A Christmas Carol
Summary: Everyone has read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, surely? If not, then the movie? I thoroughly recommend the tale. Don’t worry if you haven’t, this is nothing like it. Well, maybe it is, just a little.
Hugs to Jo, who busy as she is, never fails to read and correct my erroneous ways. What more can a grateful writer ask for?
Disclaimer: Joss owns Buffy and Angel, and Dickens’ owns A Christmas Carol. Sadly I am neither nor am I brilliant.
Merry Christmas to all.
The sky, grey and bleak, frowned upon the earth in chilly disdain. The view would have been pretty if it wasn’t so damned cold. Buffy hated the cold. She’d prefer Hell right about now. At least there she would be warm. She stamped her feet and blew futilely on fur-covered hands. Behind her, warmth beckoned and she felt like giving in to its call. She couldn’t. There was duty to consider. Damned duty! Duty be damned! Her frown matched the one in the heavens above. At that very moment, Heaven decided to a call a truce with minute flags all its own. Silent in flight, jewelled and glistening, they floated by to settle at her feet. One was caught by her eyelashes, its cool melt dripping on her cheek. Damned snow, she fumed, and brushed it away. She stomped through the carpet of flakes on her way to do her duty, grumbling at the slippery path, sure that it had treacherous plans to send her flying off her feet.
From his vantage point in the busy department store, Angel watched the throng of shoppers going about their business. The inside of the building glittered with tinsel, Christmas carols rose above the hum of noise, and fairy lights twinkled in heavenly abandon. Standing in the only shadow to be found, he smiled. He could never have what the people around him had but he was content to watch them go about their lives. After all, this is why he fought, why he sacrificed all that he held dear. It gladdened his heart to see. Angel looked on as children clambered onto Santa’s knee. Christmas wasn’t about Santa, he knew, and when he was a boy Santa hadn’t been invented yet. It made him feel like he was the Ghost of Christmas Past, he had lived that long. At least the spirit of Christmas was alive in the laughter, in the joy of giving, and the sharing of love.
A kindly soul approached warily, and when he looked her way, she placed a bauble in his hand.
“This is for you. Nobody should be sad at Christmas,” she said, and she hurried away.
Angel didn’t think he was sad, and wondered at his previous smile. Had that been a sad imitation of Christmas cheer? When he opened his hand, an ornamental angel sat there.
Angel carried his purchases to the utility tunnels that ran beneath the city. In his journeys he had encountered the invisible people that inhabited the underground: the homeless. It wasn’t as cold here as it was above ground, and neither was it warm or cosy. Cardboard boxes and paper didn’t come with central heating. He placed the boxes of essentials, and some that were just plain frivolous, stacked the blankets beside them and stepped away. The vampire didn’t linger, he knew these people, had been one of them not so long ago, by his reckoning anyway. They were the faceless, the flotsam of humanity, and some were that by choice. He left them their dignity and hoped that his meagre offerings would bring a small measure of comfort.
The nest of vampires was easy to find, if one knew what to look for, and Angel knew. He dusted the vamps sleeping there. The fools didn’t realise, with snow, there was no sun. His stake entered dead hearts, and the vampires disintegrated without a sound. He left the lair, ashes covering the mish-mash of furniture behind him.
When Buffy found the nest it was deserted. Her mood, surly to begin with, plummeted. It was just not fair, she seethed, and took her anger out on the filthy furniture. Before long the lair was littered with cloth, padding, buttons and kindling. If there weren’t a danger of the fire spreading Buffy would have set it alight. It wouldn’t be the first time she had done that. Railing at the cold, she ventured out again to try and track the undead occupants of the lair.
Later, she slammed into her hotel room, not caring if the doors adjacent rattled on their hinges. The night had been a bust. Her informant had been wrong, and she was going to kill Andrew for sending her here. Other than an empty nest, there were no vampires. She ordered a gourmet pizza from Room Service before stalking into the bathroom. Taps turned to almost scalding, Buffy tried to shower the cold from her bones.
The following night he continued his hunt, the cold never a problem for him. He had on his cashmere coat, for style rather than warmth, a dark sweater beneath. It wasn’t that he didn’t feel cold, and he did enjoy the warmth of an open fire, it just wasn’t a problem. He couldn’t catch his death, his teeth never chattered, his preternatural body keeping to the air temperature guaranteed that. He was dead after all, and the dead didn’t feel the way the living did. Except that he did…feel. Too much.
Entering the Scorpion Pit, Angel could see that the blizzard had kept most away. Less than a handful of demons sat about the bar. The bartender, a demon himself, leaned on his oddly jointed arms as he chatted to one of his patrons. Every eye rotated his way and, sensing what he was, swivelled back to mind their own business. Angel ordered a drink but kept his eyes on the demon he had recognised.
“New in town?” the barkeep asked, ever ready to ingratiate himself with his customers. He placed the ordered whiskey on a coaster and sat it before the vampire.
Angel nodded, picking up his glass. “Passing through.”
When Angel didn’t elaborate, the barkeep said, “Cold out.”
Angel didn’t bother with a reply. He drank his liquor, enjoying the smooth burn flowing down to his stomach.
“Where’s the action in this city?” he asked when he was done.
The demon shrugged, and said nothing.
Angel sighed, pulled out a couple of notes and placed them on the counter. Nimble fingers snatched them up, and with a furtive look at the other patrons, the barkeep whispered the names and places to be found about the city.
The demon he had his eye on rolled to its feet. It was early evening, and blizzard or no, there were some who would be about their gift shopping. The demon would have an easy time snatching its prey. Angel couldn’t allow that. He finished his drink, and stood.
Tapping the demon on the shoulder, he said, “It’s early. What’s the hurry? We haven’t been introduced.”
The demon turned, snarled at him and attempted to brush the vampire’s hand away.
“Vampires,” it sneered.
“One vampire,” Angel corrected. And as he expected, the demon swung a large fist in his direction. Casually, he sidestepped, hit the demon under its outstretched arm and in the ribs. A bottle careened off his shoulder and he turned to face the thrower.
Five minutes later, the demon he recognised as the kind that ate human babies lay dead on the floor. The barkeep had disappeared, and the other demons had stumbled away to nurse their wounds. The Scorpion Pit was a shambles. Angel helped himself to another drink and, careful of his own bruises, walked out into the storm.
Tonight a blizzard blew. It was howling with delight as it attacked the city and she was sure the weather was thumbing its nose at her. Why, oh why, wasn’t she on some beach on the Riviera, or on some Greek island inhabited by studly Greek Gods?
Stumbling through the night, her scarf wrapped about a mouth that was set in a hard line, Buffy found the den where demons went to relax or drown their sorrows. Dark and empty, the furniture in disarray, shattered glass liberally covering everything, the place was a total shambles. The demon she was seeking lay dead on the floor. A bar-room brawl, she surmised, and kicked the corpse as she left. If she didn’t kill something soon she wasn’t going to be responsible for her own actions.
After a hot shower and a bowl of pumpkin soup, Buffy fell asleep with the television showing how she could benefit from buying some exercise machine that could minimize her butt in six short weeks.
Every night he ventured out there were fewer demons to kill. The word was getting round that a demon hunter, or slayer, was in town. He ignored the unassuming demons, the ones that weren’t the murderous kind, they too disappeared underground in fear of their lives. He was content. The city folk deserved to have a Christmas that had one less threat, even if it were one they were not aware of.
He braved the stores one last time, and bought a few pieces of Christmas cheer. It was time to move on.
Buffy’s ire grew. The shopping she had intended to do, did do in the day time, fell far short of her expectations. The halls were decked alright, decked for a white Christmas. Dawn, and Buffy’s friends, were elsewhere. Elsewhere warm, and enjoying the joys of a summery Christmas. She didn’t think Dawn would appreciate a sweater in ninety-degree heat, ear muffs for Willow and mittens for the men would be a joke, and that was why she bought them. If they could leave her to her cold duty then they could suffer the cool presents she gave. She gave a mirthless laugh at the thought. Quipping in her head. She must be going mad.
None the less, she fished out the one thing she had been given, such a silly little bauble and placed it on the bedside table. A lady of indiscriminate age had simply walked up to her and thrust it in her hand, whispering, “Merry Christmas, my dear,” and scampered away before she could say, what? Looking at it brought back painful memories but she refused to put it away. Happy Holidays, she thought, now feeling just plain sad.
Night after night her patrols continued. She found demons dead, and nobody was talking. Vampires had either left the city knowing there was a slayer in town, or they hadn’t been there in the first place. Buffy knew that wasn’t true. There were signs of lairs in dank dark caverns underground and in abandoned buildings. Of people buffets, there were no bodies. It had been unsettling enough for her to cancel her flight out of there. Something was not right and she was pissed enough that she wanted to get to the bottom of it.
Her empty cup rattled on the small table with another slamming of her hotel door. The night had been like all the others. There was nothing for her to kill and it was getting old. Unless there was an apocalypse in the next 24 hours, she was leaving. She would be in time for Christmas, warm and sunny on a Mexican beach. She could join her family and get a tan. For the first time in nearly two weeks, Buffy almost smiled. But her temporary good mood vanished. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve. The flights would be full of people going places to be with their loved ones. She had no hope of catching one of those. The bathroom door threatened to buckle when she went through it. She decided that Christmas was cancelled.
Buffy’s mood hadn’t improved although it could be said she was resigned to her lot. Gloved hands tucked inside fur-lined pockets, she wandered through the streets, the warmth of the café behind her. Last minute shoppers scurried by, their packages wrapped in bright colours and gay ribbons. A bundle of rags, coat, and hat on the sidewalk caught her attention. The filthy ensemble was being worn by a man who was begging for change. People walked by not really seeing him. Beggars were ignored, and she was also guilty of that. Buffy had a big heart, but she told herself she had enough to do without worrying about every person on the planet. Feeling contrite as she walked by, she wondered how the man would survive the night.
The chill seeping through her winter coat made Buffy think it was time to head back to the hotel. There wasn’t anything more for her to do, try as she might. She decided that Christmas would be spent wallowing in her bed, the hotel’s movie channel on, and overindulgence to be had of the candy kind.
Clutching the bag that contained her chocolates, Buffy headed down a side street she hadn’t seen before. She hoped by its general direction it would lead her somewhere near her hotel. Buffy expected to find herself lost with the sort of luck she had been having. Her breath steamed small clouds of fog in the crystal cold air as she walked along the small street that surprisingly contained a number of homes.
Half-way down the road a shadow launched itself at her, and she whirled ready for an attack. There was no one there, and out of the corner of her eye she caught the motion of wings and a shape settling into a tree. Get a grip, she told herself, it’s only a bird. She scrunched her eyes for a better look at the bird and only saw the looming shape of the tree. The bird had appeared to vanish in the skeletal branches. Was it even there, she pondered? The snow-clad limbs almost dwarfed the house that sat behind it. The house was silent and dark. It looked forlorn amongst the bright Christmas trappings of its neighbours. The For Sale sign that jutted up out of the frosty earth in the front yard told its own story.
Buffy turned to leave. Something, a feeling, stayed her feet. That feeling burrowed its way deep inside her, triggering a response with a familiar tingle. Thinking her slayer instincts had kicked in, she decided to investigate the forsaken home. Walking up the path to peer in the windows, the house wasn’t as dark as she thought. Through an open door a glimmer of candlelight flickered. It was the only sign that the house was still occupied. She thought she should knock but in her experience she knew it didn’t do to forewarn a potential adversary. A narrow gate down the side of the house opened without a squeal and she slipped through to the back. The large window in the back wall was curtained off, making Buffy sigh with resignation. Break in it was, and hopefully there wasn’t a dear old lady sitting sound asleep in her chair on the other side. On that thought Buffy quietly broke the lock and stepped through the door. The washing machine looked on when she placed her chocolates down and when she tiptoed past into the kitchen.
Her stake in hand, Buffy continued on to the doorway to peer around the jamb. A magnificent tree stood decorated in green, red and gold, candlelight reflected in every globe. A fire was alive in the hearth, adding to the spectacle of light. The room was literally aglow and, in the flickering light, a dark shape loomed. Her heart stopped when she recognised the outline, his form forever etched in her memory. Her heart thumped loudly in her chest as it struggled to regain its beat. She shook from the sheer force of it. It seemed an eternity before she was able to speak.
“I guess you never forget the angel,” she said, fishing for something in her pocket and bringing it out for him to see.
Angel’s hearing had alerted him to the breaking of the lock and it informed him that a heart beat within his temporary abode. What he wasn’t prepared for was that unique smell that was Buffy. She was here. He stood there overwhelmed, swamped in memory and oh so much longing. He had had no idea she was in town and he felt saddened by that. Did that mean they had lost that special bond they used to share? Were they finally over, had they both moved on?
He turned, and he too had something in his hand.
Completely missing the point, he said, “I have one as a matter…” He saw what was in her outstretched hand and amended, “two,” and held up his own ornamental angel. It was a match to hers. He blinked in surprise.
Buffy inched forward, afraid to touch him, afraid that this was a dream and that he wasn’t really here. With elegant fingers, the dream pinched up her angel, and turning, placed them side by side on a branch near the top of the tree. He stepped away to look. She stared at the baubles, very aware of how close he was. She too was surprised to say the least, gobsmacked was more how she would describe it.
“How did…where did…what’s going on?” she finally managed.
His head turned her way. “I thought it nice. Don’t you?”
Buffy wanted to scream, what the hell? Instead, using considerable restraint, she asked, “Why a tree, Angel?”
His eyes, dark in a well-lit room, were now ebony bright, reflecting the gold-red of the flames. She shivered, looking into their intensity.
“Why not?” he replied.
She tore her gaze from his spell, and looked about the otherwise sparse room.
She pointed out, “Vampire, not big on the Christmas thing.”
“It’s pretty,” he said.
She stared at him.
“You like the Christmas tree thing,” he added.
She shook her head, grumbled, “This has been the worst two weeks of my life,” and moved to stand before the hearth. She stripped off her gloves and warmed her hands before the fire.
He dared not move and he dared not say anything in case this was a vision and one that would soon disappear. If it were so, it was very real to his senses. So, he waited for her to elaborate.
“I haven’t slayed anything, it’s been a waste of time. Everywhere I…” Comprehension dawned behind her eyes. They narrowed. “It was you. You’ve been here taking my kills.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry,” and admitted, “I didn’t know you were here.” He stared at her to see if that worried her as much as it did him. Buffy, however, had other things on her mind.
“You didn’t know…” she sputtered. “Do you know how cold it’s been? How icy a blizzard can be? Me trudging through the muck to find that you…” her tirade ran down because he had left the room, just like that. And then he was back with a glass.
He glanced at the bottle of wine he had above the hearth. “I think you need a drink,” and reached past her to retrieve the bottle of red. He poured a half a glass and held it out to her.
Eyes wide at his temerity, she took the glass and in defiance guzzled a large mouthful. Her sputter didn’t help her mood any. Nor did the sight of his smirk.
She slugged back the rest of her drink to prove she could handle it, prove to him she was a grown woman now. “To think I could be on a beach somewhere, sun, sand, sea, with Dawn and my friends. No, instead I’m here in this cold bleak place with...”
She watched as he picked up his own drink, and she couldn’t help it, her eyes devoured his lips when they closed around the rim of the glass. He had such luscious lips, she thought, and wondered why she was even thinking that way. They had moved on, right?
“I like the snow,” he said, with just a hint of longing.
Snow. The word from his lips stirred an ache in her memory and in her heart.
She tried to ignore it. They weren’t in each other’s lives anymore. Do you really believe that, she asked herself?
“Why are you in this empty house with a huge Christmas tree? Haven’t you somewhere better to be?”
“Not really. Besides, it’s nice. It’s pretty,” he said again. Angel looked away to the gilded pine. “It’s human. It’s Christmas, and I thought for once the people here deserved to have a safe and happy one.”
Dammit to Hell. Buffy felt her disgruntled mood leak away. Here she was grumbling about the cold, unhappy to be out doing, or not doing, her job. Whining about having a family to go home to and not being able…and here was Angel delighting in the joy of such a simple thing as a decorated tree. He had no one to share Christmas with, no family or friends, but, she realised, through a trick of fate, whatever, she was here and she could be his family, his loved one, even if it was only for one night. Her spirits lifted and she handed him her glass.
“I need a refill. Wait here.” She hurried out to the laundry and snatched up her parcel.
When she got back Angel had pulled back the curtains. It was snowing outside, and this time Buffy could appreciate the wondrous sight of it. The room was made beautiful with light and, she realised, good cheer. She gazed at the most beautiful sight of all, Angel. She had her own angel right here in this room. Maybe Christmas didn’t need to be cancelled after all. Feeling a lot like Ebenezer Scrooge, and she had to admit she had been acting like it for days now, maybe she had her own guardian angel. Maybe this was her second or third chance. She looked over at the two angels high up on the tree and smiled for the first time in days. Miracles did happen, of that she was sure, and at what better time than Christmas? It looked as if somebody had made sure that this particular miracle transpired.
Angel was watching, her wine in his hand.
She held out her box. “I have food.”
Angel scrutinised the box of candy, and blessed her with a smile she was sure was heaven made.
“Merry Christmas,” he said.
It was then she noticed the mistletoe.