Disclaimer: Neither Angel nor Xander are mine, much as it pains me to say so. It's a great tragedy in my life. They belong to Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt and other official-type people.
Note: This takes place after "The Body"/ "Epiphany" and before "Forever"/ "Disharmony."
Making the Call
I don't wanna make this call. Not at all. But someone's got to, and no one else is.
"Someone should call Angel," people keep saying. Even Giles agreed. Only, he didn't do it (and who could ask him to?), and Willow's so wrapped up in the funeral preparations now—she's over at Buffy's place more than she's at school, and I think it's only Tara that's keeping her together. Besides, I don't know if you noticed, but Will's a little scattered in the best of times. I love her, but it's the truth.
So it's up to me. I've got the number, and I've been staring at it for a half-hour now. I really don't want to make the call. Anya offered to do it, and I've gotta say, I was tempted, but Willow would murder me—if Buffy didn't get to me first. I wouldn't really, anyway. Anya's been so freaked about Joyce's death that making her give Angel the news would be cruel to her.
Finally, I just make myself punch in the number. I personally am hoping for an answering machine. One ring . . . two rings, good . . . three rings, better . . .
"Hello?" The voice is muffled, like he just woke up, but it's Angel. I look at the clock. Yep. Sleepytime for Dead-Boy.
"Wesley?" he asks, and I realize I haven't said anything.
"Angel. It's Xander."
Either he knows I wouldn't be calling unless things were extra bad, or my voice gives away too much, because the next words that come out of his mouth are, "Xander? What's wrong? What's happened?" He sounds plenty awake now.
"It's Buffy's mother," I say. I want to get this part over quick. "Joyce died."
Absolute silence on the other end of the line.
"Angel?" I finally ask when the silence stretches too long.
The questions start. "How? How did it happen? Who did this?"
Man, he sounds pissed. Just about how I did when Willow called me.
"No one did it. It was natural causes," I say, and somehow, I put all the anger I've been feeling for the past few days into the last two words.
"That's . . . natural causes? That's . . ."
"Not right? No, I don't think so either. But I don't make these decisions." Damn. I'm getting angry again. "Joyce had a brain tumor, and . . . it just happened."
I hear a long breath on the other end. Pure frustration from someone who doesn't breathe, I guess. Then he asks the words I've been waiting for. "How's Buffy?"
"Not good. She and Dawn both. Not good. They're holding it together, but Angel . . ." The next words stick in my throat. "She needs you. Buffy. She needs everyone she can get."
And there's the long silence again. Hearing those words from me must make him think he's slipped into an alternate universe.
Finally, I hear his voice again. "Xander, you know I'd do anything for Buffy, but I don't want to complicate things. She's got someone in her life now, and . . ."
I so don't want to do this. "Riley's gone. He and Buffy broke up, he rejoined the Army, and we don't even know what continent he's on."
There's the anger. It's full-boil now. I'm still mad as hell at all three of them: Buffy, for not holding onto Riley, my friend, the way she held onto Angel; Angel, for having such a big part of her heart that she couldn't give it to someone as decent and good as Riley Finn; and Riley, for dealing just about as stupidly as he could have.
"So you can stop worrying about the competition. Hey, if Riley wasn't under deep cover, it'd be him I was calling, because I actually liked the guy, as opposed to you. But the fact is, he ran off, Buffy needs someone, and you're elected. Are you coming?"
"Damn," Angel breathes, and it's the first time I've ever heard him swear. "Why does all this crap have to happen to Buffy?"
That leaves me speechless for a second. I thought for sure he'd have something to say to what I just unloaded on him. The knot of anger—it's not really at him, he's just a convenient target, I realize—just up and disappears, leaving me tired and sad all over again.
"If you ever figure it out, be sure and let the rest of us in on it, okay?" I say after a moment. "We've all been asking."
"I'll bet," he says softly, sounding very human, for once. "I'll be there. I'll leave at sunset, unless Cordelia has a vision. Don't tell Buffy anything—I may not be able to make it tonight if the Powers That Be have work for me—but I swear I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Got it," I say.
His next words catch me completely off-guard. "How are you, Xander?"
"You mean, aside from having just lost one of the people I care most about in the world?"
"Yeah. Aside from that."
Thing is, he sounds like he's really interested. Maybe people do change. Him, too. "I'm doing pretty good. I've got a job I like, a great apartment, and" I listen to the sounds of Anya singing—very badly—in the shower for a moment "a girl I love."
"Sounds nice," he says. There's something in his voice. It's not self-pity, exactly, but all of a sudden, I'm reminded that two out of three of those are things he can't have.
"How are you?" Yeah, I'm surprising myself, too.
"It hasn't been my best year ever." Okay, considering previous years have involved losing his soul and round-trip tickets to Hell, that's a little scary. "But it's looking up. Speaking of which—I need some advice from you, Xander."
I think I'm in an alternate universe.
"Um, yeah." He sounds so embarrassed I'm beginning to wonder if vampires can blush. "Actually, I think you're the only person who can help me with this."
"Okay," I say, and I'm very scared. "What's up?"
"I'm in deep Dutch with Cordelia," he says in a rush. "I don't want to go into it—and believe me, you don't want the details—but at the moment, I'm about a step away from getting staked by her."
Really not liking the picture I'm coming up with. "You bit her, didn't you? You bit her!"
"Xander . . ."
"I should've known! Just couldn't keep your fangs to yourself, could you, Dead-Boy?"
"Xander . . ."
"I'm gonna come down there with a stake the size of . . ."
Okay, that had a hint of a snarl in it.
"I didn't bite Cordelia. I never touched her. I just behaved really badly, and since you're the only person I know of who's ever gotten out of Queen C's doghouse, I just want to know how you did it."
Behaving badly is something I can identify with. Of course, I don't want, really don't want, to know what Angel's definition of behaving badly is.
I think about it for a minute. I'm not all that sympathetic toward Angel. Hey, if anyone deserves the Queen C doghouse, as he put it, it's him. But then I think about her. I know she and Angel got to be friends . . . and it hurts to be angry at your friends. If he's wanting to make it up to her, it's probably best for both of them.
"I bought her a dress," I tell him.
"A dress." Could he sound more disappointed?
"But it wasn't about the dress. She wanted this dress for Prom, and she couldn't afford it. She'd lost her money, well, you know that, and I found out by accident, even though I'm the last person she wanted to know about it. Anyway, she couldn't afford the dress she wanted, so I paid it off for her. No one else knew she'd lost her money, not before she left Sunnydale."
"You saved her pride," he says. He's moving around, from the sounds on the phone, probably getting dressed. "Your thing with Willow wounded her pride, and you made it up by keeping anyone else from knowing she was poor."
"That about covers it. That help?"
I can practically hear his shrug over the phone. "I don't know. I'd buy her a whole new wardrobe to get things back to right between us, I can tell you that much."
He really cares about her. There's something in his voice that says how much he's hurting that something's wrong between them. I suddenly know that he cares about her more than I ever did.
"Thanks anyway, Xander. I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Thanks, Angel." By now, it doesn't even hurt to say that. "It'll mean the world to Buffy."
"I hope so. Thank you for calling me, Xander. Thanks for trusting me with this."
"Who said anything about trust?" I ask, but it's only reflex. I know it, he knows it. "'Bye, Angel."
I hang up just as Anya gets out of the shower and reflect upon the fact that I just had a civilized conversation with Angel.
People do change. Me, too.