Disclaimer: Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, whole other bunch of people not me.
Rating: T (moderate language)
Number: 1/3 (at least, perhaps up to 7)
Summary: As Xander calmly detailed his dealings with a certain zombie gang some months past, a panicky Slayer and her undead/dying ex-boyfriend wondered what the hell had brought this on. Then Xander explained why.
A/N: As the title indicates, this story is one of several ideas floating around in my head in which events fly off at a tangent, usually removing one or more characters from their destinies. Common as dirt? why yes. The basic premise here is to use atypical divergence points, rather than the oft-abused YAHF or FWP (Fun With Portals) or what-have-you. Feel free to make with the suggestions, because I'm not one to turn down free inspiration.
In this case, the timeline begins as canon during Season 3's Graduation Day - Part Two. Some few lines are from the episode, but I've kept it to a bare minimum.
Pairings: Buffy/Angel (Willow/Oz)
Feedback: very much appreciated!
Tangent Stage Left: Graduating Divergence, Part I
The mansion's front entrance swung open, disgorging a sombre short redhead and a sombre (one might assume, at least) shorter blond to the late-night air. They moved quietly some little way from the door, the mood funereal as their blonde friend, they assumed, set about breaking the bad news to her dying ex-boyfriend.
Which she was, of course. If not precisely the bad news they were assuming.
(Try not to blame them. They just had some rather nice sex followed by a round of heartbreaking drama with a touch of embarrassment thrown in for kicks – they weren't exactly in the best of shape for in-depth, objective character analysis, even if one of said characters wasn't, for lack of a better phrase, dying…)
Silence fell, for a moment. Then it was broken by the arrhythmic rumbling of a distinctly unhealthy car engine, which shut off from the street. A door opening and shutting, then purposeful footsteps followed. Their source slowed to a halt as he regarded the glum pair.
Xander leapt to the logical conclusion. "Buffy's back?"
"Uh-huh," Willow confirmed. "Just a minute ago."
The brunet's visage tightened subtly as the next logical conclusion was reached. "Only one Faith short, huh? Did she find her?"
"Yeah," Oz replied, features carefully blank.
Xander grimaced unhappily. Then he straightened, adjusting the rucksack he'd taken with him out of the 'new' car on his shoulder. "Then there's no time to lose. Buffy told you to keep looking for another cure?"
"Uh, yeah?" Willow said. "Well, we told her, but—"
"Don't bother," Xander cut her off, stepping round the pair and heading for the mansion's entrance. "This is gonna be sorted one way or another pretty quickly now, I'm thinkin'. I bet Giles could use the extra eyes, if…" he went through the door, pausing a few steps in as he realised Willow and Oz were right behind him. He huffed with resignation. "…you're not just gonna follow me in, anyway."
And with that he started hurrying through the mansion, electing to ignore the couple's softly spoken protests and queries regarding where he'd gone earlier – which cut off anyway as the words of a conversation in the next room filtered in through Angel's bedroom door.
"It'll save you." Female, attempting to project calm.
"It'll kill you." Male, not even trying to sound like its owner wasn't being drowned in horror.
"Maybe not." Xander rolled his eyes and opened the door, ignoring Willow and Oz as their jaws slackened with realisation and dawning horror to match Angel's. Buffy's voice became clearer with the opened door. "Not if you don't take it all."
"Yep," Xander drawled, watching the absorbed Slayer jump and the sweat-drenched Angel stiffen at the unexpected interruption, "sometimes it just plain sucks being right." He strode over to the unsteady vampire. "Get back into bed, Dead Man Slumping. We might as well be comfortable while we do this."
"What are you doing, Xander?" Buffy reflexively tightened her grip on Angel, suppressed panic beginning to bloom. She quickly scrabbled to hide it under indignation. "What's it take to get a little privacy round—" she spluttered.
"So, what?" the newcomer snapped. "You can make him drain you dry? Probably kill you while he's at it? What the hell kind of—" He suddenly strangled to a halt, sucking in a deep, calming breath through gritted teeth. The human portion of his audience blinked with surprise, a calm demeanour not being something commonly associated with a Xander Harris who was clearly at the end of his tether; this gave Xander the handful of seconds needed to reorient their conversation in the required direction. "Look, Buffy – there are other options, ways to give us more time… Just for instance, you could give him, like, a pint of your blood or something first? Slow the poison up a bit, maybe?"
The expression on Buffy and Willow's faces, just for that moment, was priceless.
Of course, under the ostensible circumstances a merry old round of 'yell at the smartass' should have been the likely consequence. It was Willow who shouted, "And you point this out now?"
This time, though, he had the perfect excuse!
"Yup. 'Cause hopefully, it's not gonna matter anyway. With a little luck here, we can stop the poison in its tracks." He quickly stole another breath before his four companions could explode, and let his mien slide from pride at being the 'man with a plan', to something more suited to a hanging judge…or someone holding a shovel, at least. "It's one hell of a cure, though. Which means, Angel," Xander carefully stressed the vampire's preferred moniker, "that you need to answer me a question first. An honest answer. And you have to think about it."
The teen stepped into Angel's personal space, demanding his attention. "Can you do that? To maybe save your life?"
The ensouled vampire thought about this, or at least attempted to. The poison and its attendant fever made things more than a little difficult in that regard, something which did not endear Xander's request to him. But, Angel eventually decided, he might as well play along – if for no other reason than to stave off Buffy's attempts to throw her life away to restore his undead form. And the boy did seem abnormally serious. Maybe he had something up his sleeve here…
"All right," he croaked.
Xander nodded. "Then here it is…"
He leaned in closer, staring into the vampire's eyes from six inches away. At Angel's side, Buffy blatantly leaned in as well to hear the question.
"You're wanting redemption, right? That's what you fight for – to atone for your past?"
Angel frowned muzzily. "That's the question?"
"No. But still – that right? That's why you fight?"
He blinked, shrugged with the shoulder that wasn't burning in mystically inflicted agony. "Yeah, that's right…" It was more complicated than that, it always was. But then, Angel really wasn't in the mood for extraneous exposition right now.
Xander nodded again, satisfied. Leaned in further. Almost whispered:
"If you could make Buffy happy… would you give up that fight?"
The sequence of events that led to this moment, in retrospect, was actually quite straightforward – very much a 'duh' moment from the viewpoint of one Alexander Substitute-Less-Embarrassing-Middle-Name-Here Harris. It was considerably less clear to the others due to their dearth of knowledge concerning certain events; as such, given that Angel didn't appear to be dying that very minute, Xander went with some impatience over his series of encounters with Jack O'Toole and his gang of boom-happy zombies some months past.
As one might again expect, the refrain rang out: "Why didn't you tell us?"
"Pfft, so not the point here."
(What, you were expecting him to waste time with a list of clearly delineated reasons with an added serving of ill-timed angst? …Well, normally you'd be right, but this time there's a plan involved.)
"Anyway…" Gobsmacked at such a blatant dodge of the question, the others unwittingly allowed him to move on with glee. "Afterwards, I was thinking to myself, hey! Could we get away with being zombies for a little while if we had to? Y'know, if they're intelligent and sane and all, and very much not of the brainmunching voodoo-mask or the psycho Franken-Epps' monster varieties? 'Cause dying wouldn't be so much of a problem if you could just be up and about again in a day or two."
Looking round at the distinctly queasy faces of his compatriots, he shrugged pragmatically. "Hey, I liked it. But after running through Giles's books, it turns out most zombies are soulless – there's ways to make 'em with souls, but they're dangerous or expensive or, well, just impractical. So, pretty much useless, and a lot of what I read ended up being shoved in the back of my head, hoping I'd never need to think about it again. Ever."
Willow glared at him, offended at his cavalier dismissal of the sacred, sacred knowledge.
Xander glared back. "Did you know there's a way to make a vampire drinkable by other vamps? Force a little blood from a certain type of demon into them, and a vamp nest has itself one very sorry little slurpee to take the odd nibble on when there's nothing in the way of blood to spare. Or take away its pain tolerance, just so's to break them properly if they didn't get it right the first time…" He swallowed hard. "I got how vampires were evil, but – well, turns out imagination's the limit there. And I didn't want my imagination going there, I really didn't…"
His audience considered this. Xander used the opportunity to produce a small opaque flask and a penknife from his rucksack.
"…Personally, I just think it's a good thing only necromancers are up with the knowing about that stuff – helps that the demons that bleed the secret ingredient would rather not share, too." He stabbed the penknife's blade through the thin cork sealing the flask, prying it free with a violent wiggle-and-twist. Angel stared suspiciously at the chunky glass container as Xander held it out for him to take. The stuff looked like fluorescent green slime, from the viscous coating on the knife.
"'Killer of the Dead', so called 'cause it kills vampires. There's risks here, big ones, and this stuff," he jiggled the bottle, "will kill you after a while unless you do something about it later. But right now? It's this – or have Buffy keep on risking her life trying to feed herself to you."
At this, the vampire began to hesitantly reach for the flask – not so much to actually drink it, it wasn't like he was anywhere near taking such a risk on so little information, as instead to keep it out of Buffy's reach should she decide to take it out of the equation altogether and leave the one option he could not countenance as the only one left to take.
Not that Xander cared for his hesitation. The garishly painted knifeblade darted out and stabbed into Angel's outstretched hand with a meaty thunk. One instant of stunned silence ensued.
An explosion of action did not follow, although everyone did suddenly feel as though one should have resulted. In the meantime the silence continued, until Angel flinched and doubled over.
A confused handful of moments followed, at the end of which the shivering brunet was laid out on his covers, Willow and Oz were leaning over him with the bowl of water and checking for temperature, the knife (now painted in crimson streaks to one inch down from the tip) had been thrown in the corner, and Buffy had Xander by the throat.
"What did you do?" she growled. He didn't try to speak, only raised one hand in a 'wait' gesture. Her grip ratcheted tighter, only to loosen as she realised that he just wasn't going to answer her yet.
It took maybe twenty seconds for the convulsions to pass, leaving Angel gasping and panting for air. Xander's hand clenched to point a finger at the trio as he rasped, "Willow, you're gonna have to check soon to see if he's still Soulboy. Should still be there, but best to be sure…"
Buffy, who had been about to turn round to look more closely at Angel, turned back and tightened her grip on his neck once more. "What did you do!" she repeated.
(Grumpy much? Not like her lover was dying or anything, after all…)
To which Xander hoarsely replied with a lopsided grin, "Made him the thing that vampires drink from."
"What's that supposed to mean—"
"Dude," Oz's quiet voice interrupted, "I'm pretty sure you're not meant to have a pulse…"
Rupert could not be said to be completely happy at the latest turn of events, but it was clearly past time for anything to be done to change it. Recriminations on the other hand, the ex-Watcher decided judiciously, there was likely enough time to indulge in for a short while – at least until materials could be gathered to perform the requisite spell to ensure that the ex-vampire Angel still possessed his soul. Best not need to go over what he had unearthed more than once for absent colleagues, after all.
(Well. Consider the fact that he'd just braved the staffroom's stash of refreshments and imbibed a cup of truly horrible coffee, and he might privately admit that he was feeling more than a little peevish as it was. Why pass up a relatively harmless chance to vent one's spleen?)
The boy's response was calm, rational, bordering on bloody smug. "Yeah, I know there were risks – I wouldn't have gone for all this otherwise. But Angel was dying anyway, and it was either try it out or probably lose Buffy when she fed herself to him. It's not like we could've stopped her…"
Rupert had no choice but to admit the boy's points were valid. "So, what substance was this precisely?" he asked, eyeing the open flask curiously as it sat innocuously on the library table.
"Blood of a…Mohra demon I think it was called," Xander answered, ambling over to one of the stacks and checking the titles. "Regenerates dead flesh. High-end ingredient for necromancers who like their dead bodies all not-rotten. Got the address for Jack's 'grandpappy' at the same time Will and Oz were looking for Faith's place. Spent the rest of the road trip fund for that little bottle of green goop…"
Xander sighed. Was it really worth it, when it was all over and done with?
Ehh, he eventually decided, it's not like I'll be round to head out on that road trip afterwards, most like…
Strangely enough, he felt a little better once he realised that. Finding the relevant book, he handed it to the librarian with a wry smile.
"Ah yes, it's been a-almost a decade since I perused this particular volume. Which page was it again?" Xander took the book from him for long enough to find where the substance was mentioned. "I-In the meantime, there have been some vital developments regarding the nature of the Mayor's Ascension. Once the ritual to determine the presence of Angel's soul has been performed, we should move directly to more important matters…"