The Ghost of Christmas Past

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Author's notes

Awards

Isn’t it odd what the mind thinks of at the most inappropriate moment? Currently I’m thinking about Christmas, even though that season is long past, and I’m not going to ever see another one.

It started because I was thinking of my family, my assorted family of humans and demons. All gone now. Wesley, dead. Gunn, dead. Cordelia, dead. Fred…annihilated. Illyria, dead. Lorne would have been better if I had put a bullet through his heart, because in all other ways I’ve killed that most important part of him. Spike, dusted. Buffy, who doesn’t trust me any more … I daren’t even go there. All my fault. The loss of them all is more than I can bear, but I won’t have to mourn for much longer. Just another few minutes. Just enough time to think.

When I thought of Cordelia, I remembered how I once sent her to the Transuding Furies so that she could get the no-demon-violence spell lifted from Caritas and save my life ((and how I wish we’d had something like that in the alley outside the Hyperion)). They told her that only I was equipped to repay the debt. She thought it was all about sex. She wasn’t entirely wrong, but for the most part it was nothing to do with sex.

They’re *Furies*, damn it. Don’t you remember what Furies do? They’re sent from Tartarus, to avenge crimes against kinship, ones that can’t be punished by human justice. Who has ever committed more crimes against kinship than I have? And how could human justice ever deal with the vampire that was Angelus? Do you understand now why they are in Los Angeles? They came here for me.

The Furies have been with me pretty much since I got my soul back, and I’ve spent most of my Christmases with them.

They followed me around Europe, after the fiasco in Romania. You can’t ever escape them. I tried. I ran as far and as fast as I could. They’re the reason I came to America, just another member of the dark and huddled masses, although rather more in need of the huddled dark than most. I should have known. They were hot on my trail. Once they’ve been loosed, they’ve got your number, and all you can do is suck it up and deal.

If you think I’m a dark, broody guy now, you should have seen me then. At least I have a purpose now, but all those years ago? My only purpose was to wallow in my sins, and try to find an anaesthetic for my soul. I’d get drunk and surly, but that never lasted long, courtesy of vampire metabolism. Every day was a day in Hell. Acathla’s Hell, the one that Buffy sent me to for a hundred years, was no worse than the one in my mind. John Milton said it, in Paradise Lost.

‘The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.’

He had it right. The hundred years I spent as nothing more than a brooding, useless parasite? I was in my own private hell. Every day was a day of torment, but some were worse than others. Christmas was one of the worst. I’d remember the way my first family celebrated Christmas. My flesh and blood family, that is. We’d spend time in church, of course, and everything was much simpler than it is today. But there would be small gifts, and a family meal and, for that single day, my father and I would call an unspoken truce, for the sake of my mother and my sister.

One year – it was very shortly after my arrival on this continent – on Christmas Eve, in some nameless American city, I watched a family much like my own had been, except that these were full of real joy and contentment despite their squalid tenement block. The memories were so poignant, so painful, that I ran blindly away, as far and fast as I could. You can’t outrun yourself, though. After a while, I could go no further. I found myself in a refuse-strewn alley, one that was so rat-infested that even the pitiful human homeless shunned it. I just hunkered down, and I wept. That’s where the Furies came to me for the first of our Christmas encounters.

They didn’t look then as they look now. You’ve seen them. What you’ve seen is three beautiful if slightly dim women who all dress alike and who have a tendency to hover off the ground. It amuses them to adopt that appearance but, like me, they have another. It’s not nearly as pretty.

I’d seen them before, of course, many times, but now they had me cornered, and I had neither the strength nor the desire to run. I just stood up and waited for them. If they had carried me off to Hell that night, I should not have struggled.

I shut my eyes as they closed in on me, and opened my arms, welcoming whatever punishment they brought. I could feel their bodies pressed against mine, inhumanly hot in this particular manifestation. Talons, hard and sharp, raked gently down my cheek, and I felt the sting of their breath, burning and acrid, the stench of hell itself.

‘Open your eyes and see, vampire.’

It was the first thing they had ever said to me. I obeyed. The last time that I’d vomited, I’d been human, and incapacitated after a night of debauchery. The only reason I didn’t vomit now, although my stomach was heaving, was because I’d eaten nothing for days, maybe weeks. One of the sisters had pressed her face close to mine, so close that I could see nothing beyond her slavering fangs, and her wild, blood-rimmed eyes, smell nothing beyond her hot and foetid breath. My senses were overwhelmed by the reek of corruption. The other two were at my sides. One was sniffing around the nape of my neck, the other was nuzzling my ear. I was terrified.

‘What is your name, vampire?’

I hadn’t got a name. I’d been slinking around, wrapped in my own kithless and desolate solitude, and I’d had no need of a name. I knew what I was. It was enough that I should know; I didn’t need to keep that memory alive in the world any longer. I didn’t answer.

‘Your name,’ she hissed again.

Who was I? I hadn’t been Liam for a very long time. I’d proved that I could never accept being Angelus again. Who was I?

‘I…I’m… I’m Angel.’

It felt blasphemous to say it, but Spanish speakers use it as a name, so perhaps it would do. I think she grinned, although I was too close to see the overall effect of her stretched lips, just the individual teeth, a mouthful of pustulence.

‘Try again, vampire.’

One of her sisters started to run her tongue up my throat, scraping a fang over the flesh as she did so. I couldn’t help but shudder at this parody of the feed. And I couldn’t help wondering what Furies fed on.

Then she leaned her head forward just a little, to close the remaining inch between us. He lips touched mine, her fangs scraped my own, and her tongue snaked into my mouth. All three twined themselves around my unresisting body. It was like kissing a long-dead corpse. I remember moaning in revulsion. And in terror. When she pulled back, she repeated herself.

‘Try again, vampire.’

You can’t outrun yourself. ‘I’m Angelus.’

All three of them hissed their approval.

‘Yesssss…’

Then they led me out of that alley. At that time, I had no home, and I very much doubt that the Furies did, either. Instead, they led me to an abandoned tenement building, fenced off and awaiting demolition. This was so unsafe, with missing floors and cracked ceilings, that here, too, there were none of the hopeless squatters. They took me right up to the top floor and, in the ruins of an apartment that looked out over the face of this nameless city, they introduced me to their purpose.

I thought I knew about the Furies. They were all about punishment, that much I understood. It wasn’t long before I realised I knew nothing at all. These three are called the Transuding Furies. ‘Transude’ describes the action of a fluid passing through the pores of a membrane. Sweating. Sweating blood, maybe. They made me sweat, all right. That night, they bled me, bodily, spiritually and emotionally. They stripped me naked, both physically and metaphysically, and the wounds they inflicted on my flesh were a grotesque reflection of the wounds they made me inflict on my own psyche. Agony doesn’t have to be visible to be real.

That first night they gored my flesh as their whisperings gored the shrivelled remnant of my heart. The senior member of their trinity would speak, and her sisters would echo her words, as if they had none of their own, just hers and mine. They whispered to me of my many, many sins, and they made me recount them. They made me relive them over, and over. Oh, not all of them. There simply wouldn’t be enough hours in the night for that. They started with the worst, and made me tell them again and again what I had done. And they asked me what it had been like, how I had felt, wringing out of me the vampire’s darkest pleasures; pleasures that were still real on my flesh and on my tongue, scents that my memory still savoured, to the eternal torment of my soul.

‘Tell us, *Angelus*, was your sister’s throat warm and soft and sweet? Did you relish the taste of her blood? So very young, so very tender a morsel? Tell us, vampire…’

And I had to speak. Every question, every answer, accompanied by blood and sweat, tears and pain. It didn’t matter how much I wept or railed or screamed or repented. And I did repent, in every way I could imagine, but how can there be repentance when the remembered taste of a sister’s blood can still make me lust for more? The Furies were without pity of any kind. When the morning came, they permitted me to huddle in a corner, out of the light, naked and vulnerable, but they would allow me no rest. They repeated to me, hour after endless hour, what I had told them. What I was sure they had already known. With their bodies pressed around mine, stabbing me with their clawed caresses, drinking my crying and my pain down with their foul kisses, they recited for me my litany of savagery. It was Christmas Day, and this was to be my well-earned Christmas gift. Towards the end of the day, they withdrew into another room, and after a while, I fell into an exhausted sleep, sobs still hitching raggedly in my chest. When I woke, I was alone.

I stayed in that derelict ruin for two days, too hurt and worn to move. The Furies didn’t come back for me, as I feared they would. When at last I was able to summon enough strength to go, I left that city. I don’t even know where it was. As I leaped onto the last car of a departing goods train, I saw movement from the corner of my eye. I knew it was them, and I knew they would find me wherever I went. They did.

I saw them almost every night, but it wasn’t until the next Christmas, when I was racked even more than usual by thoughts of what I had done to my family and to thousands of other families like them, that I decided to wait for my fate in another stinking alley. I recalled that Darla had damned me in an alley. It seemed significant that I should wait here, in this detritus-littered cul-de-sac. It didn’t take them long to find me. I stood with my eyes closed, arms and legs spread, head bowed, in an attitude of utter submission.

‘Never close your eyes, vampire. You must look, and you must see.’

I did as I was instructed, and looked at them. Their appearance was even more hideous than I had remembered, like a physical manifestation of my own evil. This time they took me down into a basement. They rehearsed, on my flesh and on my psyche, those things that I had sobbed out to them twelve months before, and then they moved onto other sins. All the while, one would whisper to me, pouring my own poison into my ear, and the others would act as her echo. I stayed with them for six days and nights, and during that time, I discovered the answer to my question of a year ago. What do they feed on? They fed on me. Not on my blood or flesh: nothing so simple as that. They fed on my guilt and remorse and pain. On my repentance. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.

I went to them most Christmases after that, and it was over ten years before anything changed. That year, I stood waiting in an alley again. When they came, they twined around me as they always did, stinking of hell and damnation. It wasn’t until they spoke that I realised there was a difference. This time, they shared their speech, as they do now, rather than the two junior sisters only being able to echo the senior sister’s words.

‘Vampire,’ … ‘you’… ‘seek’… ‘more’ … ‘punishment?’

I simply stood mute, as the elder tore at my mouth in a parody of a kiss. They led me to an abandoned warehouse, where they spent five days and five nights, savaging my heart and mind as they savaged my body; five nights ensuring that I welcomed every punishment that they inflicted, that I wanted the pain in my body to ease the pain in my soul, pushing me further than ever they had before. On the sixth night, the night that so far had been the last, I found that things other than their speech had changed.

Up to now, although they always stripped me naked, although they observed no boundaries in inflicting pain, there had been no suggestion of intercourse. Of sex. This year was to be different. They stretched me out on the beaten earth floor, and they rode me as hard as they could. All of them. In that travesty of passion, they spared neither fang nor claw, nor whispered accusations and reminders of my own cruelty; and woe betide me if I failed in my capability. There is a point at which the pleasure of sex becomes the most agonising pain. We reached that point early in the night, and still they harried me, paying back in kind some of the things that I had done.

‘Angelus,’ … ‘tell’ … ‘us’ … ‘of’ … ‘the’ … ‘pain’ … ‘that’ … ‘‘you’ … ‘have’ … ‘brought’ … ‘to’ … ‘others’ … ‘to’ … ‘ensure’ … ‘your’ … ‘own’ … ‘pleasure.’

And so, as I lay hag-ridden in mind and body, I sobbed out more of my iniquities, and they made sure I relived each one over and over, as they fed.

We continued in this cycle of repentance and punishment for many more years. Sometimes, I was so afraid of what was to come that I just kept running, but most times, I was too afraid not to wait for them.

Things changed some years after the Second World War, when I was in Los Angeles. I’d been staying at the Hyperion, but I’d walked out, leaving everyone there to the Thesulac demon. More sins.

That Christmas, they took me to a small house on the outskirts of the city. It may have been small, but it was secluded and it was comfortable. And it was out of earshot of the neighbours. Once inside, they changed. They showed me other faces. They became women. Their dresses were powder blue, not the pink they prefer now, and their appearance wasn’t exactly the same as they have now, but they were still three beautiful women. They saw my shock.

‘We’ … ‘grow’ … ‘strong’ … ‘on’ … ‘this’ … ‘world,’ … ‘vampire.’ … ‘Your’ … ‘guilt’ … ‘and’ … ‘penitence’ … ‘have’ … ‘fed’ … ‘us’ … ‘until’ … ‘we’ … ‘are’ … ‘strong’ … ‘enough’ … ‘to’ … ‘show’ … ‘our’ … ‘other’ … ‘faces.’

That said, they once more became the demonic goddesses who knew me so well, and for the next six days, they harried and punished me – and made me punish myself – as they had for decades. That Christmas was particularly bad, after I told them of the Thesulac.

And so we continued for years, even for those years when I lived in sewers and lived on rats.

You know that in the Christian ethos, Christmas is a time for the birth of hope, but it always contains the dark foreshadowing of the sacrifice to come. Look at the way human artists have represented the nativity for centuries. Look at the symbols they weave into the paintings. Hope and sacrifice. I’m not human, though, and I have no entitlement to the bright promises of Christmas. There was no hope for me, only the sacrifice, the surrender of myself to these goddesses sent to punish me.

The very worst year, though, was the Christmas before Whistler came to find me. It was as if their previous efforts had been no more than a rehearsal, a warming-up experience. They kept me for the whole twelve days of the old festival, from Christmas to the Epiphany, and gave me not a moment’s respite. They’re even better than Angelus at messing with your head and, monstrous though all their punishments were, what they did to my mind was the worst. They made me conjure visions of the most atrocious acts that I had perpetrated, and to relive them again and again in endless and specific detail. I began to think that this time they meant to never let me go, and that eternal damnation had at last found me.

In the end, though, Twelfth Night brought their torment to a close. Afterwards, I was comatose for days, my body hurt beyond even normal vampire endurance, my mind locked in the hell of my own devising. This time, they kept me, and they cared for me. When I woke, I was in a bed, and they were sitting silently in the room, watching me. They wore their human aspect, and they had a jug of pig’s blood ready for me.

When I asked them why they had allowed me to stay, and what they wanted from me, they were uncharacteristically silent for a few minutes. Then they explained, in their threefold way, that they had been incarnated just for me; that they gained their power from the depth of my guilt; that never before had Furies been unleashed onto a demon, and that only my soul gave them command over me. Even then, they could take me only when I allowed it. None of the Powers had previous experience of a creature like me.

The important thing for now was that never before had Furies fed on power such as mine, vampiric strength and magic wrapped around with repentance enough for a generation of sinners. My remorse had given them their other faces, their other bodies, and other desires. They had observed humans, and there were things they wanted to do, to try for the first time, and they knew that they would break a human toy. So, for a few hours that night, the Furies and their prey found pleasure in each other’s company. They were right – they would have killed a human from sheer surfeit of ecstasy. They damn near killed me, but this time, in a very good way.

For the duration of this unexpected bout of pure pleasure, they called me Angel, and I knew when I was getting it particularly right by their collective sighs of ‘mmmm…..Angel’. That night was one that no male of any species would ever forget.

Then Whistler came. The Furies didn’t follow me to Sunnydale. Instead, they moved to Los Angeles again. You know what happened next. I met Buffy, the one girl in all the world. She certainly was for me. Not was. Still is, although she never can be, now.

She visited her father in Los Angeles that first summer, and I followed her. I watched her back for a while, but she seemed uncomfortable, as if she sensed shadowy stalker guy, and I decided to go back to Sunnydale, to wait for her. Before leaving town, though, I went to visit the Furies.

I intended to make an offering to them. I had committed more sins. I had fallen in love with the Slayer. I hadn’t been able to save her life – that act had been left to Xander. I had killed my sire. So many sins. When they opened the door to me, they were in pink. The house was scented with patchouli and citrus, not sulphur and nine-day corpses. They made me welcome in their home, and shepherded me into their bed. I don’t think we left it for a week, and not once were they anything but the most desirable women. When I got back to Sunnydale, I slept for three days flat before I had the strength to rise again.

I went to see them the following Christmas, just before the Angelus debacle, and just after the fiasco with Drusilla and Spike. I still wasn’t fully recovered from that, but the Furies weren’t in pink, and they showed me no mercy. I was there the full twelve days, and they didn’t ask me to stay, afterwards. I would never have had the strength to couple with three of them, though, and I wanted to get back to Buffy, who I hoped had spent a normal Christmas with her normal family and friends.

I was, of course, elsewhere, that following summer. I was in Acathla’s Hell, although there was nothing worse there than the Furies had done to me. Just different, and for a lot longer. After that, sometimes I went back to them at Christmas, when I could, although not the year when I was hunting Drusilla and the resurrected Darla. Christmas was the time for pain, and I already had enough of it that particular Yuletide. And sometimes I went back to them in summer. That was when we all took pleasure from each other, a few snatched days in the war of attrition that is called existence. Not the summer when Connor dumped me into the ocean, of course, although I often hallucinated about them, in both their guises.

And that brings me back to Cordelia. I told her they would lift the spell from Caritas, and she asked if they would remember me. I couldn’t tell her all this. What was I to say? I was the reason for their existence. Of course they would remember me, and of course they would lift the spell. Who knew what would happen to them if I died?

Well, I guess they’ll find out soon enough. I’m nearly there, now.

Christmas. Angel Investigations never really celebrated Christmas. There didn’t seem to be time, and the only one we got to spend as a family – at least, some of us did – was this last year, at Wolfram and Hart. Evil, Inc. It seemed important to my family to reaffirm what they were fighting for, even though the beast had swallowed us, and suborned us with more power than we could handle. So, I made sure that they had a festive season, even if it seemed wildly inappropriate. Even leaving aside the fact that we were the agents in Los Angeles of the Senior Partners, it was, after all, the worst of times. Connor was no longer my son. Cordelia was lying in a coma, Spike and I had beaten each other to a pulp over the cup of perpetual torment, and I hadn’t had the strength to win. Physical strength wasn’t the problem. What I lacked then was the steadfastness of mind. That hurt more than the physical wounds. And I could feel events hurtling towards a climax. Even the air stank of death and betrayal. That year, then, we celebrated Christmas, as we had not done before. Despite everything, I still had some hope that we could defeat the Senior Partners if I could only find the way, but I was certain there were more sacrifices to come. Little did I know what those would be.

Since the death of Liam, I’ve never been much for eating human food, but this year I really tried. We had turkey and roast potatoes and chipolata sausages and chestnut stuffing. Everything that Wesley said was a typical English Christmas dinner. We even had Brussels sprouts. They weren’t around when I was human, at least not in Ireland. I suspect most people would prefer that the Belgians had kept them, and I remember sitting there with Wesley, Lorne, Fred, Gunn and Spike, half a sprout speared on my fork, wondering where I could surreptitiously spit out the half in my mouth. Manfully, though, I swallowed it. After dinner, there was present giving, and hugs, and crackers to pull, and a general celebration that those of us in the room were still alive by our own particular standards.

It all pretty well went to hell after that, which is why I’m here, in what remains of this part of Los Angeles, crawling towards the Hellmouth that spewed out a demon army a few hours ago. Somehow, the few of us that stood together have managed to dispose of them, but I can hear another starting to rise from the depths. Everyone else is dead. I wondered if Buffy and her army of Slayers would come, but they didn’t. At least they will be a second front when I’m gone, and if I fail in what I’m about to do.

It’s not far now even though I can only crawl. Anything else would require more limbs than I’ve currently got. I don’t feel much pain just now. If I were to survive, I would be in agony later, but the nerves haven’t kicked in yet. An axe-wielding troll took off my left arm at the elbow, and when I killed the dragon, it rolled onto my right leg. I had to cut that off myself. But it doesn’t matter. If I survive what I’m about to do, it won’t be in physical form anyway. At least, I hope not. I physically went to Hell before. I’d rather not do it again, given the choice.

Now I’m at the brink of the Hellmouth, and I intend to close it. I’ve still got the amulet, you see. The one that swallowed Spike up in Sunnydale. It was lying on the floor after it disgorged him in my office. I expect that it will swallow me up, and deliver my spirit to… whoever. Not to Wolfram and Hart – there’s nothing left of them. Probably to the Senior Partners, which is why it’ll be best if I’m dead. People in centuries not so long past have believed that they could purify sin by burning the sinner: give them salvation by bringing the fires of Hell to Earth. Some small part of me wishes it could be so for me.

I just have strength to fish the amulet out of my pocket, and hook it over my head. As it activates, I feel as if I were at the centre of the sun. Fiery agony sears through every cell of my body and, as I start to fly apart on those spears of light, I tumble myself into the gaping hole to Hell. It seems to me that I’m falling forever, that I’m eternally one with the nuclear fires of the universe. Even as my bones start to calcine, I can feel in them the bone-deep rumble that tells me the earth is erupting around me. Then it’s over. My body suddenly weighs no more than ash, and I know that it’s gone. I can still see, although everything is shaded the amber colour of the amulet, and a new horizon comes into view. It’s a land of fire, but there are creatures stalking through it. Something dark reaches out towards me. I seem to feel hot little hands, several of them, pulling me back, and then everything turns to blackness as I pray that our sacrifice has given others hope.

*

The Transuding Furies left Los Angeles the night before Angel’s death. They knew that it was coming. Just now, they are visiting the Fates, and there are lots of girly squeals and hugs and kisses, even from the more… mature … member of the Fates. Clotho, who selects the threads of life, Lachesis, who measures their span, and Atropos, who cuts them. Maiden, mother and crone, but all girls under the skin.

Both trinities spend a little time together – neither of them gets many willing visitors – and eventually they have a plan. The Fates cannot stop their allotted tasks, not without attracting more attention than would be wise. There are more subtle ways, though. Clotho drops the basket of life threads, making a clumsy attempt at scooping them up, so that they are a tangled mess on the floor and must be unknotted carefully. Lachesis drops the threads that she is holding – including the long, long one that is Angel’s existence – and they fall into the jumbled mass, so that they become indistinguishable. Atropos decides that it is time to sharpen her scissors. These aren’t ordinary scissors, and this is a job that must, of course, be done very carefully. It might take a while. The Furies now have time.

For their part, during this small and unprecedented hiatus in the measurement of life and death, the Furies, in their best pink dresses, go to visit someone else. They find him, an aging and stooped figure. Gathering around him, with coos and whispered endearments, they put into practice everything of pleasure that they have learned from Angel, and they have learned a lot. It should not be forgotten that they have a unique power at their disposal. When they have finished with this one, he is no longer aging and stooped, but is once more young and vigorous and exceedingly handsome. He is also exceedingly grateful, and he gives them a gift. It’s a large, grey pearl, swirling with half-seen colours. It is very beautiful, and absolutely alien.

They call to see the Fates, to show them what they have won, and then they head back to Los Angeles. But they go via Rome, where they find a certain immortal, and practice once more all the things that they have learned from Angel. They promise to meet him again on a carefully calculated prearranged date, in Paris. He shows up, but they don’t.

*

We’ve just sat down to Christmas lunch, Wesley, Lorne, Fred, Gunn, Spike and me. I’ve never been much for eating human food, but this year I’m really trying. We’ve got turkey and roast potatoes and chipolata sausages and chestnut stuffing. Everything that Wesley says is a typical English Christmas dinner. We even have Brussels sprouts. They weren’t around when I was human, at least not in Ireland. I suspect most people would prefer that the Belgians had kept them, and I’m sitting here with half a sprout speared on my fork, wondering where I can surreptitiously spit out the half in my mouth. Manfully, though, I swallow it, and then I start to choke as some unexpected guests are shown into the apartment. It’s the Transuding Furies. I can only be grateful that Cordelia isn’t here. Wesley bustles round and finds more chairs, and the Furies graciously decide to stay, and to try some of the food on offer. They seem to enjoy everything, except possibly the sprouts.

I spear another one onto my fork, and glare at the small globe of foulness, wondering where I can hide it, and suddenly its greenness turns to amber, and all I can see is a land of fire, through that golden haze. I remember it all. The battle in the alley against the hordes of Hell, the death of all my companions, and the totality of pain and loss that led up to that battle. The amulet. The Hellmouth, and my own immolation to ensure that this gateway to Hell was sealed shut. Yet I’m here?

My friends clearly don’t remember anything, and I don’t know what to say or do, although I know that I can’t eat another mouthful. All I can taste are the ashes of death. The Furies, at the other end of the table, are watching me carefully. They know that something is wrong. My friends try to chivvy me into eating a little more, and then give in and Fred brings me a glass of blood. I can’t drink that just yet, either.

After dinner, there is present giving, and hugs, and crackers to pull, and a general celebration that those of us in the room are still alive by our own particular standards. I’m not sure how far to celebrate. Am I in some strange sort of time loop? Is this my punishment: that I must live the next dreadful months time and time again?

When all the other presents are exchanged, the Furies tug me to one side, just out of earshot of the others. One of them hands me a small jewel box of intricately carved ivory.

‘You’ … ‘will’ … ‘wish’ … ‘to’ … ‘open’ … ‘this’ … ‘now.’

Carefully, I pull off the lid. Inside, nestled on a crumpled piece of soft white velvet, is a large grey pearl, the surface swirling with a rainbow of colours and shapes. I’ve never seen anything like it. It is utterly beautiful, and entirely unearthly. A gift from the Furies could never be just what it seems.

‘What is it?’

They look long and hard at each other before they answer.

‘You’ … ‘might’ … ‘call’ … ‘it’ … ‘another’ … ‘reality,’ … ‘a’ … ‘pearl’ … ‘of’ … ‘congealed’ … ‘actuality,’ … ‘created’ … ‘by’ … ‘you.’ … ‘It’ … ‘was,’ … ‘and’ … ‘could’ … ‘be’ … ‘again,’ … ‘the’ … ‘seed’ … ‘of’ … ‘a’ … ‘different’ … ‘future.’ … ‘One’ … ‘that’ … ‘none’ … ‘of’ … ‘us’ … ‘wants.’ … ‘We’ … ‘suggest’ … ‘that’ … ‘you’ … ‘guard’ … ‘this’ … ‘carefully.’

Somehow, they’ve changed the future. The one I remember has already happened, but we’ve been given a second chance. There’s time to try again, to do things better, perhaps, guided by what I know.

Under the gazes of my companions, some puzzled, others a little baleful, I give all the Furies a hug and a kiss. And I whisper to them, ‘I have a debt to pay. Do you want a visitor for a few days?’

They share secret glances again.

‘You’ … ‘will’ … ‘not’ … ‘be’ … ‘able’ … ‘to’ … ‘join’ … ‘us’ … ‘this’ … ‘time,’ … ‘but’ … ‘we’ … ‘shall’ … ‘miss’ … ‘you.’ … ‘Come’ … ‘again’ … ‘in’ … ‘summer.’

I promise them that I will, and I feel that I might be able to keep that promise. They seem to think that it’s possible, anyway, and it’s never wise to doubt goddesses. As we start to walk back to the others, there’s another knock on the door. I don’t notice who has ushered in the late guest coming to join us, because I only have eyes for the guest. It’s Buffy.

‘The hell with Rome. I felt I should be here.’

She isn’t looking at Spike. She’s looking at me.

Christmas is a festival about the birth of hope, carrying the dark promise of sacrifice to come. With the ghost of Christmas Past, we’ve all been given a second chance, a Christmas Yet to Come. We still have the dark promise, but now we have hope. Including me.

*

Much later, Buffy and I have left the party and slunk into my bedroom. There’s a very great deal we have to say to each other, but we’ve let words come between us for too long. Words can wait. J

ust as we’re getting into a serious clinch, the door is thrown open, and everyone, Furies and all, and led by Spike, are dancing a conga into my bedroom. It takes a while to usher them out, and when I do, I see that someone has dropped a Christmas cracker. I definitely do not want any further interruptions, and because this is a room in my apartment, there’s no lock on the door. Improvisation beckons. Under Buffy’s puzzled stare, I find some string in one of the drawers – you should always keep some string handy; you never know when you might need it. I knot the string tightly round each gathered end of the cracker, interweaving it carefully with the ends of the ‘snap’, and by application of some useful mechanics, manage to knot one of the ends round the door knob, and the other to an immovable object. If anyone tries to open the door, the cracker will go off like, well, a cracker. With reflexes like ours, whoever disturbs us won’t just get a silly hat and a corny joke.

Then I turn my attention back to my beloved. It’s several very long moments before I have a single coherent thought, then the one that comes back, hammering around my skull, is that I must reassure her.

‘Have you got a stake?’

She looks lovingly up at me.

‘Yep.’

‘Use it if you have to, but I promise it will be okay. Some guys have to recite lists of baseball teams to hold everything back. I’ll just recite some of my sins. That will prevent perfect happiness. We’ll be fine. I promise.’

And I’m right.

THE END
16 December 2004

Author's Notes: Written for Rusty Platter’s Christmas Challenge at the Angel Elders Mansion.

Requirements:
A novel use for a Christmas cracker.
Any item from a traditional Christmas dinner.
A reason for the Furies swooning over Angel.
A very unusual gift

Feedback: Pretty please. Send it to Jo
Story Index
Home