December

"Do you have the gifts?"

He looked at her as though she must have lost her mind.

"You were supposed to pack them," he objected to her widening eyes.

"No, I asked you to put them in the trunk!" she exclaimed. "We have to go back. Stop the car, we have to go back!"

She was about to make him, when a sudden gleeful expression in his eyes made her catch herself.

"Bastard," she said and he smirked.

"Perhaps. But at least I always do as you ask, milady," he stated, kissing her hand softly, his gaze still on the road.

"Darling," she smiled and he did as well.

She linked her fingers with his, looking at his profile. Christmas music was streaming out of the cd-player and she felt thankful. To be there. That he was with her. Lord knew there were many things that could have prevented it, but they had been blasted apart, by their mutual need for the other no longer standing being denied.

She brought the back of his hand to her lips, and did as he had before, kissing it gently.

This brought his eyes in hers and she smiled a little.

"Thank you," she said.

He furrowed his brow.

"For what?"

She didn't answer, but her smile warmed.

¤

"I remember one time when Christmas was uneventful in Sunnydale. One," Buffy stated, those surrounding her laughing and she smiled as well, shaking her head. "It was weird," she admitted.

"But at least they seemed to respect the morning," Willow tried.

"Oh, yes, lots of time to enjoy the presents and the eggnog and then, hey, let's sneak out and squeeze a bit of killing into the jolly holly," Buffy said.

"There were no apocalypses," Giles remarked.

"True," Buffy nodded, sinking back against Spike's chest where they sat on the couch. "But I always wanted this," she sighed.

"I'm flattered," Spike smirked and she bent her neck to give him a smile.

"I meant the tree and the friends and the not having to preserve anything but the Christmas spirit," she said, "but this too," she added and he kissed the ridge of her nose with great care, making her smile broaden.

"I got an A on my paper," Dawn said. "To bring the focus over to me."

Everybody congratulated her heartily and she smiled.

"What'd you write it on?" Spike asked.

"The existential questions pertaining to dimensions, what they might use as building blocks and if they all have certain ones which they share, making the facts of life the same, but the contents of life different. Also, how it might someday be possible to create gates between them with more stability than the magic that's used today."

Spike cocked an eyebrow.

"Wow," Willow said.

"Perfectly fitting," Giles stated, raising his glass of scotch to Dawn with a slight nod of the head. "For the Key to search her origin," he added, making her smile again, looking slightly self-conscious.

"Was that what you were doing?" Buffy asked, frowning questioningly.

"Don't look like I disown my humanity or something," Dawn replied. "I'm curious about where I started, you know that. And I'd like to make sure that I'll... never be needed again," Dawn shrugged.

"But, honey..." Buffy began, only Dawn held her gaze firmly and stopped her.

"You never know, not in this world," she said. "Somewhere there might be a spell of some kind forceful enough to wake whatever power that's dormant inside me. 'Cause it's not gone."

Mikah slid one hand over her back and she smiled a little.

Buffy wished she could talk openly about Dawn's still-slightly-glow-y state, but she couldn't. The thought was too heavy to bear; the memories attached to the night of the Key's activation were too vivid and bright and strange. So she deterred from speaking of it. But she admired her sister immensely, and loved the raw strength she could see in her. To try and grasp that Dawn wasn't straight through human wasn't possible for the Slayer, but Dawn – she knew – had had to face the knowledge in a completely different manner. And she had done it well, because she had let it in, and it had helped her grow.

"Hey," Buffy said, Dawn's eyes meeting hers. "I'm proud of you," the elder added and a tentative smile spread over the mouth of the younger.

"Thanks," she murmured.

"Are you enjoying the new apartment?" Mikah asked, his English broken charmingly by a heavy French accent.

"What's not to enjoy?" Spike replied with a smirk.

"I know what you mean," Mikah smiled, but Spike's face fell into seriousness as he glanced at Dawn and Mikah checked himself.

Buffy turned her head to look up at the vampire, then put a playful elbow in his side.

"Stop it with the protectiveness, they're practically married," she said.

Dawn hadn't noticed the exchange and for a moment looked bewildered, but then she met Spike's gaze and smiled.

"It's getting rather late," Giles said, keeping down a yawn. "Willow, will you help me clear this out?" he added, standing.

She nodded, picking up emptied wine glasses before heading into the kitchen.

"You ready for bed?" Spike asked Buffy, who turned her head once more to meet his gaze.

"Not quite yet," she answered.

¤

"I love this house at Christmas," she said.

It was half an hour later and the living room had been abandoned save for her and Spike. They were sitting beside the slowly dying fire, in front of the beautifully ornamented Christmas tree. It shone with small Christmas lights, and had glitter of silver as well as old decorations in the form of painted Christmas balls and angels and small santas.

"It's magic," she added. "Brings me back to being a kid." He smiled. "There's this atmosphere here," she continued. "Like there's a reason to... hope."

"Hope for what?" he asked.

"For the greater good," she smirked. "For Santa and his sleigh actually landing on the roof tonight, that's what! For enemies to become friends."

"So we're friends now?"

She laughed, scooting even closer than she sat and he put an arm around her.

"We're friends now," she confirmed, turning her face up to his and he kissed her tenderly.

"I never would've thought," he mumbled.

"What?" she asked.

"That I'd be here, on Giles' floor, in front of a Christmas tree..."

"A pretty Christmas tree."

"With you."

"Never crossed your mind?"

He shook his head slowly.

"I missed you so bloody much," he murmured. "Tell me I'll never have to again."

She looked into those blue eyes, saw his devotion, his sincerity, his love and need for her. And she smiled.

"You'll never have to again," she promised.

She moved her arms to wrap them around him, tightly. He held her back and then they lost their balance, falling back and Buffy giggled, landing on her side with his arms still around her. They lay still, face to face, the calm glow of the fire illuminating him from behind and she reached up a hand, slowly tracing his brow, cheek, jaw.

"I'm happy," she whispered. He smiled a little, his gaze softening. "I mean, really happy," she added. "I mean, rolled-in-cotton-candy-about-ready-to-melt-in-your-mouth happy."

His smile grew.

"That's sweet," he murmured and she smirked, but then she turned serious.

"I need you to understand that you mean more to me than anyone, ever." He stared at her, and she placed her hand on his cheek again. "I love you."

"I know," he murmured.

"No," she shook her head. "I love you."

He observed her intensely for another moment, then pulled her into a hard embrace. She buried her face against his chest, scared of what losing him again would to her.

She couldn't. Not ever again.

Please, God, she thought.

But she didn't know what their next mission would entail. What sort of platter of destruction next week or next month would serve them.

"Can't we go away?" she mumbled. "Just disappear? To some island somewhere. Where there's no noise. No people."

"You'd be bored," he said and she knew he was smiling. "I'd be bored."

"I know," she muttered. "But..."

"Buffy," he stopped her, pulling back to rest his eyes in hers again. "Stop fretting, love. We'll be fine. Yeah?"

She felt his conviction pull through the air, dive into her, mix with her blood.

She moved her head forward and kissed him carefully, enjoying the feel of his lips, of his tongue, the movement of his jaws, his hands slipping up her back, holding her body against his. The warmth from the embers in the fireplace burned her skin with the residue of heat they still held captive, but the flames engulfing her soul were of another kind. The torment of having him close was twisting its pathways through her. She loved it. It was a pain that was of the most exquisite kind, brought forth by overwhelming longing, want and the love which lay like a new kind of armor around her heart.

It made her go to pieces. She fell apart in his arms, and waited patiently for him to put her back together with touches and kisses and whispered words.

His tongue was inventing new steps in its dance with hers and she smiled.

"Let's go upstairs," she mumbled.

¤

"This bed is the best bed," Buffy sighed as she kissed his chest a few nights later.

They had returned home after two more days of peaceful holiday leisure at Giles'. Dawn and Mikah had flown back to France on the twenty-sixth, but there had been promises to see each other again soon. Willow had gone to visit with a coven somewhere on the Scottish coast, and would be gone for two weeks.

And Buffy was happy to be where she was.

"Let's set up camp," she said and Spike looked at her questioningly. "Until New Years Eve," Buffy continued, sitting up with escalating conviction that she had just had a stroke of pure genius. "We'll stay in bed. Do everything in it!"

Now he smirked and she smiled as well.

"What about fireworks? The countdown? Champagne!"

"Champagne is overrated," she said. "And listen to this – ten, nine, eight, seven..." She raised her eyebrows meaningfully. "And," her face grew thoughtful as her hand moved under the covers, softly encircling the base of his member, which immediately hardened, leaving her with a gentle, but satisfied, smile. His mouth fell open as he stared into her gaze, her hand caressing him knowingly. "Fireworks – check," she murmured, moving forward to kiss him deeply, his hands grabbing her arms tightly.

He was groaning silently, urging her on and all the while turning her blood a few degrees hotter. She was practically moaning with him and then she couldn't take it anymore, straddling him and guiding him into her, riding him with her hands gripping the low headboard behind his back. For every movement he was shuddering and she reveled in this sense of power, of being able to weaken him, to drive him out of himself and so far into her he thought he'd lose himself there forever, because that was what he did to her.

They came together in clashes of deep scarlet, red and gold, bursts of pleasure painting their skies in the most magnificent colors.

¤

"Stop laughing!"

She tried to get her face straight, finally managing to and lying on her side once more, facing him.

"I'm sorry," she said, clearing her throat and meeting his gaze. "I won't do it this time."

He was, as apposed to her, completely serious, looking at her. He had managed to keep this mask of indifference on for the half hour they had been playing, while she had been laughing through half of it. She just hadn't been in the mood for graveness, until now, when she realized that she was letting him win without even putting up a fight. No. She'd be able to do it this time. She'd beat him at his own game if it so killed her!

Keeping her face relaxed she rested her eyes in his. That blue shade in them always seemed to change after his mood, why was that? Did hers do that? She smiled softly, because she had to when she looked this intently at him. She had known his face for so long, there were so many memories and stages of her life attached to it. Suddenly he winked, obviously having gotten something in his eye, he did it again and then whatever it had been seemed to have been dealt with.

Only it set her off again.

She started to giggle, and this time it was harder to stop. Tears sprang to her eyes. She didn't even know what was so funny. But he was so cute.

"Slayer," he murmured. "I'm disappointed in you."

She was still chuckling as she turned her head to him. She thought the fit was settling down, but then she began laughing once more, her hands going to her belly as she was practically cackling. It seemed this was breaking down his defenses as well, because after a few more moments, he joined her.

"Bloody stop!" he exclaimed.

"I can't," she gasped.

"What's so sodding funny?"

"I don't know!"

Somehow this was even funnier and soon they were roaring.

She didn't mind it, despite the ache below her ribs and the struggle for air. The joy that had been building had certainly needed some form of outlet.

¤

The bedroom was a minor disaster area, but they shrugged the fact off. They barely set foot on the floor, anyway, and the bed itself was nothing but a tangle of comfortable sheets and lovely, soft limbs. The only times they actually exited the room was to shower together, or to still their hunger. The fridge had been well-stocked with both food and blood, and neither of them was left wonting.

He made love to her, and she had almost forgotten the roughness of him taking her against a wall outside the Double Meat, or falling asleep on top of one of the sarcophaguses of his crypt. She felt it all slip into a place of sandpapered edges and cushioned falls, where it couldn't have been as obscene as she had thought it back then.

Sometimes she wondered what would have happened if there had been some form of alliance between them when he told her that he loved her that first time. Some bond of friendship, a sliver of trust. Would she have stepped back and tried to look at him from the perspective he had so craved? Would she have allowed herself? And where would that have taken them? If she had granted him access, granted him the benefit of the doubt, if she had believed him to be capable of loving her.

She knew it would have shifted large parts of how she viewed the world she lived in.

The year after she returned from the grave, she had seen something in him. A kindred spirit which both frightened and enticed her, leaving her confused and still irreversibly drawn to what he shared with her. The iced breath of death had slipped through both their lungs, and somehow it had let them breathe it out again. His understanding had been seductive, but now, in retrospect, she could see that her newfound understanding of him had been ever more dangerous.

How good she had been at overlooking the unconsciously woven thread which had tied her to him. It had been taut, always threatening to snap, but it had resisted every effort on her part in cutting it, tearing it, ripping it apart. It had refused to be destroyed and so she had done what any sane person would do, she had buried it. Covered it with sand and grime and dirt and decided to let it rest, hoping it would wither away.

And she had pushed him away so hard it made him leave her to find what he thought she needed to love him.

She turned her head to him where he lay beside her, sleeping.

Was he real?

She touched his arm, which was lying across her belly, and smiled to herself as her fingertips graced cool skin.

He had said that there was no use dwelling on the past, that there was nothing they could do to change it. He was right. There were no words that could explain to him how much it pained her to know that she had been the cause of so much pain to him. There were no words to ask forgiveness since it had already been bestowed. But there was still cause to remember. All those years were what had made her fall in love with him. All their struggle down their overgrown path, seeing only glimpses of each other along the way, was what had delivered them to this clearing. This beginning.

She eyed him in the stillness of their home and another smile grew onto her mouth.

This passionate, demanding, strong, challenging man would never let her down. She believed in him and trusted him and adored him almost uncannily. The thread would never snap.

And, to think, the most annoying being she had ever met was now who she loved best of all.

Fate sure wasn't without some kind of irony.

¤

"I promise I'll always make the bed if I'm the last one out of it."

"Now you're just making things up as you go along."

"I bloody well am not."

"If you're not gonna be serious we don't have to do this."

He held her gaze steadily.

They were sitting facing each other, cross-legged, on the bed.

"I promise I'll always watch your back," he stated and she smiled.

"I promise," she said, "that I'll always want you with me. Even if the assignment might be for the Slayer."

She added the last as an afterthought.

He cocked an eyebrow.

"And if the assignment's for the Vampire, I promise I'll let you tag along, too."

She cocked an eyebrow as well.

"That wasn't how I meant it," she said. "But, just out of curiosity, how many assignments does the Vampire usually get?"

"Per week? Or day?"

"Don't be ridiculous," she rolled her eyes.

"You saw how many people came to that birthday bash you threw for me, Slayer, don't look all disbelieving."

"I'm just saying, now that you're out of the official business..."

"Business?"

"Of investigation and things," she said. "Maybe..."

"Maybe I'll start my own firm of investigation and things," he snapped and she smiled.

"Yeah?"

He narrowed his eyes.

"Might consider it, yeah."

"Good," she said, leaning forward to give him a kiss. "But you should really not name it after you," she added.

"What's wrong with my name now?"

"Nothing! I like Spike," she assured. "But, honey, Spike Investigations might send the wrong message. Like a muscle-for-hire message."

"I won't call it that. I wasn't gonna bloody call it that," he said and she smirked.

"But you're thinking about it?"

His eyes softened.

"Yeah."

"Oh," she said, glancing at the watch on the nightstand. "You ready?"

He smiled.

"Ready."

"Ten," they began the countdown together.

"Nine."

"Eight."

"Seven."

"Six."

"Five."

"Four."

"Three."

"Two."

And then they kissed their way out of the old year, and into the new.