Let it Snow
Author: Dark Star.
Rating: Suitable for a Christmas audience…
Summary: Angel has no place to go.
Thanks to Jo for the beta.
The compacted snow crunched under his black boots as he picked his way through the frantic shoppers trying to get everything done before the stores closed for Christmas. He left the busy street behind and made his way down the back streets and through the park gates. To his left stood the floodlit playground, watched over by loving parents trying to wear out their little darlings and get them to use up their excess energy before bedtime or they would never get to sleep.
Angel paused, his body hidden in the shadows, and watched the children running about and playing, and their cheerful voices tugged at his gut. What must it be like to feel as free as they did? Had he ever been as innocent as they? Sadly, he turned away, and, ignoring the concrete path, chose his own course through the gardens. His sensitive hearing picked out animals scuffling around in the grass, and he made his way through the denser vegetation. He paused.
"Do you love me?"
The girls' voice wafted through the darkness toward him. "Course." The boy responded eagerly. "You know I do."
Angel moved silently; he wanted to see the girl's expression as she replied, her voice whisper quiet. "Say it…"
The boy pulled her close, kissing the top of her dark head, and whispered the vital words that he would forget in the morning. Reassured, she lifted her face to let him kiss her, and didn't seem to notice that he was already pulling urgently at her clothes.
Angel watched the age-old scenario unfold, and reach its necessary conclusion. Only then, did he move away. It had been so long since he had made contact with another person, and he envied the young couple and their brief liaison. A few moments of comfort were infinitely better than none at all. He left the park and ventured down the side street toward his current abode. Home would be an incorrect name for it - he did little more than shelter from the daylight inside its stark walls.
He reached the old house and descended the steep steps to the basement. The rooms were spacious and dry, but they were very cheap because the apartment had no natural light. He hung his coat up in the hall, before going through to the kitchen to make some tea. The tea had been his little extravagance, and usually, the soothing blends made him feel much better. But not tonight. Tonight he craved company. His fingers curled round the mug to savour the heat; tonight, he craved warmth.
The apartment had no heating. It didn't usually matter - he didn't feel the cold in that way. But, he did feel. Coming to a decision, he put the mug on the drainer and put his coat back on. He wasn't completely sure where he was going, but he needed to be close to people tonight.
He passed by all of the normal nondescript and dismal bars that he normally frequented. This was Christmas Eve, and just for once, he needed something bright, cheerful and noisy. And, you never knew - maybe he could even find another lonely soul willing to share the night with him.
The club he chose was brash, vulgar, and bursting with humanity, and he paid his entry fee and went inside. He crossed the foyer, ignoring the young couple kissing just inside the door, and made for the double doors leading into the noisy arena.
The crash of sound made him wince, and instinctively he sought out the dimly lit contours of the room until his eyes grew more accustomed to the glare. The place was seething with life, and with blood, and he swallowed. He realised he should have fed before coming here, but still, he wasn't going to lose control. He'd had too much experience of denial for that. But he could not ignore the press of humanity on his senses. Sweat, perfume, blood and alcohol, to name but a few scents that assaulted him.
Concealing himself in the darker sides of the room felt natural to him, and all around him others were seeking the shadows to make out, and he found that picking his way around the multitude of couples made him feel all the more alone. He crossed the dance floor, making for the bar. He needed a drink.
He ordered a whisky and turned to observe the mass of bodies entwining with others of their species in whatever way they could. Lovers holding hands, dancing and kissing. Groups of friends, gathered in huddles and making bright conversation. From behind him, laughter erupted and he sighed.
"That was a big sigh," somebody said. "You sound depressed." Angel turned back at the sound of the voice. Blue eyes were clearly appraising him. "I've been told that," he replied.
"Do you want company?" The blue eyes twinkled, and Angel hesitated. The possibility of spending Christmas Eve with another being was enticing, but the night was still young, and he didn't want to commit himself so early. "Maybe later," he said gently.
Blue eyes looked regretful. "If you change your mind… " heoffered and then disappeared back into the crowd.
Angel moved away from the bar and found himself a quiet shadowy corner. His drink clutched in his hand, he chose a spot that gave him a clear view over the dance floor, and allowed himself to indulge in one of his favourite pastimes. People watching. That was when he saw the large group of girls come in; pretty dresses, big smiles, and in here, that in itself was nothing unusual. But the itch in his skin brought him on the alert, and there, right in the middle, was Buffy.
He saw her shoulders tense and he knew she'd felt him. He considered moving before she saw him, but it would do no good, because she already knew he was there. He saw her scan the crowd, and as her gaze settled on him, it felt as though the crowds had gone into slow motion. She frowned, unsure of what to do, and then she turned away to follow her friends down to the bar. His shoulders relaxed. He hadn't realised that he had tensed up on seeing her. There had been no welcoming smile from her, and that had hurt. He was certain that she had seen him; didn't he even warrant a raised eyebrow these days?
He crossed over to the darkened edges again, and he tried not to look for her but he couldn't help seeking her out. She was like a damned magnet to him. She hadn't changed a bit. She was older, of course, but she carried it well; she was still beautiful, still vibrant; still her.
He didn't know any of the girls with her, and none of them warranted more than a cursory glance; she was the single recipient of his attention. She laughed and chatted with her friends, she drank a little too much for his liking, and danced with handsome suitors he wanted to tear into shreds for putting their hands on her.
As the evening wore on, the girls started to drift away; some went home, some wanted to spend time with members of the opposite sex, and finally, Buffy too, got up to leave. A friend went with her, and he followed them at a discreet distance. Buffy walked the girl down a nearby alley to her car, helped her brush off the snow that had fallen while they were inside, and waited while she drove away. She hesitated. She turned round and came back down the alley. He shrunk back into the shadows.
She stopped. "Aren't you going to say hello?"
She folded her arms. "Come on out, Angel. It's cold out here, and it's disturbing talking to a disembodied voice from the darkness."
He missed the teasing tone of her voice. All he heard was, it's cold out here. By the time he'd reached her, he had pulled off his coat, and offered it to her.
She looked at the coat, and then at him. "Haven't we done this bit before?"
She hadn't said no, so he stepped forward and draped the coat round her shoulders. It swamped her, of course; it made her look so small and fragile, and he wanted to…
She stepped away from him, but she kept the coat draped round her shoulders.
He waited for her to speak, but she said nothing. He wanted to say something but he couldn't get the words out, and he stayed silent.
Finally, Buffy said, "Well, it's getting late. I should…"
He wanted to ask her to stay. He wanted to find out how she had been, and what she was doing here in this gaudy nightclub on Christmas Eve. The sounds wouldn't come out, and Buffy turned away. He hadn't missed the sad look in her eyes, and he felt bad. He watched helplessly as she made her way back toward the club, and watched her feet leave little white indents in the snow.
A shadowy figure lunged from the side of the alley and threw itself at her. He took a step forward and then stopped. The slayer didn't need his help against one clumsy vampire.
She saw the vampire coming at her, and easily blocked his attempt to grab her round then neck. Angel's coat slid off her shoulders and dropped to the floor. Punching the vampire in the face, Buffy spun round to follow through and finish him off.
But, fighting after an evening of drinking too much was not a good idea, and she wasn't used to moving in the snow. Sluggish, she twisted and the high heel of her shoe caught on the hem of her long dress and tripped her. It was only a moment, but it was enough for the vampire to get too close and pin her to the wall. Before he could do any damage, Angel was there, pulling him away and dusting him in the same movement. He turned to see if Buffy was all right, and found her glaring at him.
"What the hell was that?"
"I… was helping…" he started.
"I don't need your help!" she snapped. "I could have taken him."
Annoyed, Angel countered, "You've been drinking and your reflexes were down. You're wearing totally unsuitable clothing…" he paused, noticing for the first time the way her chest was heaving out of the top of her unsuitable clothing, and gallantly tried to ignore it. "You're showing… uh… a poor lack of care over possible assailants in this alley, and now that you're older you should be more careful."
It was only when her glare turned icy that he realised what he'd said.
"Older?" she said aghast. "Older? Are you saying I'm old?"
"Not old." He tried. "Older. There's a difference."
"Nothing changes, does it?" she replied angrily. "You still interfere, and you still tell me what to do."
"Well, no more," she snapped, intending to make a quick escape, when she realised that Angel was blocking her way. She hoped he'd take the message and step aside but he didn't move. Irritated, she pressed the palms of her hands against his chest and pushed. He still didn't move. She'd forgotten how solid he was.
"Buffy," he said patiently, and there was something about the tone of his voice that made her insides melt. Infuriated by her body's natural reaction to him, she snapped, "Get out of my way."
"I'm not in your way," he muttered defensively, but he took a step to the side. She hadn't missed his hurt expression and her heart lurched at her victory.
She tried to take a step past him, but pain in her ankle made her stumble and lean on him for support. She glanced down at her feet and noticed the ragged and dirty hem of her dress.
"Great," she sighed. "The night is getting better."
"It's just a dress, Buffy," he tried, earning himself another caustic glare. Why couldn't he keep his mouth shut?
"It's my favourite dress," she railed at him. "And it's ruined." She suddenly realised she was leaning on him, and yanked her hand away, annoyed at her weakness in front of him. "Have I ever told you that my life sucks?"
"Once or twice," he said mildly.
"Well it does," she continued, warming to her theme. "I try to make a new life for myself but the dark forces follow me. Dawn is visiting her husband's family for Christmas and I have no idea where any of my old friends are. My new friends…." She nodded toward the nightclub, "… have their own families and tonight was the only time we could all get together. I don't have anyone…"
"To spend Christmas with?" he finished when her voice trailed away. She didn't answer, but when she tried to pass him again, pain shot through her ankle. It looked like it was starting to swell up, too.
"Ow," she said. Angel hesitated. Somehow just being with her had made her mad and she obviously wanted to get away from him. But he couldn't leave her like this. He bent forward to pick up his coat and draped it round her shoulders again before sweeping her up in his arms.
"You're not going to be able to walk home and I'm not leaving you," he told her firmly. "So just tell me where you live so that we can both get on with being miserable on our own, okay?"
Buffy scowled. Being carried by Angel was kind of embarrassing but he was right. She would have had a lot of trouble getting home without his help.
"Oh, right. Like Mr. Stalking Guy doesn't know?"
He sighed. "Buffy. Contrary to what you might think, I haven't spent our time apart following you around. I didn't know you were here and I don't know where to take you." He gave her a small smile. "Or maybe you like being in my arms and want to stay there longer?"
"In your dreams," she said, but he could hear the tone of her voice softening. She gave him the address and settled herself more comfortably for the journey.
It took half an hour to reach Buffy's small apartment, and Angel carried her up the four flights of grubby stairs, where he put her down gently on the landing outside her room.
"I'll say goodnight then," he said. "Have a good Christmas, Buffy. It was nice to see you."
He stepped back toward the stairs and Buffy said, "You aren't going to leave me here, are you?"
"I think you can manage," he replied. "You heal fast."
"Angel," she said as he made to move and he stopped. "Stay…?"
"It's Christmas." Something about the tone of her voice pulled at his heart. He was used to being alone, and he could handle that. But for Buffy to be alone, at Christmas, must be so hard for her. He didn't belong here, and he didn't belong with her, but… would a minute hurt?
Buffy leant a hand against the wall for support as she searched in her bag for the door key. Only then did she remember that she was still wearing Angel's coat. She found the key, fumbling nervously with the lock. What was it about him that always made her feel sixteen?
She opened the door and limped in. Angel, embarrassed, waited outside the door. Buffy had taken four painful steps when she belatedly realised that just asking him to stay wasn't quite enough to let him enter her home. Awkwardly, she said, "Come in."
Slowly, he stepped through the door, and looked around. He'd thought his place was sparse, but at least he had lots of space. Her home was tiny. A small bed, television, closet and table, and she had a sink, refrigerator and stove under the high window. This place must be dark even during the day. Her sad attempt at Christmas gaiety from the little green tree on top of the table somehow made the room look sadder, and made him regret his harsh words to her earlier.
Buffy was gently pulling off her shoes and massaging her swollen ankle. It was a lot better already, but was still uncomfortable. "Could you turn round?" she asked him. At his look of confusion, she explained, "I want to get out of this dress. It's all wet round the bottom and it's not very comfortable."
"Right." He hurriedly turned his back. How many times had he done this? Turned his back while she stood there in her pretty underwear and he wasn't allowed to see her. Maybe she was wearing that nice little pink two-piece he used to like…
"Okay," she said and he turned round, wildly hoping to find her standing there with nothing on. Well, she hadn't said she was going to put something else on, had she? But probably safer for both of them, she had managed to quickly slip a simple short dress on instead. She winced.
"You should get off that ankle," he observed. "Look, come and sit down and I'll make you something to drink. Coffee?"
"Chocolate," she said instantly. "If you don't mind…?"
Of course he didn't mind. Being in here with her was infinitely preferable to his sparse and lonely room. He couldn't believe she was here with him.
"What are you doing here?" he asked as he worked.
"Trying to be normal," she said. At his raised eyebrow, she continued. "I'm not the only slayer now, Angel. There are hundreds of girls all over the world to do my job - they don't need me anymore. I was kind of hoping I could slip away and just be Buffy, somewhere where nobody knew me."
"It hasn't worked out like that?" he guessed, as he carried her drink over to her and sat down on the bed next to her. She shook her head.
"No. It takes time to make friends and start a new life. And… everywhere I go, I find monsters and demons." She shrugged. "Like tonight, for instance. It seems that I'm not allowed to be normal."
"Are you sure that's what you want?" he asked gently.
She frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"I seem to remember a time when you were afraid of not having your powers, Buffy. You've ended up living in an area that looks like it ought to have its quota of monsters. And do you really think you can ignore the things that live in the dark? They aren't going to ignore a slayer in their midst. "
"I couldn't afford anything better," she said defensively, and then sighed. "I guess. Maybe I do miss the action a bit. But… "
She settled back, and without thinking about it, he raised his arm so that she could rest against his chest. It had been just like this when he'd visited her after her mother's funeral.
"You're still young you know," he said. "You don't have to map out your whole life in one go."
He felt her tense, and he knew she was thinking that it hadn't been too long ago that she wouldn't have been able to think about what she could do with her life. She looked up.
"I'm glad you're here, you know," she said softly. "There are worse ways to spend Christmas Eve." She grinned. "You and hot chocolate, what more can any girl want?"
They talked into the early hours of Christmas Day, and Angel stayed with her until she went to sleep. Disappointed when she woke up to find that Angel had gone, Buffy looked around her room. His coat lay across the chair and her heart leapt. Did that mean he was coming back?
That was when she noticed the parcel on the end of the bed. On top was a note that just said, "Later?" Smiling, she pulled at the parcel. It turned out to be a Wal-Mart bag, and she couldn't help marvelling at the idea that Angel shopped at Wal-Mart. Inside was something soft and she pulled it out. It was her dress. Her beautiful, favourite, and ruined dress… only, it wasn't ruined anymore. It looked beautiful. How on earth had he managed to find somebody to wash and repair it on Christmas morning? Or maybe he'd used magic?
She shrugged. Did it really matter? She was smiling wildly when she put the dress down. If the dress could be repaired, maybe she and Angel could work something out, too. Christmas was good for working miracles, wasn't it?