Author: Dark Star
Summary: All I want for Christmas…
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon is creator and owner of all things Angel
Rating: PG 13
Notes: This is my offering for the ghost story challenge at the Blood Roses forum
Category: Romance, angst
Thanks to Becks for the edits.
Time: Christmas Eve, 19 minutes to midnight.
Finishing off the lines of the pentagram with utmost care, Angel sat back on his heels and glanced around. His room looked warm and welcoming, a soft glow from the abundance of candles casting an inviting ambience to his home.
Nervously, he ran a hand through his hair, suddenly wishing that he could see himself in a mirror and make sure that he looked presentable.
Angel anxiously patrolled his room, checking that the cushions were plumped up, his best shirt lay neatly to hand, and that everything was in order. Finally, nothing left to do, he knelt down next to the pentagram, and draped the shirt over his knees.
12 minutes to midnight
Almost trembling with anticipation, Angel fidgeted nervously. The minutes seemed to drag by, and he checked the clock for the hundredth time. Had the clock stopped? Was he going to miss it?
Worriedly checking his wristwatch, he was mildly calmed by what he saw, but he still fidgeted. Oh, god… wasn't it ever going to get here?
9 minutes to midnight
Carefully, Angel removed the ancient stone from round his neck. This stone was his most precious possession, and it had never - not for a single instant - left his sight from the moment that Willow had given it to him.
Cautiously, almost reverently, he leant forward and placed the stone in the very centre of the pentagram.
He drew his fingers reluctantly away from his precious stone and sat back again.
There was nothing left to do now but wait, and he couldn't help but steal another glance at clock. 5 minutes to go. Oh… supposing it doesn't work?
Unable to tear his gaze away from the stone, he allowed his memory to wander back to how it came into his possession. He felt again his original grief when Giles called to tell him that Buffy had been killed while bravely fighting a Vass Beast that was terrorising the local church. Angel was devastated that such a terrible thing should happen - and at Christmas of all times - that he had come very close to ending his own life too. He had been so distraught, so unwilling to bear her loss again, that he almost hadn't paused when the phone had rung again. Willow's voice struck dread into his heart; he had a horrible fear that they had dragged Buffy back yet again. As much as he selfishly wanted her back, he knew she would have hated that, and he allowed his anger to spill out and he raged at her.
Once she could get a word in, Willow assured him it was nothing like that, and she begged him not to do anything silly. She had something for him, she said, to do with Buffy, and curiosity held him back from a final walk in the sunlight.
When she arrived, Willow handed him a box containing a grey, uninviting piece of rock, and he stared at her in confusion.
"It's a Brazilian soul stone," she said, meaningfully.
Angel stared back, not understanding why that was important.
"I gave it to Buffy for Christmas," Willow explained. "I made her hold it. She was meant to give it to you to hold but she never got the chance." Willow shrugged, "It was meant to unite your souls together and bring you both peace - forever."
"Oh." Angel muttered, struggling through his grief to understand what this was supposed to mean. "That's a… shame?"
"No, no," Willow said impatiently, "You don't understand. Buffy was the last person to touch this, meaning that her soul was imprinted upon it, and locked at one place. That means, that once a year, on the anniversary of her death, you can activate it and bring her back."
"What?" Angel screeched, almost dropping the stone in his astonishment.
"I know what you're going to say," Willow went on. "But this isn't going to disturb her eternal rest or keep her out of heaven or anything like that. It's… just a visit. She can only stay for twenty-four hours - but in that time she'll be here, and she'll be real, Angel."
Willow explained how to activate the stone, should he chose to do so. Realising how important it was to keep the stone safe, Angel asked her to set up a protection spell over it, and Willow promised that as long as he lived, then both the stone and Buffy's presence would be kept safe inside it.
For the whole year he struggled with the decision about whether to activate the stone, but in the end, he couldn't resist it. Selfish, perhaps, but he couldn't bear the thought of not seeing her ever again.
His attention was dragged back to the present, when the stone began to ripple with a gentle blue light. His eyes darted to the clock, and saw the time was exactly midnight.
He stared back at the stone, attention riveted to the light. He watched with rapt awareness as the light turned to mist, slowly solidifying into the human form of the only woman he had ever truly loved.
Angel sat absolutely still, afraid that a sudden movement would make her disappear again, and it was only when she was completely corporeal did he whisper, "Buffy."
Her welcoming smile radiated warmth, and she breathed, "Angel."
She blinked, her eyes adjusting to the light, and Angel was glad that he had remembered to use the candles. For a short while after materialising, her senses were hyper-aware, and bright light hurt her eyes. Angel moved, slowly and deliberately, and wrapped the shirt around her shoulders to cover her naked body. The stone was only able to activate her presence, not clothing, and he always had something to hand for when she came back to him. At first, he always bought her something to wear - usually something expensive and beautiful like a gorgeous silk robe. But she had gently asked if she could wear something of his because she said it made her feel small and fragile and closer to him; So now, he bought himself something beautiful, and kept it just for her.
She melted against him, warm and human, and he enfolded her in his arms in awe. He didn't know exactly what she was, and he didn't really care; for one precious day, once a year, she was his. He lived for this day; it was what kept him going through the hard times, through pain and loneliness, to keep this rendezvous with her.
One awful year, they had argued. It had been a particularly bad year, and he hadn't eaten properly or taken care of himself. Buffy told him, in no uncertain terms, that if he didn't look after himself she wouldn't come back. That prospect had scared him so much, that he had vowed to her to be more careful. She made him promise to live for her; to do things, make friends, even take lovers, because she couldn't bear him to be alone. He had agreed - with reservations about the lovers - to please her. Anything, just as long as she kept coming back to him.
It was a beautiful day, full of love and laughter. They talked, and loved, and touched. He leant her some clothing and they went for a walk in the park, stopping under an ancient oak to reacquaint themselves with each other. She teased him over his attempts to make her something to eat, and he luxuriated in being able to see, taste, and touch her.
But time doesn't stand still, and as midnight approached, their mood grew more serious. Lying on the bed, curled up in Angel's embrace, Buffy stirred and looked up at him.
"You promise to look after yourself this year?"
"Of course," he replied, before briefly closing his eyes. "But it's hard, Buffy. I miss you so much."
"I know," she whispered, gently stroking his cheek. "But it's not our time yet, Angel. When you have finished your work for The Powers… we will be together. I promise."
"I…" he started to say, but his voice cracked and he fell silent. She hated it when he fell apart, and he mustered all his resources to be strong for her, and he just held her tightly.
A slight hum was coming from the stone, and they both rose from the bed and crossed reluctantly back toward the stone. Buffy removed his shirt, and handed it silently back to him and then went to stand in the centre of the pentagram, her eyes firmly linked with his for the whole time.
Her hand sought his, and her eyes glistened as she murmured, "Same time, next year?"
He nodded, unable to speak, and watched sadly as her body shimmered with the blue light, before turning translucent and finally flickered away. He couldn't move; for a long time he stood there, the shirt she had worm clutched tightly against his chest as he just stared at the place where she had been.
When he finally found the strength to move, he bent down to pick up the precious stone and carefully returned it to its usual resting place near his heart. Stiffly, he began tidying up the room and bringing it back to normal. All he had to do was just get through the next year, and she would be his again. He stopped, sinking into the nearby armchair and letting his head forward into his hands.
It was so difficult, and he longed to be with her so much. His fingers curled round the Brazilian stone, and he was comforted to know that she was there with him. Every year he hoped he would be released from his fealty and he could be with her. Every year he hoped that this would be their last stolen meeting and he could rest. But the Powers had not yet finished with him. For seven hundred and ninety-three years he had waited, hoping that this would be his last year.
He stood, going about his tasks, and trying not to feel sad. Whatever he had to do, whatever it took, he would do it. If it meant working another thousand years, he would do it, gladly.