Steam rose in a steady stream from the yellow novelty mug. Faith wrapped her hands around the warm ceramic and leaned against the edge of the counter. The soft glow of the single bulb above the stove illuminated the small kitchen, chasing away the dark of night. Glancing out of the window, Faith noticed that it was snowing again.
It had been five years since the dark slayer had had a white Christmas, five years since she’d had any Christmas. She hadn’t planned on Christmas, especially Christmas in Cleveland, but Xander had insisted she go with him.
Living in LA, being so far away from his family, had taken a toll on him. He had been so excited to have the opportunity to spend the holidays with his closest friends that somehow Faith had been swept right along.
Faith smiled at the thought of her blossoming friendship with Xander. While Willow and Giles rebuilt the Watcher’s Council and a school for the new slayers in England, and Buffy and Dawn started a new life for themselves in Cleveland, Faith and Xander had found themselves adrift.
But they had found each other, too.
She couldn’t really remember when they had become so close, it just seemed like over the first few months after the fall of Sunnydale they always ended up together, cracking jokes or sharing a beer.
These thoughts, among many others, were what brought Faith to the kitchen in the first place. Not being able to find sleep, she had found herself wandering the unfamiliar house, listening to its unfamiliar hush of voices and footsteps and creaks and groans.
Upstairs, Buffy rolled over in bed, wondering why her clock read five AM, and why she was awake at such an ungodly hour. Pulling the covers up over her shoulders, Buffy tried to ignore the traitorous clock, but a noise downstairs roused her from the warmth and comfort of her bed.
The blonde slayer tread softly on the stairs, avoiding every creaky spot with practiced skill. The logical part of her brain told her that it was probably just one of her many houseguests. The slightly less rational part of her brain, however, won the argument and convinced Buffy that there could be an intruder in her home.
A scaly, mucus-y, horned demon intruder!
Grabbing a poker from the side of the fireplace, Buffy made her stealthy way to the kitchen door. She pushed the door open as quietly as she could, and heaved her poker above her head, ready to strike. She raised her gaze to meet the intruder head on, only to be met with big, brown eyes and a smirk she had hated since she was seventeen years old.
“Mornin’, B.” Faith greeted, slowly stirring a mug of steaming liquid. “You want some cocoa to go with your… poker?”
Buffy just glared, too tired and annoyed to come up with a witty reply. Faith’s smirk transformed into a genuine smile as she handed Buffy her mug of chocolate-y goodness.
Buffy accepted the offering with just a hint of confusion, and watched as Faith turned to the illuminated stove, heating the kettle on one of the front burners. The two slayers remained silent as Faith made herself another mug of hot cocoa, each lost in their own thoughts.
“How did this make it through so many apocalypses?” Buffy wondered aloud, studying her mug intently. “I mean, of all the things to save, why the ‘Kiss the Librarian’ mug?”
Not expecting a reply from the other slayer, Buffy continued her musings. “And what are you doing drinking out of it, anyway? It’s, like, Stupid o’clock on Christmas Eve.”
“Whatsa matter, B? You worried Santa won’t come down the chimney and burn his ass in your fireplace if we’re not all tucked away?” Faith teased, sitting down at the table across from the blonde. Faith frowned as a sudden look of sadness crossed Buffy’s face. “Hey, what’d I say?”
Buffy shook her head, smiling sadly at the flare of pain in her chest. “Nothing.” The remembrance of family members that weren’t with them this Christmas made her pause for a moment to embrace a memory. “Just… did you know that Santa is real?”
“You’re shitting me. No way!” Faith exclaimed softly, her eyebrows shooting up into her hairline.
“Yup,” Buffy nodded, matter-of-factly. “According to Anya, he’s been around since the 1500s, flying around with the reindeer and everything.”
Faith’s eyes darted to the ceiling and then to the open kitchen door, obviously trying to get a glimpse of the fireplace from her seat. “No way….” She repeated, slightly awed at the idea of Jolly Olde St. Nick coming to bestow gifts upon her.
“I know, huh? Except, you know, he doesn’t bring the presents so much as the disembowelment, but hey!” Buffy grinned behind her yellow mug as Faith’s disbelieving eyes swung back in her direction.
“See? I knew you were shittin’ me,” the dark slayer retorted, quirking an eyebrow. Buffy just smiled, knowing she would believe Anya’s tale for the rest of her life.
She watched as Faith stood, stretching one hand over her head as she clutched her mug with the other. Faith sighed as a series of pops echoed from her shoulder into the quiet of the room.
“You wanna find a more comfortable seating arrangement?” Buffy asked suddenly, joining Faith in standing.
Faith brought her arm back down, shrugging lightly in response to the question. She followed the other woman out of the kitchen and into the living room, waiting to sit as Buffy plugged in the lights decorating the Christmas tree in the corner.
Buffy settled herself onto the couch, her stocking feet tucked under her and her hands lightly gripping the mug of warm cocoa in her lap. Faith sat down a little more cautiously, taking her time to tuck one foot under the opposite leg, keeping the other foot firmly planted on the ground. She rested her own mug on the back of the couch, her fingers lightly curled around the handle as she gazed at the colorful lights.
Buffy turned her gaze from the snow softly falling outside the window, to witness Faith in the soft glow. She noticed that Faith had cut her hair, the dark curls tumbling just to her shoulders. A light spray of freckles that Buffy had never noticed before stretched out across the bridge of Faith’s nose, making her look younger, innocent. Buffy watched, fascinated, as a slow smile crept across the brunette’s lips.
“I ever tell ya ‘bout my favorite Christmas?” Faith asked, quietly, her smile lighting up her dark eyes. Buffy shook her head, curiosity causing her own smile to sneak up.
“No? Ahh, it’s a good one,” Faith said, glancing across the couch and locking eyes with her sister slayer for a brief moment. “See, I had been invited to this house, where this chick I wasn’t too sure about lived with her mom.”
Faith looked down at her hands, but kept talking in a hushed voice. “Now, her mom? Wicked awesome lady, she was. I wasn’t expecting any presents or nothin’, but she gave me some of the best ones I ever got. Gave me some nog, a seat at the dinner table, a place to crash for the night….”
Faith trailed off as her eyes found Buffy’s full of unshed tears. “I – I’m sorry. B, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to---.”
“I – I have to… excuse me,” Buffy mumbled as she stood from the couch, cocoa forgotten as she retreated. Reacting as quickly as she could, Faith reached out a hand, catching Buffy’s forearm in a tight grip. Buffy allowed herself to be pulled back to the couch.
“I’m so sorry, B. I – I didn’t think…. Your mom was a good lady, you know? I just wanted you to know that.” Faith let out a sigh of relief as Buffy sat heavily onto the cushion next to her. She closed her eyes, trying to calm the wild desperation she felt in admitting her feelings to the woman sitting beside her.
“Thank you,” Buffy whispered, her voice wavering slightly as tears slipped silently down her cheeks. Faith turned slightly to rest her now-cold mug of cocoa on the windowsill. Her hand then tentatively reached out, patting Buffy’s arm in an attempt at comfort. Her mouth opened to speak, but she couldn’t think of any words to say that would make it better for either of them.
Buffy’s shoulders began to shake. A bolt of panic shot through Faith, unsure of how to proceed if the blonde slayer started to openly sob. The giggling, however, alleviated that panic, as Faith realized that Buffy wasn’t crying anymore.
“Hey,” she whined, furrowing her brow, “what’s so funny, huh, B?”
“I’m sorry, I just – I was waiting for you to say something lame, like ‘there, there’ to go along with your little arm pat.” Buffy snorted out, attempting to stifle her laughter and failing miserably.
“Hey! What was I supposed to do, huh?!” Faith exclaimed, feigning offense. Buffy’s laughter was infectious, and Faith found herself chuckling right along with the other slayer.
As the laughter died down, the Chosen Two timidly settled against each other in comfortable silence. Faith’s arm wrapped around Buffy’s midsection, both women choosing to ignore the slight tremor in Faith’s hand.
“This is weird,” Buffy said softly, placing her own hand over the one on her belly and giving it a slight squeeze.
“What?” Faith asked just as softly, closing her eyes and leaning her head back against the cushions.
“That this doesn’t feel weird,” the blonde replied as she pushed her body further back into Faith’s arms. Faith smiled to herself and held on a little tighter to other woman.
The snow was still dusting the world outside as Buffy moved to rest her head against Faith’s chest. The strong heartbeat beneath skin and bone soothed her like never before.
“Merry Christmas, B,” Faith whispered, reveling in the feel of Buffy’s soft breath against her neck.
She opened her eyes to see the lightening sky through the window, the rising sun bathing the morning with a soft yellow glow through the clouds. She wasn’t sure, yet, but she had the feeling that this Christmas would be the start of a new beginning, with friends and family alike.
“Merry Christmas, Faith.”