Rating: For anyone.
Setting: Five years after Angel last saw Buffy. The comics do not exist.
Summary: Angel’s stranded in a town called Cold Christmas. Angel and Buffy.
Angel punches through the ice of a deep pool and plunges his bloody hands up to the wrists in the freezing water. Then he scoops some up and rinses the blood from his face. He has a fierce elation in his heart, the joy of the kill, the fever-heat of the feed, but he doesn’t try to wash that away, not any more. It fills the emptiness at his core. He’s in control, and that’s enough. But, he can’t walk back into town smeared in blood, even if it is the blood of a deer, and so he washes the outside to conceal what’s inside. He’d considered letting the animal go, but severe blood loss isn’t a survival strategy for mammals in the depths of winter, so he’d drained it and filled his belly. Other predators will dine off his bounty tonight.
He starts the long hike back to town. The ice and snow are no hindrance to him, not even causing him to break stride. But he couldn’t pass on his gifts of agility, endurance and general indestructibility to his car, and that’s why he’s here. He’d followed a band of Sorchis, a particularly vicious species of battle demon, down into Mexico. He’d dealt with them, and then been sorely tempted to deal with the bandits and drug cartels he’d found there, since human justice just wasn’t cutting it, but in the end he’d decided against it, and driven back north. He’d got nowhere special to go, and no-one special to go to, so he’d just driven. That was when the ice storm had struck, making the roads impassable by any sort of vehicle short of a tank, and so he’d fetched up here, in this unremarkable town, to wait it out.
That was a week ago, and the weather had, if anything, worsened. None of the butchers’ shops had any blood that wasn’t congealed and undrinkable, and the hunger had become unbearable. At least he’d dealt with that tonight. Now he had to go back to a town called Cold Christmas. And yes, it is. Christmas, that is. Tonight is Christmas Eve.
He reaches the outskirts of town, walking past houses, shops, a gas station, all flaunting their Christmas finery of lights and holly, trees with gifts underneath, and wreaths on doors, and season’s greetings on cards in windows. There are no trees with gifts for him, of course, nor even a card wishing him a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. There is just a bare hotel room and a car that, like most other cars, couldn’t handle this ice storm. At least he’s facing Christmas on a full belly.
He collects his key from the reception, ignoring the come-hither simper of the young man behind the counter. He takes the stairs to his room two at a time. The door is at the end of the corridor, set back a little from the rest. It has a surprise for him. A square silver gift box tied with red ribbon has been placed on the floor. He wonders whether this is some small courtesy from the management, but this is a cheap hotel, and Christmas gifts seem unlikely, unless it is a novel way of presenting the bill. Still, you never knew, with humans.
He strips off his coat and pours himself a glass of whiskey before settling down with the box. There is no address on the outside, no indication of who sent it. His nostrils flare, but the box gives off no scent, no scent at all, not even of the silver-foiled card of which it is made, or the carpet on which it had been set, or the hand of the person who had set it there.
He knows that isn’t natural, which could argue that the box was sent with evil intent. At the very least, it speaks of witchcraft. Automatically, he does a mental review of the people/demons/beasts/powers that he has offended recently. There are quite a few, but none that seem to fit this particular bill.
It’s very light. Whatever is inside weighs almost nothing at all. He shakes the box, and hears a faint, dull shuffling sound that tells him little. There is only one way to explore further, and that is to open the box. Slowly, he unfastens the ribbon, examining it carefully, then laying it aside on the table. Just as slowly, prepared for flight or fight, he lifts off the lid, and stares in confusion at the contents.
The box contains a piece of origami, white paper and gold foil. At first glance, it looks like a dove, but when he lifts it out, he can see that it’s a goose, a white goose, with a gold foil bill and legs, and gold tips to the feathers. It’s a beautiful and accomplished piece of work.
He strokes the folds of paper gently. Like the box, it has no scent at all. Then, the fragile construction shudders and flaps its wings, tugging against his restraining fingers. He lets go, and the goose rises a foot or two before sinking back into his hands, inert. A small square of card is visible inside the bird.
He teases it out, and reads its message.
Find me? What the hell does that mean? Is this some elaborate message from someone in need of rescue? Or the bait for a trap? Or some stupid joke intended to lead him on a wild goose chase? He drinks down the remnants of his glass of whiskey while considering his options. He pours another glassful, and drinks that down, too. Afterwards, he can blame the liquor. And after all, what else does he have to do for the rest of the night?
He rubs his lip thoughtfully, and then he shrugs into his coat, and heads back out into the darkness and the snow.
In the centre of town is a cafe. Angel hadn’t paid it any real attention, but he remembers the name of it. The Wild Goose. He stands outside it, wondering what he should be looking for. The cafe is closed, and no-one else is about.
Well, he’s found the only thing he can think of, and he’s no further forward. He examines the frontage of the cafe, but there’s nothing. Then he looks up at the sign, which carries the painted image of a skein of geese in flight. Another silver box is balanced on the bracket, half obscured by the growth of ivy. This one is tied with a white ribbon, and it, too, is entirely without scent. When he lifts it down, it’s not as light as the first one, and there is something moving inside.
When he lifts the lid, a cloud of fragrance greets him. It is a pomander, a small orange, studded with brown cloves. There are other scents, too, within the skin of the orange: cinnamon, rose, and frankincense. It dangles from a green ribbon, to which is attached another card.
Find my scent.
He puts the pomander back in the box, and he turns around, scenting the air. It’s cold and crisp, and as clean as it’s possible for air to be in a human town. He prowls along the street. Surely it shouldn’t be an impossible quest?
He finds what he is looking for at the other end of the main street. It’s an eclectic shop. The window is full of trinkets and gifts, costume jewellery, healing crystals, herbs and spices. The doorway is framed by a faint tang of the perfume from the pomander, as though the person who made it had then run their finger over the woodwork. It’s so faint a human wouldn’t have noticed. Tucked into the doorway is a dark green metallic box wrapped with gold ribbon. This time, there’s a card tied to the ribbon.
He lifts the box carefully, and retires to sit on a low stone wall on the other side of the street. He’s curious – how could he not be? He’s also extremely suspicious. And he still has no clue who or what has sent him on this treasure hunt... no, this wild goose chase. Drink me? Is that really wise?
When he takes the lid off, the box contains a heavy glass covered with cling film and containing a creamy yellow liquid. When he peels the cling film off, his nose tells him that this is egg nog, nothing more, nothing less. A sharp pang spears through him. He thought he had hardened himself against pain, but his armour wasn’t proof against the memory of drinking egg nog with Buffy.
That, of course, was years ago, and there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. It’s more than five years since he saw her in the graveyard in Sunnydale, for those few unsatisfactory minutes, and she sent him away with talk about needing to bake until she knew who she was. They’ve both made a new life for themselves in those five years. He’s been careful not to try to find out what she’s doing, and he has stayed as far away from her as possible. That must be what ‘moving on’ means.
He picks the glass out of the box, and memories shimmer in the crystal. Candlelight and the scent of a fir tree, a flickering fire and the spicy scent of warm mince pies, the glittering crystal glasses, egg nog and Buffy. The memory is so strong that he can almost smell her.
But this is not Buffy’s egg nog. This is a stranger’s, left with unknown intent, perhaps enchanted, perhaps poisoned. He asks himself whether eternity is worth it and, savagely, he tosses back the contents of the glass. It really is egg nog.
The snow is falling like a blanket, his eyelashes full of lacy flakes. Even with the heat of the deer inside him, they don’t melt as they would on a human. He stares down at the glass as the flakes pattern the last dregs of the liquor inside, and then he lifts the glass, holding the bottom up to the nearest streetlight. There are words in the glass.
That seems to be a singularly useless clue. Eat the glass? No, it is ordinary, honest-to-goodness glass. His mind spares a little processing space from the task of Who? to consideration of Eat what?
The only thing he can come up with is Lewis Carroll’s Alice. She had something that was labelled Eat Me, didn’t she? And a bottle that said Drink Me? What was it that said Eat Me? Hadn’t it been cake? He’d passed a cake shop further down. He stands up, shaking off snow, and he strides back towards the cake shop.
The cake, says a small voice in his head, didn’t that make her smaller? And didn’t the stuff in the bottle make her into a giant? Don’t you think there’s the slightest chance that this is going to do something to you, you idiot?
He ignores that small voice as best he can.
Outside the cake shop are two planters on either side of the door, each with a small Christmas tree. The trees are festooned with tinsel and baubles, and now covered with real snow. Tucked beneath the lowest branch of the one on the right is a gold box tied with a red ribbon.
Inside is an origami angel, of white paper with golden wings. Where the angel’s chest should be, the paper has been cut away, and replaced by a heart-shaped home-baked cookie redolent of spices and cherries and raisins. There is a small card tucked into the angel’s wings.
A tiny sound in the silence behind him makes him whirl round, ready for an attack that doesn’t come. The figure on the other side of the street is wrapped up in a thick coat, with a close-fitting woollen cap pulled low over the face. He doesn’t need to see, though, to know who it is. The ache in his belly tells him. The lurch of his heart, the tingle across his palms, and the itch of his fangs would all tell him. It’s a Slayer, but the scent of her, filling every one of his senses, and the heat that floods through his veins, tells him that it’s his Slayer. He will never think of her as anything but his.
She stays where she is, her body language screaming uncertainty, so he crosses the street to her. He drinks in her beloved features, and the vampire in him really does want to bite her, and do its own form of drinking. The man in him has much more complex desires. He’s so overwhelmed that he can’t seem to form any words, the parts of him that produce speech being entirely paralysed. The silence between them stretches out, threatening to swallow them down, when she suddenly breaks it.
“Am I too late?”
He doesn’t need to ask what she means. It’s of paramount importance that he reassure her, and he finds that his arms have folded around her, and his lips have found hers. The taste of her is exquisite.
When he breaks the kiss, he rests his forehead against hers, needing to do the right thing. “We can’t just be friends, Buffy. It... it’s still too hard.”
“I don’t want us to be friends. Or not only friends...”
“Nothing has changed. I’m still... too dangerous with you.”
“Nonsense,” she replies, briskly. “You control your blood lust every minute of every day.”
He has the grace to lower his gaze, as she continues.
“Do you really think you couldn’t keep control of yourself around me? With me? Besides, I promise you that if I see even the vestige of a smile when you make love to me, I’ll stick a stake in your ribs just to remind you.”
He doesn’t know what to say. Here is everything he’s ever wanted (except to be made safe, that small voice says. Except humanity, it croons to him), yet he has spent years denying that it could ever work between them.
Buffy says it for him. “Can we get out of the cold?”
He gives in and gives her his arm. As he pulls her close, he feels the solid, slim shape of the stake in her pocket, and can’t help but smile. He thought he’d never smile like that again.
“How did you do it?” he asks.
“Willow. She’s a pretty good witch now. And she knew you’d be here.”
“Is she in town?”
Buffy nods, and that makes him feel safer.
“Has she got an Orb with her?” He tries to keep his tone light and playful, but it’s a really important question.
“Never without one nowadays.”
He stops and takes her face between his hands. “Merry Christmas,” he whispers, “and a Happy New Year.”
She stands on tiptoe to kiss him, and then they walk arm-in-arm along the main street, as the snow sifts silently down, a reminder and a promise. Perhaps it won’t be a Cold Christmas after all.
There really is a hamlet called Cold Christmas, in Hertfordshire. Fascinating.