TITLE: All He Wants For Christmas

AUTHOR: Spike Girl

PAIRING: S/B (with some W/T, X/A)

RATING: PG-13

DISCLAIMER: BtVS is *not* mine. Hey Joss! The holidays are here again, and you know what I *really* want? SPIKE! On my doorstep. Gift wrapped in a bow and in nothing else ;).

SUMMARY: Spike only wants one thing for Christmas--the Scoobies try to give it to him. Set in Season 6 somewhere before "Older and Far Away," except that Willow and Tara never broke up.

FEEDBACK: Flames are welcome and appreciated. E-mail me at spike_girl@angelfire.com.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Merry Christmas, Di! This one's all for you :). I'm sorry, though--I wanted to write something really spectacular for you, but finals *just* ended, then I had to travel home, and now I only have a few hours left. This is what came out. But it IS all for you :). MWAH!

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"Buffy, luv, please. Just a few more min--"

"You know I can't, Spike. I haven't even finished patrol yet, and then there's Dawn to think about...."

Spike jumped out of the bed Buffy had vacated seconds before and walked over to her. "Then let me patrol with you. Between the two of us, we can get it done in half the time. Maybe I could..." He looked nervous. "You know, see the Nibblet? We could chat a bit. It's been a while since I--"

"God damn it, Spike, don't you get it? I want to be away from you. A-W-A- Y." Buffy gathered her clothes from various locations around the room and turned away from him as she dressed. "I just needed...you know. And we did. So now I'm gone."

"Oh, RIGHT!" Spike angrily thrust his legs into his jeans and rooted around for a T-shirt that Buffy hadn't torn to shreds. It was getting harder and harder these days. "So, what? Once again I serve as your vibrator on legs? All hail Spike, not worthy enough to be the Slayer's lap dog, but a damn good dildo." He spit the words out at her, anger masking the despair he felt deep inside.

"Look, Spike, you *know* this is how it has to be. It's better this way, and...and that's that. I'll see you...you know. When I see you." She quickly escaped the crypt before Spike could deliver one of his heart- rending speeches, or read into her and lay her with one of the 'I know you better than you know yourself' talks. She just couldn't take it any more.

It was just sex. She knew it, and he should know it. They were both having fun, no one was getting hurt--well, unless they asked to--and it was all working out. Why now all of a sudden did he have to go and complicate things?

It wasn't like *she* cared at all.

The heavy door of the crypt slammed shut behind Buffy as Spike stared on in silent misery.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Spike leaned against the counter and nodded at the group assembled in the Magic Box. "...and that's when she left." His face crumpled up and he closed his eyes, not wanting to see the reactions of the others. All at once, they were upon him.

"Spike...I'm sorry. It's not her fault, though.. Really. Maybe she--she was just tired. That's probably it. Everything'll look brighter tomorrow after she's had a little bit of sleep." Dawn hugged her friend reassuringly. "She's crazy about you, really she is."

Spike pushed her away. Usually her words were enough to comfort him, but now...he just couldn't believe them. It had been months, and still, nothing had had changed. To Buffy, Spike was nothing more than a dirty little secret. A little fantasy she could indulge in every time it struck her fancy. He wasn't a man--wasn't a person--he was just a *thing.* A thing used for her pleasure. With a sigh, he sank to the floor.

"What's wrong? Did Buffy not give you a sufficient number of orgasms? Or wait..." Anya narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "Did you not give her enough? Because, really, there is NO excuse for a man not to satisfy his woman. Really, I'm not surprised. No woman is responsible for her actions when she hasn't had en--"

"And thank you once again, Dr. Ruth." A hand on Anya's shoulder steered her away. "Come on, Spike. You can't just give up. Again. I mean, you *could,* but then she'd probably just find someone else, and...I so don't want to go there. Point is, she needs you as much as you need her. You just have to make her realize it." Xander sat down beside Spike and lay a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Of course, I WILL deny saying any of this tomorrow. Just for the record."

That earned Xander a small smile. "Yeah, yeah. I've heard that tune before, Harris. Just like last time when you told me a romantic dinner was the key to her heart. Remember? I showed up after with the broken nose and you started shrieking like a schoolgirl when you saw all of the blood? Then you felt so bad that you FORCED me to sleep on your couch for a week so you could shove me full of ice cream and force me to watch that Three Stooges marathon. Is that the kind of denial you're working for this time? Should I restock your first-aid kit now or later?"

Now Spike was smiling fully. He could never have imagined that things would turn out this way. That day seemed so long ago, yet it had only been a month. One month...of having *friends.* Buffy had been in a particularly foul mood that night, he remembered. After the prerequisite beating-as- foreplay, and the marathon shagging session, she had run out once again. What she hadn't realized was the gang had heard every single word she said. They were out on patrol, and had been looking for her...Standing right outside the crypt. Instead of the scene he fully expected, all of the cursing and yelling, and possible a staking...he got what he least expected. Support. Dawn was ready to go after her sister and ream her out- -even the witches were with her. Seeing Anya struggle with the concept of sex with no afterglow had been damn amusing, too. The big surprise, however, was Xander. Of all of the Scoobies, Xander hated Spike the most. Jumping on him at every chance, never ceasing with the threats. Something changed that day. Spike liked to think that maybe it was because Xander saw something of himself in Spike. Not the puffy loser who changed jobs faster than his underwear. Please. Even at his most desperate, Spike had his limits. But still, Xander could see. Realize. Even the biggest bad could have his heart broken. Even Spike could hurt.

Since then, every time Buffy thought it fit to use him and lose him, he went to the Scoobies for support. They were always there. Listened to him, tried to help him. It was during these conversations that all of them came to a realization. Spike really did love Buffy. No one could explain how they knew, or when they were sure of it, but it was a non-issue now. They hated to see Buffy hurting so much, but every attempt at helping her had failed. Now all that they had left was to help Spike. Maybe, vicariously through him, they could benefit Buffy as well. While all of them knew how horribly she treated him, they also knew that the only time she ever reacted--that even a hint of the old Buffy came through--was when she was with him. So, they kept their knowledge of Buffy's involvement with Spike a secret, and sat back as Spike and Buffy perpetuated the same cycle over and over again.

"Are you even listening?" Willow was crouching in front of Spike, and waved her hand in front of his face, her mouth twisted in worry. "Oh my God...what if she did something to him? Finally broke him? Maybe he's stuck in a comatose state because she damaged a vital part of his brain in her tirade! What if he never snaps out of it? What if he's a vegetable for the rest of his life? For the rest of eternity? What do we do?" She looked at the group frantically, eyes wide.

"Calm down, Red. I'm fine. Just thinking is all." Spike stood up and grimaced as pain shot up his back. That's what happened when you were slammed into concrete continually for an hour and a half...

"Look, I really should be going. It wouldn't do for her to drop in here and see me with the lot of you. Probably beat you too, just for looking at me, unclean as I am." He sighed and picked himself up off of the floor. "Just...make sure she's okay. Please? Something's wrong, and I just don't know how to fix it." A wistful expression crossed his face. "Wish I could."

"We will, Spike. Don't worry, Buffy will be fine." Tara's soft voice cut through the sound of Spike's heavy boots crossing the floor. "But what about you?"

"What about me, pet?"

"Will *you* be fine?" She asked gently.

Spike half-smiled as his hand reached the door. "Don't worry about me. It's just a waste of time." He snorted loudly. "Ask Buffy how much of a waste of time I *really* am. Barely worth a seventh go, according to her. Just look after her until I can see her again." He opened the door.

"Night, Bit. Night, everyone. And thanks." With an affectionate ruffle to Dawn's hair and a wave, he disappeared into the night.

The collective Scooby gang sighed and resumed their positions researching at the back table. Silence prevailed as the only sound to permeate the air was the occasional turning of a page, or the closing of a book. No one ever knew what to say after these visits. There was nothing that *could* be said.

After a while, Xander finally spoke up.

"Hey guys! I know what we should do!" Four sets of eyes turned towards him quickly.

"What does Spike want more than anything else in the world?"

The rest of the Scoobies looked at each other worriedly. They remembered what happened the LAST time Xander had an idea...

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Buffy smiled. And for the first time in a long time, it was genuine.

"Yeah. Of course! No, I think it's better if I don't. Uh-huh. Duh, Giles, what did you expect?"

She shifted the phone to her other ear as she checked on the pie in the oven.

"I have to. I figured Dawn deserved a real Christmas this year. She'll have one, even if I die trying. Yes, that WAS a joke. Anyway, I have to make sure the turkey is thawing for tomorrow. So, your flight gets in when? Uh-huh. No...Are you serious??" Buffy burst out laughing, trying to process what Giles had just said. "You know you don't have to...Well, yeah. Yes. Yes, it definitely would be a surprise. So, let me get this straight." She cleared her throat and fought back another fit of giggles. "You're flying in for the holidays, which, as you know, makes me very happy. Fine. You don't want me to tell the others so you can surprise them. Also fine. I'm just getting a little lost in the 'dressing up as Santa' thing. I know they won't be expecting it, but.... Uh-huh. As long as you think so...Okay. I miss you too, Giles. I can't wait to see you. Always. Have a safe flight, then. Bye."

Buffy hung up the phone and stared at it for a moment. The giggles began anew. Giles visiting from England would be wonderful, but in his words, dear LORD! A Santa suit? She'd have to make sure she had a camera handy.

"Oh, wow! What happened? Is everything okay?" Dawn stepped into the kitchen and took in Buffy's ultra-happy state. These days, when 'Buffy' and 'happy' were grouped in the same sentence, something was usually very, very wrong.

"What? I can't even laugh anymore?" Buffy glanced at her sister.

"It's not that, it's just..." Dawn's voice dropped. "You're never happy anymore. It's nice. To see you laugh. You should do it more often."

"Dawn..." The older Summers sister wrapped the younger in a large hug. "I know it's been hard, sweetie, but things are getting better. I promise. Out with the bad, in with the good. It's my Christmas resolution."

"Umm...Buffy? Isn't the resolution thing supposed to be for New Year's?"

"So? I'm starting early. From now on, only happy things for us."

*And that means tying up one loose end...* Buffy smiled again at Dawn, already having reached a decision about what she had to do.

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"No fucking way." The following night, Spike crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Xander. "This is some kind of cosmic joke, right? Bad karma for a century of maiming and torture? Because this HAS to be a joke."

"No joke, Spike. Think about it. What better way to get Buffy to come clean about how she really feels about you?"

"It's just so bloody stupid..."

"He does have a point, Xander."

"And thank you Anya. Traitor," Xander hissed under his breath. "Look, Spike, Buffy's big Christmas party is tonight. A Christmas Eve soiree, complete with gifts, dinner, the whole nine yards. Now tell me--and if you say yes, we can scrap the plan--have you heard anything about this party until right now?"

Spike shifted uncomfortably. "Well, no. But I'm sure she was going to tell me about it."

Xander just stared.

"She was!" Spike thought for a moment, and his shoulders slumped. "If only to tell me to stay the hell away from it," he mumbled.

"Exactly. So, we commence with Operation Freedom Stallion."

"Freedom Stal--what the hell are you talking about? Are you speaking loser again?" Spike turned towards Willow and Tara, who had been silent up to this point. "Do you understand what he's talking about?"

"Hello! Focus! Operation Freedom Stallion is my cool code name for the plan. Okay? You know, so we can mention it around Buffy and she *won't* get suspicious."

"Right. Because talking about Operation Freedom Stallion is just SO normal..." Spike rolled his eyes. "I've said it a thousand times before, but never have I had the proof I have now. You, Harris, are an idiot."

"Yeah, just remember, this idiot it going to be the one responsible for getting Buffy to come clean to us about you. And convincing her that she can't live without you."

Anya shook her head. "Xander, honey, we already know about them. What will getting Buffy to admit it do?"

"Think about it, Anya," Tara supplied helpfully. "If Buffy feels comfortable enough with her relationship with Spike that she can tell her friends about it, it will mean she cares enough about Spike to really give them a chance together. Right?" She looked around nervously and clutched Willow's hand. "That was it, right?"

Spike's face lit up at Tara's explanation. In a perfect world...well, that would BE his perfect world.

"Bingo. You hit the nail right on the head, baby." Willow tenderly brushed back a stray wisp of Tara's hair, planting a small kiss on her cheek before turning back to Xander.

"Oh, sod it all! I'll do it. I mean, things can't get any worse than they already are, right?" Spike was beaming. "I'll go through with this whole ridiculous plan. I'll even tell you what--if this works, Harris, I'll let you off the hook. You don't have to get me anything for Christmas."

Xander nodded. "Okay, deal." He thought for a moment. "Hey wait a minute- -Spike! This *is* your Christmas present! My brilliant idea supplements my lack of cash nicely."

"Looks like you'd better get yourself some funding real soon, because I'm hard to shop for, the party's tonight, and this plan doesn't have a chance in hell of working. Anyway, I've got to be off. Stage one of Operation Spotted Guinea Pig or whatever is in effect." Spike saluted at Xander and began the walk back to his crypt.

"It's Operation Freedom Stallion! The code name will never work if you can't get it right! Then we'll get this plan mixed up with all of out *other* secret plans." Xander paused. "Wait, forget I just said that."

"Stallion? Hmph. Just who is the stallion in this equation?" Spike watched Xander fidget for a minute. "No WAY. No bloody WAY! He arched an eyebrow at the other man. *I'm* the Stallion? Me? Always thought you had a thing for me." He smiled wolfishly at Xander and winked. "It's really not surprising. I mean, I am quite the package."

"Wh--hu--NO! I..." Xander tried to splutter out an explanation as Anya moved and stood between the two men.

"Now look here, you," she pointed her index finger into Spike's chest, "none of that. You can't sleep with Xander. That's a privilege reserved only for me. Unless, of course, you're talking about a threesome. I think I could go along with that. It might be nice, right honey?" She turned towards her fiancée. "Spike is an incredibly attractive man, and I know you must be curious. Plus, an extra penis for me! What do you say?"

Xander hid his face in his hands. "Oh God...Oh God, oh God, oh God. I have officially entered Hell. Come on, Anya. We're leaving. And we're going to have another one of those talks about things that you shouldn't say in public, especially when Spike's around." As Xander and Anya exited the cemetery, Spike motioned with his head in the direction of his crypt.

"I'd better take off and do this before I come to my senses and realize that I just listened to something Xander said. You ladies okay to walk home by yourselves?"

Willow looked slightly offended at the suggestion she was unable to take care of herself, but Tara merely smiled and shook her head. "We're fine, but thanks, Spike. Good luck."

The lovers watched Spike head back to his crypt, hoping against all hope that the day would turn out to be happy for him.

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She drummed her feet impatiently against the side of the tomb. It figured. Whenever she came here and hoped and prayed he'd be gone, he was always there. Then, of course, his presence led to other...activities...and she always regretted everything the instant they were finished.

At least, that's what Buffy told herself.

After waiting around for a bit, she decided she could do it later. It's not like Spike ever had anything better to do. As she hopped off of the tomb, the door to the crypt clanged open. Buffy assumed a fighting stance, ready to take on the intruder.

Or the cryptowner.

"Buffy...What are you doing here? I was about to stop over at the house. Is everything okay, luv?" Upon seeing that she had, once again come to him, Spike's resolve in the plan wavered. Xander was convinced if he broke everything off with Buffy, she'd realize just how much she relied on Spike. All he had to do was break up with her, and the gang was supposedly doing the rest. They decided they needed a way to get Spike into the party without Buffy knowing he was there, hence a brilliant idea from none other than Dawn. Tara had gone and rented one of those poncy Santa suits. Spike was supposed to show up to the party dressed in it, and then listen as Buffy was bombarded with questions from the others. Supposedly, Buffy would answer honestly as long as she knew Spike was nowhere within hearing range. She'd confess her feelings, he'd surprise her, and they would live happily ever after.

Or at least he'd leave in one piece rather than in thousands of tiny blowing ones.

Resolved to do what he had to, Spike's concerned demeanor changed to one of cold contempt.

"Right. Slayer. Just the person I wanted to talk to. Unless you just stopped by to have a quick go."

"No, Spike. Ewww. I'd never--with you--not anymore. It's disgusting."

"Oh, I forgot about this part. It usually takes you what...five..ten...minutes to strip down after that line?"

"Spike, I didn't come here to--"

"Then what *did* you come here for, Buffy? No, wait. Let me talk first. I have something to tell you." He paused and took a deep, unnecessary breath. "It's over, pet. This well's run dry. You want to get your rocks off, you're going to have to find another sucker to play your twisted little game."

"Wait...*you're* breaking up with *me?*" Buffy was incredulous.

"That's right, ducks. So Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and please get out of my home."

Buffy stomped her foot angrily on the ground. "That is SO like you Spike! It's not fair! You can't break up with me!"

A glimmer of hope presented itself. She wanted him? She really--

"I came here to break up with you!"

Shit.

Buffy continued. "The HELL you'll break up with me. One--we're not even dating, so we CAN'T break up, and two, I was here first." She sighed loudly. "I'm done with it. It might have been good while it lasted, but I can't live this way, Spike. I can't do it. Hiding from my friends, having my whole life be a secret...This has got to end."

His thoughts were running away with him. *You don't have to keep it a secret, pet. It's not a secret, really. Please. Just be with me. I need you, Buffy.*

However, as was his way, his mouth moved faster than his brain. "Oh, FINE then. Either way, as long as I lose the dead weight in this relationship, I'm happy." Spike swung the door of the crypt back open. "Just. Go."

She ran out into the cemetery without another word.

Buffy knew she had done the right thing. Really.

Why did doing the right thing feel so wrong? ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The party was going in full swing when the doorbell rang. Buffy answered it as the rest of her guests continued to talk quietly in the living room as they waited for dinner to be served.

None other than Santa Claus stood on her doorstep.

"Finally! It's about time you got here! I was getting worried..." Buffy grabbed him by the arm and dragged him into the house. "I think you should wait to tell them. I told them all you couldn't make it, so the surprise'll be that much better. Come on." She shut the door behind them and turned and gave the red-garbed figure a big hug.

"I missed you, Giles," she whispered.

Santa just stood there.

"Guys?" Buffy walked into the middle of the living room and turned off the music. "Hey, look who's here. It's Santa." She nudged him forward and smiled widely. "And don't even ask him, because the beard's not coming off until later. Right, Santa?"

"Of course." A voice, very muffled but distinctly British, answered.

The rest of the partygoers exchanged smiles and winks. Everything was going according to plan. Buffy led Santa over to a chair. "Sit tight, Giles. I know you must be hot in there, but dinner will be ready in about ten minutes, and then we can tell them." She gave him another hug, then looked at him, puzzled. "Is everything okay? It looks like you've lost some weight..."

"Buffy!" Anya's voice broke out over the chatter of the room. "That's Santa Claus, you know."

Buffy nodded slowly. "Yes, it is, Anya. Your point?"

Anya quickly took Buffy by the wrist. "My point is that there's a certain tradition involved with that overweight man who somehow manages to make a living by working only one night a year. In my line of work, that's what's called unemployed. Instead, he's celebrated for it. I just don't understand. Either he lives in an area with a very low cost of living, or someone severely overpays him. You know...we should look into that!" Xander coughed loudly and Anya's eyes widened. "Yeah. So...uh...tradition!"

Buffy was unceremoniously pushed into Santa's lap quickly, despite her protests.

"Look, Giles," she whispered. "I don't know what's going on, but maybe we should go along with it. I'll get up in a minute to go to the bathroom. Until then, we'll just play it casually."

All she got was a grunt from the man she was sitting on--it was good enough for her.

"So, what is this guys? What are you up to? Because I have a surprise for you. You see, Santa is--"

"Tell Santa what you want for Christmas!" Anya shouted excitedly in the crowded room, and Xander jumped backwards, her words being shouted directly into his ear.

"Huh?" Buffy's eyes widened as she stared at Anya. "What, do I *look* like I'm five years old? Come on. Give me a break, here." She shifted slightly, still very uncomfortable being seated in the man's lap. "Besides, I really don't think Santa could give me what I want."

"Why don't you try him?" Dawn piped up from the couch. "I mean, it couldn't hurt or anything. Right?"

"Unless that's not Santa and it's some demon masquerading as him. Oh--did you check? Because that could be really bad..." Willow blushed and looked at the floor. "Sorry. I think I had a little too much eggnog. Holiday spirit, and all. Or holiday spirits." She and Tara began to giggle as the rest of the room stared on.

"Get it? Spirits? Like, alcohol, in the..." Tara trailed off and winked at Willow. "Never mind. I thought it was funny, sweetheart." As all of the attention in the room shifted back to Buffy, Tara whispered something to her girlfriend.

"Is it just me, or has Spike gained weight? Maybe he took that fake breakup harder than we thought. Do you think it was the right thing for him to do?" Her voice was laced with concern.

"Don't worry. It's probably just padding or something. You know Spike--he kicked and screamed about it, but when it all comes down to it, he'd rather do things perfectly or just not do them at all."

Tara nodded and she and Willow moved towards the group standing around the chair.

"Okay, this is stupid." Buffy tried to get up, but Xander pushed her right back down.

"Come on, Buff. For old time's sake. It can't hurt." He smiled widely at her. "For me?"

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Fine. I want a bicycle. End of story. Can I check on the turkey now?"

Eyes nervously met each other. She wasn't biting, Spike couldn't say anything--what should they do? It was Dawn who recovered first.

"Weknowyou'resleepingwithsomeone." She said it all in one breath, and then ducked behind Xander to avoid any shooting flames that may come out of her sister's eyes. She may have been young, but she wasn't stupid.

Buffy blinked. Everyone waited.

"What?" Her tone was emotionless and revealed nothing. She wasn't going to offer anything.

"Buffy, it's okay. You don't have to keep it a secret anymore. We know." Willow moved away from Tara and next to her friend. She patted Buffy's hand and smiled. "We're not going to judge you, if that's what you're worried about. As long as you're happy, we're happy. You know you can tell us anything."

She decided to try one last time.

"Are you guys sure you're okay? I mean, really, I don't know where you would come up wi--"

"God, you're such a bitch!" Buffy stared open-mouthed at Anya, as did everyone else. Yet, surprisingly, no one argued with her.

"What did you just call me?" Buffy stood up only to be pushed down again by Anya.

"I called you a bitch, Buffy. You know--a female dog. Except you're a human, but I think you understand the connotation."

"I understand what it means. What I don't understand is why you're calling me it. And why YOU'RE letting her!" She looked around at her assembled friends.

"What I think she's saying, Buffy..." Tara, once again, spoke up as the voice of reason. "Is that the way you're treating him just isn't right. You may not see him as a person...I mean, he's older, and always says the wrong thing, and...and...you know, there's the whole British thing...but he loves you, Buffy, and he has for a long time. You can't keep treating him like he doesn't matter."

The normally shy girl offered a smile, but didn't back down. This was one argument where she was sure she was right.

"Who?" Buffy whispered, her head hanging down. "Who are you talking about?"

Five fingers pointed to the man she was sitting on. "HIM!"

"Hi--HUH?" Buffy jumped up and looked at the bearded man. The way Tara had been talking, she had been positive that they knew. But they thought...that she...and GILES??

"Oh, no. No, no, no. There has been some HUGE mistake. HIM? Why on EARTH WOULD YOU THINK I WAS SLEEPING WITH HIM?"

"Umm...Maybe because you are?" Dawn rolled her eyes.

"This is not cool, Buffy. I mean, I know how he gets--heck, you know how much I complain about him--but you can't keep denying it." For once, even all of the jokes left Xander. Buffy was further in denial than they had thought, and he knew it must be killing Spike to hear her.

"Okay...I'm going to say this one more time. I have NOT slept with HIM." Buffy jerked up the unsuspecting man by the beard. "I will NEVER sleep with HIM. Get it?"

Dawn began to cry. Willow and Tara just shook their heads, Xander looked confused, and Anya looked ready to knock Buffy out.

"Buffy...how could you? He's my friend. You never let me see him anymore, and now you lie about him, and say horrible things about him...God, maybe you DID come back wrong! I HATE YOU!" Dawn ran into the kitchen and collapsed at the table. Buffy moved to follow her, but a hand on her shoulder intercepted her.

"She didn't mean it. She's just hurt, is all. Like the rest of us. We know that you're unhappy here. That when we pulled you out of..." Willow's voice failed her and she fell into Tara's arms. Xander continued. "Life is hard. We know that. It just happens to be especially hard for you. We're trying, Buffy, really we are. We want to make things better, but you won't let us in. Let us help you."

She stared into the eyes of her two best friends and broke down. Tears coursed down her face as she turned away from them in shame. "I'm so, so, sorry. I didn't even realize...all I felt was my own pain. Once again, chalk one up for Buffy being selfish. It's just so hard here, and I've been trying...Really, I have. Nothing helps, though. Nothing makes the hurting stop.

"He does." Tara placed a hand on her back.

"Yeah, he does..." Buffy sighed. "Except we're talking about two totally different he's." Fresh tears rolled down her face as she thought back to what she had said to Spike earlier. How could she have been so cruel? He was only trying to help, and the only one who was able to help, and she had just ruined any chance they had of ANY sort of relationship.

"Look, you guys, I have to tell you something."

Four nods at Buffy.

"I..." Buffy took a deep breath. "I've been sleeping with Spike. And wait--before you say anything--It was of my own choice. And I went over there...a lot. And, God, I've been horrible to him. I've been using him. For sex. I know what you're thinking, and no, it was never about him. It was all about me. Always. Whenever I came in there, no matter what I did, or what I said, he always made it all about me. Now...now I think I've lost him. For good."

She looked at her friends, waiting.

They merely smiled at her, and offered her four giant hugs.

"Wha--you guys--you're not mad at me for not saying anything? Disgusted?" Buffy was confused. "Xander?"

"Buffy, where have you been all this time? We all knew. About you and Spike." At her look, Xander continued. "We heard you two one night when we went looking for you at Spike's. You didn't realize we were there, but he did. We kinda started...talking. And call me crazy, but I don't think I hate the guy any more. I have a new respect for him now. For what he's done for you. For what he's put up with."

"You...you KNEW? All this time? Then why...why would you say I was sleeping with him?" Once again, poor Santa was dragged into the fray.

"Because you are." Anya stated simply.

Xander grinned. "Surprise!"

Buffy still didn't get it. "Surprise..."

Willow giggled and reached for Santa's hat and beard.

"Oh, guys, that's just G--"

All of a sudden, the front door burst open and someone entered the house.

"Terribly sorry, to be late, Buffy, but my flight was delayed. I trust there's still something left for me to eat?

Buffy's mouth dropped open. "Giles? But you're...you're..." She pointed to Santa.

"That's the surprise, Buffy! You see, it's really S--"

The door opened once again.

"Your neighbor didn't really like those tulips in the front lawn, right? Because there was no room on the street, and I had to...What?"

Shocked faces stared at him.

"How can you be here? You're in the Santa costume." Willow looked from Spike to Santa frantically. "It IS a demon! I was right!"

"No, no...GILES is in the Santa costume. Hello--hence the whole you thinking I was sleeping with Giles thing."

"Sleeping with WHO? I'll bloody kill him!" Spike lunged at the man, only to be stopped by his chip. "AHHH!!!!"

"Get him off of me! And really, I'm quite sure I have no idea what you're talking about. What--"

"No, you don't! Because SPIKE is in the Santa suit! So he could be here when Buffy revealed her true feelings for him! Which she just did, and he just heard. Right? Please, tell me that Operation Freedom Stallion was a success."

"Yeah. About the suit, Harris. You see..."

"Doppelganger! It's not Spike, but his evil twin! Or, his more evil twin. How can we tell which Spike is real and which one we stake?

"STAKE? There will be no staking of anyone here, thank you very much. What's gotten into you, Red?"

The voices culminated in a tremendous amount of sound, and screaming filled the entire house.

"STOP!" Dawn had entered from the kitchen and shrieked at the top of her lungs. It worked; everyone quieted down and looked towards her.

"Okay, so if Spike is here, and we thought he was in the Santa suit, and Giles is here, and Buffy thought he was in the Santa suit, who the Hell is actually *in* the Santa suit?"

"Bit, don't swear," Spike scolded.

Dawn rolled her eyes and once again reached for Santa's beard and hat. "Prepare for a Scooby Doo moment," she muttered under her breath. The costume was pulled away to reveal...

"WESLEY?"

"Um...hello?" He gave the group a small wave and tried to smile.

"Ho, ho, ho?"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"So let me get this straight..." Buffy set the last plate of food down and took her place at the head of the table, facing Giles at the other end. "Your flight was delayed, and you missed the shuttle, so you called Spike for a ride from the airport. Wait a minute. Since when does Spike have a phone?"

From his seat beside Buffy, Spike pulled out a small cell phone. "What? I'm down with the new technology."

She rolled her eyes. "Fine, but that doesn't explain how Giles got your number. Weird much?"

"I bloody well should know it," Giles mumbled. "It's my sodding phone."

Spike grinned and Giles continued. "Which, by the way, is quite expensive. I've been humoring you for a while now, Spike, but really. Seventeen phone calls to Japan in the last month? With the name showing up as 'Hot Asian Hardcore Lesbians?"

All eyebrows raised at Spike but Xander's, who started coughing loudly. Anya hit him on the back and he calmed down.

"Calling your mother, Harris?" Spike started laughing. "Hell, if you wanted to call for phone sex, I still woulda let you. Courtesy of old Rupes here, of course."

"Xander? What is he talking about?" Anya continued to question him extensively, much to everyone's amusement.

After the laughing died down, Buffy continued. "Anyway, phone sex aside, and can I say ewww, Xander, Spike went to pick you up. So you guys," she pointed to her friends, "had decided to surprise me with Spike in the Santa suit. And I thought Giles was going to be in there. Instead, we end up with Wesley, who is in town to pick up some scrolls Giles brought him back from England. Am I right?"

"Your deduction appears to be correct, Ms. Summers," Wesley supplied. "I felt that embracing the festivities of the forthcoming holidays would leave us all in high spirits. I certainly had not anticipated any of this mess. I'm terribly sorry for any confusion I caused."

"Come on, Wesmeister. It's all cool. Everyone's together, everyone's healthy, and almost everyone is happy." Xander specifically directed his last comment to Buffy and Spike. "Plus, the food's great. What more could you ask for?"

Tales were exchanged over dinner, and everyone adjourned to the living room in high spirits. Everyone except Spike and Buffy, of course. Spike volunteered to help with clean-up duty, and the two were alone together for the first time since their "break-up" earlier.

"I guess they told you. About the plan. I really didn't want you to leave earlier. I didn't mean anything I said, you know, so if..."

"No, Spike." Buffy laid a hand on his arm. "Everything you said today was true. I didn't realize then...It was easier to blame everything on you, when really, *I* was the one causing the problems. You never came to me in the middle of the night demanding sex. You never beat me up just because you had a bad day. I--" She took a deep breath and looked him in the eye. "I'm sorry."

He stood still, letting her words wash over him. She had more.

"And I know Xander told you that I said some...stuff...before you got here. But now I want to say it to you." Buffy moved closer to Spike, her eyes never leaving his.

"You know you don't have to. I don't expec--"

"And that's exactly it! You don't expect *anything,* Spike! How can we have a relationship if you're just going to let me walk all over you?"

"Walk all over me? I'll let someone walk over ME when Hell freezes--did you say relationship?" Spike's entire face lit up, but hope was slowly replaced with despair. "Please, luv, don't toy with me. If you're serious, which I know you can't be...then I'm the happiest man on earth. If you're just going to cut me off all over again, let's save ourselves the pain."

Unshed tears glistened in her eyes and she moved her arms around his waist and rested her head on his shoulder. How had she done so much damage to just one person? Spike was hurting too, and she had been oblivious. There was really only one thing she could do to make up for it.

"I love you, Spike." The words were whispered into his chest, but he heard them all the same.

"You...me...Buffy?" He pulled away from her, his own face wet with tears. "Do you really mean it?"

Buffy smiled at him and gave him a small kiss. "I love you, Spike. And I mean it. From now on, things are going to be different. I've finally realized what I want, and it's you."

The sounds of cheering could be heard from the living room. Spike and Buffy rolled their eyes and kissed again, this time putting the usual heat and intensity behind it. Something changed, though, and they both felt it.

"Wow." Was all Buffy could say.

"Ditto." Spike was equally stunned.

Buffy laughed and cocked her head towards the living room. "What do you say we go in and join the festivities? Our audience seems to be getting impatient.

A faint "damn right we are" from Anya was muffled by Xander's hand being clapped over her mouth.

"You go in, pet. I've got one more thing I need to do."

"You're not leaving, are you? Not after..."

Spike took her by the shoulders and clutched her closely to him. "I'm never leaving again, Buffy. Never."

She smiled once again, wondering why it had taken her this long when letting everything out felt so good. "I'm still a little unnerved by the fact that everyone in there knows most of the details of our sex life. Who would have thought you'd be the one turning to them for help?" She shook her head. "I was so out of it. I didn't even realize...But now everything's different. Now *we're* different.

Spike leaned in for another kiss. "Threw me for a loop, I can tell you. But those friends of yours in there? After all of this, and they had better not be listening or I'll KILL them horribly in their sleep, but I think I can honestly think of them as 'our' friends. Having friends? It feels good, Buffy."

"So I guess having me is an extra bonus then, huh?" She teased.

He grinned and winked at her. "Much better than a bonus, luv. But now you run on in there. I have to finish wrapping your gift."

"A present? You got me a present? But I didn't get you anything."

Spike took Buffy into his arms and rested his chin on her forehead. "Little do you know, pet. I have everything I could ever need. All I wanted for Christmas was you. I guess maybe somewhere, someone out there is watching over me. In some weird and twisted way, but still....I'm happier today than I've been in over 120 years, Buffy." He squeezed her tightly, holding her like a lifeline. "I love you, Buffy. And I always will."

The two shared another kiss before Spike picked Buffy up and began carrying her to the living room.

"So, how did you know what to get me? I mean, if you guys were trying to keep it a secret that you knew my not-so-secret, wouldn't I be suspicious if they weren't suspicious about gift-buying?"

He laughed out loud. "Buffy, if they hadn't known about us, I think my present would have given it away. At least now we don't have to hide anything."

"No. We don't." He placed her on the couch next to Dawn and darted up the stairs. Buffy giggled as the eager faces of her friends gathered around her.

"Come on, guys. We can talk about this later. What's important is that I finally made the right decision for once. I think things are going to be a lot different from now on. Now, who's handing out the presents?"

Xander began handing out the gifts, then stopped when he got to Buffy. "Spike told me to tell you that he left the first part of your present in your room. Something about it being too big to fit under the tree."

With an excitement she hadn't felt since before her death, Buffy rushed up the stairs and threw open the door to her room. There, lounging on her bed, was Spike.

Wearing a big red bow and a smile. And nothing else.

"Merry Christmas, Buffy."

"Merry Christmas, Spike."

She had him untied before he could say anything else.

*THE END* :)

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Slayer's home,

Not a creature was stirring, not demon, vampire, or gnome.

The gifts were placed under the tree with great care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

A tool set for Xander, for Anya CD's,

Magic herbs for Tara, Willow got cheese,

Rare books for Giles, a VCR for Spike,

Nothing for Wesley, but Dawn got a bike.

But perhaps the gift placed there with the utmost of care?

From Spike to his Slayer, strawberry edible underwear.