Feedback: Like Santa needs belief. Feedback and criticism (but only constructive) is welcomed and appreciated.
Disclaimer: Do I look like Joss Whedon? However, I do own Roman and Carenza, my two doomed angels. Oh, and Cynthia my wickedly creepy porcelain figurine.
Summary: In the future, Buffy prepares to spend another Christmas alone. But an invite to a special Charity Christmas Ball changes her plans entirely. Maybe the festive season will turn out better than she could ever have expected…
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Three French hens and assorted demons
Two turtle doves and an Angel
And an apocalypse in a pear tree
A ragged, chocking kind of laugh of disbelief.
The kind of laugh that means people blink twice at what they're seeing and the air suddenly rushing into their lungs seems somehow wrong and artificial and far, far too cold.
The hiccup of laughter that means a person doesn't know whether to burst into floods of tears or laugh hysterically at the situation, and really wants to attempt both at the same time.
The kind of laugh people get when they've just seen their supposedly dead ex-lover suddenly appear in the middle of a garden that two seconds ago didn't exist, suddenly magicked up by some guy who's the Angel of War, who's trying to get his girlfriend back because if they don't then Armageddon will arrive too early and really, that just isn't fair because it isn't even Tuesday.
That kind of laugh doesn't get used very often.
He reached out a hand to touch her, but it hovered just over her skin, as though he was afraid that touching her would make her disappear, like some wonderfully perfect bubble, that if touched by cold, clumsy hands would burst and only leave a brief shimmer of dampness in the air.
He traced the air of her outline, palming the frosty air, coaxing it to his touch as he traced over old familiar pathways.
He ached to touch her cheek and he noticed with a frown that she seemed full of angles and sharp bones now, which wasn't right because the last time he'd seen her, when he'd given her the amulet, she'd just been growing soft and round again, her heaven torment finally put to one side as she concentrated on saving the world once more.
On closer inspection she seemed tired, strained, her eyes a little bit duller, as if being alive was a little bit too real again, too harsh and bright.
He did however notice that moonlight as always suited her. It made her hair glow gently and her figure suddenly seemed to be in soft focus. Or perhaps, that was the haze of tears he was trying to see through. A blood tear rolled down his cheek and he felt it wet his lip. His tongue darted out automatically and he saw her eyes dilate and follow the movement. Smelt the change in the air.
He clenched his fingers tightly and let them drop to his side. Settled for murmuring her name again instead.
She smiled wryly. "We've really gotta start using proper words. Like 'hi' or 'hello' or even 'hey gorgeous' or something."
Angel's lips twitched upwards. "I think that's only what normal people say…and we've never been normal people."
"We were. Once." She frowned a little. "It all seems such a long time ago."
Angel smiled gently at her. "You haven't changed though."
Something flashed in her eyes. "You have," she snapped. "You were dead. I found your ashes. Scattered them in Ireland. I thought the whole not-staying-dead thing was my trick."
He watched as she struggled with her anger, knowing she was trying to focus on that rather than giving in and breaking down.
"I was," he said. "Went to heaven and everything- seems like dying for the good guys is enough to redeem you from a life time of living for the bad ones."
She stared at him, thoughts racing through her mind. "But, you're here…I don't understand."
"The Powers have been aware of what's been going on down here for a little while. They wanted another warrior to help you but couldn't spare another angel- the scales would have been tipped in our favour too much and then they would have been allowed to send something much bigger and nastier to even things up again. It's all about Balance. Turns out I was never supposed to die in that final battle after all, and the Powers have been waiting to exploit that little loophole for a while now. So here I am."
"Wait. You were never meant to die?" Buffy's eyes narrowed dangerously. She looked up to the sky and shook her fist. "What you think you can just mess around with people's lives like that? Once again we win the prize for being the PTB's bitches."
With her words becoming more and more heated as she began to rant, Buffy failed to notice the dark clouds that were racing to obscure the stars that dotted the night sky.
"Gee, thanks for the great job you're doing." Her voice practically dripped with sarcasm. "Guess what Buffy, we're the Powers and not only are we so completely unable to save the world by ourselves that we have to use little girls to do it for us, we're gonna accidentally mess up our filing system so that one of our top warriors dies…oops, sorry, didn't get that memo, oh but don't worry we'll send him back to you a couple of decades down the line so that you can have a nice big reunion and you know what hey, we'll throw in an apocalypse too so that you feel right at home."
There was an ominous rumble of thunder above, but Buffy wasn't done.
"I mean sure you'll have to suffer from a broken heart for a while but you'll get over that and what the hell, as a consolation prize we'll make you immortal. Downside is you get to see everyone die around you, but on the plus size think of the people you can save and then kill when they get turned the next night when you couldn't get to them in time."
A bolt of lightening shot down into the ground an inch from where Buffy was standing, burning the grass next to her into a sooty pile. She sniffed and folded her arms, muttering under her breath.
"Fine I get the message. Your customer complaints department totally needs to lighten up. I mean lightening bolts? Isn't that just a tad too cliché?" She sighed as the clouds gave one more rumble and then retreated back into nothingness as quickly as they'd come, leaving the night sky as clear as before.
"No, not really."
Visibly reigning herself in she took several calming breathes. Trying to sound indifferent she asked a very important question. "So what happens when everything's over? Do you go back or…"
"No," he interrupted hurriedly. "I was kinda hoping that…well that is if… there's no-one else…"
"You want to stay with me?"
"Unless you're not…cookies was the term you used last time we spoke wasn't it? I mean if …if you don't want me to I'll go and find…"
"No, no, I'd like you to stay…that is if you want to...?"
"I'd love that."
He smiled then, a full smile and Buffy suddenly remembered how good looking he was when he looked at her like that. There was a beat of silence, a sudden change in atmosphere as Buffy felt the ache in her chest intensify.
"I missed you," she whispered, knowing his sensitive hearing would pick up the words.
"I missed you too," he murmured. Suddenly she was in his comforting embrace, his arms wrapped tight around her, her face buried in his chest as she began to sob. He stroked her hair soothingly as she cried over everything she'd lost.
"I was so alone," she choked. "No-one understood…and then they all left me…and I can't face Dawnie…Angel…I was so alone…"
"Shhh," he breathed. "I'm here now beloved, I'm here."
Neither knew how much time had passed as they stood holding each other, taking comfort in each other's presence, and neither of them particularly cared.
Suddenly there was a small rustling sound like someone shifting from foot to foot and the vampire and his slayer looked up from their positions to see Roman watching them. A look passed over his face- something between pain and envy- but it was gone in an instant, a neutral mask slipping into place as he noticed that they were both looking at him.
He inclined his head back to the door that had materialised behind him once more.
"Our time is up. We need to go back to the party and complete the job that you were both sent back here for."
The couple broke apart but clasped their hands together, beginning to walk back over to the open door which led back into the small billiards room that Roman had spun her into at the beginning. Stepping through back into the warmth of the room Buffy turned and watched as the angel gently closed the door, but not before casting one more anguished look over the statue that formed the fountain.
With the door shut firmly it dissolved back into the wall and formed an innocent looking bookshelf, complete with several leather bound volumes and a rather pretty statuette of a woman with a dove in one hand and a sword in the other. Buffy was sure the figure blinked and smiled up at Roman, but when she looked again the statue remained perfectly still, its tiny features unmoving. Frowning, she continued to watch the porcelain figurine from the corner of her eye as, his job complete, Roman then strode over to the billiard table and waved his hand over the surface.
Immediately an array of weapons appeared, each weapon pristine in its condition and glinting dangerously in the flickering light of the room. Roman gestured towards the table.
"Help yourselves…but remember the more you carry the better you will have to conceal it from the other guests. Tonight is traditionally an amnesty between both sides so no weapons are permitted in the building. You won't have felt the wards guarding the entrance as you passed through Buffy, but all of the entrances are designed to disable any guest who has brought a weapon with them and allow the guards to remove the offending object and person. If either of you is caught carrying anything at all then not only is it highly illegal but will be perceived as either a direct challenge to them or as an assassination attempt towards one of the guests. Both conclusions will result in your rather messy and unfortunately drawn out deaths."
Buffy and Angel glanced at each other and neither could suppress the slight shudder at Roman's dark words nor the expression on his face; the darkness in the Angel of War that relished the thought of bloodshed and violence.
Angel frowned and pointed at the assembled armoury. "How did you get these past then if the wards are so well done?"
Roman cocked his head to one side in an action that clearly showed he wasn't human. He considered the vampire thoughtfully and then spoke, his words clearly carefully chosen.
"The room we are standing in does not exist. Nor did the garden you were in a moment ago. None of this in fact exists at all." At their confused expressions he held up a finger as Buffy opened her mouth to interrupt.
"Let me explain as best I can, but you must understand that my explanation will not make complete sense as your mortal minds are ill equipped to deal with the theories of existence, substance and instantiation principles."
Roman held up his finger. "The instantiation principle is a concept that states that if something has a property, then necessarily that something must exist. For it not to exist would be a property without an essence, which is impossible. For example," he waved his fingers and an apple appeared in his fingers, "an apple is red. Here, the apple is the essence and the property is red. The instantiation principle implies that it is meaningless to say that "the apple is red, but the apple doesn't exist." The apple must exist for it to be red."
Slow comprehension was dawning on Angel's face but Buffy's was as confused as ever.
Roman rolled his eyes. "Miss Summers have you ever heard of the phrase 'Cogito ergo sum'?" Buffy folded her arms defensively.
"No," she snapped. "And your fancy apple tricks are making me grouchy. Get on with the explainy 'cos I'm still not getting what's going on."
" 'Cogito ergo sum' means I think, therefore I am." Roman flicked his hand and the apple disappeared. "This room did not exist until we appeared in it when I did my, as you so eloquently put it 'fake-waiter-man-twirly-thing.' You expected us to appear somewhere and so we did. For us to have landed in nothing would have been too difficult a concept for your mind to grasp. It is you who have created this room we are standing in. It was you who decided where you would reunite with Angel. Your imagination that created these weapons. You thought, therefore they are."
He formed the apple once more and had it vanish as quickly as it came. "I can say the apple is red without it physically existing. It is simply a conception in my mind. But in order for it to be red the apple must therefore exist, regardless of whether it is actually here or not."
Buffy raised an eyebrow. "So if I think of say, a strawberry daiquiri, it will appear?"
Roman shook his head. "No, the principle works only on a subconscious level. Your expectations are already in place. You cannot deliberately change them using your conscious mind."
"But you created that apple."
"Only because you expected me to give you an example. And also because I am on a higher spiritual plane than you."
"Wow, that totally didn't sound like you have a stick up your…"
"Buffy," interrupted Angel, before she could say something insulting. "So you're saying because we expected weapons, we got them."
"And it was night time in the garden," realised Buffy, "because I expected Angel to be able to walk without burning."
"Precisely," said Roman, allowing the corner of his mouth to lift slightly. "The weapons exist now within the building, and, having never traveled though the wards they are undetectable except through physical discovery."
"Cool," said Buffy, fingering the throwing stars and the silver hilt of a particularly wicked looking dagger before pocketing it into her handbag, next to Mr. Pointy.
She glanced down at herself and fingered the satin of her evening dress before glancing back at the short swords. "This may be a problem."
"I'll take two," said Angel, reaching for both of the swords. "I can conceal them in my jacket easily enough."
"Hmm," mumbled Buffy glancing round the room. Spotting a dark paneled cabinet she strode over to it. "If I know myself then I would have…" She flung open the cabinet doors and let out a shout of triumph. "Yep, I would have expected that I would have needed to conceal my weapons somehow." Reaching into the cupboard she pulled out several knife sheaths and dagger holsters, as well as clips for the stars and bottles of holy water, about the size of a ring finger.
Angel grinned at her. "I'm starting to really like your subconscious."
Buffy smirked back. "Me too."
With as many weapons strapped onto themselves as they could carry Roman outlined his brief plan of attack.
"I will continue to pose as a waiter and scope out the rest of the guests and the room. You two must try and see if you can locate where Carenza is being held and then come and inform me. We will then go and rescue her together."
"You make it sound so easy."
The angel ignored the sarcastic comment. "There will be a dinner in an hour's time so you have precious little time to find her before you are required back at the banqueting hall. There I will be able to speak to you and find out what is happening."
"I don't spose you can think Carenza into existence can you?" Asked Buffy, in the vain hope that this would be possible.
"Wasn't expecting her to be here, right, I get it." The slayer sighed and mumbled under her breath. "Would have made things a whole bunch easier though."
"Yes, well, anyway. There is one final thing you will need in your search."
"Is it blueprints?" Buffy perked up. "Cos we could totally use those right now instead of having to figure out what and where every room is in the building."
Roman looked back over to the wooden bookcase and Buffy followed his gaze over the books and the statu…the statuette that was no longer there but walking along the floor silently towards them.
Buffy stifled the urge to scream. "What the…"
Roman reached down a hand and the figurine leapt lightly on to it as he gently lifted her and put her onto the billiard table top.
"This is Cynthia. She'll be your guide around the building. The sword should point you in the right direction and the dove will glow to warn you of oncoming dangers."
"What?" Said Buffy getting over her shock and using her anger to cover up her fear of the tiny woman that was giving her the wiggins. "We get a creepy statuette instead of something useful like a map or building layouts?"
Roman shrugged. "Don't blame me. It wasn't my subconscious."
She whirled round and glared at Angel who was staring at the figurine and smirking. His smile wilted under Buffy's stare.
"What? I couldn't help it. You were the one who expected to think it was creepy." He smiled once more at the figurine who dipped a curtsy to him. "I quite like her."
Buffy just looked at him. "This is what your subconscious expected to help us? Not a map, no, it just had to be a frickin freaky doll statue. And no way am I calling it Cynthia. You've got to be kidding."
The figurine's head revolved, the porcelain grating as it twisted impossibly and leered at Buffy, its blank eyes staring at her. The slayer refused to back down from the staring contest but eventually realised she had to blink. After all, the statue had no eyelids. The doll smiled nastily and bringing the sword up pointed at Buffy before miming cutting its throat.
"Did you see that?" Said Buffy urgently, pointing at the doll who smiled innocently.
"Hmm?" Said Angel who had been readjusting a couple of stakes which were in the inner breast pocket of his jacket. "Buffy, she's just a statue. And she's on our side. I think you've just got off on the wrong foot. Right Cyn?"
"Cyn?" Ground out Buffy.
Angel shrugged and shot the doll a smile who gave him a thumbs up. "I'm sure if you just apologised to her you'd get along fine."
"Apologize for what exactly?"
"Well you did call her creepy and freaky," said Roman, who looked thoroughly bored by the whole thing.
The porcelain woman nodded vigorously and put on a hurt expression. A tiny trickle of glazing slid down her face.
"Wait… are those tears?" Said Buffy incredulously. "You manipulative little…"
Angel frowned. "Buffy, just apologize so we can go save the world. Please," he added when she glared at him.
"Sorry," the slayer ground out between gritted teeth. Cyn nodded graciously and smiled at her.
"Good," said Roman. "Perhaps we are ready to finally leave now?"
"Whatever," Buffy replied. The moment the vampire and the angel had their backs turned the innocent smile on Cyn's face disappeared and the figure pointed at Buffy and made jerky stabbing motions, smirking viciously.
Poking out her tongue Buffy walked past casually and knocked the figure off hard onto the floor. Unfortunately the doll twisted in mid air and managed to land on its feet on the carpet. Without a scratch or chip on it.
"Damn," muttered the slayer under her breath.
Roman took both of their hands in his as he prepared to spin them back into reality.
"Remember," he urged. "Dinner is in an hour. We have till midnight to find Carenza. Try to make yourselves inconspicuous. Avoid anyone who might know you. Make as little small talk as possible. And don't let anyone discover your weapons." His grip tightened. "Good luck."
And then the world was spinning in a haze of colour as they went through the door and back into the ballroom. Shaking off the faint dizziness both Angel and Buffy immediately took in the brightly lit room with its multitude of guests. Roman picked up the tray of drinks that he had set down before, then offered the tray to them.
"Thank you," said Angel, picking up the wine glass in one hand and the invitation that was underneath it with the other. The angel (now firmly back into his waiter disguise) nodded and then walked over to another group of guests.
Angel glanced down at the card in his hand and fingered the gold edging. "Hope they've got me a place in the seating arrangements."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "They're the PTB. May not be able to save the world but I'm sure they can get you a place at dinner."
Angel grinned at her and offered his arm, allowing Buffy to slip her hand into the crook of his elbow, as they began to casually move towards the end of the room and several open doors.
"Any idea where Cyn went?" He asked. Buffy smiled and nodded at several people before glancing at the large clock on the wall.
"No idea," she replied with only a hint of irritation. "Have you noticed that according to that clock we haven't been gone at all?"
"What?" Said the vampire. "But that's imposs...oh."
Buffy grinned. "You know I wasn't expecting any time to have passed whilst we were in there." She laughed. "Oh, the cleverness of me."
Angel raised an eyebrow at the phrase. "You've read J.M. Barrie?"
"What?" Said Buffy defensively. "A girl's not allowed to read these days?"
"You hate books."
The slayer pouted. "I'll have you know I love reading…" she wilted under Angel's gaze, "…Vogue okay, okay. So I watched the film instead. But Peter was played by this really cute guy, with this gorgeous blonde hair and amazing eyes and I'm so shutting up now." She coughed and hurried onto a different topic. "Anyway mister, lets speed up slightly. Remember we're trying to avoid anyone talking to anyone who may or may not know us."
Suddenly a heavily accented french voice called to them across the room.
"Angelus! What a lovely surprise."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Great. Someone who knows your psychotic alter ego." She smirked. "50 bucks says they're evil."
Author's note: Cogito, ergo sum (Latin: "I think, therefore I am") is a philosophical statement used by Rene Descartes, which became a foundational element of Western philosophy.
Please read and review! A review a day keeps the fanfic blues away. And doesn't rot your teeth either!
They're almost as good as chocolate…
…Maybe chocolate covered reviews…