Fighting On by Lilachigh

A Christmas story. This is taken from a much longer work which I will be posting soon, but I thought it was right for this time of the year. Enjoy and do let me know if you like it because it is one of my favourites!

We are in Season 3. Spike and Dru have left town and Angel wants to kill himself.

Somewhere close by a radio was playing a very upbeat version of Joy to the World. Sunnydale was getting in the Christmas spirit with a vengeance. And today was the biggie, the day of the Christmas holiday when all children and parents bonded together, or argued and ruined the rest of the festivities - the Buying of The Tree day.

But this year, even that seemed doomed to failure. The circle of dead Christmas trees for sale in the vacant lot was weird, Buffy thought as she pushed her way through skeletal brown branches, the needles catching in her coat and hair. The ground felt spongey beneath her feet and there was a hideous smell - decay and death. Not at all festive! She pulled a face as the ghosts of many dead pine trees tried to force their way into her mouth. She sighed and wondered why she was here amongst the petrified forest and Cordy was going skiing in Aspen.

Although she couldn't see her, Buffy could hear her mom, only feet away. It was amazing how quickly you could get turned round and lose sight of people in this maze. Joyce was exclaiming over the size and price of a spruce that would only last a few days in the warmth of their family room. But at least the trees in her part of the lot would start out semi alive - where Buffy was walking was obviously a resting place for everything old and dead and -

- and to her astonishment and anger, the deadest of the dead was standing in the centre of the withered circle, black leather coat shiny in the winter sunlight, platinum hair slick, eyes - well she'd forgotten because Angel's were so dark and soulful just how startlingly blue and sparkling Spike's eyes were.

"What the hell are you doing here?" she hissed at him.

"Oh great, the bloody Slayer! Just what I need. How do you do it? Do you have some sort of radar that picks me out?"

Buffy wondered why this particular vampire always managed to irritate her so much and why she didn't just pull out a stake and –

"Strangely enough, Spike, I'm visiting a Christmas tree lot to buy a Christmas tree! I appreciate that takes a lot of working out, but even you - " She stopped. Geez, why was she talking to him? "Does Angel know you're in town?"

Spike raised a scarred eyebrow and lit a cigarette. He blew smoke towards her and grinned as she coughed dramatically. He flicked the lighter again and watched as the flame flicked over a branch of brown pine needles near him.

Buffy scowled and batted out the little sparks with her fingers. "Stop that! What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Spike shrugged. "No, Lover Boy doesn't know and I have no intention of telling him. And if you want a nice cosy Christmas with Peaches, then I suggest you keep quiet as well."

"Then get out of Sunnydale. Go back to - well, wherever you're lurking now. Go back to Dru. Just - " she waved her hands and caught a tree which immediately toppled over. She dived to catch it at the same time as Spike. For a second their hands caught and tangled until they pulled free, pushing the tree to one side. Buffy stepped back, trying to catch her breath. She was going down with a cold - this tightness in her chest was an obvious sign.

"You OK, Buffy?" she heard her mother call.

"Yes, Mom, I'm fine. Still looking for the perfect tree."

"Oh, is that Joyce? Shall I stop and say hello?" Spike ground out his cigarette and started to push his way through the trees.

Buffy pulled a stake from her pocket. "Take one more step - just one step, Spike and you're dust. Now, what is it about the words 'go away' you don't understand?"

Spike shrugged, his expression guarded. "Much as I love to obey your every word, Slayer, because I really go for a girl who's all decisive and dominating, I can't go until I find Matilda."

Buffy felt sick. "Not someone else you've turned! Isn't Dru enough for you?"

Spike hesitated, gazing at her angry face, eyes wide with horror and disgust. There was so much he could have said about Dru, but not to the Slayer. He wished - but only for a second - that Liam wasn't his hated grandsire, but a real mate. The sort of guy you could confide in, have a drink or five with over the holiday season, explain that you were doing your best, but your crazy girlfriend who you'd loved for so many, many years, was slowly driving you as mad as she was. That he might be wrong, but he had the nasty feeling she was having it off with someone - something - else and what did Liam think he should do?

A real mate would have sympathised, then told him he was imagining it. Mind you, Angel had slept with Dru himself, so perhaps he would just have laughed and told Spike that he was a weak, feeble idiot who couldn't keep his own woman in check.

It must be okay in some ways, he thought wistfully, to be the Slayer. Oh not for killing vampires and demons, of course, but to have Red around and, god help us, the Whelp and even old tweedy knickers, Giles; all friends, all there for support. And she'd even got Mr Big and Broody as well for a little love and affection, although hey, they couldn't go the whole way and shag each other silly apparently, so a plus there.

He shivered, which was ridiculous because he didn't feel the cold. It was all the Slayer's fault. He'd probably caught some disgusting Slayer disease off her. The tightness he felt in his chest was probably the start of some soddin' cold thing. Sometimes he realised just how alone in the world he was, but there was no way he was going to let the Slayer see he was tired and feeling down on his luck.

"Matilda isn't a girl, Slayer, she's a bloody doll. One of Dru's babies. Got left behind when we scarpered. I said I'd buy her another one, the finest in Mexico, but no, she has to have Miss Matilda. She completes the rotten circle or some such rubbish, so I've got to find her, haven't I?"

Buffy bit her lip and tried very hard not to laugh. Oh the Big Bad was so under his lady's thumb, even if it was the thumb of a merciless mass killer. "And, er, do you know where Miss Matilda is now?" It was so hard to keep the tremble out of her voice.

Spike looked at her suspiciously. If the Slayer was laughing at him, he would risk getting staked so he could bite her. Sink his fangs into that luscious soft neck. Just once. It would be worth it. He could die happy. "Got a good idea. Old church over by Forest Drive. Dru thinks she left Miss Matilda in the bell tower when she killed the guy playing the organ a couple of months ago."

"Oh gross, Spike. How can you kill someone inside a church?"

The vampire looked puzzled, then shrugged. "It's easy. As long as you don't touch any of the crosses."

"Buffy!"

"I've got to go." She stared at the vampire in horror. "Just get the stupid doll and vanish, Spike. Or - or I'll tell Angel!" She whirled round and dived back through the dead trees.

Spike stared after her. She wasn't going to tell lover boy, he could sense that. So, they shared a secret. And for some reason that cheered him up immensely. He'd find the church, the rotten doll and get the hell out of Sunnydale again. Surely if he tried a bit harder with Dru, she'd stop - well, whatever it was she did when she left their bed and vanished for nights on end.

Night was just ending when Buffy left Angel at the corner of Main Street. He'd held her tight, his dark eyes full of concern and love and all the things they couldn't say and couldn't do were there between them. She walked on home, the weird, unexpected snow crisp under her boots. Angel was staying in Sunnydale, for now, at least. He wasn't going to let the sun do its dirty work on him after all.

She was so glad, really pleased, couldn't have been happier. I mean, hey, you knew you were loved and wanted when your guy preferred to commit suicide rather than fight against what was stopping you being together! She tried a joyful skip in the snow and slid over. Grumbling she stood up, brushing off the snow, wondering why the joyful skip had seemed so difficult. She did feel happy, didn't she? The man she loved was still in her life.

As she looked up, she realised she was standing outside a church, its tower reaching up into the pale grey sky. There was a life-size Christmas crib on the sidewalk outside and now there was a most unlikely layer of snow on top of the figures surrounding baby Jesus in the manger. She stood admiring it for a while, then something caught her attention and she stiffened. There was a light flickering inside the church. Someone robbing a church, just before Christmas? Well, in Sunnydale it wouldn't surprise her. She crept up to the door but as she pushed it open, it creaked violently and she winced.

"Come in if you're coming in, Slayer. Bloody hell, woman, do you want the whole of Sunnydale to join us!"

"Spike? Why are you still here?" Buffy walked up the aisle to where he knelt besides the font. He'd lit a couple of candles and his hair gleamed almost gold in the light from their flames. "Anyway, how did you know it was me?"

He glanced up from where he was sitting on the black and white tiled floor. "Smelt you and heard you, Slayer. Vampire, remember? You should do, you've got Peaches pong all over you. It's the hair gel, you know, he buys it by the gallon. He didn't top himself, then?"

She stared at him, horrified. "How did you - no, he's OK. It - it started to snow."

Spike shrugged. "Word gets around, pet. I never thought he'd go through with it, mind, otherwise I might have wandered up and put in the odd word of encouragement myself."

Buffy tried to ignore him. "You still haven't said what you're doing here." She took another step forward, then stopped. "Oh!" In front of Spike on the floor lay a Victorian china doll, dressed in white lace, her head smashed into myriad pieces. The eyes had rolled out and stared up from the floor, like two hideous little blue marbles. From somewhere in the church, Spike had found a tube of glue and was trying to stick the bits back together.

"It's Miss Matilda," he said desperately, trying to hold one china cheek still whilst he pressed a piece of forehead against it. "She was up in the bell tower, like Dru said, but I slipped in the snow coming down the steps and dropped her."

Buffy knelt down beside him. "Spike - stop. She's in too many bits. You'll never get her back together. She'll look - well, she so won't look good."

"Promised Dru I'd find Miss Matilda. She's relying on me."

"She'll understand."

The sapphire eyes stared straight at her and for a weird moment she felt herself lost in his gaze. "You don't understand; she's not herself, Slayer. She's...well, I have to be strong for her. I have to fight for her. It's hard and it's painful and it's every bloody day. But it's what I have to do. I won't let her down."

Buffy sat back on her heels and stared at him, her cheeks burning. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. She'd said almost the same things to Angel, only an hour or so ago. And even as she'd spoken, she'd known in her heart that he didn't understand. Angel had thought he was saving her from a dreadful future, but all he really wanted to do was escape from the problem, escape from the world and enjoy his brooding somewhere that wasn't Sunnydale.

Spike was far more evil than Angel. He had no soul, there was nothing decent or redeeming in his whole being. But he was kneeling in a church at Christmas, trying to mend a china doll because his mad partner was relying on him. Buffy realised with a shock of understanding that this vampire would never give in, no matter how hard things became. She tried to picture Spike waiting for the murderous sunrise to finish him off and knew it would never happen. He would fight to the end, find a way, somehow, because the woman he loved needed him. Because strong meant fighting. This vampire knew that — but not her one.

But that was impossible. Angel had a soul. He had to understand that the woman he loved needed him, just as much as Dru needed Spike. How could Spike fight for love when Angel couldn't? Without saying another word, she lurched to her feet and evading the hand that automatically reached out to her, ran from the church, sliding and slipping in the wet snow, desperate to get home, to push these thoughts from her head and pretend everything was all right in her world this Christmas.

Behind her, a slim figure in a black leather coat walked out of the church and paused to watch her go. Then he stopped, sighed and stared at the broken pieces in his hand. He clenched his fist round them and watched as a few drops of blood dripped into the snow at his feet. Then he shrugged and threw the remains of the doll to one side.

He gazed round and lit a cigarette. So, that was that then. Morning was coming fast and he would have to go back to Mexico and admit he'd failed. Then he caught sight of the crib. A slow, triumphant smile crossed his face and being careful to avoid all crosses, he gently lifted the doll like model of Jesus from the manger.

Sod it, so it wasn't Miss bleedin' Matilda, but he had the feeling he could persuade Dru it was a good alternative. It was worth a try, anyway. And stuffing the baby safely inside his duster, he strode off into Christmas to continue his fight.

ends.