Catharsis at Christmas

Alcohol, Buffy decided, was the answer to all her problems. Sure, it hadn't been the first time she checked – or the last, when she'd got drunk that night with Spike - but her problems had gotten so much worse since then, and he was now top of her list.

Willow had splashed out on a small truckload of eggnog for the household, claiming it was "to help get everybody in a festive mood," but she was fooling no one.

She was hurting, Dawn was hurt physically, still, and Buffy was just… a million things at once - so many of them bad. So they drank. Dawn wasn't allowed much, but hadn't been denied the opportunity to join in completely.

Now, swaying on her feet, torn between lust and loss, Buffy thought everything was clear. She was addicted to Spike, Willow was addicted to magic, and the best way to fight one addiction was to replace it with a new one.

So they drank. And they drank some more, ignoring the ever-expanding herd of elephants in the room with denial even her mother would be proud of.

Some part of the Slayer's mind was dully aware that she couldn't afford to maintain this new habit, once the house ran dry, but she was purposefully not thinking about the long term. Not even the medium term.

No. Each minute was hard enough.

At some point, Dawn and Willow had gone to bed. They'd reached their quota quick enough, but Buffy had her enhanced metabolism to deal with.

She hated herself for it.

It was the night before Christmas, and Buffy had finally come to understand what it must have been like for Angel, the year he'd waited for the sun to rise and take away all the pain, and guilt, and suffering. How many years ago was that, anyway? All the memories bled together.

If only ending things were such an easy option for her. If only…

Her face scrunched up, as she forced herself not to cry, failing almost instantly. The sobs were growing louder and louder, and Buffy was worried they'd wake everyone up again, but she couldn't stop. At least, not until strong, cool, hands came around her, and held her tight. Like always, her pain seemed to just seep from her into him, along with her body heat. Was it him making her so cold? She didn't think so.

"Spike," she said – her voice cracking.

"Shh," he whispered into her hair, as she felt herself fall against him. He was the only thing keeping her upright, in so many different ways, and how sick was that? As much as Buffy didn't want to admit it, she knew how she was treating him was wrong. She was wrong, not him. Not when he was like this.

Spike tried to steer her towards bed, but she resisted, and he didn't force the issue. Instead, Buffy allowed him to set her down on the couch.

"Bloody hell, Slayer, how much have you drank?" he exclaimed, finally looking into her unfocused eyes.

She shook her head, then instantly regretted it. "Too much," she answered. "Not enough."

"Right."

Closing her eyes, Buffy focused on the sound of Spike moving through her house, entering her kitchen, and switching on the coffee maker. If only he could stop helping her, then rejecting him would be that much easier.

Her eyes grew heavier and heavier, as her tears drained out. Distantly, she thought someone was calling her name.


Buffy felt comfortable, and secure. Her heart ached, because it had been so long since she'd truly felt safe. Breathing in, it was there: the scent of Spike.

He made her feel safe; she let that sink in, and then her head started to hurt.

Opening her eyes, she found herself stretched out on her couch – her upper torso lying across Spike's lap, as he looked down at her, petting her hair.

Instinct told her to jump up, and away from him, but she flatly ignored it.

"You dozed off," Spike told her, before gesturing to a mug on the coffee table. "Didn't even get a sip."

The word 'sorry' reached her lips, but would not pass them. Instead, she pressed those lips to Spike, and got wonderfully lost all over again. His firm, callused hands gripped her upper arms as he pulled her flush against his chest.

Caught up in passion, Buffy felt her lungs flutter for breath, but she only kissed Spike deeper. Things had got hot and heavy fast but, as soon as they were about to cross the line into full-on sex, Spike pulled back.

"You're still pissed," he said, sounding incredibly disappointed about it.

"So?" said Buffy.

He looked at her, then paused, as if weighing up his options. "Aren't you tired?" he asked, finally.

Buffy sighed. "Exhausted," she admitted.

"Sleep," he said. "I've got you."

Normally, Buffy would protest, but Spike said it in such a way – not as a request, or a command, but a confident plea – that somehow didn't raise a fight in her. And the next thing she knew, there were other people in the room with them.

Buffy blinked.

Hadn't she closed her eyes for just a second? The room lurched, as she realized the gravity of the scene to which she'd woken up to. Spike was lying underneath her, his arm draped over her – hand resting dangerously close to her breasts – as he slept, his chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm. Meanwhile, Dawn and Willow were lifting presents out from under the tree.

Buffy sat up, causing Spike to jerk awake. His eyes went wide, the second he was.

"Er…" he cleared his throat. "Niblet. What's… er. Why are…?"

"Chill," Dawn told him, not looking up from her careful inspection of gifts.

"What's going on?" Buffy asked, despite the obvious lack of concern from her sister.

"We didn't want to wake you," said Willow. "Sorry."

"Wh- what?" her mouth was dry. In another horrific realization, she realized she'd drooled on Spike in her sleep.

Standing up, Buffy almost immediately fell down again, right back onto Spike's lap. He let out a yelp.

Dawn looked up, rolled her eyes, and then finally selected a present to open first – it was perfume, from Tara. Why was she acting like everything was normal? What the hell was going on?!

"Dawn," Buffy tried again, at which point her sister properly regarded her, with narrow, searching eyes.

"You don't remember, do you?"

"Remember?"

"Last night," Dawn clarified, her eyes briefly shifting to Spike and back again.

This time Buffy stood up and stayed upright, facing the vampire. "Did you say something?" she demanded of him, her chest constricting and thudding out from underneath her thin sweater at the same time.

"About what?" Spike asked, as innocently as he could, clearly indicating that he wasn't going to open Pandora's bag to check on the status of the cat that was last seen within.

"Buffy," said Willow, tentatively. "We know."

It felt as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. Buffy thought she saw the shadow of her secret-cat skittering away, down the hall. It had definitely got out alright, but…

"You know? How?"

"Last night. You told us."

"Told you what?" she was fully aware the conversation was like pulling teeth, but it was the only way Buffy felt like she could get through it – one word at a time.

Abandoning the tree, Willow and Dawn got up and sat down on the couch, placing Buffy beside them, leaving Spike on the end. This was serious. Entering intervention territory, but something was off. Willow took Buffy's hand.

"Sweetie," she began, before jumping into the complete story of the night before. Buffy had gotten drunk and broken down, confessed the entire sorry story of her and Spike to her best friend and her sister, apparently. Why couldn't she remember any of it? She remembered drinking but… the rest was just a blank. Now tears were running down her cheeks again, and she could feel Spike shift beside her, knowing he was resisting the urge to wipe them away.

"Do you hate me now?" Buffy asked, in a broken voice. She couldn't look at any of them.

"Buffy, no," Dawn insisted, sounding horrified. That got her looking up from her shoes again.

"What? Why?!"

Willow looked at her - a pitying look - then shrugged.

"We kinda guessed this might happen," said Dawn.

"But, no! This is wrong!" Buffy insisted. There was no way they were saying this to her.

"Pet," said Spike.

"No!" said Buffy again. She couldn't listen to him. This couldn't be real.

"It's okay," Willow tried to reassure her, before standing up and leaving the room with Dawn. Buffy turned around to face Spike, seeing him look just as shocked as she felt.

"Slayer?" he asked, his eyes looking deep into hers. She knew he was trying to preempt any possibility of her punching him on the nose.

Unable to say or do anything else, Buffy fell into his arms and cried for what must have been the hundredth time. He patted her back, and just let it all flush out. Then, when her breath was starting to return to a normal rhythm, she felt his arms shift, and a slight weight come around her neck. Buffy put a hand to her throat, and found a pendant hanging there. Looking into Spike's eyes, she searched for meaning.

"Merry Christmas, Slayer," was all he said, before kissing her tenderly on the lips.