By: Dark Star
The house stood back from the road, curtains drawn, but light leaked from an upstairs window where they hadn't been pulled together properly, and through the stained-glass panel in the front door. The front and side garden stood in shadow, hidden from the moon's rays by the trees in the front garden.
In the long shadows cast by the trees, something moved, and was still again. A cat on his nightly prowl for prey, gave the trees a wide berth and scuttled across the road to disappear under the parked cars. For a long time, the garden was silent.
Finally, he moved. Why did he do this to himself? What did he hope to gain by it? He sighed, the sound nothing louder than a whisper in the night air. He should go. But it was another twenty minutes before he began to move. Just as he started to turn, he heard a click, and his attention shot back to the house. He could see nothing, but he knew what he'd heard, and he focused on the narrow band of garden down the side of the house. A movement, and a moment later a figure emerged from the house.
Angel froze. The figure hurried down the side of the house, something clutched in her hand. She paused, close by the trees, but Angel knew she couldn't see him among the shadows. Yet, she stared directly at him, and his breath caught. Her eyes met his, and widened in surprise. She dropped the item in her hand, and Angel watched it bounce across the garden and roll into the road.
Without a second's thought, she raced after the ball and ran straight out into the road, oblivious to the car hurtling down the street in a hurry to get home for Christmas. But the car, for all its speed, was no match for the vampire that shot into the road, scooping up the child in his arms to carry her safely back to the sidewalk.
He was just placing the trembling child on the ground, but before he could withdraw, a woman ran from the house towards them.
"My god, Laura! How many times have I told you…" she spun to face him, astonishment on her face, as she encountered the one that had rescued the child. "Angel?"
He swallowed, and felt very much like a rabbit trapped in the headlights. "Buffy."
She frowned. "What are…" the child made a snuffling noise, and remembering what had happened, Buffy picked her up and held her tight. When she spoke again, her voice was very soft. "Thank you."
Angel shrugged, uncomfortable. "I was in the neighbourhood."
Buffy's attention was pulled back to the trembling child in her arms. "I should get her inside," she said.
"Right." Angel took a step back. "Have a good Christmas, Buffy." He smiled. "All of you."
"It wouldn't have been, if…" she swallowed the lump in her throat. "Would you like to come in? You know, for a drink, or…. Something?"
"I don't think so," he said gently. "Your husband…?"
"Oh." Now it was Buffy's turn to look uncomfortable. "Mark and I…" she shrugged. "He couldn't handle my world, Angel. One vamp too many, and he decided he wanted a regular life."
"He left you with the children?" Angel sounded outraged, and something…. An old wound, twisted inside her. "Why not? That's what the men in my life do, isn't it?" Angel winced, and her tone softened. "He wanted to take them. But… the children of the Slayer? Unprotected? That would have been a magnet for every evil thing this side of… of… something." She smiled. "He decided they would be safer with me."
Angel didn't know what to say to that, and he changed the subject. "She looks like you, you know."
"Do you think so?" she sounded pleased. "But I don't think I was ever that age."
"She's beautiful." But he was looking at her when he said that, and Buffy blushed. "It's Christmas, Angel. Nobody should be alone at Christmas. Come on in."
He hesitated. "Why are you alone? Shouldn't you be with family, and friends?"
"We can't. My youngest has measles. Dawn is coming over tomorrow, but tonight, there's just us."
"Well…" he hesitated; the thought of returning to his lonely room was rapidly becoming very unappealing.
"Can we show Angel the snow?" Laura suddenly said.
Angel looked up at the clear sky. "The snow?"
"Uh… yes." Buffy said awkwardly. "I bought her one of those globes. You know, the sort that you shake, and you get a scene filled with snow."
"Oh, those…" He thought wistfully of the one that he'd bought for Connor. "What scene is it?"
"A lovey one," the little girl supplied enthusiastically. "It had a man and a woman walking, and mom said it was full of love."
Angel's eyes met Buffy's. "I never realised that you were such a romantic."
"It reminded me of the day it snowed," she replied, her voice steady. "Come inside, Angel. We have a lot to catch up on, and… Laura wants to show you the snow."
Oh, heck… why not?
"I'd like that," Angel said, and awed by the tiny hand that appeared in his, he allowed her to lead him back to the house while Buffy walked alongside. Perhaps Christmas wouldn't be so lonesome this year after all.