STARS IN THE BRIGHT SKY by Lilachigh

A Christmas story for all Spuffy lovers. It's Season Six and Buffy is still having her secret affair with Spike.

Chapter One: Shut Out

"Who's that for?" Buffy asked suspiciously. The table was covered with cards and paper, ribbon and glitter. Dawn had decided to tackle all her gift wrapping in one go. The mess was amazing. She was busy wrapping a black T shirt and her sister had a very good idea whose Christmas present that was.

"It's just a little something for Spike," Dawn jabbed sticky tape over the paper.

"Dawn, he's a vampire. I don't think they do Christmas. Religious festival, peace on earth, goodwill to mankind, remember. Vamps and goodwill – not mixy."

"He can still have a present," Dawn said stubbornly. "I don't expect you to ask him for Christmas dinner. Oh, do you reckon he'll be on his own?" She looked suddenly anxious.

Buffy pulled a face. The whole gang were coming over on Christmas Day, although she was working right up to midnight on Christmas Eve at the Double Meat. Everyone was bringing something towards the meal so she wouldn't have to cook and she knew that throwing Spike into the mix would not make for the relaxed, happy time she was expecting.

"No, he'll probably either go and get very drunk at Willie's or have Clem round and watch old movies on the TV and get very drunk at home. Like lots of guys at this time of year."

Dawn looked at her. "You sound so cynical about Christmas. I know it will be sad without Mom, but don't you enjoy it even a little bit?"

Buffy shrugged. Since their mother had died, Christmas to her was just another holiday to get through. It was all commercial. The adverts kept on and on at you - buy this, eat that, drink, spend, spend, you can't do without our products. She seemed to walk through the days being pestered on all sides to spend money she hadn't got. This year there was no cash for presents, especially the sort that Dawn expected. And at her age, even though she knew in her head there was little money in the family, Dawn still believed in her heart that gifts would magically appear from somewhere. Thank heavens Buffy could rely on Willow and Xander giving her something nice.

She stared round the house. They'd made a start at decorating the little tree Dawn had bought, but hadn't got very far. And all the old room decorations were stored away in boxes in the attic. Buffy didn't have the energy or inclination to look for them: there were too many memories tied up in that tinsel.

The trouble was she felt so tired. The vampire and demon population of Sunnydale obviously didn't treat Christmas any differently to any other day of the year. If anything, there seemed even more of them at the moment. She'd killed five the night before while she was out on patrol. And when she saw Spike - well, although she didn't feel tired when they were - well, she would be up front and modern and call it as it was - having sex - she felt exhausted afterwards. Emotionally and physically drained.

Dawn was getting irritated. "Honestly, Buffy, why don't you just admit that you wish Christmas was over and done with?"

Buffy tried to pull herself together. There was no reason to ruin Dawn's Christmas. "Sorry, sorry. My bad. Let's finish decorating the tree tonight before I patrol."

"Oh, I can't. Janice and her mom are baking Christmas cookies and I said I'd go round and help. I want to do a big box for Willow and Tara. It'll be cheaper than a real present, won't it? I'm taking sugar and flour and eggs and the chocolate chips. That's okay, isn't it?"

She looked so eager and pleased that Buffy didn't have the heart to explain that buying all the ingredients and a fancy box to put the cookies in was going to work out more costly than a shop bought gift!

Money, money, money. There it was again. She couldn't get it out of her head. Why couldn't she just be pleased that Dawn was trying to help? Willow and Tara had said earlier that they would be late home; they were doing their Christmas shopping that evening. Buffy hadn't heard from Xander and Anya in a couple of days. Everyone in couples, Buffy thought drearily. She was glad her friends were happy, but sometimes it would be so nice to have another adult to lean on sometimes, to talk to.

Buffy wandered out to patrol, wishing it was January and the New Year. Why on earth did she feel like this, as if she was on the outside of all the jollity, looking in? But at this time of the year it seemed as if everyone in the world was happy except for her.

She jumped as a police car cruised past as she was about to cross the road into the cemetery. Getting run over was not a good plan. It was eerily quiet, the grass soft under her feet. No vampires tonight. That was a plus. Perhaps she'd better check up on what Spike was doing over the holiday. Not that she cared, of course, but she didn't want Dawn treking round the grave-yard to visit his crypt, trying to make sure that he wouldn't be on his own.

Obviously she'd have to let her give him his present, otherwise there would be a sulky row and she couldn't cope with her sister in a mood at Christmas. Buffy pushed to the back of her mind the little book of English poetry she'd wrapped in brown paper and buried deep inside her underwear drawer. She'd spotted the book in a garage sale one of the Doublemeat girls had given. It was very cheap, of course, she thought swiftly, which was why she'd bought it. She might well keep it for herself. It wasn't really for anyone.

She absentmindedly staked a vampire who loomed up out of the dark in front of her and crossed the cemetery to Spike's crypt. She'd just stop by for a few minutes. That was all, she told herself severely. She was going to go home and write Christmas cards. She definitely was not going to spend the evening having sex with a vampire. No!

The heavy wooden door was fast shut. Buffy turned the handle and was brought up short. The door was locked. Locked! Spike never locked the door. What was the point? Who would be stupid enough to steal from a vamp? The only time it was ever locked was when they were both inside, downnstairs in the lower crypt and they were, well, too busy, to be worried about visitors.

She felt a shiver run through her, remembering what he did to her, what she did to him. Their bodies, the noise, the glorious, mind bending sensations... Her body always reacted in the same way, no matter how often she tried to turn off her errant thoughts. Then, suddenly her blood ran cold. So if the door was locked now, did that mean he had someone else in there? Was he with another girl? Were they even now downstairs, making love? Before she could stop herself, she was thumping on the door, but there was no reply.

Puzzled, she walked away a few yards and sat down on a tombstone to wait. Perhaps he was out and he'd locked the door himself for some reason, but she didn't believe it. She knew, with every spider sense she possessed that Spike was in there. And, every nerve in her body was shouting that he wasn't alone.

Suddenly, the door creaked open a couple of inches. She leapt up as Spike peered out. "Spike!"

"Slayer."

"I was just passing – "

"And decided to knock my door down."

She shrugged. "It was locked. I didn't want to kick it in." She moved to go past him and was stunned when he barred her way. "Let me in."

"Not tonight, Goldilocks. I've got things to do."

"What?" Buffy couldn't believe he was turning her away. "Don't you want to..."

He grinned at her. "Oh yes, Slayer. All the time. But can't tonight. Sorry. Thanks for coming round. See you later." And he shut the door in her face.

Buffy kicked Algernon Baden-Crombie III hard. Well, it was his tombstone actually, so hopefully Algernon wouldn't mind too much. She couldn't remember when she'd last felt so angry. Which was odd because recently, since Willow had brought her back from the dead, she hadn't felt much of anything at all - happiness, anger, fear, sadness - except when she was with Spike when there was too much feeling and touching and sensation and - and that was the whole problem, of course.

How dare he shut her out! She'd a good mind to go back and kick his silly crypt door into pieces. And she could do it, too. How dare he! "So what's he got to hide?" she said out loud, kicking Algernon again. "I bet it's something icky and disgusting. How dare he!"

She couldn't think of any different words and was trying hard to hold onto her anger because underneath that there was a sore, unhappy place. She would never have believed he could shut her out like that. Didn't he...a very small voice whispered in her head...didn't he like her any more?

"This is stupid," she said. "I'm going home, write my cards, wrap some presents and think happy, Christmassy thoughts. Jingle bells, jingle bells..." she sang bravely and cheerfully until she realised her feet had led her back to Spike's crypt.

She stood behind a tree, gazing at the door. Whatever he was doing, she had to find out. It was important because...because...she had to keep Sunnydale safe for everyone at Christmas. Even if she didn't feel Christmassy, others did. And if Spike was up to no good, then it was her job to step in and sort him out.

Buffy hugged the excuse close, forcing herself to believe it was the truth. She wouldn't listen to the voice that kept saying, 'he's found someone else...he never really loved you...once he slept with you, that was it...you're no good in bed...that was all he ever wanted...just sex...and perhaps he's found someone who's better at it than you.'

Suddenly the crypt door swung open and Spike stepped out, gazing round, head tilted: she knew he was sniffing the air, making sure there were no enemies around. He'd pick up her scent, but he knew she'd been outside the crypt earlier, so hopefully he would think that was all it was. He carefully locked the door behind him and set off with his long, loping stride across the cemetery, coat flying. Buffy trailed him, being careful to keep a good distance behind so he didn't see or sense her.

The streets of Sunnydale were still crowded with late Christmas revellers. Shops were brightly lit, carols were playing and a Santa was ringing a bell, collecting money for charity. A police car cut through the crowds and it was nice to know the law was out keeping order as well as her. Buffy was desperately trying to keep Spike in sight, but it was difficult, without him spotting her. Then a bunch of laughing people, waving mistletoe at each other, barged into her and when she'd fought her way free, the vampire had vanished.

"Buffy! Hi! Merry Christmas!" It was Xander and Anya, their arms full of parcels and holly. "A joyous pagan sacrificial season to you and yours," said Anya enthusiastically.

"Oh, yes, and, er, you..Xander, have you seen Spike?"

"What? A big no, and an even bigger, hope I don't. Why, what's he done?"

Buffy stared round frantically. How could he vanish so quickly? "Oh, nothing. I just want to...well, keep any eye on him...in case, you know, evil thing...especially at Christmas, I expect."

Anya put on her school-teacher face. "You know, Buffy, there's really no evidence that vampires and demons are busier at Christmas. We do have families of our own, you know. And everyone likes presents and drinking and feasting – "

"As long as the feasting isn't on some one else, Ahn," broke in Xander. "So, are you going to join us for frothy coffee and hot chocolate before you go home, Buff?"

"No, I'm going to patrol first. Have fun. If I don't see you before, I'll see you on Christmas Day!"

"Okay. And mind how you go. Haven't you seen all the police everywhere?"

Buffy nodded absentmindedly. "Yes, I suppose I have. I almost got run over by a cop car earlier. Why, what's going on?"

"Escaped killer in town, apparently. Being transported to the high security prison and got free when the van broke down. So just watch your step."

When they'd gone, she wandered along the main street for a while, but as the crowds thinned, there was no sign of Spike. Then, suddenly, the hairs on the back of her neck stood up and she spun round. Vampire! There, inside a shop, she caught a glimpse of blond hair and black leather duster. She sped across to the window and peered inside. Spike was paying at the check-out. Well, at least he wasn't stealing. Buffy strained her neck to see what it was the girl was packing for him.

Whisky. Well, that was normal. But there was bread and cheese going into the brown bag. And soup and chocolate and very strong pain killer tablets! Why on earth would Spike need such a lot of normal food? She knew he ate more than any other vampire she'd ever known - he loved cookies - but bread and cheese? And why would he need pain killers? If there was one thing Spike could cope with it was pain. She'd never seen him take any sort of tablet before.

Coming to with a start, she realised Spike had swung away from the check-out and was heading for the door. She spun around to move away but was too slow. He was there - in front of her, raising that silly eyebrow with the scar.

"Slayer. Out doing your Christmas shopping? Left it a bit late, haven't you, pet. Thought you were on patrol. Or were you waiting for me?"

Buffy bit her lip. "In your dreams will I ever wait anywhere for you, Spike! I've just been... window shopping." She eyed his packages suspiciously. "You've been buying a lot. Visitors for Christmas?" she said, trying to make a joke. "Who is it,? Clem? Have you bought him a present?"

Spike frowned and gazed round at the dwindling crowd. She had the strong impression he didn't want to look her in the eye. "Visitors? No, no one. And my Christmas shopping was done ages ago, Slayer. How about yours?"

Buffy shrugged as they fell into step, heading back out of town towards the cemetery. "Not so big on the whole Christmas scene this year. Dawn wants such a lot and the jolly, holly, Santa and reindeer and mulled wine round a log fire gig doesn't inspire me much."

"Sounds sad."

Buffy shot him a dirty look. "Sad? Not at all. Just - grown up. Christmas is for children. Everyone knows that. It's okay for Dawn to be excited, but me, not so much."

"So no present for our poofter friend with the bad hair style in Los Angeles?"

Buffy ignored him. She had sent Angel a card, from her and Dawn, wishing him Seasonal Greetings. But no present. Not that she'd bought Spike a present, either, she hastened to remind herself. The little book of English poetry pushed to the back of her dressing-table drawer was just - a gift for herself, she decided.

"I like Christmas," said Spike suddenly. "We used to have a big party on Christmas Day after we'd been to church. And it always snowed." He gazed up into the clear, dark, star-littered sky as if searching for a few errant flakes. "Sometimes I miss the English weather," he murmured, almost to himself.

Buffy thought briefly of the time it had snowed once in Sunnydale, then shut her mind to that and turned back to Spike. "Are you cooking dinner for Clem?"

They'd reached the door of his crypt and he stopped in his tracks, juggling his packages as he reached for the key in his duster pocket. "Not tonight, no," he said briefly. "I'm...I'm busy tonight."

Buffy stared at him. He was going to do it again. He was going to shut her out! But why? Well, she certainly wasn't going to beg.

He opened the door a little, then hesitated. "I've got a little gift for Dawn," he said casually. "I take it you won't want me round on the 25th, so I'll drop it off tomorrow. Okay with you?"

"Fine," she said tensely and stood, watching as he gave her a long, hard look and shut the crypt door behind him.

She heard the lock click, but it wasn't that noise that she remembered as she turned away. As he'd swung the door wide, she'd heard groans of someone in great pain and smelt the one thing she could recognise anywhere - the sweet tang of blood! Buffy stared at the heavy wooden door, her heart thundering. She couldn't, wouldn't believe it, but her senses never lied about blood. Spike had someone in there, someone who was bleeding, someone in pain.

Was he feeding again? No, that was ridiculous. He couldn't hurt anyone with the chip in his head. And anyway, he was different these days. He said he loved her, she'd slept with him; she had done things with Spike, to him, that ... the words pushed themselves to the front of her mind - oh god, she had feelings for him.

But what if the chip had failed. broken, dechipped itself. Bits of Willow's computer were breaking down all the time. Had there been some sort of warning that she'd missed?

Was it when they'd played with the handcuffs the other night, when he'd fastened her hands together above her head to the leg of a chair and made her come and come and come until she'd dissolved into a screaming, liquid mess that gloried when he'd climaxed inside her, roaring his love and passion into the dark crypt around them. Would the smell of their sex soaked night still linger in the crypt as she imagined it did on her body, no matter how many times she showered?

And if he does have a helpless victim in there, a voice whispered inside her brain, what are you going to do then? "I'll have to kill him," she whispered out loud to the deserted graveyard.

But it wasn't deserted. Just as she was about to kick down the crypt door, a voice behind her said, "Now Miss, this is no place for you to be tonight. Cut along home, straight away."

Buffy swirled round, her hands reaching out to attack. Then she dropped them to her side. It was a policeman, holding a torch. She could see others patrolling through the graveyard, the flash lights swinging through the darkness, looking like a scene from ET.

"What's going on, officer?"

"Escaped convict, Miss. Very dangerous. I want you to go home and shut all your doors and windows. Talk to no one. Okay."

Buffy nodded dutifully and drifted away. She watched as the policeman tried the crypt door, shook it, then moved off, obviously satisfied. Why don't you tell him? she asked herself angrily. Just call out that you think there's someone in trouble inside that crypt. But she couldn't. This was between her and Spike. If anyone was going to kill him, it had to be her.

She cut back across the cemetery, ducked down a back road and dragged aside the covering to one of the sewer entrances. She knew the passage underneath ran back towards the graveyard, and she was pretty sure it was one that Spike used to travel across town during daylight.

"Uggh. Gahh. Smelly!" she moaned as she splashed her way along, but eventually the floor of the passage rose and became dry underfoot. Dim light filtered down occasionally from gratings above her head. Sometimes she could hear people laughing, the rumble of traffic, the wail of a police siren as the hunt for the convict spread out through Sunnydale.

She realised that it was getting very late. It must be Christmas Eve by now. "Spike owes me a new pair of boots," Buffy muttered grimly. "These are the only one's I've got and they'll never be any use to man, woman or beast again. Why can't I fight some battles in nice, clean places with nice clean floors. Ice-cream parlours, shopping malls, shoe shops...why is there always gunge and grime and gloop?"

She knew she was rambling, anything to keep her mind off what she was going to find and what she might have to do. She fingered the stake in her jacket pocket. Would she be able to use this on Spike? She'd killed Angel for the sake of the world. But Spike - She tried not to imagine Dawn's face on Christmas morning. No, sweetie, we can't take your present round to Spike because I dusted him. He's gone. He'll never wear a T-shirt again, black or otherwise.

"Xander would be pleased," she whispered. "He'd probably phone Giles and they could have a big celebration. Tara would be sympathetic, Willow – " her thoughts ground to a halt as she realised she didn't know what her oldest friend would think. "At least I can keep those poems for myself," she muttered, remembering the little blue book pushed to the back of her underwear drawer. The book she'd refused to admit to herself that she'd planned on giving Spike as a gift.

Oh God, Christmas and for every year from now on, would be the anniversary of this final act in their rocky relationship.

"Stupid tunnel, it's making my eyes water." Because that was what it was. The dark, dank air. She certainly wasn't crying. She was the Slayer. She would never cry over a stupid, peroxide blond vampire who had made her believe that perhaps there was one person in the world she could rely on, when she'd always known there wasn't.

Suddenly there was a dim light shining at the end of the tunnel. "Which can only be the on-coming train," Buffy thought dully. She stopped as the smell of blood came wafting towards her and there was the moaning sound again. No, whatever pain this was going to cause her, there was no option, she thought drearily, there never had been. This was her calling, this was why she'd killed Angel, this was what she did, even at Christmas, she killed the man she loved.

Without stopping to think about the words she'd just thought, Buffy leapt forward, stake in hand, and swung round the corner into the underground room of Spike's crypt.

"Buffy!" Spike was leaning over someone lying on the bed - their bed that they so often didn't bother to use. Up to the sleeves of his T-shirt, his pale arms were stained in blood.

"Get away from the bed!" Buffy ordered.

"Slayer." He stood up slowly, looking at her in disbelief, his blue eyes, shadowed by - if she hadn't known better, she would have said hurt and a sort of weary resignation. "Come to kill me, pet?" His voice was sharp, very English and Buffy was reminded of Giles when he was in a temper with her and trying not to show it.

"Just move away, Spike, please." She was shaking like a leaf. Ridiculous. She never reacted like this when she was hunting.

"Can't do that, luv."

Buffy steeled herself to strike, then hesitated. Every Slayer instinct told her to kill him, get it done. What right had she to expect anything but unhappiness? With Spike gone there would be nothing left in her life but grey, unfeeling dreariness. Perhaps that was what she deserved, needed to do her job properly. She'd been neglecting Dawn, ignoring her friends, all because of this man standing in front of her, with an innocent's blood all over him.

She tightened her grip on the stake. Why was she hesitating? She'd loved Angel as deeply as a young girl could, but she'd still pushed her sword deep into his flesh. She'd sent him to hell. Why couldn't she kill Spike? "Close your eyes," she commanded, her mind rocking as the words echoed deep inside her.

Spike gave her a crooked grin. "Bugger that! Go ahead and do it."

Buffy felt a strange pride rise up inside her. Against all odds, she was proud of Spike. Because this man would never close his eyes. He would face death with that burning, blazing blue gaze, smiling at her, loving her to the very end.

A groan from the bed jerked her forward.

"We'll have to do this later, Slayer. She needs us now," Spike said softly and turned his back on her.

Puzzled, Buffy peered round him and gasped. Lying on the bed in a tangle of red velvet covers and black silk sheets was a young girl in her late teens. Her dark hair was tangled and matted, her face contorted with pain, but Buffy could see that she was probably very pretty. It looked as if Spike had ripped the skirt of her dress apart. Her legs were splayed open, she was naked underneath.

She was also heavily pregnant and even as Buffy looked, half rose up off the bed, grabbing for Spike's hand as her next contraction hit her.

to be continued