Disclaimer: Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc., not me.
Rating: T (moderate language)
Number: 2/3 (at least, maybe up to 7)
Summary: It was not until discussions began regarding what Angel was to do with his new humanity that Giles began to realise the depths to which Xander would pay the cost for his moment of altruism.
Note: a small amount of what might be considered Buffy-bashing. Not much, though.
Pairings: Buffy/Angel (Willow/Oz)
Feedback: very much appreciated!
Tangent Stage Left: Graduating Divergence, Part II
The truly sucky thing about it all, Xander decided a day and a half later as he weaved through the largely relieved mass of newly graduated students towards Buffy and the others, was that he had seen this coming. Not his death, unless you wanted to go with the 'highschool = end of an era' death-logic. No, what he had seen—
"I can't play kid games any more. This is how she wants it."
"I just don't want to lose you."
"I won't get hurt."
"That's not what I mean."
"Just get me an address."
—was that he was wrong, the moment he'd opened his mouth and emitted one last futile plea to stay the toppling of Buffy Anne Summers from the pedestal he still hadn't, at the time, got around to properly deconstructing.
He'd already lost her, a long time ago – assuming she was ever 'his' to lose in the first place. It turned out after some quick checking that Buffy hadn't quite killed Faith, but the sentiment had been there well enough at the time, and had been followed by her aborted attempt to force Angel to feed upon her. Add that to her emotional paralysis over the months of Angelus' rampage last year, and Buffy had more or less the full trifecta – to kill, to die and to let die. The fact that all this had been for Angel in some way, shape or form, honestly didn't really come into it any more – the problem was that the self-justification that Xander had used for his continued presence, despite intermittent protest from the others and more-than-occasional uselessness on his own part for anything beyond snack runs, had failed to measure up to reality.
Socially, Willow was a better friend than he was, particularly for a teenage girl who had never had to learn how to actually be friends with boys – at least, not without reclassifying them as honorary girls, or such other standard exceptions as 'the best friend's boyfriend' Oz. And as much as he hated to admit it even to himself, when he looked at their friendship closely, it didn't in all honesty seem so great; even he had to admit his distaste for being considered 'one of the girls' was far from the only problem, and not nearly all of them were solely her fault.
Morally… now that hurt. Xander had always taken a certain amount of pride in being able to say the tough things that had to be said. But since when had it ever mattered? Since when had he had any more luck than, say, Giles when it came to getting her to do the right thing?
And as for being the 'normal one', the walking, talking example of what it was that Buffy and the others were fighting to protect? Oh please, like he'd ever agreed with that line of reasoning, at least insofar as it applied to him. His school life had been full of 'normal' people, who had seen the Sunnyhell brand of weirdness time and time again – and did nothing. If that was normality, then they could cram it where the sun didn't shine.
He stopped for a moment, looked up at the stubbornly sunless afternoon sky. All right, where the sun isn't meant to shine.
No. Xander had known – should they all survive, anyway – that embarking on the plan as he had would most likely guarantee the end of any meaningful place for him among the Slayerettes. He could only hope Angel would do a better job in his place…
That was worth a giggle, at least. It would be interesting to see how long it took before the ex-vampire was forced to go the fray-adjacent route. He wondered if Angel would accept that role in the Scooby dynamic any better than he had. Already there seemed to be problems on the horizon; shortly before the beginning of the ceremony, the newly human-strength Angel had complained about his decidedly peripheral role in Buffy's battle-plan – and Xander had enjoyed playing the logic card to the hilt:
"Hey, Liveboy (unimaginative, but hey! he was tired…) – remember the part where I asked if you'd be willing to give up your atonement to make Buffy happy? The atonement where you fight the evil to earn the redemption? 'Cause, this is kinda what I meant when I said you couldn't do it any more…"
'Ah well – at least the poor sidelined sucker can console himself with the Buffy-lovin',' he thought, sidestepping a tightly packed gaggle of airheads-formerly-known-as-Cordettes and homing in on Giles' position as he came into view.
And, for all that it annoyed him that Buffy had suddenly become more than willing to adopt some of the weapons that he'd been recommending for ages now there wasn't a friendly neighbourhood vampire to catch the friendly fire (only, not so much fire as holy water in projectile form), the results of their widespread use during the Graduation Day Battle of '99 had been spectacular – even better, he liked to think, than things might have gone if Angel had been fighting in all his formerly-demonic strength. Instead, the ex-vampire had carefully positioned his forces behind the Mayor's vampiric horde and lobbed water balloons at them from behind the passable security of a big ol' wooden shield mounted on a frame and trolley wheels with a bunch of crosses nailed onto its face. The construction of a number of similar, smaller cross-laden shields for those who didn't still have sore shoulders, courtesy of Xander's suggestion, several filched pallets and a few hours after school yesterday with the rest of the outgoing shop class, had been Angel's main contribution to the battle preparations – and apart from a few bruises and a knock to the head which he could hear Wesley's grating tenor bitching about off to the right, the 'hammer' part of the hammer-and-anvil play they'd caught the invading force between had to all appearances got away with negligible casualties.
There were casualties, of that he was certain. Snyder and a couple of students to the Mayor, a few more to the vampires. But still… it could have been worse. Students had died under his command, but… well, dear god he hoped he'd done well enough to let him sleep tonight…
Xander buried his bout of melancholy and traded the traditional round of post-fight quippage with the others, secure in the knowledge that there would be time for brooding later when he was alone. As the group of seven meandered away to celebrate and/or fall over, he failed to notice Giles' thoughtful stare in his direction.
Rupert Giles had long been aware that his mandated, single-minded focus on the blonde Slayer carried its fair share of detractions; over the years, there had arisen numerous instances during which the risks inherent to that focus had borne fruit with disastrous results – Angelus, Jenny, Faith and a great many extraneous blows to the head being but the most eye-catching examples. And as the future would go to show, these would prove to be but milestones along a litany of such errors. In the years ahead, however, he could at least console himself with the fact that when it truly counted, the case of Alexander Harris did not number among them.
It began, as the group (of eight now, as Joyce had returned to Sunnydale with the danger's passing) sat sprawled on various items of furniture around the Summers' living room, and chatted amongst themselves with a range of victuals and non-alcoholic libations to hand. The general vector of conversation, having begun with a debrief for Joyce's benefit regarding Graduation and Angel's sudden return to the human race, had drifted round to what each of them would do over their summer. For three of those present, of course, the post-highschool vacation period would end with the assumption of college studies. Xander had mentioned a 'road trip' earlier, beyond which his plans were to find a job of unstated type. Cordelia had chosen to forsake avenues of tertiary education in favour of seeking an acting career in Los Angeles, though she was somewhat tightlipped over other aspects; she had spoken of moving once she had secured a place of residence, which would likely be accomplished in the next week or so. Joyce would of course continue her work in the gallery over the summer. He himself, with his sizable pool of funds courtesy of the Council's severance package (along with a further redundancy payout to be expected due to the loss of the school and thus his job), quite liked the sound of enjoying a stint of being 'a gentleman of leisure', as Joyce had jokingly put it; over the long term he would of course need to secure further employment, but conceded that he would have a fair while to decide in which direction he wished to pursue his own career.
There was a major question mark, as one might expect, over what Angel would do with his new life. After all, he had been dead for centuries – what did he have in the way of identity, not to mention vocational prospects? Willow promised to do everything she could with the generation of a new identity before she left to pursue her own summer itinerary, and indeed appeared to look upon it as a challenge to her hacking skills; Rupert found himself uncertain as to whether or not to disapprove, given that at least her illegalities in the realm of information technology were far less likely to cost her soul or her sanity than the magics she had increasingly devoted her time to over the past year. Willow's assurances that creating the requisite records could extend to giving him a suitable occupation had led to the current topic.
"A history tutor? Well, given my daughter's marks in it…" Joyce considered, eyeing Angel with a complex if understated mix of emotions – largely scepticism at the moment, given her remark.
"Maybe Lit?" Xander smirked. "You've read enough…"
Interestingly, Rupert noted, Angel appeared to give this serious consideration. Rupert frowned suddenly, sorting through his recent memory. What was it…?
The others perked up at the apparent non-sequitur, looking at Oz. The ex-librarian listened, half his mind occupied elsewhere.
"You still wanna help, right? You look old enough, you can ask questions. Don't know how well it pays, but…" Oz shrugged.
Willow nodded and made a note of it. "It's worth a thought." Rupert silently concurred. Should such an vocational choice pan out, it would make more than one aspect of their collective lives easier. This would especially be the case should it pay enough to support additional employees, in which case— Wait a moment…
"What of yourself, Xander?"
"Huh?" The boy straightened in his chair. "Whatcha mean, G-man?"
Rupert reflexively suppressed a wince at the terrible nickname, refusing to be sidetracked into letting slip the raft of facts he'd just assembled. "You mentioned yesterday morning that you had spent the remainder of your holiday funds in order to purchase that, that Mohra demon blood. So how, exactly, were you planning to pay for your travels?"
It was something of a low blow, Rupert Giles had to concede as the boy scrabbled for an answer that would satisfy the others, who were suddenly paying close attention. Xander was clearly exhausted after the frenetic events of the past few days, running on fumes and caffeine-laden sugar as much as his compatriots.
"Uhh, get as far as a full tank of gas'll take me, I guess. Then, get a job for a bit?"
For a moment, it looked as though the others might accept this. Then…
"No. That's not good enough, Xander." Bizarrely, albeit perhaps less so under the current circumstance, it was Angel who rebelled. "I owe you too much for that."
"What, you think I did it for a handout?" Xander snarked, though it looked more like the snarl of a cornered animal than he was probably aiming for. "You got your own life ahead of you, Pinocchio. I don't need anything from you."
"No. I want to help. And I think we can," Angel told him, refusing to rise to the bait. "Willow, do you think you can get into the Mayor's systems again? He's not exactly going to miss some money…"
"I dunno, the accountants might notice, what with him having just died and all, but – ooh! What about his properties? Maybe his vampire employees lived on them! A-and lots of them are all dead-ed 'coz we killed them all just today, so…"
Rupert Giles nodded and sat back, satisfied with the results, as Xander shrunk further into his chair with embarrassment and the others debated and planned regardless of his suffering.
He felt for the boy, he really did, albeit with the objectivity a few decades' distance could provide. They were similar, after all, in not wishing to follow in their fathers' footsteps at their ages. There were a couple of important differences, however; on the one hand, Xander's father was certainly not on a wise path to follow in any case. On the other hand, Xander had far fewer options than the boy who would be Ripper had at his perusal. Ripper had followed his friends – Xander, it was plain to see, had not even their future to claim. And, Rupert had quickly surmised once he had actually thought about it, Xander was well aware of this – and had chosen to fade away without his friends noticing and feeling guilt over what their collective lifestyle had done to contribute to his long-term dilemma, his 'road trip' merely the vehicle for removing himself from the picture.
That his friends wanted him out of harm's way was a given. It had taken the current chain of circumstance for them all to realise, at least on some subconscious level, that to attempt such a thing without even their thanks for all he had done for them (Rupert made a mental note to enquire at some point what else the boy had done for them without anyone ever finding out)… That, that would be the most grievous possible disservice to him.