A Hellmouth Christmas Carol

Part I

Authors: LelaRose and Gia

NC 17 - This fic is written by Lela Rose and Gia, did you expect a different rating? (smile)

Disclaimer: Let me check. Nah, Own nothing, just borrowing.

Pairing: Take a guess! B/A with a sprinkle of C/A and a dash of B/S but we promise to remedy that.

In memory of Glenn Quinn. May he rest in peace.

Additional dedication: Happy Holidays to everyone who takes the time to read our fics and send us feedback. We really appreciate it. I hope all of you have a Very Merry Christmas and that Santa will be very good to you.

Special thanks to Rehatha for her suggestions and feedback.

Author's Notes: There were certain things we didn't want to bother with so we left them out of this fic. 1) There is no Dawn or Connor. 2) Riley did exist and now is gone fighting demons in the jungle or whatever;

Borrowing the idea of Angelus talking in thought from Maquis's fabulous stories on http://love-is-immortal.tripod.com.

Oh, and our apologies to Charles Dickens.

Fic Notes: <.> will represent the characters thoughts; <italics> represents Angelus's thoughts. ** will be used to emphasize a word.

Lyrics: Head Over Feet - Alanis Morissette; Various Christmas Carols

Feedback: Always! Please feed the writers… gia@everysixseconds.com or lelarose47@hotmail.com

Distribution: All the usual suspects currently hosting LelaRose or Gia fic; Gia's site: www.everysixseconds.com; anywhere else just let me know.

Christmas Eve In LA...

The sounds of Christmas Carols echoed throughout the hotel, as did the laughter of the group downstairs, the merrymaking jubilant and noisy. The sounds were accompanied by the aromatic smell of freshly brewed coffee and cookies just out of the oven adding to the warm and homey feel.

Angel listened absently as he wrapped the small jewel box, his preternatural hearing picking up an occasional comment when he bothered to pay attention. The window was open, the cool night breeze drifting in and chilling the room. It was of little matter to him though, as external heat and cold seemed to have little influence on him these days. He always seemed to feel chilled, the cold from his body filling his heart and soul.

Cordelia has insisted on the Christmas tree and the decorations and Angel had given in without protest. He knew that she, like the rest of the AI team, really had nowhere else to be on Christmas Eve and so they would celebrate it together, a family of sorts.

For so many years prior to the last few Angel had simply let the holidays pass him by. And he had liked it that way. It was easier to stay out of the way, keeping humans at a distance, staying in the shadows.

There were other reasons too, that Angel avoided the holidays - particularly Christmas.

Once, so very long ago now, he and Darla had found pleasure in roaming the streets on Christmas Eve in search of their prey. They would watch the people happily crossing the streets, busy with their last minute errands and travels to meet with family and friends to celebrate the holiday. They would watch and wait patiently, their malice and demonic senses trained to pick and choose only the most cheerful, those with only the highest of spirits, those people who seemingly had everything to live for - and thus everything to lose. Nothing had ever been as fun as taking everything away from someone who had it all, and they had joyfully and cruelly done that.

Angel felt the guilt descend over him with the thoughts of his past. The crimes he had committed as a demon were so horrific that his own mind could scarcely contemplate what he had done. Each time he was reminded of what he had been he renewed his resolve to make amends for his actions and each time he wondered if it would even be possible.

"Hey!" A cheerful voice interrupted his thoughts. Cordelia stuck her head in the room. He'd been so lost in thought that he hadn't heard her approach. Angel turned toward the door.

"You gonna join us, Scrooge?" She laughed at her own joke, her eyes sparkling with merriment and the glasses of champagne she had consumed.

"Coming." Angel inwardly sighed, picking up the few gifts from the table. It was the first year he had attempted to buy presents for the team and he was a little anxious about it. He was years out of practice buying gifts. The last gifts he had bought had been… for Buffy. His thoughts veered quickly away from any further thoughts of the blonde Slayer. Purposefully, he had kept her out of his mind these past few years and purposefully, he would continue to do so. Anything else was simply not an option.

"Gunn promised to sing 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' acapella. I don't think he can, but…" Cordelia giggled, "I guess we'll see."

Angel smiled slightly, not wanting to spoil the evening of fun for everyone. There was no need for him to burden anyone else with his own grim thoughts.

"You're not up here brooding are you?" Cordelia admonished irritably, noting his sober expression.

"Uh, no." Angel looked away from her, unable to look her directly in the eye and lie.

"Angel!" Cordelia returned sternly, "For once we're going to celebrate Christmas my way and it's going to be fun and everyone is going to be happy. We're singing Christmas carols tonight and drinking eggnog and champagne, and then tomorrow morning we're all getting together under the Christmas tree in our pajamas and opening gifts. Just like when we were kids. After that, Fred and I are making a big dinner and we'll all eat until we're suffering from carb overload."

Angel nodded in agreement, even though he'd partake little of the planned feast. Sometimes Cordelia seemed to forget that vampires had little taste for drinks other than blood, and no desire for solid food. He silently followed her from the room.

"Merry Christmas!" Gunn shouted, lifting his glass in toast as Cordelia and Angel descended the stairs.

Angel nodded and returned the greeting, setting his packages carefully down next to the others by the tree. The bright-multicolored lights were festive and cheerful and the groups good humor contagious. He felt his earlier dark mood lift slightly.

Over the next few hours, Cordelia regaled them with stories from her youth about Christmases past, everyone laughing as she described her careful and methodical wish list presentation to her parents. She avoided, however, telling them about the tantrums that followed when her list wasn't delivered accurately and in its entirety. When they sang carols, Angel even attempted to join in on one or two that he recognized. His voice was deep and pleasant, if somewhat hesitant.

Just past 11:00 o'clock, Cordelia herded everyone off to bed, insisting that tradition demanded that everyone be in bed by midnight. Besides, it would be an early morning for all with presents to be unwrapped under the tree.

She followed Angel to his room, stopping just outside. "See, you had fun."

"Yes." Angel returned her smile, thinking again that he was doing the right thing now. Cordelia was good for him and he needed her; she gave him a much-needed connection to humanity. And lately things had begun to heat up between them.

Cordelia looked into his eyes. She wanted him to kiss her, she wanted to kiss him, but she waited, hoping he would make the first move. Their relationship seemed to be heading in that direction; it was perhaps only a matter of moving the car along the track a bit. Resting one hand on his chest, she closed her eyes and pursed her lips slightly, leaning forward. There. There was no way he would miss *that* signal.

Angel paused for a moment as he stared down into her upturned face, the full lips she had puckered expectantly. This was what he wanted, he reminded himself sternly. He wanted a relationship. He wanted… love. And Cordelia understood the limitations his curse and nature set upon him.

He leaned down and kissed her, automatically sliding his tongue in to duel with hers. Their lips met and clung, a moist intimate caress and after a moment he withdrew, disturbed that he had felt no heat, no passion for her burning within him; it was just motions, just automatic, absent-minded skill. For a moment, the emptiness seemed portentous, but he dismissed his worries with a series of excuses - he was tired; he was no longer used to the effects of the champagne; he had a lot on his mind; there were unsolved cases…

The demon inside him stirred and Angel felt it, adding to his unease. <Well, well what have we here?> He leaned away, planning on saying goodnight when Cordelia pressed firmly against him again.

Pretending not to notice his reluctance, the ex-cheerleader smiled and pressed her lips against his again. She reached for the knob and opened the door to his room. With slow but steady steps, Cordelia managed to inch Angel backward into his suite of rooms, her lips still planted firmly on his. She wanted more, wanted things to go farther than they had before. And she was determined to make that happen.

Without thought, Angel's hands wandered slowly up her waist. His moves were perfunctory, practiced. There was no real thought or emotion required, as Angel lapsed into programmed motions. His senses were tuned equally to Cordelia and to the demon now awakening within.

Wanting more, wanting him to continue when he usually left off before, Cordelia reached for his hand and placed it on her breast. Unaware that his attention was divided, she smiled inwardly at her success so far. She moaned into his mouth as he ran his palm over her firm flesh before he cupped the mound in his hand.

<Asshole!> Angel's eyes came open as his demon suddenly released a fleeting protest, as if objecting to his actions. This made no sense. Always before, Angelus would wait quietly, hopeful of any action that would possibly set him free.

Cordelia's lips brushed Angel's jaw, moving toward his ear and drawing his attention back to her.

The vampire, as if to spite the beast within, renewed his attention to the woman in his arms. His hand squeezed her breast. <It didn't feel… right. Right? It was large and firm - why is that not right? It's not Buffy… > Angel shook away the thought, wary that thoughts of the blonde slayer had entered his mind at just this moment. He inwardly shrugged, maybe it was just the implants.

<Yeah, tell yourself that's what it is.> The demon laughed then, mocking him then with simple words - <Mate! Lover! Slayer!>.

Feeling Angel's momentary disconcertion, Cordelia opted for a bold move. She reached behind her and unzipped her dress, drawing it down to expose her black lace bra. She smiled at him again, sliding the straps down her arms. "Please kiss me, Angel."

Angel swallowed as the demon laughed. While he and Cordelia had certainly engaged in kisses and a few - a rare few - heated make-out sessions, they hadn't pushed the limits of the curse. Was Angelus's presence a warning? Forcing his attentions back to the woman in his arms, Angel returned Cordelia's kisses, his hands moving back to her breasts. He planted soft kisses down her chest moving ever closer to her now exposed breasts. They were large and firm, the skin stretched taut over the implants she had gotten after moving to LA. Her dusky tan nipples were hard peaks begging for his attention.

At the first touch of his mouth on her nipple, Cordelia sighed and leaned back into the couch. She knew about the curse, the risk to his soul, but that applied to his perfect happiness, which she wasn't ready to give him. Though, there was no reason he couldn't provide *her* a little perfect happiness, now was there?

After a few minutes, she reached for his hand and placed it on her inner thigh. Angel usually missed the subtle signals she dropped, so tonight she'd be perfectly blunt. She parted her legs and scooted toward his hand.

Angel hesitated only a moment before he did what he had perfected with years of expertise; knowing that he could keep the demon in check, he brought Cordelia to the heights of pleasure with only his hand while his lips drifted across her breasts, alternating his attentions on each rigid peak, then along her neck to return to her lips. He felt her stiffen when his tongue traced her pulse. He wondered briefly if she thought he would bite…

When she drifted back to earth, Cordelia kissed him affectionately and told him how wonderful he was, how wonderful he made her feel.

Angelus now laughed, taunting him. <Whore! She's no better than any of the bitches you've fucked before. What next? Will she thank you?>

Angel shook his head, attempting to dispel the demon's words.

"Thank you." She was efficiently putting her clothes in order at the time, making it difficult to capture and keep any sense of intimacy of the moment.

Angel grimaced as the demon laughed again. Angelus had been right. As he watched her straighten her clothes, the vampire realized that he would have liked to have held her for awhile, the way that he often did… <Buffy. Buffy again? I need to get her out of my mind. Cordelia. Cordelia is what I want. Cordelia is who I love now.>

Once again the beast within laughed. <Love!> The word came out in a snarl. <She's a shallow, worthless whore. Not worthy to be my mate.>

"'Night," Cordelia smiled brightly. Her world was falling perfectly into place. She had almost everything she every wanted. As she walked to the room she had selected for the night, her spirits lifted a bit and she smiled. What a great start!

<Good job, soul boy. Now she'll be back every time she wants to get off. Next time at least be a man and fuck her.> The demon scoffed and went silent.

"Good night." Angel sighed, dismissing his thoughts. He reached out and squeezed Cordelia's hand affectionately just before she left the room without a backward glance.

Christmas Eve In Sunnydale.....

A cloud of dust settled to the ground. Buffy straightened from staking the fifth vampire of the night. She stuck the stake in the waistband of her jeans and dusted the vampires ashes off her. It had been another long night of Slaying. It seemed even the vampires were in the mood to celebrate the Holidays. Their merry making seemed to be siring more vamps. Buffy shrugged. <Oh, Well, Christmas Eve on the Hellmouth.> She turned to walk out the Cemetery.

"Hello luv. Looking for me?"

Buffy stopped and looked in the direction of the voice. It drifted down to her. She looked up to where Spike crouched on top of one of the expansive columns flanking the entrance and exit to the cemetery. As she watched, he sailed down like some large vulture and landed on his feet in front of her.

Since her break up with Riley, Spike had been following her on patrol in pretense of backing her up. He found lame excuses to come to her house. Telling her he loved her. She'd tried to discourage his interest in her. She probably should have been more convincing. Maybe she had been leading him on. Maybe in her loneliness she had been giving him mixed signals. She didn't know. She did know that she wasn't in the mood to deal with a confrontation with him. But it didn't seem as if she had a choice. Buffy hooked her thumbs in the button loops of her jeans.

"Spike can we *not* do this?"

"Can we not do what luv?" He asked, innocently leaning into her personal space.

Buffy refused to back up. Refused to let Spike know that his nearness bothered her. She wasn't stupid she knew the difference between making love and fucking. She just found it to be a very bitter moment to be sexually attracted to a soulless vampire. Because the chip was the only difference between Spike and the vamps she just dusted.

"Can we not play your little game," she clarified, staring him in the eyes. "I'm not in the mood."

"Then what are you in the mood for luv?"

"I'm in the mood for you to stop calling me luv and get out of my face. I'm tired and I want to go to bed."

"So do I," Spike said seductively, "with you."

Buffy groaned in exasperation. She'd walked right into that one. She was really off her game.

"Look Spike, I only wanted one vampire I've ever had in my bed or ever wanted there and its not you."

"Well, the feeling isn't mutual is it, Slayer? That is, since you're here and he's in LA."

"Angel left me so I could have a normal life and because being together we risked the world. You do remember the curse? Angelus? Just a couple of years ago he was fucking your girl - in front of you for all I know. Maybe that's why you want me. To get a little bit even…." Buffy saw a flash of anger in his eyes before he was able to conceal it. She felt a moment of satisfaction as inflicting a little of his pain back on him.

A cruel smile curved Spike's thin lips, "Oh, haven't you heard Slayer? Angel doesn't seem to be too concerned about his soul."

Buffy narrowed her eyes and took a threatening step toward Spike. "What the hell are you talking about Spike?"

The cruel smiled spread across his face. "Soul boy seems to have found him another piece of cu-,"Spike paused realizing Buffy would probably take offense to being called a cunt, "another sweetheart."

The hurt could be visible seen moving over her features. Spike soaked up her hurt knowing it brought her one step closer to him.

"I-I don't be-believe you," Buffy's voice quivered.

"Well it's true Slayer. Angel could come back if he wanted to," Spike paused to let it sink in, "From what I've heard he doesn't want to because he and Cordelia are knocking boots now." Spike didn't know if the Poof was fucking the bint or not. But for his purposes it was best that Buffy believed it.

Buffy didn't know she'd gasped. She stood looking at Spike letting his revelations sink in, letting the sorrow wash over her. The shock rendering her motionless.

Buffy didn't know she'd gasped. Angel and Cordelia. How could he do that to her? She stood looking at Spike letting his revelations sink in, letting the sorrow wash over her. The shock of his words rendered her motionless.

Spike took the final step that separated them. They were now touching. Thigh the thigh, hip to hip, chest to breast. She could feel the evidence of his arousal pressed into her hip bone. Buffy was forced to tilt her head back to look in the ice blue of his eyes. She didn't have to tilt her head back far. He wasn't as tall as Angel or as muscular. His eyes lacked Angel's warmth, fire; their seductive power. She wondered for a second why she would even think about Angel. She shrugged it didn't matter.

Spike could see he didn't have her attention. He knew who she was thinking about. And it wasn't Farm Boy. And it wasn't him. The observation made him angry; reckless. He couldn't understand why she didn't fall for him. Why she wouldn't accept and return his love. He'd never had trouble picking up a woman; well not since he was turned. Women flocked to him. They loved his accent. His bleach blonde looks, light blue eyes and muscular body. Okay so he wasn't as tall as Angel. He didn't have the whole tall, dark thing, but damn it he was just as dangerous if not more.

"If you wanted to see me in pain Spike you got your wish. What you told me hurts. It hurts like hell, but it doesn't change anything. I can't love you Spike. I can't give you what you want. If it was just my body," she shrugged the hurt she was feeling clear in her expression, "maybe. Everyone wants a few moments of forgetfulness. You've been around about hundred years or so you should know a little about physical pleasure. At least enough to give me those few moments of forgetfulness. If it was just fucking I could give you that, but you want more Spike. You want something I can't give."

"What do you think I want?" He asked already knowing the answer.

"You want my heart and soul. You want me to love you. That's something I can't give you or anyone. Not ever."

Her declaration angered him. He had to prove her wrong. Without a second thought he pulled her to him in and assaulted her mouth. She gasped in surprise at his actions. He took that moment to shove his tongue in her mouth. Buffy was too stunned to do anything. She knew Spike was kissing her. His cool tongue swirled greedily in her mouth. The coolness was familiar but the taste was wrong. She wanted a cool, broad thick tongue that tasted earthy and carried just a hint of cinnamon and spices. A kiss that was loving, caring and filled with sensuality even as it devoured hers and left her weak and panting for more. Instead, her lips were assaulted by a thin chalky tongue that darted angrily in her mouth, tasting strongly of tobacco, smoke and liquor. A kiss that was nothing more than seedy lust and tasted like the downward spiral into desperation. She knew she was only doing this because she was hurt, vulnerable and angry. She knew she wanted to strike back at Angel. Give him a little of the hurt that he had given her. She knew that the last thing she really wanted was to be in Spike's arms. Despite all of that for a few seconds she found herself responding to the kiss. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her body firmly against his arousal. She ground against feeling a heated rush as he moaned in pleasure into her mouth. Her tongue flicked against his before she vigorously sucked on it. Then the gravity of what she was doing penetrated her lust filled brain. No matter how much she wanted to get back at Angel she couldn't do this no matter how good it felt physically.

Buffy pushed Spike away from her so forcefully that he stumbled backwards. He regained his balance and stood staring at her his pale blue gaze filled with hunger. Buffy swiped her hand across her lips trying to wipe off his kiss.

"It can't be wiped away, Slayer." Spike told her his eyes flashing with anger. "You let me kiss you. I had my tongue rammed down your throat and you sucked on it and you enjoyed it," he boasted.

"What I did, *Vamp*, was prove to myself that I might have loved and had the hots for one vamp but it certainly didn't carry over to you," she spit out knowing that for a minute she had responded to him.

"I think the lady protests too much." Spike taunted a smirk curving his lips.

Buffy walked toward the exit of the cemetery, avoiding Spike. The blond vampire turned, following her every movement with his eyes.

"We kissed Slayer. You responded to me. That was your tongue tangling with mine. Admit you enjoyed it."

Buffy knew she'd only let Spike kiss her because she was angry with Angel. Because she was hurt by Spike's revelations. That didn't explain. Why she had responded so fervently. Maybe she did want him. Maybe she was attracted to him.

Buffy turned and ran. She wasn't ready to deal with why or why nots of letting Spike kiss her and responding to the kiss. She was too raw trying to comprehend that the man she loved was with another when he could be with her. That her Angel was with her nemesis: Cordelia. Didn't he love her anymore? Had he moved on and left her still carrying an inextinguishable torch for him? The thoughts and pain flew through her mind as fast as her feet pounded the pavement.

Spike leaned against the massive granite column and watched Buffy run from him. He lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. His little revelation about Angel was going to bring her right where he wanted her. In his arms. He smiled to himself as he remembered the look of hurt and pain on her face when he revealed Angel and Cordelia's relationship. He pushed away from the column. <Oh, yeah, I can literally taste the Slayer pussy on my tongue. Soon, I'll have her beneath me. Soon.> He whistled as he walked towards his crypt.


Buffy walked in her room and turned on the lamp. The soft glow bathed the room. It was Christmas Eve and other than the sick little scene in the cemetery she had no one to spend the evening with. No man to hug and kiss tonight. She imagined that Angel and Cordelia were spending Christmas Eve together. Probably fucking each other's brains out under the Christmas tree as the lights twinkled and winked over their naked passion flushed bodies. She didn't know it would hurt this badly. To think of Angel fucking another. What did she expect? Since their break up she'd had sex with two men. She'd even taunted Angel by telling him she loved Riley. That cruel taunt was now coming back to haunt her.

She and Angel were finally able to be together and he'd moved on. He must have believed her cruel words. Believed that she loved another more than she'd ever loved him. She hadn't done anything to rectify his belief. Angel deserved to be happy. Even if it was with someone else. Even if that someone else was Queen Bitch Cordelia. <So why does the idea of him making love to her hurt so much? Why does my heart feel as if it is about to break?> A single tear rolled down Buffy's cheek unchecked. Her careless cruel words were probably the main reason Angel had not called to tell her about his soul. He probably thought she wouldn't care because she loved Riley. That was the farthest thing from the truth. She would have definitely wanted to know about his soul and as much as she cared about Riley she didn't love him.

She'd broken up with Riley a week before school let out for Christmas break. Spike had been feeding Riley's insecurities. He'd told Riley over and over that Buffy didn't love him. That she could never love him because she'd been marked by Angel. She had tried to convince Riley that she and Angel were over but his insecurities just ran too deep. She finally grew tired of constantly reassuring him and stopped. The situation had come to a head when Riley accused her of still loving Angel. When she did not dispute his accusation he told her that their relationship was over. Truthfully she couldn't contradict him because deep in her heart she knew he was right. The break up with Riley hadn't been hard which should have told her a lot. Truthfully when Riley left her she felt *relieved*. It was just the end to a relationship that had stopped being mutually beneficial long ago.

She popped in her Alanis Morissett CD and the singer's voice filled the air. *Head Over Feet* began to play. Buffy stood still, closed her eyes and let the words flow through her.

I had no choice but to hear you
You stated your case time and again
I thought about it

She believed she had loved him from the moment she laid eyes on him. His dark, sexy, mysterious voice enthralled her from the moment his first words to her slipped past his lips. She wondered what he was doing now. If he still thought about her. If he still remembered the schoolgirl he left in Sunnydale.

You treat me like a princess
I'm not used to that
You ask how my day was

No one had treated her like a princess since he left. They all thought that she was the strong one. He had been the only one who had taken care of her. He had been the only one who treated her like she would break. He treated her like she was the most precious thing in his life.

You've already won me over in spite of me
Don't be alarmed if I fall had over feet
Don't be surprised if I love you for all that you are
I couldn't help it
It's all your fault

And he had won her over slowly day by day. Hell, who wouldn't fall for him head over feet? He was strong, reliable and he treated her like a princess. Well, being *eye candy* hadn't hurt either. He was certainly beautiful to behold. And he now loved someone else. He was finally able to show his feelings in the physical sense and he was making love to another. It hurt. It hurt worst than she ever thought it would hurt.

Buffy took a deep breath opened her eyes. The hurt and pain of Angel loving Cordelia bit into her flesh like a constant, persistent ache. It throbbed through her body. She flexed her shoulders and moved her neck from side to side trying to workout the kinks. She gingerly pulled off her jacket and dropped it on the floor. She sat on the edge of her bed and pulled off her ankle boots. She tossed them in the closet. She stood and slowly stripped off her sweater and bra, shimmed off her jeans and kicked them towards the hamper.

She studied her reflection in the mirror. She was thin. She had circles under her eyes. She hadn't been sleeping well. She was looking haggard. No wonder Angel had never come back to her. Cordelia had always been the beautiful one. While Cordelia was perfecting make up, hair, nails and How to Get a Man 101, she had been learning how to dust a vampire, behead a demon, ambush techniques and Demonology 101. Not exactly a glamorous undertaking.

She let out a sigh. The bruises were fading. She had some bruises on her chest, around her neck, across her shoulder and arms and one was rapidly forming on her cheek. She'd been a little careless the other night and ran across four vampires. She should have waited for them to separate but she decided to take them all on. Big Mistake. She had everything under control until another vamp showed up and took her from behind. It had been a little scary for a few minutes. She shrugged. It had worked out. She walked away a little bruised, a lot wiser and most importantly, alive.

Buffy shook the thoughts off. Not bothering to cover herself she padded down the hall to the bathroom. She had the house to herself. Her mother was spending the Christmas holiday with her Mom and her sister Darlene. Buffy hadn't felt like trying to be *Merry* and had come up with the excuse that the Hellmouth was too unstable for her to leave. Her Mom hadn't liked it but she'd accepted the excuse. Thinking about Christmas reminded Buffy that she didn't have a Christmas tree. She doubted if she'd get one. Her Mom had made it a tradition to buy a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and decorate it. Since she wasn't here Buffy hadn't bothered to keep up the tradition. She and her Mother had exchanged gifts yesterday before she left. The few other gifts Buffy had were for Xander, Giles, Anya. She'd bought Willow a gift but she hadn't wrapped it because Willow didn't celebrate Christmas.

Buffy ran her bathwater added some mineral soak Willow had given her. She tested the water with her fingers and when it felt right she sank into the soothing hot mineral infused liquid.

It was Christmas Eve but to her it was like any other night. Tomorrow she'd go to Giles. She, Willow and Anya were cooking dinner. Not Christmas dinner because Willow didn't celebrate Christmas. Just a dinner with friends. Then maybe they'd open a few gifts and watch the Sunnydale Christmas Parade and Giles' copies of *It's a Wonderful Life* and some old English movie *A Christmas Carol.* Buffy smiled fondly. Giles was very excited about watching those two old movies. He told everyone they were Classics.

Buffy took the sponge and soaped her body. She thought about the incident in the cemetery. She knew why she responded to Spike. The hurt, the pain that was clawing at her. She'd wanted to hurt Angel. To sleep with his nemesis. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea. Spike was chipped now. He was available. Who would know if she succumbed to his seduction? It was just a fuck. That was all it would be. She'd proved to herself with Parker and Riley that she couldn't have a relationship with a human male. And she'd proven with Angel she couldn't have a relationship with a souled vampire. So why not fuck a chipped vampire? At least she knew she could never love him and she knew she couldn't hurt him emotionally. He was a vampire; he didn't have emotions like love. He only felt lust and passion. And right now, as much as she hated to say it, he could offer her a few moments of forgetfulness. Appease her hurt pride, her wounded ego. Plus, as much as she hated to admit it she was a healthy hot-blooded female and she'd gotten use to getting laid 3-5 times a week even if Riley's stamina hadn't match hers. Buffy rinsed the suds off her. She'd think about it later.

She stepped out the tub and dried off. She went to her room and slipped on a tank style t-shirt and a pair of low rise sweat pants. She climbed in bed holding Mr. Gordo close. She again wondered how Angel was spending his Christmas Eve. She sighed sleepily and tried to convince herself that she really didn't care what Angel was doing tonight…or who he was doing it with.

*** Doyle's Ghost… ***

Meanwhile, in LA…

Angel looked out the window as he undressed, the streets uncannily still for the usual hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. It was one of the few nights of the year when things actually seemed quiet, in both the human and the demon world.

The lone person walking along the sidewalk glanced up just as Angel looked down, giving the tall vampire a jolt of surprise. There was nothing unusual about the man, either in manner or dress, other than the fact that he looked very much like someone Angel used to know. But it couldn't be Doyle.

Angel blinked, doubting his eyes. When he opened them again, the street was empty, no one walking where the man had been. Angel looked left and right, his brow furrowing in concentration. He was too used to ghostly phenomena and creatures of the night to simply dismiss the vision out of hand, and yet, there was nothing to indicate that it had been anything more than his imagination. He shrugged, thinking it was perhaps the three glasses of champagne that Cordelia has pressed on him to drink - he was no longer used to alcohol so maybe it had an unusual effect.

Pulling on a pair of black sweat pants, his favorite sleeping attire now that he no longer slept nude (Cordelia and Fred having barged in on him just one too many times), Angel crawled into his bed.

It seemed he had only closed his eyes when he heard the sounds of a bell ringing. It was an old antique hotel bell that Wesley had given him as a joke when they had first moved into the hotel. Angel had left it on a shelf downstairs and had promptly forgotten about it. Curiously he sat up, as the ringing appeared to be coming closer. He reached for the sword that he kept under the bed.

Each ring of the bell was preceded by a clanking sound, almost as if a chain were dragging along the floor. And footsteps. The footsteps were coming down the hall now toward his door. Angel tensed, lifting the sword and preparing to attack.

In the next instant the door burst open and there was the man Angel had seen on the street earlier. Doyle. He was dressed as Angel had last seen him and was grinning widely. In one hand he held the antique hotel bell, in the other, a length of chain. Yet, his body was so transparent that Angel could see through him into the hall beyond.

"Doyle?" Angel stood cautiously, expecting that at any moment things would not be as they appeared. It was, in his experience, wise to be suspicious.

"Angel." It was, without a doubt, Doyle's voice. "Nice bell." He sat it down on the chest of drawers near the door, casually looking around the room. "Nice place. Roomy."

"What are you doing here?" Angel held the sword high, still wary, having been the victim of too many pranksters in the past. "And what's with the chains?"

"Now that's a bit rude." Doyle smiled, recalling their first conversation as he continued his slow walk around the room, taking in the surroundings. "Can't an old friend come by to visit?"

"How do I know it's really you?" Angel continued his questions, searching for any clue or answer as to why Doyle's ghost would appear in his room tonight.

"You don't trust your eyes?" Doyle, distracted by his study of the pictures and other objects on the night table, glanced over his shoulder at Angel again.

"No." Besides being cautious, Angel found the sight of Doyle disturbing somehow. He was used to being haunted by the sprits of those he had hurt or killed as a demon, even the First Evil knew that and had used them against him. But Doyle - was his death to be used against him too?

"Look in your heart, Angel. What do you believe?" Doyle replied, his expression now serious and waiting.

After a long pause, Angel gave in to his instincts. "Okay, so you're Doyle. Why are you here?"

Angel shifted on his feet, lowering his sword somewhat but not relaxing his guard.

"I've been sent here. To help you. To show you."

"Show me what? Who sent you?" Angel studied Doyle, a questioning expression on his face.

Doyle shrugged. "It's not my place to say. Nor can I tell you what I would. I can only show you. You have to decide for yourself."

"And if I won't? Or can't?" Angel was wary. All too often these types of decisions came with a high penalty for making the wrong choice. He needed to understand the stakes, what was at risk.

"No rest, no peace. Years of incessant torture. Guilt. Remorse. You already know what it's like. Nothing changes." Doyle's voice was light, but there was definite truth to his words.

Angel paused, his thoughts in turmoil. Was this another test from the Powers that Be? The wind blew then, the soft howl loud in the dead silence of the night.

"You have yet a chance and hope, Angel. If you but take it. "

Angel sighed with resignation. He had to take the risk, whatever it was. "What do I have to do then?"

Doyle thought for a moment, then grinned. "You read Dickens, right? A Christmas Carol?"

"Yes." Angel nodded. Over his lifetime and many years in solitude, he'd read all the classics, most of them several times.

"So think of this as your own Christmas Eve tale. You get me, and I get to show you your Christmas Past, Present and Future."

Angel almost smiled. Almost, but not quite. "You're saying I'm Ebenezer Scrooge then?"

Doyle laughed. "I am."

"Walk with me." Doyle grinned again as he started toward the door, beckoning Angel to follow. "Oh, hey - did you like the chain? That was just for effect. You know, ghostly sounds and all that."

Angel only shook his head, following the ghostly apparition of Doyle out the door.

A nearby clock was just chiming one when Angel and Doyle passed through the lobby of the Hyperion. Cursing softly, knowing that he was running a bit late, Doyle shook the hourglass that he held in his pocket.

*** Kendra's Ghost ***

Back In Sunnydale.....

She heard a bell ringing in the distance. She was a little confused. Other than her alarm clock she couldn't think of why a bell would be ringing. Plus she knew for certain she hadn't set her alarm. Then she heard a throaty accented voice calling her name. She listened intently she knew the voice calling her. She'd heard it before. She knew that accent. She wondered if she was dreaming.

"Wake up Buffy," she said softly. When Buffy stirred but did not wake she spoke louder and shook the bed. "Wake up Buffy we have much to do before dawn."

Buffy struggled through the grogginess of sleep to consciousness. The voice was louder now. More persistent. She pushed herself up into a sitting position and leaned back against the headboard. She saw her standing at the foot of the bed. She was absolutely beautiful. She wasn't in the traditional gown ghost's usually wore and she wasn't transparent. She wore a silver toned halter-top that stopped above her navel and a pair of low rise flowing pants in the same color that hugged her hips. A silver waist chain clung to her midriff.

"Kendra is that you?" She asked her voice drowsy.

"Of course, Buf-fy," she answered in her beautifully accented voice.

Buffy watched speechless as Kendra seemed to float around her room. Buffy guessed she should have been afraid. Kendra had been dead for years yet here she was floating around her room. Instead of being afraid, Buffy was just curious as to why she was here.

"Cool chain," she said stupidly. For some reason Buffy found the waist chain interesting.

Kendra glanced down glanced down at the metallic links that encircled her waist. "Thanks. I thought it looked good with the outfit. I remember a Sister Slayer once telling me I needed to learn how to dress better."

Buffy smiled and took in Kendra clothes. "You have."

"Thank you."

Kendra stopped in front of Buffy's dresser and ran her fingertips over the cross hanging from the lamp and Mr. Pointy lying on the nightstand.

"I see you've kept it." Kendra ran her fingertips along the sharp wooden object before turning back to face Buffy. "You know I use to sleep with it. I guess I treated it like you do your Mr. Gordo."

"The last time I saw you alive I told you that you should get a teddy bear," she said smiling at her sister Slayer.

Kendra's deep melodic laughter filled the air. "I remember."

She sat on the end of Buffy's bed.

"I thought angel's wore white? You are an *Angel* right?" Buffy asked suddenly afraid that something evil may have taken over Kendra's body or spirit.

Kendra felt her fear. "Relax I'm an angel," Kendra shrugged, "White doesn't do anything for me."

"Too bad you aren't a different Angel," she mumbled. "Why are you here?"

Kendra leaned back on her elbows, "You remember a Christmas Carol."

Buffy gave her a blank look, "Which one...Jingle Bell, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, Deck the Halls...?"

Kendra let out a weary sigh, "No, not a Christmas Carol as in song. But Dickens' Christmas Carol as the story. You know the *Scrooge* Story."

"Yeah. I think I remember seeing it. It's that old black and white movie right?" Buffy asked.

"Yeah, that's the one. Well, I've been sent here. To help you. To show you."

Buffy looked at her a little confused then her face scrunched up, "Ewww, wasn't A Christmas Carol about this ugly guy who was like a 1000 years old!"

Kendra laughed. Only Buffy would be worried about that. "Don't worry about all that. The only thing that applies here is the story. Scrooge was visited by three Ghosts; Christmas Past, Present and Future on Christmas Eve."

"Well, you don't get the three Ghosts just me. The Powers That Be have sent me to show you your Christmas Past, Present and Future. As for the Scrooge story, I'm going to take a few liberties. You aren't exactly a Classic sorta person and actually neither am I. I mean I read up on the story when the PTB's told me I was coming to guide you but the story was long and a little boring so skimmed through a lot of places. We'll just have to wing it in certain spots."

Buffy digested what she said. "Cool. Who are the Powers That Be?" Buffy asked.

"The Powers That Be are the ones we serve."

"Oh," Buffy said still not sure who the PTB's were. "Why did they send you?"

"Who else would they send but another Slayer. Besides you have a reputation in Slayer realm for being difficult. The Powers didn't think you'd pay attention to anyone else."

"But why send anyone? Why do I need to see my past, present or future?"

"I think you know." Kendra answered. "Get up we need to get going. We have a lot to see before dawn."

Buffy reluctantly threw the covers back. She wasn't looking forward to this but she knew there was no way she was getting out of it.

"Where are we going?" Buffy asked just as the mist swirled thickly around them.

"To see your Christmas Past?"

*** Angel's Ghost of Christmas Past ***

In the blink of an eye, Angel found himself with Doyle in what appeared to be Sunnydale, just outside the library of the Sunnydale High School.

"Welcome to the Ghost of Christmas Past."

"Christmas past?" Angel inquired, slowly recognizing his surroundings. His stomach tightened with both excitement and dread. He had locked this place away from his thoughts, its memory precious, yet filled with anguish.

"Specifically, your past." Doyle began walking, or rather floating further into the room.

"Why are we here?" Angel without any effort of his own seemed to glide along with Doyle.

"Your redemption if you will."

He saw her then. Buffy. She was standing in Giles's office near his desk talking to him earnestly. At the first sight of her, Angel was flooded with a thousand thoughts, hopes, joys and cares long forgotten. His throat tightened and his heart constricted in his chest. He hadn't thought that seeing her again would stir such emotion.

"Buffy." Her name came out as the merest whisper.

<Hmm… hello lover…> As if attracted by her presence, Angelus stirred within him.

Doyle said nothing as he took in the look on Angel's face, the pain and yet the expectant hope.

"You recognize the lass, then?" Doyle asked.

"Yes." Angel murmured a catch in his voice. He hadn't seen her in what, two years now? Longer?

<At least, you whining pathetic loser.> His demon taunted him.

"You know where we are then? You remember?"

"Yes, of course I know." Angel glanced at him irritably. It was inconceivable that he would ever forget her; surely Doyle knew that.

"You haven't been back for awhile. I wasn't sure."

Angel wanted to go to her. Unconsciously, he stepped forward.

Doyle's voice stopped him. "They are nothing more than shadows of something that has been. She doesn't see or hear you.''

It was only then that he realized that he could hear Giles speaking.

"You had a dream about Angel."

" I was *in* Angel's dream." Buffy's expression was worried, serious.

Giles removed his glasses, glancing at Buffy with a look of exasperation. "I'm not sure that's..."

Buffy interrupted, her mission at the moment clear. At least to her. "Giles, there was stuff in this dream that I couldn't possibly know about. It was Angel's past, he was dreaming it, and somehow I got sucked in."

Once more glancing at Buffy, Giles considered again Buffy's apparent connection with Angel. Before he could say anything, Buffy spoke again. "There's something wrong with him."

Angel could feel her concern for him. It rolled over him, steeping him in comfort and love. Buffy had been the first person that cared for him, truly cared for him as a man. She had been the first to make him believe in himself, to make him want to be something more than what he had been.

<Yeah, me.> Angelus snorted.

He realized then that he missed her concern, her devotion. He knew then that he wanted her back. And at the moment, he wouldn't have cared about the risks, the dangers.

<Missed her sweet little body, her hot little mouth, her tight little pussy. Yeah, you bet you missed her. Fool!> The demon inside echoed his thoughts, albeit with his own carnal twist, greedily wanting her back.

Giles glanced down at the book on the desk, his own thoughts in alignment with Buffy's. "I know. I've seen him. He wanted to know why he was back."

Buffy felt a small measure of satisfaction, of progress at Giles's admission. "Is there a way for us to find that out?"

Angel could almost feel her heart leap with hope.

"Uh, possibly. I-I've been looking." Giles put his glasses back on again and looked back at the book on the desk.

"Well, let me look, too."

Giles looked back at Buffy, his expression coldly appraising.

Without hesitation or fear, Buffy returned Giles's glance. With or without her Watchers help, she'd find a way to help Angel and Giles needed to know that. "I'm not seeing him anymore. I'm trying to put all this behind me, and I'm not gonna be able to as long as we're both doing guest spots in each other's dreams."

Leaning back in his chair, Giles considered her words. As much as he didn't like it, he knew that she was determined.

Angel could sense Giles's reservations, his reluctance to allow Buffy's participation. But she stood firm and unwavering.

<The prancing fop!>

Despite the demon's words, Angel smiled, his heart swelling with pride, with warm feelings of love and devotion for her, his determined little slayer. <His? Where had that come from? She was his no longer.>

<She's mine. Never doubt it.> Angelus snorted.

"So we'll help him?"

"Yes." Giles sighed, resigned.

Doyle turned to him then, breaking the silence that had fallen for the moment between Buffy and her Watcher. "She fought to help you, even knowing that her Watcher, her friends, her Mom - the lot of them would never approve or support her."

There was no need to elaborate further. Angel knew the rest. He knew that her family and friends had engaged in emotional blackmail, forcing Buffy to choose between their acceptance and him. He swallowed the lump in his throat as he thought again about her unconditional love, her stalwart defense of him despite all of it.

Within him, Angelus snarled. <Gonna cry, pussy?>

Angel glanced at Doyle, his next words difficult. "Yes. She did." He felt a pang of regret that he hadn't been there for her more often. He should never have let her walk home alone on her 18th birthday, the day when she was weak and beaten so badly by Kralik. He should have been there when she was nearly burned at the stake by her own mother for being a witch, or when the Mayor and Mr. Trick attempted to stage "SlayerFest" trapping her and Cordelia in the woods. Angel sighed. Doubtless there were other times he had failed her as well, maybe even more than he knew, more than she had ever told him. Yet, she had never let him down. She had even risked her life to give him back his own…

<She was delicious, wasn't she? Sweet, ripe… tasted so good… everywhere, didn't she?>

"All right, then. Moving along." Doyle interrupted his thoughts as he moved, silently and swiftly, Angel carried along with him. In the blink of an eye, they were standing in downtown Sunnydale just near the Christmas tree lot. When Doyle pointed, Angel glanced in that direction.

Buffy was walking toward them with a determined stride. When she kicked the gate in, Doyle whistled. "I have to say, she is a hottie. Even when she's mad."

Angel shot him a dark and somewhat possessive look as the beast within growled. Doyle only grinned and shook his head unapologetically. After a few minutes, they followed her into the Christmas tree lot, watching closely as she hacked at the ground with an ax or pick. When she dropped into the hole she had dug, they followed, seeming to pass through the solid earth to the cave beneath.

The First Evil appeared as Jenny Calendar and appraised Buffy. "Hmm. I'm impressed."

Buffy hesitated only briefly before she spoke, her words firm and defiant. "You won't get Angel." There was no doubt in her mind or her voice.

The First spoke again, "Hmm. You think you can fight me? I'm not a demon, little girl. I am something that you can't even conceive. The First Evil. Beyond sin, beyond death. I am the thing the darkness fears. You'll never see me, but I am everywhere. Every being, every thought, every drop of hate."

Buffy interrupted, her patience worn thin. "All right, I get it. You're evil. Do we have to chat about it all day?"

The First Evil was irritated that Buffy did not cower and beg. "Angel will be dead by sunrise. Your Christmas... will be his wake."

"No." There was that tone again, resolute and unwavering.

Angel felt a return of his earlier pride in Buffy then, along with another wave of recrimination. She had never failed him, but he had failed her.

"You have no idea what you're dealing with." The First Evil ground out, the voice coming from the visage of Jenny Calendar almost a growl.

Still undaunted, her voice now dripping with sarcasm, Buffy replied. " Lemme guess. Is it... evil?"

The First Evil changed then, shifting from the apparition of Jenny to become a huge horned and clawed beast, charging and roaring at Buffy with its eyes glowing red. Just as quickly as it appeared it faded leaving Buffy to stare in surprise at the place where it had been.

A last warning echoed through the underground cave, "DEAD BY SUNRISE!"

Buffy turned then and ran, terrified now for Angel.

Doyle and Angel followed her when she left, running toward the mansion at Crawford Street.

"Angel! Angel!"

His heart constricted in his chest when she called his name, racing down the street and through the mansion. Angel felt tears in his eyes and he could see and feel her panic, her fear for him as she desperately sought to find him on a night when she should have been at home with her family and friends.

<Or warming my sheets…>

In the next instant, their confrontation played out in front of him, Angel seeing himself through Buffy's eyes for the first time.

"I bet half the kids down there are already awake. Lying in their beds... sneaking downstairs... waiting for day."

Buffy pleaded with him, breathing heavily from her run through town. "Angel, please. I need for you to get inside. Th-there's only a few minutes left."

" I know. I can smell the sunrise long before it comes."

"I don't have time to explain this. You just have to trust me. That thing that was haunting you..." Her words came out in an anxious rush.

He interrupted her, not wanting to hear anything that would change his mind about greeting the dawn. "It wasn't haunting me. It was showing me."

"Showing you?" Confused, Buffy looked at him.

"What I am."


Watching her, Angel smiled ruefully at her words. She had always separated him from the demon, loved him in spite of what he had been or done.

The demon snorted. <Still are. Don't kid yourself, soul boy. I'm not going anywhere.>

"And ever shall be. I wanted to know why I was back. Now I do."

"You *don't* know. Some great evil takes credit for bringing you back and you buy it? You just give up?" Buffy was incredulous, and angry. Angry that the seed of lies the First Evil had planted had taken root and begun to grow.

" I can't do it again, Buffy. I can't become a killer." The words were angry, harsh.

<Too late. You are a killer.> Angelus taunted.

Angel winced, watching himself, unable to believe he had been so cold and unfeeling to her while wallowing in his own pain and self-pity.

Determined not to let him quit on her, Buffy persisted. "Then fight it."

"It's too hard."

Time was increasingly short and Buffy was growing desperate, Angel could hear it in her voice.

"Angel, please, you *have* to get inside."

" It told me to kill you. You were in the dream. You know. It told me to lose my soul in you and become a monster again."

" I know what it told you. What does it matter?"

Angel watched as the shadow of himself turned to face her, his voice now loud and yelling.

"Because I wanted to! Because I want you so badly! I want to take comfort in you, and I know it'll cost me my soul, and a part of me doesn't care."

They both considered his words, the ramifications of them, for a moment.

"Look, I'm weak. I've never been anything else. It's not the demon in me that needs killing, Buffy. It's the man."

"You're weak. Everybody is. Everybody fails. Maybe this evil did bring you back, but if it did, it's because it needs you. And that means that you can hurt it."

Angel vividly recalled how her words reached into his heart, into his very soul. He'd wanted so much to believe her then, but he'd refused.

Once again, Buffy pleaded with him. "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."

Watching, Angel could feel her panic increasing as the sky began to lighten around them.

"Angel, please, the sun is coming up!" Buffy begged, her voice frantic now.

Unconsciously Angel attempted to retreat as he watched the scene unfolding, but he was blocked by Doyle standing behind him observing quietly.

"Just go." His words were cold, unfeeling.

" I won't!"

" What, do you think this is simple? You think there's an easy answer? You can never understand what I've done! Now go!"

Buffy ignored the fact that he was shutting her out again, relentless and determined to help him. She'd move him physically if necessary. "You are not staying here. I won't let you!"

"I said LEAVE!" He jerked away from her and Buffy punched him, driven by her fear and desperation to get him inside. If necessary, she'd physically move him.

Angel watched as his past self shoved her away roughly; sending her sprawling hard into the ground, face first.

"Oh, my God..." He knelt over her and grabbed her by the shoulders, turning her around to face him.

Angel's stomach turned over in shock and disgust that he had hit her. He hadn't remembered…

<Nice move. Who knew you had it in you, soul boy?>

Her short cry when he grabbed her shoulders alarmed him. Had he hurt her? In the next instant he felt anger, anger at her and at himself. His actions only proved that he was everything that he claimed to be - unworthy, not worth saving.

" No! No!"

He threw her attempts to help him in her face, holding her roughly by the arms and shaking her to emphasize his point. "Am I a thing worth saving, huh? Am I a righteous man? The world wants me gone!"

Buffy began to cry then, and Angel felt his heart wrench as the scene played out in front of him.

"What about me?" she whispered softly, her eyes filling with unshed tears. "I love you so much... And I tried to make you go away... I killed you and it didn't help." She swallowed, her voice thick with emotion. "And I hate it! I hate that it's *so* hard... and that you can hurt me *so* much. I know everything that you did, because you did it to me. Oh, God! I wish that I wished you dead. I don't. … I can't."

Angel felt his own tears now, her last whispered words nearly breaking his undead heart.

<Please, sissy boy. Your crying and whining is making me sick.>

"Buffy, please. Just this once... let me be strong."

"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. But if you're too much of a coward for that, then burn. If I can't convince you that you belong in this world, then I don't know what can. But do *not* expect me to watch. And *don't* expect me to mourn for you, because..."

Doyle touched his arm, "She was blind and unselfish in her love for you."

Angel watched his shadow self walk down the hill with Buffy toward town, the snow now falling steadily. He sighed. "Yes, she was."

"Slayers lead lonely lives."

For long minutes Angel couldn't think. He could only feel. It was the sharp stabbing pain of emptiness, of want. There was a hole in his heart, in his soul, in his very being that only Buffy had been able to fill. After he had left her, he had tried hard to pretend that the aching void didn't exist. When pretending had proved unsuccessful, he tried to fill the void with other lesser things…lesser people. But he knew now that it hadn't worked. His love for her was still strong.

<Big surprise there, moron? Does the words soul and mate mean anything to you?> Angelus laughed, delighting in his own sense of humor.

"She deserves more. Sunlight. Picnics. Children.'' Angel replied softly, his mind slowly attempting to recall again all the reasons why he had left her.

Doyle turned to look at him then, "What about love? I mean the real kind of love - not the stuff of fairy tales and poets, but the real stuff. The every day, good with the bad yet earth shattering, do anything in the world, sell your soul kind of love. The kind that can bring a demon back from the depths of hell."

<And fucking. Don't forget, plenty of fucking..>

Angel was uneasy with Doyle's question, particularly phrased in such a way.

"Ah well, then again perhaps she doesn't deserve that." Doyle lifted his shoulders slightly, answering for Angel in the long silence.

"What?" Angel growled, turning on Doyle in anger.

"Well, that's what you decided then, didn't you? You took it from her."

The demon growled. <You did leave without so much as goodbye.>

Angel stopped short, Doyle's words and the demon's echo surprising him. Not liking the direction his friend's words had taken and unable to face the fact that he had been responsible for most of the pain Buffy had felt in her young life, Angel growled. "Doyle, I'm done. I don't want to see anymore. I want to go home."

"I told you these were shadows of the things that have been. They are what they are. You can't change them or blame me.''

Almost angrily, Angel replied. "Then why show me?!"

Doyle shrugged. "Because you need to be reminded."

Angel sighed heavily. "You know the story. I couldn't stay. I couldn't be around her and not be with her, it was too hard."

<Say it! Say it! You couldn't stand being around her. You couldn't stand hearing her voice, smelling her skin, breathing her in day after day and wanting her so desperately you thought it would drive you mad. Hell, you thought it would drive us mad. Admit it. You wanted to fuck her. Taste her. Lick her. Oh, and don't forget, bite her…>

Meeting his gaze, Doyle lifted his brows. "For you or for her?"

Angel was quiet for a long while and when he finally did answer, Doyle barely heard it. "For me." The words were difficult to say and even harder to acknowledge. He didn't want to admit that he had been so wrong, that he had lied to himself all these years about why he had left her.

"I know it's difficult. But if you were able to do so, would you choose differently now? Would you still leave, knowing that she doesn't have much time left with this life?"

Angel glanced sharply at Doyle, his senses heightened with alarm.

Doyle continued. "Of course, being immortal you have the luxury of time. After a while, these few years in Sunnydale will be a dim memory, Buffy a dream you once had. The pain, if you remember it at all, will diminish with your recollection of it, so perhaps there's no reason to change at all."

Angel's thoughts returned to Doyle's earlier words. "What are you saying? Will she die?"

Sadly, Doyle nodded his head. "Yes."

<No!> The demon roared, the word stark and loud.

"Can it be prevented?" Angel stared back his gaze unwavering. He wanted to hear only one answer.

Doyle only shrugged, unable to give Angel the answer that he wanted. "It depends."

Anger and frustration filled him; what purpose had this served? To remind him of what he had lost? He suffered that every day. To remind him of the bad things he'd done? Hell, he'd done far worse as Angelus. Even to Buffy. To tell him that she would die? Unless, maybe… it could be prevented? Could *he* prevent it, somehow?

"Take me back." His voice was nearly a growl. He didn't want to hear any more. He couldn't. What if he was wrong?

Doyle resisted a smile, knowing Angel's mind was in turmoil. After another long pause, Doyle asked. "What?"

"Nothing. Take me back." Angel refused to look at him. Would she die knowing how much he loved her?

<What'd you expect?>

"Sure about that?" Slowly they began to move back toward the downtown area of Sunnydale.

Angel sighed heavily. He couldn't change what had already been done and he couldn't change the curse. Sure, he had his regrets, but what did it matter now?
Meeting Doyle's persistent stare, Angel finally answered. "I wish I had told her goodbye. Told her that I still loved her. That I would always love her. I could have at least done that much."

"I thought you loved Cordelia now."

<Yeah. Remember her? Big, firm tits? Thighs clamped around your hand while she got off?>

Angel opened his mouth to speak then closed it again. He wasn't sure how to answer that question. Cordelia was what he wanted, right? She was what he needed. Then why didn't it seem right to verbalize it to his friend? Or rather, the ghost of his friend?

It was Doyle's turn to sigh. "You fear too much. Deep down you know that you are not what you were. The happiness that was promised when you and Buffy were one in heart is weighed down with misery now that you are apart. Together you were strong, apart you are divided and weak."

Angel looked at him and started to speak. He needed to know more.

"Oops. Time's up. We gotta run." Before Angel could get the words out, Doyle noted the time on his watch. Drawing the hourglass he began to shake it just as the Sunnydale Baptist Church bell began to chime two.

*** Buffy's Christmas Past ***

Back In Sunnydale.....

Buffy looked down at the tank top and sweats she had on. She shrugged it would probably do. She managed to step into her sneakers just as her room filled with a cold gray mist and she felt weightless. <What the hell is going on?> she thought as she felt herself literally floating in the air. She could actually feel the air, time and space shifting and moving around her.

When the mist settled she was standing beside Kendra in downtown Sunnydale. Kendra didn't have to tell her where, when or the time. She knew. She'd held this day in her memory, her dreams, her heart for years. She looked around at the snow-covered streets. Snow was falling heavily around them. She tried to reach out and touch the snow but it went right through her hand. She looked over at Kendra.

"It's a mystic thing. Haven't you noticed you don't feel the cold?"

Buffy did notice that. She was in a tank t-silk shirt, her stomach was showing yet, she didn't feel the cool biting air or snow. To be exact she didn't physically feel anything.

She turned to ask Kendra what was going on and out the corner of her eye she saw herself, as she was that Christmas. The Christmas that in her mind was a perfect day. She and Angel were walking down the middle of the street holding hands, the snow falling steadily around them, looking into each other eyes with pure love; love that had lost the illusion of innocence and newness, survived pain and heartache. On that day at that moment she thought that their love was so strong nothing could break it. Nothing could come between them.

Buffy looked from herself to Angel. They looked so happy then.

Angel looked down at her his eyes misty, "I love you Buffy. Regardless to what happens in our lives."

"I love you Angel. Always."

They hugged. They were so much in love back then. So content to just be together. She remembered how happy she'd been that day. How grateful she was. The snow had been a miracle, just as the love of a Slayer and a Vampire was a miracle. She'd felt blessed just o be with Angel. She hadn't realized that she was crying until Kendra spoke.

"Yes, Buffy look at the past. Your life with the person you loved. The person who loved you in return with his most precious possession. His soul."

"Why are you showing me this?" Buffy sobbed. "He's moved on. We've both moved on. Why are you making me relive something I can never have again? Is this a punishment?" She asked bewildered and hurt.

"All of your questions will be answered in due time," Kendra said cryptically.

As much as she hated to see her sister Slayer hurting she knew Buffy had to endure the gauntlet of pain before she could be rewarded. Kendra intended to see Buffy rewarded. She'd watched her give too much too many times not to finally have a little happiness. Kendra's resolve was solid.

Buffy turned from Kendra to watch as she and Angel walked down the street. Without even thinking as they neared her she fell in step with them and Kendra followed closely.

Angel and Buffy walked to the mansion in silence moving slowly. Angel's arm was around her waist holding her closely as her arm circled his back. The fingers on their other hands were entwined and Angel kept lifting them to his lips to press cool kisses on her knuckles.

They didn't speak. There was no need for them to say anything. They both knew that they had been given a miracle that day. Another chance to make things right. Buffy remembered how it felt that day. How blessed she felt. She thought Angel being saved from his suicide attempt was a sign that they were meant to be together forever. Buffy snorted a laugh. Buffy snorted a laugh: the naivety of youth.

Kendra looked over at her. "He loved you more that day than he could ever tell you. He loved you so much it hurt," she told Buffy softly.

Buffy shrugged nonchalantly although her heart was breaking from the memory. "Doesn't matter how he felt that day in the end he left me. And from what Spike tells me he has a new love. He's in love with Cordelia. They are probably lying in bed together holding each other tightly as I speak."

Kendra heard the pain, the loneliness and the bitterness in Buffy's voice. She knew Buffy was hurt but she could feel the love Buffy still had for Angel. The tears Buffy was shedding weren't tears of hate but of regret and sorrow. Kendra knew exactly what Buffy regretted and the source of the pain and sorrow. If Doyle was doing his job right before the night was up she'd make sure that regret, hurt pain and sorrow were no longer a part of Buffy's life.

Buffy watched heartbroken as Angel built a fire in the fireplace. They shed their coats and cuddled on the sofa. Angel laid his head in Buffy's lap and she stroked his hairs murmuring soothing words to him as the fire crackled and the aroma from the scented candles filled the air. It was like she was back there again. Buffy walked in front of the sofa and looked down at herself and then at Angel. Not only was she a Slayer that day and a friend. But she was a lover. A lover protecting the most precious gift she ever been given in her life. Angel.

Buffy reached out and tried to touch her past Angel but her fingers just slipped thought him. She pulled her hand back and clutched it to her heart. She had loved him so much. No, she *still* loved him so much. And a he'd left her. Left her heartbroken and listless.

Buffy turned to look at Kendra the tears still streaming down her face. "I want to go home. I can't stand this pain another minute."

Kendra nodded. She knew her sister Slayer could stand no more.

In a wave of her hand mist circle all about them. Buffy could only see the cloudy mist swirling around her when it cleared she was back in her bedroom.

"Rest, Buffy. I'll be back shortly."

Buffy didn't need to be told twice. She curled up on her side in bed and let her tears fall.

****** Angel's Ghost of Christmas Present ******

Angel blinked. Within minutes they were at the mansion on Crawford Street. Angel recognized it immediately. It had been his home the last two years before he had left Sunnydale.

Angel glanced around in amazement. There had been a surprising transformation. A richly decorated Christmas tree stood in one corner, the white lights twinkling brightly. Gifts in cheerfully colored packages were neatly stacked around the bottom. A large wreath hung on the wall near the deep green velvet curtains that shielded the patio doors. Pine boughs intertwined with ivory and gold ribbon were draped across the mantle along with brightly gleaming ornaments and two red velvet stockings. Candles burned on the mantle and the coffee table, as well as along the sideboard. A fire blazed in the fireplace, warming the hearth and giving the room a lively brightness that Angel never remembered seeing here before.

<This is so not my lair…>

Mistletoe hung from the ceiling in several places by red ribbon and several freshly cut sprigs lay on the table near the couch. The delicate sounds of instrumental Christmas music played softly in the background.

"Recognize the place?" Doyle swept his hand out looking around as he moved across the room to the fire.

Angel followed cautiously with slow steps, still feeling uncertain and stung by what he had just seen and been told.

"This is your Christmas Present." Doyle chuckled. "Present, as in current, not as in gift. And who knew you'd listen to Kenny G?" Doyle picked up the CD case off the side table, checking out the case.

Angel cast a curious glance at his ghostly friend before his eyes moved around the room again. This time he noticed the feminine jacket draped across the back of the couch next to one very similar to his own. A pair of dainty high-heeled sandals was casually strewn on the floor next to a purse and a couple of shopping bags. The sounds of soft familiar laughter coming from the bedroom could occasionally be heard over the music. Buffy? Was she here?

"Ok then, Doyle." Angel cleared his throat, "so why are we here?"

Doyle rubbed his chin, considering for a moment. "Oh, my mistake. This is what should have been."

In the blink of an eye, the trappings in the mansion fell away one by one, the music stopped, the fire died, the wreaths, the tree the presents, they all disappeared. A recognizable pair of diamond earrings caught his attention just as they began to fade away and Angel stared where they had been until not even the faintest trace of them remained. Eventually the entire room dropped away and Angel found himself standing with Doyle just outside a crypt in one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries. The sounds of a television could be heard faintly from inside.

All around them, the ground was shrouded in mist, the sky dark in the foggy night, lending an air of foreboding to their journey. Angel glanced at Doyle and waited. The lingering discordant chord of sorrow hung over him, emphasizing his loss with great clarity.

"You came." He had hoped after their earlier run-in in the cemetery that she would come to him.

The cheerful accented voice coming from inside the crypt was familiar. Too familiar. His Grandchilde. Spike.

Angelus growled. <Insolent child. What's he still doing on the Hellmouth?>


Angel heard Buffy's voice in reply, even though he was unable to see them.

Doyle made a small gesture and they moved forward, through the walls and into the dank crypt.

"Because you want me, isn't that right, pet?" Spike was smug as he stood in front of Buffy his hand now on her shoulder, his palm resting on her collarbone.

Angel's eyes widened in surprise and he looked at Doyle. Doyle shrugged. Buffy appeared the same to him and yet different. Her hair was longer and she was perhaps even slimmer, if possible, than the last time he had seen her and yet those weren't the things about her that had changed. She had changed, inside. There was a coldness in her eyes, around her heart that Angel could see clearly. Her shining golden light, the radiant glow that had so enchanted him from the first moment he had seen her had dimmed. Faint traces of that rich light were still there, but she no longer burned as brightly as she once had. As she had when he had known her.

"Yes." Buffy swallowed hard. She wanted to feel something, anything. Rather than sit and home and wallow in self-pity and her aloneness, she had come to Spike on impulse. She was no longer able to resist the lure of the blond vampire. Although the physical differences of Spike and Angel could not be more striking, his touch, the feel of his cool skin, his skillful hands roaming over her body had brought back a reminder of Angel with sudden stabbing clarity. When she closed her eyes for those moments with Spike, she could pretend again. She could almost feel him again.

Spike grinned, his hand moving to cup Buffy's breast through her clothing.

Angel growled, wanting to step forward and stop him.

<Intruder! Interloper! Trespasser! Ungrateful whelp!> The demon raged at the sight passing through Angel's eyes.

"They don't see or hear you, man." Doyle reminded him. "But you're glowering on my shoulder. Step back."

Angel turned away in frustration, unable to believe what was happening. He closed his eyes willing the vision of what he had seen away.

<Go ahead, Spikey. Touch her. Enjoy it now, while you can because I will remove that hand from your body…You enjoy it too soul boy. This is your fault.>

Buffy closed her eyes, feeling the cool touch of Spikes hand through her sweater. She sighed and lifted her hands to Spike's shoulders. Sliding then around his neck, she drew his head down then for a kiss.

The soft sounds of their kiss followed by a sigh from Buffy reached Angel's ears. Angel looked back as Spike unbuttoned Buffy's jacket then pushed her shirt and bra up to bare her breasts. With a quick hop, she locked her legs around Spikes narrow waist as he slammed her back into the wall, his lips pressed firmly against hers in a kiss.

Still growling, Angelus snarled. <The eyes too, Spike. A hot poker will take care of those.>

"Doyle, if I can't stop it, then I can't watch this… You shouldn't…" Angel hissed, his voice a whisper as if he thought they could be heard. Resentment burned hot as Angel took in Spike now fondling his mate. Long buried feelings of possessiveness surfaced.

<She's marked, you ass! Can't you see it!>

"If the shadows you are seeing remain unaltered, Buffy will turn to Spike." Doyle murmured in reply, his eyes locked on the couple with avid interest.


"Doyle." Angel growled, drawing his ghostly friend's attention. He didn't want Spike - or Doyle - to see her naked breasts, that secret warm spot between her legs that Spike was pawing. Jealousy gnawed at him along with anger. Anger that she would allow Spike the privilege of touching her, of kissing her.

<After Spike's taken care of, she'll need to be taught a lesson. Who she really belongs too.>

"What? Oh." Doyle's ghostly apparition managed to look only slight repentant at his voyeurism. He shrugged, "Sorry."

"Why? Why will she turn to *Spike* of all the other - choices - she could make? I didn't leave her so she could take up with *him*" Angel spat, his words harsh and angry as the sounds of Buffy and Spike now obviously fucking against the wall grew louder. Angel was sure he would never forget this moment. Buffy was *his*. She was marked. How dare his Spike violate that rule? He'd make the younger vampire contrite and apologetic before the day was over. If he could, that is…

<Oh, but I can. Watch and learn, soul boy.>

"Angel, all I can tell you is that if these shadows remain unaltered, you will find her here. But isn't it better that she at least has someone by her side that will love her? Better than if she were to die alone?" Doyle returned, undaunted by Angel's words or his anger.

Angel dropped his head, his own words thrown in his face that he couldn't let her die alone - and then left her to do just that. He was overcome with penitence and grief.

Sadly, Angel nodded. He still refused to glance up and give sight to what he could so clearly hear going on in the small crypt. "It's not right. She doesn't love him."

The soft moans echoed throughout the room as Spike brought Buffy to the height of pleasure followed by his own grunts as he too reached his peak.

"A-a-ang…ell" Buffy bit her lip, her eyes closed as her orgasm washed over him. The word came out in a soft sighing breath.

Angel raised his eyes on hearing his own name, finally looking at Spike and Buffy.

The demon perked up. <Ah. That's more like it, lover. You know who you belong to. Tell that little prick now.>

"Oh, you did not just say that. Tell me you did not just say what I think you said." Spike dropped her legs and stepped back angrily, zipping up his pants.

Buffy opened her eyes "What?"

"When I'm fuckin' you, you'd better well know that I'm the one fuckin' you." Spike turned away and kicked angrily at the bed. He was mad, but if the truth were known, he was more hurt than mad. "We've been through this before, Buff. The bleedin' poof is gone."

<You hear that you worthless carcass of nauseating repentance? This is your doing.>

"I-I know." Buffy's voice was a whisper. She righted her clothes, brushing her skirt down. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-"

Spike swallowed his pride and turned back to her. He knew that she didn't love him - at least not yet - and that she was using him, but he didn't care. He wanted her regardless. "I know, pet. Just don't do it again."

"I won't." Buffy replied in a small voice. Now that she had gone down this path, she felt a desperation to not turn away the one thing that she had in her life now - Spike. She chastised herself for being so weak, for giving in. But what else did she have?

Angel felt his anger surge again at her, at Spike. He raged. This isn't why he left her. How could she do this? She was his girl. Always his girl. He choked back a broken sob.

<Finally, you whining pussy! Get off your fat ass and get her back!>

"No, she doesn't. I'd say it's pretty obvious who she still loves. Or who she'd prefer." Doyle looked at the couple then back at Angel. "But he loves her. At least he thinks he does. And I have to say, it's pretty big of him to just let that slide. I wouldn't easily forget my girl calling out another guy's name while we were-"

<Wouldn't know. It's never happened to me.> Angelus snorted, sure of his own appeal. Women might call his name with other men, but he'd never suffer the same.

At Angel's frustrated and angry look, Doyle stopped. "Well, you know what I mean. It hasn't changed, you know. Together you were strong, apart you are divided and weak."

Angel nodded, glancing once more at Buffy before Doyle touched his arm and they began to move. Gradually they appeared to pick up speed, moving rapidly through the streets, through the cool night air until they reached the busy streets of LA.

The dank shadows and of the crypt dropped away as the bright lights of the lobby of the Hyperion appeared just as Angel had remembered it earlier that evening. Where cobwebs had been, there was now lush greenery and dazzling decorations. The obvious pain and dissonance of the pair in the crypt was a stark contrast to the cheerful expressions and bright smiles of the occupants of the hotel. Angel felt a pang of remorse. He had left Buffy so that she would find a better life, yet on the face of it, he was the one that had achieved that aim while she struggled.

Cordelia looked stunning in her black dress, it clung perfectly to her curves in all the right places. Her makeup was flawless, the plum lips drawing his attention as if they were ready to be kissed.

"He's probably up there brooding again. You know how he gets on the holidays." Cordelia cast a glance up the stairs, having seen Angel make his way up there earlier.

"Cut the man some slack, Cor. It's not like he's had the easiest life." Gunn poured champagne into glasses for he, Fred, Cordelia and Wes.

"I know, but he needs to move on. Do more human stuff, you know?" Cordelia had limited tolerance or patience for understanding why Angel was the way he was. She was much more interested in the here-and-now and it showed.

Fred met Gunn's eyes with a telling look, both feeling that sometimes Cordelia's ideas were less than compassionate and realistic. But, she appeared to be in Angel's favor and if Gunn's suspicions were correct, things were about to move up a notch on the relationship scale between the vampire and his seer. Angel had purchased a rather expensive looking diamond ring that he had shown Gunn earlier, intending to begin his courtship of Cordelia now in earnest. Angel hadn't said the word engagement - although that's what the ring clearly implied. Personally, Gunn thought Angel was rushing things a bit. Almost as if he were afraid of thinking it over too closely.

When Cordelia left and brought the shadow of himself back down the stairs, Angel looked on curiously. He had been unaware of the way his eyes followed Cordelia like a puppy, watching her every move. He looked both resigned and interested at the same time. Had anyone asked him, Angel would have said he looked like a man that was trying too hard. Too hard to be something or feel something that perhaps he did not.

<It's called pussy-whipped, moron. Ironic isn't it, since you aren't getting any?> The demon taunted him once more.

The evening continued just as Angel had remembered it, but condensed in the short amount of time that Doyle had allotted.

"Well?" Doyle asked the question, even as Angel thoughtfully watched Cordelia saunter down the hall away from where his shadow had just been.

"Well what?" Angel glanced back at Doyle who was also watching Cordelia with avid interest, wondering about the next step they would take in their journey tonight.

Shaking the hourglass he now held in his hand, Doyle finally pulled his eyes away from the sight of the beautiful brunette, now dyed blonde. He missed her rich chestnut tresses. Doyle couldn't tell Angel how much he thought about her. Nor could he tell the vampire how much it hurt to see her with him. It was, he imagined, much of what Angel felt when he saw his girl with Spike. The difference being, of course, that Angel wasn't fucking his girl. At least, not yet. Doyle never suspected that his girl would be interested in the vampire, not to mention so careless, risking Angel's soul. He'd known that she was snobby and vain - he had thought it cute, endearing. Of course, he always suspected that a warm, loving woman lie beneath the surface. How could he have been so wrong? Doyle sighed, returning his thoughts to the task at hand.

"It's interesting, isn't it? How we manage to muddy up our lives until they make no sense. How we stray from what we really want into what we think we should have or should be or should do."

Angel only stared at Doyle curiously, his meaning not yet clear. He cocked his head, thinking over what he had seen in the last hour.

"Ignorance. Want. It's a bit of a bad combination, really. Sort of the all roads lead to doom, thing." Doyle glanced at the hourglass as somewhere a clock began to chime three.

"Do you know how many times simply becoming aware of a problem or restriction can be the very thing that can eliminate it? It's a funny thing, really. Or how, you can receive a gift - and not really understand what you've got. Or realize you've even got it. Sometimes, it just takes a bit of *soul searching*." Doyle's look at him was pointed, meaningful.

For a breath-held moment Angel wondered if he could really believe Doyle's words. Did he have his soul? Permanently?

<NO! Not possible…> The demon stirred, clamoring within.

The world swirled around them then, the chiming of the clock growing louder as they once more began to move.

****** Buffy's Ghost of Chistmas Present *******

Kendra watched her sister Slayer sleeping fitfully. The pain of the past had been hard for her to handle. She'd let Buffy rest as long as she could. As it was they would be rushing the rest of the night to keep up with the schedule that the PTB's had set. As much as she wanted to let Buffy rest she knew that if Buffy made the right choice at the end of this night she'd get what she'd always wanted.

She lighty shook Buffy, "It's time to go."

Buffy knew the voice and she vaguely knew what to expect. She rolled over to see Kendra standing at the side of her bed. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and sat up.

"How long have I been sleeping?"

"Not long but it's time. We have much to see."

Buffy didn't waste any time she stood up and put her hand in Kendra's.

"Where are we going now?"

"To take a look at your Christmas present."

"More punishment?" Buffy asked sarcastically.

"I'm not here to punish you Buffy. I'm only here to show you."

"The only thing you've shown me so far has caused me pain."

"Some times pain leads to pleasure." Kendra said.

Mist floated around within minutes they were at the mansion on Crawford Street. Buffy recognized it immediately. It had been Angel's home the last two years he'd been in Sunnydale.

A richly decorated Christmas tree stood in one corner, the white lights twinkling brightly. Gifts in cheerfully colored packages were neatly stacked around the bottom. A large wreath hung on the wall near the deep green velvet curtains that shielded the patio doors. Pine boughs intertwined with ivory and gold ribbon were draped across the mantle along with brightly gleaming and two red velvet stockings. Candles burned on the mantle and the coffee table, as well as along the sideboard. A fire blazed in the fireplace, warming the hearth and giving the room a lively brightness that Angel never remembered seeing here before.

Mistletoe hung from the ceiling in several places by red ribbon and several freshly cut sprigs lay on the table near the couch. The delicate sounds of instrumental Christmas music played softly in the background.

"Recognize the place?" Kendra asked in false innocence.

Buffy walked around touching the sofa, the Christmas tree the mounds of richly wrapped presents under the tree.

"This is your Christmas Present." Kendra told her walking behind her. "Present, as in current, not as in gift. Buffy picked up the CD case off the side table, checking out the case. Kenny G. She smiled at Angel's taste in music.

Buffy noticed that her jacket was draped across the back of the couch next to one very similar to Angel's much larger one. A pair of dainty high-heeled sandals was casually strewn on the floor next to a purse and a couple of shopping bags. Buffy listened to the sounds of soft familiar laughter coming from the bedroom mixed with Angel's much deeper laughs. Buffy was transfixed. She didn't know how it happened but if this was her Christmas Present then she was doing something right.

Buffy turned smiling. "This is my Christmas Present. How?" she asked confused but clearly happy.

Kendra's bucked dramatically and she looked sheepishly at Buffy, "Oh, my mistake. This is what should have been. This is what actually is..."

Before Buffy was able to reply the room filled with mist and the weightless feeling took over again. She felt the swirling, shifting of time. When the mist cleared she was standing in Giles condo.

It was different than it was when she'd left yesterday. There seemed to be more decorations. Buffy smiled. Giles and Xander where wearing Santa hats. They looked so adorable. Anya was dressed in a red velvet suit. Tara wore jeans and a white sweatshirt with a Christmas tree and the words Merry Christmas imprinted on it. Willow sitting next to Tara was wearing a gauzy kelly green dress. Buffy could only imagine since Tara loved Christmas Willow was doing her best to be festive for her lover. Buffy was looking around for herself. She spotted herself placing gifts under a large fir pine Christmas tree.

Buffy was taken aback. Giles had gotten in the Christmas mood and purchased a real tree. Buffy took a closer look at her present self. She didn't seem to be too happy. Everyone around her was laughing, smiling sharing little kisses and she seemed to be sadly hanging near the tree looking around uncomfortably. She thought she understood why present Buffy was so sad. Spike's revelations were probably weighting heavily on her.

Anya was holding Xander's hand, "I love your human ritual sacrifices with pies. First your Giving thanks and then this X-Mas Day."

"Anya, Buffy and I have told you it's not a ritual sacrifice," Willow explained patiently. "It's called a Holiday. You really need to remember these things. Right, Buffy." Willow turned to her friend who was kneeling by the tree to back her up.

Buffy realized Willow was talking to her and answered, "Oh, yeah," she said absently, "Holiday." She turned back to fiddle with an ornament on the tree.

Buffy looked around at everyone at the Christmas Dinner. Xander and Willow were so happy. They were both sitting close to their lovers. Willow kept looking up at Tara and smiling at her. Buffy heard a delighted squeal and giggle and turned to see Giles kissing Olivia under the mistletoe hanging by the kitchen alcove.

"I'm so glad I was able to come Rupert," she said. "You have certainly made this a very happy holiday."

Giles kissed her again his hands lying possessively on her waist. "You are the best Christmas present in the world."

Olivia eyes twinkled, "Rupert you do have a way with words."

"G-Man no X-rated shows. Our eyes are too sensitive," Xander joked.

Everyone in the room laughed the mood was so jovial. Except for her. She hadn't moved from the tree. She had a sad little smile on her face.

Buffy wondered what time Olivia arrived. Yesterday afternoon Giles hadn't mentioned anything about Olivia. To be exact he'd told Buffy he intended to read and call it a early night.

Now she understood why there was a big tree and extra Christmas decorations. Olivia must have arrived in enough time for her and Giles to go shopping for Christmas decorations and a larger tree.

So now she knew why she seemed a little sad. Everyone even Giles, had someone with them this Christmas. She was the only one alone today. The only one without a lover. She watched as herself laugh at something Xander had said and tried to fit in, tried to pretend being the only one without a date for Christmas didn't both her, tried to ignore the loneliness that was in her heart. Tried to forget that Angel and Cordelia were sharing Christmas as a couple. She tried and was failing miserably.

Giles and Olivia had not only shopped for new decorations but had gone grocery shopping as well. Buffy and the Scoobies had only planned on having a baked chicken maybe cook some frozen peas, whip up some instant mashed potatoes and get a pumpkin pie from the bakery. They hadn't planned anything fancy or elaborate. Giles had even told them he was going to get paper table cloth, plates, napkins and plastic spooks and forks to avoid a big clean up after dinner. That had obviously changed. The table had been set with a white linen tablecloth, plates, red linen napkins, glasses and silverware. A red poinsettia served as a centerpiece. Creamed potatoes with gravy, green bean almond, corn, spiced apples, cranberry orange sauce, rolls, chocolate cake, peach cobbler, some dish that looked like a creamy pudding, and a bottle of wine graced the table. Olivia finally separating herself from Giles went into the kitchen and came out carrying a large platter.

Buffy and Kendra floated over to see what she'd placed on the table. It was a honey-baked ham adorned with pineapples and chives. They watched as the group sat down to eat.

Giles stood with a glass of wine to make a toast. "I can't think of any one I'd rather spend the Holidays with that all of you." He raised his glass. "I don't think I say this enough but each and everyone of you is important to me."

"Here, Here." Everyone agreed, echoing the toast and clinking their glasses with the person closest to them. Buffy notice that although she too performed the actions of the others her heart just wasn't in it.

Everything seems so beautiful. All her friends were there. The man she thought of as a father was present. He was happier than she'd seen him in months. Gifts were piled under the tree. Christmas music floated around them. They were all smiling and laughing. Yet, Buffy knew that although she was happy for her friends inside her heart was broken into little pieces. She was putting on a smiling face for her friends because it was what was expected of her.

Buffy floated around the room taking in the Christmas decorations. The wreath on the door, the mistletoe hung over the door, a garland swag wrapped around the staircase. The decorated tree, the gifts under the tree and the table set to abundance.

Everyone was sitting down eating. Forks clanging against the china. Voices mixing with the soft sounds of the Christmas music. Everyone was laughing and having a good time. It should have been as close to a perfect. Okay her Mom wasn't there. Her Dad had preferred a cruise to spending time with his only child but she didn't think that was the big problem. Buffy could feel her happiness for those around her. She could even feel the happiness she felt for being able to spend this day with Giles and her friends, but there was still so much sadness surrounding her. She could feel her emptiness, her loneliness.

Mist began to fill the air again. Buffy knew what to expect. When the mist cleared she would be in another place. The mist cleared to reveal her walking through the cemetery. Buffy could feel the loneliness and pain engulfing her as she approached the door. She and Kendra glided along behind herself as she walked to a crypt door. Buffy knew whose door she stood in front of. She watched as she knocked on the door. She had to knock twice before it was answered. Spike opened the door. His shirt was off. His chest was thin and muscled. He had a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. He leaned against the door jam lasciviously looking her up and down. He threw the cigarette to the ground and crushed in beneath his boots.

"C'mon on in Slayer I've been waiting on you." He stood aside as she walked through the door. It closed with a thud.

Buffy jumped. She stood outside Spike's crypt knowing what she was going on unable to face how far her desperation had sent her. She turned to Kendra.

"This isn't good is it?"

"It's what you thought you wanted earlier tonight isn't?"

"What's with the cryptic, Kendra? Why can't you just answer one question?"

"I'm not here to answer your questions Buffy?"

"Then why the hell are you here?" Buffy asked finally losing her patience with cryptic Kendra. Her eyes went back to the door of the crypt.

"I'm here to show you your life. To show you where your choices will lead you."

"This is what your Christmas day will be like Buffy. You'll have dinner with your friends, Giles and his girlfriend. You'll go to Spike. Is this the happiness you seek?"

Buffy lashed out. "So what? I fucked Spike. Big deal. I deserve it. Angel has someone in his life. He's fucking my nemesis why shouldn't I fuck his? From day one I've always sacrificed for Angel, defied my watcher and friends for him. I was willing to fight and even harm you to save him. I fought Faith and tried to kill her to save him. I turned my back on the Watcher's Council. Fed him my own jugular to save his life. And you know what? He turned on his heels and walked away from me. He didn't even say good-bye. He just walked away. He's never had to give up anything for me. He's never had to sacrifice to be with me. His words of love were empty and meaningless. Instead of trying to work out our problems he just walked away from them. Yeah, I should really feel bad about fucking Spike!" Her words were heated and impassioned. She felt self-righteous in her actions.

"O-O-kay Buffy. So, he never did anything for you? Did you not tell me he killed his sire for you? That's not even heard of in vampire society. Demons rarely kill their sires. To kill a sire for a human, a slayer at that. Huh, that's unheard of. Did he ever ask you why you stuck a sword through his heart and sent him to Hell to suffer with a soul?" Kendra answered the question for her. "No, he loved you. He knew if you sent him to hell it was for a good reason."

"Okay," Buffy admitted peevishly. "So, he killed Darla for me. At one time he loved me. All of that is over. As far as I'm concerned none of it really caused him that much pain. Buffy shrugged, "It was nothing really special."

"I shouldn't do this. I wasn't supposed to show you this. You've had your three visions but you leave me no choice. I have to show you this one thing. Come, hopefully I can do this in the few minutes we have left."

Buffy was use to the mist now. <Can you say over dramatized?> she thought as the mist swirled around her.

Buffy watched as Angel wound up an old clock and set it on the desk in his office. The time on the clock was 8:53.

Although she'd only been in it once Buffy knew it was Angel's office. The first time she'd been in it had been such a short time. She told Angel off, the agreed to stay away from each other and she walked out. Now she was watching what had occurred before she arrived in his office. Everything seemed to happen in a blur. It was like watching a movie on TV only fast forward.

Buffy looked at Kendra, "What the Hell is going on here!? This is not how this happened."

"Keep looking Buffy it will all be revealed."

Buffy turned back to look at the fight.

She and Angel were fighting the Mohra demon. Angel slid across the floor, picking up the demon's sword and stabbed it in the gut while it is still wrestled with Buffy. Its blood ran down the sword onto Angel's hand. The demon jumped back and shoved Buffy. She landed on top of Angel. The demon pulled the sword out and jumped out of the window.

Angel and Buffy stared at each other as they slowly untangle themselves and got up.

Just from watching the scene Buffy could feel the erotic and sexual tension between them. She didn't remember this but Kendra promised her everything would be revealed in time.

Everything was like a blur. She and Angel tracked the Mohra demon through the sewer tunnels. The split up she went up in the day and he stayed in the tunnels. Angel walked through the tunnels and was attacked by the Mohra demon again. The demons blood mixed with Angel's and the vampire collapsed and gave a strangled cry as he gasped for air. The sound of his heart beat filled his ear. Angel stared at his hand in disbelief as he gasped, "I'm alive."

"Kendra if this is a joke so help me."

"I was sent by the PTB's they don't have a sense of humor."

Buffy squinted her eyes in warning at Kendra. "If Angel became human what happened to change him back?"

"Stop being so impatient Buffy. Just keep watching you'll see it all."

Angel going back to the office, looked up the demons, met with the Oracles and then it slowed Buffy watched herself standing on the boardwalk. She felt Angel and turned around to see him stepping through a shadowed arch in a hedge walking determinedly towards her. When he finally reached her, he grabbed her in his arms and kissed her without hesitation.

Buffy could feel the heat of the kiss from where she stood. She watched as she ran her hands up and down his back. Accustoming herself to the warmth of his flesh. The kiss seemed to go on and on. They broke the kiss only to nibble at each other's lips before kissing again.

They were now sitting opposite each other at his kitchen table. Angel was pouring some tea and they were talking about his being human. They had decided to wait to make sure everything would take. That there was no "grrr." She got up to leave but stopped to talked to Angel again.

Now they were standing at the kitchen sink talking. He was trying to convince her that they would stay in touch. That they would make their love work. She placed her hand on top of his. He looked down at her hand on his then back at her face. He pulled her to him, wrapped his arms around her and kissed her softly. So soft yet so intense it stole her breath. Their eyes met. And a current of pure love and desire went through them. They met again in a kiss that was so hot, passionate and intense Buffy jumped up and wrapped her legs around his waist. Walking backwards with her, he came up against the refrigerator where he halted momentarily leaning against it heavily. Their lips and tongues reacquainted themselves. Their lips blended together. Their tongues mingled and mated. His kisses were hot molten lava instead of erotic and cool as ice. She didn't care. His kisses were making moisture flow from her core and heating her entire body. Never breaking the kiss Angel carried her over to the kitchen table, swept the stuff on it on to the floor and laid her down on it.

Buffy felt and smelt the passion as it swirled around and in them hot demanding and raging out of control. They indulged in every act Buffy had ever imagined they would do if they could. The table eventually broke beneath them and they continue to make love on the floor before Angel lifted her and took her into the bedroom. Buffy's face was flushed she watching the scene unfold in front of her. Her breathing sounding loud and erratic to her own ears.

"Wow!" Buffy muttered.

"Come there is more," Kendra pulled Buffy through the past. They fast forward through the past. Occasionally Kendra would have to pulled Buffy through as she stopped to gape open mouthed.

"This is what you must see," Kendra told her.

Buffy watched as Angel faced a man and woman with Gold faces wearing Greek style gowns. <They really needed a fashion check.> Buffy thought.

"Who are these people?" she asked Kendra.

"Oracles. They too serve the Powers That Be. Now listen," she chided.

The man addressed Angel. "You again."

"What have you brought me?" The woman asked extending her hand.

"Famille Rose vase." Angel threw the vase to her. "Ching dynasty. Circa 1811."

"Lovely," the woman said admiring the vase.

"Why are you here, lower being?" The male Oracle asked impatiently.

"The Mohra demon said the end of days had begun. That others were coming, soldiers of darkness. I need to know if he was telling the truth."

"As far as such things can be told," the male Oracle answered.

"What happens to the Slayer when these soldiers come?"

The female Oracle answered, "What happens to all mortal beings. Albeit sooner in her case."

Buffy saw the utter pain, despair and terror that crossed Angel's face. She floated forward to touch him and as before her hands seemed to go through him.

"She'll die? - Then I'm here to beg for her life." He said in anguish.

The Oracles turned and walked away. "It is not our place to grant life or death."

"And I ask you to take mine back," Angel pleaded.

"No, No," Buffy sobbed standing beside him. "Don't do this Angel." But he didn't hear. This had happened long ago.

The oracles stop walking and turned back to him.

"Look I can't protect her or anyone this way, not as a man."

Buffy wanted to sob. He was trying to protect her again. How could she have forgotten how quickly he always stepped in an attempt to shelter her, to defend her?

The woman Oracle spoke to him, "You're asking to be what you were, a demon with a soul, because of the Slayer?"

The male Oracle seemed bored. Buffy wanted to pummel him in the ground. Angel was giving away every thing he'd hoped for and this Oracle didn't seem to care.

The male Oracle turned to leave, "Oh, this is a matter of love. It does not concern us."

"Yes, it does." Angel insisted. "The Mohra demon came to take a warrior from your cause - and it succeeded. I'm no good to you like this. I know you have it in your power to make this right. Please."

The male Oracle let out a bored sigh, "What is done can not be undone."

The female Oracle considered Angel's proposition, "What is not yet done can be avoided."

"Temporal folds are not to indulge at - the whims of lower beings," the male Oracle warned.

"You are wrong. This one is willing to sacrifice every drop of human happiness and love he has ever known for another. He is not a lower being," The female Oracle came to Angel's defense.

The male Oracle conceded, "There is one way. But it is not to be undertaken lightly."

"We swallow this day, as though it had never happened. Twenty-four hours from the moment the demon first attacked you, we take it back," the female Oracle explained.

Angel licked his lips, "Then none of this happened and Buffy and I… What - what'll stop us from doing the exact same thing again?"

"You. You alone will carry the memory of this day. - Can you carry that burden?" she asked.

"For Buffy I can do anything."

Buffy thought her heart had broken watching the Christmas she spent with Angel. That pain didn't compare to the pain and anguish she felt now. She squeezed Kendra's hand tightly as the mist swirled and she was transported to another place.

****** Angel's Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come *******

When the clock struck three, an ominous presentiment filled the air. Even Doyle, who had been cheerful and joking for much of the night, was now tensely somber. The very air seemed to be filled with dread.

Angel waited patiently, but Doyle neither moved nor spoke for what seemed like an eternity. Finally Angel spoke, breaking the silence. "Let me guess, Christmas Yet to Come?"

Doyle swallowed hard and nodded, his nervousness obvious.

His ghostly friend's hesitation gave Angel pause. He suddenly didn't want to follow, he didn't want to know what was going to happen.

Doyle noticed Angel's reluctance and took a deep breath. "I will show you shadows of the things that have not yet come to pass, but will happen some time in the future. Are you ready?"

Angel's trepidation increased at Doyle's obvious reluctance. He steeled himself for what was to come. He had come this far though; he'd see the rest of it through. He knew somehow, the he had more to fear with the future than anything he had seen in the past. He also knew though, that possibilities existed for change.

"Let's go." The tall vampire nodded, wanting to get it over with. They moved quickly and quietly until they were once more back in Sunnydale, winding their way through the dark and empty streets, through the back alleys and side doors until they came to a stop just inside Willie's pub. The air was jovial and filled with laughter.

They stopped by a group of demons crowded around a small table. Angel recognized the D'ebrak demon, but none of the others. They waited, listening to the demon's conversation.

"No," the great fat, yellowish-green demon with the monstrous chin shook his head. "I don't know much about it, either way. I only know she's dead."

"When? What happened? When'd she die?" The snake-like demon hissed, his voice high-pitched with curious excitement.

"Last night, I believe."

"What happened?" asked the D'ebrak, slime oozing off him and dripped to the floor. "I thought she'd never die."

"Hell-god. That's what I heard," the first fat demon replied, yawning.

"What about Angelus? Any word?" The red-faced crab-like demon joined the conversation, his pendulous excrescence on the end of his nose shaking like the waddle of a rooster.

"Nah." The D'ebrak answered, grinning. "He hasn't been interested in the Slayer for years. Moved on to a new cunt. That's all I know."

The demons around the table laughed heartily, offering speculation as to what the new girl would have that the former Sunnydale Slayer did not.

"I'd love to be at the funeral." The red-faced crab demon changed the topic. "I could spit on the Slayer's grave."

"Or dance on it!" the fat yellowish green demon grinned manically.

"Or piss on it!" The D'ebrak raised his glass, as they all laughed again.

Their conversation then shifted on to other topics as Angel looked to Doyle for an explanation. He knew of course, that this would happen. He wasn't sure why he was meant to hear this particular conversation.

Doyle said nothing, instead moving them along in a glide. Then he pointed to the two girls who were walking quietly along the street.

Angel knew them. Willow and Tara.

"So, how're you doing?" Tara quietly asked Willow.

"I'm okay. I just can't believe it." The red-haired girls' eyes clouded with tears again.

Tara put her arm around Willow, hugging her close. "W-well, she did save the world."

"Again." Willow sighed, wiping at her eyes. "It didn't have to be like this though. The prophecy said that a warrior of shadow and one of light joined together would prevent it."

Tara considered her words. "But Buffy managed to do it on her own. Besides, she said she didn't know any 'warrior of shadow'."

"Yes, she did. She didn't want to ask him for help. Not *now* anyway." Willow's voice was bitter as she choked back the tears again. Her friends' stubborn determination was something that they all loved about Buffy, but it might just have been the thing that had gotten her killed. Not that anyone expected that Angel would have made a difference had Buffy sought him out.

"Oh." Tara had nothing else to say and the girls continued their slow journey along the street.

Angel considered their words with no small amount of guilt, searching for meaning. Was he the 'warrior' that Buffy was supposed to seek out for help? Had things between then grown so distant that she was unwilling or unable to do so? The contempt in Willow's voice was so strong that Angel felt it. That alone disturbed him. Willow, of all of Buffy's friends, had always been the most supportive of him. What *had* changed?

<Together you were strong, apart you are divided and weak.>

The words echoed through his mind again. He was finally beginning to understand the powerful messages that he had been seeing. Thoughts had been revolving through his mind and he knew that he needed to make some changes in his life. With thought and hope, these new resolutions would correct what had gone wrong before it was too late.

Doyle still stood besides him in the shadows, quiet and dark. When Angel met his eyes, Doyle lifted a brow in question.

"Okay, Doyle. I get it. Do you have anything else to show me?"

"Just one more thing."

They left, gliding into what appeared to be LA. Angel recognized the Hyperion as they approached. As they crossed through his suite of rooms, Angel noted that the surroundings seemed quiet different. Every wall had a bookcase or curio cabinet against it filled with ornaments and knick-knacks. There were dolls of all shapes and sizes, Faberge eggs, beanie-babies (were those even still a fad?) and even, Angel noted with a shiver of distaste, porcelain doll heads. Pink and rose colors dominated the room, along with a massive floral print couch.

<Oh, Christ. What the fucking hell have you done?> The demon, who had been quiet for so long, now stirred.

Angel was still avidly looking around the room, shocked at the changes in his former dark and masculine abode, when the door opened and Fred entered, carrying several heavily laden shopping bags. Just behind her, a woman with short blond hair that resembled Cordelia followed. She too was carrying a multitude of packages. Gunn, also carrying more packages, followed the two women though the door. When they reached the sofa, they women dropped their packages and burst into laughter.

Gunn shook his head and took another deep breath, only one of many that had been required to maintain his patience and sanity on the shopping trip this afternoon. He tolerated it for Fred, knowing how close she had grown to Cordelia, one of her only friends. It was that relationship and his loyalty to Angel that kept him at Angel Investigations, when otherwise he'd have preferred to move on. Keeping the forces of evil in check had become more about money and prestige, and less on fighting the good fight because it was the right thing to do. He'd even considered moving to Sunnydale and joining up with Angel's slayer. Of course, he'd never dared to even mention that to Fred for fear that she'd tell Cordelia and then he'd be subject to the terrible temper tantrums that appeared whenever anything Sunnydale or Slayer was mentioned.

"Did you see the look on that salesman's face when I said I would take them - and in all three colors?" Cordelia squealed, her delight in the purchase of the expensive Manolo Blahnik shoes obvious, regardless of the cost. She knew Angel would be upset when he found out that she had just spent over $1200 on shoes just for her, but she didn't really care. She'd simply hide the bill when it came and then write the check out for "weapons" or "groceries" as she always did. She thought it hysterically funny that he never seemed to question their outrageous expenditures in these two categories.

"I can't believe you actually did it." Fred grinned, her eyes bright from the champagne lunch that Cordelia had insisted on at Chauteau Marmont.

"Girl, you know he's not going to be pleased." Gunn admonished Cordelia.

"Hey, I warned him that I was shopping today. Besides, I deserve it." Cordelia ran her hand over her hair, soothing the imaginary out-of-place strand. . "He dripped blood on my last pair of Manolos when he came in with that cut from the demon fight. I couldn't exactly wear them after that." Leaning down, Cordelia drew out an opened box of Godiva chocolates. Opening the box, she greedily selected two of the rich chocolates and stuffed them in her mouth before offering them to Fred and Gunn.

Angel took a closer look. He was shocked. It was, in fact, Cordelia - only, much, much, larger and with a body that was rapidly turning to fat. He wouldn't have recognized her.

The svelte seer he remembered had disappeared completely, buried beneath the corpulent mounds of flesh that stretched her white leggings to near-transparent thinness across her heavy thighs and behind, and her breasts - the lush breasts he had suckled upon only hours ago - were swollen to the size of two basketballs, both threatening to topple out of her obscenely tight red top. The seems of her clothes bulged threateningly, but the stretchy fabrics valiantly held up beneath her expanding flesh.

He felt nearly ill at this evidence of her laziness and greed.

Angelus laughed. <Nice! Another chocolate, sweetie?>

"Where is Mr. Broody anyway?" Cordelia picked another chocolate out of the box after the other two declined. "And don't forget, not a word about the death of slay gal, Buffy. I don't want to ruin Christmas"

Her eyes darted to Fred and Gunn as if they might question how she had known about the death of the slayer. She'd mentioned it to them casually this morning after calling friends in Sunnydale to confirm her vision, the vision that she had chosen not to share with anyone, particularly Angel.

"And Fred - remember! You were going to tell him about that emerald and diamond necklace at Winstons. I sooo want that for Christmas."

"Cordy, you checked the price tag on that. It's over 10g's." Gunn shook his head as he headed out the door, his job as package delivery carrier done for the day. "Since when are we pulling in that kind of cash?"

"So, he picks up a few more clients. No big." Cordelia sniffed, watching as Gunn closed the door behind him.

"Now let's see…" Cordelia rifled through her bags, pulling out her new M.A.C. lipsticks. She couldn't decide on which color she liked best so she bought all 5. "Now, I have to hide my purchases and wrap these gifts before the large, dark and solemn one gets wind of what I spent. God forbid I have to give him another blowjob as a distraction."

"Cordelia!" Fred gasped, then laughed.

"Well, last time he wanted to talk about the bills, I just changed the subject to, uh, that." Cordelia wrinkled her nose in distaste. "He's just so cold to touch at times. It's a little ew. I don't mind if he wants to give me a little oral gratification… but I so do not like to return the favor."

"You don't mean that." Fred challenged, her voice a giggle.

"Well, I do kinda. I mean, that belly is no real turn on. Who knew blood would be so fattening?" Cordelia snorted, ignoring the fact that her own waistline had increased drastically in the last few years. Her once svelte size 4 figure was now easily a size 14. She thought of it as pleasingly plump, but still cut the tags out of her clothing. "And that ass! Have you seen him from behind? Honestly, Fred, we may have to start buying loveseats for all our chairs!" They erupted in a peal of laughter. "You think there's such a think as lean pig's blood? Or maybe there's a zone diet plan for vampires?" Cordelia laughed loudly again, amused at her own wit.

Angel listened to their dialogue with something akin to revulsion. As they sat amidst the largess from their shopping spree, he viewed Cordelia with new eyes.

Just then he saw the shadow of his future self enter the room and he recoiled in terror. It was all true. Did he- was that- did he really almost have double chins? Angel stared at his future self wondering what happened. Not only was he - well, to be perfectly blunt - fat - but he seemed so worn down, tired and defeated.

<Holy fuck! You simpering, lazy, mindless idiot!!> This time the demon's roar was so loud, so angry that Angel almost suspected that Doyle could hear his thoughts.

Amazingly enough, he had returned to the leather pants he had favored as his demonic counterpart, but where could he possibly have found a size to encompass his own large ass. His once muscled chest had given way to indolent flab and he - Angel flinched and even the demon within bellowed in outrage and disgust - he had man breasts; certainly they were not of a size to rival Cordelia's large double Ds but…he had man breasts!

<Out. I want out of this body.>

He had always been aware of the fact that he was an attractive man; females over the centuries had willingly thrown themselves to the non-tender mercies of both the man and the beast, but he had always believed that as a vampire, he had been suspended forever at the height of his masculine prime. He had always believed that other than muscle mass, he would be unchanged and untouched by the ravages that time and modern living could wage: he had been wrong.

Now he understood why Buffy hadn't called on him in her time of need. He doubted that his future self would have been able to serve as a capable partner at her side, let alone survive a life or death battle. He was no longer the Warrior that he had been. Now it appeared that he fought for the money to keep Cordelia supplied with her extravagant purchases, not because he was needed nor to make amends. He sighed with disgust.

<Capable partner? Hell, I'd be surprised if this fat ass could run half a block much less handle any sort of weapon.>

Angel glanced towards Doyle, uneasy. Doyle returned Angel's look. He too was disturbed by the image of his once beautiful Cordelia's true character. Had he been so blinded by her beauty that he hadn't seen the woman inside?

"Hi Honey. How was the demon business today?" Cordelia didn't move, waving absently in Angel's direction. Her voice was flat and artificially caring.

"Good." Angel kissed Cordelia's cheek, aiming for her lips but she anticipated and turned her head just in time. When he looked away she absently wiped at her cheek.

"You're not dripping any demon slime or blood on my new carpets are you?" Not that she minded redecorating, but she had just put this particular shade of rose in last month and thought it perfectly complimentary to her skin tone. She didn't want to bother changing it for at least another couple of months.

"No." Angel replied.

His own voice was so sufficiently reticent that Angel thought he imagined it. When had he begun to be cowed by Cordelia?

<Stake me. Stake me now.> Even the beast within recoiled in horror.

"That's a change." Cordelia snorted, shooting Fred with an exasperated look.

Angel said nothing, only went about his business in putting away his weapons. Even his future self regarded the case of doll-heads with suspicion and avoided it.

"Well, I hope you paid my cell phone bill. I need it. Where's the mail? Did my issue of W come? Oh, and did you pick up my dry cleaning while you were out?"

"Uh, no, I-"

"No!? I asked you for a simple favor and you can't even do that? And I did all the Christmas shopping for us - again - by myself - again - and you can't even do a simple favor for me and pick up the dry cleaning. Angelllll." Cordelia's voice increased to a nagging whine. "It's just three blocks away. You could even walk there. Tell me, just how on earth could you possibly forget it? Please, assure me that you are not that stupid. Or that inconsiderate of me."

"Well, there was a demon and-"

"There's always a demon. Or vampire. Or some other excuse. I *needed * that dress to wear tomorrow on Christmas day to church. You know,*church*? And don't give me that excuse about the crosses and holy water again. We've been over this before and you know how important it is to me to have a little spirituality in life at least once a year. I'll bet you deliberately didn't pick up my dress so you wouldn't have to go. It would be just like you to do that to me. Now what am I going to do, huh? What am I going to wear? What about me?" Her voice had risen to near high-pitched squeal.

Angel put his hand to his eyes, squeezing the bridge of his nose to shut out the sounds of her voice. When had she gotten so selfish? Or had she always been that way and he hadn't seen it?

<Always been there, moron. You missed signals the size of your future fat ass.>

"Tell me something, Doyle, are these things that *will* be or are they things that *might* be?" Angel felt a pounding in his head as Cordelia's voice droned on and on and yet, his future self stood there and listened to her with that lifeless look in his eyes.

"Life is a series of paths. You follow one path, then it leads where it may."

Angel turned away from Doyle then, considering his words. Finally he turned back. "Is it past hope, then? Why show me this if there is no way to change it?"

"If you change paths, get off, turn around, whatever, then things change."

Angel waited.

"The Powers that Be are giving you three days back. Three days in which you must decide what you are going to do. Remember, Angel my friend, there is no amount of regret that can make amends for lost opportunities."

In the next instant Doyle was gone and Angel was back in his room, on his bed just as it had been when he had gone to sleep.

**** Buffy's Christmas Yet To Come ****

The mist swirled, thick and heavy; Buffy was used to it now.

She knew where they were; they were inside Spike's crypt. She glanced around the stone chamber; if possible, it was even more decrepit than before. And Spike…


Buffy couldn't remember ever seeing the bleach-haired vampire looking anything but sexy. He had had the whole leather-clad bad boy look that had drawn women to him like bees to honey for over a century. Not anymore.

Even Kendra was taken aback by the blond vampire's transformation.

He still wore his trademark black jeans and tight red t-shirt. There was just one problem though: the jeans wouldn't fasten over his expanding gut and the t-shirt had gone beyond tight to too small, and couldn't cover the milky pale roundness of his beer belly. His once carefully tended hair looked as if it hadn't been dyed in months and it may well have been that long since it had been touched by either scissors or comb.

Spike stood in front of the refrigerator he pushed past the protein shakes and bottled water to pull out a beer. He slammed the fridge shut, popped the top and guzzled the 40 ounce beverage in nearly one swallow.

Releasing a loud belch of satisfaction, he walked toward his recliner, pausing only to scratch the blubbery roundness of his ass and then his crotch, as an after-thought.

The once Big Bad had just become Big.

Buffy could feel the apathy radiating from the once proud and vibrant predator. He had given up on his life - or rather his unlife. His once sleek and muscular body was nothing more than fat and sagging skin. His pale blue eyes had lost their luster and were now dull. And worst of all, the cocky and confident swagger had disappeared from his step and was now a slow wobble.

He was a broken demon, not even a shadow of his former self. He had long since stopped caring, even about the things that all demons cared about: torture, pain, lust, passion; the hunt, the kill. Nothing moved him anymore.

She watched as Spike plopped his overweight self down into his tattered recliner and then searched avidly for the remote for the TV, spotting it out of reach.

He called for his mate. "Luv, can you come here? I need you."

Buffy glanced at her ghostly guide quizzically, wondering who he was calling to; Kendra jerked her chin toward the sleek, muscled blond woman that entered from the other room.

The blond Slayer blinked in disbelief and stared at her future self in bemused shock.

All the softness in her, in body and in emotion was gone. Her future self was a warrior, a stone-cold killer who did what had to be done without hesitation and without regret. Her eyes were flat and cold, as expressionless as a shark's…and about as merciful.

The soft curves of her breasts and hips had been swallowed into sleek sinew, hardened planes and defined musculature. Clad in black leather pants and a black tank top, the fabrics clung to her lean body, showing off the long hard muscles of her thighs, and revealing the taut lines of her shoulders, biceps and triceps. Even her once generous bust line had given way to the hardened splendor of her amazon's body.

She was old. Oh her skin was still clear, healthy and unlined, but it lacked softness. Her hair - the last feminine trait left to her - was still gold and untouched by grey, but the eyes, the windows to the soul, the those beautiful hazel green eyes that use to be lit with brilliance and fire were now cold, old and tired.

"What do you want Spike?" she asked indifferently, binding the length of her blond ponytail into an unfussy leather thong.

"Give me that remote. It's about time for Passions."

The warrior released a sigh of exasperation. "You called me in here to get you a remote that is less than three feet from you, so you can watch that dumb soap opera?"

It's not a dumb soap opera," Spike whined in defense of his choice of tv programming.

"You know it's melodramatic crap. No self-respecting creature of the night would be caught dead watching that. But then again, you're not a self-respecting vampire anymore, are you?" she commented pityingly. "Look at yourself. The chip made you an object of pity to the demon community, but you made yourself into a laughingstock. I'd say it was unhealthy, but you're already dead. Just because you don't have a reflection doesn't mean you can't see how overweight you are. Your ass is the same size as your imitation E.T. potbelly. You even have the beginnings of man-breasts. Spike, don't you even care about yourself anymore?"

He flinched, stung by her words. "Well at least I have an ass and some breasts. You're nothing but hard angles and harder muscles. Nothing a man would want to snuggle up to in the night. All the soft curves I loved before, are gone, Slayer. And so is the fire that made you special. You're nothing but a frigid machine. When we're making love, I'm more tempted to feel myself than you!"

"I wish you would," she growled in annoyance. "It's no picnic having your blubbery belly rubbing against me as you strain to get off - and that's when you work up enough energy to do anything other than watch the damn TV."

He struggled out of the chair and advanced on her angrily. "My blubbery belly!" he roared in outrage. "You liked it well enough when you found out your precious Angel was sportin' the same girth!"

The fire that had begun to burn in her eyes went cold at the mention of his name. "Maybe because on him it's still appealing to me." She eyed him in disgust, "You're an empty shell, Spike."

"I'm an empty shell? That's a laugh. I ain't the one who's turned into a bleedin' machine. And tell me why I should care about anything. For the last few years the only thing you've given a damn about was training. And," he added, "why should I want to fuck a woman who continues to call out the name of a demon she only fucked once. A demon who found you so lacking he dumped you, moved to another city and took up with another woman. And you still carry a torch for him." He laughed contemptuously. "And you call me pitiful," he sneered. "It's been years Slayer, let it go. He doesn't want you. And truthfully, neither do I."

The pain flared as it always did at the mention of him. The pain and the sense of betrayal. She forced herself to remain cold. "I would've thought after Drusilla panting after him for a hundred years you would've been used to being second choice. I don't need you, Spike. I never have. You were a way to hurt him back, but it was never you I wanted. Only him. You were a substitute - and a poor one at that. Did you know? Of course you did," she taunted ruthlessly. "I kept calling his name. Do you know why I chose you, Spike? He hates you, your skin is cool and you're of his bloodline. Those were the only reasons I was with you. You didn't think it was for love, did you?"

The cold taunt hit it's mark. "Get the Hell out Slayer and never come back." He turned and stalked contemptuously away from her.

She smiled mirthlessly. "That was the plan for the night anyways, Spike. Never coming back." Her hand flashed in a quick movement.

Spike staggered and turned around, clutching his chest in shocked bewilderment. "Buffy?" he whispered and collapsed in a rain of ash.

"I didn't want to fight before I ended it, Spike," she commented to the pile of ash. "But loose ends are loose ends. I don't want to leave any behind for the next girl. And I'll be more than glad to leave this moldy crypt behind."

Buffy watched her future self walk uncaringly through her lover's ashes and turned to Kendra, sickened by the scene she'd just witnessed. "Please don't let this be my life," she whispered.

"There is more," Kendra told her.

The mist began to swirl around them. Buffy let out a sigh of resignation. "Oh Goody," she mumbled sarcastically.

When the mist cleared she was standing in the lobby of a Hotel. She vaguely remembered Giles informing her that Angel's apartment blew up and he'd bought a hotel.

She looked around at the occupants of the lobby. Wesley and a large woman were sitting on a round sofa. There was something vaguely familiar about the woman. As Buffy continued to stare she recognized the woman. It was Cordelia. She let out an unladylike whoop. Cordelia was the svelte beauty queen any more. She'd gained a lot of weight. And those breast even accounting for the weight gain were enormous. She had to have gotten implants. Of course her taste in clothes was still impeccable even if she was stretching the fabric to its limits.

A skinny brunette and a handsome tall black man were standing near by. The mood seemed to be very somber. She looked closely at Cordelia and her mascara and eyeliner seemed to be smeared. She had been crying real tears. Buffy walked closer to the group Kendra on her heels.

"Gunn where did you find these?" Cordelia addressed the Black man. Buffy leaned in to see what Cordelia had in her hands. She was holding Angel's Claddagh ring and a in a velvet box was another smaller Claddagh ring.

"They were just sitting there in the court yard on bench surrounded by dust. I gathered up all the dust and placed it in the small vase over there," he motioned his head towards a hand pained vase sitting on the counter.

"What I want to know is who in the hell told him about Buffy had died," Cordelia snapped.

Buffy gasped she'd died. She looked at Kendra. Kendra nodded *yes*. Dead for some reason after seeing her Christmas present and future the thought of death didn't bother her Angel's death on the other hand was causing her chest to tightened. She felt like someone had wrapped a fist around her heart and was squeezing.

"Did you tell him Fred?" Cordelia accused angrily.

"N-No. I-I promised you wouldn't tell him and I didn't." The skinny brunette defended herself against Cordelia's attack.

"Well did you Gunn? Wesley?"

Wesley answered, "Cordelia it doesn't matter how he learned. He learned," Wesley paused, "He was a little quite after he came back from picking up your dry cleaning. Someone may have told him. There are any number of demons who could have told him."

"Well it doesn't matter now," Cordelia screeched. "Without him we are going to have to work twice as hard to turn the profit that we now make. I can't believe this. Just when I thought my future was set Angel pulls a stunt like this. Hell he hasn't seen her in years and he commits suicide just because the little bitch dies."

Buffy didn't know she was crying. The tears were falling rapidly. Her hand was over her heart and the other over her mouth. Her beautiful Angel was dead. She couldn't believe it. Dead. She never thought it would happen. She always thought that he'd out live her. She hadn't seen him in years but his death cut through her.

"Kendra there has to be a way to change this. A way to unmuck the mess Angel and I have made out of our lives." She beseeched desperately squeezing Angel's hand.

"Life is a series of paths. You have the power to change your path." Kendra decided it was now time to tell Buffy why she had come. She turned to Buffy and chose her words carefully as Cordelia bemoaned her fate in the background.

"Because you have shown yourself as superior warrior the Powers That Be are giving you a change to your path. To reclaim the life you should have. The life you should lead. You will go to sleep and when you awake it will be December 22. Three days before Christmas. Three days to change your path, your life."

The mist began to swirl. Buffy held Kendra's words close to her. Three days to change her path. Change her life.

"Thank you Kendra." She whispered as the mist enveloped them.

"You are welcome Sister Slayer," Kendra said her voice drifting through the mist.

In the next instant Kendra was gone and Buffy was back in her room Mr. Gordo sleeping peacefully.

*** Amends ***

<Wake up. Wake up lard ass. Get up. Get the fuck out of bed and change our future. NOW!>

Angel blinked. He was in his own bed, in his own room at the Hyperion. He took a quick look around the room again, as if needing to confirm his surroundings. Glancing at the window he made sure that it was dusk, safe for him to venture out. He had a lot to do in a short amount of time if he truly wished to make amends, to change the future yet to come.

Showering quickly, Angel dressed in his usual attire. Black slacks, charcoal sweater. He ran his hands quickly through his hair, attempting to force the unruly locks into some sort of order with a dab of hair gel. He was anxious and more than a little nervous, yet he felt a strange sense of calm and bubbling happiness. It was as if a weight had been lifted.

<Hurry up.>

Quickly he packed a bag, shoving in clothes and other necessities for several days.

Opening the bottom drawer of the chest in his room, Angel extracted the small jewel box that had been carefully tucked away in the back corner all these years. He'd found the ring on the floor in the mansion not long after he returned from hell, near to where the ash from his body had marked the floor. He'd known it had been Buffy's the minute he had held it in his hand. Tucking it carefully in his pocket, he grabbed his coat. It was time to reclaim what he had lost.

He took the stairs two at a time, rapidly making his way toward the door as he shrugged into his coat. At the bottom of the stairs he gave in to the urge, and he laughed. The sound drew Cordelia and Fred out of the nearby room to stare at him curiously.

"Angel?" Cordelia frowned, wondering what had happened to the vampire while he slept. He was behaving strangely this evening.

"Christmas Carols. Do you hear them?" Angel cocked his head, his preternatural hearing picking up the sounds of 'Silver Bells' playing in a car passing on the street. "What's today?"

Cordelia looked at Fred, still frowning, then turned her attention back to Angel. "December 22. Same day as when you went upstairs earlier. Are you okay? Because you're acting awfully strange. Did you fall and bump your head or something?"

"No. And I haven't missed Christmas! The Powers… they really did set things back a few days." The last words, Angel muttered to himself. He looked then at Cordelia, really looked at her. Her brown eyes lacked warmth; her smile was beautiful yet touched with insincerity and avarice. How could he have missed it before? The superficiality was easily detectable, especially for someone with as much experience observing and scrutinizing people as he had.

<If her cunt was as cold as her heart, even a vampire would get frostbite. Stop fucking around and get going.>

"I need the number for that cleaning crew that we did that demon removal for. The one that said they owed us a favor." Angel searched his pockets, checking for his keys. "I'm sorry, but I won't be here for Christmas. I'm leaving for Sunnydale after I make a stop."

Angel turned then, whistling a happy but off key version of "Jingle Bells."

Cordelia gave Fred another worried look then came around the desk. She touched Angel on the arm catching him before he reached the door.

"You. Are. Not. Okay." Her frown had deepened to a scowl at the mention of Sunnydale; her cropped dyed blond head shaking slowly back and forth as if to reinforce her words. "What happened?"

"No, I'm not okay. I'm better than okay, actually." Angel smiled then, an honest to goodness real smile. Which made Cordelia even more nervous.

"Wes! Gunn! Can you come here please?" She kept her hand on his arm as if to restrain him.

<Oh, look. Sugar dumpling is worried that I'm back…>

Angel waited patiently, his expression, well, it could only be described as angelic. He'd soothe their worries and fears - at least, what little he could soothe in oh, say 10 minutes, then he was out the door. He didn't have time to placate them beyond that.

"Yes?" Wesley appeared, but Gunn was nowhere to be found. Fred volunteered to look for him and in the next second she nervously raced off.

"Angel says he's going to Sunnydale." Cordelia kept her eyes on Angel, but talked to Wesley like she was talking to a small child. She still gripped the vampire's arm tightly, as if she could keep him there with that simple touch.

"Really?" Wes looked from Cordelia to Angel then back again. "And why is that? Is there trouble there? Perhaps we should all-"

"No." Angel interrupted, stopping Wesley before the rest of the words could be spoken. "No trouble. I'm going alone. I need to see if I can't correct some mistakes that I made." He met each of their eyes, his own telling them that he did not wish any company.

"And then?" Cordelia pressed, a nervous dread washing over her.

"And then? Well, if I'm really lucky and things work out as I hope, then I'm going to get laid and I'm going to get married. Maybe not in that order." Angel grinned, turning back toward the door. He was anxious to be on his way.

<Laid. Hell, yes. About time too. But married? Soul boy, we gotta talk.>

"You're going back to that bitch, aren't you?" Cordelia shouted after him.

<…Hit her...Hit her now.>

Fred and Gunn looked from Cordelia to Angel curiously, having entered in time to hear the last bit of the conversation.

"Yes." Without turning Angel waved and disappeared through the door, whistling once again.

"Damn it!" Cordelia muttered.

"Who's he going back to? That girl Bunny?" Fred asked timidly.

"Buffy." Cordelia forced herself to spit out the slayer's - and her rival's - name.

"Whoa! Back up a minute. I didn't think Angel could- you know, with his ex?" Gunn had heard the stories.

Wes smiled, despite the tension radiating from Cordelia. He'd known since that very day when Angel's life had been threatened by Faith's poison arrow just how much the young slayer loved him. Personally he thought them well suited. Buffy was Angel's light, and he was her shadow. "Well, apparently he can now, or perhaps he just doesn't care. My money is on the former. Now then, Fred, perhaps you can help me, I was just researching this T'lara dimension…"

Wes turned then and left the room, Fred and Gunn following.

Cordelia seethed in the lobby, angry that she had apparently lost Angel to Buffy again. As if she had ever had him…

In Sunnydale…

Buffy felt an alien coolness encircling her trim hips and lifted up her tank top to see the silver waist chain her sister in spirit had bequeathed her.

A slow smile stretched across her face; it hadn't been a dream. It was real. It was all real. She looked at the clock radio on her dresser: the LCD reading was December 22. The Powers had kept their promise and had given her three days. Three days to un-muck her life. Three days to make a reality out of that scene in the mansion that Kendra had shown her only a glimpse of.

Buffy ran to her closet and started pulling out clothes. She had so many things she needed to do. But the first thing was to make a trip to LA and get her man.

In LA…

The post office was bustling when Angel stopped the car just outside. That made sense of course, all the last minute shoppers now shipping their gifts in hopes that the would arrive in time for Christmas. Angel checked his pockets again. In one pocket he had Buffy's claddagh ring, in the other, the ring he had purchased for Cordelia. He hoped that the Oracles would accept Cordelia's ring in payment for what he had to ask.

He made his way to the portal and waited. After a few minutes, he was granted entry.

"Warrior. Why are you here?" The female Oracle stepped forward. They had known of course that he would be coming.

"I need to know. Is my soul bound?"

"What have you brought?" The male Oracle joined them, his gaze unwavering as he looked at Angel.

"I have this." Angel held out his hand with the diamond ring. The female Oracle suppressed her excitement as she held out her hand. The ring drifted to her through the air. She put it on as her brother soothsayer watched.

Angel waited patiently for them to examine the object.

"Yes, your soul is bound." Finally the male Oracle replied.

<Ahh, fuck.>

"When?" Angel felt the unwinding of the coiled tension in his body, even as his feelings of nervousness and excitement increased.

"The Romany curse was broken once you understood the key. When your soul was returned to you, it was bound."

"But, but…" The tall vampire stammered. How could this be? How could he have not known?

"Make no mistake. Your demon still exists, it is still part of you." The male Oracle warned.

<No shit. See me waving?>

"And it can escape with magic or supernatural influence. You must not be complacent." The female mystic, more empathetic to their warrior of shadow, added.

<Well…hope springs eternal.>

"Now leave us. You know what you need to."

<Yeah. Go home to the wife. Fuck like minks. Beat the living shit out of the boy. Kill stuff together - relax soul boy, I meant killing other nasty demons. Things being what they are - and what they could be, I'll take what I can get.>

And with the Oracles last words, Angel went sailing back through the portal through which he had entered. As he dusted off his clothing from the tumble to the floor, Angel smiled. And once more checked his pocket to make sure that he hadn't lost Buffy's ring during the fall. It was still there. As long as he held it, he felt he had hope.


The drive to Sunnydale, despite the short distance, seemed longer than ever. Angel checked his watch several times and toyed with his cell phone every few miles, debating his next steps. Should he call her and let her know he was coming and wanted to see her? Should he wait until he had things in order - the way he wanted them?

Finally the indecision gave way to eagerness and Angel dialed Buffy's number just a few miles outside of town.


When she answered on the third ring it caught Angel by surprise. Since she usually was out patrolling by this time of night, he had been expecting the machine and had been mentally preparing a message. Now he wasn't sure what to say.

"Hello?" Buffy queried again as she felt a curious sensation streak through her, a familiar pang.

"Buffy?" Finally finding his voice, Angel spoke.

"Angel?" The surprise in her voice was obvious. She'd just been packing to go to LA to see him, her visions, complementary of Kendra, filling her with a determined purpose to make things right with her vampire ex. Of course, if things went as planned, he would be an ex no longer.

He savored her voice, the sound of his name on her lips. It had been too long since he'd heard her say it in that breathy little way that she had. "How are you?"

"I'm good. You?" Buffy felt a shiver of excitement mixed with surprise. Was it purely coincidence that he was calling just as she was packing to go see him? Or was this fate?

"Good." Angel stopped the car outside her house on Revello drive. He looked at her window, the light was on. He thought he could see her shadow as she moved around the room. He cut the ignition.



They both spoke at once, both trying to come to grips with recently renewed hope, scarcely daring to believe that they were allowed, no - more than allowed, that they were destined to be together. Finally. After all this time. Visions of Christmases past, present and yet to come danced through both of their minds building this hope that love still existed between them.

"You first." Buffy relented. She felt a return of her earlier tingling sensation, her Angel sense, only it stronger now.

"No, you." The cleaning crew should have the mansion cleaned by noon tomorrow and decorated to his specifications. At the price he had agreed to pay them, they promised both speed and perfection.

Now that she could tell him all the things she wanted, Buffy felt a touch of fear. What if he rejected her? What if he no longer felt the same way about her? Could she stand it?

"Angel, where are you?" The question was a delaying tactic. She searched her mind for how to begin; his call had caught her off guard. She walked to the window and glanced outside, looking up and down the street.

He could see her now, looking out. Angel opened the car door and stepped out almost cautiously. What if he couldn't convince her now that he loved her? What if he couldn't convince her to trust him?

"Here. Sunnydale."

Buffy nearly gasped in surprise when she spotted him, now standing across the street in front of her house; he was a dark figure in the dim glow of the streetlights, yet she would have recognized him anywhere.

Without a word, she hung up the phone and made her way down the stairs and out into the street. When she reached him, she stopped. They stared at each other in silence, both uncertain about what to say.

"I missed you." Finally, Angel spoke, his deep voice breaking the quiet of the evening.

His words took her by surprise. Her heart lurched in her chest and Buffy felt a tremor of excitement, a beat of anticipation. Why was he here? She needed to know.

She cleared her throat. "What are you doing here?" She winced; that hadn't come out as she had planned. "Oh, I mean- it's uh, good to see you."

Angel smiled slightly, understanding her uncertainty. He felt it himself. They had hesitated for so long…"An old friend told me something last night. Something I should have realized"

"An… old friend?" Buffy felt a shiver at the strange coincidence. Had Kendra been to see Angel too?

"I've made some mistakes Buffy, a lot of mistakes. But I want to try to fix those."

Buffy pulse rate increased, beating a wild tattoo. "What mistakes?" Were they for once in accord?

"Yes, mistakes. Leaving you for one." Angel shifted slightly, moving closer to her. "I've really missed you." He brushed a stray hair back from her face as he restrained himself from gathering her in his arms.

"Me too. Missed you that is. A lot." Buffy looked at her feet, then returned her eyes to his face. "And I had a visit from a friend as well. Last night." Frowning, she reconsidered her words. "I mean three days from now. If that makes any sense."

Angel studied Buffy's small face in the moonlight, his preternatural eyesight making it easy to see her clearly. She was so beautiful, more so than he remembered if that was possible. But it wasn't her just physical beauty that moved him. It was everything about her, her humor, her confidence, her strength, her vulnerability despite all of it and most especially her heart.

<Yeah, right.> The demon snorted, stirring. <Tell yourself it's her *heart* when you're running your hands over that ripe flesh just above it. What are you waiting for anyway? Shouldn't you be between her thighs by now, soul boy?>

With a wry smile Angel continued speaking, "I've been making decisions with my head that I should have made with my heart."

The words triggered something in Buffy's memory; that day so long along with Angel had broken up with her before the prom. How he had said then that he had been trying to think with his head instead of his heart… Her eyes shot up to his face. "Really? How long have you been doing that?"

Angel lifted his hand, wanting to touch her but hesitated. The last time they really and honestly spoke to each other had been in the sewer - and in the day that wasn't. After their breakup, she had closed him out of her heart and mind, no longer sharing her thoughts with him; she had been afraid of what other pain he might cause her. What if she would not let him return from his self imposed exile?

After a moment, he finally answered her throwing all reservations aside. "Since the moment I told you I didn't want your life to be with me. I lied. I want to be with you so badly I ache with it. I want every moment of your life to be with me. I want every moment of my life to be with you. I want to be with you. I want you."

Buffy closed her eyes, savoring the moment. The words she had wanted to hear from him for so long. Small fat tears trickled from her eyes. Taking a deep breath, she smiled a tremulous smile. "Can I have a drawer?"

Angel smiled, remembering her request two years ago, shortly before they had broken up. "You can have anything you want."

Brushing away the tears from her cheeks, he stepped closer. Some magical force had brought them back together, and surrounded them even now. Their eyes locked, hazel drowning in rich chocolate brown as they searched each other's soul for a sign that this was what they both wanted, that their hopes were not in vain. Buffy swayed toward him slightly as he leaned down, his hand cupping her face as she tilted her head back. Their lips met in a soft and tender kiss. It was a promise from her to him and from him to her…

When their kiss finally ended Buffy opened her eyes to look at him. Her hand was resting on his wrist while his hands still cradled her face. When she spoke, her words sounded like a soft sigh, "So where do we go from here?"

"I hear that this place - the Bronze - serves coffee. I thought maybe you and I could get some. Sometime. If you want." Angel smiled as he recalled the words that he had said to her all those years ago. Those words had led to their first 'official' date. It was a way to begin again.

Buffy smiled, her eyes sparkling brightly in the moonlight. "How's tonight? Does tonight work for you?"

"Tonight's perfect. I'll pick you up in an hour or so?" Angel worked to control his enthusiasm. He wanted to be careful and not screw this up. "I just got back into town and I've got a couple of things to take care. Won't take long."

"An hour then." Buffy tried hard to keep from grinning. This was exactly what she had wanted. There was so much she wanted to say to him, so much she wanted to know. Determined to keep him this time, the blonde slayer was not above using her physical attributes to her advantage. Her mind was fast sorting through her clothing for the perfect outfit to knock one tall, dark and gorgeous vampire off his feet.

Angel nodded in response. Bending slightly, he kissed Buffy lightly on the lips once more before he turned and got into his car.

"Oh boy." Buffy let out a breathy little sigh as he drove away. In the next minute she was bolting up the stairs to get ready.

<So that was romance? It wasn't bad…Are we getting laid tonight?> Quiet for so long, the demon stirred again. And as usual, Angel ignored him.


When he left Buffy's house, Angel sped through town, his first stop the mansion on Crawford Street. Even now, despite the relatively late hour, the place was bustling with workers. Several of them were slightly unusual, being that they were demons, but the work was of top quality.

Angel inspected their progress and then spoke with the man in charge, taking the time to give specific orders for food and personal supplies Buffy would need. He made a shopping list that included her vanilla shampoo, soap, bubble bath and perfume and then added silk sheets, comforters, towels and bath accessories.

The two men agreed on the items remaining, then Angel paid for the completed work. Afterwards, he grabbed his bag from the trunk of the car and made his way through the workers to his old bedroom.

Angel carried his bags in his room then he unpacked, showered and changed. Grabbing his duster as he walked out the Mansion, he stopped only briefly to survey their progress. He told the demons he wanted this place clean and everyone gone by the time he got back; they nodded their understanding.

Satisfied Angel left to pick up his date.

<Now. If you can refrain from saying anything stupidly noble - or just plain stupid, like we don't deserve her, maybe we can score tonight. Of course, you do remember who's waiting in LA if you fuck this up... Dyed blonde? Big tits? And coffee? Why are we wasting time on coffee? Can't we just have the coffee in bed? We don't want to have coffee, it makes us jittery, remember? We just want her. She wants us. We want her...Can't believe you walked away…idiot.>

As usual, Angel tried to ignore the demon as he drove towards Buffy's house. No matter how right the demon was.


Buffy stood in her lace bra and thong and studied everything in her closet. Her underwear was the only thing she could decide on after her shower. She really wasn't sure what the proper attire was to seduce an ex. Plus she didn't really know what he wanted. They hadn't done a lot of talking. At any rate she had to find something to wear. She wanted to be alluring…and she wanted to turn Angel into a gibbering fool the instant he saw her.

She looked over everything in her closet, finally deciding on a two-piece peach colored jersey knit set; the long sleeve boat neck top barely reached the waistband of the fitted skirt that fell to her ankles. The set showed off a generous expanse of midriff while Kendra's gift played peek-a-boo between the top and the waistband of the skirt. She stepped into a pair of ridiculously high 3 1/2 inch heels and posed in the full-length mirror.

Buffy loved the outfit because it was both demure and provocative: the top emphasized her slim neck, full rounded breasts and narrow waistline. The fitted skirt skimmed her hips and caressed the curves of her hips and behind.

Xander had once told her she could stop traffic in this outfit; well she wasn't interested in stopping traffic, she was only interested in setting a cold vampire, her cold vampire, on fire.

She wondered briefly how she compared to Cordelia and then dismissed the thought; Angel was here to be with her. She wasn't sure what he wanted, but she did know if he wanted to be with Cordelia he'd still be in LA, not here in Sunnydale taking her out for coffee. Buffy refused to let Cordelia ruin her night.

Buffy let her long hair hang loose around her shoulders and fussed nervously with her makeup. She emphasized her eyes with liner and added some peach lip-gloss to her lips. She needed no blusher as Angel's presence in her life had brought back plenty of color to her cheeks.

The doorbell rung just as she was fluffing her hair for what she certain was the hundredth time. She checked her reflection in the mirror, took a deep breath and went to answer the door.

Buffy opened the door and they stared at each other, shocked momentarily speechless by simultaneous surges of hunger.

Angel was dressed in a black, cashmere pullover and a pair of faded denims, looking more casual than Buffy ever remembered seeing him. Her gaze flicked over him appreciatively, taking in his lean physique; he'd put on more muscle since leaving Sunnydale and it showed - especially in the depth of his chest and shoulders.

For a brief moment, she grappled with the nearly overwhelming urge to pounce on him. She was the Slayer; she had little doubt that she could take him to the floor without a problem. And once on the floor, she could rip his shirt off and explore his every muscle with her lips. No, she told herself firmly. Talking. Getting to know each other again. She was no longer a hormonally driven teenager who couldn't control herself around her gorgeous boyfriend.

<Umm, yeah. I don't see any panty lines. Do you see any panty lines? I don't see any panty lines. Ohhh…she smells good. Forget the coffee. Grab her. Grab her! Floor. Couch. Errgh… Don't make me wait any longer…>

Angel resolutely ignored his demon's continued clamors for immediate physical gratification. He licked his lips and belatedly realized that Buffy was staring at them. He cursed himself and his lust crazed demon silently. He was the oldest here. The more experienced. He needed to get himself under control and act like it.

"These are for you," he said handing Buffy an exquisitely cut crystal vase filled with twelve roses and baby's breath.

Buffy took the vase and stuck her nose in the roses inhaling their delicate fragrance. "They're beautiful, Angel. Thank You."

She stood up on her toes and kissed him on his lips: a soft, chaste kiss. He decided to let it stand for now.

<Just a little…a feel… grab her! She wants to be touched. Now. What are you waiting for?!> The demon raged, frustrated at Angel's continual ignoring of him.

"They can never compare to your beauty."

"Flattery will get you admitted," she teased. She stepped back to let him in and he walked through the door, his invitation still intact.

"That was not flattery, that was the truth."

Buffy blushed but accepted the compliment. "Thank you. Let me put these down and we can go."

She placed them on the living room table, knowing that she'd take them to horde in her room when she got back home.

"Where's your Mother?" Angel asked, noticing the lack of a Christmas tree and lights.

Buffy picked up her purse off the sofa. "She's spending Christmas with Gram and Aunt Darlene. I wasn't in much of a festive mood and decided to stay home."

"Have you changed your mind?" Angel asked as he helped her on with her coat.

"About what?"

"Your festive mood?"

She stared at him for several seconds before replying, her eyes searching for something; he hoped she found it.

"My mood is improving."

It was enough for now. They headed out the door and Angel watched the sway of Buffy's slim hips.

<Damn it! I don't want to have coffee. I want to go back in and have sex on the floor…and on the couch…against the wall on the stair landing…and in her room…at that window.>

Angel paused; for a few seconds he gave it serious consideration


Part 2 

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