DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Our story starts two weeks before Christmas during Season 4 of Buffy. A few modifications I'm making for the set-up…after the Gentlemen escapades, Spike goes right back to living with Giles rather than staying at Xander's (something I never fully understood why didn't happen on the show, considering how much Xander and Spike disliked each other), so he's living with Giles when this story opens. And instead of Riley claiming that he likes Buffy's ability to beat him up (which also didn't mesh with me on the show in light of his later behavior in season 5), he has broken up with her, leaving them friends but not lovers. Spike is also well aware that he can hurt demons at this point, too.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'm in the mood for something a little lighter than Voices or Rook turned out to be, and so I'm going with my holiday fic, even though the holidays are long over. It's not really about the season anyway, because as we all know, it's about Spike and Buffy all the way, baby…
Like the whole world holding its breath.
The familiar chilly swirl around her legs was as soothing as the hard weight of the stake poised in her hand, and Buffy could hear her own heartbeat pounding in her ears as she waited.
The single spotlight, brilliant and blinding, erupted from nowhere, disclosing the frozen arch of her body, the proud tilt of her chin as she stared out into the void. They were out there, and though they could see her, she couldn't see them, and the thrill of the not-knowing, the vim of being the spectacle to their voyeuristic hunger, made her veins pulse in anticipation of the dance that was about to begin.
He was out there, too, blanketed by the shadows. She couldn't hear him, but his constant presence was a tingle that rippled down her spine with a surety that both quickened and clarified her readiness. A single slide of her eyes would capture him in her periphery, yet that would disrupt the program, and she couldn't do that. There were steps to follow; he trusted her to stick to them.
The baseline came first, a driving pulse that incited her feet to launch into the effortless glides of the first act. Only the spotlight followed her; in this particular duet, most of the arena remained dark, adding to the ambience as they drew in their audience. Now, her partner's movements were audible, blades slicing and shivering as they made contact with the ice, each step precise, each stroke an element in elegance, and though he was only a streak of ebony and silver as they played the roles of vampire and slayer for the auditorium, she knew without having to be told that each of her own strokes mirrored his, both in grace and accuracy.
And here it came, the first of the jumps, and she watched as he sped and wove toward her, lifting the stake for the plunge while at the same time meeting his eyes. The blue blazed even in the dim light on the ice, and she had to fight not to lose herself in them, lest her concentration lapse as she met him face on---
---please don't let me two foot it, please don't let me two foot it---
---and was launched into her triple Axel, a blur of white as she flew through the air.
The audience exploded with applause when she landed cleanly back on the ice, and Buffy allowed herself a momentary smile of delight as she faced her partner before swiveling around to begin the skate away. His pride at her abilities was undeniably etched across his aspect; not once during their tenure together had he ever taken her skills for granted, though to many it appeared that he shouldered all the heavy work. They knew the truth. His contribution was an illusion, not the lynchpin of power, but the extra oomph to Buffy's natural strength that made the spins, lifts, and jumps magic to behold.
She'd had other partners, of course, but none of them had ever lasted like he had. The reasons were numerous---failure to match her level of discipline, reluctance to overextend themselves lest they hurt her. Then, he had come along, and though there had been sparks, they just fit, and the program hadn't been the same since.
The audience was with them, every step of the way. From the moment his black coat billowed out behind him when he began his footwork at the top of the number, to the final death spiral that made Buffy's body feel as if it was skimming on an ocean of liquid air, the crowd watched as Slayer stalked Vampire, coming together before breaking apart and then coming together again for the gripping finale. They couldn't feel the electricity that ran down her sides when his hand would grasp her hip, and they didn't see the synchronicity in their gazes when he would anticipate any errors she might make. They only saw the beauty of the dance, the pair of blonds skating along the ice, spinning and jumping and losing themselves to the music.
The final beat of the score was punctuated by her blades showering his fallen body in ice as her hockey stop brought her to his side. There was a fraction of resistance as she did so, enough to make her lose her concentration for a second, and then silence, as she raised her stake in triumph.
She held the pose…
…his prone body deadly still at her feet…
…and then the crowd returned to life, their applause thunderous as he joined her to take their bows.
Side by side they stood, soaking in the adoration, the sweat beading on her brow from the exertion. Buffy stole a glance to the figure at her side, and felt her chest hitch at the thin line of crimson that stole down his temple. "Oh, my god," she whispered, forgetting for a moment the ones who watched. "Are you all right? Did I do that?"
"'S'nothin, pet," came the murmured reply. "Just a scratch. Not even worth noticin'."
But she did notice, and the knowledge that she'd somehow failed her partner, the one who trusted her not to, cast a pall over the otherwise glory of the moment. Mechanically, she picked up the flowers that were tossed to their feet, not feeling the thorns that pricked her fingers, nor seeing the droplets of blood bouncing off the ice below. "It won't happen again," she said quietly as they skated out of the arena, legs slicing in rhythm as his hand settled at the small of her back. "I promise."
When he looked down at her, it was an odd mixture of both confusion and certainty that gleamed in those dark depths. "But I already knew that, Buffy," he said. The hand that held her steady, both on and off the ice, took hers as they exited, entwining with her fingers as he led her to the benches. Already, the music for the next act was starting in the distance, but she didn't hear it, lost in the cacophony of backstage, the other bodies beginning to press into hers and forcing her to focus on not losing sight of her partner as he walked away.
The program was over.
But the show was only beginning…
"…and it's going to be a glorious morning for all those getting ready to go out and face the day. Sunny and bright, with no signs of the storms that they're predicting for up north---."
Buffy groaned as she rolled over and slapped at the alarm clock on her nightstand. Gotta remember to turn that off tonight, she thought grumpily, pulling the blanket up around her shoulders and nestling back into its warmth. First rule of winter breaks. Sleep in as much as humanly possible.
"Buffy? Are you up? I made pancakes!"
Damn super-Mom hearing.
"I'm up!" she called back, and stretched along the length of the mattress, the burn in her muscles chasing away the vestiges of a dream she couldn't really remember. Blearily, she rose from the bed, and stumbled to the bathroom, kicking aside the shoes she didn't remember taking off the previous night and wondering why it was again Slayers didn't get to take Christmas holidays off like the rest of the real world. Oh yeah, she thought grumpily as she stared at her reflection in the mirror. Higher calling, yadda yadda, Chosen One, blah blah, sacred duty to save the world, big frickin' whoop.
She sighed, splashing some cold water onto her face. Keep an attitude like this and no way was Santa going to leave her any new stakes in her stocking this year. She'd end up with a fistful of nothing for being such a Scrooge.
"Good morning," Joyce said brightly when Buffy strolled into the kitchen ten minutes later.
"I'm with you on the morning part," she replied, heading straight for the refrigerator.
Buffy shrugged. "The usual. Except I think I have to finally give up on that cute white top ever being wearable again. I've got this itchy feeling that purple Brachna-whatsit blood is going to stain something fierce."
"It wasn't being back in your bed again, was it?" Casually, Joyce slipped two of the pancakes off the griddle and onto a plate. "I know it must seem weird coming home after being on your own in the dorm for so long."
"Mom, I'm a Slayer on the Hellmouth. Weird is hugely relative." She pulled out the maple syrup and grimaced. "We don't have any blueberry?"
"Bottom shelf. Behind the yogurt." Her gaze was contemplative as she regarded her daughter rummaging around in the fridge. "You just seem a little out of it this morning, Buffy. You did sleep, didn't you?"
"Yep. Did that newfangled thing called dreaming, too. I think it was the Stars on Ice one again. I'm kind of fuzzy on the details. Aha!" She straightened in triumph, a nearly empty bottle of blueberry syrup in her hand. "Syrupy goodness makes everything better," she announced, and climbed onto the nearest stool at the kitchen island.
"So something is wrong," Joyce pressed.
Buffy sighed. She really wasn't going to let this go. "Not wrong," she said carefully. "Just…not completely right, either. I dunno. I guess I just pictured this Christmas being different. All mistletoe, and no big bads, and the commando mystery all figured out. There was serious signage that a very Buffy Christmas was in the works, and now…" A sigh as she drew abstract swirls through her breakfast. "I thought Riley and I were doing pretty good considering, but then he wigged on the whole my being able to beat the crap out of him, even though I totally wouldn't and I don't see how it even matters when we're on the same side, you know? And isn't he the one who's supposed to be all Mr. Enlightenment? But no, girl power steps up and sends him flying across the room with just one little punch, and then it's, oh I think we should just be friends, Buffy, don't you?" She growled in frustration, her fork stabbing into her pancakes. "I even held back when he asked me not to. Can you imagine how lame his excuse would've been if I'd actually hit him for real?"
Without saying a word, Joyce set a glass of juice in front of Buffy's plate, and stepped back to lean against the sink. It only took two bites worth of feeling her mother's eyes on her before the Slayer broke, setting down her fork and looking up into her face. "What?" she asked.
"I didn't say anything."
"No, you're giving me the mom look. Hence, you're thinking something you'd rather not say, so, c'mon. Spit it out. I can take it. I'm a big strong girl apparently."
"Well, you'd be wrong. I was just thinking how much you're growing up, and how much I'm missing of it because you don't live at home any more. So, no big mystery to solve, Buffy. Just me being nostalgic."
"It's the pancakes," she said with a smile. "There must be something in the smell that gets to people. Like pheromones."
Joyce bit back her amusement. "Pancake…pheromones?"
"Hey, it's the Hellmouth. It could happen."
Slowly, Joyce sipped at her coffee, watching Buffy over the rim of her cup before she finally said, "Actually, there is something I wanted to talk to you about…"
Her grin was triumphant. "I knew it! You can't pull one over on these college girl's eyes. I've been seeing that mom look for way too long not to know when it means something."
"Well, part of this…mom look is that I got a call last night. From your Aunt Darlene. She's coming to visit us this weekend. Get a chance to catch up before the holidays."
Buffy's grin immediately vanished, to be replaced by her jaw dropping and disbelief clouding her eyes. "But…you just saw her at Thanksgiving."
"Yes, but you didn't. It'll be nice for them to hear how great you're doing. You haven't seen them in ages. You're not doing anything this weekend, are you?"
"This weekend?" Her mind raced. How could she get out of this? Three days with nosy family asking her about school, and her boyfriend, and what was she doing with all her free time now that she was footloose and fancy-free living in the dorm. Not one of those topics boded well for a comfortable start to her holiday. "Not so much," she admitted when her mind came up with nothing, "except that it's just my first real break since finals. The only definite thing was hanging out at Giles' this morning filling him in on stuff so he doesn't feel left out. Maybe making fun of Spike while we're there. Oh, and there'll probably be donuts."
"That's good, then. Darlene'll be glad to hear you'll be around this time."
There was a pause while Buffy dug back into her breakfast. "I knew the pancakes were evil," she muttered.
"You shouldn't be so hard on him, you know," Joyce said.
"Who, Giles? Willow's the one who said he was---."
"I meant Spike."
She stopped in mid-chew, eyes wide in incredulity. "You're kidding, right?"
"No, I think you and the others are being far too cavalier in your treatment of Spike. He's going through a rough time right now---."
"Oh, boo hoo, the big bad bleached vampire can't kill all my friends. Yeah, that's a rough time all right."
"I'm just saying---."
"Did you know he actually called Xander a nummy treat when he was staying with him? If that chip was out, Spike wouldn't think twice about killing all of us in our sleep, Mom. I'm not about to start feeling bad because he's muzzled for the time being."
"Somehow, I find it very difficult to believe that Spike used the word 'nummy' with any degree of seriousness. That sounds like a Xander interpretation to me." Turning around, Joyce began rinsing out her mug in the sink. "I'm not asking you to feel bad, Buffy. I'm just suggesting that maybe you could be a little more understanding about his situation. You told me what happened when the Watcher's Council did that little test on your birthday, how you felt powerless. Don't you think that maybe Spike's going through some of the same thing?"
Setting down her fork, Buffy wiped her mouth before hopping up from the stool. "OK, first of all, Spike's not powerless. He can still hit things. They just have to be demon things. And secondly, my sitch and Spike's sitch? Two totally different issues."
"Still, it wouldn't hurt to cut him a little slack---where are you going?"
The Slayer stopped at the door, her hand on the knob. "I told you. Over to Giles'. Before all the pancake pheromones in this place start making me go soft on Spike, too." And with a small wave, she hurried out the door.
She walked in on chaos.
"I don't need a bloody babysitter!"
"It would only be for the weekend---."
"Am I talking to myself? Vampire here. Took care of myself for more than a century---."
"Which of course explains you showing up on Giles' doorstep looking like the little vamp that couldn't---."
"Watch it, pizza boy---."
"I understand it's a lot to ask---."
"Whoa, Nellie." Buffy parked herself between the three men, holding up her hands to keep Spike and Xander from going at it with more than their words. Looking over at where Willow sat quietly at the desk, she asked, "What's going on here?"
"It's called Pass the Spike," the vampire answered angrily before the redhead could say anything. "And it's fuckin' ridiculous, if you ask me."
"Giles? What's he talking about?"
Clearing his throat, the Watcher's hands sank into his pockets as he looked down at his charge. "I'm attempting to find accommodation for Spike," he explained. He ignored the vampire's snort of derision. "A rather important symposium has requested me as a keynote speaker at one of their gatherings this weekend---."
"If they're so bloody important, why'd they nancy about 'til the last minute to ask you, Rupes?"
"Shut up, Spike." Her order at him was automatic, but almost immediately, Buffy heard her mother's voice in the back of her head, admonishing her for being too hard on the demon. Not too hard, she thought irritably. He's interrupting.
"Yes, well, regardless of their…timing, it's still a very distinguished honor to be asked," Giles continued.
"Not to mention the fair bit of dosh they're payin', right?"
"I said, shut up, Spike!" This time it was louder, harsher, and was met with a furious scowl from its intended target. She watched as his jaw opened to say something in response, and then snap shut again as he whirled on his boot heel and stomped over to the couch. "Now. Let's try this again," Buffy said, turning to face Giles. "Some group of brainiacs wants you to give a speech this weekend?"
"Yes. They're convening at a ski resort up north. It's a bit of a drive, so it would require me being absent for two or three days, and as I'd rather not leave Spike alone, I'm trying to find other arrangements for him."
"That's easy. He can stay with Xander again."
"Sorry, Buff," Xander said, raising his hand. "The Harris Inn is completely full. For some reason known only to God and Mom, she's gone on some bender about having the whole family in for Christmas this year, and I've got two cousins and a bedwetting nephew bunking with me in the basement. So me casa is no casa."
"Oh." She frowned and started to turn toward Willow, but the redhead beat her to the punch.
"We're not even going to be here," she said. "Whatever bug flew up Mrs. Harris' skirt apparently whispered in my mom's ear that this Hanukkah is the perfect time to steep me in the history of the Rosenberg woman. So I'm being dragged to Milwaukee until after the New Year. Sorry."
"I know it's rather a lot to ask," Giles said carefully, "but, in light of our lack of options, I don't suppose you'd consider letting him stay at your house, Buffy? You're really the one best equipped to handle Spike---."
"And for the last time, I don't need handlin'!"
"---and it would only be for the weekend."
The weekend…the same weekend she was being dragged off to face the family inquisition. "I can't," she said in resignation. "It must be a holiday thing because Mom's got family coming by for some good old-fashioned quality time. Sorry."
"Well, guess that settles it then." A smug Spike rose to his feet and began sauntering toward the kitchen. "I think I fancy a cuppa to celebrate."
"Why don't you take him with you?" Buffy asked her Watcher. Her words brought Spike to an immediate halt as he turned a frowning face toward her. "If this symposium is such a big deal and you don't want him to get into your things while you're gone, just let him tag along. I'm sure wherever you're going has a bathtub you can chain him up in."
"Yes, I do believe a bathroom is one of the listed amenities," he said dryly. "But I'd rather hoped it wouldn't come to that. I didn't…anticipate spending much time in my suite."
"So, for the last soddin' time, just leave me be." Spike was at their side in a flash, his jaw flexing, his eyes riveted to Giles'. A flash of hurt determination skimmed behind the blue and Buffy found herself blinking in surprise when she saw it. "If I haven't already nicked your stuff, odds are I'm not goin' to. What's it take to get a little trust with you people?"
"Maybe if you hadn't tried to kill us so many times," Xander started, but quieted when Buffy held up her hand.
"What if I came with you?" she asked Giles. The question popped out of her mouth before she could stop it, and she could feel the surprise bombarding her from all directions. Mom wants me to be nicer to Spike, I think lack of chains is about as nice as I can be right now. Plus, extra bonus for getting me away from Aunt Darlene and too many good intentions. And did I hear Giles say this was at a ski resort? It sounded like the best solution all around, and anything that distracted from whatever funk seemed to be taking control of her mood lately had to be good, right? "We work out a schedule who watches him when, and nobody has to worry about Spike being a naughty vamp and doing something that would get him staked."
"Thanks ever so, Slayer," he muttered, but his eyes were dark and unfathomable when she glanced at him, and she tore her gaze away, not willing to have to consider the headache thinking of Spike gave her these days.
"That's…very generous, Buffy, but what about your mother?"
Buffy shrugged. "It's just for the weekend, right? I'll just tell her it's Slayer-related. You promise me at least one night of fun and frolicking minus Spike or a Watcher looking over my shoulder, and I'm in."
Everyone ignored Spike's storming from the room, and the way the walls shook from the force with which he slammed the bathroom door. It was only when he re-emerged a few minutes later, face deceptively calm, that Buffy allowed herself the luxury of giving what she'd offered any more thought.
I'm a sick, sick Slayer to be agreeing to this. There's no way I can go the whole weekend without killing him.
Thick soft snow drifted across the glass, not sticking but accumulating like lace in the corners, all too Rockwellian in its obviousness as it painted the car in white. "Ooo, pretty," Buffy exclaimed from the front seat of the rental, and Spike rolled his eyes as he scrunched further down into the back. Leave it to the Slayer to get enamored with a few frosted flakes, he thought irritably. Silly bint acts like she's never seen snow before.
Still, better to have her absorbed in the weather outside than to be paying him any mind, Spike reasoned. Ever since her out-of-the-blue overture to tag along on Rupert's little speech-quest, she'd been acting odd around him---one minute complaining about having to do a butcher run for the trip, the next muttering an awkward "um…please" at the end of her request that he keep a low profile when they'd stopped around her place to pick up her things. It was throwing off his game, and Spike was edgy enough as it was. Must be that time of the month, he decided, though his nose told him otherwise. Only reason for her barmy behavior.
They had left immediately after sunset, and now, four hours later and still a good three away from their destination, they were the only ones on the road, the unexpected snow slowing their pace. Conversation had been brisk at the start of the trip, but with the weather worsening, all three had lapsed into silence, keeping to his or her thoughts. It was just as well; the last bit of chat had left Spike dying for a fag but unable to have one at risk of being tossed in the boot by the Slayer.
"So what exactly is Boxing Day?" she'd asked in all innocence.
"The day after Christmas," Giles had replied. The automatic glance into his rearview mirror told Spike more than his words did; in spite of not being able to see his passenger's reflection, he was already looking for help from a fellow Englishman to curb the curious American's questions.
"Is it a real holiday? Or just a Hallmark holiday?"
"No, it's a real holiday. Oh look. Is that a deer?"
His attempt to distract her failed. "So why is it called Boxing Day? Is that the day you're supposed to return unwanted gifts to the stores or something?"
Giles' reply came over Spike's snort. "No, traditionally, shops aren't open for business on Boxing Day."
"But it has something to do with boxes, right? Or is it boxing, like Mike Tyson boxing? It's not a big sports day, is it? Because that would just be weird."
"Oh, and spending the first day of the year glued to the telly watching American football is the perfect way to celebrate a fresh beginning." Spike had rolled his eyes. "Look, Slayer. He's not goin' to answer you because he doesn't bloody well know. You take five different Englishmen and ask 'em that same question, and you'll get five different answers. The fact of the matter is, you get up, you eat your bubble and squeak, you get pissed, you go to bed. It's just a holiday. End of story. So unless you want Rupert to start nattering on about how the day's rooted in old Britain's bloody need to preserve class lines by playing beneficiary to the less fortunate, I suggest you drop it once and for all, 'cause something tells me that topic of conversation's goin' to be even dryer than whatever peccadillo he's got planned for his symposium soiree."
She'd looked back at him then, and for a moment he'd wondered if he'd grown a third head from the way she regarded him. Almost as if she wasn't completely sure he'd said what had just come out of his mouth. A flicker of something---surprise? amazement?---danced behind the green, but just when he was about to relax his own countenance in the face of hers, she spoke again.
"So what's bubble and squeak?"
The reminder that chains didn't require a bathtub, and that the trunk was just as good a riding seat as any if one didn't need to breathe, was all he needed to withdraw into his head. It's not like Spike was trying to dwell on his frustration at being treated as such a second-class citizen. It was just…well, honestly, what was the bug up Rupert's skirt about all this? He got left alone all the time when the Watcher went out, and except for that time when he'd been caught sneaking out trying to pawn some of that vinyl he kept laying about, he'd been on his best behavior with the git. In fact, it only seemed right that the old man would want some distance, with as much as he griped about having to share everything with Spike. This forcing him along to keep an eye on him was just a load of bollocks.
So was the Slayer's presence for that matter, but a small part of Spike was thrilling at that little addition. Three days with her mostly at his beck and call…it certainly offered the opportunity for a tad bit more entertainment value than his usual daily grind. He may complain a good game, but when it came down to it, no one brought a smile to his face faster than the Slayer. Usually it was a grin at her indignation when he managed to get a gibe in that particularly hurt. Or a leer when he could smell the frustration wafting from her every pore. Maybe he'd even get lucky and get the chance to see her fight. Now that would be worth the price of admission on this whole bloody weekend. The chance to see the poetry of Buffy Summers in motion.
Wonder if I can talk her into patrolling while we're there? Should definitely get to see her then and get a nice spot of violence of my own to top it off.
So lost was he in his musings that he didn't see the dark shadow dart into the road. The only thing Spike was aware of was the Slayer's shout of warning to her Watcher, and then the sharp sideways lurch of the vehicle as Giles attempted to avoid whatever had crossed their path. It might've worked if the falling snow hadn't played deception with the ice it covered on the concrete, and the rental car slid out of control onto the embankment, tumbling an unbuckled Spike against the door when it began to tip, only to smash his head into the roof when it started to roll.
Within seconds of Buffy's shout, all three occupants were unconscious.
To be continued in Chapter 2: Over the River and Through the Woods…