Author: Zuriel

Summary: Set a month after IWRY, bending canon just a little.  Angel shows up in Sunnydale on Christmas Eve.

Disclaimer: I don’t own these characters or benefit from them.

Pairing: Angel and Buffy

Rating:  PG-13 for language

Word Count: 3,601

 

Dreaming of a White Christmas

 

People always say what a difference a day makes.  There’s even a song about it.  Days appear to be nothing more than strings of twenty-four hour increments measured by a clock or a watch.  Minutes tick by, one by one, and the hours begin to add up.  No one really notices how their lives slip through their fingers, until they’re faced with the moment of truth.  When that moment comes, when your life hangs in the balance, seconds can mean the difference between living and dying.  What you choose to do in that little innocent moment can change everything.  And it helps to have someone by your side who believes in you.

 

***

 

Angel was sitting in the dark, alone, thinking about how the last year had altered his life, the days that had played a crucial role in shaping his future.  He almost laughed, surprised he could even say the word future in the same sentence with his own name.  It wasn’t something he’d believed, not that long ago, was in his realm of reality.  But there had been so many days in the last 365 that reminded him of what a wild year it had been.  Off the top of his head several ran through his mind…

 

The day he’d left Sunnydale, striking out on his own.

 

The day he’d met Doyle, learning he had a mission.

 

The perfect day he and Buffy had shared when he was human.

 

The day he’d asked the Oracles to turn him back.

 

The day Doyle had died.

 

Toss in a few more relatively good days (like the day Cordelia started working for him, eager to help with his mission, though her office skills were questionable) and some exceptionally bad ones (learning his worst enemy wasn’t a demon but an evil law firm), and it had been one hell of a year.

 

Angel tried not to dwell on his past, but nostalgia was working its way through his thoughts tonight.  Ordinarily he preferred to stay focused on the present, saving souls and hacking apart demons, but Angel never lost sight of how fortunate he was to actually have a past year to think about.

 

Buffy had saved him on Christmas - exactly one year ago.

 

He should thank her, though he knew Buffy would tell him it wasn’t necessary. But it was important to Angel.  He’d meant to tell her a long time ago, but for one reason or another, he’d let the opportunity slip by - until today.  Maybe it had something to do with Cordelia pointing out to him recently that he was a slacker himself when it came to thanking people.  She was right.  People didn’t say thank you nearly enough anymore.

 

***

 

So, Angel found himself on the outskirts of Sunnydale, sitting in his convertible, looking down on the shimmering holiday lights in town, still contemplating that Eve one year ago - and thinking about…

 

The hellish hallucinations,

 

The First trying to goad him into killing Buffy,

 

How hopeless he felt, standing on that hill, waiting for sunrise,

 

How it was the only way he knew to save Buffy from him,

 

That he believed he was too weak to ever amount to anything.

 

And the enigmatic snowfall as Buffy’s final anguished pleas begged him not to give up. 

 

The snow and Buffy were a powerful, life-affirming combination of love and hope that still touched him deeply.

 

By all the rules of the universe it shouldn’t have snowed.  But it had.  To this day the irony imbedded in that paradox was almost overwhelming.  But he’d been saved for a purpose.  And the very fact the past year’s events hadn’t beaten him down proved he was stronger than he’d ever thought he could be.  He’d made the choice to survive and fight back.  And as much as he’d wanted to give up that night, Buffy drew him away from the edge of certain oblivion.  It was a profound moment he’d never forget.

 

Angel finally shifted into drive and cruised slowly into town.  This had been his home, the first real home he’d had in over a century.  It wasn’t a large city, nor was it as glamorous as the European cities he’d been to, but Sunnydale had something none of the others did.  Buffy.

 

Yet it was strange how such a peaceful community held such morbid and horrific secrets.  From all outward impressions it looked like any other laid-back southern California town.  But those home-sweet-home appearances were as deceiving as a seemingly normal day.  Both could turn disastrous in the blink of an eye.

 

Driving passed the Bronze Angel heard loud music and laughter filtering out into the cool night air.  The holly and tinsel-framed sign by the door welcomed, by invitation only (aka, those in-the-know), to their first annual Holiday on the Hellmouth party.  Angel expected that Buffy would be inside, but he wasn’t sensing her presence.  He kept driving.

 

Even though it was out of his way, Angel steered onto the street where Buffy had lived.  Back when times were good for them - and not so good.  He stopped for a moment when he came to the Summers’ home, admiring the Christmas tree in the picture window, colored lights twinkling, and a glittery white star perched on top.  Angel half expected to see Buffy open the front door and wave as he drove by.

 

Fool.

 

He gunned the car and sped around the corner, swinging onto Main Street a minute later.

 

Sunnydale had spared no expense in trimming its streetlights and sidewalks with holiday decorations.  An animated snowman waved to the last-minute shopping crowd outside the department store and a full-size jolly Santa with his team of merry reindeer stood next to the bakery, enticing customers inside for delicious eggnog and slice of pumpkin pie.  But it was the small group of men and women singing Christmas carols as they strolled down the sidewalk that caught Angel’s attention.  He vividly remembered hearing a group of carolers last year when he’d taken to walking the streets, trying to shake the terrifying nightmarish images filling his head.  He hurried past them just as he had before.

 

Another two minutes and he’d reach his destination.  Angel stopped the car across the street from Buffy’s college dorm and turned off the ignition.  He leaned back, crossed his arms over his chest, and waited.

 

His plan had seemed so simple back in LA.  And while it was true he genuinely wanted to thank Buffy, he knew his reason for being here was just as much of an excuse to see her again.  She’d been in his thoughts constantly the last couple of days.  Hell, ever since their one perfect day.  Angel had informed Wesley and Cordelia he was going away for the weekend to relax.  They’d looked at him like he’d grown horns and badgered him about where he was heading.  Get away?  Angel didn’t do get-aways.  He brooded!  Stubbornly, Angel wouldn’t tell them.  He was sure they’d talk him out of it.

 

Obscured by the darkness and the low overhanging, dense-leafed branches of a large tree next to the sidewalk, Angel sat hidden from view.  He’d thought about going inside, but hesitated.  He didn’t have the right to invade Buffy’s private space.  They’d made a deal to stay away from each other, and he would respect that deal.  The best scenario would be to catch her coming home.  Meeting in neutral territory, out in the open, seemed the best for both of them.

 

After half an hour, it occurred to Angel that Buffy might already be up in her room asleep.  Or she could still be out on patrol, and if she was, he might be here a long time.  Either way, Angel didn’t have anything better to do, so he waited.

 

Time passed slowly, and by one o’clock in the morning a weary and frustrated Angel began to think he was wasting his time.  Buffy was not likely to show up now.  And waiting for a better time later wouldn’t have the same effect as this Christmas Eve.  Hell, with danger shadowing him every day, he might not even be around by next Christmas.

 

Angel sighed heavily, feeling the magic of the moment had passed.  He might as well head back to LA.

 

But just as Angel reached to turn on the ignition, he felt Buffy’s presence.  Then he heard her giggle.  Seconds later she came into view, and immediately his heart sank.

 

She wasn’t alone.  A tall, fair-haired young man was with her.  The two of them were holding hands, strolling casually.  They stopped at the dorm’s double doors, their carefree chatter and laughter burning Angel’s ears.  They looked - happy.

 

Dammit!  Angel cursed his oversimplified plan.  He’d neglected to consider, rather stupidly, that Buffy might not be spending the holidays alone.  From the looks of her companion, whoever he was, he was the epitome of Mr. All-American Joe.  Angel let out a low rumbling growl. 

 

Was this All-American Joe a part of what Buffy meant in her LA speech about working on a better life now?  Was HE a new boyfriend? 

 

Boyfriend.  God, how Angel hated that word when his name wasn’t attached to it!

 

His question was answered within seconds.  Under the glow of the street lamp Buffy stood on her tiptoes and kissed Joe-guy.  It was a lingering kiss.  The kind Angel used to feel on his lips. 

 

Angel grimaced and shook his head, thinking to himself, “You deserved this, showing up in the middle of the night, uninvited.  She’s moved on.  You’re not part of her life anymore.  And yeah, it still hurts like hell.”

 

Even so, he couldn’t help but stare at Buffy who looked exceptionally beautiful tonight.  Maybe it was the illumination of a new relationship radiating an aura of peace and happiness around her.  Deep down Angel wanted that for her.  But thinking it was one thing.  Actually watching her kiss someone else was - agonizing.

 

Angel scowled.  He had no one to blame but himself, for being in this awkward position.  And did he mention how damn much it hurt?

 

Buffy’s loud, cheerful goodbye to her late-night Joe-guy drew Angel back to the scene on the sidewalk.  And much to his relief the young man waved and walked away as Buffy stepped inside the building.  Thank the gods.  At least tonight he wouldn’t have to imagine what they were doing up there in her room. 

 

Angel started the car and jerked it back into drive, erratically pulling away from the curb.  He’d lost the advantage of meeting Buffy outside, and he really didn’t feel like going in.

 

Especially not now.

 

***

 

Once again Angel was back in his empty office.  He strode passed Cordelia’s desk and his office, on his way to the elevator, when the phone rang.  It startled him out of his solitude.  Angel glanced at the clock on his desk, the one with the cracked-glass face, and noted it was after three am.

 

Grumbling, Angel ignored the phone.  He really wasn’t in the mood to fight a demon or save a soul tonight.  But for some irritating, inexplicable reason the answering machine didn’t pick up.  The phone kept ringing shrilly in his ears.  He muttered a curse at Cordelia for likely screwing up the answering machine.  He took five steps towards the elevator, the phone incessantly demanding his attention.  Finally, he stopped walking and let out a groan.  If it really was someone who needed help, he couldn’t let his foul mood get in the way.  If the person on the other end of the line was truly in danger, how could he, with any conscience at all, ignore the call?

 

Angel grabbed the phone, answering with his standard business greeting, but the familiar voice on the other end was abrupt and angry.

 

“You did it again, Angel!” Buffy exclaimed, definitely irritated.  “You were spying on me and Riley!  And don’t try to deny it.  Oh, yeah, you were hidden pretty well, but I could still see you across the street - not to mention I felt that spidey-tingle thingy like always when you’re around.”  She paused a second, catching her breath.  “Honestly?  Was that a wise way to spend your time, lurking in the shadows - again?”

 

Angel was taken aback by the sharpness and frustration in her voice - and equally as mad at himself for being caught.  But hey, there was one bright side.  Now Mr. All-American Joe had a name he could learn to despise.

 

“I wasn’t spying on you and…Riley, Buffy.  I was just hoping to see you,’ Angel said, “alone.”

 

Buffy spit out her words like bullets. “So you left without even coming up to say hi?  We just went through this, Angel.  I guess you didn’t learn anything, did you?”

 

“Buffy, I know it looked wrong, but I just…”

 

“Just what?” Buffy yelled.  “Just wanted to stir things up again?”

 

“No.  Nothing like that.  I just wanted to say…” Angel stopped talking, finding it difficult to be thankful when Buffy was so clearly upset with him.

 

Buffy jumped in and added, “Just say what?  What did you want to say that you couldn’t have said on the phone?  We agreed to stay away from each other, right?”

 

Angel’s moment of gratitude stole away with Buffy’s painful accusations.  “Never mind,” he muttered.  “It doesn’t matter.”

 

“Well, you must have thought it mattered to drive all the way here.  What is it?” 

 

Angel envisioned Buffy standing with her hand on her hip, her head cocked to one side, glaring holes through the telephone. “Nothing, Buffy,” he answered softly. “Sorry I upset you.”

 

“Well, next time you get the urge to drive all the way here for nothing, I’d appreciate it if you’d at least call first.”

 

“I will,” Angel replied quietly.

 

Buffy slammed down the receiver she’d been clutching tightly and sighed heavily. It took another moment before she could coax her breathing down to normal.

 

That went so not well,” she thought.

 

Angel hadn’t even raised his voice or defended himself, which she would have expected him to do.  Instead he’d backed down, refusing to tell her why he’d come to Sunnydale in the middle of the night.  But then she hadn’t given him much choice.  Maybe she had yelled a little too loud, and maybe she’d been a little too angry, but dammit!  Didn’t she have the right to be upset with him after that skulking-in-the-bushes stunt Angel had pulled at Thanksgiving?

 

Buffy argued with herself for several minutes, berating Angel between jabs at her own behavior.  After their meeting in LA, seeing Angel outside her dorm had thrown her into a tailspin.  He wasn’t supposed to show up like this!  She paced back and forth across the room, trying to calm her flustered nerves.  And when she’d accomplished some semblance of calm, that’s when her mind cleared.  Logic told her Angel wouldn’t have come if he didn’t have a good reason.  Deep down in her heart she knew that.

 

Feeling a twinge of regret Buffy thought about calling Angel back to apologize, but she was still reeling from seeing him again.  He would always have that effect on her - the one that screamed I’ll love you forever, no matter where we are or what we do.  Even declaring a new life and having a new boyfriend didn’t change the fact Angel was her first and forever love.  She might as well have it tattooed on her forehead.

 

Buffy walked over to the window and gazed out at the clear, starlit sky, peering down on the campus below.  It was the first time she’d noticed the colored lights strung around the evergreens.  Oh, God.  It suddenly dawned on Buffy that it was Christmas Eve!  She hadn’t even taken the time to realize it.  Her life was frantic-busy with school and patrolling; no time to think of holidays and good cheer.  And tonight’s patrol had turned into a major vamp-killing free-for-all.  At least four dusted vampires later she’d taken a moment to meet Riley at the local cafe for a late-night coffee.  Nothing like last year…

 

Buffy moved away from the window and sat down on the bed, thinking about last Christmas Eve and how close she’d come to losing Angel.  Eternally.  But after their tears had dried and the snow had melted, she’d lost him anyway.  She frowned at the word lost.  She hadn’t misplaced Angel.  And though he might not be next door now, he was still tucked inside her heart where he’d always be.

 

***

 

Dropping the phone receiver back on its cradle, Angel plopped wearily into his desk chair.  Tonight was supposed to have been special.  But he’d acted impulsively, and it had cost him that special moment.  The more he thought about it, the more Angel was mad at himself for letting Buffy bully him into silence.  Just because they were on separate paths didn’t change what she’d done for him.  And just because she’d lashed out in anger didn’t mean he should back down. If Angel truly wanted to say thank you, he should have ignored Buffy’s ranting and told her.

 

Drumming his fingers on the arm of the chair and twisting his mouth in a hundred thought directions, Angel stared at the phone in front of him.  There was still time.

 

Angel grabbed the phone and dialed Buffy’s number.  She answered on the second ring.

 

Angel blurted out before she had a chance to yell again, “Buffy?  Just listen, ok?  I need to tell you something.”  There was a short pause as Angel listened to Buffy’s rapid breathing and her heart pounding in his ears.  He felt relieved when she answered in a calm, breathless whisper, “Okay.  I promise I’ll listen.”

 

A silent moment lingered before Angel cleared his throat and said, “Thank you for what you did last Christmas.”

 

Buffy was floored.  She wasn’t expecting to hear that.  She expected anger, retaliation, a little yelling, but not a thank you!  And it was a good thing Angel couldn’t see how red her face was.  She should have listened to her heart, knowing Angel’s visit meant more than a premeditated intention to disrupt her life.  Yet he had disrupted her life.  He always did.

 

Buffy swallowed a lump in her throat and whispered, “Angel…”  

 

Angel cut her off before she could continue.  “Buffy, you don’t have to say anything.  I just needed to tell you what I’ve been carrying around in my heart all year.”  Angel could hear a little gasp escape Buffy’s lips.  He went on to say, “I love you, always and forever.”  Then bracing himself he added, “I hope you have a nice Christmas with…with that guy, Riley,” not realizing he was gritting his teeth now, or that he’d just crushed the pencil into little pieces that he’d been gripping tightly in his left hand.  He looked down at the bits of lead and wood, smirking.  Better the pencil than Riley’s head.  

 

The hang-up click on Angel’s end cut off any chance for Buffy to reply.  She sat motionless, holding the phone in her hand, feeling completely embarrassed, and smaller than a Christmas mouse.

 

Angel’s words echoed in Buffy’s ears long after she’d put the phone down.  Now more than ever, she regretted her outburst, that she’d assumed the worst before she had all the facts.  Sometimes, she marveled how her foot fit so well in her thoughtless mouth.

 

Buffy sighed.  She had to do something to make amends.  The last thing she wanted was to be responsible for putting any more distance between Angel and herself, in highway miles or heart-wise.  Well, then, Buffy thought, it’s time to spread a little holiday cheer.

 

***

 

The next afternoon on Christmas Day Angel warily answered the loud knock on the office door.  To his surprise it was Oz who stood on the threshold waving an envelope in front of Angel, motioning for Angel to take it.  Angel gave him a raised eyebrow, quizzical look and grabbed the envelope, holding it as though it was as fragile as a butterfly’s wing.  He recognized the handwriting.

 

“Special delivery,” Oz said, “since I was coming to LA anyway – yet again.”  He mumbled under his breath something about why people thought he was their personal messenger service and turned to leave.  Over his shoulder, he added, “But don’t worry.  I think it’s just an envelope – nothing magical like a ring.”

 

Angel closed the door, walked back to his office and sat down.  For a moment he ran his fingers over the envelope, a little apprehensive of what might be inside.  Finally, he shrugged his shoulders and carefully slid two fingers under the sealed flap, prying it open.  He hesitantly pulled out a holiday card.

 

On the front were two kissing reindeer, standing under a sprig of mistletoe, in the midst of a snowfall at the North Pole.  The cartoon caption above their heads said:  Shhh, don’t let Santa catch us!” 

 

Inside, the same image expanded to show Santa in the background, peeking out from behind a Christmas tree, watching, with a twinkle in his eye.

 

Santa’s caption read, “Ho!  Ho!  Ho!  Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

 

But it was the handwritten lines below the preprinted sentiment that got to Angel.

 

Buffy had printed, “You’re Welcome!” in bold red letters.  Underneath she’d drawn a big smiley-face heart. And inside the heart she’d written:  B + A = Always.

 

The last line said “...and may all your Christmases be white.”

 

Angel leaned back and smiled.

 

 

~ end ~