Buffy lifted her hands and blew on her fingers. Not even the warmth contained in the paper cup of barely-passable hot chocolate was warming her up. She stamped her feet a little and prayed for a chinook
New York. Rockefeller Centre. An ice rink jammed with kids and couples and pairs of friends, arms linked, all gliding by without a care in the world. In the centre of the ice, one young girl was practicing sit spins, one leg extended out parallel to the ice. Buffy watched as she wobbled on her skate blade and flopped over. Buffy smiled. She remembered hours of practice at the rink to master this relatively easy spin.
She drained the last of her cocoa and looked around for a garbage can. She spotted one and was about to make her way over to it when she felt a chill, different from simply feeling cold, travel up her spine. She turned back around, scanning the crowd- both those on the ice and those merely watching- looking for the someone or something who had just given her the wiggins.
Out of the corner of her eye she caught a flash of black and she moved towards it, dropping her empty cup into the first bin she passed.
She’d been out of the slaying business for years now- it was a job for a young person, a fact that had mostly escaped her when that young person had been her. Every now and then she encountered a vampire or demon who wanted to play ball and she obliged them; it was a bit like riding a bicycle- you never really lost your sense of balance. But mostly she led a solitary life, with an emphasis on not letting the past eat her whole.
Buffy slipped behind the giant Christmas tree and stopped, listening. Giles had always encouraged her to use her Slayer senses to track a foe and she called upon them now. She closed her eyes and stilled her breath, filtered out the noises of the traffic zooming by on the grid of streets which surrounded the rink, silenced the laughter and shouting of the people skating and waited.
There it was again, the icy rush of feeling down her spine- as though someone had shoved a handful of snow down her jacket. Buffy opened her eyes, disoriented for a second by the thousands of twinkling lights on the huge tree in front of her.
She reached up, tugging her coat tighter around her neck and started to walk. Clearly her Slayer senses weren’t firing on all cylinders. She headed for 47th Street and the subway, grabbing the F train downtown.
Buffy lived in a little walk-up over a cafe on Wooster Street. It was a sublet, but she doubted the owner was ever coming back. She knew the café’s owner and sometimes helped out on a Sunday afternoon, making cappuccinos and small talk.
The subway car was relatively quiet. A couple NYU students, a man carrying a laptop bag, a lady laden with huge shopping bags from Macy’s. Buffy settled into a seat and stared straight ahead, careful to keep her eyes trained on nothing in particular.
When she’d first moved to Manhattan she’d stared openly- at hookers and homeless people, at the crazy men who peed in alleys in broad daylight, at the vendors and the women wearing power suits and sneakers. Eventually Rhonda, the woman who managed the café, had warned her that New Yorker’s were kind of precious about their personal space- maybe because there wasn’t that much of it- and that they didn’t necessarily like being gawked at. So Buffy had tamped down her natural curiosity and gotten used to staring at manhole covers and skylines.
Buffy exited the subway at West 4th and started walking. The streets were busy- alive with people. It was one of the things she loved most about New York; you never had to feel alone. Even if you couldn’t meet anyone’s eyes.
The café was busy and Buffy didn’t bother to go in. She dug for her keys and unlocked the door that led to the stairs up to her apartment. The owner had put most of her stuff in storage, leaving only a small table and two mismatched chairs and a futon couch which converted into a bed and which Buffy found almost unbearably uncomfortable. Once the futon was open it was nearly impossible to travel the length of the room without feeling like you were in an obstacle course. There was a closet sized kitchenette and a bathroom that required you to pee with your knees pressed against the shower stall doors. One huge window overlooked Wooster. All this luxury for the bargain price of $850 unheated.
There was a small box in front of her door and Buffy bent down to pick it up. Wrapped in brown parcel paper, it was without stamps or a return address, but her name was clearly written in small capital letters. BUFFY SUMMERS. Buffy unlocked her door and stepped inside of her apartment.
It occurred to her that the package couldn’t have been delivered by post; a mailman wouldn’t come up the steep stairs even if he’d been able to get in the locked outside door. She shook the package trying to figure out what might be in it by the way it rattled. She set it down on the table and shrugged off her coat. She hung it on one of the pegs on the wall- you couldn’t afford to be untidy in a space this small, but Buffy also appreciated that you couldn’t have a lot of stuff either and if there was one thing Buffy didn’t want it was more stuff.
She filled the kettle and took the package over to the futon. Maybe it was a Christmas present. The silly season was just around the corner. Except how did it get here. Oh, maybe Rhonda had brought it up. Except why wouldn’t she have just given it to Buffy the next time she saw her.
Buffy slipped a nail under the tape and tugged. The tape loosened and she pulled at the brown paper. Under the wrapping was an innocuous blue box. Weird. She took off the lid and touched the pale blue tissue paper. This wasn’t going to be a severed finger, was it?
She smiled. You didn’t have to ask Buffy where she’d grown up. The kettle whistled merrily and Buffy almost dropped the box onto the floor. She parted the tissue paper and her breath stopped
First things first, though. She set the box on the futon and went to turn off the kettle. She put a tea bag into a two-cup pot and poured the boiling water over top. Then she went back to the box. She reached into the paper and pulled out a snow globe.
It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. A plane gilt base and inside a perfect skater alone on a pond. It was so exquisitely done the pond looked real, and the skater was doing a perfect spiral in the middle of the ice. Buffy tipped the globe over and back and watched as a million tiny flakes fell onto the pond and the skater’s outstretched leg. Then her fingers found the knob on the bottom of the globe. She twisted it and watched in amazement as the skater started to glide in a little circle to the tune of ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’.
Who would send her such a gift?
She reached into the box again, hoping to find a card or some clue as to whom the gift might be from. Nothing. It was a mystery, although Buffy had to admit- not an unpleasant one.
And then- there it was again, that thrill of feeling down her spine. She stood up and went to the window. Soho was alive with activity: people shopping for gifts, traffic clogging the narrow street, vendors dispensing warm pretzels and steaming hot dogs, restaurants and bars welcoming patrons. And there, across Wooster, in an alley by the little newsstand.
“Oh my God,” Buffy said. She took a step back, away from the window. “Oh my God.”
She put the snow globe down and headed for the door, only thinking to grab her keys just before the door swung shut behind her. She would have been locked in the hallway; as it was she was without her coat. No matter. She ran down the stairs and opened the door into the street.
Would he still be there? Buffy stepped off the sidewalk and crossed over to the other side of the street. She couldn’t see him, not from here. She shivered and moved towards the newsstand.
This was crazy. She was hallucinating, surely.
She came to the mouth of the alley and wasn’t altogether surprised to find that beyond tipped over garbage can and some rubbish, it was empty.
“Angel,” she said.
She hardly ever ventured into dark alleys anymore. But she couldn’t seem to resist the pull of this one. She wrapped her arms around herself and started down the narrow passage.
“Angel?” Her voice was barely more than a whisper.
His voice came out of the gloom and it was as though a light came on.
“Oh my God,” she said.
Then he was right in front of her, his face a miracle.
“Are you…lurking?” She asked.
His mouth quirked. “I guess you could say that.” His eyes were steady and he was surely more beautiful than the last time Buffy had seen him in a graveyard in Sunnydale, before her world got sucked into the earth.
“I don’t know what to say,” she said.
“Here,” Angel said. He slipped off his overcoat and wrapped it around Buffy’s shivering shoulders. “I don’t really need it. I just wear it for the look.” He smiled again. The coat was heavy and smelled of wet wool.
“We could get a coffee. There’s a café and I just live right across the street,” Buffy said. “But you know all that, don’t you?”
“Sort of.” Angel looked slightly uncomfortable.
“Of course you would, what with all the lurking. How long have you been doing that?”
“About 150 years- give or take.”
“I was actually talking about more recent lurking.”
“A few weeks,” Angel said. “I can’t go for coffee. I can’t…”
“Stay? I get it.”
Buffy held up her hands. “I think we’ve been here, done this and I’m not interested in doing it again. I got your gift. Thank you. I have to go.”
“Stop. Okay. Stop saying my name like it’s yours. I haven’t seen you in forever- okay, not forever like vampire-forever, but you know what I mean.”
“Could I squeeze a word in here, please,” Angel said.
“Good bye is two words.”
Angel reached out a hand, and pressed one finger against Buffy’s lips. “Shhh,” he said.
Buffy blinked up at him. That small gesture, his finger against her lips, almost buckled her knees.
“I don’t want coffee. I want you to invite me to your place.”
Buffy stepped away from Angel and said: “What?”
“I want you to invite me in.”
“You couldn’t have rang my buzzer, like a normal person?”
Angel laughed. “I know. It’s just- I wanted it to end where it began. It’s not romantic, I know, but I just had this crazy idea…”
“What do you mean end…”
Angel reached for Buffy’s hand and pulled her close, pressing her fingers to the centre of his chest.
“I just wanted it to be here, in a dark place, so we could leave it behind together,” he whispered.
And then he kissed her.
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