Twas the night before christmas
Disclaimer: The Jossverse belongs to Joss. There you go.
Author's Note: Even though this is technically a sequel to 'Interludes', there is absolutely no reason you can't read this one without having read that one. For those who wondered what the heck that strangeness was at the very end of the previous story? Well....
December 24, 1999
Buffy paused, looking around warily. A strange sensation had just washed over her, a rippling chill that had seemed to strike to her very bones. It had lasted only an instant, but whatever it was had been profound.
Something had happened.
She waited, watching the shadows, listening to the gentle night wind.
She shrugged to herself and continued walking. The path led between a series of strongly geometric gravestones. This was Tranquil Oaks, the newest and smallest of Sunnydale's twelve cemeteries. There were quite a few new-ager's buried here, and some of them had pyramid-shaped tombstones, or bits of crystal and metal worked into either the stones, or their coffins, or both. Buffy hadn't seen anything come of them so far, but she wasn't prepared to discount the possibility that something strange might happen.
This was Sunnydale, after all.
She only hoped the result wouldn't be new-ager mummies rising to haunt the night.
Still, some action wouldn't exactly be unwelcome. Tomorrow was Christmas, and she found herself not looking forward to it at all. Sure, she might score some gifts, but on the whole, it was looking to be a pretty grim day. She would sit with her mother in the living room floor and together they would open the presents they had gotten each other, and afterwards they would talk for awhile.... And it would end in an awkward silence. Two people just weren't enough to fill a room at Christmas-time, no matter how much they loved each other. She remembered how it used to be, just a few years before. They'd had lots of family in Los Angeles; aunts and uncles and cousins. Grandma Summers, presiding over the huge mound of gifts like some aged fairy queen. It had been wonderful, and she'd thought it would always be like that. But with the divorce, Buffy's mom was no longer welcome there, and Buffy wouldn't leave her alone in Sunnydale on Christmas.
Her father didn't even bother trying to figure out what to get her for Christmas, any more. He just sent an envelope with a card and some cash, and thought his responsibility done.
Gee, feel the love.
She jammed her hands into the pockets of her light jacket, scowling up at the crescent moon. All in all, the last couple of Christmas's had sucked. Even last year's, which had seemed so miraculous with the snow and well, Angel, had turned out to be a lie. All the things that had been promised that day, all the hope she'd felt that they could somehow find a way to beat the odds, to stay together.... It had all been a lie.
This year, when she got together with the gang, it was going to be brutal. Willow was still hurting from Oz's abrupt departure, and Giles still hadn't really found his footing after losing his niche as Watcher and librarian. Spike was rattling around somewhere, mostly harmless (for now), but sure to cause some more trouble. Xander and Anya were the only ones who were fairly happy, and that was mostly a hormonal thing, so far as she could tell.
Then there was Riley.
She sighed, turning down the path and scanning automatically for bad guys.
Riley was so sweet, and he certainly seemed sincere and everything.... It was just hard for her to open up, again. First Angel, then Parker; they'd both hurt her so badly that she'd thought it would take her years to recover, if she ever did. Riley was great, but it was too soon.
Besides, he was just a human being. The first time he met a demon, he'd probably start running, and keep going until he got back to Iowa. Or Wisconsin. Wherever. It was too much to hope that he would be the one guy in a thousand who might be able to understand what she was, and what she did.
Speaking of which....
Half a dozen shadows separated from the grove of trees that gave the place its name, scurrying across the open ground ahead of her. Buffy crouched, watching as they gathered around a freshly-covered grave.
Hm. This was new; a baby vamp getting a welcoming committee. She took a deep breath, centering herself. One against six was kind of steep odds, but she'd faced worse. It was just a matter of not making any mistakes. One slip, one opening, and they would have her. Pushing those thoughts aside, she raised herself slightly, poised like a sprinter in the starting blocks.
A great way to spend Christmas eve, wasn't it? Oh well.
Down where the vampires had gathered, the mound of earth over the grave began to stir. They shifted excitedly, all their attention focused on the emerging newborn.
She was moving, driving forward with everything she had, her feet flashing as she blurred across the dark, uneven ground. Her eyes picked out every detail of the terrain, and she was as silent as she was swift. Fifty yards until she reached them now. Forty. Thirty. Twenty. Ten. A stake in each hand, she launched herself at them. Two of them had their backs to her, and she plunged her weapons down into them with the full force of her leap. One exploded into dust, never knowing what had hit him. The other, however, had sensed something at the last possible moment. It was a tall, dark-haired man, and he had half-turned, which resulted in the stake ripping through his leather jacket and glancing off of ribs, gouging him painfully, but not dealing a fatal blow.
Five on one.
The injured vamp stared down at her, a snarl of fury distorting his already demonic features. She straight-armed him in the chest, shoving him back a few steps and gaining some space. The other four were in full vamp-face, and coming for her. She whirled, launching a reverse spin-kick, her foot taking the nearest two across their jaws, stopping them in their tracks. Another hurled herself at the Slayer, but Buffy dove to her right, rolling frantically. A vampire girl who looked to be about sixteen years old was coming at her with arms outstretched for a lethal embrace. Buffy came up out of her roll and lunged in under those arms, plunging the stake home. There was an explosion of dust and ash, but she was already gone.
Four on one.
They were on all sides of her, now, trying to trap her between them. Leather jacket swung a fist at her, and she caught the wrist in her right hand. Twisting and pulling with all her strength, she yanked him forward and down until he was nearly touching his own toes. While she was down there with him, she reached out with her free hand and grabbed one of his ankles. Straightening, she used both leverage and Slayer strength to send him tumbling head over heels, off to the side. Someone grabbed her shoulders from behind, and she didn't even have to look to know what was next. It was going for a classic neck-strike, fangs bared. She didn't fight the thing's grip on her, she just bent her knees, dropping straight down. Looking up, she grabbed it by the head, yanking and twisting at the same time. Its neck snapped even as it flew over her to land hard on its back, just beside the grave. The other two who were in close proximity paused just a moment, trying to absorb what was happening, and that gave her time to stake the paralyzed vamp before it started to heal. She stood, turning to face them, and the dust cloud momentarily hid her lower body from view.
Three on one.
The two were male and female, looking enough alike to be brother and sister. Leather jacket had recovered from his tumbling adventure, and was approaching again. She noted his expression; he looked pissed. She smiled. That would make him careless, and easier to deal with. First, though, she needed to have a little more space to work.
She leapt across the mound of fresh earth covering the grave, landing practically on top of the brother and sister pair. They both lunged at her, the male landing a painful blow to her face, but she concentrated on the girl. In her experience, the female was usually the more dangerous. She pushed her hand between the vampire's reaching arms, grabbing her by the waistband of her jeans. With a grunt, she picked the thing up and half-turned, slamming her down hard against the headstone. The vampire gave an agonized scream as her spine snapped, her body sagging against the unyielding granite. Buffy winced involuntarily in sympathy, but the brother was clawing at her from behind, so she took a step backwards, pressing her body into him. He went for a headlock, and she fired an elbow back into his ribs. He grunted, and she gave him the other elbow. That also connected solidly, making him stumble back. She kept backing, staying with him and alternating elbows, over and over. Finally he fell down, but she ignored him. Leather jacket was standing there, waiting, and she was ready to send him off to hell. Raising her stake, she bounded forward, across the grave again--
To sprawl forward, hitting the ground with bone-jarring force. Her breath was driven from her, and she was momentarily stunned, as much from surprise as anything else. Blinking, trying to understand what had happened, she twisted her head to look back at her feet. A hand was gripping her by the ankle, a hand that had emerged from the dirt piled over the grave. The newborn vampire, of course. She started to lever herself upright, but fingers like iron bars gripped her by her hair, hurling her back down. Leather jacket knelt on her right arm, one hand gripping her wrist, the other maintaining that painful hold on her hair. She drove her free hand up at him, fist aimed at that triumphant leer on his face, but the brother was on her, grabbing her arm and wrestling it down using all his weight. The newborn had hold of both her legs now, and she felt a wave of panic surge through her.
They had her. She'd only made one mistake, but one mistake was all it took. She fought and struggled, kicking at the thing that was emerging from its grave. Leather jacket let go of her hair, grabbing her by the throat instead.
Not an improvement. Now she couldn't breathe, and she didn't like that at all. She relaxed then, gathering herself. One of them would try to bite her, and that meant that it would be focusing more on feeding than holding her. That would be her moment. She hoped. There sure wasn't anything else that would save her.
A moan came from off to the side, where the sister was trying to regenerate her spine. There was a gasp, and then a cloud of dust rolled across them, surprising the vampires, and making Buffy's eyes water. She would have sneezed, if she could have drawn breath enough to manage it. Leather jacket looked up, a shocked expression on his face, and a heavy-soled shoe smashed him right between the eyes. He sprawled backwards, and Buffy stared upwards at the figure that stood over her.
Faith looked back at her, and the dark-haired Slayer flashed Buffy a smile.
"Hey there." She took in Buffy's look of disbelief, and shrugged helplessly.
The brother scrambled to his feet and attacked, but she had a stake in his heart before he even saw the Slayer move. Buffy sat up, rubbing at her sore throat. Leather jacket had seen enough, and was taking off. Faith sprinted off in pursuit, and they both vanished into the trees. Buffy sat there, staring after them.
Faith? What was she doing out of the hospital? What was she doing out of the coma? What, what.... She put her hands to her head, groaning. Too many thoughts. With an angry growl she lurched to her feet. If the other girl didn't come back, Buffy was going to have to go after her. A psycho Slayer running around was a lot more dangerous than a few vamps. She blinked, remembering something. Looking down, she saw the newborn vamp sitting, still half in the grave, trying to be small and unnoticed. She took out another stake, crouching beside him.
She made it quick, and brushed off the dust as she stood. Still no sign of Faith. Buffy started toward the trees, moving slowly. They younger Slayer had looked to be in good shape, certainly she hadn't had any trouble with the vamps. How could that be, when she'd been lying in a hospital bed for a good six months? She reached the trees, listening intently. Where was she?
Buffy jumped, whirling to face the voice from behind her.
Faith stepped forward, seeming to materialize from the shadows. Her dark clothing and hair let her blend into the night amazingly well. Only her pale skin showed clearly. An errant ray of moonlight made her dark eyes glitter as she gestured behind her.
"Don't worry, I got him."
Buffy didn't answer, she was still trying to take it in. Faith seemed content to wait, folding her arms and leaning back against a tree. Finally, Buffy found her voice.
The younger Slayer cocked her head slightly.
Cute. The attitude hadn't changed any.
"What are you doing out here?" After that, the real question occurred to her. "What are you up to?"
Faith looked unconcerned, just lounging there and staring at her with those dark eyes.
"Relax, Buffy. I'm here to save your ass, which I did." She looked away, shaking her head slightly. "And who says that I have to be 'up to something'?" She sounded a little hurt, but the blonde Slayer wasn't going to let herself be fooled again.
"Of course not. But you're going to come with me to see Giles, right now. Explain to him how you're up and walking around without anybody knowing about it."
"Sure. Let's go."
Buffy paused, confused by this ready acquiescence. She nodded, gesturing for the other girl to precede her. Faith gave her a last look, but Buffy couldn't tell what it was supposed to convey. She followed her down the path, never lowering her guard for a moment.
She just hoped Giles could suggest what to do with the wild girl. Otherwise, Buffy would have to make some hard decisions. She gave a little laugh as her earlier thoughts returned to her. She'd had a feeling that this Christmas would suck, and sure enough, it was already turning strange.
The thing of it was, she knew that it would get stranger before it was over.
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