Chapter Nine: When Inlaws Are Outlawed (Only Outlaws Will Have Inlaws)


"The trouble with some women is that they get all excited about nothing –and then marry him." ― Cher


He really hadn't gotten much quiet the rest of the drive, Cordelia reflected. After a brief pause, they'd carefully left the marriage topic, apparently by mutual consent, and switched to others. And, my gods, they'd talked the miles away.

She hadn't realized, after the catching up fest of the previous day and night, that they'd still had that much about the past three years left unsaid.

And there'd been that stop for gas, which probably made the late night gas station/convenience store attendant's whole week. Ahem. And that rest stop, where they hadn't gotten much rest... very, very roomy front bucket seats in an Avalanche.

Oh, god. She was such a slut, jeeze.

Why the hell couldn't she keep her hands – and other parts – off of the most infuriating male she'd ever known in her life? She was pretty sure there wasn't any love spell involved. And she'd been getting her ashes hauled pretty regularly before the, uh, marriage.

Oh, that's right. She wasn't a slut. She was married, after all. Pshew.

To Xander freaking Harris. Oh, gods. And, worse, she was enjoying herself more than she had in the past two years...

Even on the long sexy vacation with Groo.

So very, very doomed.

They'd lost Gunn and Fred, somewhere along the line. And then caught up to them after the rest stop, somewhere after the California border, and led the way in.

And now she was walking into the Hyperion in the very wee hours of the morning in one of the sexiest dresses she'd ever owned, with her up-do hair straggling down around her face and a very recently fresh fucked look, hand in hand with Xander Harris. Married.

Cordelia kept coming back to that word.

'So very very doomed,' Still, Quiet Voice said. 'Told you: he followed you home and now yer gonna keep him. Smirk.'

Oh, shut up.

'He's even house trained.'

Dammit, he's not a puppy! And, shut up.

And wanting to stay married. To her? The hell did that come from? Probably from Crimson Commando.

'Oh, please. He brought you roses and a stuffed animal at the hospital even after you'd told him to get out. He left a zillion messages on your answering machine after you kicked him out the second time. He bought your prom dress.' Still Quiet was a relentless bitch. 'You think he ever fell out of love with you?'

Shut up. And he never actually said he was in love with me.

'More of an action guy, I'm thinking.'

Yeah. Actions. Like having a smoochies affair with Willow.

'Which went poof! the minute you got hurt. And, Cabana boy?'

I didn't have an affair with the Cabana boy.

'No. But you said you did. And never told that you didn't.'

After Willow. After we broke up. After Faith. And I just said that to –

'Hurt him like he hurt you. And you got it bad, girl.'

Shut up shut up shut up. I so do not.

'Answer me this, and I will: how come you're not going for the quickie divorce? Really.'

Cordelia shook her head slightly, blinked and walked through the doors of the Hyperion. Still holding Xander's hand.


Angel was sitting at the high swivel chair behind the Hyperion's old check in desk when they wandered in. Looking morose and broody, naturally. At least he hadn't locked himself in his room in a broody fit. He looked up at them, looked at her and Xander holding hands, did a double take on her dress, blinked, and stood up.

He stuck his hands in his pockets, nodded, and said, "Hey." Like any other night.

Cordelia fixed a brilliant toothpaste smile on and said, "Hey," right back. "Gunn and Fred are parking Gunn's truck."

Angel nodded, and looked past her, a slight frown forming.

She suddenly realized that she no longer had a hand in hers, or a Xander beside her.

Said Xander was standing a bit farther back in the foyer part of the lobby, looking around with a slow, broad grin growing on his face. Oh, gods. He wasn't going to crack a joke about her home and Angel's sweetheart, was he?

"Wow," he said, shaking his head. His eyes came down, and he met eyes with Angel, still wearing the goofiest grin, and said, "Man. Angel – this is just freaking cool."

Angel blinked. So did Cordelia.

"It really is, isn't it?" A slow smile spread across Angel's face.

"Oh, hell yeah." Xander walked slowly across the lobby, craning his neck in every direction, until he was standing next to Cordelia again. "Man. It is a freaking crime for this place to be like this. You really, really have got to restore it."

Angel winced slightly. Sore spot with him, Cordy knew.

"I know," he said, pained. "But... money. Classic restorations cost lots of it."

"I know," Xander said, still looking around. "Get a loan. Sell your sexual services. Something, jeeze. Hell – I'll help."

Cordelia derailed at the part where she envisioned Angel as a gigolo. She never got to the point where Xander actually offered to help Angel with something.

Angel did. Eventually. "Yeah, but it's not that easy – huh?"

"Hell, Angel. I work for a construction and development company that has a whole division that specializes in historical and classic building restoration." He shook his head, still grinning, and looked Angel in the eye. "And I'm an Assistant Junior V.P. I'm sure we can cut you a deal."

Cordelia stopped picturing Angel and Xander and Gunn wearing Chippendale outfits and serving her drinks and wrenched herself back in in time to say, "David has always been offering to fund a restoration. And put us on retainer." At Xander's blank look she added, "David Nabbitt. A friend."

Angel scowled. Xander frowned slightly, then brightened, "David Nabbitt? Nabbitt Industries? Billionaire? The guy who tried to recruit Willow and Oz out of eleventh grade David Nabbitt?"

"I've told you I don't want to do that, Cordy," Angel said.

"Man, Angel. Dude." Xander shook his head. "It's the 21st century. Corporate contracts are what all the cool investigative services are doing now." He blew right straight past Angel's scowl and waved the hand not holding Cordelia's around at the decor, "And man: criminal, absolutely criminal."

"Who's a criminal?" Gunn said, from the doorway.

"Yeah, 'cause we didn't do it, we weren't there, and you kaint prove nuthin' nohow," Fred added. "Is Bogie here getting' outta line again?"

"Apparently we are for not restoring the old girl here," Angel said, looking a bit dazed.

"Oh," Gunn said. "Hell, I coulda told you that."

"Just observing," Xander said, shrugging. "This place is so cool."

"Is, ain't it?" Gunn grinned. "It's like something outta the Thin Man, or North by Northwest or something."

Angel met Cordelia's not quite shit eating grin, and scowled. "I'll think about it, ok?"

"Well," Gunn yawned, stretched. "I'm gonna escort my girl here up to her room, and sack out with her. Long drive and I'm tired."

"'Night, y'all," Fred said. They headed for the staircase up.

"Me too," Cordelia said, trying her best to stifle a matching yawn. "Xander and I are going to bed."

She stopped as Angel's scowl deepened slightly. "Me. I'm going to bed. Me. I'll stuff Xander in a closet somewhere."

"Gee, thanks Cordy."

"Oh... " Angel gave a tired wave of his arm. "For chrissakes. Go to bed. He's your husband, Cordy."

"Yeah." The Pepsodent smile got a lot more genuine. "For now, anyway."


In the old, ornate elevator on the way up to the residential level, Xander spent the ride admiring the workmanship, until they got off at their floor.

"Man." He shook his head suddenly, and started digging into an inside pocket. "Almost forgot."

"What?" Cordelia frowned at him, sleepily.

"Here," he said, thrusting a flat box at her. "No card, sorry."

Her mouth fell open as she took the box. She opened it slowly, still feeling stunned.

Inside was a gorgeous silver and jet cross on what looked to be a white gold chain. Small cross, nothing ostentatious. About the length of the last joint and a half of her little finger, maybe less. Celtic engraved silver caps on the ends of the jet bars, and the bands crisscrossing the center join.

"wow. I- I- I don't know what to say."

"I'm not real sure, but I'm thinking 'thank you' sounds vaguely familiar."

She swatted at his arm by reflex. "No, wise ass. I mean, what's it for?"

"Well, I would say 'just because', but it's actually for your birthday. Late, but there you go," he said. He frowned, "Actually, really late considering your birthday's in late late November not long before mine."

"January 14th," she said, absently, while holding the cross up to admire it.

"No, it's not," Xander said, frowning slightly. "It's November 30th, just at three weeks before mine."

"Angel thinks it is. And Doyle did. Don't tell anyone," she said. "Somehow, Angel got the thought it was January, and he looked so puppy dog holding the gift – late gift – that I didn't have the heart to tell him otherwise."

"As you wish," Xander grinned. "Not a word shall pass my lips."

She held it out to him and turned around, and he took it, undoing the clasp to place it around her neck. While he was fumbling at the tiny clasp, she grinned and said, "And now I have two birthdays. In a row."

Xander started laughing, and kissed her shoulder as the clasp locked in place. "That's my girl. Always with the eye on the ball."

She shrugged, turning back to him, looking down at the cross. "So, where did you get this? 'Cause I know you so weren't carrying it on the off chance you'd run into me in Vegas out of the blue. Or do you just carry spare necklaces around for whatever girls you happen to get drunk and wake up married to?"

"Bought it while you were hunting shoes to go with that sexy white suit thing," he shrugged. "When I excused myself for the little Xander room." She lifted an eyebrow, and he added, "You'd mentioned your birthday earlier that afternoon, so..."

"It's gorgeous. And you are so not weaseling your way into my heart with it."

"Can I at least weasel my way into sleeping with you?" He waggled his eyebrows.

"Who the hell says you'll be sleeping?" She grinned, wickedly.


Breakfast at Angel Investigations. An old tradition, according to Cordy, begun before Doyle had died. Angel cooking, watching everyone else eat with a slight smile as they enjoyed his efforts. Almost like normal.

Except for the addition of one Xander Harris.

Ok, late breakfast. They'd slept the day away, pretty much. Xander pushed his empty (scraped clean and nearly licked clean) plate away, and fixed Angel with a disbelieving look.

"You can cook," he said.

The corner of Angel's mouth twitched up into a slight smile almost like they weren't enemies or something. And, seriously: Xander was having a major problem maintaining a serious dislike for someone who could own a building like this and cook like that. Jeeze.

One more plate and he'd be wanting to have Angel's children. Eww.

"So I can."

"But you don't eat," Xander said, shaking his head. "Not an insult, I mean, how do you know if you're making it good?"

"I can eat," Angel said, seating himself with a cup of coffee. "I just don't. And I can taste."

"Huh." Xander frowned, "Spike always says that vampires can't taste anything in human food unless it's really strong. Like those onion flower things. Or hot sauce."

Angel rolled his eyes. "William was a gourmand at best when he was alive. He never had any taste buds, much less competent ones."

Xander grinned. "Crap. Spike hate: a subject we can bond over."

Cordelia watched them interacting, her half lifted eyebrows caught somewhere between dismay and bemusement. Xander took her hand under the table and she beamed at him.

"I'm not sure I could deal with the sight of you and Angel bonding," she said.

"How can we not? Hey, someone who hates Spike as much as I do," Xander said, giving her the puppy dog eyes.

Angel snickered. "Oh, don't even get me started." He apparently caught the hands byplay and a shadow flickered across his face, but he gave no outward notice of it.

Gunn and Fred each gave him pleading looks. "Oh please Unca Angel. Can we have some Spike bashing stories?"

Cordelia burst out laughing, and Xander snickered.

"Maybe later kids. If you wash behind your ears before bedtime," Angel said, smiling slightly.

"Aww. Gee, Unca Angel," Xander said, sticking his lip out. "You never let us have any fun."

"Don't start." Angel grinned, almost in spite of himself.

"Oh, please." Xander shook his head. "Everyone else looks at me like I'm strangling puppies when I get rolling on a good Spike bashing fest. You guys are the only ones I can get away with it with."

"Can't believe you guys let him hang around," Angel shook his head, Cordelia giving him a look of approval for making nice with her husband. Probably much better than the blazing, pained, scornful one from the other night, Xander reflected.

"Believe me, Cordy and I already had this discussion," Xander said. He spread his hands in a helpless gesture, "I'm with you and her on that."

"What, two and a half years?" Angel shook his head. "Wimp. You should try being around him for three decades. And I was evil at the time, even."

Gunn started laughing when Xander said, "I feel your pain. Another year and I may turn evil from being around him."

"Oh, dear God no," Angel said. "You as a vampire is one of my worst nightmares."

"Hey, vamp Willow said I was a bad-ass vampire," Xander said, grinning.

"Just don't go there. I'd enjoy staking you too much," Angel snorted. "I might lose my soul."

Fred began clearing dishes, and Angel stood up, heading for the dining room door.

Xander kinda almost hated to risk spoiling the brief almost camaraderie, but... "Hey," he called out. Angel turned partway as Xander spoke. "We should probably talk at some point," he said.

Angel nodded. "Unless Cordy has a vision or we get a case, I'll be in my office working on some stuff."


"So." Harris sat down in one of the comfortable guest chairs in front of Angel's desk. Sprawled, was more like it. He looked the office over with obvious curiosity, examining the P.I. license and the various weapons and curios and things. The grin slowly broadened as he examined Angel's desktop.

"What?" Angel finally asked.

"Where's your magnifying glass?"

"What? Huh, I don't... " Ok, whatever he'd been expecting, that wasn't it. He really should have remembered how conversations with Xander Harris tended to start out surreal and go downhill in a hurry from there.

"And, no deer-stalker? Or curvy pipe?"

"Wait – Holmes never wore a – " Angel took a deep breath, stopped. "I'm not Sherlock Holmes."

"I can tell. I mean, the way you're dressed?"

"It's the 20th C- " Angel scowled. "Wait. What's wrong with the way I'm dressed?"

"Oh, please. Long black leather coat? Silk shirt? Black jeans?" Xander shook his head, started ticking off fingers as he spoke. "No fedora. No rumpled pin-striped suit. No spats. No gat, jeeze."

"I'm not that kind of a detective."

"Obviously," Xander said, sighing. "You have, like, no sense of fashion."

"I do too have a – " Angel stopped, closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, opened them and started again. "Coming from you, that's a laugh." Ha! Got him there.

"Please," Xander continued, oblivious. "Phillip Marlowe would disown you. Dixon Hill would snub you. Mike Hammer would kick you out of the union."

Deep breath again. There was a slow pain developing behind his eyes. "Those. Are. Fictional. Characters."

Xander's face fell.

"Oh." He said after a moment, "Ok, Sam Spade would kick you out of the union."

"He's fictional too."

"Whatever." Xander waved a dismissive hand. "Point is, you're no Archie Goodwin."

"I'm... "

"Although you do have a kind of a Jim Rockford thing going, only with a hotel and no double-wide. And you are named Angel. Who in the documentary was kind of a weasel, but – "

"Xander!"

"What?"

"The Rockford Files was a television show, not a documentary."

"Really?" Harris peered at him suspiciously. "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure, dammit!"

"Well, ok. You didn't have to shout," Xander grumbled, slumping more comfortably into the chair.

"Xander... " Angel resisted an urge to put his face in his hands, took a deep breath, grabbed the conversation – and his temper – with both hands, and wrestled both of them back on track. "What did you want to talk to me about?"

"Oh." The grin twitching at the corner of Xander's lips and the dance in his eyes suddenly clued Angel in that he'd been having his leg pulled. He resisted an urge to strangle the boy. Man. Whatever. Human.

"Yes. If you're real sure you're done winding me up, could we please get on with it?"

"Why Angel, I have no idea what you mean," Xander said. He held out his hands in a gesture of surrender. "But anyway." He straightened in the chair, and suddenly went all dark eyed and intense and Angel leaned away before he realized what he was doing. "Cordelia."

"Huh?"

"Cor-de-li-a." Xander said, "Kinda assumed you'd want to talk about me and her? Maybe give me the shovel speech?"

"Shovel speech?"

"Yeah, you know," Xander pitched his voice deeper, and said, "Just what are your intentions with my daughter, son? And before you answer, I want you to know I own a shotgun and a shovel and I know how to use both of them."

A grin started twitching at the corner of Angel's lips, in spite of himself. "Impersonation of Cordelia's dad? And speaking from personal history?"

"I see you've met the man," Xander said, grinning. "And no, not word for word, but you get the gist."

"I'm surprised you survived it," the lip twitch became a full blown grin.

"Naw. Cordy's dad always kinda liked me. Hated Jesse, but me he kinda liked. Go figger. At least up to the fluke thing, anyway," he said. "But her mom, on the other hand... " Xander shuddered, "Very scary lady when she wanted to be."

"If you're ever captured by the enemy, never let them hand you to the women."

"Oh, gods no. And they say we're brutal." Xander grinned, and made a 'by all means' gesture, "Anyway."

"Cordelia is not my daughter."

"And may I just say, thank gods for that. I really don't think I could deal with you as my father-in-law," Xander said, shuddering. "No offense."

"None taken," Angel found himself shuddering at the thought. "Anyway, Cordelia's not my daughter. And I suppose I really don't have any say in who she dates or gets... " it stuck in his throat, but he managed to get the word out, "married to."

"Which is of the good," Xander said. "But I figured I'd give you the opportunity."

"Wait, you wanted me to give you the speech?" Angel shook his head, realizing the conversation had slipped out of his two handed grasp again.

"Well, yeah," Xander said, slowly. "It shows you care."

"Of course I care!" Angel glared at him.

"Uh huh. And you did a lot of yelling the other night, but Gunn was the only one who took me aside and gave me the 'ever hurt her and they'll never find the body' speech."

Angel snorted, and spread his hands. "We were kinda distracted. I was kinda distracted," he said. "But I do care."

"Of course you do," Xander said, settling himself comfortably. "Considering you have a thing for Cordy and all."

"I do not!" Angel shook his head, then paused. There had been a growing realization, ever since Groo had shown back up, that his feelings for Cordelia might be just a bit more than just platonic. And more than just friends.

Water under the bridge now, if he couldn't figure out a way to derail this relationship.

Somehow, he had a sneaking and uncomfortable feeling that Xander was a bit more serious of a contender in that department than Groo had ever been. Especially after watching them at that karaoke bar, and at breakfast this morning. And that Xander Harris was probably a lot harder than Groo to dislodge if Cordelia didn't want him to be.

He suddenly realized he'd been quiet for a long time now, probably looking introspective, and that Harris was studying him intently.

"I... " Angel took a deep breath, resisted the urge to face palm, and said, "It's been kind of dawning on me that I maybe do."

"Maybe. Kinda. Sort of," Xander said in a musing tone. He straightened in the chair again, once more intent. "I've always been in awe of your sense of certainty and conviction."

Angel jerked straight in his seat, glared. "Coming from you, that's rich."

Lopsided grin. "My convictions have never wavered, if you think about it. Not on anything that mattered." He met Angel's glare evenly. "So. Is it a mutual thing?"

"What, you didn't ask her?"

"Pretend I didn't," Xander waved it off. "I'm asking you. Man to vampire. What exactly are your intentions toward my wife?"

Angel snorted, winced at the 'wife' thing, then turned introspective again. "Huh," he said, reflecting on the past several months. "Dunno. I'd thought... " He stopped, started again, "I... "Angel shook his head. "I'd thought that maybe me and Cordelia... something was developing there." His hands spread helplessly on the desk and his voice was almost plaintive.

Xander leaned forward, those dark eyes intense. "It must just eat you up that I got there first."

Suddenly, with no idea how he got there, Angel was up and leaning forward over the desk, one fist braced on the desk and the other reaching out, fingers clawed in a throat grasping motion. There was a soft growling noise from somewhere.

Angel realized suddenly it was coming from deep in his chest, and it shocked him motionless.

Holding himself very still, Xander met his eyes, an eyebrow going up slowly. Angel sat down slowly and carefully, unclenching his hands. He let out the breath he suddenly realized he was holding, feeling very tired, and very old.

"I had that coming, didn't I?"

"You really did," Xander agreed, nodding.

"You've been waiting for years to use that line, huh?"

"Not really." Leaning back, a half grin slowly curled up the left side of Harris' mouth. "But I learned a long time ago not to ever let a perfectly good straight line escape with a whole skin."

That surprised a ghost of a grin, and a slight huff of a laugh out of him. He quirked an eyebrow, "You didn't flinch." Angel's voice was grudgingly approving.

Snort. "I've learned whole new standards for scary in the past four years." Xander shrugged slightly, "And if you'd been going to kill me, I couldn't have moved fast enough to matter, no?"

"No," Angel shook his head. "Guess not."

They looked at each other for a long time, two men who'd never managed to like each other, and who'd managed to hate each other more often than not. Two men, one not exactly a man, with, now, two women between them making sure that 'liking' probably wasn't going to be an issue.

"So... " Xander paused, carefully. "You had a thing."

"Ah... " Angel shrugged. "I thought, maybe... " he trailed off, shrugging again.

Xander shook his head, a rueful expression on his face. "You never really did think these things through, huh?"

Angel went motionless, briefly, then tilted his head and asked, "What do you mean?" He was rather proud of the even way his voice came out.

"You." Xander said. An eyebrow went up as he studied the vampire. "Vampire with a soul."

"Yes... ?" Angel frowned slightly. "I am."

"And a soul curse that makes sure you can't ever experience a moment of perfect happiness without your evil twin coming out to play." Xander spread his hands, "And then badness, and rape, and death, and maiming. Not in that order."

"You going somewhere with this?" Angel's voice was pained. "Not like I'm not aware of all that," he said, sourly.

"Buffy. Beautiful girl, thing for vampires, ruined her whole world," Xander shook his head. "Not that that was your fault, really – or anyone's fault really – because neither of you knew about the whole badness clause." He cupped his hands in a weighing motion, lifted one of them. "And Cordelia Chase. Beautiful girl, not really a thing for vampires, but a thing for hunks of 'salty goodness' – her own words."

Angel resisted the impulse to preen in the salty comment. "Curse really isn't an issue there," he began. He broke off suddenly as Xander's expression froze.

"Again," Xander huffed out a breath, running one hand through his hair in an exasperated gesture. "Not really much on thinking this through."

"Why, then," Angel bit out, "Don't you enlighten me, oh wise one?" The sarcasm in his voice could curdle milk.

"Wise one," Xander shook his head, "That's a laugh. Not so much with the wisdom these past few years, Angel. Massive with the screw-ups, yeah." He locked gazes with the vampire. "No wisdom to mention. I just see things. And I'm always surprised that other, lots smarter people can't seem to see them."

Angel leaned back in his chair, trying for a bored expression and tone. "Yeah?" He made a 'move it along' gesture.

Xander grinned, mirthless. "Ok. So... Cordelia Chase. Beautiful girl. You guys work together, face constant danger, constant bickering, flashing eyes, heaving chests, UST, sound like anyone else you know?" He plowed onwards, not waiting for a response. "So, attraction grows, feelings develop, no surprise, it happens." He gestured widely, "So. What next?"

Angel scowled. He made an impatient gesture, "What do you mean, 'what next'?'"

"Simple question," Xander leaned forward, eye intent. "What next? Something clicks, things happen, wild monkey love occurs?"

"That's not... !" Angel forced himself calm again. "I shouldn't have to describe the birds and the bees for you."

"When a mommy bee loves a daddy bee verrrrryy much... " Xander snorted. "Been there, done that. The most painfully awkward eleven minutes I ever spent with my dad. Thank God that's over."

Angel snorted, a slight half smile quirking his lip despite himself, picturing it. "I can relate."

"Your dad too, huh?" Xander grinned, eyes sparkling. "Some things just must cross centuries."

He sobered abruptly, almost giving Angel mood whiplash. He wondered, not for the first time, if Harris had ever been diagnosed as manic.

"So. Do you love her?"

"Huh?"

"So. Do. You. Love. Her." Harris' eyes bore into his. "Cordelia Chase."

"I thought I could." Angel bit out, annoyed. "Kinda pointless now, huh?" Those eyes bore into his, remorseless, searching for something. He elaborated, despite himself. "As a friend? Yeah. As something more... ? I thought maybe... Y'know? I really could."

"Groovy." Xander leaned back, running both hands through his hair again. He shook his head. "No you don't."

"What?" Angel leaned back as if slapped.

"No. You. Don't."

"Now listen here," leaning forwards, Angel barely managed to bite off the 'punk' that almost came out, substituting, "Harris," instead. "I just told you that I think I- "

"Bullshit!" The slap of Xander's hand hitting the desk top sounded like a pistol shot. Angel jerked back, shocked.

The door to Angel's office jerked open and Fred leaned in, eyes wide and scared. Two heads snapped to her, and two pairs of eyes riveted her in place.

"We're. Busy." Two voices snapped out almost as one.

Fred squeaked and jerked back out of the doorway so fast she left a smoke trail.

"You're going to have to explain that to me," Angel grated out, "Because I'm starting to have a wee bit of a problem with you."

"Gee. Behind the curve much? I started having a wee bit of a problem with you years ago."

They glared at each other for long moments, until Xander held up his hands, palms out, and leaned back.

"Ok." Harris shook his head, looking exasperated. "So, things happen, you fall in love, then what?" He raised one hand, palm up. "On the one hand, perfect moment yadda yadda, happiness, perfect, soul goes bye bye, Angelus comes out to play." He drew a deep breath, "Dunno if you can picture that from our perspective, but... so very much not fun.

"Soul goes, you torture and kill Cordy, maybe turn her," he continued over Angel looking as though he wanted to interrupt. "Kill that sweet brunette we just made pee her pants, kill Gunn, Lorne, track down those lawyers you've been playing with, kill them, head up north and hey – there goes Buffy and the rest of us." Xander smirked, "Good times had by all, not."

Angel's mouth opened, and Xander held out his other hand to stop him, then turned it palm up. "Or worse: you get together and do the love thing and, again, worse – it doesn't."

Angel blinked. "You lost me on the curve. Worse?"

"Jeeze. Hello, Cordelia Chase, have you two met?"

"Yeah, but, Angelus... " Angel shook his head, feeling a bit dazed by where this unpredictable conversation kept heading.

"Angelus, smangelus. Sheesh." The look Harris gave him was pitying. "Cordelia Chase. Junior Miss California, seventh grade. May Queen, Queen of Sunnydale High 1996, Queen C, prettiest girl in Sunnydale for eighteen years running. Miss 'I have to have the most expensive thing not because it's the best, but because it's expensive'. Used to nothing but the best of everything for all of her life, until maybe lately.

"And then she gets slapped in the face with the fact that the guy she maybe falls in love with isn't, can't be, doesn't get a rush of perfect fucking happiness just from being with her."

That was like a dash of ice cold water in the face. Angel's mouth opened to say something and nothing came out. He closed it and leaned back, frowning.

"Long term?" Xander sighed. "Man, that knowledge would eat at and fucking destroy her."

"She's stronger than that," Angel protested, sounding weak to his own ears.

"She shouldn't have to be."

That traitorous little voice in the back of his mind, the one that sounded like Angelus, smirked and gleefully said, 'no, she shouldn't'. He closed his eyes for a moment, hating Harris with every fiber of his being.

"I dunno much," Xander cut across like a blade before he could speak, remorseless. "But I do know: when you love someone, it's not about you. It's your whole fucking world wrapped up in what's best for them, and what makes them happiest. It's reaching for the moon, just because it's there, and it might make their eyes glow." His voice went softer, "When you love someone, really love them: you don't make them settle. You just don't."

Angel's eyes opened, flat and opaque, "And I suppose that you can give her that." He didn't intend it to sound quite that bitter.

"Dude. I get a perfect happy every time she gives me that thousand watt smile and I know it's aimed at me. Always have." Xander's eyes crinkled at the corners as he grinned. "I get perfect happiness every time she kisses me, just because it's her. The her. The One. Always has been. I'm perfectly happy when she looks at me that certain way and her eyes light up. I get orgasms of perfect happy when she calls me dork or dweeb with that certain tone in her voice."

Angel winced. "You could maybe have phrased that last one differently?"

"Too much?"

"I may be ill."

"Sorry."

"No, you're not."

"You are not wrong." Xander grinned. "Worst thing in my life was when I made that light in her eyes go out. Best was when it came back."

"Always has been, huh?" Angel just couldn't help reaching for the knife, giving it a twist. "Then what was that thing with Willow?"

Xander's eyes frosted a bit, but his voice stayed the same, easy and even. "I was young and stupid. What's your excuse?"

Sigh. "Don't really have one," his eyes flicked down. Angel's eyes were bleak when they came back up to Xander's. Eyes narrowing, Angel just couldn't stop himself from asking, "And Anya? Your fiancé?"

"And Buffy?" Xander lobbed back.

Angel jerked from the hit, then glared. "You know why I left Buffy."

"Yeah, I do. One of the first things you ever did that made me respect you, instead of just hating you," Xander said, nodding. "But it doesn't answer the question."

"I asked you first."

With an easy shrug, Xander lifted his hands, palms up and spread slightly. "I loved – love – Anya."

"Just not 'The One' love, eh?"

"You really can love more than one person in your life, in different ways," Xander stated. "But that whole wedding thing? That little encounter with Anya's demony past suddenly kinda woke me up to the fact that I wanted to be married because it was normal and real, and because Anya wanted it – not because I really wanted to be married to Anya."

"And when you love someone: you don't make them settle, huh?"

Nodding, Xander added, "And Anya? She wanted the idea of being Mrs. Xander Harris. Another step on the whole 'being human' staircase: job, purpose, love, picture perfect wedding, husband, family, home, picket fence – check." He smiled, "Because it's what human beings do, and Anya really was working really hard at marking off all the boxes on that whole being human thing.

"Me? I'm thinking that's how my dad and mom ended up where they did."

"Checking off the boxes?" Angel looked thoughtful.

"I'm not explaining it well."

"No," Angel made a halting gesture. "You are. I get it, really. I think that's what happened with my mother and father, maybe. Settling for the expected because it was what you did back then, and then gradually falling into hate with each other."

"Gack," Xander said, "We have common background?"

"Unsettling, isn't it?"

"I may be ill."

They smirked at each other.

"At first, hey – sex. Then it was companionship, and the whole dating and learning to live together thing. And then I grew to love Anya," Xander said. He gestured helplessly, "But Cordelia... "

"So you left Anya and went looking for your real love?" Angel scowled, puzzled.

"Huh? No – " Xander shook his head emphatically. "Serendipity. Just happened to bump into Cordy out of the wild blue."

"And realized she was 'The One', and got drunk and fell into bed with her. And marriage."

"It sounds so tawdry when you put it like that."

"But oh so very accurate."

"And there weren't many beds involved, at first," Xander smirked.

"I really didn't need to know that." Angel glared at him.

"Too much information?"

"Sudden mental images," Angel said, shuddering.

"I have some brain bleach left over... "

"Heh." Angel mused, half to himself, "You know, people really do that all the time." At Xander's raised eyebrow, he shrugged slightly and said, "Settle. Settle for what's available, rather than what they – we want."

"We don't." A half smile spread across Xander's lips, "We're demon hunters and souled vampires and vampire slayers and witches and seers. We're larger than life. We save the world, lots. We don't settle."

"Fairly tale romances for fairy tale people?" Angel's eyebrows raised at him.

"If the glass slipper fits... "

"Ok. I can't give Cordelia that." Angel sighed, feeling defeated and ancient. And unutterably weary. "I can't ever give anyone that. Tried the fairy tale love with Buffy... and we know where that ended."

"I know." Xander's expression was equally pained, amazingly. "Don't take this the wrong way, man, but while I sympathize, I can't really make myself feel too bad for you. Having Angelus locked up gives me warm fuzzies."

"It's a really good thing for you that it's not perfect hatred that makes him come out." They grinned at each other with no mirth in it.

"Isn't it just?"

Angel flicked his gaze away. "So, what. I can never, ever have that? I don't get to have that thing that everyone else can?"

"Not my problem." Angel's gaze came up, suddenly hot. Xander stood up, easily. He spread his hands, shrugged. "I were you, I'd look for a fix for that curse thing."

"Heh." Angel shook his head. "Not that easy."

"Nothing ever is."

"Brother in law, maybe," Angel said as he was walking away. Xander paused on his way to the door, quirking a half-grin and a raised eyebrow. Angel added, "Family you claim. I think Gunn and I are probably the closest things to big brothers Cordy's ever had."

"I can live with that," Xander said, heading for the door out.

"Xander."

He paused with his hand on the doorknob, turned, one eyebrow rising.

"If you ever hurt her, like you did before," Angel's voice was very soft. "You're going to die and I'm going to be there."

"You've been waiting for years to use that line, haven't you?"

"No." His smile didn't touch the eyes. "But I learned a long time ago not to ever let a perfectly good straight line escape with a whole skin."

An involuntary laugh huffed out, then Xander sobered. Nodded.

"If I ever do," Xander stated, "You won't have to. I'll die before you get there."