Seeing the four of them here, together again, should warm my heart

A Choice

Seeing the four of them here, together again, should warm my heart. Except something's off with my fav groups of heroes.

I start watching them more closely. I almost wish one of them, or more, would do that impression of a dying animal that they call singing. Not a decent voice among the lot of them, still it would give me a clue as to why I don't think all is right in the world.

On the other hand, body language speaks volumes and it's easier on my ears. Group dynamics, the three humans are sitting close together, laughing and talking, Angel-cakes is mostly watching, sitting a little ways away from the others, part of the group, but not really. It's a hint, but it may mean nothing, it may be just Angel being Angel. He's never been the social butterfly. Well, at least not in the last century or so. Still the way he flinches every time the threesome laugh at some in-joke he doesn't get tells me that it is indicative of the problem.

I watch him try, occasionally, to join the conversation. Doesn't look like he's having much luck. Not that the others purposely exclude him, they just don't make the effort to let him in. With every failure Angel moves a little farther from the group, back into the shadows.

Eventually he quits smiling or nodding in the right places, they didn't notice when he did so he's given up the effort. Even in the beginning his expression never really reached his eyes, but he was trying. When they first walked in he looked so happy just to be with them, even while looking nervous enough to jump out of his skin if anyone said boo to him. I've been watching that happiness fade all night.

After about another ten minutes he says something about going and leaves without them acknowledging it. At the door he pauses, turns back and watches the three of them for a few minutes, a brief look of pain crosses his face. Then he turns and leaves.

Damn it! I would have thought I'd done my part once Angel got it through his thick skull that he needs them. Seems like he isn't the only one who needs a few words about moving forward.

I join the trio. "A little strange don't cha think? A vampire deciding to call it an early night?" I ask.

They look up in surprise. "What do you mean?" Wesley replies.

"Angel, he left."

"Yes, well Angel has never really been one to socialize," Wesley says.

"Can't imagine why that would be," I reply derisively, wondering who'll jump at the bait.

"What are you trying to imply?" Cordelia snaps. "That we're not good company?"

Bingo. "No, just that some people feel less lonely when they're alone rather than where their company isn't wanted," I comment.

That threw them for a loop. More of one than I was really expecting. I was dead certain that Angel could win them back as long as they stayed alive. Maybe it's a good thing I'm not a betting man, but for Angel's sake I hope not.

"It's difficult," Wesley finally says. "He walked out on us."

"Yeah he did, and that was the impetus for you three forming this tight little circle you've got. It would be hard for you to let anyone in, let alone Angel," I say.

"It's not just that," Cordelia protests. "I mean on top of walking out he let Wesley get shot, let those lawyers people die, got all obsessive about Wolfram and Hart and Darla. He was obsessing about Darla from the second we found out she was back. He never told us about Darla making guest spots in his dreams…"

"Hold on Sweetness," I say raising my hands in a put-the-brakes-on way. "That's quite the list you've got."

"Yeah, you see why it ain't just a matter of letting someone new in," Gunn comments.

"Sure, but let's take a second look at a few of those complaints," I comment. "Wesley here, got shot during that zombie police infestation we had a few weeks ago right?" At their nods I continue. "That's not a separate complaint from Angel abandoning you. He didn't let Wesley get shot, he just wasn't there to stop it."

"Same diff," Cordelia shrugs.

"You ever wonder what stopped your zombies? It may not mean anything to you, but a certain vampire of our acquaintance got in some kind of a tussle with the Captain of the precinct that was giving you trouble that same night," I say. "I won't argue that Angel should have told you what he knew about the problem rather than trying to solve it on his own, but he was dealing with your problem, and it had nothing to do with a certain bunch of lawyers. Still, lets move on. About him getting obsessed with Darla, did you ever ask why?"

"Not in so many words," Wesley says awkwardly. "I offered to talk about what was on his mind."

"But you didn't confront him until there were dead bodies involved and by then he was already in too deep for you to reach him. By that time the only way back was for him to hit bottom. Maybe things would have been different if you'd confronted him before he tried to trade his life for Darla's; before he'd invested so much of himself into saving her then had to watch helplessly as she was taken beyond all possibility of being saved. Maybe you should have made it an issue back when he was just sleeping all the time. Drastic changes in a person's sleep pattern usually indicate something's pretty badly wrong with them. Still, it's hard to admit something's gone wrong with some one you care for."

"He didn't tell us about the dreams," Wesley protests.

"What was he supposed to tell you? That he was having erotic dreams staring the vampire who turned him?"

"It would have helped," Wesley says stiffly.

"How? She was dead as far as he knew. The fact that he was dreaming about her wouldn't have lead anyone of you to the conclusion that she was back and paying visits to her favorite without his knowing. Because of how the curse broke, sex and Angel in the same sentence tends to send people into panic mode. You think he's just gonna tell you that in his dreams he's getting hot and heavy with the girl from the very worst part of his past? Did you ever ask him what was the appeal of those dreams? It's not like she's his little Slayer or like he has fond memories of her. Did you ever ask how he felt about finding out that those dreams had a fair share of reality in them?"

"What do you mean how Angel felt about the dreams?" Wesley asks me.

"How he felt about finding out Darla had been in his bed what…"

"Every night for three weeks, sitting on top of him," Cordelia supplies.

"Yeah, that. It's one thing to dream about a person and another altogether to find out they've been having they're way with you while you were out cold. I mean if Darla had ever let Angel wake up and asked him how he felt about having her in his bed, what do you think he would have said?"

"He would have told her to get out," Wesley answers quietly.

"Told her! He would have kicked her ass out," Gunn exclaims, then his expression gets uncomfortable.

They're all squirming a little now. I think they got the point, still… "And I know vampires are dead, but they don't sleep like it. So I'm thinking Little Miss Trouble had some help, either chemical or magical to make sure Angel didn't wake up during her visits. She didn't have consent, she didn't leave Angel the option of saying no. I think the technical term for what she was doing is rape."

"I've got to apologize," Cordelia exclaims. "I mean… I didn't think of it like that and then when he wanted to find Darla after we knew she was human and all, I pretty much blamed him for not dealing with her before. And I know tactless is my style, but… I didn't think of it like that… I wouldn't have said what I did."

"I don't believe any of us considered the issue of consent," Wesley says.

"I guess we've got several more names to cross off as nominees for friend of the year," I comment.

"When Angel first found out about Darla being alive he was angry, really angry. We thought he was going mental, or evil." Cordelia say. "But later, all he could think about was saving her. Why would he want to?"

"Don't ask me Sweet, ask Angel. Might be educational. You complain he doesn't know you, but how well do you know him?"

"Well if you haven't noticed Angel doesn't really go in for sharing personal stuff," Cordelia says defensively.

"Do you ask?"

"No," Wesley admits. "Angel… That's not even his original name is it? He was disturbed by the realization that he'd never known Darla's human name. He hadn't even realized it wasn't her name until just a few months ago. He told me that Darla wasn't commonly used as a name until a century or so after her death. It didn't occur to me then, but Angel, or Angelus for that matter aren't Irish names."

"It's just a name, it doesn't matter," Gunn objects. "A lot of people use names that aren't the ones they got from their parents."

"You've got a point, that isn't one of the big questions," I say. "Most of those start with why and they haven't been asked either."

"Doyle always asked those," Cordelia says in a small voice. "Before he…"

"The questions still need asking," I tell her sympathetically.

"What if we don't like the answers?" she asks.

"You probably won't like all of them," I admit. "Angel doesn't expect you to. That's part of why he doesn't volunteer much information. But if you want to heal your friendship it's gonna take more than Angel feeling bad about what happened. You're all going to have to do a lot of talking. About how you felt, about why things happened. Too much has happened for you to ever put him on a pedestal again or to give him your trust blindly. He wants your trust back, but he'll never get if you don't understand why things got so out of hand, because without that you'll never be able to figure out whether or not Angel learned from his mistakes."

"If you ask him to, Angel will take the blame for everything. It's a habit with him. But even if he does own a lion's share of the blame he's not the only one who made mistakes. Unless both sides are honest it won't work out, not in the long run."

"Let him be the only guilty party and you know he'll keep on taking all the blame, just like he generally does. At some point he's got to learn to differentiate between what's his fault and what's out of his control. If he doesn't he'll eventually crumble under the weight of all that misery and you'll be looking at a repeat of the last few months."

"If the three of you want to get over this; to move forward with Angel as a friend it'll be a lot of hard work, for you as well as him. I guess you have to decide if he's worth it, or cut him loose and let him start again with someone else. But don't leave him hanging in the balance, he deserves better than that particular misery."