Well, here you go again, wanderin' 'round Sunny-fuckin'-dale in the early winter twilight after the rain stopped with no place to go. You could go home, but home's nothin' but a filthy crypt full of cobwebs and the contents of your own head, all lightly coated with a drifting layer of cigarette ashes.

Anyway, telly's broken, so you watch people instead.

Not many out tonight, it's Christmas Eve. All the bums are at the Salvation Army eatin' overcooked turkey and listenin' to scratchy Christmas carols on somebody's discarded record player topped off with a great big helping of the usual "Christmas, a Season of Hope and Redemption" crap piled on with a shovel afterwards for desert.

You may go anyway - they're always good for a free cuppa and a shower, only trying to ignore a sermon while surrounded by a bunch of human culls that you wouldn't have deigned to feed on in your better days is too high a price to pay for a free cuppa even if it is hot chocolate with those little marshmallows in it.

Sod that!

So you let your Doc Martins do the drivin' as you light up another cigarette from the one you'd started at the beginning your walk while stepping over a puddle.

A couple hurrying by with bulging last minute shopping bags unconsciously give you a wide berth, going so far as to step into the overflowing gutter to avoid brushing up against you. You laugh, just a little, with that odd titter of yours. They speed up, raincoats flapping in their haste.

Still got it! Can't do a damned thing with it, but still got it... bugger that. Now, where was I? Soddin' holidays, messin' things up, makin' 'em worse...

Willy's is closing early tonight. You lurk in a nearby doorway for a while, hoping to catch a straggler or two, but they've already eluded you. Humming an off-key rendition of "Jingle Bells", the weasel-faced owner puts on his hat, tucks a bottle of Jack and a messily wrapped package beneath his arm, and turns the sign in the front window so that it reads "Closed" before locking the door. You'd love to attack him as he gets into his beat up Gremlin IX, but the chip won't let you so you settle for tossing him an unseen half-hearted double-fingered salute from the shadows.

Merry soddin' Christmas, you little turd... God I hate this time of the year!

You reflect sourly as you dig out your hip flask and unscrew the cap that even in dying you couldn't escape Christmas because Drusilla loved it, never mind that the dead are supposedly exempt. After taking a long contemplative pull at the harsh mixture of human plasma stretched out with cheap vodka, you step back onto the sidewalk.

'Bout now we'd have been giving our Dru something, something amazing. Wonder what the crazy slag's doing about now?

Dru demanded gifts no matter what the occasion; Christmas was her favorite. She let you know early on that she wanted an "extra special prezzie" or else. So every year you always managed to come up with something because if you didn't...

...we'd find her flirting or worse with something even more disgusting than ourselves. Antler Boy down in South America wasn't the first, right mate? Not by half!

God, you miss Dru. So what if you can now go to sleep safely, knowing that she won't be around to wake you up by pouring gasoline on you and striking a match or dropping spiders on your face? You miss the excitement of Dru's style of foreplay. Thanks to you helping the Scoobies as a freelancer, demon women won't have anything to do with you and the living girls you've been picking up down at the Bronze can't supply you with the rough stuff that you crave. Even if they could, the chip would ruin everything.

Anyway, live girls are quick to complain that your hands are clammy, your feet are cold, and your breath smells weird under the masking bourbon and nicotine. Should you manage to get past that, they generally take one look at your place and do a runner. Its one thing to pick up an exciting stranger but another to find out that he's nothing but a graveyard squatter.

Tarantula didn't care ... couldn't get rid of that sow for a week. Bloody hell, she was even dirtier than we are! Filthy knickers all over the place, cigarette butts floatin' in every glass, drank my pig's blood, stupid Goth friends everywhere, stinkin' up the place with her cheap patchouli incense... fat arse yammerin' on the cell when we were tryin' to watch "Passions". Bad as Harm, only she wouldn't do my laundry. Shaggin' was lousy, too. Thank God she found the mushrooms that grow underneath our crypt and wandered off bleating like a sheep... saved us the headache of offin' her ourselves ... would have been worth it, too!

You've trolled the Mrs. Robinson scene in stolen khakis, loafers, and a button down shirt, but there's something intangible about you that causes the divorcees and career women on the prowl among the ferns to generally shy away from you. Those that don't, expect you to buy them drinks, which you can't afford. After some nervous groping, they hand you money instead of inviting you into their homes and ask you to leave because "I don't usually do this sort of thing, I mean, AIDs... I've never paid anybody for... here's a couple for your trouble ... use this to get a room over at the Y... maybe get a job... maybe at McDonald's... this sort of thing can get a nice kid like you killed, goodnight!" before quickly slamming the door in your face.

Buck's a buck, right mate?

Anyway, you quit that game after you saw Buffy's mother and her book club bints out for drinks at one of the grown-up bars that you were trawling that night. Your eyes met hers as she laughed and chatted with the old biddies and middle-aged flakes trying to pass for twenty at her table while you were sweet talking some overpaid execu-bitch into taking you home with her for a bit of slap and tickle. Joyce gave you a disapproving look that made a knife twist in your perpetually empty stomach. Unable to go through with it, you excused yourself and walked home alone.

It would have kept us in smokes for a month had we finished the job, right?

Footsteps echoing off the facades of the buildings, you pass darkened shop windows full of Christmas displays. You pause to look: cheery fake shit in fake snow behind rain beaded plate glass.

Christmas in California is unnat'ral. Christmas should be cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey, not palm trees and plastic mistletoe.

Unsettled, you let Doc Martin and Doc Martin carry you down the middle of the deserted street bathed in the harsh orange lights of the streetlamps, duster swinging heavily in time with each step taken; your only company the sound of rainwater in the gutters.

In '65 we wrote Dru a love poem in the snow of Central Park with the blood of a hundred vagrants? - she ate our words as greedily as any ankle-biter would an ice cream cone on a hot day...

The moon begins to show between the hurrying storm clouds.

...Was it '25 or '26? Who cares! We crashed some posh Christmas Party in Devonshire. Afterwards, Dru rode us long and hard on a bearskin rug among the dead in front of the fireplace that night because she liked our prezzie...

A car goes past, briefly catching you in its headlights, tires sending up a fine red mist in its taillights; you barely notice it.

In Prague we fed on the devout as they returned home from Midnight Mass, leaving their bodies sprawled in the snow like torn prayer books, their mouths still stinking of the Host. Dru wore a coat of Russian sable and a Faberge collar of rubies and black pearls looted from the body of a Countess seduced the night before, tossing her body out of the back of the sleigh... that was 1902. Then there was the year we gave Dru thirteen black peacocks. Blood, shit, and feathers everywhere! (God, why did Dru have to come back and make things worse? Worse, why didn't we have the wrinklies to go with her when she left?)

After a while you find yourself in the 'burbs where thousands of tiny white Christmas lights drip from the eaves and bushes of the houses around you, making the rain damp pavement glitter as you walk down the middle of the deserted street.

It reminds you of a time when you lay sleepily with your head in your mother's lap as she ran her fingers through your curls, contentedly watching the butler as he lit the dozens of tiny beeswax candles clipped to the branches of the Christmas tree in shiny tin sconces. Later your nursemaid scolded you while your mother was away at Services for deliberately breaking one of the fragile blown glass ornaments when all you'd wanted was to see such a marvel up close. For this, you got spanked with a hairbrush and sent to bed without any supper. Hungry, your five year old self lay awake all night sucking his thumb, trying hard not to cry; certain that his unforgivable crime would make Father Christmas pass by his house. The next morning you found a box of tin soldiers and a splendid little penknife laying on the parlor hearth - what a relief! The soldiers are long gone, the penknife taken from you at school by a bigger boy...

Yeah. Filthy lit'l sod grew up to be a conservative MP, so we gave him to Dru as a Christmas prezzie one year. She pulled his head off by the ears as he left one of those posh boy brothels in St. John's Wood and left it dangling from their doorknob by the beard after she got bored with combing the hair, Never found the penknife, though. Bloody shame that,- had our initials engraved in the ivory handle.

Now you're standing in a familiar, butt strewn muddy patch in someone's rain-soaked lawn. You look up at a pine-decorated window. Familiar faces sit at the dining room table behind the glass, eating, gossiping, laughing. You try to look away and out into the empty street.

Bloody Hell! Why am I standing here watching this crap? They wouldn't have me in last year after we tried our best to be charming that Thanksgiving, but they weren't buying it. I had to sit there all tied up and watch everyone else eat. Soddin' waste of time it was.

Everyone's there, even your old roommate, Special Ed. A snarl rises in your throat. You'd like to wait for him outside the door in the bushes, rip his head off; hell, at this point all that's left to you is maybe set up a tripwire on the front steps...

...watch him take a tumble, maybe even break his neck. Hellooooooo, what 'ave we 'ere? Why Giles, corrupting minors are we?

At the head of the table Giles opens a bottle of red wine. With a flourish he hands Dawnie, who is giggling and bouncing in her chair, a very small glass. The Niblet takes an eager sip, her entire face puckers up, and everyone laughs. You hear her say through the half open window as you light up a fresh one: "I don't see what the big deal is. Alcohol is for losers!

Try getting a little life under your belt, dear heart; you'll change your mind.

You take out your own solace, unscrewing the cap and putting it to your lips, cigarette smoldering loosely between your fingers. You pause in mid-swallow, free hand rising unconsciously to the back of your head. There's a bandage on Joyce's temple.

You'd lurked anxiously in the parking lot storm drain outside the hospital the morning the doctors had their way with her. Once the Scoobies left for the night you followed her scent through the intoxicating nasal maze of blood, urine, and despair. In stolen scrubs, you sat holding Joyce's hand, guarding her as she waltzed with Morpheus because you knew what went on in that place after sundown. The lingering stench of antiseptic in your hair gave you nightmares for days even after you washed it six times.

Good place to nick a free meal, hospitals, if you're willing to pay the price.

Your eyes follow Buffy's mother as she passes out slices of pumpkin pie on her best antique china plates, the ones with the wisteria patterns around the rim as graciously as any queen, reminding you of an evening last July when the two of you sat together out on the little back porch sharing a whole one, apple, with Jazz FM turned down low in the kitchen window...

You filthy bastard. Why'd you bring that up?

Xander takes two pieces, dumping half the fluffy topping in the bowl that's being passed around onto them. Anya scolds him as she scoops half of what he's already taken onto her own plate. Dawnie, first wine tasting experience quickly forgotten, starts stuffing down her desert with a blob of topping decorating the end of her nose. You'd like to tell the Niblet about it, but...

...we aren't welcome here any more, remember? Not that we ever were! Buffy's soddin' banned us from the house because we were stupid enough to try to give her our cold dead heart and she bloody well likely isn't going to change her mind, right?

Buffy starts teasing her little sister about it, so Dawn defiantly adds more. "That's enough, you two." you hear Joyce say dimly through the glass as she reaches over and firmly wipes it off while handing out the last of the pie. Dawn waits for her mother's back to turn before sticking her tongue out at Buffy who just laughs at her for being such a goober.

This is when you as nominal man of the house would have stood at the head of the long empty dining room table in your mother's echoing house and presented her with a traditional cup of hot wassail from the large silver family punchbowl, the one with leaping stags engraved around the rim. Your father didn't live long enough to teach you this ritual; one of your schoolmasters had to do it for him.

Bloody house was a museum in my dear departed dad's honor. The place should have been full of brothers and sisters, lots of brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles. And cousins. And nieces. And nephews; all runnin' 'round the house, yellin' and doin' whatever it is that anklebiters do. But most of all, brothers and sisters... house wouldn't have been such a mausoleum... Silly old cow, pining away after a dead man when she wasn't coughin' up her lungs! Should have found herself a new one, should have given me brothers and sisters...

Before that, you would have spent the evening after Christmas Eve services exploring the unfamiliar territory of the kitchen while being contemptuously snorted at by Cook, a fat bad-tempered Cockney woman who barely tolerated your once a year intrusion as you awkwardly warmed a bottle of red wine and honey with peppercorns, whole cloves, and cinnamon sticks on the monstrous coal-fired iron range that dominated the room after slicing oranges, lemons, and yourself while the apples baked and plum puddings cooled all around you.

Hell, as if this lot would appreciate it! Joyce maybe, Giles might know what I was about. He's so hidebound that he's probably done it. Dawnie? Xander would whine for some crap American beer. Anya? Tara? Willow, she's still Jewish under all that shiny new Wicca. Do Jews do this? ...Buffy may I show you a little of myself? (If I did, would you laugh?)

Tara and Willow are lost in their own little private world of two, slowly feeding each other bites of dessert from the same plate, eyes lost in each other. You watch them while screwing the cap back on your flask and shoving it into your back pocket. Had it once really been like that between you and Dru, or is your memory playing tricks on you again?

You inhale from a fresh-lit cigarette, holding in the smoke for a long time.

All it took was the still twitching heart of some shop girl on Valentine's Day three years ago over our necklace made from rubies carefully collected over the last hundred years to remind us where we really stood with Dru. What did we get for our trouble? Our love? Nothing but the sound of her and that bastard Angelus banging away in the next room like bunnies on Viagra while we sat there trapped in that soddin' wheelchair.

Eyes closed, you release everything in a slow stream of rings before taking another bitter drag, the lit end illuminating your face briefly. Xander sniffs, reaches over, and slams the window shut.

Before the heart, it was that stupid doll. You'd gone all out; snatching the golden haired child of a lesser member of the Royal family in broad daylight as her governess took her out for her daily airing. You'd popped up from a nearby manhole like an evil jack-in-the-box, grabbing the wee brat in her tiny red velvet coat and Irish lace dress right in front of her bodyguards while your hands and face sizzled agonizingly in the pale winter sun. Dru played with the sobbing little girl for less than ten minutes before killing her and tossing the drained body aside, bored. Angelus walked over, casually picked up the blood-spattered doll that the child had clung to in terror from under the ottoman, and handed it to her, "Merry Christmas, Dru. Her name is Miss Edith."

Dru danced around Angelus clapping her hands and squeaking like a puppy, showering him with kisses as he grinned at us over her head...

If we'd known that a soddin' dolly would have... no it wasn't the doll, it was who gave it to her! Had we stolen an entire German doll factory and given it to our Dru in a satin box all tied up with a bow, it still wouldn't have meant anything to her!

It's always been like that: you give, and you give, and you give, and you get nothing in return. You gave your mother eternal life and what did she give you? Derision followed by advances that even you found horrifying. You tried to give Buffy your heart in a squashed box of chocolates for her birthday because you had nothing left to give. Had you managed to get past her precious Scoobies and given it to her, she probably would have disdainfully tossed it unopened into the trash in front of you after smacking you on the head with it like she would a bad dog for spotting the carpet. You mowed Joyce's lawn and protected her at night when she lay sick and helpless in the hospital. However, Joycie didn't object when they banned you from the house over that same heart...

Bloody Hell!

You inhale sharply when the cigarette you've been holding burns your hand. Sucking on your smoldering fingers you continue watching the scene behind the glass, sick and simmering inside.

We mean absolutely nothing to these wankers.

Everybody's in there but you; the fact that Captain Cardboard isn't there either is no consolation. You're the evil dead; who wants that sitting at the dinner table, reminding them that the world's not all paper snowflakes and mistletoe?

Like we would have come had they asked. Don't need this crap, never did. We're leaving!

Dr. Martin and his esteemed colleague agree, so you let them carry you around the side of the house, squishing across the soggy lawn on your usual route, for lack of a better word, home.

They pause in mid stride as you look at the back porch.

Sitting there on the railing beneath a linen napkin is a cup, a fork and a plate from Joyce's good set.

The cocoa is tepid and the marshmallows are dissolving into sticky foam, but you pick it and the plate up as you sit down on the damp porch steps, lean your head back against the banister and look up at the desert stars for a long, long time.

After a while you slowly begin drinking the cocoa and eating the pie, which is apple. The clink of your fork against the fine bone china is loud in the evening silence as you listen to them do the dishes.

Heh. Niblet just dropped a plate ... Joyce is tellin' her "Don't cry Dawnie, I've a dozen more just like it. Someday, you'll inherit these plates and feed your own..."


"Oh, Buffy!"

Guess that's only if big sis' doesn't break 'em all first.

Using your fingers, you scrape up every last bit of filling before running your tongue around the inside of the mug, capturing as much of the last, lingering sweetness as it can reach.

Anya's askin' Xander, "Why don't we have nice plates like these?" He says "Because dishes like that cost money. Money we don't have." Anya tells everyone, "He needs two jobs so that we can buy nice dishes like these. Maybe three." "Anya!" Poor sod, deserves everything he gets!

Finished, you sit there, head back against the damp railing, quietly smoking, but nobody comes to the door. Not even to take out the garbage.

Now they're all in the living room watching "It's a Wonderful Life."

Eventually you stub the remains of your cigarette out on the worn heel of one of your Doc Martins and leave the still warm butt on the center of the cleaned plate, which is now sitting on the doormat, the empty cup and fork beside it. You pocket the napkin.

Always hated Jimmy Stewart, stutterin' git!

And then you go home.