Author: Dark Star
Summary: When you need help, who do you turn to?
Thanks to Jo for the beta.
It’s the sort of day when frost covers everything with a powdery sparkle. It looks pretty, but for a Californian girl it’s a bit too cold for comfort.
Buffy shivers, and pulls the collar of her jacket up to fit more snugly round her neck. The road stretches for miles, and there are no people or vehicles of any kind in sight. She crosses the road, and scrambles up the crisp bank toward the frost-covered trees. Something small scuttles away as she approaches, and she looks to see what’s made the noise but whatever it was has burrowed into the fallen leaves along the bank and disappeared from sight.
She follows the track as it winds away into the trees, and the light is beginning to fade by the time she emerges out on the other side of copse and finds that the track has widened out into a rough unmade road. Leaving the trees behind, she follows the rutted trail as it meanders uphill and opens out into a rustic car park.
She imagines that in the summer, this place is alive with holidaymakers and families, but at this time of year the car park is empty except for a black Plymouth convertible hiding under a clump of overhanging branches. She glances at the brooding car as she passes but she already knows that it’s empty, and she carries on through the gate and takes the track down toward the river. She’d expected to find him somewhere in the vicinity of the picnic area, but the wooden tables are empty. She pauses to get her bearings and then takes a left turn to follow the narrow track back down to the riverbank.
There are more tables dotted along the bank, and she can see somebody sitting at one of them, their large frame looking out of scale with the timbered seat. He swivels to face her as she approaches, his legs looking incongruously long in the half-light.
“We could’ve met in the coffee shop,” she says.
“Not too many of those in these parts,” he responds, and she can hear the amusement in his voice. She frowns, wondering when he got a sense of humour. She takes a seat on the other side of the table, hoping her small weight will balance the table and stop it tipping up.
When neither of them speaks for some minutes, she says, “How have you been?”
“Good.” He pauses. “You?”
Buffy sighs. Conversation with Angel was always difficult, for one reason or another. “The same.” Two can play at that game, she thinks, and then adds a little curtly, “What is it you want?”
She can almost hear his brain working, and she waits to see what he is going to say.
“I can’t come and see an old friend?”
She shuts that thought off before it forms, and folds her arms. “We aren’t friends, Angel. There is too much history, too much against us. You wanted to see me, I came, though for the life of me I don’t know why.”
“I need you to do something for me,” he says, and the flippant response that rises in her throat is stilled by the solemnity of his tone.
He pulls something from inside his jacket and puts a small folder on the table. She makes no move to pick it up, and the silence stretches for several long minutes.
“It’s Connor,” he says finally.
Her shoulders tighten at the mention of the boy’s name. She’s never met Connor, but knows very well who he is. And who gave birth to him.
“Miracle boy?” she says bitterly. “Isn’t it enough he exists?”
“I didn’t…” Angel begins, and then stops. When he speaks again, his tone is sharper. “This was a bad idea,” he gets up, and reaches for the folder. As his hand closes on the cover, Buffy’s hand instinctively covers his, and they both gasp at the same time. Neither of them moves, and then Angel finally pulls his hand away.
“What’s going on?” Buffy says, knowing full well it must have been something serious for Angel to seek out her help.
“There is a Christmas prophecy…” he begins, and Buffy groans. If she never hears another prophecy in her life, she will be A Happy Buffy.
“Let me guess. Child of two vampires will die at the hand of some Big Bad on Christmas Day and there is nothing you can do…?”
“Something like that.”
“So what can I do that you can’t?”
“The Big Bad is protected by wards that exclude vampires or anything with demon blood. There are no protections against humans.” He pauses, and then adds, “Will you help him? Buffy, I know… I know I hurt you, but Connor had no part in that.”
“Didn’t he?” she shoots back, and is gratified to hear his sharp intake of breath. She considers Angel’s request. From what she’s heard, Connor isn’t helpless, and the chances are he could look after himself without her. But… she wouldn’t be doing this for Connor, would she? Angel must be sufficiently worried to seek her out, and he had never asked her to protect him before. She reaches for the folder and drags it closer. Angel watches her white hand grip it tight and remembered how cold she had felt when her hand touched him earlier.
Your tiny hand is frozen he thinks.
“There is an Inn at the top of the hill,” he says slowly. “We could go there and discuss details?”
“Does it have a log fire?” she asks hopefully.
“Yes. And good food, or so I’m told.”
“I’m sold,” she says, standing up, and manoeuvres around the table to stand beside Angel.
“I appreciate this,” he says awkwardly, and Buffy shrugs.
“If it was Dawn, you’d do the same.” It isn’t a question, and he knows it doesn’t need an answer.
Angel takes her arm as they go up the slope toward the car park. Uphill, the track is more slippery and she is grateful for his support. If she ever needed proof that vampires aren’t bound by the same rules as mere humans, Angel’s ability to walk sure-footed on anything had to be it. That thought makes her shudder, and Angel, mistaking the shiver to mean she was cold, put his arm round her.
A mistaken motive it might be, but Buffy doesn’t care about why he holds her, only that he does. She looks up, and it’s so been so long, and he’s so close, and well, it is nearly Christmas, isn’t it?
“Shame we don’t have any mistletoe,” she whispers.
The kiss, when it comes, speaks of love and need, and wipes away all of those missing lonely years.
Who needs mistletoe, anyway?