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Author's Note: This borrows dialogue from Dopplegangland, and Amends, although the plot is completely original, as I continue where the last episode left off regarding Faith, and give Buffy and Angel the Christmas they deserve. Enjoy.


frost at midnight.

Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Frost At Midnight;
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
(1772-1834)

Faith could only sit on her bed, stunned at the sight before her. For the second time as in many days she was caught off guard and unprepared; seriously bad form for a vampire slayer. Hurriedly she glanced around the motel room, searching for a conveniently ready to grab weapon lying somewhere nearby, but then she realised the mayor was human. At least he seemed human, she considered, causing her to raise her eyes to him once more.

"Now that I have your full attention," he remarked, "I shall begin. In case you haven't seen the recent PR articles about me, I am Richard Wilkins, the mayor of Sunnydale."

"Are you human?" Faith asked him cautiously.

"Oh, yes," he chuckled, "for now anyway," he added, causing her to wonder. "Kakistos, was one of my; how shall I say it? Campaign promises. I allowed him to come to my town, and recruit, under certain conditions of course. And now what do I hear from Mr Trick, but that he has been killed."

"Can't say I'm sorry about it," Faith returned. "What with him wanting to kill me and all," she added.

"Yes, he was driven, wasn't he?" Wilkins commented without need for a reply. "But I discovered from Mr Trick that killing you was not his first idea. In fact, he tried to recruit you, didn't he?"

Faith affected to shrug. "What can I say?" she shot back. "Not the brightest vamp in the graveyard."

"Oh, I beg to differ," the Mayor replied. "A slayer on my side would be a bonus, especially now that there's two of you."

"Thanks for the offer, but I've had my fill of deals with evil," Faith informed him. "Not wanting to be rude, but door's behind you."

"Oh, Faith," the Mayor chuckled again, and she realised for the first time how much it chilled her to the bone. "I'm afraid you don't have much of a choice. And, as you'll soon discover, there are benefits to joining my team."


"So, angel's on top again?"

Buffy blushed immediately, as another far less innocent meaning of her mother's words came to into her mind. She caught Angel's bemused face beside her; not only did he seemed to know exactly what she was thinking, he also was unable to blush, a partial saving grace when it came to their intimate relationship remaining unknown in the eyes of her mother. While Spike had put in crude forms the depth of her and Angel's relationship, it was still something Buffy would rather avoid talking through in detail with her mother, whether she approved or not.

"Er, star this year, I think," Buffy now replied, causing her to mother to smile before fishing out the appropriate ornament for the tree. Christmas was mere days away, and Sunnydale had seemed determined to make up for the usual lack of snow by going overboard in the decoration area. She was just grateful no one had decided to adorn the graveyards with tinsel, mistletoe and boughs of holly.

"Angel, has Buffy asked you to join us for Christmas day?" Joyce inquired. "I know you don't eat, at least not in the traditional sense, or do you?" She stopped, confused and concerned if she asked too much.

"I'd be delighted," Angel replied. "And I can't taste food, so I don't," he added. "I was thinking actually that we did something together; all of us, at the mansion."

"Celebrate Christmas there?" Buffy sought to confirm. "That would be great, I think. If we can get the others on board. Would we be able to decorate it in time?"

"They're still selling trees," Joyce informed them. "And judging from the shop displays, I think its unlikely that they've sold out of decorations. And we could all bring food over, as well as gifts."

"It's settled then," Angel agreed as Buffy beamed at him, causing him to smile back, glad he could bring her happiness once more.

"I'll ask the gang tomorrow," she decided.


"Are you serious about this place?" Faith asked wondrously as she explored the urban plush apartment which the Mayor had escorted her to from the motel.

"Of course I am," Wilkins replied. "No Slayer of mine is gonna live in a fleabag hotel. That place has a very unsavoury reputation. There are immoral liaisons going on there."

"Yeah, plus all the screwing," Faith replied as she checked out the kitchen. "This place is the kick!" She cried as she walked past the training area in one corner, with a leather punching bag, then into the sleeping area where a large bed was located.

"We'll keep your old place," Wilkins informed her, "in case you need to see your friends there, but from now on..." he trailed off as she leapt on to the bed and tested the springs. "Oh, hey, hey, hey! Shoes! Shoes!"

Faith hopped off the bed and walked up to him. "Thanks, Sugar Daddy," she uttered, fluttering her eyelashes. Wilkins had been right, there were benefits to being on his side.

"Now, Faith," the Mayor mildly admonished her, "I don't find that sort of thing amusing. I'm a family man."

He was smiling, but Faith could see the chilling demeanour lurking underneath. Once more she was reminded of the evils of this new Faustian alliance, one she realised that would perhaps prove impossible to wriggle out of. She would have to play very carefully, watch her step, as she was sure he would be watching hers.

"Now, let's kill your little friend," the Mayor remarked, causing her to glance at him uneasily. "Don't worry," he added, "I wouldn't ask you to do it. Not this early in the relationship. Besides, I think a vampire attack would be less suspicious anyway. In the meantime, let's take a look at the rest of the apartment, huh? If I'm not mistaken, some lucky girl has herself a Play Station."

Faith grinned at him. "No way."

"Yes way!" The Mayor chuckled as she rushed to the television to check it out.


"So guys," Buffy finished, "are you onboard?"

"Well, I'm Jewish, and my parents think the worship of Santa is something a kin to the devil, but I'm in," Willow replied.

"Where she's goes, I go," Oz added.

"Beats my annual Christmas Eve camp-out," Xander agreed. "See, I take my sleeping bag outside and I go to sleep on the grass."

"Sounds fun," Buffy remarked.

Xander nodded. "Yeah, I like to look at the stars, you know? Feel the whole nature vibe."

"I thought you slept outside to avoid your family's drunken Christmas fights," Cordelia revealed.

"Yes, and that was a confidence I was hoping you would share with everyone," Xander replied sarcastically.

"You, Cordy?" Buffy asked.

"Usually my family takes me to Aspen, skiing," Cordelia replied, "but what with my Mom's bout of Esptein Barr, Dad cancelled the tickets without so much as a by your leave. So I'm in too."

"That just leaves Giles, Jenny, Doyle and Faith to ask," Buffy replied. "Guess which one I'm dreading the most."

"Still have yet to bond with your sister slayer?" Xander queried.

"On a social front," Buffy nodded. "There's something holding me back, and vice versa, and I don't know what it is."

"What about the new watcher?" Willow asked.

"Wesley Wyndam-Pryce at a Christmas party?" Buffy mused. "The idea gives me chills, I dread to think what the reality could be."

 


"What do you think about it?" Jenny asked him.

Giles looked up from the pile of leather bound ancient volumes which were scattered around him. "I don't know," he answered cautiously. "We had planned for a quiet celebration at our apartment," he reminded her.

Jenny noted the sentiment behind his words in the use of 'our', but she had known him long enough now to also descry the depth of affection he felt for Buffy as well. To him, she was not just a slayer, she was a daughter, a feeling she knew was also returned. "Rupert, if you want to go, we can, you know," she said. "I'm sure they want us to be there, and Joyce and Doyle will probably be glad of some adult company."

He caught her hand in his from where she leant against the table beside him. "Thank you," he murmured. "I do want to go," he admitted. "I was touched when Buffy asked me."

"I know she thinks of you in the way you think of her," Jenny said.

"And I'm grateful for it," Giles replied. "I've never liked the way past watchers felt about their slayers; halfway between indentured servant to the world and a tool to be disposed of at will."

"Disposed of?" Jenny echoed. "Tell me that doesn't mean what I think it does."

"As good as," Giles replied, causing her to frown. "I have to tell her something when her birthday comes up, that may change things between us forever. So a day spent as one of the slayerettes seems a wonderful way to spend Christmas."

He did not add that it might be his last occasion as a member of the group, but Jenny caught the silent addition of the words anyway. "Rupert, you realise you will have to tell me what exactly you're worried about?"

"I realise," Giles assured her. "But I need to sort out what I am going to do first, and I think I should tell her before I tell anyone else." He looked up at her, gazing into her eyes. "If that is alright with you?"

"Of course it is," Jenny replied, caressing his hand in support. "I just hope whatever it, the evil of it pales in comparison to what Whistler hinted at would be coming."

"Depends on how you evaluate the depths of the word," Giles returned enigmatically before rising from his chair to fetch a book from the stacks.

Jenny watched him go, silently praying that whatever was bothering him would be solved peacefully, and without the loss of anything which might be considered valuable.

 


The sun descended, ushering night into the world above it, sending some of the pupils of Sunnydale High out to the Bronze, along with other visitors as well. As had become customary before a patrol, the slayer and her souled vampire attended with their friends, the latter having met her at Revello Drive after his last lecture for the day.

A part of Angel who was still becoming accustomed to the relatively normal life he was enjoying after two hundred and forty plus years, considered the matter of his professorship at the university as something strange, more usual in the realms of fiction that the real world where he and Buffy lived. Yet it was real, just as his talisman against the sunlight which hung around his neck, below his dress shirt and jacket. He cherished the gift, but not as much as he cherished the giver, who was currently in his arms, gently dancing in time to the slow romantic song the band were playing. Before her, there had been no reason to involve himself in the world mortals inhabited, one which as a vampire he was all but banished from. For almost a hundred years since his curse he endured being exiled from the vampire world as well, as the old ones shunned the once Scourge of Europe, as though he were a carrier of the bubonic plague.

At first the loneliness he endured was a welcome contrast to from Darla's violent disgust for him, but all too soon the novelty wore off, leaving him in worse states than before when he struggled so hard to prove to her that his soul had not softened the demon within. By the time Whistler had appeared from nowhere, he was ready to do anything but continue to live the pitiful existence the demon found him enduring. When he saw Buffy before she was called at her school, he had little idea what the future would bring him, for all he wanted was to protect her from the world she was about to enter, a world which could bruise her heart forever. As much as he fell in love with her then, he never imagined himself worthy of her heart, and in the first year of their friendship, it had hurt him that she could fall for him so easily, that she could love someone as worthless as he.

It had taken him a long time to realise that her love was not just a gift from heaven, but one which he had earned, and was indeed worthy of. That by loving her and being loved by her, he was learning to be a better person, to be at peace with his curse in a way he would never be without her. To realise that the dark side to his nature was a blessing for her, not because he understood what she hunted night after night, but because it allowed him to protect himself when she could not, and provided a constant for her in an ever changing and often harsh world. Just as he was teaching her the ways of loving, so was she him, as well as how to live among mortals once more, ending his banishment from them. To vampires' relationships were something born out of lust and primitive base desires, as far removed from true love as any one human could imagine.

With Darla he was always well aware that she had brought him into her world, and could just as easily throw him back out again, as she did after he was cursed. Their relationship was not founded on equality, she gave the orders and expected him to follow. He had become so used to obeying, the idea of Buffy asking his opinion was still a novelty to him. Consequently, his relationship with her was entirely different. Before he had seen it as an extension from his protection of her. He had shut her out of his inner most thoughts, past and beliefs just as much as she had in her desire to be normal. He had done it because he was afraid she would fear him if he revealed every aspect of his past, demonic and human, and because he thought so little of himself to believe that it would last. But instead of it protecting her, the effect was quite the opposite, tearing them apart as much as the limits of his curse did. Every moment when he was Angelus that summer was printed indelibly on to his mind.

During his time in hell, he had come to realise that his demon was as much as in love with Buffy as his soul was, and the former had loathed the concept so much, he went into overkill on the slaying of her. The effect, he was surprised, did nothing to destroy to her love for his soul, in fact it only made her love him more. He had vowed during his rare moments of sanity and respite from the torture, that if he was ever given the chance to love her again, he would never do anything to forsake that love, to made her doubt that he was worthy of her heart, worthy of a second chance.

The music changed moods, from slow and romantic to fast and lively, causing Buffy and Angel to return to their seats, in the sofa booth which had become the slayerettes unofficial regular hang out in the nightclub. Willow and Oz, along with Xander and Cordelia, welcomed them back with nods, withholding a groan as the couple exchanged another long kiss once they were seated.

"Where's Faith?" Buffy asked, as the slayer had joined them that night.

"Dancing with another undead fashion victim," Cordelia replied, gesturing with her arm to the far side of the dance floor, where the dark haired slayer was keeping a vamp whose flares had seen better days- or more precisely, the seventies -away from any potential victims for a nightly meal.

"Do you think we should help her?" Angel questioned his beloved, wrapping his arms around her as she snuggled to rest against his chest.

"No, she looks like she has it covered." Buffy dealt a kiss to the skin under his jaw, her head resting in the prefect place to access it.

"You two aren't going to be doing that a lot while we're at the mansion?" Xander questioned with a groan.

Buffy smiled and deliberately dealt another kiss to Angel's jaw. "Not a lot."

Angel grinned. "Just all the time."

Xander uttered another half groan, to which his girlfriend hit his arm in reply. "We will be guests there, you know."

Buffy smiled as she watched the two of them. Despite his groaning she knew Xander had passed his hate phase over Angel a long time ago. Cordelia too, was much more relaxed since her split with the popular group of Sunnydale High, and her character strengths had helped a lot in making her boyfriend approve of the man he used to call deadboy. Not that he completely refrained from that title, but now it was just used, albeit rarely, as a friendly nickname.

Angel dealt another kiss to her hair, and Buffy found the world, along with her thoughts, fading away. Sometimes, she still wondered at how he managed, by just a single gesture, to do that. They had been together; since his return from hell, for almost four months, and even before that, although that had been anything but smooth, and everything still seemed a novelty. She hoped a part of it would always stay that way. She wanted to savour every moment of their happiness, especially their present bliss. There were so many things that could go wrong, so many unforeseen obstacles that they had yet to even think of, yet alone contemplate. Past experience had taught her not to take what they had for granted, but she could not ignore her hope that they would always stay together.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Angel whispered to her. Buffy glanced up at him with a smile. He understood the direction of her thoughts instantly, and dealt another kiss, this time to her lips. "We will, Buffy, I am determined that we will be together forever."

"I'm sorry," she replied. "I just....."

"Worry sometimes," Angel finished. She nodded. "I do too. And I don't want to take this for granted either," he agreed.

Buffy returned to resting under his chin, glancing round to see if anyone had noticed their sudden intense conversation, breathing a sigh of relief that no one had. Then she checked the dance floor, which was now devoid of Faith, who had presumably disappeared to slay her undead dance partner. Then she noticed a new arrival, and waved her hand. "Doyle! Over here."

The Irishman seemed to breathe a sigh of relief at noticing them, though he did not look as out of place here as Giles did when he visited. He strolled over to them. "Hello all," he greeted with his usual brogue, sitting down on a spare space of sofa.

"Hey," Buffy replied. "Had a vision?"

"No, just wanted to check this place out," Doyle replied with a glance around at the band once more. "Dingoes playing tonight?"

"Alittle later on," Oz answered.

They drifted into silence again. Buffy wondered if he had a reason other than wanting to spend time with them in coming to the Bronze. She ran her eyes over the sight opposite her, where Xander, Cordelia and Doyle sat. For a moment she almost believed she had seen the future, or at least a possible future.

But only for a moment. The image faded away, and the band announced their last track, signalling time for the Dingoes to get ready backstage. Oz kissed Willow, motioned a silent nod of temporary farewell to the others, then followed Devon and the other members. Cordelia and Xander followed to dance, along with Willow to perform the part of Dingo groupie.

Buffy glanced at Doyle, finding her imagination confirmed as he turned to stare at one of the departures. Not that she begrudged her other best friend's present happiness, but she also could not see a future in it. They were both two firebrands, sooner or later that would work against them. Unlike her and Angel, she doubted Cordelia and Xander would last because of the different worlds they came from. Their relationship was so contrary from what either of them had imagined they would find in high school, the foundations borne from violent dislike into the flip side of the same coin. Once the place in which teenage frustrations had brought them together was gone, it would revert into friendship.

Then Angel kissed her tenderly, rousing her from her thoughts. She leaned into in him, resting her head against his firm chest hidden beneath his clothes, letting herself forget her ruminations on the future, along with everything else. She focused on the moment, and the love she felt within his arms, and the certainty that it would last for ever.


Once they were outside the Bronze, the vampire turned to his prey with a sigh of exasperation. "Look," he began, "just because there are two of you now, doesn't mean you can kill us all. Can you not give us some slack?"

Faith smiled. "Oh, but I am. Haven't you heard the news on the sewervine?"

"You mean that a new boss looking for stooges? Yeah I heard. Why?"

"Well I'm the official Sales Rep. Interested?"

"What have I gotta do?"

"First, get in touch with the nineties, fashion wise. Second, go to the City Hall tonight. I'll be waiting to introduce you."

And with that, Faith turned round and walked back into the club. She walked across the dancefloor, coming to a halt before the slayerettes.

"Hey, Faith. Any trouble with the undead fashion victim?" Buffy asked.

"No trouble, B. No trouble at all." Faith replied easily, so easily as to make the first slayer content to revert to her previous relaxed state. As for herself, Faith still felt antsy, and she knew was due to the new alliance she was involved in now. While a contrast to the one which had brought her here in the first place, she still wished for the freedom to choose. For while Kakistos had been an old and powerful vampire, he was still a known quantity compared to the Mayor. She was a slayer, she knew how to kill vampires and demons, whereas Richard Wilkins fitted into neither category. It was clear that his plans went far deeper than simple alliance, or killing Buffy, but Faith knew she would have to earn his trust before she could even earn a glimpse of them. And she dread to think what new depths she would have to sink to gain said trust.


"Wow."

"I'll second that, Will," Xander remarked. "How many shops did you bankrupt for this, Angel?"

The souled vampire smiled at Xander's joke, and replied with one of his own, in the same vein. "Only a couple."

It was Christmas Eve, and the slayerettes had just arrived at the Mansion, and were now admiring the large tree decked with lights and trimmings which reached to the ceiling, along with the rest of the main room. It had taken him and Buffy the best part of the day to festoon the place, but seeing the appreciation on the Scoobies' faces, he knew it had all been worth every moment of it.

Faith watched everything from the sidelines, still feeling very much an outsider in a closely knit group. She was touched Buffy had thought to invite her, but she could not stop feeling that the invite was only out of politeness rather than any real desire to be her friend. She got the impression that B feared she would take over the slaying gig entirely, which while it might be what the Mayor wanted, Faith herself felt nowhere near ready for. She had been speaking the truth when she said that Buffy had been the slayer longer than she had. While her slayings had some moments of glory to impress others with, they paled in comparison to the demons and vampires Buffy had battled. Faith considered herself streetwise and more mature than others her age, until she met B. Now she thought herself innocent in more ways, and yet tainted at the same time.

Her life was harsh, teaching her self-reliance from an early age. The concept of friendship which the Scoobies offered was almost alien to her. She wanted nothing more than to embrace it, to learn the value of it, but at the same time a part of her hung back, because she feared that once they knew her true self, they would hate her. She envied Buffy for the loyalty she inspired, the love her friends, family, watcher and select teachers held for her. She envied her for the confidence and faith she held in her abilities as a slayer. She envied the ease she possessed with the world around her, that of night and of day, and the ability to find joy in the latter still. Faith found little from which to spring forth joy in her world. Even the lovely large apartment and gifts the Mayor bestowed on her felt tainted by the dark alliance he bound her within. Like Kakistos she had a feeling he could kill her as soon as he felt she betrayed him or lost her usefulness. Her position with him was precarious at best, and quite frankly, there were times already in which he frightened her.

Now however, as she watched the others admire the tree and the mansion decked with boughs of holly, Faith realised there was one other thing which frightened her more. The feeling which she felt that she could not confide in Buffy or any of her friends about the alliance with the Mayor. She doubted they would believe her as she had yet to gain their trust just as much as the Mayor's, and she doubted they would know how to rescue her from the pact, even though she wished they could.

Suddenly the idea of spending the evening here without venting the angst inside her was unbearable. "I'm going on patrol," she announced abruptly, causing all to look at her.

"I'll come too," Buffy declared, but Faith quickly shook her head.

"No, you stay here, B. I'll make it a quick one. Things have been so quiet around here since the holidays set in, I doubt that I'll be long gone." Faith attempted to smile at her before she swiftly left.

Buffy watched her departure. "She's a strange girl," she mused before returning to the warmth of her friends, family and lover.


By the time Faith had joined them from patrol, the night of Christmas Eve had cooled down from its previous typical Californian weather which fitted the name of the town in which they all lived. However, this was unnoticed by all of the people at the Mansion on Crawford Street, as they settled down to dinner. It was perhaps the first time that they had all assembled, adults included, for a meal. Neither the novelty nor the significance seemed to bother any of them though, as it passed without any incident.

Entertainment for the night, after the films had failed to capture their interests, eventually evolved into a large scrabble game, using letters from several of the boxes that had been bought round by all, and the floor as their playing board. Within in a few minutes it was easy to discover the mood of the younger generation, as the words became more and more related to a certain theme.

There was a hushed silence as the blond slayer lay her word down. "There," she announced. "twenty-one points I believe."

Another pause came as her opponents considered the new word before them. Finally, one commented, "Fangism, Buffy?"

"Its a word!" She protested.

"Really?" Her boyfriend commented. "I've never heard of it."

"It is!" She insisted, before turning to her Watcher, who had been nominated word-checker. "Giles!"

"I'm sorry, Angel," the Briton replied, "it is a word." He held up the Slayer's Handbook, which had become the dictionary authority when the game had gone into this sort of genre theme.

"See!" Buffy gloated, her eyes sending a look of challenge to her boyfriend.

Angel did not refuse, darting around from his position on the sidelines of the playing area to capture his beloved in a tussle that soon developed into a tickling contest. Their friends, mentors and parent watched them, the former briefly, then, along with Giles, rolling their eyes and turning away, having a fair idea as to where it would lead to; leaving them alone to witness and participate in the conclusion, as he trapped her beneath him, holding her hands in his. They exchanged a grin, then he caught her lips in his.

Suddenly however, the mood was broken, as a voice broke to get their attention. "Buffy, Angel," Doyle called out from the part of the double height living room where he had wandered to, "look at this."

The two stilled, remembered that they were in public, and reluctantly pulled themselves off the floor to glance at the windows, where the others had also directed their looks almost from the same moment. What they saw, made them smile in delight.

It was just past midnight and, contrary to usual weather, it was snowing in Sunnydale California.

 


For Giles, as he woke later that morning from the short sleep that all had indulged in after the long night before, seeing the snow thick on the ground was just as rare sight to him as it was for native Californians, because snow was not a regular or predictable weather occurrence in England either.

But that was not why the first emotion he felt was surprise. No, it was the sight of the slayer and recent Sunnydale UCA Professor of Art History indulging in a good, old fashion snowball fight. Once more he mused at the oddity that two of the world's greatest warriors could play like kids on any given day. And he smiled, hoping that they stayed that comfortable with each other for good this time.

No matter what demons came to fight against their cause.

The End.
To be continued in.......

Gingerbread.