisfaction from punching you out while we were deceiving Faith. . .but Faith wasn't all bad. . .not even in the end. She was worth trying to salvage, and you gave it your best shot. Don't ever feel bad about that . . .we both tried to save her, but it just didn't happen."

Xander nodded and replied, "Yeah, I know. . .the whole losing your soul incident aside, you've been a good friend to all of us. . .it's just that ever since Jesse died, I've never been able to get over the whole hatred of all vampires thing. . .I wish I could have handled it as well as Willow did, but I can't, and that's that, I guess." He met the vampire's gaze intently and commented, "I'd be lying if I said that I wanted to see you anytime soon, Angel, but if Buffy or any of the others need you. . ."

"I'll be back here in an instant," Angel interrupted, divining the young man's intent and sparing him the need to complete the difficult request. "You know that I couldn't stand by and let anything happen to them, no matter what the cost to me."

Xander smiled and replied, "I know the feeling, Angel." He was silent for a long moment, and Angel was moved to ask, "So when are you leaving on that road trip that you've been talking about?"

Xander smiled self-deprecatingly and replied, "Next week. . .but I won't get far. Between helping Cordy buy her prom dress and the fact that. . .well, I haven't been able to scrape up much money, I figure I won't get much farther than Oxnard." He chuckled at the surprised expression on Angel's face and replied, "I thought I'd get a job washing dishes or something , to keep me busy during the long months before I come back here and contemplate my non-college attending future."

Angel frowned and asked, "Xander, why don't you just stay here for the summer? You could get a job here as well as anywhere, and you could spend time with your friends. . ." He saw the expression on Xander's face and commented softly, "You're still in love with her."

Xander's eyes flared briefly with anger, then faded as he looked back at Angel and replied, "Aren't you?" The echo from two years past escaped neither of them, and Xander gestured at the bags that Angel had packed as he elaborated, "Isn't that what this is all about?"

Angel looked at Xander with sympathy and replied with a note of amusement in his tone, "Xander, I can't believe that I'm saying this, but have you ever considered that this could be an opportunity for you? I'm out of the picture now. . .and I don't want her to be alone. Whatever dislike we've had for each other. . .I've never doubted that you'd be there for her."

Xander smiled, then replied, "If I did that, then I'd just be another jerk swooping in on an emotionally vulnerable girl. . .Buffy needs some time to get over you, and she's made it clear she doesn't think of me in 'that way.' If she changes her mind later, and I haven't moved on myself, I'll be turning cartwheels, but I can't live my life on the assumption that she's going to have some magical revelation that I'm her one true love." He frowned, then looked over at Angel again and concluded, "Don't worry, though. I'll always be there to watch Buffy's back. . .it has gotten to the point where I can't imagine it being any other way." He looked away, visibly trying to control his emotions, then commented, "Well, I'd better let you finish. . .we both know that Buffy might decide to come up here tonight, and neither of us want her to find you still here. Good luck in whatever you end up doing, Angel."

Angel smiled sadly as Xander turned to go, and he called out, "Xander." The young man turned around, only to receive a right cross to the chin. Xander dropped, only to find that the punch had been a mild one compared to the one that Angel had given him during his deception of Faith: he was able to get to his feet almost immediately. He stared at the vampire, looking for an explanation, only to see the vampire grin puckishly and explain, "I'm sorry, Xander. . .it's just that sometimes you just bug me, you know?"

Xander glared at Angel, only to see the genuine amusement in his eyes. After a moment, Xander began laughing, and Angel quickly followed suit. They subsided after a few moments, and Angel clasped arms with Xander as he whispered, "Take care, Xander. . .and keep her safe."

Xander returned the grip with as much force as he could muster, as he replied, "Absolutely." He let go and walked out, and Angel looked at the empty doorway for a long moment before shaking his head and lugging the suitcases out to the waiting car.

Twenty minutes later, Buffy quietly slipped into the mansion only to find it empty. She sighed, then departed, not knowing that two of the people who she loved most in the world had. . .if not truly reconciled, at least come to truly understand each other.




As always, comments are welcomed and desired