On her way into the house, tired and rank with stale grease, Buffy paused by the door, hearing the conversation in full flow. Tara and Dawn had probably been watching old movies again.
"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
"It's so dreadful to be poor!" sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress. That was Tara’s voice, reading aloud from a book Buffy hadn’t touched since she was twelve. She pulled off her coat to hang it up before heading up for the long shower she’d promised herself.
Dawn’s response stopped her. “OK, so it’s a Christmas story. I get that. But why is it so goody-two-shoes about everything? Listen to this bit: "We've got Father and Mother, and each other," said Beth contentedly from her corner. And what does she get out of being so good? Early death and nothing nice, ever.”
Tara, a soothing tone as ever, “But she was happy, Dawn. And they all ended up happy in the end.”
“Yeah. An end which came years and years after. Jo was right at the start. And so was Meg. It is dreadful to be poor! What sort of Christmas will we have this year? Without Mom?”
Dawn’s voice was starting to adopt a familiar whine. Great. It must be Thursday. Or a day with “day” in it. Buffy shook her head in irritation as she listened to Tara trying to persuade Buffy’s sister that there were worse things than the holidays without a tree or presents. Homelessness would be a good start. Dawn taken away by the child protection officials. Tara was too tactful, or too darned nice to mention an ex-girlfriend crazed by magic addiction, but that was another bad thing too.
And Buffy lost it. Dropping her coat on the floor she stalked through to the room where two young women were curled up on the couch. Warm. Not hungry. Comfortable.
“Yes, Dawn. It is dreadful. Know what’s more dreadful? Having a stinking job with no prospects and less pay and working double shifts just to keep food on your plate and a nice cozy room for you to loll around in. And by ‘stinking’, guess what? I mean I stink. All the time.” Buffy ignored Tara’s gasp, turned on her heel and strode out of the room and up the stairs.
Once the door had shut behind her, without the satisfying slam her inner teenager demanded, Buffy halted. What now? Go back downstairs and apologise, followed by a maudlin sister-hugging session? Tara hovering in the background at that, not sure whether or how to intervene. Nope. Not happening.
She stared for a moment at her robe and towel. A shower could get rid of the grime and the stench, help her feel a little less dirty. But “little” was the key word here. She was rancid, inside and out, and no shower would help with that. She needed something more.
Almost without conscious decision, Buffy lifted the window frame and clambered out. Let Dawn and Tara think she was asleep. Or sulking. Whatever. She slid down the shingles and dropped lightly to the ground.
She’d loved the movie once. Both movies. Aged eight she had wanted to be Beth, sweet, talented, doomed. Or Amy – Liz Taylor’s eyes, the glamour, the getting it all: wealth, Art, the trip to Europe, Laurie.
Then the new movie, out when she was thirteen, when Claire Danes was lovely, but too passive, but Winona Ryder was all fire and action. Who wouldn’t want to be Jo, looking like that, being her own girl, then her own woman?
Now she knew better. Jo had it easy, cutting her hair off the biggest sacrifice she’d made. Buffy tugged at her own long, bottle-blonde locks. Was she turning into Amy March, all entitlement and blonde hair? She strode on, dismissing the fictional Victorian girls, all dead now, if they’d ever been real, dead and staying where they’d been put, which was luckier than they could have known.
The thought of the dead Victorians made her aware of her surroundings. There were some dead Victorians around her now, or under her, in monumental crypts and mausoleums and under simple slabs or grandiose memorials. There was a particularly obnoxious angel with a book, staring at her, judging her. Not good. Angels in judgement on what she did were so not her thing.
One dead Victorian was less underground than the rest, however. Lolling against a table-like sepulchre was a bleached menace she had so not been looking for. He had clearly been watching her approach, a lascivious grin on his face and that thing he did with his tongue. Which was not at all sexy, not in any way.
“Spike.” Statement. Not invitation.
“Slayer.” Not statement. Definitely invitation. “Wondered if you’d show. Need to get your festive jollies do you, love?”
“You’re a pig, Spike.”
“Heard that line before, love.”
“I. Am. Not. Your. Love.”
“No, you’ve said that one before. Along with a lot of other little nasties.” That thing with his tongue again.
“What do you want, Spike?”
“Hey, wasn’t me went looking for a little Slayer action, baby. You’re in my territory here, my place, my rules.”
“Vampire. This town is never your territory. You have no rights to anything more than a few inches of garbage can to hold a little heap of dust. Something you are rapidly heading towards right now.”
Spike lounged upright, the smile now very much a smirk. “Yeah, yeah. Heard the threats before. Should we get to the action?”
The noise her fist made impacting his nose was one she was accustomed to, but none the less satisfying for all that. With instincts honed by familiarity she sidestepped as he swung his fist back at her, ducking under his arm, gripping and twisting, so he was forced to the dirt despite himself. He grinned up at her, “Nice one, luv. This is more like, innit?”
He flipped upright and aimed a kick at her face, almost connecting before she jumped back, and followed with a fist that did connect. She hit back, smashing a blow across his cheekbone, then her boot was in his gut and he grunted, doubling over with the pain. Only a moment, naturally – why did vampires have so much energy when she felt so drained? – and then he leaped for the high ground and beyond, in an extra bound effortlessly surmounting the tomb of Virginia May, Much Loved, Deeply Mourned.
“Losing your touch, pet? Usually hurts worse than that. Must be getting tired.”
That was enough. In a second she was beside him and, as she landed, a swipe of her right leg took his knees from behind and he fell heavily to the ground, flipping in mid-air to land feet-first, but clearly winded, if a creature like him had wind to lose. He bent over, hands on knees.
She dropped to land lightly next to his head. He so deserved a good kicking.
She really should have known better. He gripped her boot well before it had a chance to connect and threw himself backwards, so that, somehow, she fell on top of him, their faces almost touching. He grinned at her, the light of battle in his eyes, the most intense blue she’d ever seen. Not yellow. He wasn’t even taking her seriously.
And then, she had no idea how, he was clutching her head, pulling her face down, her lips meeting his, while he threaded his fingers through those despised golden locks. And for a moment she felt alive, really alive, and kissed him back with all the savagery at her command. Her skin tingled as he trailed his cool lips over every inch of it he could reach.
They were, inevitably, close to his personal mausoleum. She realised, too late, that he had been manoeuvring her in that direction throughout their tussle. Somehow, she did not care.
They struggled their way through the door, pieces of clothing torn adrift and flung aside as they went. She flung him down through the trapdoor into the lower space, while he clung to her ankle and jerked her down on top of him. They missed the bed, but neither cared, biting and scratching, ripping into flesh and finally the last layers of fabric were stripped off.
Christmas wasn’t Christmas. It could never be so again. But this tumbling of hot flesh against cool skin, meeting of moist bodies, soft and firm, hard lines and yielding self? This would do instead, just for now.