Tis the Season.
Written for Dark Star’s Christmas Advent Calendar 2007
Summary: It’s hot and not at all like Christmas.
Squinting hard against light that had the ability to sear eyeballs and leave one blind, Buffy stood beneath the verandah roof looking out at an unbelievably parched land. It wasn’t much cooler where she stood, but at least it was in the shade of the bullnose. Only the Australians knew why a metal roof curved like the incoming swell of wave bent on smashing against the white hot sand of a surf beach bore that name. A few straggly bushes offered poor shade to whatever creature slithered and crawled in the dust bowl called a yard.
There were birds about. She could hear the gay squawking of the beautifully feathered birds high up in the eucalyptus trees that were dotted about in the yard – a yard that was wide and open and could almost be called a paddock if there were grass. She didn’t know what the birds were so happy about, and she wondered how they managed to survive the drought. There was little evidence of water about and every living creature needed it to live, so she assumed the birds had their own secret water source miles away, and just thinking that, Buffy decided she would save the birds a trip and fill the dry, empty, rusting bathtub that was sitting pride of place. It was if it was a sculpture left out to be admired. She had noticed a red plastic bucket lying discarded in the kitchen, and went about filling it. Two bucketfuls later she was regretting her decision. She knew that she was sweating but the air was so hot the sweat dried off her skin before it had a chance to cool her body. However, not one for turning away from a task, she added several more bucket loads, filling the bath enough so the birds could enjoy a splash about if they felt so inclined.
Heading back inside, she felt as if she had stepped into a meat locker. The air felt ten degrees cooler. It was lovely.
“You have a kind heart.”
Buffy turned to see Angel standing beside the curtained window. He had been watching her moment of madness. She didn’t have to admonish him about risking his life by peering out the window; the bullnose provided enough shade to prevent that happening. Another fact she had found out from their trip down under was that in the heat of the day, almost everyone – those without air-conditioning, anyway – closed the curtains to keep the house cool and the heat out. It worked, too, in this middle of nowhere God forsaken place. However, Buffy knew that the feeling wouldn’t last. Soon, her body would adjust to the cooler temperature and once again she would feel like she was baking inside an oven.
She smiled at him, happy to have his company so early in the afternoon.
“Thank you. Remind me to never do that again.”
Buffy stepped over for a kiss and, receiving one, decided she needed a drink herself. As she headed for the cooler they had brought along with them, Angel said, “You could have used the hose. I see there’s one attached to the water tank.”
She turned to stare at him and, catching sight of the smirk curling his lips, pulled a face and stuck her tongue out at him.
“You could have told me that before I humped all those buckets to and fro from the kitchen,” she grumbled, rescuing a cool bottle of mineral water from the eski: an Australian word for cooler, she had discovered when buying the thing at a supermarket at the beginning of their trip. The shop assistant had been amused at her expense when asking for said item. And they thought her accent weird? Try understanding the Australian pronunciation of English – if it even was English, she had thought to herself, annoyed and embarrassed at the same time.
Angel had plonked himself on the old, tattered couch, the only piece of furniture in the open space, when she returned with her bottle of water. Buffy’s heart went out to him, and she slid in beside him sucking up the coolness of his body, transferring her heat to him. She wasn’t at all jealous of his tepid body temperature, because Angel was confined to a ramshackle old house in one of the sunniest countries in the world and he deserved to be cooler than she was. It was summer and the night hours weren’t as long as they’d like them to be.
It had to be, though. They had had to journey at night, hunting a beast that was picking off travellers, usually at rest areas on the side of the road. The demon projected a spray that tranquilized its prey and it fed off the living bodies, piece by piece. It did not like its food dead, and that was where Angel came in. Buffy had been the bait and, as Angel wasn’t actually alive, he was the trap, and it had worked wonderfully, once they had tracked the demon down.
Now they were sheltering in an old abandoned property, out west in the state they called New South Wales. It didn’t look at all like Wales as far as Buffy was concerned. She had spent some time in Britain, and apart from the weather, she thought it a lovely - although some of the people were mighty strange - country.
There wasn’t any electricity, or beds, or much anything else to call the place home, but it had the most basic of requirements, a roof that wasn’t full of holes. When the sun set they would be moving east towards the coast. Buffy couldn’t wait. She had had enough of the heat, the flies, and the too bright sun. She was ready for some sea breeze and an ocean to swim in.
She said, “No wonder vampires aren't much of a problem here, even in the cities. I mean, what self-respecting vampire would inhabit a place that had no underground services, sewers large enough to get around in, and too much sun for the complexion?”
“Aside from me?”
“I’m sorry that you have to be here, Angel. I…”
He put his arm around her shoulders. “I’m not. You’re here. That’s enough. Although I wouldn’t say no to a grey, cloudy sky, and a bit of rain wouldn’t go amiss.”
Buffy sighed and closed her eyes. The heat was making her drowsy.
“I know. The sky is absolutely cloud free, and it’s the bluest I have ever seen.”
Two days later Buffy was standing on another verandah looking out over a completely different view. There was a sea breeze and it ruffled her hair, catching up the light cotton of her sarong, making it flutter around her thighs. The ocean sparkled as the sun’s rays danced along the tips of the waves, and she could taste the salt in the air. The thunder of the surf rang in her ears, trying to drown out the song of the thousands of cicadas sending out their mating call.
The property they had rented for the rest of the week nestled at the edge of a forest of eucalyptus trees, their trunks dotted with cicadas, looking like cancerous lumps bursting forth from the white and grey bark. Angel had informed her cicadas did not rub their legs together like crickets to make their sound, nor did they use their wings to fashion their brand of music. The organs made for the task were tymbals, ribbed membranes at the base of the abdomen. Their internal tymbal muscles contracted, causing the tymbals to buckle, producing the sound. Whatever, the sound could reach the threshold of pain. Even the birds seemed to avoid the creatures. Maybe it was a defence mechanism as well as the mating call, she thought, and cicadas went up in her estimation, in the order of things.
She stared at the beach below. The land the property sat on ran down to the sea on a gentle slope, grassed, with the odd native flowering shrub to break the monotony of green. Or almost green. The ground beneath the grass was mostly sand and definitely sand where it became beach. The lawn was watered daily, and the owners were fortunate they had water that came from a bore, otherwise the water restrictions wouldn’t allow it. The sand dunes where the beach started were covered with bitou bush, a pest of a plant, before the bush gave way to the beach proper.
Buffy turned and sat on the swing seat, her skin once glistening with suntan oil now encrusted with salt from the sea. Angel inhaled deeply, relishing the scent. Buffy was a golden goddess, risen up from the ocean, and his to explore when she came within reach. He had been waiting for her and gently nibbled at her neck, tasting both the salt and the oil, when she sat beside him. She had been swimming, and he had been watching from his vantage point. She promised to accompany him in a moonlight dip later and he was eager for the sun to set. The house faced east, staring right into the Pacific Ocean. It was safe for him to sit out on the verandah on this side of the house, and the heat was less with the breeze blowing wet from the wide water below. Not that he felt the heat but it was pleasant all the same, and he knew Buffy was enjoying the cooling breeze.
“This is strange, isn’t it?” she murmured, her neck muscles undulating against his lips.
“It is for us. For the locals, not so much.”
Buffy nodded. “Christmas is supposed to be snowflakes, and snowmen with carrots for noses and stones for eyes. I know we didn’t have that in Sunnydale, but at least it was winter and we could pretend. We did have a hearth with a fire burning, and egg nog and cookies, roast beast and yams. Tis the season, after all.”
“It’s the season to rejoice, Buffy. It’s nothing to do with snow and Santa Claus.”
“I know, Angel.” Her shoulders lifted and fell with a big sigh. “But I miss the northern hemisphere Christmas.”
“Sunnydale didn’t have many snowy Christmases.”
“It did once,” she whispered, losing herself in memory.
He kissed her cheek before answering.
“Christmas is where you are, Buffy. It doesn’t matter the climate or country or town. It’s what you make it.”
“I know. It’s just...”
“Shhh,” he said putting a finger to her lips, “we’ll be on the plane at the end of the week. You’ll be able to see Dawn and your friends then.”
Buffy sat up, turning to look him in the eyes.
“It’s not that, Angel. We don’t even have a tree. I…Mum always had a tree and it isn’t Christmas without one.”
He smiled. “Not even the gifts?”
She had to admit it, she was shallow. “Well…gifts do help, I agree.”
Angel slid out of the swing seat and held out a hand to Buffy.
“Come on, I want to show you something.”
Buffy’s forehead creased in a frown.
“You’ll see. Close your eyes.”
His choice of words brought a lump to her throat and, closing her eyes, she allowed him to draw her to her feet, letting him guide her into the house. When he said she could Buffy opened them. Before her stood a tree. A beautiful, albeit fake tree, decorated with lights and pretty baubles, and under the tree were two gifts, wrapped in elegant paper and tied with pretty bows.
“Oh!” Her eyes were wide with the wonder of it all. “Where did you…?”
“I found the tree and decorations in a cupboard. Apparently the owners allow for the holidays, so…”
She squealed and threw her arms about him. Angel didn’t mind the salt and the suntan lotion soiling his clothes. He returned her kisses.
“I left a few decorations for you,” he said when he could.
“Angel on top?” she asked with an impish grin.
He growled low in his throat. “If you insist,” he said, a lascivious gleam in his eyes.
“Not yet,” she said, pushing him away for a moment. She had spied the angel sitting in the box of Christmas baubles. There was a golden glittery star for the apex of the tree but she preferred the angel sitting beside it.
Picking up the decoration, she said, “Give me a lift, will you?” and he was happy to oblige. With strong hands circling her waist, Buffy gently placed the angel in pride of place. She sniffed back a tear. She was reminded again of the Christmas Angel had almost ended his life, back when her mother was alive, and her heart ached with the memory. She was grateful for the snow storm that had intervened – by Divine intervention, she thought – giving both her and Angel another chance. They had had many chances since but it was this was the one that had stuck.
Back on her feet, arms still wrapped about her, Buffy asked him, “Where have you been hiding those gifts?”
She felt his chest vibrate with his laugh. “The boxes are empty, Buffy,” and when her face fell in disappointment, he added, “the mall is open till midnight tomorrow night. We can go shopping, then, if you’d like? It’s only a fifty kilometre drive.”
Turning in his arms she kissed him hard. She had learned quickly how long fifty kilometres were in their travels, and it wasn’t too far. But what she really appreciated was that Angel took the time to find out the stores’ Christmas hours. It was going to be fun shopping for food and gifts. Angel was an excellent cook. She wouldn’t have to do too much, she thought, thinking of her efforts one Thanksgiving. Well…maybe she could manage the eggnog.
“I love you,” she said when she got her breath back. And with a coy look on her face, said, “There’s still one Angel that needs to be on top.”
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