Rating: This story has rather dark patches. For that reason, it is rated as 15.
Summary: Sometime in the future. Angel has to do what Angel does best.
Written for Dark Star’s Christmas
“And don’t forget to take that box of chocolates to Maria.”
“No,” came the obedient reply.
“You know who she is and where she lives?”
“Maria and John. She’s
pregnant, almost due. English
couple. The house with the
Thanks. I tried earlier
but there was no reply, and I didn’t want to leave it on the doorstep. She was a real help in the shop,
and I just wanted to give her something to say thank you. I’d no idea what an actual English
Christmas might need. And you
weren’t much help.”
“No.” The monosyllabic
answer managed to be both agreeable and emollient at the same time.
“I’ll be back before you know it.”
“You’d better.” It was
said with a smile that robbed the words of any possible sting.
Buffy closed the distance between them and put her arms around his
neck, bending his head towards hers for a kiss. Mission accomplished, she stepped back and picked up her
“Call me every day. I
want to know you aren’t getting into mischief!”
A tiny shift in Angel’s expression conveyed hurt and disbelief and
guilty denial. Buffy laughed.
“Yes, mister. You. Stay safe. I’ll be back for Christmas proper.”
Angel stepped forward and hugged her tightly.
“Stay safe yourself. And
He watched her walk down the path to the waiting taxi. She was going somewhere that he
really wasn’t welcome, to spend some time before Christmas with Giles. She would be back for Christmas
Day, but until then, daily phone calls would have to suffice. He watched the darkness gather
around the empty space that had contained her so very recently, until night
had fallen enough for him to venture out.
His first stop was at the house with the green door. They hadn’t been in the
neighbourhood long enough to get to know anyone very well, but Maria and
John seemed to be a nice friendly couple. Tonight, there was no light in the house, and Angel’s
senses told him the place was empty.
He’d come back tomorrow.
He took Buffy’s gift home, and then set out to make sure that this
safe neighbourhood stayed that way.
He paused at a couple of intersections where traces of a hot acrid
scent spoke of demons that had also paused there, but the scent was at
least twenty-four hours old, and all seemed well with the world.
Until the next day.
He went back to the house with the green door the following
night. There were still no
lights at the windows, but as he walked up the path, the hairs on the back
of his neck stood on end. That
same hot, acrid scent hung in the frosty air, but now it was fresh,
stinging in his nostrils. He
banged on the door.
“Maria! John! Are you in there?”
There was no answer, but tiny sounds reached him. The beat of a heart, the sound of a
breath, a nervous twitch as flesh scraped against cloth. None of them spoke of human hearts
or human breath or human flesh.
Something was home, but it wasn’t Maria or John.
He moved away, unsure of what to do now. Did the innocent-seeming couple harbour a secret as
strange as his? He patrolled
that night, but he was uneasy, preoccupied. He found half a dozen more places where the acrid stench
hung heavy in the air. It
wasn’t long after midnight before he went back home. He drank his evening meal, and sat
down to think.
The odour was that of a demon, and he had come across it before. It was true that he never forgot
anything, but that didn’t always give him instant recall. Whatever he knew was a long time
ago and buried deep. No matter
how much he recounted his sins, he rarely went that deep, into horrors that
no soul should have to face.
But, the sense of smell was the most primitive of the senses, even
for a demon. Things scented
could never be forgotten.
Tonight, he opened the darkest doors of his memories and searched the
bloody bones contained there.
At last, he had it. A
sect of demons so rare that there was no name for them and who only emerged
onto this plane of existence for their most important rite of passage. And the traditional feast for that
rite of passage was a newborn human baby seethed in its father’s blood and
its mother’s milk.
He huddled further into his chair and dug deeper into those forbidden
The next night, he returned to the green door. There were no chocolates this
time. The stench was stronger. He listened closely to the sounds
of breathing and of blood pounding.
More than one individual, but still nothing human.
“You in there,” he said quietly to the wood of the door. “Bring out the family safe and
unharmed, and I will let you live.
Cross me in this, and I will bring you pain and terror before I
bring you death.”
There was no reply. He
hadn’t really expected one, not tonight. He pushed something through the letter box, walked back
down the path, and slipped into the shrubbery on the far side of the
road. When he gave up his
vigil at first light, he had no fear that his quarry would escape. Like him, the sun brought only
death to them. He would be
back tomorrow night, and the nights that followed, until he had Maria and
John back safely.
Those in the house kept a hushed silence until they sensed that the
stranger was gone. They had
listened for his footsteps, but he’d been completely silent. The sense of menace at the door had
There were seven of them.
They were all males, females not being permitted to witness this
most important ritual of initiation.
There were four adults, comprising every mature male member from the
family of the youth being initiated, and two sect elders, there to see that
no unfair support was given, referees of a sort. Last but not least was the youth himself. He had already proved part of his
prowess by subduing the two humans, and placing them safely into stasis,
ready for the rapidly approaching time when the foetus could be ripped from
the womb, its embryonic regeneration powers harnessed, and the ensuing
Everything was ready.
The stars were ticking down to the auspicious moment, as would be
determined by the more ancient of the two elders, the sect’s haruspex, from
the entrails of the father.
What they hadn’t been prepared for was an intruder.
“What manner of creature was that?” breathed one of the adults. “It did not seem to be one of the
The second elder gestured to them all to stay where they were, as it
moved slowly towards the front door.
Gingerly, it opened the letter box just a little, and snuffled in
the cold night air. When it
straightened, it held a long white envelope.
“It was not human. It is
a long time since I came across a scent like that. They barely had the intelligence to
talk, then. It is a species of
the undead. I do not believe it
to be a threat to us, especially since there are so many of us here. It left this.”
One of the adults took the envelope and pulled out the contents. It was a colourful rectangle of
very thick card with a hook at the top for hanging it. The picture was of a
red and gold sleigh, the sides bowing outwards from the size and weight of
the sack it carried. The sack
itself was red, and the mouth stood open, freed from silver tinsel
bindings. Gifts spilled out
from the sack, or bulged from the stitched leather sides, pretty parcels
wrapped in coloured paper and ribbon.
A number of flaps were cut into the card, like little doors.
They had never before seen an Advent calendar, and didn’t quite know
what to make of it.
Some of the doors were firmly closed, but the first dozen or so stood
open. Advent, after all, was
well advanced. In each open
door, someone had placed a bloody thumbprint.
The next available door had clearly been opened and then reclosed
over an object that made it bulge outwards. At a nod from the haruspex, the adult carefully opened
the flap of card, revealing a piece of cream paper that had been folded
many times so that it would fit.
The demon took it out and opened it.
Bring back the family unharmed
and I will let you live. If
not, I shall have a gift for you.
Beneath was the unmistakable drawing of a coiled whip.
“Perhaps it would represent tribute from the undead?” offered another
of the adults.
The haruspex shrugged.
“Put it back through the door,” it ordered. “We must show this creature
dominance. Then it will go
“What if it has marked this couple as its next prey?”
The haruspex looked to the youth for an answer.
“They were clean. They
had no scent of another claim, no marks on them, no indication that they
might have belonged to another tribe.”
“No toothmarks anywhere?”
“None. But I will check
again. Perhaps you would come
The demons followed the youth up to a bedroom. A naked couple slept on the bed,
and yet, they were not present at all. What could be seen was only a shadow, intangible and
largely transparent. The youth
inspected the bodies, then murmured a few words of power to turn them
over. There were, indeed, no
marks to show where other demons might have a claim.
“Good work,” said the haruspex.
“Not long to wait now.”
They watched as dusk fell, until the hateful yellow sun had died for
the night, wishing it would die for all eternity. When it was safe, an elder gestured to the most muscular
of the adults.
“We should check that the building and grounds are secure and that
the undead has slunk off.”
The adult nodded obediently.
These were not battle demons, but they knew enough about killing
their enemies to feel confident of their ability to see off a lone
undead. It went out through
the back door to patrol the rear boundaries first.
It welcomed the darkness of the winter night, breathing in the sharp
fragrance, feeling the soothing touch on its skin as it peered into the
most shadowy hiding places.
There was nothing to be seen.
Its circuit of the hedgerows complete, the adult returned to the
furthest point from the house, welcoming the solitude. It gazed upwards at the alien
stars, strewn in their multicoloured galaxies, all-seeing eyes on the
tender wings of Eternal Night.
And then the night found a voice of ice and steel.
“Where is the family?”
The adult peered around, but the undead was too well hidden to be
seen. “This is a holy mission,
demon of the undead. You would
do well to find yourself other prey.
Our mark is on these, and we shall have them.”
“You haven’t released them?”
The voice was contemplative, as though the owner was selecting from
“Nor shall we.”
“I see. Well, I promised
you a gift. I didn’t say you
would like it.”
There was a sharp crack.
The adult screamed as the thick lash of a heavy whip wrapped around
its wrist, stripping off the leathery skin.
Those inside heard a scream like a mating fox.
“The undead has been seen off,” said the haruspex with satisfaction.
The other elder seemed to be less sure. There was a second scream, and then a third.
“The undead seems to be fighting back,” it said. The haruspex was silent.
After several more screams, there was a thud against the back
door. The haruspex gestured to
an adult to investigate. The
“Go on!” the haruspex hissed.
“Even if the undead has survived, which I doubt, it cannot enter the
home of a human without an invitation.”
Reluctantly, the adult crossed the silent kitchen and opened the back
door. The one who had gone on
patrol lay in a huddled heap on the doorstep. The demon pulled its stricken fellow inside and quickly
shut the door again. The other
demons stood around the adult staring wordlessly at its injuries.
Its body was criss-crossed with bloody stripes. There was worse, though. A precise flick of the whip had
taken out one of its eyes. The
stripes would mend. The vacant
eye socket would not.
A slithering sound at the front door was as loud as a crack of the
whip, and it was long minutes before an adult went to investigate. When it returned, it carried a
white envelope that they all recognised. When the card was taken out, a new door held another
Return the family
unharmed. The next gift will
not be so kind.
Beneath the writing was a drawing of a wicked-looking knife. The adults looked at each other
until the haruspex instructed them to put the unholy thing away while it
cast the bones to see how close the auspicious day now was.
The following night, the haruspex instructed that each of them should
station themselves in a different room to ensure there were no intruders,
and specifically to ensure that the undead made no effort to breach the
sanctity of this house. They
were not to make themselves comfortable, but to stand guard and stay
watchful to make sure that all was well. And until the small hours of the morning, all was well.
Those who knew Angel would say that one of his greatest strengths was
breaking and entering. What
very few knew was that an even greater strength of his was entering without
breaking anything at all.
There are always ways for a resourceful vampire to gain entry to a
building, provided there are no mystical prohibitions.
So, as the clock ticked away the hours of night, the demons watched
from the shadows, until one found that the shadow was watching him. The demon wasn’t as quick as the
At the end of the long night, the demons gathered in what had been a
bright and cheerful sitting room.
One of the adults was missing.
Together, they searched each room until they found their missing
companion in what had been an unguarded bathroom. The demon was bound and gagged, and the bath was violet
The youth struggled not to vomit at the sight of a relative so badly
mutilated. The cropped ears,
the truncated tail, the blasphemous symbols from human religious culture
that had been carved into its body, these were all something quite outside
the youth’s understanding and experience. But perhaps most shocking of all was the obliteration of
the facial markings that delineated each demon’s age and status. That made this demon, a senior
relative, into a demon of no account whatsoever. It was weeping, with pain and rage and shame.
When they had tended to the victim as best they could, using
makeshift bandages from clean sheets, they had time to notice the white
envelope on the couch in the sitting room. It was the youth this time who opened it. The note behind the next door read:
You were warned. Return the family unharmed. If you do not, it is my turn to
take a gift.
Underneath was a drawing of a heart.
Angel slept uneasily that day, his dreams full of delicious horrors
from the past. He rose
mid-afternoon with a feeling of anticipation. He did his best to push it back into the depths, but it
was difficult. He sat in
shadow at the kitchen table, reflecting on what had happened last
night. The demon he had taken
had been guarding Maria and John’s bedroom. The room where they were. The room that should have prevented his entry into the
All that there was of the couple were coloured wisps of air, shifting
like a kaleidoscope to reveal their shapes. He had tried to touch them with his finger tips, but his
hand had passed through. All
that he could see of them was a mirror image, a reflection, or perhaps a
mirage, projected from some other place. And so, there had been nothing to keep him out. The trouble was, he had no idea
whether they could ever be recovered.
But he had to try. To
do that, terror was his best weapon.
He intended to raise the terror levels again tonight.
It was said that revenge was a meal best eaten cold. So was terror. Those demons would be eating that
meal now, in the difficult hours of the day.
Their effective numbers were badly reduced. The now-one-eyed demon that had been whipped managed to
hobble around, but would be useless either in attack or defence. The victim of the knife attack was
in even worse case. But, said
the haruspex, there were still five of them that were fully capable, and
they should stay together.
The adults and their youthful relative did not press for a return to
their own plane. They would be
shamed beyond endurance if they returned with the ceremony
unfulfilled. They would be
outcasts. But they shared
glances that spoke of fear of what might yet come to them. Clearly their own innate weapons
were insufficient, so that night each armed themselves with such human
weapons as they could find in the house. Kitchen knives, carving forks, chisels and hammers were
all pressed into service.
They all took station in a single room, the room with the apparitions
of the humans, the room to which the couple must be returned on the
auspicious day, properly purified from their sojourn in the Stasis
Well. The hours ticked by
slowly, but each second was sharp-edged, agonizing.
When the moon stood high over the house, clouds shifting over its
brilliance, the haruspex cast the bones into the pool of broken moonlight.
“Two days,” it said.
“Two days more and then it will be time.”
The patch of moonlight was briefly obscured by a deeper shadow, and
then cleared, shimmering brightly on the polished wooden floor.
A little later, they heard the sounds of water from the kitchen,
water dripping onto the floor.
“The house must not be polluted,” the haruspex hissed. “Two of you go and deal with that.”
None of them moved. The
haruspex repeated his order, but none of them feared him so much as they
feared what might be in the house.
In the end, the other elder gripped an adult by the arm and,
brandishing their weapons before them, they descended the stairs into the
fang-filled blackness below.
When the others found them the next morning, they were in the
kitchen. The elder lay
unconscious but otherwise unharmed on the floor. The adult lay sprawled on the kitchen table, quite
dead. There was a gaping hole
in its ribs, and the heart was neatly sliced on a plate nearby. One slice had been torn apart by
fangs, and the bitten-off piece spat out into the sink.
The remaining healthy adult, father of the youth to be initiated, put
an arm around his son, a protective gesture that seemed to be entirely
“Where is the Book of Doors?” he demanded.
The Advent Calendar was on a counter top, the envelope covered in
bloody fingerprints. The new
Tomorrow night it must
finish. Return the family
safely by then or suffer the consequences.
Paramount in their society was respect for and obedience to the
elders. It was unheard of to
rebel against their wishes.
But, rebellion was brewing that day. The dead body was wrapped decently in a sheet, ready to
return with them for the proper funeral observances. There was a strong view that the
auspicious day should be today, and the ceremony performed without further
ado. Either that, or the
haruspex should declare the whole thing inauspicious, so that they could
return home without shame and try for a new ceremony in some other place at
some other time.
The haruspex merely shook its head. The bones would not permit that, he said. They must make their stand here, or
be forever shamed.
So, they waited while the wicked sun ran its laggardly course, and
the pendulum clock scythed off the seconds and shredded their courage until
the other elder ripped it off the wall and threw it down into the basement.
As the stars began to illumine night’s all-devouring wings, they
gathered together in the bedroom, with the curtains firmly closed, and sat
in a hag-ridden semi-circle around the bed. Every creature has something to pray to, and that was
what they did. As so often
happens, their prayers were not answered. That favour had been granted elsewhere.
When the moon rode high, the curtains billowed out as glass and wood
shattered. Too quickly for any
of them to see – and far too quickly for any human eye – the shadows
reached out, seized the youth, and were gone.
Towards the end of the hours of darkness, long after the moon had
hidden behind the safety of the Earth, they heard movement at the front
door. When they had the
reassurance of daylight, they found a sack in the shadow of the porch,
violet stains seeping through the leather. They dragged it into the hall. The neck was bound up with something that looked
suspiciously like hide, but was decorated with a few twists of silver
Inside was nothing but bloody bones, the flesh carefully butchered
off them, and the Advent Calendar.
Written on the stained and smeared envelope was:
Now there is no reason for a
ceremony. Return the family
unharmed or I will find you all, no matter how far you run. What I have done to you here will
be seen as a mercy, compared to what I shall do to you then. If you doubt me, ask about Angelus.
The demons’ powers ebbed each day, leached away by the power of the
sun. They could do nothing but
hold together in grief-stricken terror.
For his part, Angel found he couldn’t sleep at all. As soon as the sun fell, he ran to
the house with the green door.
There was the absolute silence of emptiness, and then the thin wail
of a baby. He tried the door,
but was rebuffed. The small
diamond panes of thickened glass showed him the fluid outlines of two
people on the floor of the hall.
Cursing, he tried to enter again, but his exclusion was
absolute. John and Maria were
back, and at least one of them wasn’t dead, but the smell of blood was
thick in the air.
He pulled out his phone and dialled for an ambulance.
He was waiting in the shadow of the doorway even before the taxi drew
up. And then, Buffy was in his
arms, and the world shifted back onto a different axis for him.
“Did you have a good time?” he murmured into the thick scarf that was
wound around her neck.
“Wonderful!” she breathed back.
“But I missed you so much.”
“I missed you, too.”
“Did you get up to mischief?”
“Me? No mischief at
all. It’s been very quiet.”
“It’s never quiet around you.”
He swept her up into his arms.
“Enough talk of quiet.
Are you too tired for me to show you how much I missed you?”
“Never too tired for that!”
Afterwards, wrapped in not very much, they sat at the kitchen table
having coffee. Buffy reached
out to the Advent Calendar pinned to the wall. The picture on it was simply a bright, pointed star.
“You haven’t kept up with this,” she accused, as she broke open the
little doors. Each one
concealed a chocolate, gold-foil-wrapped coin.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Besides, you appreciate the chocolate more than me.”
She arranged the gilded chocolates on the kitchen table, and moved
them around with her forefinger.
He knew she wanted to say something, and didn’t know how to begin,
and so he waited her out.
“Angel,” she said at last, “you know practically everything there is
to know about me, but you almost never talk about yourself. I want to know more.”
He frowned. “Is this
something from Giles? Is he
hoping that you’ll learn things that will make you hate me?”
“No, of course not.” She
paused. “But it was something
he said about relationships.
About sharing each other’s burdens. I... I want
to be able to ask you things and you feel able to tell me. And when you get an attack of
guilt, I want you to be able to talk to me about it. I don’t want there to be gulfs of
silence or of misunderstanding between us.”
He smiled at her, as if at a cherished memory. The smile faded, as he remembered
Cordelia’s reaction to uncensored knowledge of his past. His voice when he answered was
gentle, pleading. “Buffy. If I told you of the things I’ve
done, you couldn’t help but put me aside. It would be a death sentence for us.”
She put her hand over his.
“That can never happen.
Angel, the second year I knew you, you took me into your abyss and
made me part of it. You showed
it to me from the inside, and I never, ever stopped loving you, despite
what you did to me. I love the
you now, the brooding, guilty guy who sometimes has to do things that even
Slayers don’t have to do. But
the you now could never have been, without the you of the past. It’s the darkness of that past that
makes the light in you so very bright now.”
He twisted his hand from under hers, but only to thread her fingers
with his. “I love you, you
know. Did you make all that up
“Nope, read it in a book.
Of course I made it all up, you idiot. And I mean every word.”
He looked down at the table.
“Was there something especial you wanted to know?”
“What did you used to do at Christmas? You know, when you were... him?”
“We’d have a good feast, like everyone else. Except it wasn’t turkey, of
course. Lots of decorations
hanging around, just... different.”
He grimaced, and fell silent.
“Was there anything that Angelus used to particularly like to do at
Angel swallowed. “He...
I used to have a thing for choosing a victim and acting out an Advent
Calendar. A particularly
vicious Advent Calendar.”
inventive. See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
“Is that all you want to know?”
“Baby steps, Angel, baby steps.” Her smile for him was truly tender. “By the way, did you remember to
deliver the chocolates?”
His eyes slid guiltily away from hers.
“Well, yes, but I didn’t manage it until last night, at the hospital.”
She’d never heard Angel slide so many words into each other, as
though to hide some of them.
“Are they okay?”
“I think so. Just very
confused. They don’t know
about the demon bit.”
“I thought you didn’t get up to any mischief?”
He hung his head.
“Sounds to me like you saved the day. So, shall we have something to eat, and then we can go
hospital visiting? Then you
can tell me all about it.”
She stood up, and the shirt that was all she was wearing fell open as
she leaned over the table to kiss his forehead. He stepped around the obstacle and pulled her towards
him, intent on distracting her.
“I’ve got something to eat here. I have really
missed you.” It was the best
sort of distraction technique, being completely true.
He gathered her into his arms and took the stairs to their bedroom
two at a time for their own sort of Christmas feast.
Apart from the obvious Advent Calendar, the inspiration for this
story came from the prohibition, ‘Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his
mother's milk.’ This is from
Exodus 23 : 19, but it is also repeated in Leviticus and in Deuteronomy.
It must be important.
But why? It is
improbable that deities are concerned about cookery recipes per se,
otherwise molecular gastronomy would be in all sorts of trouble. Snail porridge, anyone?
So, why the prohibition?
Well, it seems that the Egyptians, with whom the Israelites had been
dwelling for so long that perhaps they had picked up a lot of
Egyptian-style habits, used to seethe a kid in its mother’s milk at harvest
time, and sprinkle the resulting broth on the trees and the soil, to ensure
fertility for the next crop.
Perhaps the Canaanites, whom the Israelites were about to try and
displace, had similar rituals.
Many cultures do – in the West Country here, where apples and cider
are a long tradition, apple orchards used to be wassailed with bread and
cider, to ensure a good crop.
And I thought, What if it were something more...demonic? Thus this story was born. Please don’t have nightmares.
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