Title: Often and Silently
Series: Sequel to "In the Bleak Midwinter."
Summary: Different people ring in the new year in
Disclaimer: The characters aren't mine and are borrowed
Distribution: I would be honored. Just contact me first.
Feedback: Is very welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
Spoilers: None of consequence.
Often and Silently
Xander suddenly woke from his reverie. Dick Clark was being
enthusiastic on the television and Buffy was holding a tall glass
of bubbly liquid in his face.
"Thirty seconds to go," she said with a smile.
"Toast the new year with us?"
Xander smiled and accepted the glass, waving it beneath his
nose and sniffing lightly. "Ah," he pronounced with
pleasure, "excellent. A light, perhaps slightly citrusy
bouquet, with a distinct note of fruityness, tending towards a
perceived sweetness." He sniffed again. "And do I
detect a hint of apple?"
Buffy stared at him in confusion. "It's non-alcoholic
"That explains it," said Xander, rising from the
Willow was already counting down, and Buffy joined her. Oz
seemed to chime in only for the prime numbers.
When everyone shouted, "Happy New Year," Xander
smiled and clinked glasses with them. He downed his draught and
then closed his eyes, murmuring softly to himself.
He opened his eyes to find Willow looking at him strangely.
Xander smiled slightly. "Just starting the new year off
The celebrants on TV broke into "Auld Lang Syne,"
and the four celebrants in Buffy's living room joined in with
their own, rather confused, rendition.
"What are the words to that song anyway?" asked
Xander, when it was over. "Every time I hear someone sing
it, their speech is too slurred to make it all out."
"I think that's the secret," said Oz.
"Resolutions!" Buffy suddenly exclaimed. "I
resolve to eat less fat and to slay more vampires."
"I resolve to get the band to learn at least one more
"Got your work cut out for you," said Xander,
Oz nodded somewhat wistfully.
Willow grinned. "Well, I resolve to levitate something
heavier than a pencil. Like a binder. Or maybe an encyclopedia!"
"Do you only levitate school supplies?" asked Buffy.
"Her specialty," said Oz.
Buffy grinned and turned around. "Xander?" she
Xander hesitated for a second, then an overly worried look
crossed his face. "But if I say it out loud," he
confided to her in a loud whisper, "it won't come true!"
"That's birthday wishes."
"Oh, yeah, right." Xander shrugged. "Oh, well."
"Hey, are there any more cookies?" Willow suddenly
"Kitchen," said Buffy, turning about and leading
Willow out of the room.
When they were gone, Xander looked around for his coat. He
extricated it from the pile of coats and jackets on a chair, and
started to put it on. Oz watched him silently from across the
When Buffy and Willow returned, Xander was slipping his hand
through the second sleeve.
"Leaving already?" asked Buffy.
"Someone has to be at home to keep the 'responsible
adults' in line," Xander said, humorously. "Thanks for
the party. It was really."
Willow smiled forlornly at him. "Take care," she
said. "Happy New Year."
Xander smiled back. "Happy New Year, everyone. Stay out
"No chance of that," said Oz, "but thanks for
Angel sat staring blankly across the empty room, a small book
lying open but unread in his lap.
The candle flickered, causing the bronze figurine on the
mantelpiece to shimmer brilliantly for an instant. Angel glanced
up and stared for a moment, then turned back down to his book.
The same sentence that had stopped him cold minutes before still
silently mocked him.
"When I am from him, I am dead till I be with him."1
He tossed Thomas Browne violently aside and buried his face in
It made no sense, or perhaps too much. Angel had known the
pain of separation, of unending death, for nearly a century. Long
enough to understand, to control that pain. Until a week
previous, reading had been one of those controls, granting a
transitory sense of humanity to Angel's soul. Anything,
Shakespeare to Joyce, anything to make that momentary human
connection. Anything except Donne.
But now, nothing worked. Because suddenly, humanity had been
brought into sharp focus. Suddenly, a week ago. When the shield
of separation had briefly dropped.
And it had kept dropping repeatedly since then, each time
allowing Angel to glimpse the possibilities beyond. Possibilities
which, Angel told himself, he had no right to imagine.
Better to remain separated, isolated. Happiness was never
meant for the creatures of the night. Even those reformed.
But he couldn't stay apart any longer. Because Xander kept
dragging him out of his self-imposed exile. Xander, even when he
It wasn't just the faint trace of Xander's scent in every part
of the room, it was Xander's constant presence in Angel's mind.
("...from you that I could private be!")2 Xander himself
did not predominate Angel's thoughts, but it was as if he were
there, crouching at the edges of Angel's consciousness, waiting
for the slightest association before suddenly leaping into view.
And bringing with him
Buffy had allowed Angel to briefly pretend to be human. And it
had been briefly amusing to occasionally pretend to be a human
teenager, a safe fantasy from which he could easily withdraw.
But Xander, without even really trying, had demanded that
Angel be human. And be himself. Angel didn't know who that
But Xander seemed to.
Xander, who had visited Angel five times since that first
Christmas night, and had stayed the night twice, both times
falling asleep again on the couch. Xander, who was content to sit
and simply talk to him, about normal things, without pretense.
Xander, who could make any story into a madcap comedy.
Angel had found himself truly laughing. He had forgotten real
But even more precious was the silence. The complete trust. It
spoke volumes, yet left Angel more confused than ever.
Neither Xander nor Angel ever spoke of it. Neither dared to
discuss what was happening, if indeed, Angel thought, anything
was. They never even talked about when they would next meet, or
how long Xander would stay. Xander would just show up, and leave
when he was ready.
Leaving Angel to wrestle with his thoughts. And his humanity.
His? Angel knew he had none. That had been taken by Darla, and
never returned. His curse had given him his soul, which meant
pain and remorse. Nothing more.
And yet, last week, he had burnt a candle in his window for
the first time in two centuries. That candle of welcome to Mary
and Joseph. To life. To hope.
Angel wasn't sure if he had been cursed anew... or if he had
perhaps been granted the greatest Christmas present ever given.
A flicker of light drew his eye back to the bronze Gabriel on
the mantelpiece. Could anyone ever see that when they
looked at the demon, the inhuman creature that Angel was?
A familiar cadence of cautious footsteps in the hallway roused
Angel and he quickly strode to the door, waiting for the knock
that he knewhe prayedmust follow.
When it did, Angel controlled himself carefully, waiting an
appropriate amount of time before slowly, casually opening the
Xander's eyes rose to meet his and they stared for a few
"Hi," said Xander, eventually. "Sorry I'm late."
Angel glanced at the clock. It had slipped past midnight
without his noticing. "I'm glad you're here." ("My
gracious silence, hail!")3 Angel stood back and let Xander in.
Xander shrugged off his coat and hung it himself, performing
what had become a comfortable ritual. He then headed for the
"Buffy had a new year's party," he explained,
Angel joined him. "Good time?"
"...was had by most." Xander smiled suddenly. "Buffy
made these ginger snaps. They tasted all right, but they
were... chewy. Kind of contradicts the name. And you won't
believe what Willow did with the party hats...."
Half an hour later, Xander's stream of narrative and banter
had settled into a slow trickle. "Hey, look," he
suddenly said, glancing at the clock, "it's the new year in
Anchorage." He turned to face Angel. "Happy New Year."
"Happy New Year, Xander."
"I guess I didn't miss it after all." Xander smiled
at Angel for a moment, then turned away and began fiddling with
the hem of his shirt. Angel watched his lips move silently.
Eventually, Xander seemed to give up. "So much for new
year's resolutions," Angel could hear him mutter, faintly.
It was now or never. "Can you stay the night?"
("Come live with me and be my l")4 Angel flinched
Xander froze, then turned and simply nodded.
Completely unsure of what he was doing, Angel, moving like an
automaton, rose and led Xander to his bedroom.
Xander tarried in the doorway for a moment, then quickly
strode across the room and sat on the edge of the bed. He removed
his shoes, shivered, and then sat still.
Angel watched in silence. When Xander suddenly shivered again,
Angel said, "I don't have any heat in here. Maybe you'd
better leave your clothes on," wondering if the suggestion
would imply the opposite.
But Xander gratefully accepted the out, and lay back silently
on the bed.
"I've got to put the candles out," said Angel,
quickly escaping from the room and silently cursing himself all
Methodically extinguishing the candles in the living room
brought some order to the chaos in his mind, but not enough. He
felt as if he had suddenly stepped on a land mine, and was afraid
to move for fear of detonating it.
Eventually, Angel could delay no longer. He returned, silently
and cautiously, to his room and stood in the doorway.
Xander had turned on his side and lay facing away, apparently
well on his way to sleep.
Making every motion with excruciating care, Angel noiselessly
approached the bed, removed his own shoes, and lay down. And
stared at Xander.
Angel had broken the silence, and Xander had taken his words
almost as commands.
As gratifying and as reassuring as it was, it was far more
disturbing to have that sort of power over another person. Even
though, without knowing it, Xander had even more power over him.
Hearing Xander's breathing become quiet and regular, Angel
reached ever so carefully out and wrapped his arms around the
boy, pulling him close. That physical contact confirmed the truth.
Xander was there. With him.
Angel held Xander tightly, but gently. He could let go before
Xander awoke, letting Xander free from his desperate, foolish,
selfish attempt to escape from his own prison. He could let go.
And as Angel drifted off to sleep, Xander smiled.