Suggested listening:

"You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" by Gary Hoey
"Angels We Have Heard On High" by Adam Again
"In The Bleak Mid-Winter" by Kevin Smith

Author's Note: This is the original Christmas episode of 'The Trick Chronicles.' It was adapted into 'A Very Buffy Christmas,' the first fic I ever posted. As such, there will be similarities in plot and character, but 'What Child Is This' is a different work.


What Child Is This?
By
Michael Walker


"Nothing says Christmas like Perry Como blasting out of a three-inch speaker." Buffy Summers looked around at the crowds of people and imagined she was a rock holding steady in the middle of a roaring river. Plastic wreaths hung from shop doors and windows were festooned with bright lights of red, green, and blue. All of Sunnydale seemed determined to get into the Christmas spirit. All of Sunnydale except the Slayer, that is.

"Look at that." Joyce Summers touched her daughter on the arm and pointed. "That window is so adorable."

Buffy did her best to conceal a wince. The window her mom loved was some sort of gruesome "Santa's Workshop" theme executed with various kinds of candles. "Yeah, mom. It's a real stitch. And I mean that literally."

"Well, aren't we quite the Grinch." Joyce's tone was light and teasing.

Buffy's was not. "I gotta be me."

"Could you try being someone else?" Joyce asked. "Someone who doesn't hate Christmas."

Buffy looked straight at her mom, holding eye contact. Very slowly, she said, "Ho, ho, ho."

Joyce shook her head. "I give up. You really are Scrooge."

"Bah, humbug," Buffy said. Her mom squinted at her in irritation. Buffy pasted a big, insincere smile on her face.

Joyce Summers sighed and put her arm around her daughter. "Honey, I know that Christmas has never been your favorite holiday, and I realize that these last few weeks have been really awful, but you can't wallow in it forever."

"Oh, I think I can wallow for much longer than you'd think." Buffy looked past her mom. "Hey, look." Joyce turned to see Oz and Xander approaching through the milling throng.

"Hey. Mrs. Summers, hello." Oz stuck his hands in his pockets.

Joyce smiled. "Hello, Oz. Xander."

"Hi." Xander turned to the Slayer. "Hey, Buffy, what's up?"

She shrugged. "Christmas shopping. What about you guys?"

Xander reciprocated the shrug. "Just out watching the people." He wore a shapeless dark sweater with a bright yellow horizontal stripe across the chest and baggy khaki cargo pants.

Buffy took an exaggerated look around. "I don't see either of your significant others."

Oz said, "Willow had to study."

"Yeah," Xander chimed in. "And Christmas's not really Will's big cuppa joe."

"Oooh, that's right. I need to pick up a Hanukkah gift for her." Buffy made a mental note. "What about Cordelia?"

"No need. Cordelia's a gentile." Xander smirked.

Buffy gave Xander a 'cheap shot' face. "No, seriously, where is she?"

Xander looked like a ten-year-old with a secret. "Hold on to your pointy elf shoes. Cordy is rehearsing for the Christmas pageant."

"Really? What part does she have?"

Xander grinned. "Well, here's where the irony gets pretty thick. She's an angel."

Buffy's jaw dropped. "An angel?"

Oz lifted one eyebrow. "Part of the heavenly host."

Buffy shuddered. "That's fairly creepsome."

Joyce tapped her daughter on the shoulder. "Buffy, there are some stores I want to look at down this way. Do you want to stay with Xander and Oz?"

Buffy rewarded her mother with a look of sincere gratitude. "Thank you, mom."

"So I should meet you at the coffee shop in, what, half an hour?" Joyce glanced at her watch.

Buffy nodded. "Yeah, that should be fine."

"All right then." Joyce started to walk away. "I'll see you all later. Have fun."

"So," Xander said as the throng bore her away, "are we not exactly brimming with Christmas cheer?"

Buffy gave her mom one final wave. "Hey, what can I say? It's been a crappy holiday season."

"Well, then," Oz said, "you up for a cup of coffee?"

"Oh yes," Buffy replied. "Many cups of coffee." They headed toward the Espresso Pump. "Truth time," Buffy said to Xander. "You avoiding the family?"

Xander picked up the pace. "You know it."

***

One of Liz Blankenship's packages slipped and almost fell. A quick, rude vulgarity hissed out of her mouth. She almost wished the damn things would fall; almost falling was somehow more frustrating.

Sunnydale paid a price for its quaint downtown, and that price was lousy parking. All the lots were a few blocks off Main, a few blocks that seemed like a few miles to a weary shopper who had spent too much and stayed too late. It was already dark and she still had to make dinner when she got home. Thinking about dinner made her walk faster, and that's when the package finally fell. Liz stopped, trying to figure out a way to re-organize her burden.

"Could I lend a hand?"

Liz jumped at the sound of the voice. She spun. The speaker stood at the edge of the cone of light shed by a street lamp. He was a black man dressed in a long dark topcoat.

"Could you use some help?" he asked.

She shook her head. "No, I'll be fine."

He nodded. "I'm sorry I've made you uncomfortable. I'll go. I should know better. Too many wackos around to trust anyone. Even at Christmas." He turned to go

"Wait." Liz held out a hand. He stopped. "I'm the one who's sorry," she said. "It's late, and I'm in a hurry." He looked so nice, and besides, his coat looked like it cost more than all the presents she'd bought. What could he want from her? "I guess what I'm trying to say is, yes, I'd really appreciate some help."

"Then allow me." He stepped forward and picked up two bags.

***

The Espresso Pump was bustling; in fact, it overflowed with bustle. It was hot and loud and Buffy thought that the lights had been cranked up a few watts to make it brighter. They stood in line and ordered-a latte for Buffy, cinnamon roll and large Kona Gold for Xander and apple strudel-"not because it's any better than the other pastries; it's just more fun to say-struuuuuuudellllll"-and coffee for Oz.

"This seemed like a much better idea outside," Xander said, surveying the roiling crowd. "If all of Rome was at the baths, then all of Sunnydale must need a latte."

"Yeah, nothing like watching a desperate horde of crazed shoppers trying to repair a year of dysfunction by finding the perfect pair of tube socks." Oz scanned the crowd while balancing his cup.

Buffy looked around the room again. "There." She nudged Xander with an elbow and headed off toward a fleeting glimpse of white Formica. She was the Slayer; no one was going to beat her to a table.

Except the table was already occupied. A girl sat there, a tall, thin girl with long, dark hair and hazel eyes. She wore a voluminous trench coat over a ratty rollneck sweater and faded jeans.

"Sorry," Oz said. "We couldn't see you. We thought the table was empty."

The girl responded by placing one battered Nike on an empty chair and sliding it away from the table. "Sit down," she said. "This place is so crowded you couldn't stir it with a stick. Why should three empty seats be wasted?"

"Why indeed." Xander slid into the proffered chair. "I'm Xander."

The girl extended a long, strangely elegant hand. "Josie."

"Pleased to meet you." Xander continued the introductions. "This is Oz." Oz acknowledged his name with a nod of the head. "And Buffy."

The Slayer started to tip her cup in the other girl's direction but when she met the gaze of those ice-blue eyes a chill whip cracked along her spine.

"You eating?" Xander asked around a mouthful of cinnamon roll.

"No," Josie said. "I'm really just sitting here."

"Waiting for someone?" Buffy asked.

"No one in particular."

Xander swallowed. "I haven't seen you around school, have I?"

Josie shook her head. "I'm new in town."

***

Liz could see her car, sitting all alone in the corner of the lot. Her benefactor trudged along beside her, carrying the bags in silence. As they drew near the car, Liz began to fumble for her keys.

As they reached the vehicle, the good Samaritan asked, "Is it all right if I set these down here?" He indicated the spot with a nod of his head.

"Yes, and thank you. Do I owe you anything?" Liz started to reach into her purse, but he stopped her with a raised hand.

"Not a cent," he said.

"Then... thank you. Thank you so much." She turned, keys in hand to unlock the trunk. As the lid swung up, she realized that she didn't hear any receding footsteps. She turned back.

He was still there, only he was different. Yellow eyes glimmered, and streetlights reflected off long, spit-covered fangs. She opened her mouth to scream, but he was on her before the air could escape, bearing her down to the pavement, fangs fastened in her pulsing carotid artery.

When he was finished feeding, the vampire hoisted her pale body and dumped it into the open trunk. He took a handkerchief from his pocket, wiped his mouth and hands, and let it fall. The linen square fluttered down, floating over Liz Blankenship's face and covering her shocked, staring eyes as the trunk lid slammed closed.

Mr. Trick walked away, whistling a little tune: "Christmas Time Is Here."

***

"So," Xander said, "what brings you to our fair city?"

Josie shrugged. "Just passing through."

Buffy took a sip of espresso and listened to Xander chat up Josie.

"So," he was saying, "do you go to UC-Sunnydale? Crestwood?"

She looked down at the table, a small smile on her face. "No. I'm just passing through."

"Ah, a woman of mystery." Xander was intrigued. "Passing through to where?"

"Wherever I go next."

"Okay." Xander grinned. "Second try. Passing through from where?"

"From the place I was last."

Xander hunched forward, elbows on the table, and tried his best Christopher Lee accent. "So you're telling me that you just happened to be roaming the countryside, and fate has placed you here, in this place, at this moment in time? Well, I don't buy it, young lady, I don't buy it at all."

Josie's face twitched, then she burst out in a laugh. "I'm so sorry," she gasped, "but that's the worst British accent I've ever heard."

"It is? Well, that's because it was a... a French accent."

"That would be even worse."

Xander looked abashed. "Belgian?"

Oz sipped his coffee. "Quit while you're ahead."

Josie's laughter calmed and she looked down at the table then her head flipped up, locking eyes with Buffy.

'It's almost like she's reading my mind,' the Slayer thought. "S-so, where do you live?" Buffy stammered. 'Get a grip,' she commanded herself.

"You know," Josie said, "you guys are showing an awful lot of interest in someone who just happens to be sharing a table with you."

"Well," Xander said, "that's because we're people people... uh, people, uh, persons. I mean--"

Oz interrupted. "What Should-Be-Silent Bob here is trying to say is that we're sorry if we're prying."

"Actually, that's not--" Xander shut up when he saw the look Buffy shot his way. Josie got up from the table.

"Listen, it's been really nice talking to you guys, but I gots to go." She was still for a moment, and Buffy was struck by just how very pretty she was. "Maybe I'll see you around."

"You need a ride?" Oz asked.

Josie shook her head. "I'm good, but thanks for offering."

"Be careful." Buffy was very serious. "Sunnydale's not the safest place after dark."

Josie's laugh held very little mirth. "If I've learned one thing, it's that no place is safe after dark." Buffy watched her move through the crowd, slipping between patrons almost as though they moved aside for her. She walked out the door, and stood in the pool of radiance from a street light while she gathered her coat around her. Buffy frowned, staring through the window. Something was-

Joyce walked in front of the window and when she passed, Josie was gone. The Slayer's mother stopped just inside the door, looking for her daughter. Buffy waved a hand until Joyce spotted her.

"Well," she said as she drew near, "this looks like a happy table."

Oz rapped the Formica with his knuckles. "Seems cheerful enough."

"Okay," Joyce said. "That joke was old when I was a kid." She turned to the Slayer. "Are you ready to go?"

Buffy pushed up from the table. "I was ready to go when I got here."

Xander crumpled his empty cup. "That means it's time to meet Cordelia. Give me a ride?" he said to Oz. Oz said nothing, just got up, took the keys to the van from his pocket and jingled them. The two of them wended their way through the crowd.

"Have a nice time?" Joyce asked.

"What? Oh, yeah." Buffy stared at the window. "Mom, did you see a girl outside when you came in?"

"Yes," Joyce said. "About a thousand of them, I think. Why?"

Buffy shook her head, still looking at the window. "Oh, nothing."

***

A chilly breeze gusted across the parking lot, whipping Cordelia Chase's hair around her face and causing her to tighten the belt on her coat. Half a dozen cars were scattered around the asphalt. She stood in front of the old, arched wooden doors, a remaining vestige of the early 20th century building that had been torn down to make way for the more modern incarnation of Sunnydale Presbyterian Church.

Oz's van pulled into the parking lot and Xander got out. He schlepped across the parking lot, his hands jammed deep into the pockets of his barn jacket. He whistled a tune as he walked: "Christmas Time Is Here." He could see Cordelia's slender figure standing on the concrete terrace outside the main doors. Those doors gave him the creeps. They were so big and old and dark. Those doors seemed to be alive sometimes. He jogged up the two steps, happy to see her smile. He leaned in and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, then pulled back and frowned.

"You realize you have a little schmutz there?" he said, pointing to her cheek.

Cordelia rolled her eyes as she hefted her purse. "It's glitter. It's part of the costume."

Xander scratched his head as he followed her down the steps. "Is this the Christmas pageant or 'The Last Days of Disco?'"

Cordelia spoke over her shoulder. "Ha, ha. For your information, it looks very cool under the lights."

"Yeah, you keep telling yourself that? Been waiting long?"

Cordelia shook her head as they reached the Sebring. "Nope. Just got done."

***

"There." Rupert Giles stepped back and surveyed his Christmas tree. It was, in his sight, absolutely perfect, all dark green needles and white lights with glinting ornaments. Pachelbel's 'Canon in D' played softly on the stereo. The kettle was beginning to whistle. All was right with the world, or at least it seemed so. Yet Giles felt an uneasiness, a sense of something afoot.

The kettle screamed. Giles roused himself and went into the kitchen, where the ritual of making tea provided a welcome relief from pondering his misgivings. Everything in order, he carried his cup of Earl Grey into the living room and placed it on the coffee table. He sat for a few moments and looked at his tree as he sipped his tea, then placed the cup back in the saucer and picked up the book from the table. He opened it and began to read from the beginning.

***

The same brisk wind that had caught Cordelia whisked down Catalpa Street. It caught the hem of Josie's dingy trench coat and swirled it around her as she trekked along the sidewalk. The holiday crowds were thinner here, mostly just intermittent clumps of people. She passed a crowded bus stop. One of those waiting raised his head, sniffing the air, then turned and caught a glimpse of her slender back as it disappeared.

"How now, brown Swiss," Trick said. "What have we here?" He arose from the bench without conscious thought and began to follow her.

***

Xander twisted his head down toward the dashboard, trying to get a better look at how the green instrument lights reflected on Cordelia's face.

"Will you stop staring at me?" she snapped.

"But it's just so freaky," he said. He dodged a half-hearted attempt to cuff him on the head then settled back into his seat. He glanced idly out of the window. "Hey, I know that girl," he said, sitting up straight. His eyes widened. "Turn around! Turn around!"

Cordelia glanced at him, annoyed. "What's wrong with you, spaz-boy?"

Xander pointed out the window. "It's Trick. He's following that girl. Turn around."

Cordelia stared out the windshield. "Hang on." The squeal of protesting tires and laboring brakes filled the air. The Sebring swung around in the middle of the street and came to a stop, rocking slightly. Xander looked at Cordelia from his new position, sprawled against the passenger door with his feet on the console.

"So," he said, "Still watching 'Speed Week'?"

"Yeah," Cordelia said and floored the accelerator. The Sebring surged forward, tires smoking. As they passed Josie, Cordy slued the wheel left, running the front tires up over the curb and onto the sidewalk.

Xander jumped out of the vehicle. Josie looked a little spooked, but then having a car jump the curb in front of you could explain that.

"Hey, remember me?" Xander looked over her shoulder, searching for Trick. The vamp was nowhere to be seen, but he had to be close by.

"Yeah." Josie had moved from spooked to puzzled. "You're the guy from the coffee shop."

"Hey, quite a memory you've got there. Steel trap." Xander could feel himself babbling, but couldn't stop. "Why don't you let us give you a ride home?"

"Thanks." Josie spoke slowly, as though addressing an infant, or a mental patient. "But I'll be fine."

"Yeah, I'm sure you will, but I have to help someone to get my Boy Scout Good Samaritan merit badge. Whattya say?" He spread his hands.

"I said I'll be fine. It's a nice night."

The driver's door slammed open and a dark-haired girl popped out. "Will you just get in the damn car!" she yelled at Josie.

"Okay," Josie said, climbing into the back seat while Xander checked the street. He seemed very nervous as he climbed in and slammed the door. She leaned forward between the front seats. "Boy, I had no idea you guys took hospitality so seriously."


As the car's taillights faded, Mr. Trick stepped out from behind the hedge where he'd taken cover. "I'll get you, my pretty," he said. "And your little dog too."