Title: Merry Christmas (I don't want to fight tonight)
Author: Beer Good
Word Count: 700
Characters/Pairing: Buffy, Joyce, Hank
Disclaimer: All characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy, and unless he gives them away for Christmas, he's the only one making money off them. The title belongs to the Ramones.
Summary: Christmas in the "Normal Again"-verse.
Merry Christmas (I don't want to fight tonight)
They let the patients out for the holidays.
Not all of them, obviously, just the ones who don't pose any immediate threat to themselves or others. The ones who don't need around-the-clock attention. The ones who still have families. Dope them up to keep them calm, instruct their family members so they know how to handle them, and give them 48 hours. The official line is that familiar surroundings, faces and traditions can sometimes lead to breakthroughs and near-miraculous recoveries. Of course, they don't like to mention that the odds of that happening are about the same as a tropical heatwave striking Chicago in December; they're called miracles for a reason.
Hank and Joyce make sure their daughter is bundled up against the cold before they walk to the car. She can walk just fine, catatonia is funny that way; get her started and she'll walk in that direction like a wind-up toy until you grab her and make her stop or turn. Guide her into the car and put her seat belt on and she'll sit right there for as long as you want, staring out the window with eyes that don't focus, showing no sign that she can hear a word of her mother's small talk about how beautiful the city looks covered in snow and electric lights.
When they get to the apartment, Hank quickly puts on a CD of Christmas songs, the merry ding-dong of Gloria, gloria, hosanna in excelsis just a litte too loud for comfortable conversation. The apartment is bare under the colourful decorations, inhabited but never truly lived in. They moved here both for the specialist care and to be close to Joyce's family, who have been great, really, but somehow had other plans for Christmas dinner. So it's just the three of them.
Buffy chews what used to be her favourite food with all the enthusiasm of a robot as silence settles in around the table. Hank finishes his fourth glass of wine; it clatters against the side of the plate as he puts it down in frustration. "What do you suppose she's thinking about?"
"She's sitting right here, Hank. Don't talk about her like..." Joyce shoots him a look; the doctors said to act normally.
"She doesn't even know we're here."
"We don't know what she -"
"Fine, let's ask her. Buffy? It's Christmas, honey. What are you fighting today? Werewolves, demons, vampires?" His daughter's eyes flicker slightly at the V word, but otherwise there's no more reaction than there's been in the last three years. Hank looks away, his jaw clenched tight. "Merry fucking Christmas."
After dinner, they sit down to watch It's A Wonderful Life, Buffy in the middle. Hank lasts all of 20 minutes before he declares himself "bushed" and gets up to go to bed.
"I'm sorry." There's something in his eye. "I just... I've had about all the fairy tales I can stand today." He hugs Buffy; it's like hugging a corpse, nothing there but flesh. "We love you. Come back to us." And he's gone.
Joyce watches the movie to the end with her arm around her broken daughter, then shuts off the TV. She looks out the window, where the snow is falling in big wet flakes, turning to sludge on the streets. She hugs Buffy tight, squeezing her hand. "Do you see that, Buffy?" Forcing herself to not slip into babyspeak; it's harder than you'd think. "See the snow?" A moment, and she starts to sing softly, her voice veering off-pitch on every other word. "Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, and since we've no place to go, let it snow..."
"...And while most of southern California is enjoying a balmy Christmas, an extreme cold front has sprung up out of nowhere around Sunnydale, where they are reporting heavy snowfall for the first time in... well, ever."
Sunnydale lies almost completely deserted in the early morning darkness. The snow falls, covering everything in white. They walk down Main Street together, not speaking a word. In the cold, Angel's dead hand feels almost warm as it squeezes hers tight, telling her everything she needs to know. Somewhere far off, someone is singing Christmas carols. And for once, the town on top of a hellmouth is peaceful and safe.