Author: Dark Star
Summary: Warriors don’t get days off.
Pairing: Buffy and Angel.
Thanks to Jo for the beta. Any mistakes are all mine.
Written for Christmas Warriors.
Johann slammed the heavy gate behind him as he stormed down the lane. He hated sisters and he hated his parents. They always took the girls’ side and it wasn’t fair. Why didn’t they ever listen to him? Angrily he kicked at the pebbles along the path and he watched them rattle off the path and across the grass.
Stupid family. He scowled as he left the path and headed toward the trees. The air was crisp and sharp and he dug his hands further into his pockets. He found a quiet clearing in the woods and he plopped himself down on a sawn-off tree stump. He was going to move out. He’d be old enough soon and then he’d be able to do something exciting…
It was chilly here, and Johann zipped his coat up a little tighter, brooding about the unfairness of everything. As the sun began to sink lower in the sky, the light in the clearing changed, and the boy could see something shining across the clearing. Curious, he got up and crossed over to where the shiny something lay partly hidden in the undergrowth; He grabbed the curved edge and pulled. A funny-looking horn slithered out of the vegetation. Rubbing the grubby artefact against his coat he studied the heavy horn. It looked very old. What would it sound like? He wiped the mouthpiece with his hand, lifted the horn to his lips and gave a mighty blow.
The bellow of the horn was eerie here amongst the trees. Not willing to admit the sound spooked him a little bit, he casually dropped the horn back where he found it, telling himself he’d leave it for the owner to find later. He frowned, looking up at the sky. It was getting dark really quickly. Was a storm coming? There was a rumble in the distance as he quickened his pace back home. The storm sounded very close, and he could swear he heard dogs howling. Wasn’t it a bit late for the hunters to be out?
The tree stood tall and grand in the corner of the lounge. Dawn balanced on top of the stepladder, waiting impatiently for Buffy to pass the tinsel. She had always loved decorating the tree, and the older Summers women had happily given the job to her as soon as she was old enough to do it properly.
“So, then Ralph said…” Buffy grinned, handing the next string of tinsel to her sister, and tuning out the excited chatter. She was pleased her sister had settled down with a really nice young man. A lecturer in something or other. Tin, she thought. Or maybe mining. Whatever. They had married just three months ago, and of course Buffy wished her every happiness, but it made her feel a bit lonely. She was older than Dawn, and still not settled, and it made her feel very old indeed. Why did she have such trouble keeping men? Was she that unattractive?
“Of course, that was before the hat exploded in the microwave.”
“Well, it would,” Buffy said, noticing for the first time the odd look Dawn was giving her. And then she realised what her sister had said. What? A microwave…?
“You haven’t heard a word, have you?” Dawn sighed but she was smiling. “Pay attention, will you? I’m going to ask questions later…”
“Sorry,” Buffy started to say when the telephone began to ring. Since Dawn was still standing on the ladder, Buffy trotted off toward it. “I’ll get it!”
“Hi Giles! Happy nearly-Christmas!”
“Uh… yes, about that…” The tone of his voice sent her heart plummeting. Oh, no – not today! “Buffy, there’s a bit of a problem…”
The problem, as it turned out, was a spate of children going missing. Giles had been contacted by an old friend, Adele Lacost, who had been convinced that the local disappearances had a supernatural explanation. Willow had said that there were dark forces rising, and signs in the area that forecast something big was coming. Giles wanted Buffy, as the nearest slayer, to check out the incident.
Dawn had seen Buffy’s expression change as she talked to Giles, and she got down off the ladder. When her sister hung up, she said, “I’ll get your bag, shall I?”
Adele Lacost was a very plump woman in her forties with big hair and a big smile to match. She owned and ran the local cab company - a wooden shack just opposite her house. She was knitting booties when Buffy arrived, and she explained the booties were for her unborn grandson, due at the end of January. She welcomed Buffy with a bright smile and lots of exclamations about how tiny she was, and then made her a hot drink and regaled her with stories of the local colourful characters. Only then did she get down to business.
Local children had been going missing for the last two weeks, and nothing had been found of them in the local area. Police were hunting further away but parents were naturally very worried, and were keeping their own children indoors until an explanation for the disappearances could be found.
“Why do you think it’s supernatural forces at work?” Buffy asked.
“The lad who helps out on Saturday in the local store is the grandson of an old friend of mine. His name is Johann. He’s a good boy, very down-to earth, and I’ve never known him to indulge in fancy. But… he told me a story.”
“What kind of story?”
“When he was out in the woods, he found an old horn. He doesn’t know why, but he felt compelled to blow into it and then he got a bit scared and threw the horn back in the bushes before he went home. That night there was a terrible storm, and the next day the first child disappeared. Johann went back to where he’d put the horn and that had gone, too.”
“You believe him? You think there is a connection?”
“I do. Buffy, I heard the storm too, and it was like nothing I’d ever heard before. I knew that something was going to happen when I heard it. Those children are in danger, and if there is anything you can do to help them – anything at all – then it should be looked into.”
Buffy nodded, hoping that Adele’s confidence in her was not unfounded.
Buffy went over to the house with Adele, who made her some soup, showed her the guest room and generally made her feel at home. She told Buffy she would be welcome to stay as long as she needed to, and Buffy was relieved she wouldn’t have to search out anywhere to stay that night if she needed to.
As soon as it grew dark, Buffy set off on a scouting mission, looking for clues of what was to come, and signs of the missing children.
Finding nothing around town or close vicinity, she started up the hill toward the wooded areas.
A noise up ahead sent Buffy hurrying toward it. Something – lots of somethings – were rushing toward her. Choosing a spot to the left of the gap in the trees where the somethings would need to come out of, she hefted her sword and waited.
She didn’t have long to wait as minutes later something blue dashed past her. The small shape saw her and screamed. It was a child.
Buffy hastily dropped the sword as more children ran out of the trees, terrified and crying, five of them gathered around the first child and they all huddled together in fear. Buffy did her best to calm and reassure them, and when they had quietened down she asked what had happened.
“The man…” a little boy sobbed.
“What man?” Buffy asked. “Did he hurt you?”
The little boy was sobbing so hard she couldn’t hear what he was saying. An older girl hugged him and replied, “No. The man helped us get away from the things…”
More gentle questions revealed the story. Each of the children had been abducted and taken to the woods where a group of white-faced men-things had kept them chained and imprisoned. They hadn’t been hurt but the captors had not been kind to them, taunting and bullying the frightened children. When the white-faced men had started moving the children somewhere else, a big man had arrived and fought the white men, allowing, and helping, the children to run away.
Buffy sent the children home, assuring them she would find the white men/things and take care of them. At the top of the rise, she shivered as the chilly wind found her, and she hurried along the path in the direction that the children had indicated. On the left, a figure moved and she changed direction, heading toward it.
She found the figure leaning against a tree.
“You must be the man…?” she guessed.
He moved from the tree and stepped toward her.
“I didn’t expect to see you here,” she said. “I found the children further down. Thank you.”
He shrugged, “You’d have done the same.”
“Do you know where the white-faced creatures are?”
Angel shook his head. “Gone. There is no sign of them up here now.”
“Damn. Do you know what we’re dealing with?”
“Have you heard of The Hunt?”
“Those mystical things in the sky? They did a song about that.”
“They… did?” he wasn’t sure what he supposed to say about that. “There are many legends of The Hunt, many versions of the story told around the world. One legend has it that they collect the souls of the dead, and another that they are warriors fallen in battle. The Hunt has to be called, though I don’t know yet who did so.”
“A local story says a little boy found an old horn a few days ago and blew on it. That’s never a good plan, and if what you say is true, then he’s lucky to be alive.”
“He’s very lucky.”
Buffy started to walk back down the hill and Angel dropped into place beside her.
“Do you know what they wanted the children for?”
Angel’s expression was grim. “Sacrifice for the winter solstice. Accompanying The Hunt is a demon called Orean. Nasty piece of work he is – been trying to get into our reality for years. He must have found a way through and hitched a ride. His minions are Dest’a demons – not too bright, but will do anything for the right price.”
“Well,” Buffy said with satisfaction, “that’s six little sacrifices he’s not going to have this year.”
Angel stopped walking. “Buffy… I rescued seven children.”
Her eyes widened. “Then… where is the other one?”
A frantic search of the woods and hillside revealed no trace of the missing child. With a heavy heart Buffy returned to town, with Angel accompanying her. Buffy’s mood was dour. She felt responsible for the child – lamenting the fact that if she’d noticed earlier, the child would be safe now. Supposing they couldn’t find her?
“From what I’ve heard,” Angel said, “the sacrifice is meant to take place at midnight. There is nothing much we can do here now – I think we should come back later.”
Buffy had planned on taking Angel back to Adele’s home, but when they passed the cab office, she could see the older woman inside, looking anxious and flustered. She crossed the road.
The wooden taxi office had a part-frosted glass front, and a desk that had phones connecting them to the local taxis. There was room for one seat behind the counter and another two in front, where the customers could wait. Behind the desk a door led to a tiny kitchenette – old, but usable and clean, and another door that led to a toilet and washbasin. The place was nothing grand, but Adele was proud of it, and she had bright pictures and vases of plants all around the front office to make it seem welcoming. A small Christmas tree glittered in the window.
Buffy pushed the glass door open. “Are you okay, Adele?”
Adele gave her a quick, if nervous, smile that encompassed them both, “My daughter has had a fall. They think she’s going to be all right but she’s getting pains and she’s not due for another month. I really need to go and see her but I’m waiting for Dan to come back from a call. He needs his paycheck, and I don’t think he’ll be long but…”
“Go.” Buffy said, hastily interrupting the anxious woman’s babble. “If he’s going to be here soon, I’ll wait for Dan.”
Relieved, Adele gave Buffy a quick hug, “You are a dear, thank you.” She gave Buffy her spare keys, and quickly explained where everything was and then grabbed her bag. “If you need to go dear, just lock up. I’ll go and see Dan when I get back…”
Buffy grinned, waving her off. “Go! Be with your daughter, Adele.”
Adele hurried off and Buffy perched herself on the edge of the desk. “So,” she said with an attempt at her usual cheeriness, “What happens now?”
“We wait. There is nothing we can do until later.”
“I know, but…”
“You’re thinking of the child,” he said. “She will be safe enough until the ritual later. They need her alive.”
“Supposing we don’t find her?”
She looked worried, and he stepped closer to offer her comfort. She accepted the hug gratefully, and felt bereft when he released her.
Buffy made two mugs of coffee in the tiny kitchen and then returned to the office. It felt odd to be here with Angel. She wasn’t surprised that in their line of work that their paths would cross occasionally, and they did in fact keep in touch every so often with the odd phone call. But they hadn’t spoken in a while, not since Dawn had married, and there was a lot of news for them both to catch up on. Eventually, they fell into an awkward silence. Buffy’s eyes drifted to the decorations on the tree.
“What are you doing for Christmas, Angel?”
His smile turned her heart to mush. “Oh, you know – a little evil here, a big bad there. I’ll be busy.”
“You could come with me to Dawn’s”, she murmured before she’d had time to think about it. “She wouldn’t mind.”
“You know Dawn’s fond of you. She’d like to see you again.”
“That’s…” he shook his head. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Buffy. But I appreciate the offer.”
“I don’t like to think of you being alone,” she said and then added with a mischievous grin, “If you could choose, what would you want for Christmas?”
Maybe it was the grin that prompted his answer, because he replied, “I have what I want right now.”
Her mischievous smile turned into something that harboured more longing, and she didn’t protest when he raised his hand and stroked cool fingers across her cheek. She wasn’t sure which of them moved first, but the kiss wasn’t entirely unexpected.
The embrace lasted longer than she meant it to, and as it began to escalate she broke the kiss.
“We can’t,” she breathed.
Angel pulled back just enough so that he could see her face. “We won’t,” he promised before adding wistfully, “but I wish…
His words trailed off and he rested his head against hers so she couldn’t see his face. “You wish what?” she asked.
He straightened. “Nothing,” he said firmly.
Curiosity piqued, she wasn’t about to let that pass, so she said, “You had wish-face. It’s Christmas, Angel. Tell me what you wished for.”
He was standing so close to her, she could smell the leather of his jacket, and all she could think of was having him kiss her again. When he didn’t answer, she said again, “Tell me.”
Holding her breath, she waited to see if he would answer, and then he said softly, “I was thinking about how much I want to touch you. But I know we can’t,” he added quickly.
Buffy hesitated. She knew she should say no. But she was missing home, and she was missing her family, and yes – she missed Angel, too. She was very aware of his presence in this small room, and she was also aware that the office was far too public for what he had in mind. Looking out of the window, across the road a man was briskly walking his dog along the path. Buffy reached down to take Angel’s hand.
“Not here,” she said gently.
Angel let her lead him into the tiny kitchenette. There wasn’t much more privacy in the back, so Buffy went behind the door, pulling the willing Angel behind her. As soon as the part-open door hid them from view, they were in each other’s arms again, lips exploring, searching and remembering.
It had been so long, and it felt so good to feel him again and she revelled in the sheer size and strength she felt in his solid body; The smell of his skin, the touch of his hands on her flesh, were the mainstay of so many of her dreams. As need grew, the kiss escalated rapidly, and she moaned when his hands found their way under her shirt, tracing cool patterns across her warm skin.
Angel’s body pressed her against the old kitchen cabinet, making it hard for her to breathe, and the confined space made it difficult to move. Without breaking the kiss, Angel bent his knees, reaching down under her bottom, lifting her easily and perched her on the edge of the counter.
Her arms curled round his neck, pulling him closer, and she squirmed happily when her skirt rucked up round her waist, and Angel’s fingers began to work their way under the elastic of her underwear. That was when the phone began to ring.
Angel hesitated, causing Buffy to wrap her legs round his and growl, “Don’t even think about stopping!”
Neither of them noticed at what point the telephone stopped ringing.
Once out on the hunt again later that evening, Angel picked up the scent belonging to one of the white faced demons. He said it was a recent one, and they used the scent to track the demon, figuring it would be heading toward the midnight ceremony. They could see some kind of camp fire up ahead. Buffy shivered, her slayer senses tingling.
“Can you feel that?”
“Yeah. Something Big is coming.”
Something Big could not be a good sign, but at that point they spotted the demon they were tracking entering a clearing in the woods. The clearing was alive with activity. To the left, an altar of sorts was being constructed, while other Dest’a appeared to be preparing a feast of fruits and something that looked like little round loaves. At the centre of the activity, a small child of about five years old crouched against a tree. She was dry-eyed but clearly terrified. Demons milled about, tending to their allotted chores and mostly ignored the child. There was no sign of Orean.
“What do you want to do?” Angel whispered.
“Time?” she whispered back.
Angel looked at his watch. “11.30.”
Buffy glanced around the clearing.
“Where’s yours?” he asked.
Hers? Oh, he meant her watch. “Vampire stomped on it. I’m hoping for a new one for Christmas.”
“Yeah…” Buffy frowned. “Where’s Orean?”
“Maybe he wants to make a grand entrance?”
They waited, concealed by the bushes, and watched for the arrival of Orean or other developments. The Dest’a appeared restless, growing more agitated as midnight approached.
“Something isn’t right,” Buffy eventually said. “What time do you make it?”
“Nearly ten to twelve. Orean ought to be here right now.”
“I don’t like it.” She came to a decision and stood up. “Let’s get the girl.”
He grinned. “Nothing I’d like better.” He stood with her, and the weight of his sword felt good in his hand. He was looking forward to the fight. Just the two of them together… it would be like old times.
She grinned at him. “You know we’re outnumbered, right?”
He shrugged. “Aren’t we always?”
She moved, fast as lightning, and pandemonium erupted in the clearing as they broke cover.
Some of the Dest’a headed toward them, claws out, and fangs bared. Buffy was vaguely aware of the demons clustering protectively around the child, but she appeared to be in no immediate danger so Buffy’s attention returned to the clawed problem at hand.
Sword raised, adrenaline pumping, she went to work. Angel was by her side, giving her both strength and support, protecting her back.
Together they worked their way through the mass of demon bodies. The Dest’a were big, and strong, but their fighting skills were no match for the pair of supernatural beings in their midst, and slowly, Buffy and Angel hacked their way through the frenzied crowd.
Buffy half expected the Dest’a to use the child as a hostage but instead, when it became clear to them that the warriors in their midst were powerful together, the remaining demons made a run for it. Angel went after the fleeing creatures while Buffy went for the child. At first the little girl shrank away from her, fearing her sword, but then ran to her for safety and Buffy picked her up, trying to shield her from the carnage in the clearing. The child clung to Buffy’s side, shaking with fear, and she hid her face against Buffy’s shoulder.
Angel returned to Buffy’s side. He was smiling. “That was fun.”
“You should get out more,” Buffy responded affectionately.
Picking their way through the fallen bodies, they left the clearing and then heard something crashing through the undergrowth toward them. Buffy paused, arms full of child, and Angel stepped in front of her just as Orean burst through the trees, panting heavily.
Angel looked at his watch. 12.15. “You’re a little late,” he said.
Orean scowled, clearly angry. “Do you know how hard it is to get a taxi around here?”
Buffy stared at him, and then started to laugh.
Orean glared at her, and took a step toward the child. Buffy tensed but didn’t move – knowing that Angel would protect them. He moved faster than Orean, sword raised and vamp face sliding into place. Orean backed up.
“You’ll be sorry,” Orean warned. That made Buffy laugh even harder, and Orean scowled, running off through the trees, with Angel following him. As he did so, the wind seemed to spring up out of nowhere, and the supernatural energy they had felt earlier increased tenfold. Overhead he could hear the rumble of thunder, and he frowned as Orean’s body began to shimmer and then disappeared from view completely. What…..
The rumble grew louder, accompanied by the eerie howl of dogs, and he groaned. That was no storm coming at them. He needed to get back to Buffy, and fast.
“What’s happening?” she cried as he raced out of the trees, the blaring of horns and rumbling in the heavens following close behind him.
“Orean’s gone back to The Hunt. It’s heading toward us.” He reached her side and warned, “Whatever happens, don’t look at them.”
The rumbling grew louder, filling the air with the terrible clamour of racing hooves. Horns blasted out their eerie call and dogs howled into the wind. The noise was deafening.
Buffy’s face looked pale against the night sky, and her eyes were wide as she said breathlessly, “Shouldn’t we run? If they catch us…”
“We can’t outrun The Hunt, Buffy. Get on the floor.”
It said volumes for the extent of her fear that she had no quip in response to that. Her life often depended on trusting her instincts, and she trusted Angel implicitly. She dropped without a word, curling herself protectively around the terrified child, cradling her head so she couldn’t look at the sky. The ruckus in the heavens grew louder, and she had to fight the instinct to look upwards, to see what was bearing down on them, but she knew she must not. There was an unnatural feel to the air. Static spiced the atmosphere and then The Hunt was upon them.
Once Buffy had hit the ground, Angel followed them down and used his own body to shield both of them. It was not a moment too soon, because she could feel the sky overhead full of otherworldly things, a terrible pounding in the sky accompanied by the baying of hounds. Buffy buried her face in Angel’s shoulder so that she wouldn’t see what was coming. She had one arm wrapped round the child, the other round Angel’s muscled body, fingers desperately digging in to the leather of his jacket. Something cold raced across the bare skin of her hand, making her moan in fear and clutch at him in desperation. More sensations of cold crossed her skin and she shivered, gooseflesh rising on her arms. Things that felt like ghostly paws thudded over her hands, and worse, the dreadful weight of heavy hooves trampling their bodies into the ground and she could barely hear the girl screaming in fear, while her own terror was drowned out by the howling of the buffeting winds.
She wasn’t sure how long she lay there after The Hunt passed, but when Angel made no attempt to move she started to grow concerned, not least because he was very heavy on top of them. She started to squirm out from under him, but he groaned in such a way that made her blood run cold. Was he all right? The Hunt hadn’t hurt him, had it?
Legend has it that The Hunt collects souls of the dead.
No. Oh, no.
When he made no response, she called his name again, with the same result.
“Look at me.” She commanded, her voice allowing no disobedience. “Now.”
He moved, slowly, pulling himself up on his elbows so that he could comply. Her scrutiny was intense. Could she tell just by looking at him? Shouldn’t she know?
Angel frowned, not understanding why she was so scared now that the danger had passed. It wasn’t like her to dwell on might have happened.
“Are you all right?” she whimpered, and… something about the way she was looking at him registered and he suddenly understood what she was frightened of.
“It’s okay,” he whispered. “I’m all right.”
Her sob told him he’d been right in his assumption and he rolled, pulling them both over with him so that they were on top and he hugged her tight.
“It’s all right.”
“So,” Buffy was saying on the telephone. “Orean must have gone with The Hunt. I guess we won’t see him again, so that’s that. I might get to spend a bit of Christmas with Dawn after all.”
“That might be a bit premature,” Giles was saying, and her spirits plummeted. Now what? “If records are to be believed, now that Orean has, in effect, a toe-hold in this realm he can return.”
“Return?” Buffy said suspiciously. “Any idea when?”
“At the next winter solstice, or thereabouts,” Giles said, sounding unusually evasive.
“Next year?” Buffy exclaimed, relief flooding through her. “Well, that’s okay. We get here early, kick his demon ass and then go home in time for dinner!”
“In theory that sounds wonderful,” Giles said. “But…”
Buffy held her breath; she hated it when he did that.
“We might know when, but we don’t know where. Nor do we know what he will want next time he’s here, I’m afraid.”
Buffy grinned, spirits restored.
“Well, you have a whole year to figure it out Giles. I have faith in you!”
“That could be unfounded,” he replied but she could tell from his voice he was pleased. “Go home, Buffy, You’ve earned your Christmas.”
“Going!” she says cheerily. “Have a good Christmas, Giles.”
“You too, Buffy. Give my love to Dawn.”
Buffy set the phone back on its cradle. “You heard that?”
“Yes,” Angel said, watching her zip up her bag. “Are you… going to bring slayers to help you next year?”
Her cheerful smile lit up the room.
“What, and spoil their Christmas? I wouldn’t want to do that. I need somebody who doesn’t celebrate Christmas to help…. Do you know anybody who fits the bill?”
Neither of them bothered to mention that not all of Buffy’s slayers were Christians.
“I’ll be there.”
Buffy wriggled into her jacket and picked up her bag. When she got to the door she turned round.
“Happy Christmas, Angel.”