LONELY CHRISTMAS EVE

Year after year, Christmas proved to be just another obstacle in Connor's life.

While growing up in Quor-toth, his only knowledge of the holiday came through Holtz's stories. On the rare occasions when it snowed in the hell they called home, the older man shared reminiscences of winters in England complete with horse-drawn carriage rides and snowball fights with his kin. Eventually, his winter tales would turn into ranting diatribes on the drunken fools of his old village who did not keep the sanctity of Christ's birth day.

After arriving in Los Angeles, Connor's only thoughts were on survival and getting even with his father. There was also The Beast to deal with along with a rather tantalizing Cordelia to entertain. The holiday season all but passed him by during the fury of activity. Though he could still remember that self-pitying feeling in the pit of his stomach he'd endured after rescuing a mother and son from a vampire attack that Christmas Eve. The out of place feeling had only increased as he watched them retrieve their fallen holiday packages and scramble away from the fight.

The only truly happy memories he had of Christmas were those spent with the Rileys; those quintessential family celebrations with Bing Crosby playing through the house, the smell of cookies baking in the kitchen, grandparents visiting and friends stopping by throughout the day.

Those days were long gone.

When Angel had taken on the Senior Partners and quit Wolfram and Hart, they saw no reason to uphold their end of the bargain. After they'd erased all traces of Connor Riley's existence, the boy chose to make a life for himself on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

Today was his first Christmas Eve since leaving his happy little home for the new dingy apartment. He had no intention of doing anything holiday-related, though his mind betrayed his goal. Stuck in a mental loop, he downed a mug of coffee and replayed each moment he could remember spending at the Rileys' during Christmas break. Perhaps that was his hell, to remember.

A knock sounded at the apartment door, but he made no move to answer it. Reclining on the beat up couch he'd found half-off at a yard sale, Connor closed his eyes. "Go away."

Ignoring his pleas for privacy, the door swung open. Even with his eyes closed, Connor could sense the figure as it entered the room. He knew that scent; it haunted his dreams though it still belonged to an unwanted presence today.

The woman passed by the kitchen counter and rapped her hand against it. This knock was louder, more defiant, signalling that the visitor had crossed into his sanctuary regardless of his wish to be alone.

"No, no, don't get up." Faith's voice slid down his ears smoothly and Connor could not keep himself from glancing in her direction. She looked downright festive, wearing a tight black dress topped with a Santa hat. "I'll just show myself in."

"I'm not really in the mood, Faith."

"So I've noticed." Her foot bumped into a cracked album that had been discarded by his cd player. The cover read 'I'll Be Home For Christmas'. She gave it a quizzical look and then hopped on the couch beside that year's grinch. "Come on, kid, 'tis the season to lighten up and get a life."

"Which one?" he grunted. Then, deciding not to drag her into his own depression, Connor crossed his arms and told her, "Look, maybe it would be better for you if you just left me alone. Like I said, I'm not in the mood."

"Sorry, can't." Faith duplicated his pose, crossing her arms and putting her feet up on the coffee table. It creaked under her modest weight, rocking on wobbly legs until she put her feet back on the ground. "I've been sent here on a mission, and you know I always get my man."

Connor raised an eyebrow, a smirk beginning to form on his lips. "Your man?"

"Figuratively speaking."

With the hope that she had come to make his one holiday wish come true dashed away, Connor reflected on the other part of her declaration. Her mission. Putting his mug down on the table, he nodded as it sank in. "Angel sent you, didn't he?"

Faith twirled a strand of her hair through her fingers. "More or less." She shrugged, remaining nonchalant. "He didn't say anything outright, but I know he misses you... He mailed you the invitation. He knows you got it." She paused, but Connor said nothing. "Buffy, Spike, Illyria and Dawn are all over there setting up the Hyperion for Christmas right now and Angel's just moping in the corner. But I kinda sent myself over here, cause after watching the vamps try and do the holiday thing... It was just creepy. Had to get away for a bit."

"Creepy, huh?" He frowned, rising from the worn couch. "You're really winning me over."

"Hey, come on, this is my first Christmas I don't have to spend in the slammer and I want you there.." her voice faded away as Connor turned a deaf ear, opening the window to the rusty balcony. He climbed out into the cool night air, slamming the window shut.

Faith followed after him, wasting no time yanking open the window. As she crawled out onto the balcony beside him, she put her legs through the slots of the gate and swayed them through the air. "You know something, you're a pain in the ass."

"Yeah, I've been told that before." Letting forth an almost inaudible sigh, he rested his forehead against the bars of the gate. Very few people passed below them on the streets; most had gone home by now. Those that did come out looked happy as they laughed through their shared festivity. "I don't mean to be. I'm just not ready for all of this yet. I'm not ready to be happy. I just want it to go away. At least for now."

"Been there, wanted that." Faith hung her head, "But you know the funny thing about life? It doesn't go away. Or, well, it does but that solution's much more permanent than anyone wants."

Surprising the two of them, Connor put his head down on her shoulder wanting nothing more than to forget about the rest of the world. A strange comfort, Faith tensed at his touch but then physically relaxed. As the midnight church bells went off through the city, chiming in Christmas Day, their lips met in a kiss neither was expecting.

Connor pulled away, flicking the pom-pom of Faith's red and white hat back into place. "Stay here with me tonight and I'll come back to the Hyperion with you in the morning."

Faith thought it over, finally accepting his offer with a brief smile. As she brought him closer, teasing his neck with her tongue, Connor couldn't help smiling too. This was one Christmas memory he was going to be happy to remember in the years to come.