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He shouldn’t have walked home alone. That was a dumb rookie mistake for someone like Xander, who prided himself on being a connoisseur of B-horror movies and who had lived in Sunnydale for his whole life. The guys who insisted on going home alone, through the dark, those were the ones that got killed first. Or got turned into a vampire. Both of which Xander felt he was too young for, Hellmouth or not.

But research evenings in the library always made Xander feel like the dumb and redundant team member, the Cypher of the X-Men instead of the Wolverine of Jean Grey, and besides, no matter what Willow said, research was just really, really boring. It was amazing how those ancient writers managed to suck even the last traces of fun out of bloodthirsty demons. And Cordelia hadn’t been there tonight because one of her friends — Verity or Courtney or whatever these rich girls were called — was organizing a party that she just couldn’t miss, so that only left Giles, who frowned at Xander whenever he so much as turned a page a little too forcefully, and Willow and Oz, whose handholding and cutesy glances got on Xander’s nerves these days. And Buffy, whose brooding over Angel’s recent return to the dark side could rival that of the man himself.

So no thanks, Xander could think of more fun ways to spend his time.

Although he had to privately admit that walking through a dark alleyway, frantically looking over his shoulder at every suspicious sound, was not exactly better than the stuffy research parties, which were at least safe.

A noise that sounded suspiciously like a laugh had him grasping in his pocket for the stake he always carried around nowadays — because he wasn’t a total lost cause. He paused in his steps and just listened for a while. Nothing. His paranoid mind had probably mistaken a gust of wind for something more sinister.

A shiver ran down his spine when he heard the laughter again, this time impossible to confuse for something else. No wind or cat or drunkard sounded like that. He held the stake out in front of him, waving it around. There was only a small crescent of moon visible, which meant he could barely see the ends of the alley, and his heart beat in his chest as he tried to make out any moving shapes in the darkness.

And then the whistling started.

“Ring-a-round the rosie, a pocket full of posies… Ashes, ashes—”

Great, so not only was Xander getting murdered tonight, he was getting murdered by some nutjob singing creepy nursery rhymes. He knew the sound was coming from somewhere to his right, but the shadows obscured anyone — or anything — that could possibly be hiding there. He clutched tighter onto the stake to dispel the tremors in his hand.

Silence for a few moments, then—

“—We all fall down.”

Xander let out an entirely undignified yell as a large and imposing shape stepped out of the shadows, into the few slivers of moonlight the night offered. Black leather coat against bone-white skin, gelled hair that only looked a little less ridiculous when paired with that wicked half-cocked grin. Angelus.

Yeah, Xander was definitely dead.

“Hey, buddy.” Xander smiled nervously and prayed Buffy had decided to call it an early night as well. And would conveniently head in the opposite direction of her own house to stumble across this particular alleyway. “What’s a vampire like you doing in a place like this?”

Angelus glanced around at the large trash bins and the littered garbage in consideration. “I like the atmosphere of the place.”

"Right. Nothing like a nice and cozy alleyway, I always say.”

Angelus’ grin widened, and he stalked closer, his footstep echoing on the pavement like the ticking of a clock. The sound struck Xander as more than a little foreboding.

He tripped over a piece of trash as he backed up against the wall in a futile effort to get away from Angelus, and he stumbled into the bricks, elbows scraping the rough texture. Angelus advanced even further until he was keeping Xander pinned to the wall with his stare, their bodies not touching but only barely. A cock of his head, and then Angelus raised his arms to bracket Xander, effectively trapping him against the bricks.

Adrenaline coursed through Xander, activating some kind of fight-or-flight response, and to his own surprise, Xander landed somewhere on the fight side. He felt the stake still clutched in his grip, tightened his fist and tried to control his breathing.

He didn’t need Buffy to save him. He wasn’t some — some damsel needing to be rescued, not from a bullying jock at Sunnydale High or from a vampire with too much time to kill.

He raised his arm with the stake, aiming it at Angelus’ chest, lightning fast and he was so going down in one of Giles’ stuffy books as the killer of the great Angelus.

Angelus clasped his wrist, stopping the stake before it could reach his heart. He looked unbothered, even a little amused as he made a clucking noise with his tongue.

“Now, that wasn’t very nice.”

Pain shot up Xander’s arm as Angelus put pressure on his wrist, until he was forced to drop the stake. It clattered to the ground, and Xander groaned.

“What, no apology?”

“Fuck you.” Xander mustered up some courage, from the same place that forgot every horror movie he’d ever seen and made him decide to walk home on his own with Buffy’s murderous ex on the loose. But if he was going to die tonight, he damn well wasn’t going down without a fight, even if it was only his own masculine pride there to witness it.

Angelus seemed to find his defiance endlessly entertaining. “You know, I think we got off on the wrong foot. The whole trying to kill each other thing… it’s getting a little old, don’t you think?”

And that question sounded like a trap, so Xander didn’t respond. Angelus didn’t seem to mind, content as always to listen to the sound of his own voice.

“The way I see it, you and I have some things in common.”

“You watch The X-Files too?”

A faint crinkle appeared along Angelus’ brow, before he managed to smooth it out. “Buffy. Don’t need any vampire senses to smell your desperation.”

“Also, she doesn’t want to go to prom with either of us.”

Xander’s head was slammed into the wall with the impact of Angelus’ push.

“Sorry, I thought we were listing obvious facts,” Xander said, breathing through the sudden and piercing pain at the back of his skull. That, and Angelus’ fingernails were now painfully digging into his upper arms.

Xander swallowed as Angelus leaned closer, towards his neck. It was odd to have a person so close to him yet not feel any warm breath on his skin. There was no heat coming from Angelus’ body pressed against his either; just cold, lifeless marble. Buffy’d had sex with this. The thought suddenly flashed unbidden through Xander’s mind, and he wondered if she’d been put off by it, or if the strangeness had excited her.

“I don’t need the Slayer to want me. The only thing I need from Buffy is to see her terrified and begging for her life. But since Buffy’s not here...” A blunt fingernail dragged down Xander’s cheek. “I’ll have to find other ways to entertain myself.”

This was veering very quickly from simply terrifying into disturbing.

“You see, Xander. I’m not very particular in my tastes. Men… women… All tastes the same.”

Pulse jack-hammering in his throat, Xander did his best not to let the panic show in his eyes. Pointless, since Angelus could probably hear his racing heartbeat anyway.

“Hate to tell you, but that’s not surprising.” Xander shrugged to the best of his abilities with Angelus’ hands limiting his movements. “The eyeliner kinda gives it away.”

Angelus chuckled, a mean and dark laugh. “Always joking, aren’t you? Even during your last moments on earth.”

That wasn’t surprising either. Still disconcerting, to hear it put out there like that. Xander was going to die tonight, and no one was coming to save him.

“Now, what d’ya say we skip the pretense? There’s no one else here.” Angelus released his grip on Xander’s left arm to wave at the empty alleyway, and Xander used the opening to push forward, balling his free hand into a fist to drive into a solid wall of muscle.

“Hey! I said—” Angelus grabbed both of Xander’s wrists and slammed them into the wall again, hard enough that Xander winced in pain, “—be nice.”

Xander cursed under his breath. That had hurt, damn it. He tried to flex his fingers to check for any broken bones and breathed slowly through the nauseating panic.

"As I was saying, before you so rudely interrupted,” Angelus continued, “you think your little crush went unnoticed?”

Xander was about to die and Angelus wanted to talk about Buffy? Obsessed much? “I know Alzheimer’s affects about twenty percent of old people, but we went over this already,” he said.

“Not Buffy.”

The confusion must’ve shown on Xander’s face, because Angelus grinned and continued. “Yeah yeah, you love her, yada yada. Teenage boy with a hard-on for a super-powered chick who won’t even spare you a glance, very original.” Angelus’ lips widened into a smirk, like a jungle cat about to pounce. “Riveting as that is, no. I meant your hard-on for the other walking cliché; her vampire boyfriend.”

Xander managed to choke out a laugh.

“Aw, you really thought he didn’t notice?” Angelus winced in mock-sympathy, then smirked again. “Awkward. I gotta tell you though, if even Angel can’t miss it? You must be really obvious.”

“You know the talking about yourself in third-person thing is weird right?” The words came out high-pitched rather than the casual indifference Xander was aiming for, and Angelus only widened his smirk as he leaned in closer.

“Cute deflection, but no dice. Would it make you feel better if I told you he was tempted?” Angelus let that sink in for a moment. “Oh, he would never, of course, Mr. Goody Two-shoes. But—” And now Xander felt the weight of Angelus’ body press him further into the wall, felt one hard thigh slide between his. “—he wanted to.”

Xander’d had 17 years of practice at breathing, but at that moment he honestly couldn’t remember the basic steps. His thoughts flickered back and forth, replaying Angelus’ words. Angel knew? Angel had been… what, interested? Angelus smirked at him, unmoving, while Xander tried to focus his attention back on the present moment and his impending doom, yet he couldn’t manage, which of course had been Angelus’ intent.

And how dumb was he that he’d honestly believed no one had known? Of course stupid Angel with his stupid vampire perceptiveness had noticed that Xander — well, whatever. Had he told Buffy? Was that what the others talked about when Xander ditched the library early? And, okay, that was probably stretching the paranoia a little too far, but only because he couldn’t imagine Giles allowing that type of gossip during serious slayage research.

“You know what, I almost feel bad about killing you. With all the fun we’re having tonight.” Angelus seemed to consider this for a moment, then said, like this was something he’d come up with just now instead of a plan he’d probably devised the minute he’d cornered Xander in this alley, “Though, I guess we could make a deal.”

Apparently he wasn’t going to offer the details of his own volition, so Xander breathed out a sigh and prayed to whatever jackass god was up there. “What deal?”

Angelus’ eyes flicked downwards, to Xander’s lips, before moving up again. “One kiss. And then you’re free to go.”

“What’s the catch?”

Angelus moved back slightly to clutch at his chest as if wounded. “I’m an honest businessman. See it as… an investment in the future.”

Hysterical laughter bubbled up inside Xander, swallowed before it managed to spill out of him.

“What’s it gonna be, Xander? We don’t have all night — Well, I guess we do, but my patience is running out, so… Tick tock.”

It could still be a trap, of course. Angelus wasn’t to be trusted.

“You can imagine I’m our favorite heroic champion instead of… well, me. I do one hell of an impression, you know. The trick’s in the tortured brooding.” Angelus contorted his face into a pained frown that, admittedly, came pretty close to Angel’s default expression.

Xander glanced out at the lights coming from the main street one last time, hoping to see Buffy there, but it seemed his luck didn’t stretch that far tonight. He turned his attention back to Angelus, who grinned as if he already knew he’d won. Of course.

“Knew you’d come around,” he said, and raised one hand to wrap around the juncture between Xander’s shoulder and neck, his thumb pressing uncomfortably into Xander’s pulse point.

He wasn’t happy to admit it, even to himself, but those few times Xander had thought about kissing Angel, he’d imagined something close to what Buffy always talked about; gentle passion and background violins.

This… was nothing like that. There was passion, but gentle was about the last adjective Xander would use to describe it. Angelus’ kiss was forceful, taking rather than giving, like the main goal was for Xander to remember this. Which was, now that Xander thought about it, exactly what he was doing. Hadn’t the records said Angelus liked to play with his food before he ate it?

And if there were violins, they were the dissonant screeches of Xander’s alarmed mind.

It could have been an hour or fifteen seconds before Angelus backed off, satisfied and licking his lips like the proverbial cat that got the cream, and Xander sagged against the wall now that there was no body pressing against his anymore.

“A pleasure, as always,” Angelus said.

“Wish I could say the same, but—”

Angelus’ eyes glittered in the darkness like coals. “Now now, lying is a sin. Don’t let the man above hear ya.” He wagged his finger before shoving his hands in the pockets of his coat. “I’ll be seeing you then. Think about what I said, huh? Although something tells me that won’t be an issue.”

Xander kept his face as devoid from emotion as he could, waited until Angelus grinned a wolfish grin and turned on his heel, sauntered off into the darkness. Only then, after the last footstep had echoed across the alley, did Xander crouch to reach for the stake lying at his feet. And only then, with the stake clutched tight in his trembling hand, did he turn towards the main street, and headed home.