Aurelia wandered through the Sunnydale shopping district. In the window of an audio/video store a TV was tuned to the weather. She stopped for a second to listen. "It's going to be sunny and warm with temperatures continuing in the high 70s throughout the holiday weekend. Just a little warm to light the Yule log, but it should make for a very nice Christmas." Aurelia rolled her eyes. It should be snowing. She missed snow. Somewhere down the block was a group of carolers singing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen". She passed a Santa Claus ringing a bell and collecting for the Salvation Army.
Aurelia stopped short when she ran into Cassius. "Hi." Cassius said.
Aurelia smiled. "There you are. We were supposed to meet an hour ago."
Her smile widened slightly. "You know I can't stay mad at you. But where were you?"
"I was…. Sleeping." She stared at him incredulously. "I know. I was just…. Exhausted."
"Are you ok?"
Cassius smiled, not wanting to worry her. "Yes. I've been watching over you."
"I got some Christmas gifts for everyone from both of us. We'd better go before the magic store closes." Aurelia noticed his sudden distraction. "Cassius?" She looked behind herself and saw nothing, then turned her concerned attention back to him. "What is it?"
He seemed frozen with fear until she put her hand on his arm. He startled and looked down at her. "I'm sorry."
"Nothing." Her eyebrow raised. "Really, love. It's nothing. Please don't worry. The magic shop?" He smiled and started walking.
The bell rang at the high school and students began to pour out of the classrooms into the halls. Aurelia, Willow, and Xander came out of one and headed over to the girls' lockers. "He swore there was nothing wrong the rest of the night. It was so strange. So very unlike him."
"Angel? Strange? What are the odds?" Xander said.
Willow slapped his arm and looked at Aurelia. "Do you think something's wrong? Maybe you should tell Giles."
"No. I don't want to bother Giles. He's so busy working out whatever's coming that he doesn't have time for much else these days."
"Maybe Angel just has the holiday blues. Everybody gets 'em. Especially when they're alone."
"It's just so frustrating!"
Xander led them into the student lounge where a Christmas tree was set up. "So, you doing anything special?" He asked.
"Big dinner with mom, Cassius, and I…. and hopefully an excess of gifts." Aurelia looked at Willow. "What are you doing for Christmas?"
"Being Jewish. Remember, people? Not everybody worships Santa." Willow said.
"I just meant for vacation."
"Nothing fun. Oz and I had planned…. but I guess that's off."
Aurelia gave Willow a sad smile and took her bag over to the Holiday Food Drive collection box. Cordelia was sitting on one of the couches in the lounge with a friend and Xander was instantly nervous as he and Willow sat on the other couch opposite Cordelia. "Well, I'll be enjoying my annual Christmas Eve camp-out." Xander said to Aurelia behind him. "See, I take my sleeping bag outside and I go to sleep on the grass." Cordelia and her friend stood up. Her friend stepped over to the stairs and waited, while Cordelia hung around to add her point of view.
"Sounds fun." Willow said.
"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 snapped.
"Yes. And that was a confidence I was hoping you would share with everyone." Xander snapped back.
"Well, I'll be in Aspen. Skiing. With actual snow. It must be a drag to be stuck here in Sweatydale, but I'm thinking of you. Ok, I'm done." Cordelia left wearing a shark smile, well-satisfied with her results.
"She certainly has reverted to form." Aurelia said, walking up to join her friends.
"It's not her fault." Willow said. "After what happened, we gotta cut her some slack."
"That's the Christmas spirit." Xander said.
"Hello, still Jewish. Chanukah spirit, I believe that was? Anyway, forgiveness is pretty much a big theme with me this year, 'cause of the…." She stopped when she saw Oz come up to the group.
Oz glanced over at Xander, who was suddenly quite uncomfortable before turning his attention to Willow. "Hey."
"Hey." Willow said.
"Can we talk?"
"Of course!" Willow jumped up, casting a look at Aurelia. Aurelia smiled brightly at her best friend.
Aurelia and her mother walked through a Christmas tree lot trying to find the right one. Off to one side, the tree merchant was spraying fake snow onto a tree. Joyce looked over one of the snowed trees. "Do you wanna get one with snow on it? Be very Christmasy." She said.
"I think those are just for display." Aurelia said.
"Oh. You know, honey, I was thinking. Maybe we should invite Faith to spend Christmas Eve with us, too."
"I don't know. Faith and I don't really…. hang out. Or talk or make eye contact lately."
"Do you really wanna let her spend Christmas Eve all by herself in that dingy little motel room?"
"I'll ask her."
"You're a doll."
"What about Giles? I mean, he doesn't have any fam…."
"No, I'm sure he's fine."
"We could at least ask him and see…."
"He doesn't wanna spend Christmas Eve with a bunch of girls."
"Let's split up." Joyce walked off to her right leaving Aurelia to stare after her.
Aurelia sighed and continued looking. She noticed an area where a bunch of the trees were all brown and walked over to them for a closer look. Behind her, the tree merchant came up to her. "Bunch of them up and died on us. Don't know why. If you want one, I can make you a hell of a deal."
"No, thank you."
"Oh, honey, this one's perfect!" Joyce called from a little ways away.
Aurelia was sleeping soundly in her bed that night when she started to dream. Only it didn't feel like a dream, it felt more like a memory that she was watching from someone else's point of view. She was standing in the middle of a party with the guests all around her dressed in the formal clothing styles of the early 1800s. She heard a familiar voice from the stairway and went over to investigate.
"Please, don't…." Margaret begged. Aurelia gasped. This had been the first time that Angelus had found her. She had been Margaret Surrey.
"Aurelia, there's no hurry. Don't you remember the last time?" Angelus crooned.
"You killed me once, isn't that enough for you?"
"You belong to me, Aurelia. You always have."
"You're not him. You're not him. You're not him."
"It's still not convincing, my love."
"You're not him. You're not him. You're not him."
"Come now, Lizzy. I've been searching for you for such a long time. Can't you at least be a little happy to see me?"
"You're hurting me!"
"Ah! Cry out. Call for help. I'm sure your Mistress will believe your behavior beyond reproach." He tsked at her. "How far you've fallen since the last time I saw you. A Duchess and now…. A maid."
"Come, make a scene for me, huh?"
"No." Margaret was sobbing quietly now.
"I just don't like this body you're in. I'm hoping the next one will be good enough for me to finally turn you." He grabbed her roughly and drank her dry before letting her body collapse to the floor. When he looked up, he was shocked to see a witness to his deed: Aurelia. She stared back at him, also in shock.
Aurelia awoke with a startled twist of her head and stared into the darkness of her room, surprised and confused.
"You had a dream about Angel." Giles said, looking at a concerned Aurelia. They were in his office at the library.
"I was in his dream."
"I'm not sure that's…."
"Giles, it was Angel's past…. It was one of my former lives…. He was dreaming it and somehow I got pulled in." Aurelia sighed. "There's something wrong with him."
"I know. I've seen him. He wanted to know why he was back."
"It's got to have something to do with the End of Days."
"Uh, possibly. I-I've been looking."
"Well, let me look, too."
Xander walked into the office. "Where do we start?" He got surprised looks from Giles and Aurelia. "Look, I'm aware I haven't been the mostest best friend to you when it comes to the whole Angel thing, and, um, I don't know, maybe I finally got the Chanukah spirit."
"Well, we start, not surprisingly, with research." Giles said, standing up and going to a small bookcase. "Xander, um, the Black Chronicles. And, uh, Aurelia, the diary of Lucious Temple, an acolyte of Acathla, expert on demons. You can skip the passages on his garden unless you're keen on growing heartier beets."
"Are you sure this is how you want to spend your Christmas vacation?" Aurelia asked Xander as they walked out into the main area.
"Yeah, this is actually the most exciting thing I've got planned." Xander said. "Who else can claim that pathetic a social life?"
"Hey, guys. What are we doing?" Willow asked, standing just inside the doors.
A few hours later, Willow and Aurelia were at the center table doing research. Giles dropped off a few more books for them to look through. There was a whiteboard behind them with all of their notes and theories about the End of Days and the prophecy about Aurelia and Cassius and about Acathla's hell dimension. Xander arrived with a pizza and dropped it on the table. Everyone stopped what they were doing and started eating. Once they were full, they went back to researching. Xander disappeared up into the stacks and Aurelia and Willow began talking.
"He's gonna come over on Christmas Eve 'cause my parents are out of town. We're gonna watch videos." Willow was saying.
"That's good. You guys are back."
"It's good. It's perfect. In an awkward, uncomfortable sort of way. I just don't know how to make Oz trust me."
"Xander has a piece of you that Oz just can't touch. Now it's just about showing Oz that he comes first."
"I guess. Thanks. Hey, he likes beets."
"I read that one already." Aurelia sighed and shut her book. "We're not getting any closer." She stood up and went up into the stacks of books. She found one to read and sat down. Eventually her eyes began to droop and she laid down to sleep for a little while. The sleep turned into another shared dream. This time, Aurelia was lying in her bed at home and she slowly opened her eyes. Cassius was sitting at her side, looking down at her, waiting for her to awaken. He reached for her hand with his and they touched fingertips briefly before intertwining their fingers and clasping hands.
She sat up and he gently pulled her to him. Aurelia sat on his lap with her legs circling around his waist. They began kissing passionately, holding each other as closely as possible and caressing each other tenderly. Aurelia tugged at Cassius's shirt and he helped her pull it up and off, baring his chest. He slid his hands up her ribs and slipped the satin pajama top from her shoulders. They held each other tightly as they kissed longer and more intensely.
They ended up lying in bed together, making gentle passionate love. Cassius changed positions and rolled on top of her, the muscles of his back flexing under his tattoo. They caressed each other for several moments. Cassius tenderly kissed Aurelia where her neck joined her shoulder and he slid his hand up and along her outstretched arm, reaching and clasping her hand as they continued making love.
Suddenly, over Cassius's shoulder, Aurelia saw an eyeless priest, sightlessly observing them from where he was standing at her door. There were several sudden flashes of light that slightly disoriented Aurelia. Cassius removed his hands from their tender clasp and then, as a thunderclap was heard, he grabbed Aurelia's wrists hard, forcibly pinning her down to the bed. He rose over her and transformed into his vampire guise, biting her savagely on the neck.
Aurelia woke in startled shock, breathing hard. She looked around her and realized she was still in the library. Giles called her name from the main area and she jumped up, walking out of the stacks and down the stairs.
"Here, Aurelia. Take a look." Giles went to the table with a pile of very old and worn sheets of paper. "These letters contain references to a, a, an ancient power known as The First."
"Evil. Absolute evil, older than man, than demons. It could have had the power to bring Cassius back and begin the End of Days."
"These men," Aurelia picked up one of the letters with sketches of the eyeless priest from her dream. "I saw them in my dream. I fell asleep up there."
"You had another dream? With Cassius?" Aurelia nodded. "What happened?"
"We don't need to get sidetracked. Who are these men?"
"Um, they're known as the, uh, as the Bringers o-o-or Harbingers. They're high priests of The First. They, uh, they can conjure spirit manifestations and set them on people, influence them, haunt them."
"These are the guys working bad magics on Cassius?"
Xander came out from behind the counter. "We gotta stop them."
"Y-you can't fight The First, Aurelia." Giles said. "It's not a-a physical being."
"Well, I-I can fight these priests." Aurelia countered.
"If we can find them."
"How about we check with that bartender?" Xander asked. "The one that helped deliver you and Angel to Spike that one time. He seems to know a lot."