The phone rang as Faith and Joyce were standing on the front porch, watching impossible snow fall from the sky. Faith could tell by the way Joyce jumped and dashed to answer on the first ring, forgetting all about the goddamn miracle right in front of her, that she hadn’t been enjoying her Christmas.
Well, Faith hadn’t been enjoying hers either. She’d been ditched by Buffy for her vampire honey (again), hadn’t gotten to do any of the ass-kicking, and was stuck babysitting dear ol’ Mom to boot. They’d picked at Joyce’s fancy (made-lovingly-for-Buffy) Christmas dinner and watched old movies as they waited for the all-clear from B. Joyce finally fell asleep in the wee hours, cuddled up in her fluffy mom robe on the couch. Faith had watched her face in the twinkling light from the tree, trying, just for a little while, to pretend this white-bread Christmas with all the trappings was hers.
It didn’t work, though. It just made her feel as crappy as the gifts she’d brought with her.
She stared at the glittering flakes for a few more moments before heading inside the house. She wanted the scoop, and — even more urgently — permission to blow the joint. She wasn’t one to be impressed by a little snow. It would just be so much gray sludge in the ditches by tomorrow, anyway.
“That was Buffy,” Joyce said.
Faith raised her eyebrows, letting the “duh” stay unspoken.
“She says the crisis has passed. She’s with Angel now and she’ll be home soon.”
“So I’m free to go?”
Joyce’s face fell a little. “I’m sorry, Faith. This can’t have been the Christmas you had in mind.”
“Naw, it was nice. I didn’t mean it like that,” Faith backtracked quickly. “Just tired, I guess.”
Joyce gave her a tight, I’m-not-buying-it smile but didn’t argue. Faith looked around to see if she’d left any of her stuff behind. As if she was the type of person to have a prissy little purse like the ones B carried around.
“What do you think of Angel?” Joyce asked suddenly, and Faith turned back to her, surprised. “Buffy says he’s good again, but he seems so…” Joyce shook her head. “You’re a slayer, like Buffy. Is it…normal for you girls to be attracted to…well, to vampires?”
Faith huffed out a breath. “Honestly? I think it’s pretty fu—uh, messed up. I think B would be better off sticking to the living.”
Joyce sighed. “You seem so sensible about these things, Faith. You must be a good influence on Buffy.”
Faith nearly choked. She was saved from having to figure out a response by Joyce’s offer of a place to crash.
“It’s so cold out,” Joyce said. “You could sleep away the morning here and go home when it’s had a chance to warm up.”
Faith declined as politely as she could.
“You should at least take one of Buffy’s coats,” Joyce said firmly. “She’s got about a million of them.” She rolled her eyes a little, but Faith could feel the love softening the gesture.
Faith let herself imagine it for a second, sinking into one of Buffy’s coats, smelling Buffy all around her, almost like feeling B’s arms around her.
“No thanks,” she said gruffly. “I’m from Boston, remember? This is nothin’ for me.”
It took about three blocks for Faith to start wishing she had the coat, though she never would have taken it.
The jacket she had on was thin. She actually thought she’d been kind of stupid for wearing it when she left her motel room the night before. It had been so warm. But it made her look a little more dressed up, and she’d needed another layer between Buffy and her stupid, piney heart. Especially when Buffy’d opened the door wearing those velvety red spaghetti straps and aimed the softest of smiles Faith’s way.
But then Buffy rushed off, leaving any chance of a different kind of Christmas melting in her wake. But whatever. Faith was pretty sure all this Christmas stuff was fake anyway. Even this damn snow with its lumpy drifts looked fake as hell.
The kids were starting to discover it, though. As she walked, she saw lights winking on here and there, more excited people stepping onto porches. There was only one other person walking like her, straight ahead, with purpose, not gawping or letting the ankle-deep snow slow her down.
The girl was the only one really dressed for the weather, too, wearing a big fur coat and hat, and an impressive pair of knee-high boots. As Faith closed in, she saw the girl was wearing leather gloves and perfect chestnut curls.
“Cordelia,” she said, in a sudden moment of recognition.
Cordelia whirled around, her face furious. “Shhh!” she hissed.
“Whoa. OK.” Faith gave her a confused look. “Are you off your meds?”
“Oh, like you have any room to talk,” Cordelia shot back in a stage whisper. She started walking through the snow again, and for some reason, Faith hurried to keep pace.
“I’m not supposed to be here,” Cordelia said grudgingly. “I was driving home from my grandma’s when the roads got too bad. Her car doesn’t have four-wheel drive. But I need to get to my house before anybody sees me.”
“So you’re what? On the run from the cops?” Faith couldn’t help smiling a bit.
Cordelia looked at her witheringly. “I should be in Aspen, skiing.”
“And why aren’t you?”
“Ugh…come on.” Cordelia was closing her butter-soft glove over one of Faith’s hands and making her run for it. It wasn’t easy to maneuver through the snow and they were both burning-lung gasping by the time they stopped.
“What the hell?” Faith said between breaths. They were still holding hands. Their eyes caught and Faith felt a little flicker of…something. They both pulled back quickly.
“I thought I saw a light go on at Aphrodisia Kingsbury’s house,” Cordelia panted. “She would just love to have more dirt on me.”
“Dirt like you enjoy Christmas morning walks through the snow?”
“No, dirt like my dad’s being investigated by the IRS.” For a moment, Cordelia looked surprised by her own words. Then her face clouded over. “Promise you won’t say anything.”
"Who the hell am I going to tell? I’m not exactly tight with the stuck-up airheads who follow you around.”
“What about Buffy?” Cordelia said skeptically.
Faith grimaced. “She can keep secrets from me, I can keep secrets from her.”
Cordelia didn’t respond, but she seemed to accept it. When they’d walked a little farther, caught their breath, she said quietly, “We found out when we got to the airport. All our assets have been frozen. We can’t travel until this whole mistake is cleared up.”
“Mistake?” Faith scoffed.
“What do you know about it?” Cordelia said accusingly. “And why are you still playing me and my shadow anyway?”
Faith pointed to the sky. “No sun. I’m pretty sure the vamps are going to consider this an all-you-can-eat sundae bar. You shouldn’t walk home alone.”
“My personal experience has been that having a slayer around leads to way more problems than it solves.”
“Well, merry Christmas to you, too,” Faith said bitingly, and started to walk away.
“Faith!” Cordelia hissed. When Faith stopped, she added, “I guess I wouldn’t mind.”
Ugh. Now she was stuck. If Queen Bitch got herself bitten by a vampire, Faith might have to feel guilty or something, now that she’d pointed out the risk. They started moving through the snow together again.
“You’d understand if Buffy had ruined your life,” Cordelia said by way of non-apology. “What’s the deal with you and Buffy anyway?”
Faith shrugged. “There’s no deal. We’re both slayers. We slay.”
“Oh, right,” Cordelia said. “I’ve seen the way you look at her. Buffy might be blind, but I’m not.”
“Yeah?” Faith said. “What about you and Xander?”
Cordelia’s nose turned up. “Do not mention that cretin’s name to me again.”
Faith knew she had zeroed in on her target. She wasn’t giving up that easily. “OK. What about you and Z?”
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “You mean me and X?”
“What about him?”
“Well, just answer one question. Did you ever have sex with the guy?”
“Not everything is all about sex,” Cordelia said. “Not that I expect you to understand that.”
“Fine. He could at least get you all hot and bothered, though, right? Or did you find yourself imagining someone else?” Faith waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
“Please.” Cordelia snorted, the white plume of breath feathering out around her face like a halo. “If I did have a taste in girls, and I’m not saying I do, it would not be trailer park chic.”
“Chic?” Faith echoed with amusement. She found her eyes flicking to the lipsticky sweetness of Cordelia’s mouth.
“Don’t get too excited. The emphasis was on trailer and park.”
Faith grinned. “Well, when your family has to move into one, you can call me up for some fashion tips.”
Cordelia tilted her chin and gave Faith a small, sarcastic smile in return.
They walked a little in silence. “You’ve gotta be cold,” Cordelia said eventually from her pile of fur.
And Faith was cold. She was fucking freezing, actually. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as a Boston winter, but she didn’t have a fisherman’s sweater and a heavy woolen coat to keep out the chill. Not that she’d ever had those things. But a few months in California had already made her soft.
“I’m OK,” she said. “Wouldn’t want you to go out and skin a bunch of animals for me.”
“It’s vintage,” Cordelia said, brushing snow from her shoulders. “My grandmother wore it back when animals didn’t have rights. And anyway, if you were a dead animal, wouldn’t you be happy to know that you could live on looking gorgeous and keeping me warm?”
Faith could only chuckle in disbelief. Who even was this chick? And why was she so annoyingly attractive?
“I probably have something itchy and wool at home that you could have,” Cordelia sniffed.
“Hey, I’m not some charity case. I got my own money. If I need a coat, I’ll get one myself.”
“Jeez, lighten up,” Cordelia said. “It’s not like I’d give you something designer.”
Faith barked out a laugh. “Wow. Good luck being poor.”
“Do you have to keep bringing that up? This whole thing could just blow over.”
“Yeah, that’s usually how it goes. Parents are all good, upstanding citizens who want the best for you,” Faith said. “Let me know if Daddy ends up in the slammer. Then we’ll have something in common.”
Cordelia pressed her lips together tightly and didn’t say anything.
Another silence stretched as they crunched along over the weird, lumpy drifts.
“Do they know?” Cordelia asked quietly. “Buffy and Giles?”
Faith shook her head. “No one asks. They just assume I can take care of myself. Because I can.”
“I’m sure I can, too. Doesn’t mean I want to.” Cordelia’s voice was kinder than Faith had ever heard it.
They were at her house now, nearing the grand entrance. Faith tried hard not to be impressed.
“Do you want to come in, get warmed up?” Cordelia asked grudgingly.
“Nah. The sooner I leave, the sooner I get back to my lukewarm bed.”
“Thanks, I guess. For the walk.”
Faith shrugged, started to turn.
“Hey, Faith?” Cordelia said and Faith turned back around. Cordelia gestured above her head, to where a clump of leaves was hanging. Faith was trying to figure out what it was when she was startled by Cordelia’s lips against hers. Mistletoe. This was another thing Faith had thought was pretty much fake, but Cordelia’s kiss was achingly real. She tasted like summer, and for a single moment, Faith was warm down to her toes.
Then Cordelia was pulling away. Faith caught just a hint of a smug little grin before Cordelia turned and pushed the door open. “Add that to your list of things to never tell a living soul,” she said as she crossed the threshold.
“Right back atcha,” Faith answered, but she was smiling.
Maybe there was such a thing as a merry little Christmas after all.