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Stake The Halls

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As she sped through the clouds high above Sunnydale, the Slayer couldn’t help but wonder – where did Santa stop to use the bathroom?

She’d been needing to go for ages, but she couldn’t quite handle the idea of using the bathroom at one of the houses she’d visited. Breaking in was bad enough, but wandering through some innocent stranger’s house was just plain rude.

A massive yawn interrupted her train of thought and she squinted at the horizon. What time was it? It had been a long, looooong night. She’d been to every house, apartment and sketchy trailer park in Sunnydale, delivered a crazy huge amount of presents and eaten so many cookies there was a serious possibility she’d wake up looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow man. Totally worth it, though.

It wouldn’t be her first time this week waking up to a world of crazy. Still, when she’d gotten up that morning to find herself wearing a red, fur-lined mini dress, white boots and a santa hat, she hadn’t even thought to call Giles. She’d been surprised, of course, because it had been years since anyone had managed to sneak up on her while she was sleeping, but she’d just rolled her eyes, figuring it was Dawn or one of the guys pulling a Christmas prank.

Then she’d tried to take off the hat. For, like, ten minutes straight. Then the boots. Then the dress. Then the hat again.

The really weird part was that when she pulled, it didn’t drag on her hair. It was like the hat was glued to her head by some kind of force field or something. That was when she’d gotten all wigged out and grabbed the phone to call chez Giles.

She’d shown up on his doorstep in full festive attire, having tried in vain to put other clothes and jackets over the top. He’d been really nice about the whole thing. A couple of times she’d caught him smirking when he thought she wasn’t looking, but he’d never actually laughed to her face. It had taken Xander twenty minutes to stop cackling.

When the laughter died down, Giles and Will had hit the books. They found plenty of stuff about evil Father Christmases and demons punishing naughty children on the winter solstice, but nothing about stubborn Santa hats or magicked Mrs Claus outfits.

Then Giles had stumbled across some obscure reference in some obscure book to some obscure tradition called Saturnaliation. Saturnation. Saturnisation. Something. Whatever. He found the source and proceeded to blow their cynical, Scroogey minds.

“What do you mean, there’s an actual Santa? Like, actual actual? Because we’ve been through this before, with the disappointment and the ritual disembowelment.” Xander shuddered at the memory of having his childhood ruined and Anya stroked his arm in a silent apology. Willow piped up with a theory.

“Is it a wish fulfillment thing? Millions of children dream of Santa Claus and because they want it so badly they will it into existence? Like that?”

Giles frowned. “Almost. Not quite. No, actually, it’s nothing like that.”

Buffy pulled the large, yellowed book over from in front of Giles and scanned the page. She didn’t even see a letter she recognised, so she shoved it back.

“So you’re telling me good Santa is real. Ok, I’m willing to take that in my stride. I mean, I’m not exactly getting out the apocalypse contingency plan here. What does any of this have to do with my exciting new wardrobe choices?”

Xander snickered again and she glared at him. Giles sighed, removed his glasses and began to polish them. Recognising the signal, they all prepared themselves for a long explanation.

“You all know that the original Santa Claus was a Germanic demon from the sixteenth century who appeared on the winter solstice to punish disobedient children. Anya has been kind enough to share her own experiences with the creature with us.”

“Klaus.”

They all looked at her, puzzled and she shook her head, trying to explain. “You said ‘the creature’. He prefers to be called Klaus. I once knew a girl who called him Kiki, but that was an exception.” She thought for a second. “Well, I say ‘girl’…”

There was a brief pause while they all digested this information and Xander stared at her wonderingly, then Giles continued.

“Yes, well, there was a man in the seventeenth century, a very powerful sorcerer, who saw what the cr– Klaus – was doing and tried to destroy him. He failed, because the creature was too powerful to be slain. Instead, he cast a spell to act in balance to the Klaus, rewarding good children and altering the solstice from a time of fear into a celebration of family and generosity.”

“And delicious cookies!” Xander supplied.

“And cookies.”

Buffy sighed, understanding. “So this spell, every year it picks someone to be Santa for the day? Like, what? Running the toy factory? Delivering the presents? Playing with the elves?”

“Not quite. Flying the sleigh, delivering the presents, yes. You only have to do it for the town you live in, which is why we don’t all get mysterious Christmas presents every year. And it’s not just anyone who is chosen. The Saturnalian must be a force for good in the world. You should consider this a great honour, Buffy.”

She glanced down at her dress, looked back at him and raised her eyebrows.

“Point taken.”

Xander jumped in. “So, if this Father Christmas is a different person every year, why does everyone think he’s an old white guy? I mean, I’m sure Buffy would rock the do-gooder gift-giving thing, but she’s not exactly Jeff Bridges.”

“My guess is that one year the Saturnalian was an “old white guy”, as you put it, and he happened to make himself particularly visible.”

It was Willow’s turn to interrupt. “But why red coats and trees? Why not menorahs and dreidels, or kinaras and boubous?”

Buffy and Xander looked at her blankly. She sighed. “Kwanzaa?”

Xander nodded, getting it. “Like karate?”

Giles continued as if he hadn’t heard him. “The evil demon Klaus took on the attributes of the Germanic Yule celebration and the Saturnalian was created to be his opposite. That means they are different aspects of the same tradition, like two sides of the same coin.”

By this point Buffy had stopped listening. She was still stuck on the whole sleigh thing. Vampires, demons, werewolves? Sure. No problem. But she’d never actually flown before. Like, ever. Not even in a plane, let alone a magical sleigh pulled by… wait, would there be reindeer?

It turned out there were reindeer, as well as a gigantic sack full of gifts. Somehow she’d gone from ordinary (well…) girl to full-on Saint Nick in less than twenty-four hours. It was all very Tim Allen. Now she was stuck in a sleigh, hurtling through the freezing night in a furry mini dress. And it wasn’t exactly appropriate home invasion attire, either. She’d learnt the hard way that getting down a chimney in stilettos was no mean feat.

The sky began to lighten slightly. She sighed, reached down and pulled out the final present from the very bottom of the sack. Unlike the other gifts, which were colourful and cheerful, this one was wrapped in black with a simple silver bow. She looked for a tag, but there was nothing to show who the gift was meant for. For a minute she toyed with the idea that the present might be for her. Black was totally slayer-appropriate and didn’t she deserve something nice after all this hard work? Nothing big, just something from the universe to show that she was appreciated.

She could only pretend for a second. Giles had already explained that being chosen for this meant she wouldn’t be getting any presents herself. Something about “Giving being the greatest gift”. She couldn’t help telling him exactly what she’d give him if he didn’t quit it with the hallmark slogans.

Besides, if the last gift was hers then surely they’d be returning home, but they weren’t headed in that direction. As the sleigh went into a sharp downward descent, she risked a glance at the ground to see where on earth they were going. She squinted, trying to make out a familiar landmark amongst the grids of streets and electricity lines.

There! Was that the Bronze? Yes, and there was the park, so that must mean… Wait. That couldn’t be right. She’d been here already. She’d delivered presents to this part of town hours ago.

Leaning further over the edge, she peered at the ground as it rushed beneath her. Hang on… Now they were over the cemetery? Frowning, she tried to remember back to the beginning of the night. It was a crazy, hazy blur of candy canes, cookies and breaking and entering, but she definitely remembered delivering gifts to all the houses around here.

So why were they back? She gave the side of the sleigh a small kick, but the only effect that had was to send it spiraling gently down toward the cemetery. She rolled her eyes at the uncooperative reindeer and sat back in the plush seat, resigned to letting them take her wherever it wanted. She was just glad she didn’t have to drive. That had never really been her strong suit.

She settled back and set her mind to the question at hand. Where were they headed? She’d spent so many nights patrolling the graveyard, she knew it like the back of her hand. Nobody lived actually there. I mean, duh. Everyone in the cemetery was dead.

She froze. Or undead.

She closed her eyes and prayed that they weren’t going where she thought. No, no, no, no, no. Please. Anywhere but there.

But no matter how hard she willed the sleigh to turn around, it continued stubbornly on towards the dreaded, derelict crypt.

She grabbed on to the fur-lined railing that ran across the front of the sleigh and reached out to pet the back of the nearest reindeer. He turned his head back over his shoulder to look at her and made a quizzical noise.

“Hey there, Mr Reindeer.” She gave him a winning smile. “How’s it going? You’re doing a great job with this whole flying thing. Super speedy. The folks at the North Pole must be real proud.”

He blinked at her, deadpan. She tried again. “So, which one are you? Donner? Blitzen?”

She could have sworn the reindeer rolled his eyes before he turned back to face the front.

“No! Wait…” He glared at her, and she shrugged, sheepish. “I - I don’t suppose there’s any way we could skip this last stop? I mean, it’s been a long night and we’re all pretty tired. Well, you guys must be way more tired than I am. You’re been flying so far and pulling this big heavy sleigh all the way... I know how strong and clever and handsome you are, but it’s gotta take a toll, right? You know what I’m talking about.”

He clearly had no idea what she was talking about.

“So how about we just throw this last teensy weensy little present away and call it a night. Think of it like an early mark. Or, if you want, I can take it home with me and drop it off tomorrow. What do you say?”

The reindeer shook its head angrily and let out a loud grunting noise. Suddenly the others took it up too, throwing their heads, grunting and jerking the sleigh violently side to side.

She clung to the railing for dear life (ha, deer life!) until they settled down. Once things were a little more stable, she hopped back onto the big red seat and glared at the eight broad, hairy backs. “I’m going to take that as a ‘no’.”

She reached down to fish inside the sack. Unfortunately, the little black box was still sitting snugly inside. She’d been hoping it might have been tragically thrown overboard during the reindeer’s tantrum. No such luck.

She peered down into the darkness. They were close now. While she had been busy trying to charm Donner/Blitzen/whatever his name was, they had been hurtling rapidly on towards the cemetary.

Stupid reindeer with their stupid antlers and their stupid selfless duty.

The sleigh floated gently down into the cemetery and came to a rest on an open plot, beside a very familiar crypt.

Oh joy, she thought, this is going to be the bestest Christmas ever.

It was the work of minutes to force the door. She managed it quietly and was grateful that she didn’t have to try and squeeze down another chimney.

She opened it just a crack, then paused to listen for any signs of movement inside. Maybe he wasn’t home? After all, it was Christmas night and it wasn’t like he had any family or anyone to be with. He’d probably be out drinking.

As the stale crypt air washed out over her, she knew she was right. He’d definitely been drinking. The problem was, he’d been drinking here. Which meant he was probably still somewhere in the crypt.

There! On the couch she could see the edge of what looked like a pile of crumpled leather. It wasn’t moving, but she’d recognise that coat anywhere.

She edged her way inside, the much-lighter sack in her arms. Empty whisky bottles were strewn across the floor, but she didn’t want to take her eyes off the figure shrouded on the sofa, in case he woke up and she had to make a quick getaway. So it was no surprise that she accidentally kicked a bottle, nor that the noise it made as it skidded seemed deafening in the otherwise silent crypt. She winced, fighting the urge to make a break for it.

At the sound of the bottle the pile of leather flailed wildly, then fell off the couch with a loud thump. She dropped the sack and froze, waiting to see if he’d attack her. After all, she was breaking into his crypt.
Not that she hadn’t done that a thousand times before.

For a moment she heard nothing. Maybe he was still asleep? Ever so slowly, she began to shift backwards toward the sleigh, but the tiny bells that lined her sack jingled as she moved. At the sound, she heard a long moan from behind the couch. The pile of leather rumbled and got to its feet.

“Sod off! Do I have to tell you people every bloody Christmas? I don’t –”

He broke off as he caught sight of who was standing by the sleigh. He staggered forward a step and blinked twice, then a slow smile spread across his face. She tugged on the suddenly too-short hem of her skirt as his eyes roamed down her body.

“Slayer.” He smirked, clearly still completely drunk. “Well, ho ho ho.”

Her eyes shot stakes at him as she folded her arms. He didn’t take the hint.

“I must have been a very good boy this year.”

She rolled her eyes. “I was there, Spike. Trust me, you weren’t that good.”

He just raised his eyebrows, still grinning, not bothering to look up from his perusal of her outfit.

“Besides,” she said emphatically, “I’m pretty sure ogling Santa automatically puts you on the naughty list.” She grimaced as she realised what she’d said, but stood her ground.

“Guess I’ll have to be a bad boy, then. I like that better, anyway. Much more my style.”

He took a pointed, slightly unsteady step closer, eyes snaking up to where tufty white fur had been blown in all directions by the rush of the sleigh. Her glare deepened and she found herself wishing that there really had been a present in that sack for her. A long, sharp stake would be nice. Preferably one full of splinters.

“So what’s your style, Slayer?” A pause. Another step closer. “Nice… or naughty?”

He was so close now she could smell the reek of alcohol on his clothing.

This time she was the one to take a step closer, smiling coyly. “My style?”

He nodded appreciatively and she leaned in to whisper in his ear.

“I like it rough, Spike. Just… like… this…”

Then she had his arm and she was twisting it, spinning him around into a lock, pinning him to the floor with the stiletto point of her white knee-high boots. Finally, they’d come in handy.

He moaned, but it was the sound of a man who was going to have a nasty hangover in the morning, not a man who’d broken bones. She pressed harder.

“Alright! I get the point.” She stepped back and he clambered to his feet, rubbing the sore spot on his back. “Literally.”

He squinted at her, but it looked like his eyes were still having trouble focusing. “What’s got you so wound up? Where’s your Christmas spirit? Joy to the world and bloody falalalala.”

“I think you’ve had enough Christmas spirits for the both of us.”

“Oh, ha ha. What happened? Someone spit in your eggnog?”

“Can we not do this right now? I’m cold and tired, I’m stuck in this stupid outfit and I just want to get home to bed.”

“You need to get to bed, huh? Want some company? Need me to help you get your jingle bell rocks off?”

“There is no word strong enough to express how very, very much the answer to that question is no.”

“Well, you’re the one breaking into my crypt in the early hours, dressed like Sailor Christmas.”

“Shut up, Spike. It’s not like this was my idea.”

“Is that right?” He smirked broadly and she really, really wanted to slap him. “Did you tell them you weren’t going to do it?” She paused, thrown. “Did you ever even think about saying no?” Her silence was answer enough, and he laughed. “Well, aren’t we the white-hat? Can’t complain now. Practically volunteered for the job.”

She rolled her eyes again and said, “Can we just get this over with?”

She turned and walked back over to the sack, trying hard not to stomp. She retrieved the present, being very careful not to give him a view as she bent to reach it, then headed back to where he stood, swaying slightly and watching her.

She shoved it in his hands, grateful to be rid of it. For a long minute he stared at it as though he couldn’t quite believe it was there. It suddenly occurred to her what he must be thinking and she hastened to clarify.

“It’s not from me. It’s from, I don’t know… the universe, or something.” His expression of wonder didn’t change.

“What’s wrong? You look like you’ve been sucker-punched.”

He smiled at her then, and it was the smile of a little kid. Wondering, yes, but also exultant.

“I’ve never had a Christmas present before.”

Oh, now this was unfair. How was she supposed to keep being snarky when he was standing there so drunk and so vulnerable and happy?

“Never?”

“No, my mu- my family thought it was wrong, because there’s nothing about Christmas presents in the Bible. Then Dru and the others… well, they gave me Christmas dinner some years. Little kids, mostly. That was kind of Dru’s thing. She even put a ribbon on one of them, once, just to make me laugh.”

“I will give you everything I own if you stop telling me this story right now.”

He refused to let her spoil his wonder. “Still, it was nothing like this. This is a proper Christmas gift, in a box with wrapping and everything.”

“Yep, all shiny and pretty. I’m sure you’ll be very happy together. Now, if you don’t mind, I have reindeer to ride and presents to deliver.”

He looked up at her at last, sceptical. “Really? Because from where I’m standing this looked like the last present in that sack.”

She glared at him. “There could be another sack.”

“There isn’t, though, is there?”

She didn’t say anything, just looked at the floor. She certainly wasn’t expecting what he said next.

“Stay with me?”

Ho ho ho-ly crap, she thought. “Did you seriously just ask me that?”

“Yeah. Oh, no. I didn’t mean – no. It just… Look, I know this sounds like an after school special or something, but it feels more like a proper Christmas if there are people there with you to open your presents. My present! Ha!” He laughed so suddenly that she couldn’t help smiling a little. She managed to work her face back into a frown by the time he looked back up at her.

“Will you stay? Just until I open this?”

Just to save face, she rolled her eyes for the billionth time and said “Fine, Charlie Brown”, but deep down she was dying to know what was in that box. Spike’s very first Christmas present? Magically conjured by the universe to make him happy?

She thought about what it might be. A bag of blood? A DVD box-set of Passions? A how-to guide for Billy Idol impersonators?

She watched silently as he tugged on the ribbon. It came off the box in one piece and he winked and tossed it to her. She caught it and automatically reached up to tie it in her hair. After all, it was Christmas.

As she knotted the bow, he worked the lid off the box. When he saw what was inside, he froze, expressionless.

“Well?”

He glanced up quickly, looking at her like he’d forgotten she was there, then hastily shoved the lid back on the box.

“It’s nothing.”

“What do you mean, it’s nothing?” She couldn’t help but notice that he was clutching the box so tightly his knuckles had turned white.

“Empty. Guess it’s some kind of joke. Or maybe you’re right. Maybe I was bad this year. Still, beats a lump of coal, right?” He laughed nervously.

She took a step forward. “Spike, I felt that box before. I know it wasn’t empty.”

He looked stricken and thrust the box behind his back.

“You know, you really should be going. Like you said, you’re tired and you’ve got family waiting for you. You’re done for the night. You can get all de-Santa’d and hit the sack. No pun intended.”

He was talking way too fast now. She took another step forward, extending her hand, speaking softly.

“You asked me to stay, Spike. I stayed. Would you let me see what’s in the box?”

He met her eyes then and relented. Slowly he brought the box back round in front of him and held it out to her, never breaking away from her gaze. When she tried to take it he held on for a moment, reluctant to let go.

She opened the lid and looked down at the contents. It was a book. Okay, she hadn’t been expecting that.

The book was small and leather bound, its pages faded and yellow. She reached down and flipped open the front cover. In elaborate curling letters was inscribed the words “Property of William Pratt, 1876”. When she reached for the next page, she was gentler. Moving through the book, she realised it was filled with snatches and stanzas of poetry. Some of it was so faded that she could barely make it out, but here and there a phrase was clear.

‘My soul is wrapped in harsh repose…’

‘Raven coloured clothes…’

She frowned, trying to make out more, then realised she had been staring silently at the book for several minutes. She looked up to speak to Spike, but he was gone.

She closed the book carefully and slid the lid back over the box to protect it, then left the gift on the couch, where he’d be sure to see it.

She found him outside the crypt door, leaning back against the stonework and smoking.

“When was the last time you saw it?”

He exhaled, blowing a thick cloud of smoke into the thin, grey air. “A century, give or take.”

She didn’t say anything, but leaned back against the wall beside him, giving him a minute. Suddenly he turned to her, eyes urgent, fingers clutching the cigarette too tightly.

“What do you think this means? All these years – nothing – now this?” His hands were trembling, but whether it was from the nicotine or the shock, she didn’t know.

“I was… I was a different man back then. Even after I changed, there was still so much of who I was left. I kept writing, you know, for years after, but I guess eventually all that violence made me forget.”

He took another drag, but the cigarette was so crushed it barely worked. He threw it on the ground in disgust. “Is this some kind of joke? Is it a reminder? A message? Is it saying I’ve gone back to being that pathetic, mewling idiot? Are they mocking me?”

He punched the wall, but it was half-hearted. Exhausted, he leaned his head forward to touch the stone. She put her hand on top of his, pulling it from the wall. He looked at her wonderingly.

“Spike, it’s Christmas, so I’m going to say this. But if you ever tell anyone I said it, I’ll deny it and put a stake somewhere delicate. You got that?”

He nodded, perplexed.

“You’ve got this all wrong. I don’t think this gift is mocking you. I think it means that you’ve found something you lost a long time ago. Something precious. Something that used to be everything.”

She hesitated, wondering how much to say.

“You have changed. If you ask me, you’ve changed for the better. You’ve stopped acting like a monster and started living like a man.”

He stared at her for a long moment, blinking.

“Bloody hell, Summers. Did anybody ever tell you you make a great Santa?”

She smiled, relieved the worst had passed, and tilted her head to the side. “Did you ever doubt it?”

Her hand was still on his. He looked down at it, considering, and she held her breath. She could pull away now. She could crack a joke and leave and keep things the same. Keep things safe.

She didn’t move.

He looked up, a question in his eyes, but she couldn’t answer it.

He smiled a crooked smile, then leaned in and planted a soft kiss on her forehead.

“Merry Christmas, Buffy.”

It was barely a whisper, his breath playing against her ear.

Then he was gone, back into the crypt, back to his book and his drink and his dreams.

She should be getting back too. She turned towards the sleigh, but stopped short when she saw the reindeer. They were staring at her, eyes wide and mouths slightly open. All except Blitzen/Donner/Mr Sarcastic, who leaned forward and gave her a big, deliberate wink.

“Oh, shut up.”

She climbed back into the sleigh, smiling to herself like a crazy person. She would bet anything she had that she was the most scandalous Santa these reindeer had ever seen.

As they climbed into the dawn sky, turning to take her home, she couldn’t resist a last hurrah. Taking a deep breath, she shouted out to the people of Sunnydale, sleeping soundly below.

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

Somewhere below her, a vampire lying on his couch, soaked in whiskey and memories, laughed.