Spirits of Eternity

by Mariah

Disclaimer: Buffy, Angel and everyone else aren't mine and I think we all know that. Only the ghosts in this story are mine. The original idea came from Charles Dickens' "Christmas Carol", but other than the ghosts of the Christmas past, present and future, you'll find nothing here that will remind you of the story.

Rating: PG-13? If you watch the show, you can read it.

Spoilers: It takes place around Christmas of seasons 4&1, so to be safe - everything up to that point. Only a few exceptions: Oz and Willow never broke up (you decide if he left or not), Doyle never died and Riley never left the Initiative, and he knows about Angel.

Pairings: B/A, B/R, W/O, C/D, X/A.

Synopsis: Really can't tell you. It's Christmas, and being a Christmas obsessed person, the idea just got into my head and it wouldn't go, so I wrote it down and you're (maybe) about to read the outcome. I can't tell you exactly what happened, because it'll give away the plot, so...just read on:).

Distribution: If you want it, just ask.

Feedback: Pretty please?

AN1: The names in the story, Amara and Niran, both mean 'Eternal'. I just thought it'd fit the theme:).

AN2: Text between ' // ' is phrases said, or things done in the past, present or future, outside Buffy and Angel's realm. You'll see what I mean.

Part One

"Angel, I'm off!" Cordelia yelled over her shoulder, while exiting the outer office. She paused momentarily at the door, awaiting for the reply she knew wouldn't follow. The former cheerleader sighed, and gazed at the vampire, who was sitting in the solitude of his office, seemingly not even aware of her leaving. She briefly cast her eyes to the floor, pondering over her next move, then determinedly started in the direction of her boss' office.

"Angel?" she flung the door open, striding in.

The vampire slowly gazed up from a book and shut it, reposing it on the desk in front of him. Without uttering a word, he eyed the brunette, awaiting for her to go on with what she had to say.

"You know," she mused, perching on the edge of his desk, "it's Christmas tomorrow night."

He groaned, rising from his chair and pacing over to a book-cabinet. There, he grabbed at the first book he laid eyes on and started leafing through it, trying to appear deeply engrossed in the written. "I know," he replied evenly.

"Yeah, well," she paused. "Do you wanna go out?"

Angel rotated in her direction, almost dropping the book in the process.

Cordelia waved her hand dismissingly. "No offence, but you're not my type. Doyle and I are going out," she explained, "so I thought you'd maybe wanna tag along. Not like you have anything better to do," she remarked with a shrug.

He peered at her for a moment, not saying anything. "No," he finally let out. "Thanks, but...no," with that, he returned his attention to the bookshelf.

"Why the Hell not?" she demanded, not giving up that easily.

"Cordelia," Angel faced her again, "I appreciate the attempt...whatever you're trying to do, I really do, but..."

"Angel, it's one night!" she argued. "ONE night out of an entire year! Give me one night of your time, you can always go back to brooding afterwards."

He sighed, not really knowing how to get rid of her anymore. "I'm a vampire, Cordelia, we're not that big on Christmas..."

"You're my friend! I want you to take one night off from tormenting yourself and have some fun. You deserve this little bit of fun, Angel," the brunette kept insisting, while his eyes were clearly telling her she was fighting a losing battle.

"It's not exactly what I would put under 'fun'," he commented, chuckling to himself.

"That's right!" she raised her index finger as in in realization. "Brooding into the night in a dark room by yourself is fun. I bet Buffy..." she muted instantly following that one word, the one word that made all the difference. Well, she could definitely forget about ever getting him out after that little slip.

Angel's back stiffened, and he rotated to peer at his friend. Cordelia was quick enough to descry the flash of anguish in his eyes, which caused her to soften her tone. "I'm sorry," she murmured.

Angel held up his hand. "Take tomorrow off," he said, completely out of the blue, it being the last thing Cordelia had expected.

"What?" she didn't seem to follow.

"I said, take tomorrow off, and make it Christmas day as well. Same goes for Doyle. Have fun," he smiled. "I'll see you back in two days. Now, if you excuse me, I have work to do." He sank back into his large leather chair, reaching his hand for the book he had been reading when Cordelia had come in, but he never got a hold on it, because she snatched it out of his reach in the last second.

"Let me help you," she smirked, opening the book and offering it back to the vampire, with the photograph of the Slayer peering up at him from the page.

He swallowed hard and gazed up into his friend's eyes, which were both irritated and concerned, as his own flashed with pain again.

"She's not worth it," the brunette told him straightforwardly, walking away. When she reached the entrance to the office, she stopped, and whirled around. "If you change your mind, you know where to find me." With that, she strode off, leaving Angel alone with the picture of his love.

He picked it up from the desk, and peered at her smiling face longingly. "I wonder what you're doing now," he mused. "Was Cordelia right...or maybe you're thinking about the same thing I am?"

But the picture couldn't answer him, could it?

"Buffy?" the Slayer's head shot up, and her eyes encountered the green ones of her best friend.

Willow frowned slightly. "I knew I lost you a while ago, but I just wasn't sure where. You back now?"

The blonde smiled at her. "Sorry. I was thinking. But now, I'm Buffy again," she assured.

Willow grinned. "Are you a packed Buffy?" she surveyed the bags with her eyes.

"Absolutely," her friend announced.

"Good. Oz should be here any minute to pick us up," Willow announced cheerfully, her thoughts instantly drifting to spending the upcoming holidays with her boyfriend.

"Yeah," Buffy sighed, not too enthusiastically, as if her attention had drifted off again. "I can't wait to get home already," she amended with a beam.

"I'm sure Riley can't wait for you to get home either," her friend winked, and received an immediate response in the form of a flying pillow colliding with her face.

"Well, it just happens that Riley isn't there yet," the blonde stuck her tongue out at her friend, then surveyed the room in search for anything she might have forgotten to pack.

"How come?" Willow frowned, perching down on her bed.

"For the same reason he couldn't be here to pick me up. Something about the Initiative, he was called in at the last minute. But he said he'd be there in time for Christmas eve. I just hope he's gonna get there AFTER mom leaves for New York, if he's planning on showing up tomorrow morning."


The Slayer shrugged. "Just trying to avoid a third-degreed boyfriend."

"I see," Willow nodded, grinning impishly. "Someone's in trouble."

"As much as I appreciate the best-friend encouragement, Will, I'm not in trouble YET. Maybe I can just call Riley and ask him not to come early? You think there's a chance I catch him?"

"I think you should have introduced him to your mom ages ago, EXACTLY to avoid situations such as this. I don't get you, I mean...what's wrong with Riley? Nothing. And you don't have to tell her about the Initiative, and other than that...she'll be thrilled. I mean, he's a nice, HUMAN guy, not..." Willow bit her lip, just before saying something she'd only regret on later, not that she hadn't done enough already.

Buffy peered at her, her face wearing an expression Willow wasn't quite able to fathom. Angel. Not Angel. She couldn't help but wonder that moment what her mother would do, if she brought Angel home for Christmas, instead of Riley. It was the main reason why this year's Christmas felt so strange to her, whether she wanted to admit it or not. Somehow, in the back of her mind, she always thought Riley wouldn't be the one she'd spend Christmas eve with this year. She loved Riley, she was sure she did, she was supposed to, he was her boyfriend. But he wasn't Angel. Willow was right. With all the good qualities Riley possessed...he wasn't the person holding her in the snow. "No," she simply said. "Riley's not."

"Ready to move?" both girls were startled by Oz's voice, who that very moment appeared in the doorway.

Angel stepped into the elevator, the book with Buffy's picture in it still held in his hand, and combed his other hand through his spiny hair, exhaling a sigh. It wasn't even midnight yet, and he felt he had never wanted to sleep more than he did now. He vainly hopped that the memories that were haunting him would give him a break at least in his sleep, while a small voice in his head prompted him he could forget about it. He hated Christmas. Or maybe 'hated' was a too harsh word, maybe he just... couldn't stand it. Yes, he was a vampire, but there was so much more to it. In the years following the return of his soul, the only thing that Christmas related to, according to him, was brooding about his past, even more than he did on regular basis. But that was until that one particular Christmas, when his past suddenly caught up with him. And that was the Christmas he couldn't get out of his head now. It was even worse than the memories from the day he had turned back, that were still so painfully fresh in his heart and mind, if such thing was possible. A part of him couldn't help but long for the little town where his heart was. He had never wanted anything for Christmas...until now. There was nothing he craved for more than the simple pleasure of holding her in his arms on Christmas eve, sauntering in the snow with her small hand held tightly in his. And all that time, he knew there was someone else who was privileged enough to do the exact same things...with his girl.

He sighed heavily, and stepped out of the elevator, making his way to his bedroom. When he opened the door to it, he froze.

"You could have told me you were leaving tonight and not tomorrow," the Slayer remarked, while she and her mother were descending from the second floor.

"Honey, I didn't know myself up until a couple of hours ago," Joyce explained, taking her suitcase from her daughter.

"Yeah, but," Buffy sighed, "I guess I just thought we could spend some time together. I mean...that's it, right? I'm not even gonna see you, until two days after New Year's eve."

Joyce smiled, cupping Buffy's cheek with her free hand. "Either that, or I'll be back on the twenty-eight's. Depends on how everything will work out. Honey, I'm so sorry I can't be home Christmas eve..."

"I know," Buffy nodded, forcing a smile, then leaned forward and kissed her mother's cheek. "I'll be fine, don't worry." *Years of practice,* she mused.

"Maybe you could have your friends over, and Mr. Giles?" her mother suggested with a smile. "You could do something together, it'll be like Thanksgiving."

*Which is another holiday you missed.* "Yeah. I might," the blonde returned her a grin.

The elder woman sighed, then regained her smile. "I hope you'll have a very special Christmas, sweetie," she briefly kissed her daughter's cheek, squeezed her hand, and opened the front door.

"You too," Buffy smiled back. "Bye, mom." She locked the door after her mother, and headed back up to her room, until a knock on the door caused her to stop.

The Slayer whirled around, groaning in playful annoyance. "I knew you didn't pack everything!" she yelled, while approaching the door, hoping her mother could hear her on the other side. But when she opened the door, it wasn't Joyce she found there.

On his bed sat a little girl, not more than five years old. She had golden hair, and was wearing a white girly dress, suspending on two thin straps from her shoulders to her little bare feet, fair and glittering as if it was made of actual snow. Her long blond locks were trimmed into two braids, each fastened with a white silvery ribbon.

At his dumbfounded expression, the girl giggled impishly, burying her face in a white fuzzy teddy bear.

Angel blinked, but she still wouldn't vanish. "Who are you?" he finally asked, as soon as he found his voice again. "What is your name?"

"Amara," she said, her face lighting in a childish beam.

"Amara," the vampire echoed, his lips curving up in a slight ironic smile. "And who are you?" he kneeled in front of her.

"A ghost," she replied, and shrugged, still grinning, and buried her face in her toy again, until only her blue smiling orbs remained visible for Angel. A moment later, she climbed down from the bed, making the vampire rise to his feet and follow her out of the bedroom.

In the middle of his living room, Amara stopped and turned around. Clutching her bear to her chest with one hand, she reached the other for Angel, who seemed to hesitate. It was obvious to him something wasn't quite normal about that girl, and he had no idea if that something was good or bad.

"I came to take you," she let him know, still holding out her small hand for his, but not moving an inch from where she was standing.

"Take me where?" he inquired.

"You'll see," she beamed, and before he knew what was happening to him, Angel found himself accepting her offered hand and clutching it in his.

"Who are you?" she asked the little boy who was standing at the door, frowning at him. He was approximately five or six years old, had curly blond hair and piercing blue eyes. He was barefoot, and wore nothing but a small white overall. The fabric was dazzlingly white, and sparkled like it was trimmed with millions of tiny starts.

The boy smiled, boring into her eyes with his large ones. "I'm a ghost," he whispered, in a soft childish voice.

"Are you now," Buffy squatted before him, beaming. "And does this little ghost have a name?"

"Niran," the boy answered, smiling coyly.

"Niran," the Slayer nodded, echoing the given name. "Well, did you lose your mommy, or something?" she asked, not really knowing what to do. She wasn't really accustomed to having little children around, and what's worse, this particular child didn't seem to her like the kind that loses their parents. However, he did answer all the demands to a 'call Giles at once' situation. And all in all, she had never met a demon who looked so adorably innocent. "You wanna come in?" she suggested, only afterwards realizing what she had just done.

Niran shook his head, but didn't move, only reached out his small hand for hers.

"You want me to come out?" she asked, standing up.

He nodded, grinning. "I came to take you."

"Take me where?" Buffy wanted to know.

"You'll see," he replied, and she abruptly felt his soft little hand in hers, and everything turned white.

Part Two

"Where are we?" Angel gazed around himself in wonder, then looked back down at the small girl, whose hand was held tightly in his.

"You don't remember?" she asked, beaming, then looked away.

Angel sighed, and surveyed their surroundings anew. Of course, he remembered. He remembered every detail. He even remembered more than he wanted to. Inwardly, he couldn't help but wonder who or what could possibly be cruel enough to make him go through it again, choosing Christmas of all times to do that. As if him reminiscing wasn't enough, they needed to bring him back there, to experience everything all over again. Then a thought occurred to him; what if he wasn't there to experience anything? What if he was there just to watch it happening? Abruptly, Angel wasn't sure which of the two was worse...

"Why did you bring me here?" he asked Amara.

"To show you," she whispered, smiling up at him, her blue eyes twinkling with a light of their own.

"Show me what?" he didn't understand.

She shrugged. "You'll know when you see it."

Angel chuckled bitterly, shaking his head. Something told him the Oracles or the Powers definitely had a part in all this. If there was anyone more cryptic than he in the world, it would be them, and it was definitely their style. Following that realization, came another one; if they indeed were responsible, nothing good could ever come out of it.

Amara peered up at his concerned features, as always, smiling, then she let go of his hand, for the first time, and her palm was suddenly filled with silvery stardust. She tossed it in the air, and the still world around them came back to life before Angel's astounded eyes.

When Buffy opened her eyes, she gasped, instinctively pinching herself. She felt a huge lump in her throat, and she swallowed, closing her eyes several times, hoping everything would be gone once she reopened them. But as much as she tried, everything remained the same, and memories ruthlessly washed over her, everything she had been trying to suppress for months, to create the foundations for her 'normal' life. These were her most painful memories, and together with the pain, in the darkest corner of her heart, she couldn't help to think that it was the best Christmas present ever. Love hurt, she knew that. God, no one knew that better than she did. But love was real. HE was real. And she had just realized she had completely forgotten what 'real' was like...

"Why am I here?" she asked the little boy at her side.

He shrugged, beaming, then motioned for her with his free hand to lean closer.

Buffy did as asked, and Niran stood on his toes to reach her ear. "It's magic," he whispered

The Slayer smiled, looking at the images in front of her again, and her smile received a melancholic touch to it. "I see," she nodded, straightening up.

"Real magic," the boy nodded, assuring her with a grin.

"And are you going to tell me who's responsible for this?" the Slayer inquired.

Niran shook his head, not answering her question.

"And why am I here?" she tried. "Can you tell me that?"

He shook his head again, smiling, and pulled his hand out of hers. "Watch," he said, throwing stardust in the air, and the silent world about the two of them instantly woke up as if from a deep sleep.

"My people, before I was changed, they exchanged it as a sign of devotion. It's a Claddagh ring. The hands represent friendship, the crown represents loyalty, and the heart, well...you know. Wear it with the heart pointed towards you. It means you belong to somebody. Like this," Angel's lips moved with the words he remembered by heart from so long ago, while watching his past-self performing the act. He gazed at the little blonde Slayer, bitterly chuckling at the fact she was obviously not listening to what her lover was saying, but instead, gazing at him with desperate tearful eyes. The only meaning this ring had for her was goodbye.

He saw his former girlfriend leaning forward and softly brushing her lips over the ring on his younger-self's finger. Angel squeezed his eyes shut against the threatening tears, reliving the feel of her soft warm lips against his cold skin. "Tell her," he silently pleaded with his younger-self, "tell her you love her. Tell her and leave. Never come back," he whispered, while the past's Angel was struggling to find his words, "but let her know you love her."

"He can't hear you," Amara reminded him, her tone uncharacteristically grave. "He can't see you."

Angel's pained gaze traveled down to meet hers, then back at the couple, at the exact second the vampires jumped them.

// "I love you. I try not to, but I can't stop."

"Me...me too. I can't either." //

"I can't either," Buffy echoed softly, biting her lip to prevent the tears that were already running down her face. She wrapped her arms around herself and closed her eyes, longing for the peaceful feeling from that night to return. But she couldn't find it. No matter how hard she looked within her soul, there was no peace. There had been no peace ever since that night. She had lost so much more than her innocence then, she realized, so much more than she would ever be able to gain, and what she had lost then, she would never be able to gain. The closest thing she had had to peace ever since, was the feel of him in her arms, but she didn't even have that anymore. That night robbed her from the peace, while its repercussions robbed her with time from the next best thing.

"Don't," she whispered, reaching out her hand for her younger-self, trying to touch her, as if in an attempt to pull her back from her vampire boyfriend, but it took her less than a moment to realize she herself wasn't more than just air. "Leave him alone," she cried, while the younger Buffy shushed her Angel with a finger to his lips, later catching them in a soft kiss.

"You'll lose him tonight," the Slayer told her inaudibly, "you'll lose him forever."

"She can't hear you," Niran prompted her, squeezing her hand and urging her to look at him. "Let her do her mistakes. Without understanding them, you'll not be able to fix the future," he told her, overly serious for a five-years-old.

Buffy sniffled, and gulped, as the couple before them slowly dissolved into nothing.

// The Slayer slowly stood up, peering around the cold mansion in an odd mixture of pain and despair, sighing heavily. After a beat, she rotated, and started walking away, until her form completely disappeared from the large hall. //

"Why are you showing me this?" Angel probed Amara, his gaze sadly following Buffy until she was gone from his sight. "I wasn't there, I'm not supposed to see this."

The little girl merely shook her head and pointed with her hand at the spot where the Claddagh Buffy had left was still lying on the ground. "I have to show you the past," she whispered, as the ground started to shake and the sky right above the ring opened and a naked form fell through the portal and landed on the cold stony floor. "And you have to learn how to fix the future. I show you what they tell me to show you." She opened her small palm and held it up for Angel to see.

The vampire's gaze left his past-self's lying form and turned to the girl, picking up the ring from her palm, just as his younger-self picked up the same ring from the ground.

"This is your future," Amara whispered, beaming again, just like the little girl she was.

// "What is done cannot be undone," the man insisted.

"What is not yet done can be avoided," the woman dismissed his words.

"Temporal folds are not to indulge at...the whims of lower beings..."

"You are wrong!" she persisted. "This one is willing to sacrifice every drop of human happiness and love he's ever known for another. He is NOT a lower being."

"There is one way," he agreed, rather reluctantly "but it is not to be undertaken lightly."

"We swallow this day," his companion continued, "as though it had never happened. Twenty-four hours from the moment the demon first attacked you, we take it back."

Angel peered at her carefully. "Then none of this happened, and Buffy and I... What...what will stop us from doing the exact same thing again?"

"You," she told him, "you alone will carry the memory of this day. Can you carry that burden?" //

Buffy gazed at the scene playing out before her with tearful eyes. She toppled to her knees, just as a heartbreaking sob escaped her lips and, covering her face with her hands.

A minute later, she felt a hand on her shoulder, and looked up, right into the familiar eyes of a thirteen-years-old boy, who only a second ago was years younger. But somehow, Buffy didn't give much notice to his rapidly changing age. "He did it," she whispered, her eyes pleading with him to promise her what she had just seen hadn't really happened. "He turned it back, he did it. He gave up his life...he DIED for me! God, why?!"

Niran smiled, holding out his hand to help her back to her feet. He pointed at a spot in front of them, and the backdrop of the Oracles faded into a burning fireplace in the old mansion on Crawford St. Buffy remembered only too well.

// "Are you sure you want to stay here?" Angel asked Buffy, while the two were strolling down the snow-coated street.

She nodded, beaming, and snuggled closer to him, fastening her arms around his waist. "There's nowhere else I want to be."

He grinned, and kissed the top of her head. "Thank you," he whispered.

His girlfriend looked up. "What for?"

"For believing in me, in that I might become someone worthy one day."

"You ARE worthy," she corrected. "You're worthy of redemption," she added in a whisper.

The vampire smiled bitterly. "Maybe I will be, one day." He halted his walk and turned around, facing his Slayer. "I'll earn it," he told her, peering her in the eyes. "I'll earn my redemption one day, and then I'll deserve it. And when I do, I'll owe it all to you, and I'll share it with you, because you made me understand..." his voice faded off, as he cast down his eyes.

"Understand what?" Buffy asked, lifting his chin back up.

"That...there are things worth fighting for," he finished.

She smiled, and rose on her tiptoes, meeting his lips in a tender kiss. //

"Some promises I made," Angel remarked ruefully, talking to himself, rather than to Amara, or to anyone else. "I think that already then I knew I was going to leave her. I thought I understood...but I didn't. SHE was my redemption. Instead of finding it, I let it slip right through my fingers. What I've been fighting for...my redemption...it's something I lost a long time ago."

"Then maybe you were wrong," he heard a voice next to him.

The vampire frowned, wondering who that voice might have belonged to, although it was familiar. When he turned to its source, he found Amara, only now she abruptly appeared about seven years older. His eyes widened, and he opened his mouth to say something, but before he could, she beamed, that same innocent smile, reassuring all his worries and fears.

"We have to go now," she said.

"Where?" he managed.

"To the present."

"I love you," she heard her former boyfriend swear to her younger-self, tears glistening in his candid chocolate orbs, "nothing can change that. Not even death."

And the scene dissolved back to the Oracles' dimension.

"I love you too," Buffy whispered, the newly regained memories of the once forgotten day barely leaving her enough clarity time to form these four words. She made a vow, that if she was ever to get out of whatever dreamscape she now was in, the first thing she would do would be to tell these same words to Angel. She would make sure he knew, no matter how hard it would be, and how agonizing it would be to say goodbye again afterwards, she would make sure he knew how much she loved him.

"I'm glad you remembered that," Niran remarked, rather sarcastically, albeit his voice was everything but. Then he smiled, peering up at her. "Remember to keep your vow."

Before Buffy could reply, everything around them faded into white.

Part Three

"Where are we now?" Buffy asked, still emotionally shaken both from the revelation about the day that wasn't and the swift change of time and space. She tried to keep her thoughts straight, but she couldn't even get her mind to work properly and rationally. Nothing seemed rational to her. The pain she had felt following the return of her memories was being slowly replaced with anger, but the anger was mixed with understanding, and Buffy lost track of her most private feelings, not knowing where to put what. Nothing made sense to her anymore. She needed to understand too many things at once, and she wasn't given the time to even start.

"You'll have time," the boy next to her told her, as if responding to her inner pondering. "You're learning now. It is up to you to make the right decisions...later. You're in the present now, there are things here...you have to see. The Powers agreed you deserved to know everything that happened first."

"Powers?" Buffy blinked, wiping her moist eyes. "What Powers?"

Niran smiled. "The ones that gave you the snow."

// "What do you mean, something's wrong with her?" Xander asked his friend.

"Just that. Something's wrong with her," Willow clearly didn't supply the information he needed.

"Perhaps...something in the books," Giles suggested, rising from his seat.

"It's not that," the redhead stopped him, making him sit back down.

Four pairs of eyes peered at her expectantly.

"It's Christmas," she revealed, sighing melancholically.

"Christmas isn't supposed to affect the Slayer," Giles obviously misunderstood, "it's just..."

"Giles," she cut him off, smiling gently, "not everything must be explained supernaturally."

The former Watcher sighed, then grinned coyly, removing his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Alright. What is it then?"

"It's Christmas. Last year's Christmas."

"What happened..." Xander started, glancing at his girlfriend, who only shrugged, not giving away much interest, then at Oz and Giles. Finally, he looked at Willow.

"She didn't tell you?" the redhead witch surveyed the people present in the room. "She never told you?"

They all shook their heads. //

"She never told them," Angel observed, a slight smile playing in the corners of his mouth.

"Why does it make you happy?" Amara asked.

"It means it's still important to her. She would have told them by now. She would have told them everything, if it hadn't been important to her."

The girl beamed in understanding. "How could you ever think it wasn't?"

The vampire gulped, briefly averting his eyes from his blue-eyed companion. What made him think... God, was there an easier question than that?

"Riley?" Amara guessed. When he beheld her in surprise, she returned him a shrug, grinning that same playful smile.

"What do you want to show me here?" Buffy asked Niran, while the two of them were walking, unnoticed, down the dark streets of Los Angeles.

"I show you things," he replied cryptically, "you are the one who decides upon what she sees."

"You remind me too much of someone," she noted, smiling slightly to herself, then gazed down at him seriously. "Is he the one you're going to show me?"

The boy shook his head. "You will not see him yet. You can't find him in the present."

"Why not?" Buffy frowned, a bit confounded by his statement.

"For the same reason he can't see you," he replied simply, entering a building.

The Slayer gasped. "You mean..."

Niran only shrugged, beaming, and took her hand, pulling her after him through a shut door, into an apartment. "Look," he told her, as they entered the living room.

// "It's not exactly my fault, Doyle," Cordelia remarked, walking over to her boyfriend with a bowl of chips in her one hand and a can of diet-coke in the other, and perching next to him on the sofa, as he turned on the TV.

"Maybe I should try too, then," he suggested, draping one arm over her shoulders and taking a handful of chips from the dish with his other hand.

The brunette reached across him to grab a glass and emptied the can into it, taking a sip. "It won't do any good, believe me. Especially not after my...slip."

He gave her a look.

"I said the forbidden 'B' word," she explained.

"I see," Doyle nodded.

"Well, I didn't," Cordelia made a gesture with her free hand, "and I sent him right back into brood-mode, the advanced level. He's probably reliving Thanksgiving right about now," she added with a sad note. "I didn't mean to," she sighed.

"I know you didn't, princess," he kissed the top of her head. "But I don't think it's in our hands, any more than it is in his. He just..."

"Loves her," the former cheerleader completed his sentence. "That's his curse, I'm telling you. I mean, things could be great if he didn't go all 'Grrr' every time they go at it. What the Hell is so special about her, anyway?" she exclaimed. "Annoying little blonde," she muttered under her breath, fishing for chips. "And she doesn't even look that good in that picture he has hidden in his book."

"I'm sure your feelings are mutual, Delia," her boyfriend remarked, instantly receiving a nudge in the gut. "But said annoying blonde happens to be what occupies Angel's mind most of the time these days, especially after...well, Thanksgiving."

"Exactly!" she looked up sharply. "Speaking of which, you know what I realized recently? That there's been a whole twenty-four hours, in which I might have done things..." her eyes scanned Doyle from head to toe, "I shouldn't have, and now I'll never get to know."

He chuckled, rolling his eyes playfully. "I don't think THAT was what I wanted to say..." //

"He has a picture of me?" Buffy asked, nobody in particular. "I don't even have a picture of him," she whispered softly. But she did have a picture of him. She had his gentle features, his chocolate orbs, enshrined so deep within her soul, she knew she would remember them for as long as she was alive in this world, no matter how many Riley's would come and go throughout her life. But as sad as it was, it also felt good to know he had something of her with him like that, something to remind him of her, although she knew he had never forgotten. She, on the other hand... Buffy sighed, preferring not to think about that.

"This is Riley," Amara observed, as she and Angel were watching the blond man anxiously pacing in front of the Sunnydale gang, which was assembled in Buffy's living room, telling them how he had arrived to her house that night, and found her gone without a note, and the door ajar. Anxiety was evident in his features, and it was soon reflecting in the faces of the others as well.

Angel nodded, but didn't say anything.

"He loves her," she observed, "I can see it in his eyes."

The vampire faced her, his own eyes clouding with pain. He really didn't need to have his nose rubbed in that.

"But she doesn't," Amara went on, as if oblivious to him, "her heart is already taken. It had been taken long before he ever entered her life." A small smile appeared on her lips as she looked up at Angel. "And deep inside, you know it."

He sighed, offering a weak grin in return, looking back at the gang. "I never belonged there, you know? I never belonged in the circle of her friends. They never accepted me. And it hurt her...us. It made her choose...too many times."

"And she chose you," Amara smiled.

"No," Angel shook his head. "Not every time."

"Every time," the girl insisted. "She did some mistakes, some bad choices, but only because you left her with no other option. It was hard on her too, but in the end of the day, you always came first. And then you left her, shattering all the trust she had put into you."

The vampire turned to look at her again, finding instead of the girl a young woman. He sighed, shaking his head, not knowing what to think anymore.

Amara smiled knowingly, then reposed her hand on his shoulder. "You both made your share of mistakes. Everybody does them. It's the only way to learn. Come," she made one step forward, motioning for him to follow.

"Where are we going now?" Buffy asked her companion, as the two were exiting Cordelia's apartment.

"To the future," he replied, and she rotated, startled by the drastic change in his voice.

"What..." she started, finding a young man instead of the former boy. Then she just exhaled and shook her head. Nothing could surprise her anymore.

Niran smiled, holding out his hand for her. "I have some more things to show you," he said. "It'll be over soon, I promise."

"I'm not so sure I want it to be," the Slayer contemplated aloud. "I'm not sure I want to go back to what I have."

"You won't," he assured her. "You'll go back to what you WANT to have. It's up to me to guide you. What you do afterwards...it's up to you. Now, come," he stretched out his hand again, and this time, she accepted it.

Part Four

// "You're not evil. I...I don't understand. Was I...was it...not good?" the blonde vampiress laughed. "Well, I don't accept that. You cannot tell me that wasn't perfect. Not only have I been around for four hundred years, but I used to do this professionally. And THAT was perfect." She grabbed Angel's arm, pulling him back to the bed. "We'll go again."

He shook her off, standing up. "No. No, we can't. You know we can't. We're finished."

"Finished?" she wouldn't accept it. "Why? What, because you suddenly decide? You know, an hour ago you wanted this. You weren't tricked into anything. I didn't seduce you. You WANTED it!"

"Yeah," he admitted weakly, "and it WAS perfect, Darla. It was perfect despair." //

Buffy gazed into the eyes of her love, as he was arguing with his Sire. He had slept with her. With Darla, with his Sire, with the vampiress who had made him, who he had dusted...to save her life. He had slept with Darla. She felt like her heart was breaking, slowly, painfully cracking into million pieces. And on the other hand, as she was looking into his eyes, she found there peace. Very little, but peace, some sort of sick ease to his soul he had obviously found in the arms of his Sire. He was saying she saved him, but he couldn't save her. Buffy wished more than anything to know what he must have been going through, what had happened, that it was so horrible that he would seek solace in his Sire, that it would drive him to THAT kind of despair. And most importantly...why hadn't he turned to HER for help?...

"Why did he do that?" she asked Niran.

"What?" he inquired. "You mean Darla? Why he slept with her?"

She nodded.

"Why wouldn't he?"


"She saved him. These are not my words, these are his. SHE saved him. Can you even imagine what he must have been going through if he chose her to turn to?"

Buffy looked down briefly, inhaling a deep breath. "He fucked Darla," she uttered slowly, allowing it to sink in. "My God, what must have happened to..."

"He wanted to lose his soul," the young man said. "You heard him. Perfect despair. He wanted to stop falling, to stop...feeling, to lose his soul."

"But..." she peered at him sorrowfully. If Angel could lose his soul to Darla, it meant...

"He didn't," Niran smiled, putting down her fears. "He didn't lose his soul."

Buffy looked at him for a moment, then her lips curved up in a hesitant beam.

"I wasn't there for her, was I?" Angel asked Amara, as the two were watching the future's Buffy and Angel, sitting underneath a tree in the cemetery, following Joyce's funeral.

"No," she replied silently. "But you're there now."

"It doesn't cut it," he shook his head. "I should have been there for her. She was her mother, and she...died. I should have held her up through the Hell she must have been going through. Why didn't I?" he demanded to know. "Why didn't I? Where was I? It was the time she needed me the most, where the Hell was I?" he didn't even notice his tone was becoming more aggressive with each word. "And where the Hell was Riley?"

"Riley left her months before that. And you...you weren't standing yourself," she told him gently, "you couldn't hold her up too."

He looked at her quizzically. "What do you mean?"

She shrugged. "Things happened. Almost a year has passed since you two last saw each other, a lot has changed. Both of you fell, both of you weakened. It was too rapid a decision, the one you made right before her prom. You should have thought of the consequences first, instead of assuming you were doing the right thing. But of course, it's granted you couldn't know," she smiled sadly. "Humans are so fragile. You make one mistake and it possesses the power to destroy your entire lives."

"I'm not..."

She dismissed him with a grin. "You get my point."

"It doesn't excuse it," he shook his head, "whatever happened to me, it doesn't matter, I should have been there for her. I..." he sighed softly, laughing dryly at the thought, his gaze drifting away. "I could make her pain go away, I could make her smile. I still know how to do that, I'm sure I do. Have I...has he...forgotten?"

Amara shook his head. "No. But you two grew up. Too much pain causes people to shut themselves off from the world. You should know," she motioned with her hand at him. "But in your cases, it wasn't the world. You two shut yourselves off from love. You...forgot what love felt like. And now, you remembered," she motioned at the kissing couple under the tree. When the two pulled apart, Amara turned to her companion again. "But you both were too broken to take her offer seriously."

Buffy reached out her hand, in a dull attempt to touch the vampire's shoulder, who was sitting on his bed, feeding a small baby that was carefully cradled in the crook of his arm. It was the most beautiful scene she could ever hope to witness, and perfect was an understatement for it. Her Angel, holding an infant in his arms. Fatherhood suited him, she could detect it straight away. When he held the child, his orbs sparkled with genuine happiness. Her Angel deserved this child. No one deserved him more than he did. And this child brought him happiness. And he was perfect. Only that he wasn't hers...

"How could it happen?" she asked the man next to her. "They're both vampires, how could it happen?"

He shook his head.

"You're not going to tell me," she observed, sighing.

"It isn't mine to tell," was all he said.

"I'm happy for him," she said, smiling sadly at her former lover and his son. "If anyone deserves this gift, it's him."

"And you," Niran voiced her contemplations. "I know what you're thinking," he beamed knowingly. "You wish for this child to have been yours."

"How can I not to?" she asked.

He shrugged. "Then perhaps, you should remember that too...when you go back."

"You mean...how?" the Slayer inquired, her face both hopeful and frightened. "How can I make him be OUR child?"

"I never said you could," Niran looked at her cryptically. "The way you form your future is up to you, I am not the one to decide upon what you might do. I told you, I'm merely here to guide you. You act according to what you think is the right thing to do, to thwart whatever I show you, if you want to thwart it, of course."

"Do you EVER answer exactly what you're asked?" Buffy wondered, after fully processing his reply. "But it doesn't matter," she sighed. "I can't ever do that. I can never steal these precious moments from him. The way he is with his son...I can't take that away from him, and if I change the future, I will. And I can't...I love him too much." A lone tear slowly trickled down her cheek.

"It isn't only up to you," Niran remarked softly. "And this child is a soul, it is not yet placed into a human body, it is not yet created and brought into life. His parents have not yet been chosen."

Buffy shot him an odd look.

He just shrugged, grinning.

Angel kneeled next to the Slayer's lying form, his eyes watering up, as he brushed his palm over her face, in a desperate attempt to touch her one final time. But he couldn't. Because he wasn't real. And she was dead. The love of his life, the only thing that truly mattered, that kept him going, was now dead, and what's worse - she had died before his very eyes. He bent forward, and in a yet another desperate attempt, brushed his ghostly lips over hers, recalling the taste of her kiss in her mind. But outside his memories, he still felt nothing.

"I love you," he whispered to her lying form, unable to tear his eyes from her, until a female hand on his shoulder raised him back to his feet, using some sort of magical force. Angel looked away from the fallen Slayer, at Amara's tender face.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"This is what I gave up my humanity for?" he questioned. "So that she would die?! They promised," his voice cracked, "they promised me she'd live!"

"Oh, she lived, alright," the woman promised him, "and what a life did she have. One I wouldn't wish to a soul."

The vampire peered at her, his eyes demanding an explanation.

"She didn't only jump to save the girl," Amara told him, "she jumped because she wanted to." Saying that, she quieted, not willing to give away any further information.

Angel shook his head. "If I had known, I would have never..."

"Would have never what? Given up that day?"

He sighed, nodding sorrowfully. "Yes. I would have...I would have made the best of those months we would have had left together. We would have had at least several months of happiness. Maybe then," he paused for a beat, "she wouldn't have jumped."

"Your happiness isn't lost yet," Amara assured him with a smile.

"I'm taking you back now," Niran informed Buffy, as the two were making their way down the stairs of the Hyperion hotel, to the lobby.

"Back where?" she asked, not grasping straight away what he had meant by that.

He laughed shortly. "To where you belong. From now on, everything is going to be up to you...and him."

She nodded. "Can you just...tell me something?" she requested.

"Yes," he agreed.

"Tell me who you are?"

"That's simple," Niran chuckled, gesturing at himself, "the ghost of Christmas future," he answered with a lighthearted smile. "Before me, were my two younger brothers, the ghosts of the present and the past."

"And...Angel?" Buffy asked hesitantly.

"He is guided by my three sisters. We were sent to the two of you. We're supposed to help you choose the right path."

"And...you think you helped me?" the Slayer wanted to know.

He chuckled again. "It isn't up to me to judge."

"It's up to me, then?"

He beamed, taking her hand, and pulling her to him. "Remember your promise, Warrior," he whispered in her ear, before everything faded into white.

"Don't show me any more," Angel implored. "I can't watch any more."

"You won't have to," Amara touched his arm. "It's over."

He peered at her, as if not believing.

"We must go back now," she said.


"To your time. To your present. You'll never see me again afterwards," she smiled at him, tenderly brushing her hand over his cheek. "I can only hope we achieved my goal."

"We...goal?" he echoed.

"We did show you," she said, "I can only hope we also made you see. Did we?"

Angel nodded, chewing at his lower lip. "These were the Powers, weren't they? They sent you?"

She smiled, not giving him a reply this time. "My sisters and I were to guide you. My brothers were to guide her. Now, our work here is done. After this...you're on your own. I hope you'll find that happiness. And Warrior," she grabbed his arm, waiting until he locked eyes with her, "don't let the curse hinder you." She smiled reassuringly at him. "Your happiness is in no one's hands but your own now. Remember that."

Angel nodded, still appearing somewhat thrown.

She beamed, positioning her palm in front of her lips, and blew at the silvery stardust that was pilled up on it.

He thought he heard her final goodbye just as everything about him turned white.

Part Five

The lamp is burning low upon my table top
The snow is softly falling
The air is still within the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly calling
If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you

- Sarah McLachlan, 'Song for a Winter's Night'

A second after Angel found himself in his bedroom, the door flew open, and a very anxious Doyle stormed into the room.

"You're here," he observed, his voice giving away slight disbelief, as if he weren't entirely convinced it really was Angel standing before him.

"So I was, last time I checked," the vampire retorted, eyeing his friend, as if nothing had happened and he really had been in the bedroom all along.

"He's here!" Doyle yelled to Cordelia, then turned his full attention back to Angel. "I checked this room five minutes ago," he swore, "you weren't here."

"Maybe you just didn't look hard enough. What time is it?" he asked abstractly, while rummaging his pockets for something seemingly very important.

"6:15 PM..." Doyle checked his watch. "WHY is it important?" he abruptly snapped back to reality. "Where have you been?!"

"And you better make it a good one, because we were looking for you like crazy for hours!" Cordelia added, walking into the bedroom.

"So, it's not sundown yet," Angel contemplated, as if he hadn't even heard them.

"Seems a lot like sundown to me," the Irishman informed. "There's no sun out there, lad, trust me. I won't be surprised if it's gonna snow any minute now..."

"Wait ONE minute!" Cordelia shushed them both with a unequivocal gesture of her hand, then turned to Angel. "Where the Hell do you think you're going?! You just got back, you're not going anywhere, until you explain everything."

"I'll explain everything, Cordelia, I promise, but not now." Angel pulled a small ring out of his pocket, seemingly it being what he had been looking for earlier, and grinned, pocketing it right back. "Now, I have to go," he grabbed his coat, and headed out of the room.

"And where might that be, if that's not a secret?" the brunette called after him.

"Sunnydale," he supplied over his shoulder, and before she could conjure up a response, was gone.

"Buffy!" Riley reached out to hug his girlfriend, the second she entered the house, to everyone's relief, in one piece.

She returned his hug equally, then gradually pulled off, taking a deep breath, not quite knowing how to handle everyone's piercing eyes.

"Where have you been?" the inevitable question was finally popped up, courtesy of Xander.

"It's a long story," she started.

"We have time," Willow assured.

"Buffy, you were gone for almost twenty-four hours, not even bothering to leave a note, or inform someone where you're going. It wasn't incredibly mature, nor responsible of you, I presume you know that. Are we at least entitled to some sort of an explanation?" her former Watcher asked.

"Giles, I get it," she smiled, addressing her upcoming words to everyone present in the room. "I'll tell you everything, I swear, as soon as I get back..."

"Back?" Willow frowned at her. "Back from where exactly?"

"I need to go somewhere," she sighed. "There's something very important I need to do tonight. I made a promise," she beamed.

"Buff..." Xander attempted to speak, but she held up her hand.

"I said, later, Xander. Later, I'll tell you everything. Right now...I need to save my future." Saying that, the Slayer was already on her way outside. When she walked past Riley, she stopped. "We need to talk," she whispered to him, tugging him after her out of the house, and shutting the door behind them.

Xander groaned helplessly, leaning back on the couch.

"So...Angel," Riley breathed out the name, looking away from his girlfriend.

"I'm sorry," Buffy cast her eyes to the ground.

"I thought it was over," he turned to look at her, his gaze something between anger and anguish. "Dammit, Buffy, you promised me it was over!"

The Slayer averted her eyes again, then looked back up. "Riley, I..."

"Save it!" he snapped. "For God's sake, at least while you're breaking up with me, don't lie!"

"Riley," she said gently, putting her hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it off.

"You don't love me," he stated. "You don't," he let out a dry chuckle of realization. "I always knew you didn't, but I... God, I don't even know why I stayed with you all this time, why I was putting myself through all this."

Buffy bit her lower lip, looking away from her now former boyfriend.

"You were fucking him behind my back," the commando spat at her, and her head snapped up, her eyes filling with horror and disbelief. "You were screwing a VAMPIRE behind my back! God!"

"How can you say that?" she uttered the question slowly, cautiously, in a low voice. "How can you even THINK that?"

"And why the Hell not?" he threw his hands in the air in a gesture of utter despair. "You're leaving me for him, aren't you?"

"I NEVER cheated on you Riley, the thought has never even crossed my mind!" the Slayer hissed. "And I'm not leaving you for Angel, I'm leaving you for ME," she corrected him, her voice growing harsher by the second, although she was striving to maintain composure, "and I AM sorry, very sorry, for the way everything has turned out, for that you got stuck in the middle of all this, but I'm NOT, and never will be, sorry for the choice I made, or my feelings for Angel. And I wanted to talk to you, because I wanted to apologize..." she grimaced, "somehow, I don't quite think that's even the word...but whatever it was," the blonde gazed back up at him again, her eyes determined. "You're a pig!" she spat in disgust, and stormed away.

"Buffy, wait!" Riley's voice made her stop after only a few steps, and he caught up with her a second later. He averted his gaze from her for one moment, inwardly counting up to ten to collect himself, then looked back up. "I don't want us to part like this. I don't want it to be over like...this, I...I'm sorry," he finally managed.

"What for?" she challenged him with her eyes, folding her arms on her chest.

"For," the blond faltered, "for what I said about you and...Angel. God, I hate him," he muttered.

The Slayer allowed herself a small grin. "Something tells me he doesn't exactly think highly of you either. And I accept."

Riley shot her a look, then licked his dry lips, smirking. "No, I suppose, being in his place, vampire or not, I wouldn't like me a lot either."

Buffy giggled to herself in recognition, then her face became solemn again, when she looked back up at her ex-boyfriend. "I need you to understand that...that it wasn't his fault," she held his gaze as she was saying that. "If it was anyone's fault, it was mine."

"Or mine, if to take into account the fact I fell for someone I never really had a chance with," he observed bitterly, then leveled his eyes with hers. "You never told me about him...when we just began...you never told me you loved him so much. With time...I realized. I would have been a real idiot if I missed something so obvious, but...you never made it a fact. And as long as you never said the words, I could still believe..."

"Riley," Buffy put her hand on his arm, "I'm sorry."

He nodded, as if accepting her apology. "Just...can I ask you something?"

Buffy nodded as well.

"What can he give you that I can't? What does he have that I don't?"

Her face lit in a smile, as she peered at the man in front of her. "It will snow tonight," she said, her tone just a bit above whisper, raising her eyes to the heavens.

The commando didn't grasp what she meant by that. "What?" he eyed her like she were crazy. "Buffy, we're in California, in case you forgot that, what does this have to do with..."

Buffy giggled at his flabbergasted mien. When she looked at him again, she beamed. "It snowed for him, last Christmas," she said, the look in her eyes mirroring her thoughts, and it was so full of love, Riley knew he wasn't in them. "And tonight," she peered at the sky again, "it will snow for us."

"Why?" he asked the final question, and she knew he wasn't referring to the snow.

"Angel," she called his name, the second she lay her eyes on him. Her heart couldn't help skipping a beat at the memory of the last time she had found him, standing on the very same spot on that hill.

The vampire revolved to the sound of her voice, so soft and gentle, like it could only be with his name on her lips. He reached out his hand for her, followed with his trademark half-smile.

Buffy returned him a coy grin, and made a few hesitant steps forward, until she finally accepted his offered hand and was standing by his side. They both didn't utter a word for a few minutes, and were just standing there, holding hands and watching the town underneath. The night had already went down on Sunnydale, and the town was sparkling with millions of lights, constantly popping up in the blackness. The moon was hidden somewhere amid the heavy clouds, and a cool breeze was the only indication to that it was really Christmas.

"I knew I'd find you here," Buffy was the first to speak up, breaking the silence, but her eyes never turned to the vampire standing next to her.

He didn't look at her either, instead, kept staring straight ahead. "I knew you would," he said, "that's why I came here. Buffy," he averted his eyes from Sunnydale, to her, and put his hands on her shoulders.

"Angel, wait," she interrupted him, reposing her palm on his lips. "Let me go first, I...I have a promise to keep."

"What promise?" he eyed her strangely.

Buffy beamed, taking his hands. "I love you," she whispered. Then, suddenly, her sparkling orbs dimmed with sadness, and she sniffled, momentarily averting her gaze. "And I'm so sorry," she added softly.

"What about?" Angel asked, his concerned eyes searching hers for an answer, as he gently propped her chin up with his index finger.

"I'm sorry I forgot," the blonde said inaudibly, as a tear made its way down her cheek. "I'm sorry you gave me everything...and that you loved me...and that I didn't even remember," she peered him deep in the eyes, "and I'm so sorry that I didn't keep my promise," she sobbed.

Angel pulled her to him, crushing her small body to his chest, gently holding her in the safety of his arms. He had a lot of explaining ahead of him, and he wasn't quite sure he was wholeheartedly ready to relive that day all over again, even if it was for her. Still, he knew owed her that much, after... "I'm sorry I made this decision for both of us," he confessed.

"I'm sorry too," she pulled back, her eyes roaming the earth instead of his, as she took his hands again. "But I would have done the same thing, had I been in your place," she bit her lip, then looked back up at him. "Angel?"

"Yeah?" he released one of his hands from hers to tuck stray tress behind her ear.

"I didn't like what I saw," she said gravely.

"Me neither," he shook his head.

"And I want to fix it," Buffy went on, making sure to hold his gaze the entire time. "I want for this Christmas to be a beginning...for a different kind of future. I don't care how we make it, and I don't care what sacrifices it requires, because I know it is and will require a lot. But I don't care. Our future without those sacrifices," she averted her eyes for a beat, "it's not something I wanna experience. We never had it the easy way, Angel, and...we probably never will, but..."

She never finished her sentence, because that moment, he pulled her hard against him and wrapped his arms tightly around her, sealing her lips with a kiss. The Slayer let go of his hand, and snaked her arms around his neck, urging his head down and rising on her tiptoes to deepen the kiss.

"Angel! Angel, look," Buffy pulled back first, but still remained in his arms, as they both lifted their eyes to the sky. "It's snowing!" she laughed, and jumped on him, fastening her arms around his neck.

"I knew it would snow," she said, grinning, tracing his face with tender fingertips. "It's our Christmas miracle."

Angel beamed, embracing her to him. "Merry Christmas, my love," he whispered, finding her lips again in a soft kiss.