Title: The Price We Pay for Love
Rating: R
Disclaimer: I own neither the characters featured in this story nor the show from which their inspiration was derived. Unfortunately.
Summary: Buffy's sick, the demon world is speaking gibberish to the slayer, and, most baffling of all, she's having strange, recurring dreams that revolve around a visit to a certain L.A. vampire that lasted no more than a couple of minutes... right? Something has changed in Sunnydale, and it has everything to do with Buffy... and Angel.
A/N: First, the title of this story came from a quote by Queen Elizabeth II in which she said, "grief is the price we pay for love." Secondly, each chapter title for this story is the title of a song. Most of them will be songs that I myself listen to and enjoy. However, for example, there might be one or two – like with this first chapter – which are not my personal taste but reflect the actual storyline. With that said, the whole song might not represent the chapter, but perhaps the mood fit with the post's mood, or there was a line or two of the lyrics which matched the tone of the plot at that point. Because of the song title chapter titles, there will be a thread where all the songs are listed, including youtube videos featuring the songs if you would like to listen to them. On one final note, this story is already finished. I'll just be spreading out the chapters when I actually have time to post. Thanks and enjoy!

~Charlynn~

The Price We Pay for Love

Chapter One: Two of Hearts

Buffy wasn't sure how she felt about Christmas. Hell, for that matter, she wasn't sure how she felt about holidays in general, but, considering the fact that her conscience swore while thinking about the rather sacred religious day, she pretty much knew that, whatever her feelings were, they weren't good and pious. However, she didn't feel guilty about her wicked ways. If nothing else, due to her somewhat unorthodox lifestyle, she felt as though she deserved to be cut some slack when it came to her less than stellar level of festiveness. Besides, could anybody in their right mind blame her for being a little jaded?

Halloween, when a slayer, was a joke. That had already been proven. The one day out of the year when she was supposed to be granted a slight reprieve, and that had gone bust… just like with all her other holiday plans. All the romantic holidays, Buffy felt, were designed to mock her. St. Patrick's Day, considering he was the patron saint of Ireland, was ruined thanks to He-Who-Would-Not-Be-Mentioned, and she couldn't even enjoying stuffing herself with an exorbitant amount of food anymore at Thanksgiving because of the memories she gained just a month prior thanks to the same souled vampire. And then there was her birthday… which, unfortunately, was quickly approaching, but the slayer had to push those thoughts, those recollections, aside if she wanted to get through the next few days. While her birthday wasn't for another month, Christmas was a part of the here and now, and it had its own share of ghosts that could haunt her quite adequately.

Yay for her.

However, Buffy refused to wallow. It wouldn't do her any good, and she wasn't that girl anymore. He had left, she had moved on, and she wasn't about to let either him or her memories ruin the night she had planned. Besides, there were still a few days left before the anniversary of their magic snow, and she was determined to find something to celebrate that year, if not for herself than, at least, for her friends.

So, that was why she had cancelled patrolling for the night. While she had no doubt that Giles would go off skulking about town with a crossbow in her stead – the man truly did not comprehend even the idea of a night off, she, at least for twenty-four hours, was retiring her stakes and locking away her holy water. Instead of her utilitarian leather jacket, tank, pants, and moderately heeled boots, the eighteen year old was wearing a bright green, scooped neck sweater and loose, worn jeans. She even had slippers on her feet, and, for the first time in years, there was no cross around her neck. When she looked in the mirror, she looked like a normal college freshman, one who was home for break and prepared to jumpstart her holiday festivities, but she felt like a fake. Yet, as long as she fooled her mom, and Willow, and Xander, the ruse was totally worth it.

After one last cursory glance in the mirror to make sure that everything was in its proper place, the slayer took a deep breath, bracing herself for the evening to come. After all, it had been her idea – a way for her to give something back to her two best friends and her mother for all that they sacrificed for her and her invasive, oftentimes unwanted destiny. For Joyce, it was just a simple night with her daughter, something akin to what they had shared before Buffy had been called. For Xander, it was a way to escape his unfeeling family, even if only for just one night. And, for Willow, Buffy was trying to help her best friend forget, if only for a moment, the pain she was in due to Oz leaving. If nothing else, she herself could understand the devastating side effects a girl went through when the man she was in love with chose to leave her, and, right or wrong in her attempts, the redhead had tried everything she could think of to cheer Buffy up after graduation. The least she could do was return the favor.

And that's exactly what she planned on doing. If everything went according to her ideas, Willow would be so busy that she wouldn't have time to think about her wandering werewolf, and, for that matter, she'd be so busy distracting her best friend that she wouldn't think about her own MIA ex-significant other. There was a tree to decorate, but, first they had to get it in its stand, and, knowing her perfectionist of a mother, that would take, at least, an hour. With that thought in mind, Buffy reminded herself to hide the level. Plus, there were cookies to bake, presents to wrap, and Christmas holiday classics, especially Charlie Brown for Willow and Xander, to watch.

It was so sweet that she felt like she was choking on a jelly donut overload.

Straitening her shoulders, the blonde practically marched down the stairs to where she could hear her mom and friends waiting for her in the living room. If she wasn't so focused upon the tasks before her, she would have realized that her behavior mirrored that of a woman who was on her way to face a firing squad, but Buffy was too distracted. Softly, she could already hear the television on in the background. It was set to an all music holiday station, and, of course, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing was playing, its notes and lyrics as crisp as the pain that lanced through the eighteen year old at even the slightest reference to her former lover.

She was so distracted by the time she reached the first level of her house that she just made her way to the couch where her two best friends were curled up underneath blankets, moving entirely on autopilot. It wasn't until she felt the sticky, disgusting spray of an uncontrollable sneeze hitting the bare skin of her neck and left cheek that she realized something wasn't right with the picture before her, but, by that time, she was too grossed out to even care.

"Now, that's what I call some authentic season's greetings," the owner of the sneeze quipped, grinning despite his obvious physical discomfort. Continuing on, Xander mock sang, "on the first day of Christmas, my best friend gave to me: a quickly spreading viral disease."

Her mom chastised Xander, but there was little effort behind her reprimand, and her lack of enthusiasm had nothing to do with the cold she was suffering from and everything to do with her own poorly disguised amusement, and Willow hit her childhood friend with one of the spare pillows that was piled up between the two teens on the couch. However, Buffy did not join in with their antics. Disbelievingly, she cried out, "you cannot be sick! That's just… against the laws of … of nature or something. I mean, who gets sick on Christmas?"

"I had the chicken pox over Christmas break once," Willow shared, "but it lasted eight days, so it seemed appropriate to me at the time. I had pulled Cordelia's hair at recess a few weeks before, so I thought it was my Hanukkah punishment for being bad." Finishing her story, the redhead just shrugged.

"If I had been in charge, I would have rewarded you with sixteen days of presents instead."

"Yes, but my parents never dated Cordelia, Xander, unlike you. Hey," she brightened up drastically. "There's our first holiday miracle!"

But Buffy plowed on, ignoring her teasing statement and trying to block out any more discussion of their old high school… whatever Cordelia had been to them. Because she was in L.A., and because she was working for He-Who-Would-Not-Be-Mentioned, Cordelia was a forbidden topic for the slayer as well. Not that her friends knew that, though, for the blonde didn't want them to realize just how much she was still affected by the not-so-distant past. Instead, she focused on objecting. "But what about the tree?" Turning to practically plead with her mother, the slayer pressed, "it's your favorite part of Christmas, Mom."

"Yes, it is, and it'll get decorated, I promise. Just not tonight, Buffy. I can't."

Giving up on that avenue of argument, the eighteen year old next moved her complaints to her roommate. "What about Snoopy, Willow, and wrapping presents? You said that you are practically an artist with scotch tape."

Gripping her already pale head as if to steady it, the fledging Wiccan whimpered, "I don't think I can take dancing and singing right now, let alone bright paper. It'd be too much; it would push me over the edge, make my stomach even queasier, and I think we can all agree that we don't want to see what Willow had for lunch."

"Where'd you eat," Xander asked, as if her choice of restaurant would actually play a role in his decision.

"Not the point," the redhead glared.

And Willow never glared, so Buffy knew her friend really didn't feel well. Turning to her last but what she felt was her best hope, the slayer beseeched, "what about those cookies, though, Xand?" If nothing else, her friend's capacity to eat, especially junk food, was legendary. Even though the actual cookies were already made and from a box, no less, everyone knew that, when it came to Xander, he would eat anything – even cardboard – if it had enough frosting and sprinkles on it. "I got every color of frosting you could imagine and tons of different kinds of candy to decorate the cutouts with. You're not going to bail on me, too, are you?"

"I'm sorry, Buffy," he apologized weakly, looking probably just as wretched as he felt, "but I'm not hungry." Pausing momentarily as if his previous statement shocked him just as much as it shocked the three women in the room, the brunette considered what he had just said before emphasizing, "yeah, not even a little bit." To punctuate his words, he sneezed all over the blonde slayer once again."

"Ugh, you have to quit doing that."

"Ah, come on, Buffy," Willow grinned, and then coughed, and then frowned wretchedly. "Don't you want to join us? You know, misery loves company. Besides, living here, you'll probably get sick anyway."

"Yeah, thanks for the appealing offer, but I think I'm going to have to pass." Looking pointedly at her two best friends, the eighteen year old said, "don't we remember what happened the last time I got sick."

"Oh yeah," the redhead recalled belatedly. "Killing and coughing don't exactly mix too well."

"Like vamps and sunlight," Xander quipped.

"And, on that note," the slayer turned to retrace her steps and head back towards the stairs. "I think I'll go change and head out for a quick…," but, after Xander sneezed again, she amended, "or... make that a really, really long patrol. And maybe I'll drop by Giles' and see if he wouldn't mind a houseguest for a few days, at least until the three of you stop resembling members of the living dead again. Besides, he's British, so he likes tea, and cakes go with tea, and cookies are cousins with cakes, so maybe I'll be able to talk him into making cookies with me instead."

"And he can tell you tales of when he was a little British boy growing up," the only male in their small group quipped. "How much do you want to bet that Ripper got coal in his stocking? Eh, Joyce," he finished, wiggling his eyebrows in Buffy's mother's direction. But Joyce didn't answer; she just turned bright red to match her holiday inspired pajama and robe set, Willow made fake gagging noises, and Buffy ignored her friend.

After making her way into her bedroom, she changed quickly, throwing on an outfit that was more befitting of someone who was The Chosen One. Feeling like she belonged in her own skin again, Buffy could also breathe easier. While she was disappointed that her friends and mother were sick, if she was honest with herself, she was also relieved that she had gotten out of the night she herself had planned to spend with them. Not that she would ever tell them that, though. Her relief was only compounded when she skipped down the stairs and heard the haunting notes of Angels We Have Heard on High floating from the TV, and, in that moment, her feelings towards all holidays stopped wavering; she knew exactly how she felt, especially about Christmas.

She hated it.

!

She was on her seventh cemetery of the night and had yet to vanquish a single vamp, the uncharitable, selfish lot! Didn't they realize that she was in the middle of a mini-crisis, that she needed the distraction of a good fight, that the only thing that could possibly derail her from her current train ride of self-pity was the dusting of several of her undead dead opponents? Leave it to a vampire, though, to deprive the slayer of a little distraction and emotional catharsis.

It wasn't until she felt the presence of her enemy sneak up behind her that she realized that her adversaries were not hiding from her that evening, but, rather, she had just been too obliviously self-involved to notice their presence before that particular blood sucker decided to confront her head on, and, if the vamp was that cheeky, the chances were that he or she wasn't a newbie. Oddly enough, she was relieved by that realization, for she did not relish an easy fight. She wanted to work for her kill, she wanted to sweat away her discomfort and unease, and she wanted to unleash the plethora of emotions drowning her from the inside, and the vampire behind her seemed like just as good of a target as anything else.

Turning around to face her challenger, Buffy scowled. "But, yet, you still can't dress," she accused, leveling a displeased glance at the blood sucker's attire. Seeing the vampire's acid washed, straight legged jeans, White Snake t-shirt, and feathered hair, the eighteen year old sincerely wished that the 80's would never come back into style.

"Slayer," she was greeted unnecessarily. Why her rivals always had to announce her destiny when they met her, she would never know. Talk about redundant! If she was just another meal, they wouldn't pause long enough to even contemplate her identity.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," the college freshman mocked. "I think I know who I am by now, but thanks for the tip anyway. And you," she posed, scratching her chin in simulated curiosity, "let me guess, are what: my worst enemy, the thing that's finally going to manage to get rid of me for good, yada, yada, yada. You know, if it's alright with you, I think I'd like to start fighting now. All this small talk is really exhausting."

But the vampire didn't attack. In fact, it stayed static, simply watching the blonde as though puzzled by her, and Buffy waited to see what her foe would do next. It wasn't that she was afraid of the random vamp, but she was slightly caught off guard by its reticence to engage her in combat. Usually, blood suckers fought first and died second, leaving no time for thought, but this was different, and that, she had to admit, even if just to herself, unnerved her.

Finally, the vampire whispered incredulously, "two hearts that beat as one."

And that was all the incentive Buffy needed to strike. As she swung a vicious right hook towards the vamp's big haired head, she asked, "what, was there some 80's pop marathon on VH1 tonight or something? Seriously, your kind really needs to get a life." Following her first hit with an uppercut to the jaw, she added, "I mean, really, Stacey Q? That's the best you could come up with?" Kneeing the blood sucker and making it collapse at her feet, Buffy wasted no time plunging her stake into its undead heart. As her opponent disintegrated into dust, she added one last parting shot. "Well, at least you lasted longer than Stacey Q's career."

With that, she wiped off the vampire residue on her coat and continued on her patrol, her adversary's words already forgotten. Although she wasn't anywhere near being content, she felt better than she had earlier when she had left home. By the end of the night and after several more dustings, Buffy had hope that she would be able to head back to Giles' apartment with a clearer head. But then she nearly tripped over her own two feet, stumbled slightly, and had to hold onto a conveniently large gravestone to prevent herself from falling. Pushing away from the granite memorial, she straightened out, only to realize that she felt slightly dizzy and nauseous.

"Great," the slayer complained, gritting her teeth in frustration and annoyance. "Just peachy-freaking-keen. Thanks, Xander," she continued to talk out loud to herself, the empty graveyard surrounding her completely silent except for the slight echo of her own voice and words. "You certainly know how to brighten a girl's holiday spirit."

Turning back around, she started on what was sure to be a long walk home now that she wasn't feeling well. So much for staying with Giles, for tea and sugar cookies, and stories of her watcher as a naughty, coal receiving little British boy. She was off to the sick house, off to join her mother and her two best friends in their Christmas (and Hanukkah) suffering. Somehow, though, despite being chilled, dizzy, and sick to her stomach, the current year still managed to beat the year before. But that was no great accomplishment. Anything would be better than He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Mentioned trying to commit suicide, and, if there was something worse out there, she really did not want to know what it was. Surely, she, at least, deserved that consideration… if nothing else.