Halfway to Las Vegas, Angel was wishing fervently that the radio in his car still worked, and that there were still stations for it to pick up. Generally he was a man comfortable with silences, he could slip into them like an old coat that fit just right. But this particular silence, which had started when they left the outskirts of Los Angeles behind felt more like a new shirt that was a size too small and made out of a material that itched. He wanted to get rid of it.
Trouble was, he wasn't sure what exactly to say to break it. Angel glanced over briefly at Wesley; the human was staring out the window, wearing a pensive expression that didn't invite conversation.
Angel wasn't sure what had caused Wesley to retreat into himself as he had. One moment they'd been chatting nicely -- bantering really -- about the type of car a vampire should drive, the next had seen Wesley glance out the window and suddenly shut down. He'd been silent ever since, a silence that had settled uncomfortably on the car and made Angel wish for the radio to work so he could break it without worrying about saying the wrong thing.
But he didn't have a working radio so eventually he was going to have to say something.
"Missing the library?" was what he finally settled on.
Surprisingly, he seemed to have lit on the right thing to say. "You might say that," Wesley replied softly, even turning his head away from the window to glance at Angel. "But probably not quite in the way you mean."
"Not sure I had a meaning beyond what I actually said," Angel replied. It was conversation, even if it was strange one. Which, in Angel's book, was at least a step above driving in itchy silence all the way to Las Vegas.
"I just meant the why of the missing might not be what you expect," Wesley explained. "I miss it not so much for everything that's in it -- although that is important to me. But I miss it the most because it was... inside and the world was outside." He gave a small laugh that was more than a little self mocking. "To put it simply, I seem to have developed a bit of agoraphobia."
Angel had one second of thinking He's afraid of fuzzy rabbits? before his brain caught up and he realised exactly what Wesley was admitting to. A fear of open spaces... It made sense. Wesley had been living more or less safe for a few years now, and while he hadn't talked much, Angel had heard enough to realise that his time before that out in the world had been less than pleasant. Of course Wesley's mind would equate leaving the library with getting hurt and being afraid.
Another thought occured to Angel immediately on the heels of the previous, and that was that an agoraphobe would probably find a convertible one of the most unpleasant forms of transportation there was. "Christ, no wonder you hate my car," he said aloud. "Do you want me to put the roof up? Would that help?" He reached for the controls to do so even as he spoke.
Wesley put a hand on his arm, stopping him before he could. "I appreciate the concen, but it's all right," he told Angel, the corners of his mouth turned up in the tiniest of smiles. "I have to just get used to it again, that's all. Besides, it's not the car that's the problem so much as..." Wesley waved a hand at the deserted land they were driving through, "...that. Putting the roof up won't help that."
"You sure? Because putting it up isn't a problem. Five minutes tops and it's done."
"I'm sure," Wesley told him. "I need to get over this, and driving through this land as close as possible to it can only help." He gave Angel another smile, this one a little wider but also a little weaker. "Although it may make me an uncommunicative stick in the mud in the meantime. I apologise for that."
"Hey, it's okay," Angel said. "You don't have to entertain me. You don't want to talk, that's fine." He didn't even think that the silence would bother him now that he knew the reason. Or, at least it would bother him in a more specific, wondering what he could do to help and knowing that he couldn't way.
Wesley did fall silent for a little bit after that, but surprisingly after about ten minutes or so, he stirred and turned around in his seat to look at Angel. "Too much staring at nothing," he muttered more to himself than the vampire. Then he continued in a thoughtful tone. "It's funny, isn't it. You'd think the way the world is, that more people -- most people even -- would have developed phobias. But it doesn't seem to have worked out that way."
Angel turned that over in his head. "I don't think most people have the luxury of phobias," he finally said, speaking slowly as he worked the idea out. "Phobias are, by definition irrational fears. There's too much for people to worry and be afraid of rationally. They don't have time to develop irrational fears on top of that."
"So you think I'm being indulgent?" Angel could hear the trace of amusement in Wesley's voice.
"I think you've been lucky. You've found a place of stability and safety that allowed you to breathe and relax a little." Angel smiled faintly. "And I came in and took you away from all that. When you look at it that way, your fear doesn't look as irrational."
"That's a fallacy though. Just because you can explain it, doesn't make it rational, it just makes it understandable. In fact," Wesley's rough voice became warmer and more animated as he spoke, working his way through the ideas, "maybe that's the answer to why there don't seem to be many phobias out there anymore. It's not that they don't exist, it's just because there's so much to be afraid of, any fear can be understandable. And if people understand it, they think it's rational."
Angel thought about the worst things he'd seen: atrocities committed by demons against humans, and by humans against demons, atrocities committed by both groups on their own. And the almost universal drive that seemed to exist to destory all traces of knowledge from the World Before. All of these were driven at their heart by fear, and fears that were understandable, even could seem rational at first glance. But they weren't.
"I was wrong," he said, realising that he'd got it backwards. "It's not that no one has phobias, it's that everyone has. They just are irrationally afraid of the same thing so they don't see that they're being irrational when they act on them." Another thought occurred to Angel. "I bet it was the same sort of joint phobias that made the Burning seem like a good idea to those responsible."
Even in the dim light, Angel could see Wesley pale and his lips press together in a cold thin line. "The Burning wasn't inspired by fear. It was inspired by hate. A hatred so deep they were willing to do whatever it took to destroy what they hated. Even if their own children were Burned to death in the process."
A chill ran down Angel's spine at Wesley's words, Wesley's tone of voice. It didn't sound like someone talking about an event they had only heard of and felt the effects of. It sounded like someone talking who had been there.
The perception was deepened when Wesley laughed bitterly and said, "Too bad for them they were wrong."
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