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An Optimal Life

Chapter 2

Xander jumps out of his beat up, barely running, may even blow up unexpectedly, piece of junk car. He managed to buy it as a graduation gift for himself, and at this moment couldn't be happier he made that decision.

He also managed to find himself with a brand-spanking-new basement apartment. That was his parent's graduation gift to him; kick Xander out of the house, and make him pay rent! Thanks mom and dad!

Xander quickly races down the stairs, and grabs his duffle bag. He throws the essentials; a few changes of clothes, his toiletries, a couple comic books (yes, those are essentials), a few candy bars, a photo of himself with his two best girls, and the envelope he had hidden in his dresser. Inside held just over $1100 cash. He had been saving this since he was a kid from unexpected extra money gained here and there; when he would help his elderly neighbor carry her groceries into her house, and she thanked him with a glass of lemonade and a dollar bill, it went in the envelope; when his mom gave him $10 to go see a movie with Jesse and Willow, the change went in the envelope; every quarter found on the street, every nickel found in the sofa went into the envelope; even the $100 extra he had left over from when he'd saved for and bought his car. All went into the envelope. It was his emergency fund, to be used only in the most dire, life or death situation.

Well, Angel was his life, and Xander will die without him. So this totally counts.

Besides, his parents just made him pay first and last two days ago, which effectively drained his bank account. He needs the extra money.

As he tosses the last of his things into the bag, he grabs the phone, and dials the familiar number without even looking.

"Hello?"

"Will! Miss me?"

Willow gave a small laugh before responding, "Xander, I just saw you a couple hours ago. What's going on? Why are you calling so late? Is everything ok?"

And Xander wanted to say, 'No, Will, nothing is ok. Because Angel is gone. And why does that bother me? Because I think I maybe could, possibly, might, probably be kinda sorta in love with the guy. Sorry I forgot to mention that to you at any point in the last 2 years. And, oh yeah, I think he feels the same about me, and I'm actually the real reason he left Sunnydale. So I'm going to go find him now, because he is my world, and maybe we'll get to have some sort of vampire/human version of happily ever after.'

Right. Like that would go over well.

So instead Xander says, "Everything is fine, Will. I've just been up thinking, and have decided I need a break from Sunnydale for a little while. All the monsters and boogiemen and giant bugs and reptiles are kinda getting to me, you know?"

"Of course I understand, Xander. You have been saying for a while now you want to take a little trip after graduation. That's why you bought your car."

And it's true, he was planning on taking a road trip. Which is why he has the perfect excuse.

"Exactly! So, I'm calling to tell you I'm leaving. For a little bit. To, you know, find…um…myself," That's what people do on those kinds of road trips, right?

"I think that's a wonderful idea!" Willow exclaimed, "You could really use the break, I'm sure. We've all been through so much these past few years…"

Oh, Will, you have no idea.

"…and getting away would be good for you. Take some time for yourself! Figure out what you want to do with your life. And then when you return, maybe you can enroll at community college. Or start an internship! Oooooh, this is so exciting, Xander, I can't wait to talk to you about this more tomorrow! When do you think you'll leave? In a couple weeks? And don't get me wrong, I love you and love talking to you any time of day, but did you really need to wake me up to tell me this? I was having a great dream! You know, the one where I get sent back in time and live with the dinosaurs and become friends with an Apatosaurus, and live in a tree house which he guards when I sleep…"

Xander couldn't help but smile through Willow's blabbering, even with his heart growing heavy at some of her questions.

"And you named him Xan-sse. Of course I know the dream, Wills. You've been having it since you were 6." And before Willow gets a chance to tell him about Xan-sse saving her from the Pterodactyl, "And, no, I'm not leaving in a couple weeks. That's why I woke you, which, so sorry about that. I'm leaving in a couple minutes."

Then there was Willow silence. Which kind of sounds like regular silence, but in actuality is so much worse. Because Willow is only silent to Xander when she is really mad, or really sad.

Xander is kind of hoping for mad.

"…Xander…?"

Nope, she's sad. Damn.

"Willow, I know you really wanted to spend some more time with me before I left, but it's just something I really need to do."

"But, you could just wait a few days…"

"I can't, Willow."

"But, you could just wait until tomorrow…"

"I can't, Will."

"But…"

Xander sighs. He really doesn't want to hurt his best friend, but he has to leave now if he is going to catch up with Angel.

"Willow, you are my best friend. My absolute, one hundred percent, bestest friend in the whole wide world. And I love you. And I don't want you to be sad," and Xander just knows Willow is beginning to smile, and that makes him rush on, "But I am leaving, Will. Tonight. I'm sorry. Please tell Buffy too. I'll miss you, and I'll call you when I can"

And Xander hangs up the phone.

He knows he is being harsh, leaving her hanging like that. And she'll probably call back. But if he stayed on the line any longer he would give into her. And stay. And lose Angel.

Again.

Xander will not let that happen.

So he grabs his bag, and rushes out the door to his car.

The house phone left ringing behind him.

x

As Xander backs out of the driveway and heads down the street, he can only wonder where he will go. Angel didn't exactly leave a forwarding address, and do vampires even get mail? Xander can't help but be curious.

He figures he'll just head towards the freeway, and go from there. Angel lived in Los Angeles before moving to Sunnydale, maybe he still has a place there.

Or maybe he has a place anywhere. He's a vampire! Centuries old! There are countless places he could be.

But Xander will check each and every one if he has to.

He really hopes he doesn't have to.

Xander realizes it's kind of crazy for him to be chasing after Angel, when he has no destination in mind, but maybe he'll get lucky and catch up with him. It hasn't been too long, just over an hour. He may not have gotten too far ahead. He could still catch up. He will catch up. He will find Angel.

Somehow.

And as Xander drives towards the edge of town, he notices a car parked near the gates to a cemetery.

Angel's car.

Ok, that was easy.

And, admittedly, anti-climatic. Part of Xander had really been hoping for an adventurous search.

Parking behind the other car, Xander gets out of his own and walks towards it. Just to double check. Maybe it's not Angel's. Maybe someone else has an identical make. And color. And license plate.

It could happen.

Although part of him wishes it isn't Angel's car and he can continue on with his adventure, the rest of Xander really hopes it is.

Angel's bag is in the passenger seat.

Yup, it's probably definitely Angel's car.

"Xander."

Xander yelps and turns around in a flash. "Don't do that! Collar. Bell. One more time sneaking up on me and that will no longer be just a threat!"

Angel continues looking at Xander. "What are you doing here?"

"What am I doing here?" Xander throws his hands up, "What are you doing here? You left! You're supposed to be halfway to who knows where by now! Not scaring me half to death. I thought you were gone. You made the big, dramatic exit, final parting words and all."

"I got distracted," Angel gestures to the cemetery.

Xander crossed his arms, "What, did you see Buffy patrolling and need to give her a goodbye kiss."

And, yes, that was a low blow considering not too long before now Angel had admitted his feelings to Xander. Or at least that's the conclusion Xander came to. But even so, Xander was still bitter over Angel's treatment of him the last two years.

"I saw some vamps. Took care of them. I planned to leave now. Except you're standing in my way," Angel pointedly looked at the car behind Xander.

Xander leaned back against the driver's side door.

Angel sighs. "Why are you here?" he repeats.

Xander remains silent.

"Go home, Xander," Angel says, as he walks to Xander's car, "it's not safe for you to be out this late alone." He opens the driver's side door, hoping Xander will take the hint and get in. Instead, Xander just watches his every move. He knows Angel's movements so well by now, having spent many nights just watching him. Which is how Xander was able to tell the moment Angel noticed Xander's duffle bag in the passenger seat of his own car, by the slight tense in Angel's shoulders.

"See, I can't exactly do that," Xander starts, "Something happened earlier. Things were said, then thoughts were had. But questions weren't answered," Xander pushes off the car behind him, and slowly walks towards his own car where Angel still stands. "And, you know me, I never did learn to just leave things well enough alone. So I packed a bag, and began my search to find you. Didn't exactly think it would be this easy, though, but I wont complain about less work."

Xander stops in front of Angel.

"We need to talk."

"There is nothing to talk about," Angel says, "Nothing left to say. Everything that needed to be said was said earlier."

"You see, that's not exactly true now, is it? You got to say your part, but then you left me in the dust before it had a chance to sink in. So now it's my turn."

Angel steps around Xander and heads towards his car, "My leaving is my decision. You don't get a say. Goodbye Xander." He opens the door to his car.

Oh no you don't! Xander thinks, and follows after Angel.

"Why did you leave?" And that may have come out a little louder and desperate than he wanted it to, but Angel was now climbing into his car. And that tone at least caused Angel pause.

"I told you."

"No," Growing angry, Xander grabs a hold of the door before Angel gets the chance to close it, "the real reason. Why did you push me away all year? Why did you make me hate you?"

Angel tries to pull the door closed, but Xander has a good grip.

"You are leaving tonight for a reason, and not to sound conceited, but I have a pretty strong feeling it has a lot to do with me. So why?"

"Xander…" Angel sighs, and tries the door again.

And by now, Xander is practically yelling, "Tell me!"

Angel steps out of the car.

"I did," By Angel's tone, Xander knows he his getting worked up now as well, "It's for the best. For you. To keep you safe."

Xander huffs, and spreads his arms wide, "From what, Angel!" he yells.

"From me!"

For a moment there is silence, to two just looking at each other. The man with a look of confusion, the vampire with a look of sadness.

Angel is the first to break the silence.

"You saw what happened when I got too close to Buffy," he softly says.

And didn't Xander just hate that being brought up.

"I will not allow that to happen again. Especially not with you."

Xander bites his lip. "I didn't realize the thought of, um, being…with me, was so awful for you."

"That's not what I mean, Xander."

After letting a moment pass, and Angel not elaborating, Xander asks, "Then what do you mean? You just said you wouldn't allow yourself to be with someone, especially not me."

"Not because I don't want to. But because I want to so much, that I am scared of what would happen to you after."

Xander did not understand, and it must have shown on his face, because Angel continued.

"After I was intimate with Buffy, Angelus made it his mission to torture her. I don't even want to think about what he would do to you if he became loose again. I won't let him hurt you."

And is Xander crazy for finding that kind of romantic?

Taking a moment to think about Angel's words, Xander finally says, "How can you be so sure he would be set loose again? I know I'm a hormonal teenage guy, but I'm not quite at that stage with you. And isn't you leaving me here behind, and both of us being miserable and alone, just another way of hurting me? Sure, Angelus could literally rip my heart out, and yeah, ouch, that would really, truly suck. But Angel? You packing up and leaving me in the middle of the night is also ripping my heart out. Only in a much less messy, but much more painful way."

They are silent for a couple of minutes, each thinking of the others words, and their own feelings.

However, Xander never did do well with long bouts of silence.

"Look, its really late, I'm really tired, and we killed a giant snake-shaped mayor earlier tonight. Let's not make any rash decisions right now, like running away in the middle of the night because you're afraid of your alter-ego hurting me." And one last try, "I know you're only going because you think it's what is best, but you don't really want to leave Sunnydale. Don't really want to leave me. Because if you did you would be gone."

Xander really hoped he is right about that.

"You're right."

Yes!

"But I do still think it is best for me to leave. I came here for Buffy. To help her. To guide her. I am no longer needed here."

"Yeah, well, that's not exactly true," Xander mumbles, knowing full well Angel can hear him. "But either way, let's go back to the mansion. At least for the night. We can discuss this more, or not and just let this little chat register. I'm not saying you can't leave, who am I to tell someone your age what to do!" Xander smiles, and he's relieved to see Angel quirk his lips, "Just don't leave because you think it's what is 'best for me'. Don't push me away if you don't truly want to."

Hesitating a moment, Xander tentatively asks, "Do you truly want me out of your life."

And though the response seemed to take forever, when Angel finally spoke, Xander could hear the complete and utter truth in his voice.

"No."

So they each got into their respective cars, and drove to the mansion on Crawford St.

x

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