"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."
* * *
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 meet 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.
Well, here's the end folks! I hope you enjoyed the light, fluffy story. I tried to keep it light without letting the characters get away too much with anything. . .while attempting to stay within the bounds of what they might do!
Thanks for the lovely reviews! They make me smile! *hugs* MERRY CHRISTMAS and if you're not Christian, HAPPY HOLIDAYS, whatever you might celebrate! ;o)