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Merry Christmas, Mr. Bloody by Dutchbuffy2305

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Summary: Christmas 2004; a sequel to my other Christmas stories with Spike

Categories: Post-Series Characters: Buffy, Spike
Genres: Action/Adventure, Romance
Warnings: Violence
Challenges: None
Series: Merry Christmas Spike Series
Chapters: 2 Completed: Yes
Word count: 12,841 Read: 64
Published: November 17, 2006 Updated: November 17, 2006

Chapter 1 by Dutchbuffy2305

The rain cuts his face with knives and swords, blinding him, distorting all sound and making his clothes so wet they drag at him like lead. Spike wipes his face with his sleeve but that makes the world turn a transparent red and he sees even less.

"Angel!" he bellows. "Blue! Charlie! You still there?"

There is no answer but the drumming sound of the relentless, driving rain. He cries out in anger and grief.

"Bastards!"

Then there's a blast of warm air and abruptly everything around him is shrouded in hot white mist. After the bitterly cold onslaught of the rain, it's like a smile against his face, and he runs forward, sword in hand. This is an intervention of the gods, granted to give him a chance to revenge his fallen friends.

He runs straight into the big grin the dragon has ready for him. Without further ado, its enormous teeth, bigger than his legs, bite him in two with a wet scrunching sound. A giant purple tongue catches the cartwheeling legs in mid flight, and Spike, hanging face down from the hot sulfurous mouth, has ample time to see them being perfunctorily chewed and swallowed. May his boots and jeans give the bloody beast indigestion, he thinks.

There's screaming pain, and actual screaming, and a lack of pain where his legs were, but his mind is remarkably clear. What will eventually kill him? Will a dragon's tooth pierce his heart, or will he slowly dissolve in the acid juices within the dragon's stomach? He really is Pinocchio, trapped in a giant animal, as he tumbles down the giant esophagus, pummeled and shaken by the heaving walls, stinging saliva raining down on him.

There's no flash of light as he dies. He gets snuffed out slowly, like a candle that's been capped within a glass. Bloody hell, he should have tried harder with Buffy, he thinks and gutters out.

There are dancing orange flames, but there is no pain. Occasionally a little blue flame shoots up, and then subsides with a crackle and a pop. It's strangely peaceful for Hell, Spike thinks, the ever-changing hues of the fire soothing him with crimsons and searing yellows.

Slowly he realizes he still has a body. And that it's sitting in a big, overstuffed chair in front of a merrily roaring fire. He smells chestnuts and mulled wine and another scent he has some trouble placing, until he moves his head to sniff it better. Then the source of the green, tart odor lashes him in the face with its prickly green needles.

Spike frees his hair from the pine tree and focuses his eyes. In the other chair on the opposite side of the fire, a fat man sits twinkling at him. It takes a minute or two to identify the apple cheeks, the white beard and the brilliant red clothing. Ah.

"I see you're back with us, lad," Father Christmas booms and lifts his own mug of steaming spice wine in greeting. "Took some doin', I don't mind telling you. You were utterly convinced you were dead. Stubborn fellow, you are!"

Spike moves every muscle in his body to check if he's really there. He looks down and sees familiar old jeans, his boots, his duster.

"What about the dragon, then?" he asks. "It didn't kill me?"

"Course it did, lad. But there were wishes floating around concerning you and so here you are, back for another try."

"Another try at what?" Spike says belligerently. "And where are my friends? Not going anywhere without them."

Father Christmas makes a sad face as best he can with his natural disadvantages in that direction.

"Sorry, old son, not on. Just you."

The loneliness of that is huge, but Spike decides to feel fine, just fine. Father Christmas holds out a tumbler full of amber liquid. When Spike sniffs it suspiciously all he smells is aged malt whiskey. He downs it in one gulp and settles deeper into his chair as the alcohol relaxes his muscles. The chair feels solid against his back, a perfect place to huddle in waiting to get used to yet another new life.

"So whaddya plannin' on doing with me? Wrap me up and deposit me under a Christmas tree?"

Father Christmas beams at him. "Well put, young man, well put. Exactly what I had in mind. Except perhaps wrapping you would be pointless."

"Under whose tree?" Spike asks suspiciously.

He knows under whose tree he'd like to be unwrapped and gobbled up, but he's learnt not to want her too much.

"Need you ask? " Father Christmas says. "Now who have we been talking about these past two Christmases? 'T wasn't your mum, now, was it?"

The memories in Spike's head unzip and lie down for him to examine in their full glory. How he helped Father Christmas - no, Santa, he thinks, putting on his American brain - in Sunnydale, and as a reward got a glimpse of a possible future life with Buffy. How he helped Santa in LA, and got a telephone call from Buffy in Rome.

"Never remembered I did so many good deeds", he mumbles truculently. "And, no offense mate, but so far bally all of your so-called visions of the future have come true. And Buffy never called me a second time, either."

Father Christmas tusks reprovingly. "Lad, you must have faith. Me powers aren't what they once were, but I did what I could, and you've been doing what you could. Getting a soul was a big step, wasn't it? What's it like - having a soul, if you don't mind me asking?"

"Haven't you got one?" Spike asks.

Father Christmas shakes his head. "I'm a poor remnant of who I once was, All-Father no more, but one thing I've never done, and that's succumbing to the new god. He took away me name and power, and hung himself upon a cross instead of upside down on the world tree, and I don't bear a grudge, but really, a soul? Never."

"Didn't help me as much as I thought," Spike admits. "But I've gotten used to it now."

Father Christmas gets up laboriously and twitches the plush scarlet curtain aside to have a look at the impenetrable darkness outside. "Nearly moonrise, I think," he says. "I'll loan you one of my suits for the trip. Wouldn't do to have you frozen like an ice pop, would it? Although I'm thinking you wouldn't mind her licking you all over." He winks.

"You talk like that to the kiddies, do you?" Spike says.

The old god just smiles. Spike can't yet muster up a lot of belief in what's going to happen. Half his mind is still on the recent battle, although, now that he thinks of it, it must have been more than half a year ago.

"What's the date, anyway?"

Santa rolls his eyes. "Thor wept. Did I not reconstitute enough braincells? 24th of December, what else?"

"The battle was in May. Where was I all that time in between?"

"Can't really say, lad. I'd have said you'd be carousing in Walhalla with your mates, but if you're not having a memory of it?"

Spike doesn't have memories like that, more's the pity. He would actually rather be in Walhalla right now, drinking with Angel and Blue and Gunn, because being Buffy's Christmas present doesn't have the appeal it once had. Not that he doesn't love her anymore, but how long is it since he saw her, held her in his arms? And what would she do with him, anyway? He couldn't bear to be the target of her patient, long-suffering looks once more. That penitent, groveling Spike is no more. Paid his dues, hasn't he?

Father Christmas emits an ear splitting whistle and a gigantic smelly beast comes ambling out of a hitherto non-existent corner of Father Christmas's wooden house, grey green stuff trailing out its wide, loose-lipped mouth. The antlers brush the ceiling. Which is low, granted, as Father Christmas is not a very tall man, even though he makes up for it in girth. Spike eyes Rudolf's neck with interest. He's never had reindeer blood. Rudolf bares his big yellow teeth and waves a threatening hoof.

"Hey, just looking!" Spike protests. "I would never."

"Grmph," the reindeer says.

"Rudolf. Suit up, boy, we're leaving in five," Father Christmas says.

Rudolf moos in assent and takes himself off outside. Father Christmas eyes Spike critically.

"Might I change my mind and wrap you anyway? The black's not very cheery or Christmassy."

"No," Spike says.

Father Christmas cocks his head. "Pretty please?"

"No."

"Well, alright then. One bow?"

"Santa!" Spike says, but the old man's sausage fingers are already busy tying a shiny bow around his upper arm, red and silver. His apple cheeks shine so proudly at Spike when he's done that Spike hasn't the heart to rip it off.

Father Christmas opens a closet and hands Spike a voluminous red jacket, hat, trousers and boots. They're all more than roomy enough to accommodate several Spikes and smell of cinnamon and apple pie. Father Christmas hefts a big sack over his shoulder and steps outside. Spike can't seem to get a good view of that sack. It shrinks and grows every time it moves. He might almost believe the presents for all the children in the world are in there. 'Course that can't be true.

Spike follows Father Christmas outside and when he feels the air temperature he's happy he doesn't need to breathe. Inhaling air that cold would be like swallowing needles. The sky overhead is dark blue, spangled with more stars than he's seen in years. He likes stars, but LA and Sunnydale were too polluted, and in Africa he was feeling too miserable to enjoy them.

On all sides, snowfields stretch away into infinity, oddly blue under the starlight. A big arc light flips on and illuminates the snow in a smooth silver highway straight from the horizon to his feet, casting him a tenuous pitch-black shadow. The moon.

Rudolf makes his snorting reindeer sounds and Spike wakes up part-way from his dreamy staring and climbs aboard the sleigh that has been standing in front of him for some time. Father Christmas tries to make room for him but it's a tight fit. Spike makes himself as small as he can in his roomy Father Christmas-suit and this fits perfectly with his mental state. This isn't real. He can't seem to wake up out of the vague, hazy feeling that this is a dream. He was ready to die, again, and he'd been good with it. He'd chosen to die for a good cause and he was done. Now he's sitting next to a happily chuckling Father Christmas, riding high above the world in a sled made of - he checks - children's bones? Rudolf's form is wavering between jolly reindeer and scarily pale eight-legged horse, flames in his sockets instead of eyes. Spike wants to pinch himself but can't manage to whip up enough initiative to execute that tiny plan.

The man in the moon waves at them, comets pause in their zany flight to stare. Oh, yeah, he's awake, sure he is. Below him a pointy mountain range comes into view. A high-heeled boot below it is sticking out of it into the wine-dark sea. A brightly lit city swerves dizzily around beneath the sleigh.

"Have yourself a good time, boyo," Father Christmas bellows suddenly and Spike feels Santa's size 17 boot shove him out of the sleigh and down he goes, falling like a star.

He lands softly, unnaturally so, on a heap of crackly boxes. The warmth of the room stifles him immediately and he blinks hard, once, twice.

Many eyes stare back at him. He knows the owners of the eyes intimately, except one of them. Strangely enough, they stare straight at his crotch instead of his face. He checks it confusedly and realizes he's naked. The icy cold of the polar night has left his tackle in less than impressive condition. God rot Santa's sense of humor.

"Santa!" he bellows.

Spike feels leather and jeans slither back into being around him and he relaxes. That's better. He composes his face and sucks in his cheeks.

"Merry Christmas," he drawls and reclines in the heap of presents under the gaudily lit Christmas tree. His eyes take in the stunned occupants of the room, studiously avoiding looking at anyone in particular. He doesn't look at her.

"Spike!" Dawn squeaks.

It's hard to tell if it's a welcoming squeak or a hostile one. From the corner of his eye, he sees something hurtling towards him and he braces himself for the impact.

"Spike!" Andrew sobs. "You're alive. Again. Nothing keeps you down, nothing."

Spike pats the sobbing boy's back. Andrew's spiffily attired in an almost perfectly fitting black smoking jacket. Over Andrew's shoulder, he catches Buffy's stunned look and hastily slides past the gathering storm in her eyes.

"Spike, long time no see!" Xander says and peels Andrew off him, for which he feels a second of gratitude. Gratitude slips and slides with a yell into astonishment as Xander envelops him in a bear hug of his own. Checked flannel abrades his face and he has seconds to realize that Xander hasn't shaved and has had a lot of wine recently.

"Huh?"

Spike has the feeling his mouth is hanging open and his eyes are bugging out but he resists the urge to check this with his hands. He's cool, dammit. He can do graceful resurrection; he's had practice.

Xander recedes and Willow clasps him in a soft girly hug. His face is full of flyaway red hair and that astonishment thing just won't go away. The Scoobies? Hugging him? What happened? Is this an alternative reality? Still a dream, he suspects. What else could it be?

When Poison is replaced by Old Spice, he knows this is a dream. He's pressed into a tweedy shoulder and his back is slapped.

"Spike, old man, never thought I'd be happy to see you!" Giles says and Spike feels it right along with him. Last time they met the old man had been trying to have him killed. What the hell is going on here?

Dawn steps up, shy and bold at the same time, and he can't help raking his eyes over her very Italian party dress. She's stunning, not in the way of a pretty teenager but like a beautiful young woman. Whoa. She taps Giles' shoulder and says, "May I cut in?"

Giles releases him and is there a tear in his eyes?

Spike would like to hug Dawn, because it's been years since he did that, but the memory of her anger stops him. In fact, she hardly had breasts when he did it last and was shorter than he was. Partly it's the heels of course, 4-inch lethal spikes, but still. Dawn hugs him instead, and she smells so sweet that he could almost die right now. Has she forgiven him? He doesn't give a rat's arse for the Scoobies and Andrew always looked up to him anyway, but Dawn. His best friend, his own little sister.

Dawn doesn't say anything and neither does he. He just basks. He mentally sends up an apology to Father Christmas. If this is a dream, it's an A-class top rated one. He'd like the tape.

Dawn melts away and that leaves just Buffy to greet. Spike's been aware of the pencil-mustachioed wanker standing by her side all the time and refuses to think about why Santa would introduce that part into his dreams, but he can't just ignore him.

He nods at the Immortal and holds out his hand to Buffy. She hesitates for a moment, her face oddly confused and shy. She's blindingly beautiful in a golden silk dress, shimmering with gold all over, her softly tanned skin, her jewelry, her highlights. She looks both younger than he last remembers her and more adult. A mature, poised woman, who's dating the unnatural boyfriend with confidence. At least he can tell himself he had some part in allowing that woman to come into being.

"Spike..." Buffy says.

"Buffy," he answers inanely.

"Merry Christmas," she says softly and gives him a smile, wider than the Buffybot's and brighter than the sun.

He'll just die again right now, thank you. He's never ever had that smile before. Should he hug her? He's scared to touch her perfection, the dress, her upswept hair, her brilliant lip-gloss. She puts her little hands on his shoulders and stands on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. At least she hasn't grown four inches in the meantime.

Spike wishes he could focus, but he can't. He knows he's staring like a loon, downing eggnog and rum punch and Italian red, answering the jokes and the stories mechanically. The Scoobies rally around him, make him a part of the evening, but he's not really there yet. And what about the others? Nobody has asked him where he just came from. Do they think it's normal, dead former mates just dropping stark naked from the sky? Maybe they do. Maybe they don't even know he's been resurrected before. God knows what Andrew felt he should or shouldn't have told them.

They keep coming up to talk to him, dropping him hints in hushed voices about something he cannot fathom at all. Later, they say. We'll clue you in, soon. Buffy seems to avoid him, or it could be her fucking immortal boyfriend hovering around her, always touching her somewhere with his great big hairy paws.

Xander's been in Africa, he hears. Rounding up Slayers. He looks tan and skinny and happy. Willow is sans girlfriend, and has acquired a shiny layer of Latin chic and sexiness that is almost scary. Dawn...where to begin? So grown up. He just knows she's no longer a virgin and on the one hand, he thinks, good for her, and on the other hand he has the urge to brick her up in a monastery until she's thirty. It makes him realize that on some level he thinks of her as his daughter, and that's just...weird. He'll never have kids, of course, so maybe it fills a deep need that he was never even aware of.

Xander materializes at his elbow, right where he's staring down at the swirling galaxy that is the Roman nightscape and hands him another cognac.

Xander squeezes his upper arm. "What do you think, huh? Isn't he obnoxious?" he whispers. "I mean, the apartment, this food, the way he keeps touching Buffy. Like she's his personal Barbie doll."

Spike becomes fractionally more alert. This isn't Buffy's apartment? He takes in the waxed wooden floors, the priceless antiques and silk carpets, the art. An incredibly elegant mixture of the hyper modern and the tastefully ancient, but both definitely opulent. Still, he doesn't quite see what's wrong with opulence. Buffy deserves some lavish spoiling, in his opinion.

"Wha-huh?" is all that leaves his mouth, and Xander wanders off, vaguely disappointed.

"Later, Spike, later."

Right. He's now so drunk that he's almost lucid again.

He's utterly befuddled, not all of it due to drink, so when he finds himself talking to Buffy, alone in a bedroom of ballroom proportions, he can't quite remember how he came to be here.

"Spike," Buffy begins earnestly.

"Buffy," he says to her.

What should he say next? He can't grasp the essential thing that's missing here.

"Merry Christmas," he tries, and her face falls.

He's doing it wrong again. No big surprise there.

She walks up close to him and grabs a few folds of his T-shirt. "Spike. I meant it. But it's been almost two years. So."

Spike stares at her stupidly. He wants to punch a hole through the fog that seems to surround his brain. Now what does she expect of him?

With no transition, they're kissing. Her shoulder blades flutter beneath his hands like little trapped birds, but against this chest she's softer than she was that last year, and her lips taste of a new brand of lipstick and chocolate. They twirl around the room; it's a waltz, her tongue slides over his in an invitation older than words, thrilling him to the marrow of his bones. His hands grip harder of their own volition, he wants more, closer, his tongue searches for an evanescent taste in her mouth, the fifth taste, not salt or sour or sweet or sharp, but the taste of love, and he had it just a moment ago.

They break apart, chests heaving, and he's been breathing again, something that she always makes him do.

Her fists rain ineffectual little blows on his chest. "Spike! Say something. What does this mean to you?"

His tongue is bereft without its companion and cannot form words. He stares at her, dumbly, unable to comply.

Spike's in a cab. Everybody is stuffed in there, like candied fruit in alcohol, giddy and drunk and making about as much sense as pickled pears. Rome floats by in a haze of lights and Spike wants to hold on to something to keep his head from spinning. It's Buffy he holds on to and again she looks at him like that, wanting something from him he doesn't know how to give. Her eyes are almost black in the car's interior, and starlight speckles in them every time they pass lit shop windows or gas stations.

Spike searches for the Immortal. He's not in the car.

"We're going home, Spike," Buffy says, apparently grasping some of his befuddlement. Home. That word is too deep and empty to keep him anchored and he falls into the black well of its meaning.

Spike wakes up in white light so intense that he thinks he's in heaven. The throb of a hangover, and the edge of searing pain the light causes on his hands disabuse him of this notion rapidly. He's unusually alert, alarmingly so, and realizes he's in someone's bedroom, on the floor. Stretching and eye-rubbing rouse him even more and now he's so alert and chipper he could bounce up against the ceiling. And there are three other people in there. Large, male, snoring people. It's Rupert Giles, Xander Harris and Andrew whatsislastname in here with him. Father Christmas dropped him under Buffy's - no worse, the Immortal's Christmas tree like a bloody package and then he made a giant ass of himself in there. With Buffy. Who tried to get through to him but couldn't. Bugger.

He's naked again. Did Father Christmas's clothes disappear again or did one of his old enemies drop them in the wash? That same someone put a pair of jeans and a plain white T-shirt next to his bed. Socks, even. Very thoughtful. Must have been Andrew. He gathers up the clothes and creeps out of the room, leaving the sleeping men to their alcohol-induced haze.

Spike locates the bathroom and becomes almost human under the shower. He's not only washing away last night's revels but also the chilly memory of the cold rain he died in. He dresses and decides to go look for a newspaper, to get himself more in line with the real world and real time. If he sees it in print, smells the ink, hears the crackle of the paper, it might help his emotions realize that it's over, in another country, and besides, the gang is dead.

He passes a bedroom with two softly beating hearts, and the next door is the kitchen. Coffee would be nice and he‘s starting to feel pretty damn hungry. He'll have to wait till sundown to get some blood and it's been a while since he's had to be that frugal.

When he steps into the kitchen he finds out he's miscalculated where the third girl's heart would be. She's sitting there brooding over a cup of coffee, hair ablaze in weak December sunshine, gloriously gold in spite of its sleep-tousled state. She'd clearly been going to the best hair colorists in Rome, Spike thinks sourly. Must be nice having a rich boyfriend. Buffy looks up to him and the green in her eyes is pale and thoughtful.

"Morning, Spike," she says and gets up matter-of-factly to close the blinds.

Spike floods with a spate of love so pure and forceful it might have brought him to his knees if he hadn't grabbed the doorpost in time. She treats him like a man, a man she respects and likes. This is how it ended between them, calm, spare, considerate. Polite. No, you don't, but thanks for saying it.

"Good morning, Buffy," he says.

It's hard. He doesn't want polite and respectful anymore, it's not enough. It never was, but then he was feeling so small that he accepted it as his due. He wants passion and fire, all-consuming love, like they once had, but served up in a different style, not out of white cardboard, but off porcelain and silver, not disgust but trust.

"Is there any of that coffee left?"

"Sure," Buffy smiles at him, gets out a mug, and serves him his coffee. She's remembered to put in three sugars, and that small token of friendship nearly unmans him again. Would she like it if he fell down at her feet right now and sobbed in her lap? He thinks not and bottles it up inside.

"How's that resurrection thing going for you?" she asks, and he takes his cue from her as if he never left off doing that.

"Dunno what was worse, being eaten by a dragon or Father - Santa Claus wanting to wrap me up like a Christmas present. Sleigh rides really take it out on a bloke."

Buffy smiles. "Sleigh rides, huh? Bells ringing and the whole works?"

Spike nods. "Whole works. So how's your life been? Being a normal girl didn't quite take, huh?"

Buffy's hair falls forward and hides her face. "Guess not. Guess you can take the girl out of Sunnydale, but you can't take Sunnydale out of the girl, and I don't mean that in a fashion sense."

"God, no. You look amazing," Spike says. "Very sophisticated and European."

He gets a quick flash of pleased smile.

"So," he prods, "Sunnydale? Inside you?"

"Not like that...I slayed there for a long time, and I always said I hated it and I wanted the normal life. But I tried that here for about three months and then I got so bored...I even started helping Dawn with her homework, and she gave me an ultimatum. That she was going to boarding school if I didn't stop being Stepford Buffy and got back to Slaying. I guess she was right..."

"Nibblet's really something, but then she always was," Spike says.

"Oh yeah. So now I teach Slaying, I slay a coupla nights a week, act as a mentor for the girls that Xander and Willow send over here...I like it."

And you have a new supernatural boyfriend, Spike aches to say, but doesn't.

"You look happy. And gorgeous? Did I mention gorgeous? Glowing."

"Thanks. You don't look so bad yourself. I like the new color." She indicates his white T-shirt. "Very symbolic."

"Andrew's doing, actually." Spike says.

They smile at each other. Spike's ribs cramp painfully around the empty space where his heart is. Shut up, heart, this is fine. She's happy.

They sip their coffee in peaceful silence. Spike gets part of Buffy's paper by doing nothing more than a raised eyebrow and a tilt of his head. Too bad they're not playing footsie under the table or this would be one of his fondest dreams. He shouldn't hanker after what he was never meant to have. This is great, it really is, they can just be comfortable and friendly together. He should keep his eyes off her breasts, clearly unbound beneath the thin pajama top, or off her small, capable hands, and not think of what those little hands used to do to him. That's a long time ago, he reminds himself.

But this is what he would have wanted. Him and Buffy sharing a peaceful moment in a sunny kitchen. But not in a suburban kind of way. In his dreams, the peace would only be so enjoyable because they'd have a night of danger and fighting behind their belts, topped up with a dessert of raw passion; a whole different vibe. Italian politics blur before his eyes and a small sigh escapes him.

A warm hand lands lightly on his big cold one. "Spike? Are you...?"

"Good morning!" a loud voice blusters and Xander bumbles in, yawning and scratching and looking kind of blurry. Maybe it's Spike's eyes, but maybe that's just the morning after look. He winks at Spike, which is disconcerting. Maybe it's just a tic.

"Good to see you two together," he beams. "Like the good old days, huh?"

Spike meets Buffy's eyes. Good old days? Not so much. There never were moments like these. When they were finally comfortable with one another, there wasn't enough peace or quiet, what with the house full of Potentials and doom knocking impatiently on the door every five minutes.

The kitchen fills quickly with boisterous, happy people, friends who haven't seen each other in a long time and who have a lot to talk about. They do cover a lot of ground, Spike notes. It's as if they haven't seen each other since Sunnydale. Odd, that.

Buffy busies herself making more coffee, and to Spike's surprise Xander sits down next to him, closer to Spike than he's ever gotten.

"How are you doing, champ? You two looked mighty cozy just now!" Xander whispers into his shoulder and Spike remembers the wink earlier.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Spike says irritably, not bothering to keep his voice down.

"Shh!" Xander says. "Don't wanna give the game away, do we?"

"What game?"

Buffy returns with coffee and more mugs and Xander enacts a complete pantomime performance of nudges, winks and exaggerated looks at the clock. Or maybe at Dawn, Spike can't tell. It annoys him, all this pretended good buddy-ness. They never were buddies and at most, at the very last, tolerated each other. Xander doesn't have the right to act as if he's Fred or Gunn. Spike has people now who really are his friends. Well, he had. The bitterness of their loss hits him anew and the coffee and companionship turn to ashes in his mouth. He can't take this another minute.

"Buffy," he begins awkwardly. "I want to apologize for dropping in on you like that-"

"Get that? He dropped in on us, literally!" Andrew crows.

"- but I won't impose on your hospitality much longer. If I can just use your phone, I'll book a flight for this evening and I'll be gone."

Buffy looks stricken but doesn't say anything.

"Leaving again, Spike?" Dawn snips.

"Not so much leaving as, you know, going away after a nice Christmas visit?" Spike tries, but the look on Buffy's face doesn't lighten.

Xander elbows him none too gently.

"You're spoiling it!" Xander hisses. "And you were doing so well!"

"Come on, Spike," Willow chimes in, "Stay a little longer! It could be a long Christmas visit! We're all visiting Buffy and we've had so much fun!"

"Yes, indeed," Giles says, "the Immortal took us in his car to see the Coliseum!"

"Immy keeps asking me to go dancing," Dawn says, with a look at Buffy Spike can't fathom.

Immy? Spike shivers inwardly but tries to stand fast on his intention to leave.

"The Immortal gave me many valuable clothing hints," Xander says, again with the winking.

"He doesn't think my lesbianism has to be a permanent condition," Willow says, her face completely straight.

Spike's confused. It's as if they're mocking Buffy's boyfriend, right in her face. She wouldn't take that anymore, he hopes, now that she's all upfront about loving the undead. But her face is white and set and she ignores the babble that suddenly bursts open all around her. She starts stacking mugs and bowls in the dishwasher with her back to the group.

The group takes this opportunity to turn to Spike as one and make urgent faces at him. Spike fails to get what they're in a lather about.

"What?" he mimes, infected by their silly secrecy.

Are they planning a surprise for Buffy or something? A party?

"Spike, I would like your opinion on these demons we've been encountering. May I show you some drawings in musty ancient manuscripts?" Giles says, and motions with his head to the door.

Well, all right, he'll play along. "Sure, Rupert, sure. Show me your collection of demon engravings, why not?"

Xander and Rupert each take one of his arms and he's almost carried off. What the hell?

Willow sends him a parting wink and turns to Buffy. "Hey, Buffy, why don't we go and get some more of that lovely cake we had yesterday? I could use a little fresh air."

Xander and Giles hustle Spike back to the bedroom he slept in.

"What is wrong with you people? Winking and nudging? The hell?" Spike says, well on his way to cranky now, what with an empty stomach, a hangover, and meeting his ex-girlfriend. Oh, yeah, not to mention another unexpected resurrection. Next time, he'd like to be let in on the plan.

They both round on him with eager eyes.

"And? How are you doing? Any progress?"

"What are you wankers going on about? What progress?" Spike says, baffled.

"With Buffy," Xander says, with as much emphasis as the schoolteacher to the slow child. "You looked real cozy together."

"None of your business, I'd say. You going to chew my arse of over that? Not to worry, there's nothing between Buff and me. No need to swing axes. I'm not even on the radar," Spike says bitterly.

The earnest Scooby faces fall comically.

"That's - that's too bad, Spike. We thought our wish had been granted so you could get rid of that awful Immy guy and we'd have our Buffy back, and not this air-headed Paris clone."

"Paris?"

Spike has now officially lost all hold on reality.

"You - you two, the greatest Spike-haters in recorded history want me to lure Buffy away from her boyfriend?"

They nod eagerly, glad that he's catching on.

Spike explodes. "Are you out of your sodding minds? Haven't you done enough damage to Buffy? The girl has done everything she could to net some approval from you sanctimonious, whinging lot for seven years. Why can't you leave her alone? Leave off judging her! She's a grown woman and she'll decide who she dates!"

"Thank you, Spike," Buffy's voice says dryly from behind him. "But I think I'm also grown up enough to defend myself against busybodies if need be. Us girls are gonna do some shopping; can I bring you some blood? Cow, sheep or pig?"

"Otter, if they have it," Spike says absently. "Otherwise, some of each."

Buffy has managed to dress in those few minutes she was out of his sight and is resplendent in pale golden suede and watermelon cashmere. No more somber blacks for her, he sees. Her eyes sparkle and her lips shine. She looks like the healthiest girl alive.

She looks the men over and they all cringe and shuffle like schoolboys.

"Don't let me keep you from discussing my fascinating love life," she says lightly and is off with a wave and a smile. "Later!"

Spike dies a little when she leaves and he turns reluctantly back to Xander and Giles.

"Spike, no matter what she says, this guy is the worst boyfriend she's ever had. We all hate him. We'd do anything to get her away from him," says Xander.

"Yeah, right, you're even going so far as to conscript me, the next-most hated boyfriend on your list," Spike says. "I wonder why that isn't making me deliriously happy?"

Giles has the grace to look faintly guilty, while Xander shrugs his plaid shoulders.

"Spike, that was then and this is now. I'm over it, why don't you move on? Buffy needs to slay, and she needs someone keep to her company. She needs someone to make her happy. She has...needs," Xander says.

"Your opinion of my happyfying powers overwhelms me. Don't you guys know the Immortal's reputation as a god in the sack? For centuries? I doubt even I could keep up with him."

Xander looks disappointed. "There's the slaying together. The Immortal doesn't slay. And she loves you, we all know that. Even if you're a needle-dick also-ran in the bedroom, love matters."

Spike's eyes cross over the also-ran remark, and if he's totally honest also over the needle dick. He knows he's got something pretty impressive in his trousers, but looking like you've got a needle dick - even if it's a slander committed by zero degree temperatures and a prankster ex-god -- is as bad as actually having one.

His mouth is opening to slay Xander with some well-chosen words when the other thing Harris said penetrates his soggy brain.

"Loves me? Don't think so. If a girl loves a bloke, stands to reason she doesn't take up with another fellow, doesn't it?"

Xander waves this away. "Aw, hell, Spike, she thought you were dead. Don't play hard to get. I know you're gagging for it."

Spike doesn't normally have a lot of trust in Xander's powers of mind reading, but this time he just happens to be right.

"Right then," he says reluctantly. "You silly buggers made a wish and you got me, dumped off Santa's sleigh like a bloody box of chocolates. And you're complaining you didn't get the right kind of filling? Now what? I do hope there's a brilliant plan?"

Giles gets out the inevitable spectacles. No plan, then.

"C'mon, you could, like, invite her for a nice romantic patrol. Don't show her the sights, though, Immy dear has done that plenty of times." Xander mimics a gagging notion.

"Why exactly do you hate the bugger? What's he done to you?"

"Well, he's rich, and has the cars and the disgusting lifestyle of the rich and famous kind of thing. And the sightseeing."

Spike raises a brow in Giles' direction. "Strong arguments, Harris. What about you, Rupert?"

"I have to concur with Xander and say that it's nothing tangible. But I'm worried nevertheless. Something tells me he's up to no good with Buffy," Giles says.

"Like what?" says Spike. "I hate his guts too, but if he makes Buffy happy...she looks happy."

"That's just make-up," Dawn says, poking her head in for a second, attractively clad in down and fur. "Really expensive make-up. You should see what she looks like in the morning."

"Yeah?" Spike says, skeptically. "You in on this, Nibblet?"

"We all are, Spike," Dawn says quietly. "She's just not Buffy any more, and it's scary. Just check out the pencil moustache. Nobody with a mustache like that can ever be trusted,"

This is so much like his dreams of Scooby come-uppance and acceptance that Spike just can't take this seriously. He scratches his head. "People, I think you're talking through your necks. Still, inviting Buffy for a patrol can't do any harm. I'll do that."

"So you're staying?" Dawn says. "Whee! Will you take me for a moped ride around the Coliseum? Like in Roman Holiday?"

Spike doesn't answer and her face falls.

"Okay, I get it; you'd rather do that with Buffy, huh? Fair enough. I'll just take Immy up on his invite then."

Does everybody here know exactly how he feels? Does everybody know he's just a sappy hopeless romantic, and not a cool evil vampire at all? What happened to the whole mysterious black-clad hunk of the night thing? Oh, wait, that wasn't him.

"Dawn!" he implores her.

"Kidding, just kidding. As if!" Dawn rolls her eyes. "The man's like hundreds of years old. Gross squared."

"Hey!" Spike says, mildly stung.

"Gotta run. We're taking Andrew. Buffy's suggestion. Ciao!" And she's off.

"Here's a thought, Spike," Giles says, " Your latest death was another heroic event, wasn't it? We could draw you out over it, when the girls get back. You'd appear reluctant at first, but then willing to talk. It would make you look gallant in her eyes."

"Don't have to pretend to be a hero, you berk," Spike grouses. "I am one."

Xander looks him over thoughtfully. "The white T-shirt is a good move. Maybe we should get you a white hat, too. Hey, I know! You have to get her a gift. Girls love that."

"Well, generally when I'm resurrected, I tend to arrive utterly broke," Spike says, but Xander and Rupert are too obsessed with their ridiculous plan to notice the sarcasm.

‘What would she like, Spike? Chocolates, lingerie, flowers?"

"Buffy likes weapons," Spike says, reluctant but drawn to the idea of giving her a gift despite himself. "A nice stake? Does she still use crossbows? Oh, I know. Pryce used to have this nifty little stake-throwing device, straps on your arms. Worked like a charm. She'd like that."

"Excellent! ‘Immoral' would never think of that. Give old Wesley a call and maybe he can Fed-Ex one of these gizmos over," Xander says. "Oops. I mean - sorry Spike. Forgot for a moment what happened."

Spike freezes. They know nothing. They know that all his mates are dead but haven't bothered to ask the hows or whys. Even Spike can only imagine what happened to them; buried under the pit of rubble that is LA, he supposes. That's it. He's not gonna play along with their ridiculous games.

 


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