Xander's Job, Chapter 10: Heaven or Hell
“Quite a ride,” Buffy said, examining the private jet as a worker loaded her bag into the luggage hold.
Xander was examining the worker, wondering if it was an airport employee or someone paid by Wolfram and Hart, but he heard Angel say, “It gets you places.”
“Faster than that big, black gas guzzler you drive,” Willow told him. “I’ve always wondered why a vampire would drive a convertible.”
“Yeah, way to risk blowing a hair out of place,” Xander added, turning back to the group. He was rewarded with an annoyed look from Angel, but not as annoyed as he’d hoped for. “Seriously, Angel, it’s not like you have to worry about overheating. Do you?”
“Not usually.” Angel waved them on board and Willow eagerly led Buffy up the steps, going on about the upholstery and carpeting. But Giles, who’d been bringing up the rear, extended an overly polite hand toward their host.
“By all means, after you.”
“Okay.” Angel took a long, careful look up and down the length of the airplane, then stepped on board. Only then did Giles follow, keeping a careful distance between himself and the vampire.
Xander came after, wondering if he should try to talk to Giles about all this. Then he paused to watch the young man who was securing the door behind them. Everything seemed fine – was he picking up on Giles’ paranoia? Yeah, probably – he wasn’t exactly an Angel fan, himself.
Turning, Xander saw that Angel had already buckled himself in, again in the seat nearest the cockpit. Giles passed him, walked all the way to the rear, then turned with his back to the restroom, still standing. Willow drew Buffy down to a seat beside her, halfway between the two men, and only Xander saw Buffy throw a long look toward Angel before she sank down.
Wow. “The Young and the Restless” didn’t have this much backstory. With a sigh, Xander took a seat right across the aisle from Buffy. “The gang’s all here.”
Overhearing, Angel turned to address them. “I tried to track down Oz. Apparently he’s somewhere in South Korea right now, but I couldn’t get through to him.”
Buffy patted a suddenly uncomfortable Willow on the hand. “Thanks for trying.”
Xander was secretly relieved, considering what he’d just been thinking about the soap opera aspect of this gathering. It would have been nice to see Oz, but this trip would bring back too many memories, considering the way Xander and Willow had been caught in a romantic tryst while they were supposed to be dating Cordelia and Oz. Considering they were caught by Cordelia and Oz.
The cockpit door opened, and the pilot poked his head out. “We’re ready to take off, sir.”
“Oh, let’s go east!” Willow called. “We could go all the way around the world in one night.”
The pilot shot a questioning look at Angel, who shook his head as if trying to fling it off. “We’re getting back the fastest way possible. And the less we’re over the water, the better.”
“Aw …” Pouting, Willow sat back in her seat, bringing another pat from Buffy.
Angel hitched his seat belt tighter. Giles finally took his seat, leaving everyone positioned in such a way that only Xander saw Angel’s hand, at the moment they lifted into the air, tighten convulsively on the armrest.
Oh my God! Angel’s afraid of flying!
Well, it made sense, really. As a youth, Angel had never gotten on anything faster or higher than a horse. The real question was, how could Xander best make use of this? Should he start making fun now, or wait until the vampire was at his most vulnerable? Would anyone scared of flying ever be any more vulnerable than this? The still-adolescent portion of Xander’s mind whirled, and he experienced an almost overwhelming desire to scream, “The wing is falling off!”
But, with a deep sense of disappointment, Xander let it go. They were on their way to a funeral, after all … maybe growing up didn’t mean not acting like a kid, so much as learning when not to act like a kid. Thus avoiding embarrassment, but having much less fun. Overall, he was kind of glad that he didn’t say embarrassing things as often as he used to, and maybe caring about that was also part of maturing.
With a sigh, Xander switched to the window seat to look outside, but saw only blackness. He closed his eyes, but sleep wouldn’t come, so he stared at the glass. As his eyes adjusted he caught the dim reflection of Willow and Buffy, their heads together as they talked quietly.
He should leave Angel alone. Cordelia’s letters had made it clear that the vampire was fighting the good fight in L.A., doing his best to help people, and getting better at it despite some bumps. Or maybe it was Cordelia who was getting better at it, it was hard to tell. Xander had blamed Angel when Cordy’s injuries left her in a coma, but even then he knew, deep down, how unfair that was. Cordy turned her back on a burgeoning acting career to fight with the good guys, and that war tended to produce casualties.
She’d have liked Angel’s new resources. He probably had a plush office, and a whole team of people to make coffee, not to mention the use of a helicopter and this plane. She’d have loved the idea of traveling in a fancy private aircraft, whether it was to do good or not.
For a moment, he thought he saw her, sitting in the now empty seat between him and Buffy. She looked blissful, tilted back, smiling slightly, then turning to him with a widening grin –
Xander jerked his head around. The seat was empty.
Attracted by the movement, Buffy and Willow both turned. “You okay, Xan?” Buffy asked.
Willow added, “You look like you saw a –“ She blinked, and darted a glance around the cabin.
“Yeah.” Shaken, he stared at the seat. Had he leaned it back? “Just had one of those almost to sleep moments.”
He swallowed and turned away, wondering about Cordelia now, instead of then. What kind of heavenly dimension had she ended up in? Or … had she? Surely she hadn’t gone the other way? Nah. Granted, Cordy had her vain and selfish moments, but if her letters were any indication, she’d changed for the better. Hadn’t she? But then, people would say the best about themselves, wouldn’t they, even people as brutally honest as her.
He noticed Willow leave, heading back to the restroom, and caught Buffy’s gaze. She smiled, then looked puzzled when he vaulted out of his seat and settled in beside her. “Buffy … I need to ask you something kind of personal.”
“It’s okay Xander – I’m your personal friend.”
“When you … died …” Buffy started, but he barreled on. “We know where you ended up. But what about before then? Were you … you know … judged?”
She thought about it for a moment, then shook her head. “Honestly, I don’t remember. I jumped into that field of energy knowing it would kill me. Then – then I was somewhere else. Nobody told me I was in Heaven … there were no Pearly Gates, no angels. I don’t remember any details at all, just this general feeling that everything was good, and I was safe and taken care of.” She looked wistful, making Xander sorry he’d brought it up. But before he could change the subject, Buffy added in a gentle voice, “She’s all right. I’m sure she is.”
“How can you be? How can anyone be?”
“Come on, Xan. Cordy never did anything so terrible to deserve eternal damnation. Besides, if she got sent to a hell dimension she’d just start running the place herself, and give it an extreme makeover.”
He must have sounded unconvinced, because after a moment Buffy spoke again, this time less certainly. “Maybe my experience was unique. You know, there’s another person who you can ask about the afterlife.” She sent a significant look over the seat in front of her.
“You gotta be kidding.”
Another voice broke in: “Go talk to him.” Xander turned to find Willow had exited the bathroom, and now sat beside Giles. “Giles wants you to get out of my seat, because I’m pestering him.”
“I’m getting too old for all nighters,” Giles said, “and tomorrow promises to be as long as today was.”
“Right.” Standing, Xander moved forward to the seat across from Angel, wondering as he did how much the vampire’s sensitive ears had picked up. It wasn’t exactly a 747, after all. “So, Angel … did you know that the safety record of private jets is much better than that of, say, crop dusters?”
Angel turned, without releasing his death grip on the armrests. “You’d better have something else to talk about, boy.”
“Let’s discuss your death.”
“I said, change the subject.”
“No, no – not your death in an airplane crash. Your previous death. Or, both of them.”
Angel stared at him for a long moment, then cleared his throat. “I inspected the plane personally, and checked out the pilot’s license. I also had him tested for drugs and alcohol.”
“Angel … I know your experience wasn’t exactly all sunshine and happiness, but I need to know some things.”
“Sunshine and happiness?” Angel repeated bitterly. “You don’t understand. I’m not saying I didn’t deserve it, but you don’t understand torture. You don’t understand pain. There’s no way I could discuss it without you experiencing it yourself, and believe me, you don’t want to do that.”
“No,” Xander murmured, “I don’t. But that’s not what I want to know. When you died … do you remember? I mean, at some point somebody had to decide you were going up or down. Do you remember being judged?”
Angel’s features softened, both fear and hostility sliding away. “She didn’t go to hell, Xander.”
“Damn it –“ Remembering they had an audience, he lowered his voice. “How do you know? Just tell me what you remember!”
“All right. I remember nothing, that first time. Nothing after I felt my life fade away, nothing until I rose again as a vampire. I don’t know if I went to Heaven or Hell, although I have my suspicions. But it’s all a blank. I don’t even know if I have the same soul now, or if this one belonged to someone else, or if they get manufactured new, somewhere … I just don’t know. But that second time, when Buffy …”
He leaned across the aisle and lowered his voice. “One moment I was falling backward with a sword in my chest. The next moment, I was – there. If you’re asking about the process of judgment, I can’t help you.
“But I can tell you this. Cordelia’s in Heaven. It may not be the Heaven you and I would think of, with fluffy clouds and angel wings.”
“Probably,” Xander mused, “It would be a high dollar shopping mall, stretching on to infinity.”
Angel nodded. “And her holding a gold plated Mastercard with no spending limit. But whatever her idea of Heaven is, I can tell you this – she’s there. And I can tell you why I’m sure. If someone was walking down a dark alley and heard a scream, what should they do?”
“Run like hell?” Xander guessed, confused by the change in subject.
“Right. And maybe that’s what she would have done, once. But she changed. She would have gone to help. Maybe she would have complained about getting her shoes dirty; maybe she would have gone looking for a spa, afterward; maybe she would have even presented them a bill. But she would have run toward the scream, not away from it.
“And that’s how I know she’s in Heaven.”
Angel straightened up and, after a moment, resumed his crushing grip on the armrests. Instead of going back to his former seat Xander stayed there, brooding in silence at what he’d heard. After awhile he decided that it only made sense. No matter how unfair life seemed, he couldn’t believe that anyone would get eternal punishment for wanting to be prom queen. Besides, she had to get points for being fashionable.
After awhile, feeling considerable more relaxed, Xander turned to Angel. “Do you smell smoke?”
Angel jerked his head up and sniffed.
“Don’t worry, Dead-boy. These things can fly with just one engine.”