By Shakespeare's Girl

A/N: For the Challenge. Ah, yes. More angsty goodness. Filling in a missing bit from after "Prophecy Girl," spoilers for that episode. While re-watching my Buffy DVDs, I noticed that after season one, Angel stopped wearing the two rings on his middle fingers (boy do I ever have too much time on my hands). I figured it had to happen during the intervening summer between the first and second season. And I figured, slash fan that I am, that there had to be a slashy reason for it. And as it happened, I had the perfect challenge for it.

Xander watched, fascinated and horrified as Angel pulled Buffy from the water, her arms limp, wagging in the air like doll's arms. But Buffy in death wasn't what fascinated him. It was Angel, his intense gaze, the way he simply hauled Buffy out of the water and into his arms, with no thought to the expensive clothes he wore.

He was mesmerized by the depth of the despair in Angel's eyes when he told Xander that she wasn't breathing. He was stunned, amazed at the focus Angel had, on Buffy, on the way she moved, on how she was feeling.

And suddenly Xander realized he was jealous. He wanted that intensity, he wanted that focus--he wanted it directed at himself.

Xander shuddered as they trekked back to the high school, not daring to look at Angel as they trailed behind Buffy. Later that night, while everyone else was at the Bronze, Xander crept back to Angel's apartment, broke in, and snuck around, looking for something. Anything.

Eventually he gave up, unsure what had called him here in the first place. Whatever it was, it wasn't here. It was probably dancing at the Bronze with a pretty blonde girl in a white dress. He was about to leave when the glint of silver caught his eye. Underneath a chair was a gleaming circle. Xander picked it up. It was a ring, one he'd seen Angel wear a few times. It looked old, vaguely Celtic.

Without thinking, Xander pocketed the ring and it wasn't until days later when he emptied his pockets for laundry day that he even remembered he's picked it up. He didn't wear it, not that first summer. But that school year, about half way through, he'd taken to wearing it on his particularly bad days. It was comforting somehow. When he saw Buffy wearing a similar ring, he stopped wearing his. Especially when a little research turned up the information that it was an ancient Irish engagement ring, a sign of devotion.

But somehow, he couldn't bring himself to get rid of it, couldn't even bear to stop wearing it for too long. So of course, he did what Xanders do best. He compromised. Now, underneath his clothes attached to a thin silver chain, Xander wears Angel's ring. No one ever sees it, but it's there. And it's comforting. And somehow, it gives Xander strength he didn't know he had. He's not going to stop wearing it. But one day, he might finally get up the courage to wear it on his finger again.