Santa Claws by Lilachigh

The story so far: After Buffy and Spike return from the Santa Claus dimension, where they have left Anya and Xander to run the Christmas world, little Eric, the orphan boy they are so fond of, infects Spike with the panther Sylvamalkyn demon. Convinced by Willow that he will turn into a dangerous panther every full moon, Spike returns to his crypt, scared of hurting Buffy and Dawn . But Dawn discovers from Eric that reversing the spell is easy and, not trusting Willow, she and Buffy take Spike to see Tara to ask for her help. But Tara tells them the spell means she has to take the demon out and put it into someone else and she refuses to do this.

Author's note: So sorry for such a long delay. Have been busy with other work but am back now and racing on with this one. Once it is finished, I promise faithfully to turn my attention back to the twins, Shanny and Future Imperfect.

Chapter 14 "I have a plan"

At midnight on a moonless night, the Sunnydale graveyard was very dark, the tombstones showing up as black shapes against the surrounding trees. Buffy paused at the entrance, her instincts telling her there was one vampire around and one or two demons. OK, she'd give the demons a pass this evening because they didn't seem to be doing anything icky, but she let her senses guide her towards the vampire. Not that it was difficult - she knew quite well which vampire it was - she could track Spike any where, any place, any time.

Spike had left Tara's home minutes after she'd confirmed that she couldn't remove the Sylvamalkyn demon from him just to put it into someone else. Dawn had jumped up to follow him, but Buffy had pulled her down again. She knew her lover too well: he needed time on his own to think about what they'd just learnt and fussing him wouldn't help. She and Dawn had sat talking over the problem with Tara for hours until eventually Buffy had sent Dawn home with orders not to talk to Willow about what had just happened.

She'd patrolled around town, her mind only half on her job, then headed for the cemetery to find him sprawled on his back on top of his crypt roof, staring up at the dark sky where a few early stars were beginning to appear. She'd wondered if he'd decided to get drunk again after Tara's revelation about the Sylvamalkyn spell, but there was no smell of alcohol in the air.

Buffy hoisted herself up onto the roof to sit next to him. She didn't bother to say hi; she knew he'd sensed her coming even before she'd sensed him. "You ran off," she said, trying to sound cheerful

"More of a strategic retreat! There didn't seem much point in hanging around, Slayer. Tara told us the bad news; wasn't going to do any good chewing it over, especially with Dawnie sitting there, all sad eyes and tearful."

"She cares about you."

Swiftly, silently, Spike sat up, turning to look at her. "And that's why I thought I should clear out, leave Sunnydale, pet. Your sister has one or two qualities that make her formidable - loyalty and pig-headed stubborness. She won't give up trying to find a cure for me, and that's going to lead to a whole load of grief."

"And you think I will give up?" Buffy asked sharply.

Spike reached out and tenderly touched her face. "No, you're both cut out of the same piece of cloth, Slayer. But I think I have as much chance of making you leave me alone as I do of catching one of those stars up there when it falls."

"So, what do we do next?"

Spike pulled her into his arms and together they lay, gazing up at the dark sky. "Well, tempting as it is to say, "let's run away and live in a tree somewhere and I promise to let you shut me in a cage every full moon" I don't fancy the idea that much."

"Willow did that with Oz," Buffy said softly, wriggling closer. "Perhaps that's why she's so determined that you should leave Sunnydale - she doesn't want to put me through all that grief."

Spike grunted vaguely. He was quite certain that Willow's driving force was not one of pity, empathy or a desire to make Buffy's life easier. He thought it was purely based on jealousy, an emotion that she'd carefully hidden even from herself for so many years it was now part of her nature and nothing she would recognise and try to change, even if she could be made to see it.

He wasn't the brightest at working out people's deepest feelings - more of a fangs and fist guy even after living with and loving Buffy, but he would have been blind not to have noticed that since they'd left Xander and Anya in the Santa Claus world, Willow had grown odder, more bitter. He didn't think that the witch had any idea herself of her true feelings for the Whelp, but he'd seen too much unrequited love - god, even suffered from it himself! - not to know it when he saw it. And even if Xander wasn't her lover, he was the closest friend she had, even closer than Buffy. Without him, she was - well, he didn't want to imagine what she might do, what she might have done.

But if he told Buffy what he believed, it would shatter the last remnants of friendship she had for the red-head and somehow he didn't think that would be good. While all her venom was directed at him, Buffy was safe. But a witch with a grudge against her once best friend - not a bloody bright idea.

"Well, I've had an idea - I've got a sort of a plan," Buffy mumbled into his neck. "But it might not work. I need to talk to Tara about it."

"If it involves me moving in the next hour or so, I say no!"

Buffy struggled clear of his arms and sat, hugging her knees. She shivered and gazed round the graveyard, her eyes automatically seeking vamps, demons, anything odd or spooky. Her instincts told her there were demons around, but none were in view so obviously going about their own business and not bothering with her or Spike. "OK, Tara said that basically the spell involved was easy - we have to take out your Sylvamalkyn demon thingy and transfer it into someone else, right?"

"Not sure if "thingy" is the correct witchy term, but yes."

"So - what if we find a vamp just rising, transfer the demon and then I kill it?"

Spike felt a quiver of hope. It was a weird plan, but one that might just work. "So we need to get Tara on board with that and what - camp out here and wait? It all seems too easy."

"And it won't work!" The words quivered through the night, falling like daggers, spearing their dreams into pieces.

Slayer and vampire swung to their feet so swiftly the air shivered. They leapt off the crypt roof, onto the ground, standing back to back, falling into a fighting mode that they didn't have to think about. Spike vamped out and Buffy reached automatically for a stake, crouching to attack. She stared round but couldn't see who had spoken, there was no one in sight. Then a slight movement made her raise her gaze and there, on a branch of the big tree that grew next to Spike's crypt, stood a woman.

"Vamp?" muttered Spike, then, "No, demon. Not a very big one - I'll leave her to you, Slayer."

"But what did she mean? And boy, she must have great hearing to catch my words from that far away! Hey - come down here and - "

Even as she spoke, the woman leapt effortlessly through the air, her hair streaming out in a golden mane behind her. She landed, catlike, facing them, and as she raised her hands, two inch long claws glittered and shone and her lips pulled back in a snarl to show bright shiny teeth.

Buffy tightened her hold on her stake. She didn't understand - there was no moon but the female demon in front of her was only too recognisable and got ready to fend off what was obviously a fully grown, deadly Sylvamalkyn.