Written for ba_rosebuds, prompt "bell." Kind of.

Set a week after #39 of Season Eight, which I've decided takes place at Christmastime. I don't remember canon saying otherwise...

It hasn't felt like Christmas in years, not since they left Sunnydale and home and committed themselves to a cause greater than family. It isn't that she'd forgotten, not with the bells ringing in the distance and the lights decorating the streets, but a tree had been a wistful memory and she'd been far more occupied with current threats to the slayers to worry about buying gifts. She has greater needs now, and celebrating Christmas has been put on the back-burner.

And it certainly hasn't been much of a Christmas this year, burying Giles just a week before and struggling through her grief to ward off the last of the interdimensional demons. She doesn't want things to be happy and peaceful and safe. She doesn't want to spend time with her ever-shrinking family. She doesn't want the holiday.

But right now, it's never felt more like Christmas, climbing to the top of a hill to stop a vampire from meeting the dawn.

She doesn't know why she's bothering. He doesn't deserve it. He doesn't deserve anything. She'd told him as such when he stumbled to her door, broken and lost, and she doesn't regret it. He killed hundreds of my slayers. He killed…he killed Giles! She'd wept in front of him as she sent him off, hating to hurt him- that makes one of us- but unable to forgive. Unable to make excuses for him anymore, as plenty as they might have been.

I loved you. I don't trust you. I don't even know you anymore. But she'd known somehow that he'd be here, ready to give up again. Ready to finally finish the job he'd begun six Christmases before.

And now she knows that she was right, because she can see his figure framed in the darkness, tall and bulky, and the teenaged girl inside of her longs to run into his arms, to cry out regrets and forgiveness and drink in a love that has proven to be eternal, even now.

It's easier than ever to resist that girl, and instead she stands silently, arms crossed, watching as he turns to meet her gaze. His eyes are hollow and empty and her heart wrenches, because while he's not completely blameless, he's a victim, too, isn't he? He can't die now. She can't lose anyone else. She can't lose him.

She doesn't speak. She doesn't need to, because all the words have been said before.

"You're weak. Everybody is. Everybody fails."

"Angel, you have the power to do real good, to make amends. But if you die now, then all that you ever were was a monster!"

Once she'd thought that he was everything, that his death would mean her own. Once she'd been right.

And now…right now, she closes her eyes and brings that innocent, naïve girl back, to pull from her that unending strength and faith that she'd once had in the man before her, and she walks slowly across the length of the hill to him. He watches her silently as she clasps his cheek, and she struggles to keep her face even as she moves closer.

She kisses him. It isn't a kiss of forgiveness or renewal or lust. It's soft and it's simple, and it speaks of love and sorrow and all that she can't give him again if he's given up like this. Of all that they've both lost. How can they lose any more? How can she stand alone after all that has happened?

"Strong is fighting! It's hard, and it's painful, and it's every day. It's what we have to do. And we can do it together!"

He stares at her, his expression grim and pained, but the determination is gone and in its place, a tiny sliver of hope has returned. It's enough for now.

She needs him to live. She doesn't have much more of a plan than that, but when his hand finally finds hers and he walks with her from the dawn, she's finally ready to start figuring it out.