Optimal Life

Begins post season 3, after graduation, yet before Angel leaves for L.A. Everything up to the end of Graduation Day, Part Two happens, plus a few extras which will briefly be explained. Just go with it.

Chapter 1 is mostly establishing the backstory, but it needs to be done.

Warnings: Slash, Xander/Angel

Some missing/added scenes between Angel and Xander seasons 1 through 3, and re-write post season 3.

Chapter 1

"So you're just going to, what? Walk away when things get tough."

"That's not why I'm leaving."

"Then why are you leaving?"

"I can't stay here. It's best for me to leave. Staying would be too difficult for everyone involved."

Angel didn't even look up as he gave his answer, only continued to pack the small amount of personal belongs he was bringing with him.

"You mean too difficult for yourself. You know, for an old man, you are quite the coward," Xander responded with a huff, leaning against the doorframe. He wasn't going to let Angel walk away this easily. It's not that Xander was trying to get him to stay, oh no, that time of what could have been between them has come and gone, but Angel has been getting away with being an ass towards him for far too long. And Xander was done putting up with it.

When Angel only responded by putting another item into his bag, Xander continued. "You spent the last year avoiding and ignoring me, and the months before that shoving me aside in favor of Buffy," and while she may be one of his closest friends, he still partly resented her for that, "and if that's not the actions of a coward, then I'm not too sure what is."

"What did you want to happen?" Angel finally turns around to face him, "Should Angelus have given you more attention? Do you wish you were the one receiving his 'love letters'? Or maybe you wanted to be the one put in the hospital bed instead."

Xander bit his cheek and turned away at that, because really, what could he say.

But Angel continued anyway, "And I didn't avoid you this past year. I just didn't develop anything more than what we are. What everyone believes us to be. What we should have always been."

Angels grabs his bags and heads out the door, but stops before he walks away.

"Everything I have done, or haven't done in this case, has been to keep you safe. It's only ever been for you."

With that being said, Angel leaves.

Now alone, tired, angry, and confused over Angel's words, Xander does something he hasn't done is years.

He allows his tears to fall.

x

If he looks back on their history, he knows Angel is right. It makes Xander cringe to think what could have happened to him had they allowed things to develop between them from the start. What Angelus would have done had he thought Xander was worth the time. As horrible as it is to say, Xander is glad Angelus' rage caused him to focus on Buffy and ignore him.

From the very start of this thing, whatever this thing between them even was Xander isn't sure, him an Angel have been all but tiptoeing around each other. Ok, so with Angel it's more like gliding smoothly, while Xander has been trying to quietly dance around, but instead ends up stomping around crazy loud, and tripping over his feet, and falling flat on his face, and getting all bumped and bruised, and possibly ending up with a broken bone or two, and… Ya, ok, this metaphor of his is getting a little out of hand.

But still, tiptoeing.

And it all started two years ago.

Damn Buffy and her drowning.

Him and Angel worked together to find his close friend, and that made him realize, hmm, maybe this vampire-guy isn't so bad after all, and wow, how does he still look that good after running around down here for who knows how long it's been?

It was those thoughts that changed his view of Angel. But he kept it inside. Nothing could or would ever happen between them, so why bother bringing it out into the open. He already went through enough embarrassing moments in his life without needing to cause them himself by admitting his feelings for the guy.

But no matter how many times he tried to tell his heart to 'stop feeling feelings because feeling this kind of feeling isn't fun to feel and you better listen, Heart, or else', his feelings steadily grew stronger for the vampire.

Only said vampire decided to completely surprise Xander by admitting he had feelings too.

Ok, so maybe Angel didn't actually admit it out loud. Like, with real words. Not right away at least. But Xander knew what he meant. Contrary to popular belief, he is quite perceptive.

Which led them on a fun, little yo-yo ride of emotions.

There was the time Angel pretended to offer Xander to Spike at the school, but the entire time Angel held onto him his grip was so soft and gentle; comforting even, and he would use his thumb to subtly rub soothing circles onto Xander's skin.

And the time not long after that Halloween night, when Angel offhandedly mentions to Xander he was never a fan of all those proper woman of his time, and instead preferred someone who wasn't afraid to take charge of a situation.

And, ok, maybe he read into that one a little bit, because Buffy sure as hell knows how to take charge, but Angel said it to him! And right after Halloween! When Xander took charge of a situation!

Except Xander was also forced to watch Angel date Buffy. But what could he do about it? It's not like anything could ever happen between him and the vampire.

Well, sure, it could partly be his own fault that Angel was dating Buffy in the first place, since Angel may have asked him out a few times first. And that is actually the real reason it took Angel so long to further his relationship with Buffy, only doing so after Xander turned him down stating that nothing could or would ever happen between them. Because, hello! Vampire; so not into necrophilism! And man; so not… ok, maybe am gay… But so not out! And even if he could let those first two slide, there was the third reason; my best friend is in love with you! And Xander is a good friend, a great friend, and while he may have been selfish (or jealous, but let's not be picky) and 'encouraged' Buffy to end things with Angel, he would never hurt his friend by taking the man she loves for himself.

And then there was the kiss.

Not between him and Angel, of course. And Xander will not think about the butterflies currently occupying his stomach at that thought.

No, the kiss between him and Queen C in Buffy's basement. But he's a hormonal teenage boy! And it was a stressful situation! Of course they kissed!

And he felt guilty of it immediately following. So he told Angel. He's not sure why he felt he needed to tell Angel, they weren't together, after all. Far from it. Angel was dating is best friend, for goodness sake! But he still told him. And after a silent moment, Angel couldn't even look at him as he said, "It's probably for the best," and didn't that make Xander feel even guiltier.

But then he'd be forced to hear about Buffy's wonderful, magical, fairy tale dates with Angel (no, Xander's not bitter), or even worse, have to see them together, and witness all those small smiles, and long looks, and lingering touches. And it was just so hard for Xander to watch, so he continued letting his jealousy get the best of him by making out with Cordelia.

And then it happened. The thing that forever changed his view and thoughts of Angel.

Buffy and Angel…sealed their relationship.

And Angelus came to town.

Of course, he didn't know right away that was how Angelus became loose, but when he found out he was angry. No, he was flat out pissed. And of course, as always, was jealous. But most of all, Xander was hurt.

Not just any kind of hurt, because Xander was used to your average, everyday, parents think you're worthless, and friends tend to occasionally use you kind of hurt. This was a true, deep, heart-wrenching hurt. Because Angel knew! He knew how Xander felt, and he made Xander believe he felt the same way.

And then he dug deep into Xander's chest, ripped out his heart, threw it to the ground, and jumped on it. All the while licking his hands clean of the blood he was covered in.

Well, not literally, of course. Which it very well could have been because Angel is, after all, now a vampire who was recently turned evil. But Xander's heart is still intact, right in his chest, right where is should be.

Although, if he did mean that literally, it probably would have hurt a hell of a lot less.

So Xander reacted the way any teenage boy would react: with hatred and retaliation.

He made it his mission to hate Angel, and in turn, Angelus, with every fiber of his being. He started the I-Hate-DeadBoy-Club, and all the pain, hurt, and loathing he felt for Angel was enough to make him the President, vice, and all other members of the Club.

But it was ok. He could hate Angel for all the hurt he caused him, because 1) It helped him get through the day and shit that Angelus pulled, and 2) He knew His Angel was gone, and wasn't coming back.

Only Willow found a 'cure'. And Xander couldn't help but feel the slight flutter of butterflies when he found this out, even though he knew when Angel returned it would be ten times more painful to face him.

But as much as it hurt, the thought of seeing His Angel and Buffy back together, he knew he had to let it happen. As much as he knew it would break his heart to hear Angel's voice, possibly feel his touch, and look into his eyes, but not be able to do anything about it, Xander knew he would not, could not, have it another way now that he knew Angel could be brought back to them.

However, in true Scooby fashion, things did not quite go according to plan.

But when Willow decided to try and restore the curse one last time in that hospital bed, Xander did truly run off with the intention of telling Buffy the truth. Except his mind wouldn't stop wondering, 'What if we're too late? What if I'm too late? Will Buffy stop Angelus, fight the fight she needs to, if she knows there is a chance Angel could be brought back?' And it was a spur of the moment decision, when he caught up with Buffy, to tell her to "Kick his ass!" Because Xander knew she needed that focus, needed to stay on track of her mission. She needed to do her job and save the world. And Xander also knew Buffy did love Angel, and if Willow was successful with the spell, Buffy would be able to recognize it, she would figure out what was going on.

And Buffy did figure it out. But it was too late.

Angel was gone. Buffy was gone. And Xander felt dead inside.

Right until Angel returned.

And proceeded to treat Xander like crap. Like nothing more than the loser friend of his super hot ex-girl.

The year after Angel was brought back from that hell he was in, he treated Xander exactly as he treated him the year before. Only now, it was not just in front of the others. It was when they found themselves alone together as well.

Except, no, that's not quite right either. Angel treated him worse than that. He truly treated Xander as if he meant nothing to him; he ignored him.

Xander is used to being ignored. By his parents, by his teachers, by his friends. He hated it, but he was used to it, so he learned to brush it off with sarcasm and jokes. But he'd confided in Angel one night oh so long ago. He told the vampire how that reaction from others hurt him most, and pushed him hardest.

So Angel knew how much he was hurting Xander.

And looking back, Xander realizes that was the plan all along, wasn't it? That was the point of this last year, to get Xander to hate him. To push him too hard. Angel had known from the beginning he would leave eventually. So he pushed him away in order to make it easier on Xander. And to make it so Xander wouldn't ask him to stay.

Also, so that leaving at the end of everything, would be simpler for Angel.

The sneaky little coward!

"That's why you did it? That's what you meant by you 'did it for me'?" Xander asks the night, from his spot against the same doorway long after Angel leaves. "Pushing me away, knowing you wouldn't be staying. Making me hate you, or trying to at least, so watching you leave wouldn't be as hard."

Xander shakes his head with a small smile as he heads to his car. "Sorry, but you don't get to decide what's best for me, deadboy."

And as Xander drives away, heading home to pack his own bag, he can't help but think, especially since what's best for me is you.

x

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