Bah! Humbug


AUTHOR: KATRINA
SUMMARY: My Angelverse version of ‘A Christmas Carol.’
RATING: PG13
POSTED: 16 Dec 2003
CATEGORY: HOLIDAY FIC (CHRISTMAS), AU
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A
WARNINGS:
FICPIC CREDIT: N/A
AUTHOR NOTES:
1) It’s pretty AU. Set during the Angel dreaming about Darla time frame, but Cordy, Gunn and Wes are already friends with Anne. There is no Virginia.
2) Dedication: This is for all the Secret Santa’s for their creative generosity and to all at AO who make writing such a pleasure.
3) Special Thanks and hugs: I would like to especially thank Kimmers, Si, Lysa, Starry, Zan, Sach, Helen, Scorchy and Proph for their generosity and the wonderful surprise.


Cordelia walked into the lobby of the Hyperion to find Gunn and Wesley staring aghast at Angel.

“What?” Angel seemed genuinely confused.

Cordelia looked quizzically at Wesley. “What’s going on guys?” She asked.

“Somebody who shall remain Angel wants us to work tomorrow.” Gunn answered glaring at Angel.

“What? Was there a memo I missed because I don’t remember hearing about the fact that we don’t work on Thursdays.” Angel glared back.

“Um hullo Scrooge. Look around and buy a clue.” Cordelia offered helpfully.

Angel looked around the lobby still feeling lost and puzzled. He caught sight of some tinsel on the banister, some poinsettias near the door and a sprig of mistletoe hung near the stairs. Realisation began to dawn and Angel turned to Wesley for confirmation.

“It’s Christmas?” He asked.

“Indeed it is. Today is December twenty fourth.” Wesley answered.

“How is it that no on told me it’s Christmas?” Angel asked accusingly.

“Man, you cannot be serious. Barbie has been talking about nothing else for weeks.” Gunn gave Angel an exasperated look before jumping up to take a seat on the counter. “And don’t think that cos you’ve been living in the land of oblivion that it means we’re working tomorrow cos we’re not.”

“Evil doesn’t celebrate Christmas Gunn.”

“Angel, stop right now. It’s Christmas and I’m cooking turkey for lunch tomorrow and you will all come bearing gifts. You will receive the gifts I have thoughtfully purchased and you will love them. This is not negotiable. Do you understand me?” Cordelia stood toe to toe with Angel.

This Christmas was extremely important to her and she was determined that it would be perfect. Her apartment was decorated, she had saved for months to buy the perfect gifts for Angel, Wesley and Gunn, and she had taken classes to learn to cook a Christmas feast. Nothing was going to ruin her day, nothing.

“I’m a vampire Cordelia. We don’t do Christmas, we don’t eat turkey and we don’t shop. If you want tomorrow off fine, but I’ll be working, fighting the evil and saving the helpless.” Angel stalked upstairs.

“Bah! Humbug.” Cordelia yelled after him before turning back to Wesley and Gunn. “Why is it so cold in here guys?” She asked rubbing her arms for warmth and marching over to the thermostat and turning up the temperature.

“The tight wad upstairs says our power bill is too high.” Gunn answered.

“Pfft.” Cordelia said in response, not caring in the least. She refused to freeze to save Angel a couple of dollars.

“So, we’re still on for tomorrow right?” Cordelia asked anxiously. She was determined to give her family the perfect Christmas.

“You know it Barbie.” Gunn answered, smiling reassuringly.

“Yes, I’m looking forward to it. I thought I might bring a trifle, I got my Grandmother to send me her recipe, we used to have it every Christmas.” Wesley contributed.

“I don’t know what that is, but I’ll eat anything once. Gunn teased Wesley.

Angel remained upstairs until he heard the others leave. He just wasn’t in the mood for their excitement over a holiday he had no use for. He heard Gunn and Wesley leave together; bickering over the names of English food. Half an hour later, he heard Cordelia moving around downstairs; turning off lights and straightening up. As she left she called her good night to Angel up the stairs and then there was silence. Angel read for a while, but soon was feeling strangely restless, so decided to go for a walk.

As Angel walked the familiar streets a cold wind sprang up and a cold damp fog came creeping in. Soon the fog was so thick that Angel could no longer see his way. Angel returned to the Hyperion. As he locked the front doors behind him he thought he saw someone from the corner of his eye. Turning towards the office area, Angel was shocked to see Doyle sitting at Cordelia’s desk. Doyle was lit from within with a dismal light and he was perfectly motionless; staring at Angel. As Angel stared fixedly at Doyle he disappeared.

Angel rubbed his eyes disbelievingly. Thinking that he had been imagining things Angel made his way slowly up to his room, looking back once or twice to ensure that Doyle hadn’t suddenly reappeared.

Angel’s room was dimly lit with one soft lamp on a table in the corner. Angel made his way over to his favourite chair and sat, picking up his book once again. Angel was reading one of his favourite stories, but tonight it did not hold his interest. Placing the book upon the side table, Angel glanced over at the window.

To his surprise the curtains began to sway, softly at first but soon they swayed as if a very gale were behind them. Angel knew for a fact that that the windows were shut, but he stood to check anyway. Before he could take but a step the curtains stilled as if they’d never moved. Angel stared at them as if daring them to move again. Suddenly there was a sound from downstairs; a clanking and rattling. The noise grew steadily louder, soon it sounded as if it were coming up the stairs. Angel began to believe that mischief was afoot, his mind turned to recent demons he had defeated and he wondered if one of them were setting him up.

The noise came closer still and halted outside the bedroom door. Suddenly, Doyle walked through the closed door. His body was transparent, Angel could see the door behind Doyle.

“Doyle?”

“Aye, it’s me Angel.” Doyle walked further into the room and sat in the chair opposite the one Angel had preciously been occupying.

Angel sat back down opposite Doyle and stared at him in disbelief.

“You’re not really here.” Angel finally offered.

“Oh but I am.” Doyle responded. “I’m here to bring you a message from the PTB.”

“Why didn’t they send it to Cordelia?” Angel asked still disbelieving his very senses.

“This message is just for you Angel man. Do you want it or not?”

“Fine. What is the message?”

“You’re in danger of losing touch with humanity Angel. The darkness inside you is growing and unless you do something about it, it will be too late for you and for Cordelia and the rest of your friends. You have to snap out of it.”

“That’s the advice the Powers sent you to deliver? Snap out of it?”

“No, that’s from me man. This is the message from the Powers.” Doyle’s eyes closed and a deep inhuman voice issued forth from his mouth. “You have one chance left Lower Being. You will be haunted by three spirits. Expect the first one tomorrow when the bell tolls one. Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to hear from me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us.” As he finished Doyle opened his eyes and stood as if to leave.

Angel remained seated. “I met Dickens once. I knew I should have killed him when I had the chance, but Darla found him entertaining. Whatever spell this is; I’ll have no part in it.”

Doyle began to walk from the room. “You have no choice Angel. Take care of the princess.” And Doyle disappeared.

Angel looked around the room carefully before dismissing what had occurred. Making his way to the bedroom he stripped and climbed into bed, falling instantly into his familiar dreams of Darla.

When Angel awoke it was still dark. He looked over towards the clock on his bedside table and was surprised to see it was five minutes to one. Angel hadn’t gone to bed until well after three so this was extremely puzzling. Angel tapped at the clock; it must be malfunctioning. Making his way to the window Angel looked out but could see little, the world was still shrouded in fog.

Angel turned back towards the bed and was startled to see something begin to glow in the centre of the room. Becoming alert, Angel grabbed his sweat pants and a top, and melted into the shadows of the room, dressing quickly, every muscle tensed for attack. Staring at the glow as it continued to brighten; Angel soon had to shade his eyes. The glow soon lit every corner of the room with a warm, white, ethereal light. A figure appeared at the centre of the glow. As the figure became substantial the glow faded until it merely bathed the figure; the glow seemed to emanate from a pendant that was hanging from the figures neck.

It took Angel’s sensitive eyes a couple of minutes to adjust from the overly bright light that had flooded the room. When he was once again able to see, Angel rubbed his eyes in disbelief, certain he was hallucinating. But when he looked again, nothing had changed.

“Willow?” Angel asked in surprise.

“I am the ghost of Christmas past. But you may call me Willow.” The figure answered affably.

The figure sounded like Willow, it looked like Willow, and it definitely smelt like strawberries like Willow did, therefore Angel decided that it was Willow and perhaps he was still sleeping and consequently dreaming. Although why he, Angel, would dream of Willow appearing in his bedroom dressed in a tunic of the purest white and holding in her hand a branch of fresh green holly was beyond him. Lately, all he’d dreamt of was Darla. Looking around for Darla, Angel could see her no where; perhaps this wasn’t a dream; perhaps Willow was up to some sort of magical trick.

“So.” Angel offered conversationally whilst he tried to figure out what Willow was up to. “The Ghost from Christmas past you say?

“Yes.”

“So what brings you here?”

“Your welfare. Your redemption if you will. You were forewarned of my coming. Now you must come with me.”

“Could you maybe put out that light first?” Angel enquired, trying to buy some time.

“This is the light of humanity, would you see it extinguished so carelessly in yourself?” Willow answered.

Angel had no answer for Willow and so she took him by the arm and began to lead him towards the window. Angel tried to resist but found that Willow’s grasp, though gentle, was not to be resisted. Reaching the window, Willow placed a soft hand on Angel’s chest and he found himself standing upon an open country road with fields on either side. The city had entirely vanished. Not a vestige of it was to be seen. The darkness and the mist had vanished with it, for it was now a clear, cold, winter day, with snow upon the ground. Angel cowered expecting to be in flames from the sun, but it did not eventuate. Willow gave him a reproachful glance for doubting her.

“I know this place.” Angel said looking around in wonder. “This is where I was born and bred, how is this possible?”

Willow gazed upon him mildly. Her gentle touch though it had been light and instantaneous appeared still present to Angel’s sense of feeling. He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten.

Together they walked along the road; Angel recognising every gate, and post, and tree; until a little market town appeared in the distance, with its bridge, its church, and winding river. Some shaggy ponies were now seen trotting towards them with boys upon their backs, who called to other boys in country gigs and carts, driven by farmers. All these boys were in great spirits, and shouted to each other, until the broad fields were so full of merry music, that the crisp air laughed to hear it.

“These are but shadows of the things that have been,” said Willow. “They have no consciousness of us.”

Willow and Angel continued on through the town, Angel recognising and naming each person they passed, each home they saw until they stood before a deserted looking school building.

“The school is not quite deserted,” remarked Willow. “A solitary child, neglected by his friends and family, is still there.”

Angel already knew this, for he remembered this Christmas as if it were yesterday. Willow and Angel approached the house and entered through the back door. They entered a long, bare, melancholy room, made barer still by lines of plain desks and chairs. At one of these a lonely boy was reading by a feeble fire, and Angel sat in wonder to see his poor forgotten self as he used to be.

“What is it that he reads?” Willow asked.

“He reads of Ali Baba, of genies and of things far from reality. He reads to escape. He finds friends and family in his books that do not exist for him in real life.” Angel answered remembering a time of painful loneliness and uncertainty, a time when his own love of reading was born and nurtured.

Angel frowned as he remembered the feelings of isolation he had felt at school. Left behind whilst all the other boys had gone home for the holidays. He remembered the times he had begged his father to allow him to come home; each time to be cruelly refused. Angel remembered with a twinge of sadness how he had vowed that when he was an adult he would never again spend any Christmas alone.

Willow smiled thoughtfully and waved her hand saying as she did so, “Let us see another Christmas!”

Angel’s former self grew larger at the words, and the room became a little darker and more dirty. The panels shrank, the windows cracked; fragments of plaster fell out of the ceiling, and the naked laths were shown instead; but how all this was brought about, Angel knew not. He only knew that it was quite correct; that everything had happened so; that there he was, alone again, when all the other boys had gone home for the jolly holidays.

He was not reading now, but walking up and down despairingly. Angel glanced at Willow then turned to look anxiously at the doorway.

It opened and a little girl, much younger than the boy, came darting in, and putting her arms around his neck, and often kissing him, addressed him as her ‘Dear, dear brother.’

“I have come to bring ye home, Liam.” Said the child clapping her tiny hands, and bending down to laugh with joy. “To bring ye home, home, home.”

“Are ye certain, Kath?” Liam asked. “Ye have Fathers permission?”

“Yes.” Said the child, brimful of glee. “Home, for good. Home for ever and ever. Thou art to be a man and help Father with the business; but first we are going to have the merriest time in all the world.”

Kath began to drag Liam out to the hall, where his trunk was being brought down by the school custodian. Soon the children bade the schoolmaster goodbye, stepped into the waiting carriage and were gone, gaily, into the night.

“Do you remember that Christmas?” Willow asked Angel.

“Yes. It was Christmas Eve. When we got home, we set the table and left the door unlatched as was tradition at the time, to extend hospitality to the Holy family. We even lit a candle in the window to guide the angels who direct new borns from heaven. Kathy loved Christmas, it was always her favourite time of year, she celebrated with such love and joy and did her best to make sure that everyone had a good time.” Remembering Kathy’s love of Christmas made Angel recall Cordelia’s words of earlier that night and her determination to celebrate a happy Christmas. Angel began to wish regretfully that he hadn’t been so cold towards her.

“It was my last Christmas as a boy. My father wanted me to learn the family business, soon after that Christmas I was sent to be an apprentice in a nearby town.” Angel finished his reminiscing.

“Let us go there now.”

Willow waved her hand again and they stood in the busy thoroughfares of a city, where shadowy passengers passed and repassed where shadowy carts and coaches battled for the way. It was made plain enough, by the dressing of the shops, that here too it was Christmas time again; but it was evening and the streets were lighted up.

Willow stopped at a certain warehouse door, and asked Angel if he knew it.

“This is where I was apprenticed.” Angel answered.

They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welch wig, sitting behind such a high desk, that if had been two inches taller he must have knocked his head against the ceiling, Angel exclaimed involuntarily.

“Why, it’s old Fezziwig.”

Old Fezziwig laid down his pen and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shoes to his organ of benevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice:

“Yo, ho, there! Liam, Dick.”

Liam came briskly in, accompanied by another young man.

“You ho my boys.” Cried Fezziwig. “No more work tonight. It’s Christmas Eve. Let’s have the shutters up before a man can say Jack Robinson.” Fezziwig climbed down from his desk to throw more coal on the fire whilst Liam and Dick put up the shutters and cleared the room. Soon the warehouse was as snug, and warm, and dry and bright a ball room as you could hope to see.

In came a fiddler with a music book, and went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it. In came Mrs Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwig’s, beaming and loveable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business. In they call came; one after another; some shyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. They danced, they laughed, they danced some more. There was cake; there was cold roast, there were mince pies and plenty of ale.

Angel watched Liam enjoy himself and he smiled. This had been one of his favourite Christmases, also one of his last as a human. Soon after this his father called him home and so put in motion the events that led to Angelus.

When the clock struck eleven, this domestic ball broke up. Mr and Mrs Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side of the door, and shaking hands with every person individually as he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas. When everybody had retired but the two apprentices, they did the same to them; and thus the cheerful voices died away, and the lads were left to their beds; which were under a counter in the back-shop.

Angel looked wistfully after the Fezziwigs as they left. It was not until now, that he remembered Willow, and became conscious that she was looking full upon him; while the light from her pendant burnt very clear.

“A small matter,” remarked Willow, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”

“Small?” Echoed Angel.

Willow signalled to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig.

“Why? Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”

“It isn’t that.” Angel declared, sounding in eagerness like Liam. “It isn’t that at all Willow. He has the power to render those in his employ happy or unhappy; to make work a pleasure or a toil. His power lies in words and deeds; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to total them. The happiness he gives is immeasurable because he gives of himself.”

He felt Willow’s gaze upon him and realised what he was saying. Angel stopped talking and his thoughts turned inward.

“My time grows short.” Willow informed Angel.

“Good. I’ve had enough. Take me back to the Hotel.” Angel demanded.

“My time grows short, yet, it is not done completely.”

“Yes, it is.” And reaching out, Angel grasped Willow’s pendant in one hand. Looking her in the eyes, Angel clenched his fist and shattered the pendant.

Willow gasped, then faded, a surprised and hurt look on her face. Angel grew increasingly weary as the warehouse disappeared from around him and he reappeared in his bedroom. Angel relaxed his fist and reeled into bed where he sank into a heavy sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Awakening suddenly, Angel looked over at his alarm clock. Again it said five minutes to one. Angel became sure it was broken and stopped upon that very time. Angel slowly became aware of light streaming under his bedroom door. Getting up, Angel marched over to the bedroom door. Opening it, he peered out. The light was coming from the lobby. Angel started down the stairs; stopping when he reached the bottom.

The lobby had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove, from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and a fireplace with a roaring blaze had taken the place of the counter.

Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum puddings and seething bowls of punch, that made the lobby dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this throne, there sat a jolly giant Giles, glorious to see; who bore a gleaming torch, held up to shed its light on Angel as he stood at the base of the stairs.

“Come in.” Exclaimed Giles. “Come in and know me better. I am the ghost of Christmas present.”

“Hi Giles.” Angel said refusing to be cowed by the apparition before him.

“You have never seen the likes of me before have you?” Giles asked jovially.

“Yes I’ve seen you before. You’re Giles, just bigger than I remember.” Angel answered.

“Ahh your eyes can see no more than your brain can comprehend, I will allow you to see me in a form that is familiar to you, but be aware I am not what I appear.”

Angel raised a sceptical brow at Giles and crossed his arms. He wanted no part in further magical trickery tonight.

“Believe what you will then, it matters not. Let us go now.” Giles touched Angel’s arm and the room disappeared.

Angel and Giles found themselves in Cordelia’s living room. There was a beautifully decorated tree in the corner. Gorgeously wrapped presents were nestled snugly under the tree. The coffee table sported a miniature tree, decorated in the same colours. Bowls of colourful candy and Christmas crackers were situated throughout the apartment adding colour and cheer. Every surface bore decoration and the effect was cosy and cheerful. The only thing missing from the apartment was Cordelia.

Just then, a key was heard in the door and Cordelia entered the apartment. She was dressed as if she had just come from work.

“Hi Dennis. How was your day?” Cordelia’s hair was ruffled by an invisible breeze, as her bag was taken from her and placed neatly in the closet.

“Thanks Dennis. I don’t now what I’d do without you. Could you please bring me a glass of water?” Cordelia plonked herself exhaustedly down on the couch, putting her feet up and rubbing her eyes. “Can you believe that Angel is trying to ruin Christmas? He is so the Grinch lately.” Cordelia sat up to drink the water Dennis brought her.

Dennis turned on the stereo and began to play a Christmas CD.

“I know you’re excited Dennis. I hope you didn’t peek at the present I brought you?” Cordelia teased her room mate.

“Ok. I’m just going to sit here and rest for like five minutes. Then I’m going to have a shower and head over to the shelter. Anne asked Gunn, Wes and I to help out with their Christmas party tonight. It’s going to be the best fun, Anne hired a karaoke machine and some of the boys have been writing their own Christmas Carols, can’t wait to hear that.”

Cordelia pulled some pills from her pocket, tipped two into her palm and swallowed them with a mouthful of water. She set her glass down and rubbed her temples tiredly, as she waited for the effects of the medication to kick in. Angel tried to catch a closer look at the medication, he hadn’t been aware that Cordelia was ill.

“If this is going to be my last Christmas, and those tests and Doctors assure me it is, it’s going to be my best one ever. This Christmas will be perfect and that’s all there is to it. I’m not going to let Angel ruin this for me, for us. Now Dennis, do you think I should wear the red top or the green dress tonight?” Cordelia asked as she stood and walked towards the bedroom, unbuttoning her shirt as she went.

“What does she mean?” Angel turned to Giles questioningly. Giles had shrunk in size to fit in the apartment.

Giles merely shrugged his shoulders cryptically before touching Angel’s arm again. Cordelia’s apartment faded to be replaced by Wesley’s.

Wesley’s apartment was polar opposites to Cordelia’s. It was completely barren of decorations and lacked any cheer at all. Books lay open upon the coffee table, their only accompaniment a single discarded coffee mug.

Wesley was sitting slumped tiredly on the couch, phone held to one ear with a shoulder whilst he read a book perched upon his knee. He appeared to be waiting for a connection. Suddenly, Wesley’s posture straightened, his spine stiffening, as he dropped the book unnoticed to the floor and sat at attention.

“Hello Father. I was just calling to wish you and Mother a Merry Christmas.”

“…”

“Yes I do still work there. We help save innocent people, rather like….”

“….”

“Yes I’m sorry. No you are correct; I really cannot compete with that.”

“….”

“Well, Merry Christmas Father. Please pass on my best to Mother.”

Wesley hung up the phone and slumped dejectedly back on the couch, muttering to himself.

“Don’t let it get to you Wesley, he’s on the other side of the world now. There is no closet, there can be no closet. Just pull yourself together; it’s time to get ready for Anne’s party.”

Wesley sat still for several long minutes before seeming to gather himself together enough to stand up.

“Right then. A quick shower then off to the shelter.” Wesley pulled his shoulders back as if gearing himself for battle, he smiled grimly to himself and left the room.

Angel watched Wesley go with a look of sadness on his face. Giles turned to Angel and touched him once again on the arm, taking them both to a darkened, run down, outside basketball court.

Gunn was fighting with his crew as they took on a group of vampires hand to hand. Gunn was fighting off two on his own and things were looking grim, the crew was hopelessly outnumbered.

The vampires sensing victory began to taunt their intended meals. However, all was not as it seemed and from the shadows surrounding the courts, more of the crew emerged. Soon the battle was fought, the vampires dusted and the crew was congratulating themselves.

“Just like old times huh G?” Rondell came up and shook Gunn’s hand in their complicated hand shake.

“Just like, seems like nothing changes around here.” Gunn remarked looking over the crew.

“You did man, you done sold us out for a new crew, a whiter crew. What’s with that?” A voice from the other side of the court called.

“We’re all on the same team man. Fighting the same fight.” Gunn responded wearily, he was tired of defending himself and his activities just to feel included in a group that he had rescued and trained himself. He’d saved the lives of each one of these kids, trained them, fed them, taught them and they did nothing but attack him now.

“Yeah whatever. Ho ho ho.” The crew turned and melted into the darkness. Rondell giving Gunn a last slap on the back before following.

Standing alone on the abandoned basketball court, Gunn sighed as he looked around the neighbourhood he used to call home. He rubbed his hand tiredly over his head and walked towards his truck. He had a Christmas party to attend. Pulling a red and green bandana from his back pocket, Gunn tied it around his head, and his Christmas party dressing was complete.

Giles touched Angel’s arm once more, and they appeared at the shelter. The party was just beginning; Cordelia had just arrived and was looking festive in a bright red top and flirty black skirt. She hugged Anne and moved through the room, exchanging greetings with the kids she knew. Reaching the kitchen, Cordelia put on an apron and began to help prepare the food.

Wesley and Gunn arrived at the same time and entered together. Gunn went to set up the sound system and Wesley helped Anne with some final decorating. As the party heated up, Wesley and Cordelia helped keep the simple food hot and available and Gunn made sure there was no trouble. The shelter was full and there were kids everywhere, the sounds of laughter rang out, filling the air with cheer.

Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn finally managed to get seats together after the party had been going for a couple of hours. Cordelia was exhausted from dancing with some of the boys who had a little bit of a crush on her, Wesley was looking dishevelled from cleaning away the rubbish and detritus that parties seemed to breed, and Gunn was looking fresh and clean.

Cordelia rested her hands on the knees of each of the guys and gave them a smile as they listened to 5 of the boys rap out a Christmas Carol they had written. Gunn and Wesley put their arms around the one person who made them feel accepted and loved, and the three of them sat in peace, for the first time that long night they felt comfortable and happy, at home.

Angel looked at the three of them as they sat closely together, smiling at the rapped Christmas Carol lyrics, entwined in a familial loving group. Angel realised that for the first time this night, they looked happy, and that they each only had that with each other now. Somehow, they had found a family in each other. In a world of rejection and judgement, full of harsh reality and cold apathy, the three of them had created their own family and they were smart enough to know it and to cling to one another.

Angel wanted to feel a part of that family. He knew that once he had been, but lately something had changed that and he didn’t know how to find his way back.

Giles touched Angel’s arm once again. “We must leave this place, our time draws nigh.”

Angel found himself once more in his bed, alone in the dark. Sleep this time would not come; Angel lay there pondering how it was that he had been cast from his family.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Angel must have fallen asleep because he was awoken by the sound of the clock striking the hour. Before Angel had time to ponder where the sound of the clock was coming from, for there was no such clock in the Hyperion and Angel had never before heard a clock striking the hour, he lifted his eyes and beheld a solemn phantom, draped and hooded, coming like a mist along the ground, towards him.

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently, approached. When it came near him, Angel moved back against the bed head; for in the very air through which this spirit moved, it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. A terror such as he had never felt before struck Angel and he was loath to look upon the phantom.

It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this hand, it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded. The phantom neither spoke nor moved once it had reached the bed.

“So I’m guessing that you are the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?” Angel asked. “How come you aren’t Buffy or someone else?”

The spirit answered not, but pointed towards the door with its hand. As it did so, the upper portion of the garment it wore was contracted for an instant as if the spirit had inclined its head in invitation. Angel stood slowly to stand beside the figure.

“I’d prefer if you were Buffy.” He muttered almost to himself.

The phantom moved away as it had come towards him. Angel followed reluctantly in the shadow of its cloak, which bore him up and carried him along. The spirit stopped after a moment in front of a large office building. Looking up, Angel realised it was Wolfram and Hart.

“Why are we here?” Angel asked confusedly.

The spirit did not answer, merely led the way through the doors and into an elevator. Angel again followed, curious as to what he would be shown in this den of evil. The elevator stopped and the spirit exited. Angel again following.

Coming to an office door, the spirit pointed its hand and inclined its head. Angel approached the door and entered the room. Sitting at a large desk wearing an expensive suit and signing paper work was Angel himself. Confused, Angel looked back at the door as it opened and Harmony entered carrying a mug of blood.

“Hey boss, here’s your afternoon tea. Have you made a decision yet? Cos the staff want to know what your policy on Christmas is going to be?” Harmony asked setting the blood down on the desk.

“We work. Everyone works. Anyone takes time off and they are fired.” Angel answered without even looking up.

Harmony shrugged and left him to it.

“I’m the boss?” Angel asked the silent spirit.

Receiving no answer, he wandered over to the desk and watched himself sign paperwork ordering executions, the closing down of a housing project, and the authority for a portal to a hell dimension to be maintained to allow easier access to earth. Angel was stunned, how was it that his future had come to this? Where was the rest of his team?

Angel wandered around the office, seeing all the things that money could buy, expensive furniture, ancient books, rare weapons, but no sign, no indication that the people he considered his family were still in his life.

“This is a lie, I would never work here, I couldn’t work here, its evil. I fight evil. This has to be a lie.”

Angel turned desperately towards the spirit and recoiled in terror for the scene had changed. They were now in a beautifully equipped hospital room. Lying unconscious on the bed was Cordelia.

Angel walked closer to her and touched her hand, she was warm. Looking around for answers Angel spotted a desk in the corner. Walking over he rifled through some paperwork looking for a medical report on Cordelia.

Finding one, he read it in horror. Cordelia had been in a coma for months and there was no hope that she would ever recover. Angel felt his heart shatter as he realised that somehow he was responsible for stealing the joy and the life from his best friend. Tears sprang into his eyes as he walked back over and sat by her bedside.

Angel looked at the face that he had taken for granted for so long, as it lay still and unmoving. Her hair was lank and lifeless, her skin pale and dry. Angel’s tears ran unchecked down his face, he didn’t want to live in a world without Cordelia, if this was his future, he wanted no part in it.

Only now was Angel coming to realise how very important this young woman was to him. When she had replaced Buffy in his affections he did not know, but he did know that she had. She was the reason he got up each day, the reason he continued to fight, to try and connect to humanity. Recently he had lost his way a little, but she was still the reason he kept going. He wished he had told her, had had the chance to show her how much she meant to him, how important she was in his life.

“Spirit.” Angel said, turning back towards the spirit. “Can I prevent this from happening?”

The spirit gave no answer and Angel grabbed its hand seeking an answer. As he did so the hospital bed and Cordelia faded from view, the spirit seemed to dwindle and shrink and Angel was again in his own bedroom.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wiping the tears from his eyes, Angel looked over at the clock, only to discover that it read ten o’clock. But ten o’clock, when? Angel needed answers and he needed them now. Turning on the radio, he listened to the newscaster announce that it was ten p.m. Christmas Eve.

Angel cared not how it was that it was now earlier than when he had first gone to bed, he was only intensely relieved that he would have a chance to change that which he had seen. But where to start, he had no gifts, he had no idea how things went so very wrong, how he had ended up at Wolfram and Hart. Angel was determined to avoid a future in which Cordelia was not with him, no matter the cost to him now, no matter what he had to do, he would not let Cordelia down and he would not end up at Wolfram and Hart.

Wolfram and Hart. That was the key, Angel realised, some how this was all their doing. Dressing hurriedly Angel made his way to the Wolfram and Hart car park, relieved to see Lilah’s car still in the parking lot. Angel faded into the shadows to wait. He did not have long to wait. Soon the sounds of approaching heels could be heard.

Lilah had her car keys in her hand and was reaching out to open her car door when she was pressed against her car by a hard masculine body.

“Hello Lilah.” A chillingly cold voice sounded in her ear. “Miss me?”

“Angel. What do you want?” Lilah had no idea what could have brought the vampire to Wolfram and Hart on Christmas Eve.

“You’ve been a very naughty girl Lilah.” Angel pressed her up harder against her car with his body.

Lilah felt the tickle of Angel’s breath as he spoke in her ear, and the feel of his hard body pressed up against her. Through the fear she began to feel a tingle and gathering warmth.

“So what? No presents from Santa this year?” Lilah used sarcasm as her shield.

Angel sensed Lilah’s growing arousal and turned her in his arms so that she was pressed against him chest to chest, not a millimetre between them.

“Your gift will be your life, if I decide not to kill you Lilah, and my mind is not quite made up yet. The night is young and we have shopping to do. Get in the car.”

Angel opened the door and shoved Lilah across the drivers seat and into the passengers seat. Angel climbed into the drivers seat and grabbing the keys from Lilah’s hand started the car.

“Shopping? You’re taking me shopping? I quiver in fear. You are a pathetic vampire you know that?” Lilah just couldn’t keep her mouth shut.

“Yet still you’re hot for me? What does that say about you?” Angel taunted Lilah with his new found knowledge.

“Fuck you.”

“Lilah, that’s no way for a lady to speak. But then again you aren’t a lady are you? I’ve seen what you have planned and I’m not letting it happen. It stops tonight.”

“I think we’ve finally pushed you over the edge. I don’t know what you’re talking about?” Lilah was confused; there was no way Angel could know about Darla, could he?

Angel didn’t speak again until he pulled Lilah’s car into the parking lot of a large mall.

“Let’s go. We haven’t got long until the shops shut.” Angel pulled Lilah from the car and into the mall.

Angel proceeded to shop for gifts for Cordelia, Gunn and Wesley, which Lilah paid for with her credit card. Whilst he was at it, he also sent large and expensive hampers to several orphanages and shelters in the area.

“Now doesn’t this feel good Lilah? Giving to others so unselfishly?” Angel dragged Lilah into a clothing store to buy a sweater for Cordelia.

Finally finished shopping, Angel and Lilah carried his purchases back to her car.

“I’m going to leave your car outside the Hyperion. You can take a taxi to wherever you need to go now.” Angel opened the car and was about to get in, when he had a last thought.

Getting out of the car, Angel walked over to Lilah vamping out as he did so.

“You messed with my family Lilah. Consider this a warning to never do it again.” Angel grabbed Lilah and bit into her neck messily, he wanted to leave a large scar as a permanent reminder. Drinking only a tiny amount, Angel pushed Lilah away and turned his back on her.

“Stay away, or next time I won’t stop.”

Angel climbed into the car and drove off, leaving Lilah holding her hand to her neck in shock.

Reaching the Hyperion, Angel carried the gifts inside and spent the remainder of the night wrapping the gifts. He had never realised before just how difficult it was to get the ribbon to curl just the right way.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cordelia had risen early to start the preparations for Christmas lunch. Having taken a class in Christmas cooking she was confident in her ability not to burn the food, but she still found it difficult trying to do too many things at once. Finally everything was prepared and in the oven or waiting to go in the oven and Cordelia rushed off to shower, she wanted to look good for the photos she planned to take to commemorate this special occasion.

As Cordelia was rubbing the last of her jar of coconut and raspberry body lotion into her skin she glanced out the window to see it beginning to snow. Soft, gentle, white flakes began to drift from the sky. Throwing on a sweater and boots, Cordy pulled her hair into a hasty pony tail and rushed outside.

Holding her arms straight out to the sides, Cordy laughed as she turned in circles in the falling snow. Stopping she tipped her face back and poked her tongue out to catch falling flakes.

Gunn and Wesley arrived together to find Cordelia playing in the rapidly falling snow. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were bright. Wisps of hair had escaped her pony tail and were curling delightfully around her face. Gunn and Wesley paused to enjoy the picture that Cordelia made in her red sweater in the white snow.

“Hey Barbie.” Gunn called as he lopped a hastily gathered snow ball her way.

Turning to find her face suddenly full of soft snow, Cordy mock glared at Gunn.

“This means war.” She declared.

Soon the three of them were laughing and running and playing like children. Forgetting their cold hands, forgetting the evil they faced daily, forgetting their loneliness and pain; happy to be alive and together in the snow. Eventually, exhausted from the snow ball fight, the three of them leaned against Gunn’s truck in companionable silence, watching as the world around them became white.

This was the scene that greeted Angel as he pulled up. The snow had meant that Angel didn’t have to take the sewers for which he was grateful; he’d had his doubts about negotiating the sewers with his gifts in tow.

“Hi Guys.” Angel spoke hesitantly, unsure of the welcome he would receive.

As one, three heads turned towards the vampire and beaming smiles were sent his way.

“Merry Christmas Angel. Can you believe this snow? I’m so glad you made it. Come on, let’s all go inside.” Cordelia led the way inside as the three men stopped to gather their gifts.

Cordelia’s apartment was warm and cosy and filled with delicious smells of cooking. Dennis was playing his favourite Christmas Carols as Cordelia fetched drinks for everyone.

“OK everyone sit and I’ll give out presents.” Cordelia demanded kneeling by the tree excitedly, she really hoped they all liked their gifts.

“Ok, Gunn, this one is for you. Merry Christmas.” Cordelia handed Gunn his gift and gave him a hug.

Gunn ripped the carefully co-ordinated paper and ribbon off his gift excitedly. He hadn’t received that many Christmas gifts growing up on the streets. Throwing the paper to the ground and opening the box, Gunn gave a shout of joy.

“Oh my god Cordy! This is the latest Gameboy, you wouldn’t believe all the extras it has, and it has extra memory and the best games, and this hasn’t even been released here, how did you get it? And the dagger is wicked cool, can’t wait to kill me a beastie with it.” Gunn picked Cordy up and spun her around the room in a huge hug.

“Put me down.” Cordy demanded laughingly. “I have my sources.” She teased. “I’m so glad you like it. The dagger has some kind of enchant-y thing, it’s like self cleaning.”

“The next present is for Wesley.” Cordy handed Wesley his gift along with his Christmas hug.

Wesley painstakingly untied the beautiful ribbon on his gift, carefully removed the sticky tape from the present and unwrapped the paper. Nestled inside the wrapping paper was a first edition copy of William Wordsworth’s ‘Poems in Two Volumes’. Wesley couldn’t believe his eyes, turning to Cordelia, he opened his mouth but no words emerged. He closed his mouth to try again but with the same result.

Cordelia laughed. “I know he’s your favourite ever poet and a friend found this for me. I knew you’d like it. You do don’t you?”

“Like it? I love it, this is priceless, this is exquisite, this is perfect. Thank you so much Cordelia.” Wesley leant over and carefully kissed the woman he regarded as his sister on the cheek, before turning reverently to stroke the cover of his book.

“Now Angel, this is for you. Merry Christmas.” Cordelia handed Angel a rather large present.

Gunn and Wesley turned from their gifts, to watch Angel open his. The attention made Angel nervous. Looking at his gift he slowly opened one end of the paper and eased it off to uncover an oil painting he had painted of Darla, Spike, Drusilla and himself over one hundred and fifty years ago. The painting had been beautifully restored and framed.

“I hope you like it. Spike had it and I bought it off him and had it restored, cos you know, it’s important to remember your family even though you’ve moved on from there. Is this ok?” Cordy became nervous as Angel’s silence continued as he merely stared at the painting.

Angel was touched by the thought that Cordelia had put into each of the gifts. They were perfect for each person.

“I love it, thank you Cordy; I’d forgotten I’d painted this.” Angel gave Cordy an awkward hug.

“Time for you now Barbie, sit yo-self down.” Gunn demanded, easing the awkward moment.

“Wait, Dennis first.” Cordy said, quickly holding a present up to the air.

The four of them watched as Dennis unwrapped his gift, which turned out to be some DVD’s of black and white movies. Dennis appeared to be delighted by the way the movies jumped around and danced in the air.

“You’re welcome Dennis. I’m glad you like them. I know you get bored when I’m at work, so now you can watch the movies you love.”

“Ok now sit and open my present first.” Gunn pushed Cordy into a chair and handed her his gift.

Cordy carefully untied the ribbon before ripping the paper off to uncover all her favourite body lotions and shower gels, the very ones she had just run out of.

“Thank you Gunn, how did you know these are the ones I use?” Cordy hugged Gunn.

“I smelt my way through shop after shop til I found what I hoped was right.” Gunn appreciated the way the Cordy always smelt fresh and clean no matter what and he had been determined to find the right scent, he was pleased that she liked them.

“Mine now.” Wesley gave his gift to Cordelia.

Opening Wesley’s present Cordelia was delighted to find a beautifully hand crafted manicure set and a range of hand care products. Cordelia was delighted, she liked to keep her hands looking nice but couldn’t often afford manicures anymore.

“Thank you Wesley. It’s perfect.” Cordelia smiled in gratitude at her long time friend and confidant.

“We pitched in and got this for you Angel. Hope you like it.” Wesley and Gunn handed Angel a long package.

Opening the present, Angel was touched to find an antique scabbard for his favourite sword.

“Thanks guys, its great.” Angel smiled his appreciation, he couldn’t believe they had given him such perfect gifts after the way he had been behaving lately.

“What did you two get each other?” Cordy looked quizzically at Wesley and Gunn as they sat back down.

“We bought each other tickets to that concert we went to last week.” Wesley answered.

“Cool. Ok so I’ll just get the food happening.” Cordelia began to stand.

“Wait, we haven’t opened my presents yet.” Angel said quickly, moving to hand his gifts out.

“Gunn. This is for you.” Angel handed Gunn an envelope.

After opening the envelope Gunn engulfed Angel in a huge hug.

“You are so the man.” He exclaimed turning to show Cordy and Wesley that Angel had given him season tickets to the Lakers games for courtside seats.

“Wesley.” Angel handed another envelope.

Wesley opened it and turned pale. “Oh my god, thank you Angel.”

“What is it?” Cordelia demanded.

“Tickets to Aspen and an audience with Kev-Tlar. He’s is the foremost expert in all manner of ancient research and will see no one. He has written several of the books we use on a day to day basis and I’m going to meet him and talk with him. Thank you Angel, this is just amazing.” Wesley was overwhelmed.

“Now Cordy, I wasn’t sure what you would like, so um, I got you these.” Angel handed over several large boxes.

Opening the boxes Cordelia discovered 3 soft cashmere sweaters in her size in different colours, a range of Chanel Number 5 products, vouchers for manicures, pedicures, facials, massages and hair cuts, a box of expensive swiss chocolates, a pair of ear rings and a matching necklace and a subscription to all her favourite magazines.

“Oh my god. Angel.” Cordelia cried surrounded by her presents.

“Do you like them?” Angel asked hesitantly, he wanted this to be a perfect Christmas for his best friend.

“I love them, you’ve spoilt me. Thank you.” Cordelia stood up and wrapped her arms around Angel in a loving embrace.

Angel closed his eyes and tried to capture this moment for ever. The way Gunn and Wesley were excitedly comparing gifts in the background, the sounds of Nat King Cole crooning Christmas Carols, the smell of food baking, and more importantly the feel of pure love in his arms, smelling of berries and coconut, feeling warm and soft, Angel never wanted it to end.

As she pulled back slightly, Cordelia smiled up at Angel. “Merry Christmas Angel. Thank you for being here.”

“Merry Christmas Cordy, I’m sorry for the way I’ve been lately. I’m always going to be here for you though, no matter what there is nothing I wouldn’t do for you. You know that right?” Angel needed Cordy to know that he wouldn’t ever let her go.

“I know. We can talk later though, now’s the time for lunch. Help me put it on the table.” Cordy grabbed Angel by the hand and walked into the kitchen to put the final touches on lunch.

As the snow continued to fall outside, Cordelia, Gunn, Wesley and Angel sat down to a perfectly prepared Christmas lunch. The room was full of delicious scents, happy smiles and more importantly the love of a family. Cordelia looked around her and smiled, she had her perfect Christmas and it was a memory she would cherish for the rest of her life.

 


…THE END…


 

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