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Jesse and Xander arrived at the Bronze just after sundown, just as the party atmosphere started to get into full swing.
They ran into a few people who Jesse remembered. Xander just told them that Jesse ran away from home and finally decided to come back. No one had any problem with that explanation and went on as if he was never gone... dead.
They drank sodas, played pool and just generally hung out. After they had been there for about four hours, a dark man walked into the club with Buffy.
Xander pulled Jesse to his side and said, "That's Angel, the vampire I told you about."
Jesse watched as the dark man walked around the room with Buffy, looking completely out of place; a beacon of depression in a room full of joy.
"Why does she hang around with him. It's like he sucks the fun right out of the room." Jesse asked Xander with curiosity.
"You noticed that too? I don't know, all I can figure is that there is some kind of forbidden thrill for them. What with him robbing the cradle and her robbing the coffin... Personally, I think she could do better... actually, so could he." Xander said with a smirk.
Buffy noticed Xander and Jesse at a table and dragged Angel over to talk to them.
"Are you guys having a good time?" Buffy asked politely, the question being rhetorical, though she didn't consciously realize it.
She was surprised to have the question answered with something other than the obligatory 'fine'.
"We are having a GREAT time. This band is totally ON tonight and Jess has been kicking ass at pool!" Xander said with a look of complete joy on his face.
Buffy and Angel were both taken aback by Xander's happiness. In the past two years, they had only ever seen him under a blanket of gloom, making the occasional nervous bad joke to break the constant tension.
"Angel, would you mind if I asked Buffy to dance?" Jesse asked politely, barely containing his own joyous attitude.
"Um, no, that would be fine." Angel said, as surprised that he had been asked politely as he was by the question itself.
"Buffy, would you allow me the honor of this dance?" Jesse asked Buffy with a gentlemanly bow.
Buffy giggled despite herself and accepted Jesse's offered arm as he led her to the dance floor.
Xander noticed a slight look of concern fall over Angel's face. Reflexively he said, "Don't worry Angel, Jesse has just been wanting to dance for the past few hours and hasn't had the balls to ask any of the girls who were here. He won't make a move on her."
"What did you call me?" Angel asked carefully.
"Angel? Oh, yeah, sorry about that whole 'Deadboy' thing. While Jesse was dead, I hated all vampires for taking my best friend away from me..." Xander trailed off and ended in a shrug.
"And now you don't?" Angel asked, not believing that Xander could turn off his hatred like a switch.
"Jesse's back. It doesn't seem important anymore. I just realized that I don't have any reason to hold on to all that hate and junk. So I hope that you won't miss the cuts and digs that I usually do around you... I just don't feel like it anymore." Xander said simply with a serene honest smile.
Angel was surprised by the open honesty and responded without thinking, "I think I'll be just fine without them... but some of them were pretty funny." Angel said with his own smile.
"Maybe, but now I see that they were meant to hurt you and Buffy. That was wrong of me... What can I say, I was hurt, so I wanted to cause hurt in response. Real mature, huh?" Xander said as he leaned comfortably against the table.
"Don't worry about it. I think at seventeen, you're more mature than I was." Angel said seriously.
"You had a misspent youth? The serious master vampire?" Xander said in real amazement, then cast a conspiratorial glance as he asked, "Tavern wenches and ale, huh?"
Angel was stunned by the question and apparently the truth showed on his face.
"I was right? Oh Angel, I never suspected that you had a childhood, much less that you were ever my age." Xander said and began laughing.
There was no trace of malice or derision in Xander's laugh, only pure unfettered joy. Angel had never heard Xander's true laugh before and was smiling without knowing it.
Jesse and Buffy joined Xander and Angel at the table.
"Are you up for another dance?" Xander asked Buffy before she could be seated.
She cast a questioning glance at Angel who must have signaled his approval because she responded, "Sure, let's go."
Jesse took a drink of his soda and looked at Angel carefully.
"Xander says you're a vampire." Jesse said in an informational tone.
"He also said you got cursed with a soul, so you don't bite people anymore." Jesse said after taking another drink.
Angel nodded again.
"That's cool. I mean, not the curse thing... the no biting thing. Anyway, what do you do when you aren't avoiding sunlight?" Jesse asked as he finished his drink.
"What do you mean?" Angel asked, trying to follow the boy's rambling conversation.
"I mean, when you aren't sleeping, what do you do to fill your eternal existence?" Jesse said bluntly.
Angel was shocked by Jesse's blunt question and said, "Nothing really. I help Buffy fight demons sometimes but..."
"That explains your mood then." Jesse said as if he had it all figured out.
"What?" Angel asked in confusion as much as amazement at this boy.
"You don't have anything to fill your days except thinking and rethinking your thoughts and stewing your emotions until every last bit of flavor has been exhausted from them." Jesse said as he made a drink motion to Xander who was coming back from the dance floor.
Xander nodded and went to the bar, taking Buffy with him.
"Why are you telling me this?" Angel asked, truly confused.
"If I'm going to be hanging out with Xander's friends, I need to get to know them. I was just trying to get a handle on where you're coming from." Jesse said simply.
Angel thought about it and the things Jesse said did seem to make sense.
"Just a suggestion. Get some hobbies, write a book, get a job, do something to fill your days... or nights... it gives you some structure, something to look forward to, and something to distract you from your own thoughts. If it doesn't work, don't do it anymore, but I bet you'll be feeling a lot happier with your life... err, existence... if you aren't just sitting around brooding while you wait for the sun to burn out." Jesse said and a look of happiness came over his face as Xander and Buffy returned to the table.
"What have you two been talking about?" Xander asked Jesse as he sat drinks before them both.
"Oh, I was just telling Angel how I think he should run his life... existence... can we just call it life? I mean we all know he's dead, but it will just make conversation easier." Jesse asked everyone at the table.
Everyone nodded in acceptance and Jesse took a drink of his soda.
Finally Xander couldn't contain his curiosity anymore and asked, "What do you think Angel should do?"
"I dunno, play the stock market, restore antique cars, woodworking, it doesn't really matter, just something." Jesse said with an honest expression.
Xander thought about it for a minute before saying, "You should think about it Angel. It just might do you some good to do something different. Have you ever thought of being a private detective? They work mostly at night and investigating mysteries can really consume your mind."
Buffy was stunned by the conversation, especially because Angel looked as if he were really considering it.
"We have to be going." Buffy finally said, giving Angel the 'now' look.
"But it's still early." Xander commented.
"A slayer's work is never done. I promised Giles that I'd patrol tonight." She said matter-of-factly.
"Well, thanks for the dance. See you in school on Monday." Xander said as Buffy and Angel left the room.
"Angel isn't such a bad guy." Jesse said, giving an inquiring look at Xander.
"No, I guess not. By the way, good call on the 'too much free time' thing. Anyone would be broody with two hundred fifty years to sit around and think." Xander said as he looked around the room.
"Yeah, I call 'em like I see 'em." Jesse said, following Xander's gaze to the open pool table.
As one, the two friends got up from the table and headed back to the pool tables for yet another game.
* * * * *
Jesse reflected on his day. His first day of being reborn. Xander had taken him to the mall, to the Scoobie meeting and then to the Bronze.
The entire day had been one long adventure. He had been nervous about meeting Xander's friends, but now he felt pretty good about it. Buffy and Angel weren't so bad and Willow was pretty much her old self, maybe just a little more serious.
He turned his head to look at Xander sleeping beside him in the sofa bed. Xander had always just been there, always supporting him, always encouraging him to follow his dreams. And more importantly Xander had always been honest with him.
Honesty, that was the problem he was having. He felt like he was lying to Xander every time he opened his mouth and said anything except, 'I love you.' But could he honestly tell Xander what he was feeling and not be rejected by him. What if Xander didn't want to be his friend anymore. Then he went from a place of feeling to a place of thinking and realized that Xander would NEVER reject him as a friend. The absolute worst that he would do is say no to his advances, but their friendship would never be in doubt.
"Xan." Jesse whispered as he shook Xander's shoulder gently.
"Jess?" Xander asked sleepily.
"I need to talk to you about something." Jess said with worry showing through his voice.
Xander was immediately awake upon hearing the serious tone of Jesse's voice.
Turning in the bed, to look Jesse in the eyes, Xander quietly asked, "What about?"
Jesse reached deep into himself and dredged up every shred of courage he ever had and said, "Us."
Seeing the concerned look on Jesse's face, Xander's mind raced through a hundred possible meanings for the two-letter word.
"I mean... God Xan, I guess I mean I'm gay cause all I want to do is take you into my arms and kiss you right now." Jesse blurted out, looking like he was halfway between preparing to take a punch and bursting out in tears.
Xander could see the confusion and distress in his friend. In a comforting tone he said, "Come here."
A long hug of comfort and support followed. As Jesse made a move to kiss Xander, he was shocked to hear Xander say, "Not yet."
Puzzled, Jesse pulled away to look into Xander's face, waiting for an explanation.
"Jesse, you know that you're my best friend and nothing is ever going to change that, right?" Xander said carefully.
"Yeah." Jesse said, feeling his heart sink in his chest.
"I don't know how I feel about doing something like this. I'm not saying 'no', I'm just saying, 'not yet'. Jess, I need some time to understand how I feel. Can you give me time?" Xander said seriously.
"Yeah, I can do that." Jesse said, happy that at least it wasn't a no.
"By the way, the whole hugging thing... I'm good for that. It's just the rest... kissing and stuff... I need a little time to deal with that part. Okay?" Xander asked, afraid that he might have hurt his friend.
"Hugging is fine. But will you promise me something?" Jesse asked seriously.
"Sure, what do you want." Xander asked with equal seriousness.
"Will you tell me as soon as you've figured it out? I mean, I just need to know if I should have any hope of this going somewhere or not." Jesse said and turned to look away.
"Jess, I won't keep you up in the air any longer than I have to. Just let me be sure before I jump into this. Maybe you should think about it too... I mean, you just came back to life and everything you ever knew is pretty much gone except for me... please be sure that you want me for me and not because there is no one else left." Xander said sadly.
"Yeah, I guess we'll both be doing some thinking... but you said the hugging is okay... right?" Jess asked to be sure.
"Oh yeah, the hugging is very okay." Xander said with a smile and pulled Jesse close to him.
They both lay silently, holding on to each other, thinking their own thoughts until they drifted off to sleep in each other's arms.