Chapter 1: Part One
A heavenly dimension where time has no meaning
“But even humans take a break from war during the holidays,” insisted the most recent addition to the entities known as “The Powers that Be.”
“That’s true, but the only one that’s really human is the one young man,” countered the newcomer’s supervisor. “You’ve got a vampire, a key to a hell dimension, a vampire slayer, a vengeance demon, and a witch.”
“A vampire with a soul and a key, an *ex*-vengeance demon, a witch, and a slayer who all happen to be human.”
The higher being sighed. “Still, we can’t very well ask the most evil being in existence to take a break. Since when has evil ever listened to us?”
“I’ll *make* the evil one listen! In fact, I already have!” The young one beamed.
“Oh really?” Ah, the enthusiasm of one new to heavenly duties!
He bobbed his head triumphantly. “Yes, and the response was that if we convince one of the group to go along with the plan that it will be allowed to go smoothly.”
“And I suppose you’ve chosen who is to be convinced of your plan.”
“Yes, I have!”
“Enlighten us, then!”
“The vampire.” The answer was obvious.
“The vampire?” How utterly surprising!
“Yes,” the fresh heavenly host explained, “he’s the closest to any of us in his newly ensouled state.”
Now he was making sense. “Like Angel when he was restored to Earth.”
“Yes, and with the snow! That was your idea, wasn’t it, sir?” Surely, they’ll be convinced now!
Flattery would get him everywhere. “Yes, I believe it was.” The supervisor paused. “All right.”
“Bring the vampire here. So we can all witness your questioning of him.”
“No need to ask twice!”
* * *
“Wake up, vampire!” The voice was commanding in Spike’s head.
“Wh-what? I’m awake already! What do you want?” Spike blinked his eyes, slightly blinded by the brilliant light surrounding him. Last he remembered, he was. . . he shook his head. He didn’t want to remember that. . .
“You have been granted a special gift!”
Whoever was speaking to Spike was decidedly too cheerful. “Special gift? I don’t need any special gift. I’ve already got one. . . bloody fine gift it was, too!”
“You’re talking about your soul?”
“Yeah. What did you think I was talking about?” Spike squinted up at the man before him. The man was so covered in light that he could hardly make out the youthful features. “Who are you?”
“Well, let’s just say that you didn’t get offered this gift because you were a soulless vampire. And who am I? I’m one of the Powers that guide you and your friends.” The being resisted the urge to pat the vampire on the head in assurance. He had a feeling the vampire wouldn’t appreciate that gesture.
“What friends?” Spike asked sarcastically.
“The slayer and her friends.” At the urgings of the other Powers, the newcomer added, “And I’m here to offer you a holiday free of evil.”
“Well, if you say they’re my friends. . .” Spike trailed off when he realized what he was hearing. “Holiday free of evil?”
“Yes! But you have to agree to it!”
The interest shone on Spike’s face now. Then, his eyes narrowed, “What’s the catch?”
“There is no catch. You just have to agree.”
“There’s always a catch with the Powers.”
Why was the vampire being so difficult? Didn’t he know he’d soon be losing his chance for happiness amidst the coming chaos? “Do you know what’s to come?”
Spike winced at the memory of what he knew was coming. “I know what’s coming. I know what’s here. . . well, on earth.”
“Well, then, you know this may be your last chance for happiness. Why don’t you seize it?” Now he was getting somewhere with the previously errant vampire.
“What does the evil-free holiday gift entail?” This could possibly be the best thing he could ever give Buffy and Dawn.
He was an inch from closing the deal with the vampire. Who said being a higher being and helping people wasn’t exciting? “Two days completely free of evil: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.”
“And after those two days? Does the evil come back harder than ever?”
The vampire was good at ferreting out the details. “No. It just goes back to being the same.”
“Let me guess. Everyone forgets what happened, right?” Spike sighed.
“No. Your memories of the time will remain intact. It is our hope that this will rally the slayer and her friends to defeat the evil,” the new being assured Spike.
Always impulsive, Spike agreed, “It’s a deal.” He reached up and grasped the Power’s hand in thanks. “For Buffy. I have a couple of requests though.”
Chapter 2: Part Two
Earth, evening on Christmas Eve
The doorbell rang, and worriedly, Buffy rose from the dining table where the rest of the gang was seated and hurried to the front door. Despite Buffy’s warning to stay put, Dawn was hot on her sister’s heels. Xander hefted a large ax, and he, Anya, and Willow followed closely behind.
Buffy flung open the door to view the missing vampire, standing in the radiance of the porch light. Relief flooded over her. “Spike! Where the hell have you been?” She peered around him at the objects in his vicinity. “And where did you get all that. . . stuff?”
Spike appeared uncertain, especially under the curious gaze of Buffy’s sister and friends. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Buffy lowered her tone and reached to touch Spike’s forearm. “Tell me anyway.” After what had been happening recently with the First Evil, she found herself full of fresh new patience in regard to Spike.
“The Powers. I was with them.”
Dawn slipped around Buffy and peered into the bags at Spike’s feet. “The Powers gave you groceries?” The bags rustled. “And presents?” She caught something out of the corner of her eye. A smile spread over her face. “And a Christmas tree?”
Spike watched Dawn’s excitement as if drinking in her reaction. “Well, I had to. . . ask for that part.” Spike found Buffy’s eyes with his own. “Actually, all they offered was an evil free holiday.”
Buffy’s eyes widened. She tugged on his arm, and he allowed her to drag him through the doorway. “You better get in here. We need to discuss this.”
“What about the perishable food items? Some of this stuff needs refrigeration,” Dawn pointed out to her sister.
Willow joined Dawn on the porch, hefting a bag of food. “I’ll help you, Dawnie.”
Dawn smiled gratefully at the redhead. None of them liked to be alone lately.
Once settled in the living room, Xander, Anya, and Buffy began grilling Spike. He seemed somehow less vulnerable than he had been.
“So, how do you know what you saw and heard wasn’t the First Evil again?” Buffy asked what the rest of them had all been wondering. She’d intentionally seated herself nearer to him as if to protect him from Xander and Anya’s tendency to grill too harshly.
“They weren’t evil. I can sense that kind of thing. I’m a vampire, remember?” Memories of being chained in a bathtub at Giles’s house flooded his mind. The living room without chains was much better.
“Like you’ve been great with the sensing lately,” Xander commented wryly, propping the ax against his chair. “Remember the being confused by the First Evil in the school basement and elsewhere thing?”
“And the killing the innocent girls thing?” Anya added, swaying back and forth on her heels with her hands in the back pockets of her jeans.
Spike shrank into himself. “Yeah. I remember.”
“So, I guess we can safely conclude that your sensors are a bit off,” Xander stated bluntly, crossing his arms.
“Xander,” Buffy said with a tinge of warning. “Please. Let’s keep this civil. We can’t afford any separations among us right now.”
“All right.” Xander held up his hands. “So, let’s see. Dawn was fooled by what appeared to be a heavenly being. . . Joyce. And Willow was fooled by the appearance of Cassie.”
“Almost. Almost fooled. The whole Tara asking me to commit suicide thing was what gave it away,” Willow protested as she and Dawn entered the living room.
“Yeah. Almost fooled.” Xander sent Willow a gentle smile. “So what makes you say you weren’t fooled, too?”
Spike saw doubt on all their faces. They had good reason to doubt. He sighed before standing. He strode to the front door, opened it, and snagged one of the remaining bags from the porch.
Once he resumed his position near Buffy, he faced her evenly as if they were the only two in the room. Pulling something out of the bag, he placed the small package reverently in Buffy’s hands.
Buffy studied the brightly wrapped gift with wide eyes. “What’s this?”
“The Powers said to give this to you in case you didn’t believe me,” he explained. “I was going to save it for tomorrow, but. . .”
“Really? What is it?”
“Open it and see,” Spike whispered softly.
“Be careful, Buffy,” Anya warned. “Evil can be very deceiving.”
Buffy read something in Spike’s eyes. “I think it’ll be okay.”
Even though her heart was beating rapidly, Buffy’s hands were steady as she neatly tore the paper off the small box. Paper and ribbon fluttered to the floor, and she didn’t hesitate to open the lid. What she saw made her throat tighten and forced a small gasp out of the back of her throat.
Xander, Anya, Willow, and Dawn jumped to hyper-alertness at Buffy’s reaction. Dawn was by her side in an instant, peering half-curiously, half-nervously into the box. The rest of gang spoke at the same time.
“Is it a bunny?” Anya speculated, fear in her eyes.
Willow’s thoughts were of her friend’s feelings, “Buffy, are you okay?”
And Xander clutched the ax in his hands. “Let me have a crack at it!”
Tears welled in Buffy’s eyes. She stared at Spike with awe on her face. “H-how?”
Spike resisted the urge to take her hands as he had upon her return from heaven. He hadn’t meant to make her cry. “The Powers said that it might be the only way to convince you that their offer wasn’t from evil.”
“Oh, Buffy, it’s beautiful.” Dawn shot Spike the type of look he hadn’t seen from the teenager since he returned from Africa. . . since he took care of her after Buffy’s death.
Now that the other three friends were less alarmed, they were nosy about the gift Spike had given Buffy. She carefully removed the present from the box, and Dawn pulled the box off her sister’s lap.
A delicate, shimmering flower rested in Buffy’s palms. Deep blues, reds, and purples stained the bloom, and the stem and leaves were dark green and damp with life. The flower pulsed with life despite the lack of soil around the tiny bare roots at the base of the stem. As Buffy turned the flower in the illumination of the lamps lighting the living room, iridescent, silvery sparkles flew from the petals and hung suspended in the air, releasing a refined but intoxicating scent.
“What is it?” Willow’s eyes were wide with wonder.
“Something not of earth,” Buffy spoke evenly in contrast to the strong emotions emanating from her features. “No evil could have access to something like this.”
“A flower found only in heaven,” Spike murmured. “Where you were.”
“Wow.” Xander was truly amazed.
Dawn held out cupped palms, and Buffy gently placed the flower in her hands. Willow squeezed next to Dawn on the couch, touching the delicate petals with reverence. Buffy stood next to Spike so that Anya could perch on the other side of Dawn.
“How does it survive without soil?” Willow asked, unsure if anyone could answer.
Anya cleared her throat, “It’s of heaven. It needs no earthly soil once it’s been in heaven’s soil.”
“Will it survive here on earth?” Buffy asked, looking up at Spike.
“They said that it would live as long as no evil was present. So, I guess that means it will die after Christmas is over.” Spike shrugged, acting indifferent but secretly feeling pleased that he was at last believed.
“When the evil comes back?” Dawn sounded regretful.
“Yeah, Bit, when the evil comes back.”
“I suggest we make the most of this time!” Buffy asserted, making an executive decision and crossing her arms as if to challenge anyone who disagreed. “How much time do we have?” She paused, calculating in her head. “I guess we have about a day and a half to make merry!”
“I don’t know, Buffy,” Xander said doubtfully. “I don’t want to fall into another trap.”
Willow and Anya shared Xander’s concerns but remained silent. They weren’t sure quite what to do with the situation.
Buffy was certain. “The flower Spike just shared could only have come from heaven, and even if somehow this has an evil element, which I highly doubt, we should enjoy what we’ve been given. . . make the most of the moment.”
“Carpe diem!” Willow provided with a trace of her past zeal.
“Yes!” Buffy grinned at her best friend. “But I want us to all be on board here. I don’t want anyone feeling upset inside and not saying anything. Is everyone in agreement that we will make the most of this?”
Buffy’s statement was contradictory to her usual reaction to things, and her friends were surprised. Slowly each one of them nodded in concurrence with Buffy’s position.
A giggle of excitement burst out of Dawn. After passing the flower to Willow, she hopped up from her seat and grabbed Spike’s hand, pulling him to the door. “Tree time!” Spike faltered indecisively, but Dawn was insistent. “You have to help me bring it in.”
Buffy watched her sister’s happiness and beamed at Spike. “Thank you,” she mouthed to the bewildered vampire as he was dragged to the front door.
Chapter 3: Part Three
Earth, hours later
Within four hours, the Christmas tree and house had been decorated with ornaments, tinsel, lights, garland, and stockings. Between mild but playful bickering sessions about who was to do what and put what where, everyone at Buffy’s house thoroughly enjoyed the relief from worrying about the great evil they would eventually have to face and conquer.
None of them had realized just how much tension and pressure they were under until that stress was removed. As a result, the merriment exhausted them. After they were finished decorating, they looked at one another and unanimously decided to get some sleep so that they would be refreshed for Christmas day.
After the rest of the Scoobies had settled in for the night, Buffy slowly descended the garland-woven stairs. The only source of luminescence was the gentle light being emitted from the strands of colors lining the Christmas tree’s branches. As if drawn by the fresh scent of pine, Buffy entered the living room to view the majesty of the tree.
Spike was leaning against the back of a chair his legs bent and his forearms resting on his elevated knees. He didn’t take his eyes from the tree until Buffy was a few feet from him. His eyes were bright with the sparks from the lights when his eyes met hers. A contented smile touched his face, but he didn’t appear tired.
“Hey.” Buffy sat beside him, drawing her knees up to her chest. “What are you doing?”
Buffy’s voice was light. “Bout what?”
“Just. . . thoughts.” Spike didn’t feel ready to make himself that vulnerable to her again, so he didn’t voice his perceptions, feelings. He kept things vague to stay safe. . . to protect himself. He could be at ease that way.
Buffy was silent in response, resting her chin in the valley between her knees. Then, she revealed, “When I was a little girl, my parents, Dawn, and I would decorate the tree together. We’d listen to old Christmas records and drink hot chocolate. My favorite as a kid was Captain Kangaroo’s Christmas album.
“Dad was allergic to real pine, so we had an artificial tree. He’d put all the branches on, and Dawn and I’d bring them to him one at a time. Then, Mom would sit on the floor and put hooks on the family ornaments. Dawn and I would take turns retrieving them from her and hanging them on the tree with Dad. After everything was finished, we’d turn out all the lights and lay under the tree, looking up at the infinity of lights and green. It was beautiful.”
Spike was watching her as she finished her story. “Do you sometimes miss those little traditions?”
Buffy laid her cheek on one knee, facing him wistfully. “Yeah, I do. But then, I make new memories. . . like tonight.” She touched his bicep briefly. “Before I forget to tell you, thank you.”
Spike shook his head. “Don’t thank me. Thank the Powers.”
Impulsively, Buffy reached out and took Spike’s hand, cradling it in her lap as she straightened her legs and crossed them in front of her. Spike was startled by the gesture and imitated her leg position.
“Tell me a Christmas story about you.” She smiled at him briefly. “I was just realizing that I know Christmas stories about everyone in this house except you.”
“What do you mean?” He was still lost in the shock that Buffy was touching him willingly again.
Buffy was feeling a bit dreamy. “Tell me a story about William’s Christmas. Not Spike. . . William.”
Spike was confused by Buffy’s request. “William?”
“Okay.” Spike thought for a moment, trying to decide what to tell the young woman beside him. His human Christmases hadn’t exactly been particularly joyous. “My favorite memory of Christmas was of the food. Mother would oversee the cooking in the kitchen. We had servants that did most of the cooking. My siblings and I would be allowed to sleep late on Christmas day, so we’d wake up to the smell of. . .”
“You had siblings?” Buffy interrupted, playing with each of Spike’s fingers individually.
“Yeah, I did, love.” Spike didn’t offer more than confirmation, and Buffy didn’t press him. “Anyway, we’d wake up to the smell of fresh goose or pheasant. We’d scamper down the hall to the living area to find our presents. When we were little, our nanny always hid our presents throughout the living room, so we had to hunt them down.”
“Really? What kind of presents did you receive?”
Spike rubbed his thumb along Buffy’s palm. “Various things really. Usually fruit, nuts, and candy. My favorite present was the desk set I received with ink pens, ink, and paper.”
“Why was that your favorite?” Buffy had trouble remembering that Spike had once been very human. She laced her fingers through his and clasped his hand firmly.
“I loved to write.” His smile was full of sadness and regret but also a hint of sentimentality. “Poetry. Various things.”
“What happened to that part of you?” Buffy wondered aloud.
“I don’t know.” Spike shifted and gazed at the ceiling where tiny colors danced. “I think that part of me has always been there. I just express it in other ways.”
Spike took a deep breath and plunged into the truth, “I was pretty much ridiculed for my poetry, pet. I didn’t have much use for being ridiculed.”
Buffy bit her lip, thoughts of her ridicule of him sending ripples of guilt through her stomach. “Oh.”
They remained mute for several minutes, each lost in a reverie of memories and emotions. Neither stopped touching the other. Peacefulness settled over both of them, and Buffy found herself drifting toward sleep.
Then, a thought darted into her mind as if waving a red flag. She spoke before she thought, “Hey! I have an idea!”
Spike didn’t even seem startled. “What’s that, pet?”
“Let’s make Christmas like it was when you were a kid!” She jumped to her feet, releasing Spike’s hand.
For his part, Spike was bewildered. “What do you mean?”
“Let’s have dinner cooking when everyone wakes up, and let’s hide their presents in here!” Her eyes shone happily. “Will you help me?”
Spike stood, shoving his now free hands in the back pockets of his jeans. “I’ll do whatever you want.”
Buffy blinked at the double meaning behind his words. “I want you to be happy with the plan, too,” she said sincerely.
Spike smiled again. “I am.”
Buffy didn’t know when she’d ever seen him smile so much, but she accepted this new side of the vampire eagerly. “Okay! Let’s get busy!”
Chapter 4: Part Four
Earth, Christmas morning, early
Dawn woke before the sun rose and rolled over to check her alarm clock. She was amazed that the clock read three thirty in the morning. Brushing her hair out of her face, she climbed out of bed, padding on bare feet across the hall to the bathroom. Hearing sounds from the kitchen, she decided to investigate.
Creeping down the stairs and remaining hidden in the shadows near the kitchen doorway, she watched the action with wide eyes.
“Spike, could you check on the pie? I want to put the next one in soon.”
Dawn saw Buffy and Spike wearing aprons and working over the counters. Food, spices, pans, and utensils were strewn across the space. A mix of smells met her nose, and the sounds of stirring and chopping filled the air.
“Got it.” The chopping stopped, and Spike slipped an oven mitt on his hand, pulling out the requisite pie. “Smells wonderful.”
“Yeah. It’s Mom’s recipe,” Buffy reminded him.
“You’ve always been a good cook,” Spike insisted.
“How would you know?”
The chopping resumed. “I remember Thanksgiving two years ago.” Spike was referring to the time Buffy cooked a large holiday dinner for Giles and the rest of the gang.
“Oh!” Buffy’s voice lowered after her brief outburst. “I forgot you were there.”
“I didn’t.” Spike’s tone was husky and deep.
Dawn edged forward to hear better and almost jumped back when a cloud of white powder flew through the air.
Buffy shrieked. “Hey! The flour’s for the pies!!! And aren’t you supposed to be putting the other pie in the oven!”
“Shhh, Buffy. You’ll wake everyone up.”
Flour streaked at Spike from the opposite direction. “You hush! I’ll do what I please!”
“Don’t you always!” he teased.
Pouting, Buffy declared, “Okay, mister. This means war!” With that said, she smeared white grains on Spike’s nose.
With a huge grin on his face, he retaliated by run white-coated fingers through Buffy’s hair.
Horrified, she paused for a few seconds. Then, she scooped up a huge handful of flour and spread the powder over his black sleeves. Spike growled in return and lunged at her, intent on covering Buffy the way she had him.
Darting away, Buffy slipped on some loose powder that now layered the floor. Spike caught her arm before she fell. They ended up inches from one another, a bit breathless.
Buffy stared up into Spike’s eyes that were alight with a happiness she’d never before associated with him. She’d viewed him as evil, soulless, angry, sexy, pathetic. . . but never happy. Somehow, the lighthearted sparkle made her want to kiss him more than she wanted to admit. She recalled how soft his lips could be when she let him be tender with her.
Before Spike could take advantage of the moment, Dawn cleared her throat and stepped out of the background. “What’re you guys doing? Cooking at three A.M.?”
Buffy and Spike parted hastily.
Flustered, Buffy ordered, “Spike, put the other pie in the oven!”
Spike minded her silently, shoving the pie into the oven roughly.
Resuming her stirring, Buffy ignored his behavior. “Dawn, what are you doing up so early?”
“What are you doing cooking?” Dawn repeated with a small smirk on her face.
Spike began chopping carrots and onions again.
“Well,” Buffy explained, brushing flour out of her eyes, “Spike and I were trying to make the house smell nice when you guys woke up. It was supposed to be a surprise!”
“Well, it does smell good.” Dawn grinned. “But with the noise you were making, I’m surprised the whole household isn’t in here.”
“We weren’t noisy. . . were we, Dawnie?” Buffy cast a doubtful glance at Spike.
“Umm. . . yeah, you were.” Dawn rolled her eyes, but she wasn’t really annoyed.
“Afraid we were, pet,” Spike acknowledged, scraping vegetables into individual bowls.
“And what’s with the flour in your hair?” Dawn asked innocently.
Buffy touched her hair self-consciously. “Umm. Is there something in my hair?”
“Yep. Lots of flour!” Dawn declared, giggling.
Spike winked at Dawn, and she laughed harder. Buffy glared at both of them.
“Spike, shouldn’t you be gutting the turkey? And Dawn, since you’re up, you can help with the cooking!”
“You want *me* to put my hand in there with the intestines and entrails and pull them out of the turkey?” Spike protested putting his hands up in mock disgust.
Buffy planted her hands on her hips. “Yes, I do! And I *know* you’ve done worse with your hands before, so get to it!”
Grumbling good-naturedly to himself, Spike headed to the sink, bearing the bird. Dawn hugged her sister briefly before grabbing a spoon and taking the bowl from her. Buffy was free to supervise, so she paced back and forth between Dawn and Spike before finally deciding to sit on the counter near the sink and Spike.
“Watcha doing?” she asked mischievously.
“What’s it look like I’m doing?” Spike was emptying the turkey of entrails. “Want to help me?” Spike started to hand her the raw bird.
Buffy wrinkled her nose. “Ewww. Nope. That’s your job as the man in the room.”
Spike raised his eyebrows. “*Man* in the room?”
“Okay, vampire. But you’re definitely the only male in the room,” Buffy modified to appease him. “Therefore, it’s your job to clean the bird.”
“Uh huh. And who did it when it was just you, your mom, and Dawn here?”
“You know very well that you did it then, Buffy,” Dawn interrupted. She laid the spoon aside. “And can one of you take over the stirring? My arm’s tired! I’ll do something else instead.”
Buffy took the bowl from her. “How about set the table?”
Dawn brightened and saluted. “Sure thing! One set table right away!”
A few minutes after Dawn was out of earshot, Buffy asked boldly, “Were you going to kiss me before Dawn came in?”
Of all the things he thought Buffy might ask him, that was not what he was expecting. “Umm. . .” he hesitated. He still felt awkward around her.
Buffy reached out to touch Spike’s cheek, but he flinched away. Her heart ached with the hurt she knew he felt.
How was he to respond to her advances? What was her goal? Did she want to use him again? He didn’t ask her any of those questions. “Buffy. . . what are you doing?”
“Realizing that life is too short to waste,” she said, allowing the sincerity to show on her face.
Dawn bounded into the kitchen. “Finished!”
Spike’s eyes didn’t leave Buffy’s green ones. She read the twisted conflicting emotions crossing his face and longed to sweep away his confusion with deft fingertips. However, she didn’t move for several seconds, finally tearing her gaze from Spike’s hold on her.
Dawn rubbed her eyes tiredly. “Guys, I’m feeling sleepy again. Shouldn’t we get some sleep before morning?”
Buffy yawned widely and then leaned over to kiss her sister’s cheek. “Yeah. We should. Let’s go to bed.”
“After you take a shower?” Dawn grimaced, rubbing flour off her face.
“Ick. You’re right. After I get a shower and wash my hair.” Buffy glanced over her shoulder at the vampire. “Spike, you need a shower?”
Spike shook his head. “I’ll wash up down here. And get some sleep on the sofa.”
“Okay,” Buffy agreed. “The turkey’s ready for the oven when we get up?”
“Yeah, it is. I’ll make sure to clean up in here, check on the pie, and put the bird in the oven when the pie’s done.”
Buffy patted his chest absentmindedly. “Thank you, Spike.”
Dawn hugged the vampire. “Night, Spike.”
Spike smiled at the girl with affection. “Night, Bit.”
Dawn didn’t protest the nickname and left the kitchen. Buffy trailed after her sister but paused in the doorway.
She faced Spike and caught his eye again. “We’ll talk about this tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow,” he whispered half-sadly, half-hopefully.
“Merry Christmas, Spike.” Her eyelids were drooping she was so sleepy.
“Merry Christmas, pet.”
Chapter 5: Part Five
Earth, Christmas morning, 11 A.M.
“Hey! What happened to the presents?”
Spike tumbled off the sofa at Anya’s shout. “Bloody hell, woman! You better watch what you’re doing! Always sneaking up on me!”
Xander stepped defensively in front of Anya. “Watch it.” He gave the vampire a warning look. Then, his face transformed, “Merry Christmas!”
Spike’s shoulders released their tension. As he pushed himself to his feet, he returned the greeting with a nod, “Merry Christmas.”
Her hair slightly mussed from sleep, Anya crossed her arms and frowned. “Now where are the presents? Christmas is a capitalist holiday, designed to make money, and I want to do my part by receiving the products of this economy.”
“What’s all that white stuff on your shirt?” Xander wondered, pointing at Spike’s wrinkled sleeves and choosing to ignore Anya’s comment. “Hey! It smells damn good in here!” He rubbed his growling stomach. “Makes me hungry.”
“The stuff on Spike’s shirt is flour.” Buffy appeared in the doorway, yawning and rubbing her eyes. “Spike and I. . .”
“And me!” Dawn chirped from behind her sister.
“And Dawn,” Buffy corrected herself. “We cooked last night. We wanted you guys to wake up with the house smelling wonderful.”
Even though Buffy was wearing no makeup and a baggy, one-size-fits-all nightshirt, Spike thought she was the most exquisite creature he’d ever laid eyes upon. Stray locks of hair were misplaced and stuck out from her scalp, but she didn’t seem to notice. Her contented indifference to her appearance added to her charm.
Buffy caught Spike staring at her, and she couldn’t recall his eyes being bluer. Perhaps the indirect morning sunlight leant him a softer presence. She blushed and turned from him. Maybe if she didn’t see him, he couldn’t view her. She chided herself for being so irrational.
“Well, you succeeded,” Willow declared as she climbed down the stairs, red hair pulled into a neat ponytail. “The house is warm and smells like the holidays!”
Anya coughed to get their attention. “Presents?”
Buffy grinned at Anya’s impatience. “They’re hidden somewhere in the house.”
“Hidden? Why?” Xander was starting to sound annoyed, too.
“It was a tradition in Sp. . .” Buffy switched tracks at Spike’s panicked, vulnerable expression, “someone’s childhood.”
“Who?” Dawn was decidedly curious.
“Umm. A friend. And I know none of us had much money. . .much less time for shopping this season. . .”
Spike stepped forward, offering, “But the Powers gave me presents to give to each of you. So search away.”
“So, when you find your gift, bring it back in here to open!” Buffy added, amused that her friends were already taking off as if the gift hunt was a race.
A few seconds later, only she and Spike remained in the living room. Spike leaned against a nearby bookshelf, his hands playing with a twist tie, no doubt from one of the bags of food. Despite the gaiety of the group, he seemed a bit forlorn.
Buffy ambled his direction, her body still half-asleep and placed a hand on his arm. “What’s wrong?”
“Spike,” she persisted. “You have to tell me. We only have one more day that’s evil free. Talk to me now.”
“Tell you what?” He faced her then, raw emotion etched onto his features like a detailed woodcarving.
Buffy was beginning to dislike the dual messages they constantly sent one another. “What’s wrong?”
Spike chose the easiest truth. He would always tell Buffy the truth, but he might leave a part out here and there. Did that make him any different than soulless Spike? “I don’t have you a present. The Powers only sent you the flower. I have nothing for you now.”
She softened immediately. “Spike.” She made certain he was paying close attention by keeping his gaze locked on hers. “You have given me more than I could have ever asked for.”
“What do you mean?” He desperately wanted. . . needed to hear what she had to say.
“You gave me something I’ve always wanted. . . something I never thought I’d have. You gave me a normal life,” she stated evenly.
“I don’t understand.”
Buffy took his left hand and held his fingers to her heart. “For two solid days, I haven’t had to worry about fighting anything, dealing with the daily evil. I haven’t had to worry about the imminent apocalypse. I am able to be *me* for two days. . . without the burden of being the slayer. *That* is the single greatest gift anyone could ever give me. And I’ll probably never get it again.”
Reminding her of how she pictured William, Spike replied almost shyly, “Really? Better than the flower?”
Her heart leaping beneath his fingers, Buffy nodded emphatically. “Yes. Better than any flower, heavenly dimension or no.”
Buffy knew in that moment that no matter how much he wanted her. . . would always want her, she would have to make the first move after what had happened between them in the past. Not letting go of his left hand, she brought the fingers of her right hand to his lips, touching them tentatively and smoothing over the coolness. He allowed her touch but didn’t move, his eyes swirling with desire for her.
She turned her attention to his eyes. He closed them obediently when she brought her fingers to his eyelids. While she traced over the delicate skin, his eyes remained still, patient. When her fingers left his eyes, he slowly reopened them to watch her, sensing how much her heart was accelerating the longer she remained close to him. Her expression was serious as she explored the hollows of his cheekbones, the lines on his forehead, and the arch of his eyebrows.
Then, a single finger found a path down his nose to the valley above his lips. When her eyes sought his, he began trembling. She had never so been purposefully loving toward him. Her eyes slipped shut as she brought her lips to his in a chaste, undemanding fashion. The gesture was over almost as soon as it began, but Buffy didn’t pull away. Instead, she embraced him tightly, subtly rubbing smooth circles on his shoulder blades until his shaking ceased and his arms slipped around her waist.
Without warning, she broke away from his arms. Startled, Spike carefully hid his disappointment and braced himself for her wrath.
Apparently, he wasn’t fast enough because Buffy caught his fear and recaptured his hand. “I just remembered something. I don’t have you a present.”
Relief was evident in Spike’s expression. “I don’t. . .”
Buffy’s eyes lit suddenly. “I know! Wait here.”
Like he would go anywhere when she looked at him like she actually cared. “No problem.”
He sank onto the nearby sofa where he’d slept while Buffy scampered up the stairs. He wasn’t sure whether to believe that what just happened was real. Dawn brushed by Buffy on the stairs and ran into the living room, plopping down next to Spike with a small package.
She held the present up. “Found mine.”
Spike chuckled. “I see you did.”
“Now where is everyone? I’d have thought Anya’d be down here first,” Dawn pouted.
“I’m here!” Anya skipped down the stairs. She glared at Dawn as she sat on the floor with her gift. “No bragging that you got here first. I don’t live here. I don’t know all the good hiding places.”
Dawn grinned at her. “No bragging here.”
Xander emerged from the kitchen. “For some reason, I found mine in the broom closet.” He gave Spike a pointed look.
Spike smirked and shrugged. “Yeah, well.”
Willow and Buffy returned to the living room together. Buffy bore a bright red and green bag with tissue paper poking out the top and her flower that was still glistening with life. She handed the bag to Spike before sitting in the chair across from him.
“Now the Powers picked all your presents,” Spike announced.
“This ought to be interesting,” Xander commented, glancing at his gift.
Spike continued, “With a little help from me.”
“Very interesting,” Anya noted.
The room was soon filled with the sounds of ribbons being undone and paper being torn. Buffy delighted in observing but especially kept her eye on Spike.
Dawn squealed and threw her arms around the vampire. “Oh, Spike. It’s beautiful.”
“What is it?” Buffy squinted at the long silver chain her sister held.
Dawn pushed off the sofa and flew at Buffy, bearing her prize. “It’s a locket.” She held forth a tiny, silver heart-shaped locket. “And the best part is. . .”
“What?” Buffy inspected the contents of the locket. Resting perfectly on either side of the small silver container was a picture of she and her mother. “Oh, Dawnie, that’s beautiful.”
“I know!” Dawn pulled her hair up and handed Buffy the chain. “Help me put it on.”
As Buffy attached the necklace, she caught Anya’s befuddled expression. “Anya, what did you get?”
“A book about me.” She seemed confused.
“What do you mean?” Willow asked.
“Ohhh.” Xander studied Anya’s present, using his hands to explain. “It’s one of those books that you fill out about yourself. There’re lots of questions inside.”
Anya opened the leather bound book to inspect the contents. “Hey! There’s questions about my life before I became a vengeance demon. . . and about my life *as* a vengeance demon. . .”
“The Powers thought it might help you figure out how you got where you are now,” Spike explained.
As she clutched the book to her chest, Anya’s eyes welled with tears. “This is wonderful. Thank you.”
“I got a coupon book,” Xander pointed out. “It’s filled with coupons that say, ‘Good for one batch of laundry,’ ‘Good for cooking one meal,’ ‘Good for. . . .’ Hey! Isn’t this what husbands usually give their wives?”
The women laughed.
Spike was embarrassed. “Figured since I lived with you for a while, I should return the hospitality.”
Xander was quite pleased. “Don’t worry, I’ll be taking you up on it!”
“Will, what’d you get?” Buffy queried.
Willow held up her present for inspection. “A crystal, but it’s unlike any crystal I’ve ever seen. The structure is simply. . .”
“Not of this world?” Spike filled in the blanks for the redhead. “It’s a special focusing crystal created especially for you. You use it during meditation. One of the Powers especially wanted you to have it to help you learn to control and focus your magic.”
“Wow.” Willow was awestruck. “It’s amazing. Thank you very much.”
A buzzer in the kitchen hummed through the air.
“Oooo! The turkey!” Xander stood. “I’ll get it! You ladies want to help me since Buffy and Spike did most of the work?”
“Sure,” Willow said brightly. She helped Dawn up.
When Spike and Buffy were alone again, she noticed him examining the book in his lap.
Spike read the inscription, “Always.” However, he didn’t recognize the handwriting. She was giving him used books? A mixture of puzzlement and pain painted his face.
Buffy brushed his cheek with the back of her hand. “There’s a meaning behind it. I promise.”
Spike wanted to believe her.
Then, a crash resounded from the direction of the kitchen followed by some cursing.
Buffy groaned. “I’ll explain after lunch.” She bent and kissed his cheek softly. She paused a moment as if deciding to add her next words, “Trust me?”
The words were significant, alluding to a time in the past that he did not want to relive. He plunged in anyway, “Yeah, I do.”
Chapter 6: Part Six
Earth, Christmas dinner
“So, do vengeance demons have to eat. . . like human food?” Dawn asked between mouthfuls of turkey. “And could you please pass the stuffing?”
Buffy smiled widely at her sister’s question. Dinner was going smoothly despite Xander’s pie debacle. He’d knocked one of the pies onto the floor after he removed the turkey from the oven. Buffy was proud of the way they had decorated. The dining room was dimly lit with long candles and decorated warmly with rich red and green napkins, tablecloth, plates, and water goblets.
Dawn accepted the bowl of stuffing from Xander after he spooned more onto his own plate. “Thanks. I mean, is it like Spike who doesn’t need to eat but does anyways?”
“Um, pet, I do have to eat,” Spike reminded her.
Dawn nodded. “I know but only icky stuff like blood.”
Anya sniffed. She enjoyed being asked questions about her past. “Yes! I have to eat, but sometimes I could go several days without eating anything at all and be just fine. It’s kind of like being a camel. You know, we store stuff inside of us. . . nutrients and things. We just don’t have a giant hump or two.”
Xander raised his eyebrows at Buffy and Willow like he wasn’t sure what to make of this news about his ex-fiancé.
Spike laughed, but for once, the laughter wasn’t singed by sarcasm or pain. Buffy was seated next to him, and she discretely reached her hand over and squeezed his thigh. He smiled down at her, eyes sparkling.
“What’s funny, Spike?” Anya demanded, slightly miffed that the vampire found humor in her story.
“Just you. . . lying about your past. Vengeance demons don’t store up nutrients like a camel. You have to eat just the same as the rest of the human, demon population.” Spike winked at Dawn who flashed him a grin in return.
“Shame on you, Anya,” Willow teased, choosing another roll from the tray next to her. “Lying to us on Christmas. Whatever shall we do?”
On the verge of a pout, Anya set her fork down and shifted in her chair. Xander reached over and grabbed her empty water glass.
“More water?” he asked chivalrously.
Anya cast him a grateful glance. “Yes, thank you.”
As Xander entered the kitchen, the phone rang. He tossed Anya’s glass into his left hand and headed to the phone. “I’ll get it!”
“Thanks!” Buffy called from the next room. “Tell them we’re not home.”
“I will!” Xander clicked on the phone. “Hello?”
The voice on the other end was soft, polite. For some reason, Xander still wanted to punch the lights out of the owner of that voice.
“Well, Merry Christmas to you, too, Angel.” Xander sighed as he listened to the Buffy’s vampire ex-boyfriend explain his situation. “And why did you wait until Christmas Day to call?” Geez, Angel was worse than his parents with his timing.
Buffy appeared quietly in the doorway. Leaning against the frame, she mouthed, “Angel?”
Xander nodded tersely, annoyed that Buffy had jumped up to speak to her ex-lover. “So, Buffy’s here now. Do you want to talk with her? Wait. Who am I kidding? Of course, you want to talk with her!”
Practically shoving the phone at the blond Slayer, Xander quickly filled Anya’s glass with ice and water and slid into his seat in the dining area. Once noisy with playful banter, the atmosphere in the room was now quite subdued. No one was saying anything because everyone was focused, straining to hear the conversation in the other room. For some reason, they were always overly curious about what went on between Buffy and Angel.
Willow decided to break the silence. “So, um, Xander. What did Angel have to say?”
“Immediate apocalypse. You know: the usual.”
“On Christmas?” Willow donned her shocked face.
“Yep. The best timing as usual.” Xander sounded jaded.
“Don’t I know it,” Spike commiserated, wishing that Buffy were still sitting warmly next to him. “He’s always mucking up something.”
“That is one area in which we agree one hundred percent, Spike.” Xander rolled his eyes.
“You guys are funny,” Anya commented. “Always worried about Buffy talking to Angel and never realizing neither one of you don’t stand a chance with her.”
Everyone at the table merely stared at Anya.
“What?” Anya asked defensively. “I’m just saying what I observe. What’s wrong with that?”
“Anya, I’m not interested in Buffy anymore. I’ve told you that a hundred times. I’m just. . . just concerned about her safety. . . . She’s been through enough,” Xander disputed.
“Haven’t we all,” Anya retorted. “I’m not stupid, Xander. You may not want her, but you don’t want anyone else to have her either.”
Willow and Dawn stared at the couple, forks in mid-bite. They exchanged surreptitious glances.
Spike said nothing and simply bowed his head. He knew the truth when he heard it. In an instant, he remembered whose handwriting was in the book Buffy had given him. . . .
Angel had given Buffy the book of love poetry. Now she was mocking him, letting him know that her heart would always and forever belong to Angel, her first love. Scooting back his chair with a sharp screech, he hastily gathered his plate, leftover water, utensils, and napkin.
“Well,” he murmured, “looks like I’m done with dinner.”
As Spike exited the room, Anya managed to look remorseful, and Willow, Xander, and Dawn focused on their plates, shoving around the remaining food.
Once in the kitchen, Spike breezed by Buffy who was still talking on the phone. She tried to reach out for him, but he jerked his arm away. He wasn’t going to allow her to penetrate his core again. He stormed out of the kitchen and onto the front porch, making sure the door gently latched behind him.
Buffy’s stomach plunged at Spike’s reaction to Angel’s phone call, and she hastily returned to the dining room, handing the phone receiver to Willow. “Here. You know more about the technicalities of what’s going on here than I do. Finish filling him in for me.”
Snagging the book she’d given Spike, she pursued him out the front door, pausing after she shut the door behind her. He faced away from her on the porch swing and didn’t move even though she knew he recognized her.
“So, you did it again, Slayer.” Spike was resigned, tired.
“Did what?” she whispered, padding toward him with sock-covered feet. She settled behind him on the swing, placing an open palm on his tense back.
“Made a fool of me.”
She knew he was reliving every instance she and others had used him during his human and vampire life. “And how did I make a fool of you?”
He evaded her query by asking her one of his own, “Did you finish talking with Angel?”
“Oh, so that’s what this is about. . . as usual, it’s all about Angel. Have you ever thought that I was a person before he came into my life and that I continued to exist as an independent individual after he was out of my life? So he called me! Big stinking deal! We talk maybe. . . once, twice a year.” Buffy’s words were a stark contrast to her light tone.
Spike spun to face her, and Buffy was shocked to see the tears tracking down his cheeks. She wanted to reach out and wipe them away. Instead, she remained unmoving, listening to the rant she knew he needed to make.
Ashamed at the tears on his face, he tore his gaze from hers, snatching the book of poetry from Buffy’s lap. “This, this book, is what it’s about. Not the bloody phone call.”
Relief washed over Buffy, and she laughed. “The book? That’s what you’re so upset about?”
“And Anya said. . .”
Buffy sighed. “Oh, don’t listen to Anya! She’s dealing with her own crap and projecting it onto other people. She’s unhappy with herself and isn’t sure where she fits into life now. That’s why your gift to her was so perfect. She has a lot to figure out.”
Spike was uncertain he wanted to hear what Buffy had to say, but he didn’t let himself falter. “I recognize Angel’s handwriting in the book. He gave this to you for a gift. He’s the one who wrote, ‘Always.’ So, you’re trying to tell me. . .”
“That Angel and I are over. By giving you this book, I was showing you that I was giving up his hold on me. . . that Angel and I aren’t meant to be forever and ever. . . that I’d like a new start. Does that make any sort of sense?” Buffy countered adamantly.
“Maybe I need it said in black and white.” Spike vacillated a few seconds before decisively engulfing Buffy’s warm hand with his own.
“I think I’m ready to let go of the past,” Buffy stated carefully, lacing her fingers with Spike’s. “I know what I don’t want.”
“If you know what you don’t want, what do you want?”
Buffy pressed her body against Spike’s side, pushing his left arm around her waist and leaning her head against his chest. “I want. . .”
“Buffy, what are you doing?” a familiar voice interrupted.
Apprehensively, Buffy’s head whipped around to view Xander hovering in the doorway. Her surprise melted into a smile, and Spike felt her muscles relax against him. Spike couldn’t help but grin when she brought his head to hers, gently smoothing aside his remaining tears.
She exhaled a sweet breath against Spike’s lips before kissing him without reservation or embarrassment. Spike did his part by deepening the affection until Buffy groaned slightly, nipped his lower lip, and pulled away with stars in her eyes.
“That the answer you’re looking for?” she asked softly, not willing to let go of his forearms.
Xander was frozen in the background. Buffy forced her face into one of neutrality and returned her attention to her friend, enjoying the feel of Spike’s fingertips massaging her hip. Xander said nothing for a long moment. Then, something swept across his eyes, and he nodded once to Buffy before backing into the house and leaving Spike and Buffy alone.
Spike playfully nuzzled her hair. “Yeah, love, it was.”
Chapter 7: Part Seven
Earth, Christmas afternoon
“And what exactly do you think you’re doing, Buffy? I’m a little bit confused here,” Willow said, trying to stay calm but utterly failing. Wringing her hands and furrowing her brow, Willow paced back and forth in front of the Slayer who sat on the edge of her bed with her hands folded in her lap.
“I’m doing what I have to do.” Buffy had been quite clear on her stance since returning to the group after Xander had witnessed her voluntarily kissing Spike.
“What you *have* to do?” Willow was incredulous.
“Okay, maybe it’s what I *want* to do.” Buffy crossed her arms. “Willow, obviously there’s something *you* want me to do. I mean, the unspoken is always there. Why don’t we just get it out in the open for once instead of letting it fester?”
Willow stopped in mid-stride. “What do you mean? What do I want you to do?”
“Yeah.” Buffy played with her fingers, burying her line of sight in her lap. “What do *you* want me to do?”
“With Spike?” Willow lowered herself onto the bed next to Buffy. She studied her own hands.
“With Spike, with Angel, with Riley. What do you want from me? What do you think is best for me with my life and my kind of work?”
Willow was silent for several minutes.
“Your work is *hard*, which is an understatement, I realize,” Willow acknowledged after she thought for a bit. “You need someone who will stick by you. Someone who won’t betray you. . . won’t leave you. . . no matter what the cost to them. None of them have done that.” She bit her lip and tacked on a final sentence, “And you deserve happiness most of all.”
“Spike hasn’t ever truly left me. . . no matter what the situation or how hard it’s been for him. . . how hard I’ve made it for him. The one time he did leave, he had every intention of returning.” The more Buffy spoke, the stronger she felt about and believed in her position.
“Has Spike ever made you feel truly happy?”
Buffy thought back to several moments in the past when Spike had cheered her up merely by listening. She thought back over the last two days, and a slow smile spread over her face. “Yeah. Yeah, he has.”
“Well, then, I say that you should go for the next few hours and enjoy them,” Willow concluded.
“Will you guys allow me that? Will Xander; will Anya? I know Dawn will.”
“Buffy, we all want your happiness,” Willow repeated, thinking briefly of Tara, “and if you only have a short time, you should seize it.”
* * *
Earth, Christmas evening
Spike was quiet but content with Buffy leaning heavily against his chest. Everyone was in the living room together, watching a Christmas video on the television and VCR that Xander had brought over from his apartment.
“Want some more eggnog?” Buffy whispered in his ear, sending feathery shivers over his spine.
Spike set aside his empty cup. “No, thanks.”
“What do you make of Anya and Xander over there?” she asked low enough that no one else could hear.
Anya and Xander were snuggled together under a blanket on the far end of the sofa. They were merely touching one another as they intently viewed the movie. Dawn was lying on her stomach, propped up by her elbows, and Willow sat near her, cradling a cup of eggnog in both hands and taking tiny sips.
“Figure they’re doing what we’re doing,” he replied huskily.
“And that is?”
“Enjoying the moment. Taking advantage of the time together.” Spike stroked Buffy’s hair absently as he spoke.
“I guess they are.” She squeezed Spike’s thigh gently and laid her head on his shoulder.
As the credits began to roll, Xander stretched. “I guess I better be heading to bed. I do have work tomorrow.”
“Me, too,” Anya proclaimed. “Well, I don’t have work, but I am tired.”
The pair made their way around the room, hugging and wishing Willow, Dawn, Buffy, and Spike happy holidays. Xander embraced the women and even shook Spike’s hand.
“Thanks,” he offered the vampire. “This was a good Christmas. We needed this.”
Anya imitated Xander’s handshake, still reluctant to touch Spike in front of Xander after her past tryst with the vampire. “Yes, thank you very much for the book.”
Willow gave everyone in the room a fierce hug. “Happy Christmas. It was truly beautiful. I had a wonderful time, and I’m glad to be part of the group again. I wasn’t sure I’d ever really be. I mean, I knew that you accepted me back, but I still felt. . .”
Holding up a hand, Buffy cut her friend off, “Willow, you’ve always been accepted. You always will be.”
The grin that spread over her face needed no words. With that, she followed Anya and Xander up the stairs, fingering the garland as she went.
Dawn brought Buffy the flower that Spike had confiscated from heaven. “It’s starting to wilt a little.”
“Oh!” Buffy handled the blossom cautiously. She could see the edges of the bloom starting to droop. “So it is.”
“Does that mean that evil will be coming back soon?” Dawn asked worriedly.
“Afraid so, pet,” Spike said solemnly.
“But you have me to protect you. . . and Spike.” Buffy kissed the side of her sister’s head. “Don’t believe that *thing* that posed as Mom. I’ll always choose you. . . always protect you. You know that, right?”
“I know,” Dawn assented quietly, glad that she had earlier confessed what the being had said to her.
“Good night, Dawnie. I love you. Merry Christmas.”
“I love you guys, too!” She hugged both of them tightly before bounding up the stairs. “Merry Christmas!”
With everyone suddenly gone, Buffy and Spike found themselves alone together. Spike turned off the lights so that only the glow of the Christmas tree and the fading light of the flower illuminated the room. Buffy collected the pillow and blankets from the cabinets near the sofa.
After she arranged the bedding for Spike, she caught him staring at her with desire in his eyes. Something stronger than sexual lust was present as well. She quickly identified it as love for her. He had always loved her. She couldn’t deny the love.
As he turned his back on her to face the Christmas tree, several different possible responses flashed through her mind. She could punch him for having the feelings he did. She could yell at him and deny that his feelings were real because he was a monster. She could say good night and simply climb up the stairs. She could hug him, thank him, and leave him alone. She could stay and talk with him a while. Instead, Buffy threw caution to the wind and went against the grain of her usual behavior toward Spike.
She slid her arms around his waist from behind. Spike tensed and then accepted the gesture. In that instant, Buffy realized that she had abused Spike as much as he abused her in their prior relationship. He was as hesitant to accept anything from her as she was to accept anything from him.
Spike faced her then, pulling her so close that she could scarcely breathe. He laid his cheek atop the crown of her head and inhaled her familiar, very much alive scent. Despite the comfort of having her touch him of her own accord, he had to ask. . . needed to have a label for what he thought was happening.
“What are we doing, love?”
Buffy’s voice was muffled against his chest, but he heard every word as clear as day, “We are. . . taking a chance. . . on us.”
“Yes.” She looked up at him, uncertainty in her eyes. “If you’re willing to, that is.”
“How do I know this is real? And not related to this moment?” Spike knew he was being picky, but he had to be somewhat more certain before he risked everything again.
She read his mind. “There’s always a risk, Spike.”
“I suppose so.” The hurt was evident in his tone.
Snuggling against him before he could pull away, Buffy admitted, “But I think that *this* particular risk is pretty much a guarantee. . . at least on my end.”
Spike was happy to reassure her as he plopped onto the sofa, pulling Buffy into his lap. “On mine as well.”
Buffy smiled over his mouth. “Good.”
Then, she kissed him thoroughly, senses alive and tingling with each move he made in response. For the first time, she put love into each gesture, each touch, and she appreciated the love he used each time he touched her in response. When she felt his arousal increasing and becoming more urgent several minutes later, she opened her eyes at virtually the same time as he did.
Sea blue met forest green.
The pair remained motionless as their eyes conveyed their individual past stories of passion and desire that culminated in the melding of their two essences. . . in their story. Together, they understood that every thought, every action, every feeling from the past was a step toward this moment. . . toward their union.
Buffy broke through their connection first, “Spike?”
“What, love?” Even though they had done nothing but kiss, Spike was strangely sated.
“Will you hold me tonight?” She felt childish and innocent, asking to be held, but somehow she desperately wanted the touch.
“Anything you want, love. Upstairs?” He nodded toward the stairs.
“Umm. I think Willow will probably be taking my bed because Xander and Anya. . .”
“Say no more. The sofa?”
Buffy wrinkled her nose at the small space. “I suppose it will have to do.”
“Wait! I have an idea!” Spike sprang up, making sure that Buffy was standing firmly. He grabbed the blankets and pillow off the sofa and headed to the space near the Christmas tree. With both arms wrapped around her ribs, Buffy watched him with an amused smile on her face. Spike laid out the blankets and pillows in a neat pallet.
When he finished, he took a space on the pallet, patted the top blanket, and began to remove his shoes. When Buffy didn’t move, he tugged on her arm until she giggled and tumbled next to him. He unlaced her shoes and removed them from her feet, massaging her ankles, foot, and toes. She groaned under his touch.
“How’s this?” he asked, hoping he’d pleased her.
“It’s fine,” she replied nonchalantly.
When they climbed beneath the blankets, Spike spooned her from behind, facing the tree. Eyes closed, Buffy snuggled against Spike’s familiar body, enjoying the feel of her hips against his. His arms appeared around her waist, so she hugged one of them to her chest.
After Buffy settled down and was almost asleep, Spike whispered, “Open your eyes.”
Unwilling to change her comfortable position, she reluctantly lifted her lids. She gasped. “Spike! It’s beautiful. This is perfect!”
He grinned against her hair as she surveyed the world in front of her. Lights from the tree filled her vision, and ornaments and tinsel glowed in the reflecting luminescence. Her whole world was one of magic, purity, and hope. A feeling of warmth and peace such as she had ever known on Earth was born in the innermost portion of her being and spread through her arms and legs to her fingers and toes. Her mind and body teetered on the edge of dreams again.
“Buffy.” Spike kissed her neck tenderly.
“How will things be between us after the evil returns?” Her hair was like silk against his face.
Exploring the fingers of his right hand with her own, Buffy was silent for a long time. “Well, our main focus will be the evil.”
Spike sighed into her hair. “I know.”
Buffy rolled onto her back, so she could read the concern on his face. “But, I’m hoping you’ll be there to help me.”
Disappointment flooded his expression.
Buffy kissed the tip of his nose impishly. “And. . . we’ll work on *us*, of course. Take it slow, but I’m definitely ready to make time for us. I want to make sure I don’t repeat the mistakes of the past, so I have a favor to ask of you.”
Spike waited for her to continue.
“I need you to talk with me. . . make sure I open up to you even if I resist. That’s my weak spot, and I need your help to make it better. I tend to clam up and not let anyone in when things get stressful.”
Spike kissed her forehead and then her mouth. “Persistence is one of my strengths, pet. I’ll be reminding you of what you requested.”
She grinned. “Good.”
Then, Buffy rolled back over and resumed her position against his chest. Softly, she murmured, “Thanks for everything, Spike. It was a magical Christmas.”
Spike settled onto the brink of sleep. “You’re always welcome, love.”
He barely detected her next words, “I know you love me. Do I have permission to learn to love you back?”
Spike held her close, and his next words laved over her ear like the gentlest of caresses, “Always.”
* * *
A heavenly dimension where time has no meaning
“Are you satisfied with the results?”
The youngest heavenly being sighed dreamily as he watched the events of the last two days. “It was beautiful.”
“Well, good job,” his supervisor noted. “We now believe that you’re ready for some tougher projects.”
“I am?” the neophyte asked with wonder on his face.
“Yes. And it’s now time for you to get started.”
“Okay.” He virtually tore himself from his first mission and followed his supervisor back to the main power room. “I have a question.”
“And what’s that?” The supervisor raised an eyebrow at him.
“What will happen to them?”
“What do you mean?” This young one’s questions were becoming annoying.
“I mean, we don’t watch them all the time, so what will happen? Does evil have some ulterior motive for allowing us to do them good?”
“Ah. Good questions. You’ll have to wait and see what happens. And yes, evil always has an ulterior motive.”
The young being was uncertain and concerned. “What can we do about that?”
“Not much, I’m afraid.” He sighed and decided to alleviate the youthful one’s concerns. “We can only hope that they will make the most of what we gave them. Evil hopes the opposite. . . that the good will be more demoralizing when they face the danger again.”
“So, it’s their choice in how they respond to their situation?”
“Yes. That’s correct.”
The youngest power turned on his heel and nodded toward the room they’d just exited. With the gesture, he sent an extra push for the positive, making each individual in the Summers’ house more likely to choose hope, love, and fearlessness in the face of evil.
“Merry Christmas,” he whispered to his first charges.
* * *