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Christmas Party From Hell

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Joyce surveyed the wreck of her living room with a sigh.

"I knew it was a bad idea letting Buffy and Spike have their Christmas-party-cum-wedding-reunion here."

Clem, who was bustling out of the kitchen, armed with a mop and bucket, gave her a toothy grin.

"Don't you fret, honey. The young folks promised to stop by after patrol and help with the clean up, remember? Everything'll soon be back to normal."

Joyce gave him a grateful smile. Dear Clem. Always so positive. "You're right, of course, honey, as always."

"Here." Clem handed her a broom and trash bag for the broken baubles that littered the floor under the fallen Christmas tree. "Careful with that glass, okay?"

"Sure thing." Joyce took the proffered broom and set to work. As she swept brittle fragments into the bag, she reflected, "One good thing about the party, though, at least Spike's more himself. I've hardly recognised him these last few weeks."

Clem, mopping hard at a particularly dried-in bloodstain, gave her another snaggle-toothed grin. "Yeah, he's been a real drag since he's gotten his soul back, huh? I told him it was a bad idea, but would he listen? Stubborn as a mule. That's our Spike."

Joyce nodded. "Plus, he'd do anything for Buffy." She rested her weight on her broom. "It is kind of romantic, don't you think, him going all the way to Africa for it? It's a very long way, especially by motorbike."

"Oh sure," Clem agreed, his tone as close to sarcasm as Clem ever got. "It's plenty romantic if you don't mind him bawling like a baby every five minutes and telling anyone who'll listen how sorry he is about everything. He was just fine before, in my opinion - pretty well adjusted for an evil soulless fiend. Not that I have any objection to soulless fiends, what with being one."

"But a very cute one." Joyce smiled at him again. "Spike's crying was a bit hard to take. I quite understand why that odd young English girl - Drusilla, is it? - you know, the bridesmaid from Spike's side of the family?- found it upsetting. What did she mean about him being as bad as daddy, though?"

"I have no idea." Clem shrugged, still rubbing. "I'm just thankful she didn't bring that drippy boyfriend of hers with her this time, or it isn't just blood we'd be mopping off the carpet."

"You mean Lionel?" Joyce responded. "Actually, it's a shame he didn't come. Such a polite, chaos demon, was it? Drusilla, on the other hand.....Well, I'm not sorry she said she's never coming here again, after...after...."

They gazed at each other, pale-faced, remembering. Joyce cleared her throat. "As for Angel...."

Clem grinned. "Well, despite everything, you must admit inviting him was a good idea. The Slayer has smarts. Of course she has. She's your daughter."

Joyce twinkled at him. "Why, thanks, honey."

"Yep," Clem mused. "The only thing that was going to help Spike get back to normal was a reminder of what too much brooding can do to you."

"True," Joyce admitted. "Also, once his nose had stopped bleeding, Angel was very helpful in dealing with those rude demons who gatecrashed the party, gunning for the Slayer. I can't think who let them in."

"I thought they didn't look like real carol singers," Clem muttered guiltily, still rubbing hard. "Yeah, it was a good fight. Great to see Spike get his mojo back at last."

Joyce nodded. "I think it was seeing Buffy punch poor Angel in the nose and Angel fall over backwards and topple the Christmas tree that did it. I thought Spike would never stop laughing."

"Angel asked for it, in my opinion," Clem growled. "It was like he wanted us all to keep on suffering. He's lucky the Slayer didn't dust him instead of just punching his nose."

Joyce couldn't help nodding again in agreement, though in the normal way of things, she didn't approve of violence.

"Yes, imagine Angel saying.... what he said, when the rest of us had spent so long trying to make Spike just stop already."

She shuddered at the memory.

"You'd think Spike would have gotten the message after Mr Giles had drunk himself senseless and Xander, Willow and Anya had stuffed cotton balls in their ears, wouldn't you? But no. Totally oblivious, even when Drusilla shrieked and ran out of the house and next door's dog started howling."

"Stubborn as a mule, like I said." Clem waggled his floppy ears, which made him look very cute, Joyce always thought. "When Spike starts something, he doesn't stop until everything in his path"

"Dead?" Joyce finished for him. "We nearly were. Why couldn't Spike's soul make him feel guilty about subjecting us to....that, huh, instead of about stuff that happened a hundred years ago?"

Clem shrugged again. "It's a mystery all right, honey."

"Never mind," Joyce grabbed hold of the fallen Christmas tree. "Help me set this back up?"

"Sure." Clem got off his knees, and between them they hauled the tree upright. It looked rather sorry for itself - one of the branches was broken - but with new baubles and some fresh tinsel garlands, it would be good as new.

"Rest break?" Clem asked, and Joyce nodded. They flopped down onto the couch side by side. Joyce set her head on Clem's shoulder and sank comfortably into his saggy flesh.

"One thing still bothers me," she said, in a puzzled voice.

Clem nuzzled her ear. "Oh? What's that?"

"He looked so surprised when Buffy punched his nose," Joyce mused. "Do you think maybe he meant it?"

Clem blinked. "You've lost me. Did who mean what?"

"Angel, of course." Joyce raised her head and looked at Clem. "Do you think he can possibly have meant it when he said he liked Spike's poetry?"

Clem looked dubious. "He can't have done. Can he?"

They stared at each other. Then they both shook their heads.

"Absolutely no way."