Santa Claws by Lilachigh

The story so far: Back from the world of Father Christmas having left Xander and Anya behind to work out a penance, Buffy and Spike have admitted their love for each other and are happy. Until they realise that Spike has become infected by Eric, the orphan boy they like so much, with the Sylvamalkyn panther demon strain. Spike decides to leave Buffy to protect her and Dawn from his hunting lust. Willow is supposedly searching for a cure but the witch feels Buffy would be far happier without Spike in her life.

Chapter 9 Demon Spells

The candles were dying - flickering in odd currents of air that drifted through the darkness of the crypt. Spike, slumped bonelessly in a chair, staring at the nearest golden flame. If Buffy didn't arrive by the time it went out, then he knew she wouldn't come at all. He'd waited three days - expecting the crypt door to be flung open, her voice scolding but loving. He'd even been expecting her fists to thump into his face, then her fingers to busy themselves with zippers and buttons and him.

But the door had remained close, the candles were now burning low and he felt the sick wash of rejection and bitter acceptance sweep over him.

He'd only left the crypt for a short while, to hunt through the graveyard, cramming a small, squeaking creature into his mouth, hating himself for loving the brief, hot flood of blood in his throat. But the moon was beginning to wane and the Sylvamalkyn demon was finally retreating from his mind. Now when the urge to hunt came over him, he could fight it back. Now the silver pelt only grew thinly on his skin.

A few hours ago, he'd found himself at the door, about to go to her, to tell her he was wrong to have left, that he would wait with her until Willow found a cure. His hand had been reaching out and then he'd somehow managed to stop, forcing control. This was his choice and if she didn't agree then there was nothing to stop her -

But still she didn't come. He sipped whisky and tried to tell himself that this was what he'd wanted, safety for her and Dawn. He'd chosen to leave her, he'd put her first because he loved her. He was a bloody fool to think she would have had a different opinion. She had to keep herself safe; she was the Slayer. And there was always Dawn to think about. So there was no reason for him to feel so wretched. OK, he loved her, had done for ages, would go on doing so, nothing new there. Had never thought she would ever love him and had gloried in the times they had spent together when she'd acted as if she did care - a little, anyway.

When a fist finally thudded on the door, he found himself there, hand on the latch, before he could blink. Then from somewhere the cold voice of reason demanded to be heard. Buffy wouldn't knock - she never did. No, the Slayer would have come bursting in like a small blonde bombshell, scattering all before her.

"Spike - are you there? - Spike, it's me, Dawn."

Without thinking, he turned the key in the lock. There was no way he was going to let her in. Dawn wouldn't understand that she could be in danger from him next time the moon rose over Sunnydale. No, it was best that she thought he'd left town, gone away - which, of course, was exactly what he should have done.

He leant his head against the scarred wood and shut his eyes, pain roaring through his brain as he heard her pleading with him to let her in. But if it kept her safe, then his pain was worth it.

Dusk was falling as Dawn turned away from Spike's crypt and began to walk home. Angry and upset, she hugged her arms around herself. She was sure Spike had been inside; she'd definitely heard the sound of the key turning in the lock. He'd deliberately shut her out. So OK, he might be up to some yucky, evil, vampire thing that she didn't know about yet, but - she flung herself down on a flat tombstone, unwilling to go home and face her sister with some lame excuse as to why she was so late. She hadn't understood why he'd left Ravello and moved back here. Buffy and Willow had been all "oh you wouldn't understand...and guys need space sometimes...and...he'll be round very soon, don't worry about it" as if she was still some stupid kid who believed that everything in the world would come right and they would all live happily ever after.

That kid had vanished forever when her Mom died. But Buffy and Willow didn't believe that. Spike did.

Dawn shivered: she knew she'd been acting like some spoilt brat recently, especially over little Eric. But she was sorry! Now all she wanted was to tell Spike that because she was pretty certain it was all her fault that he'd left; he'd got tired of her behaviour and now he was gone, she just knew that Buffy would hate her forever and ever.

"Are you crying? Have you hurt yourself?"

Dawn leapt up, all Buffy's lectures about graveyards, vampires and demons rushing back to hammer guitily at her mind. "Oh it's you!" Eric, the orphan boy whom Buffy and Spike liked so much was standing on the path, gazing at her, wide-eyed, grubby-faced, cute and as annoying as ever. "No, I'm not hurt and I'm not crying. Go away."

"Are too! But it doesn't matter. Girls always cry - " he hesitated then went on - "Well, that's what my Dad always used to say - before he - before he..." He trailed to a halt and Dawn felt a flicker of sympathy and understanding. She knew that his father had been burnt up from the inside, a victim of Sweet, the dancing demon who had been so keen to take her away from this world and marry her. She'd never really considered that before, that Eric had lost a parent, just like she had, even though Buffy had mentioned it several times: no she'd been too busy disliking him. She bit her lip; no wonder Spike had left them.

"Have you been to see Spike?" Eric swerved away from a subject he obviously couldn't face.

Dawn nodded and reached out automatically to push out of his eyes the tousled blond hair that badly needed a cut. "He's not answering. I think he's in there but he doesn't want to talk to me."

Eric batted her hand away. "He doesn't want to talk to anyone. Not even me and I can tell him all about being a Sylvamalkyn."

"A what?"

Eric looked at her with the typical expression of a small boy faced with an adult who seemed lacking in any common-sense. "A Sylvamalkyn! Panther demon. I'm half one because my mom was a whole one. Now Spike's caught it off me so he's a quarter one, or at least that's what Buffy told me. But because Spike's a vampire as well, I think it makes him feel sort of odd about it." He shrugged. "If he doesn't like being one, I don't get why he doesn't just do the spell and go back to normal. Dad wanted me to do it, but I like being special." He gazed round at the tombstones. "This is a cool place to live. Much better than the silly old orphanage. I wish I could live here with Spike. Hey, is that another vampire?"

Dawn spun round in time to see a head thrusting out of a grave only yards away and with astonishing speed, the whole vamp erupted out of the ground and stumbled towards them. She backed away, fumbling desperately to find the cross Buffy insisted she wore round her neck, then remembering in despair that she'd defiantly replaced it with a locket she'd stolen from the mall only yesterday.

With a yell, Eric threw a stone but Dawn knew he was too small to do any damage. Ignoring his protests, she caught hold of his arm and raced with him out of the cemetery. Vampires were rising, so Buffy would be arriving soon and she definitely did not want her sister to catch her here after dark. No, she needed to get somewhere private where she could listen carefully to everything Eric had to say.

Buffy limped through the front door at around midnight. She'd been patrolling for a couple of hours and her last fight with a particularly aggressive vamp had left her with a cut knee and bruises. It had been her fault: her concentration levels were particularly low tonight, especially because they'd been fighting within sight of Spike's crypt and she'd been gazing past the vamp for much of the time, wondering if her lover would come out to help her, or at least stand and watch, clapping silently as she went to work. But the door had remained shut fast.

Willow was still up, clicking away at her computer. She looked up with a frown. "Bad night?"

Buffy shrugged. "Oh the usual. How about you? Any joy with the research?"

Her friend shook her head sadly. "No, not so far, but hey - " she tried to sound encouraging - "I'll find something eventually."

"Eventually will probably be too late." She hesitated then blurted out, "I think Spike's leaving Sunnydale, Will. He might even have gone. I haven't heard from him in three days."

"I expect he's just, you know, getting used to the change. But - " Willow hesitated - "He really might think this is the best for both of you, Buffy. He's dangerous, he can't help himself when the moon rises and he becomes a Sylvamalkyn."

Buffy turned away. They'd talked themselves down this road before. Until Willow came up with a spell to help Spike get back to normality, there was nothing new to say. "What time did Dawnie get in?" she asked as she headed for the stairs.

"Oh, er, I'm not sure." Willow felt the colour rise in her cheeks. She'd been so busy with her magics that she hadn't noticed the teenager. She must have come in quite late and not wanted Willow to see in case she told Buffy. "Not too late," she said valiantly, feeling pleased with herself for helping Dawn avoid a row and not realising that the youngster had never returned.

"I'll see you in the morning," Buffy said wearily and climbed the stairs to bed, to a room that still held the tang of leather and whisky. The pillow next to hers still bore the imprint of his head, most of his clothes had gone, but an old T shirt was thrown in a corner and she picked it up and buried her face in the soft cotton. Being with Spike, admitting that she loved him, knowing he loved her, that had taken away the dreadful loneliness of being a Slayer. Now she was on her own again, realising that she would stay that way for ever.

She curled up on the bed and stared, dry-eyed into the dark. She wished she could cry but somehow she had passed that stage. She was staring into an abyss and had no idea how to climb out.

Willow snapped her computer shut and leant back in her chair, her eyes closed, letting her mind wander up into the stars, wondering how Xander and Anya were doing in that ancient demon world where Santa Claus reined supreme. She missed her friend so much. Oz, Tara and Xander - all people she loved, all gone now. But she still had Buffy's friendship and now Spike was out of the picture, the Slayer would remember her old friend and that warm, easy companionship would surely return. She drifted off into a fantasy where she and Buffy and Xander were all together again and didn't notice that the front door had begun to open.

Outside in the dark, eyes wide in puzzlement, Dawn stood very still, her thoughts tumbling over and over inside her head like washing in the dryer. She couldn't catch hold of an idea long enough to examine it. Because nothing made sense - over a soda and burger, Eric had told her in great detail about the Sylvamalkyn demons, what happened to you when you were infected, how dangerous you could be when the lust for hunting hit you.

But he'd also told her that there was a reversal spell, quite an easy one apparently, that would wipe the demon strain from your blood if you'd been bitten by one, but sadly not if you'd inherited it from your parents. He didn't seem to mind that; he felt it was cool to be half demon and not just an ordinary little boy. She knew and understood all about that. Sometimes she longed to be special, be a Slayer or a witch, anything except for boring old Dawn who used to be glowing green energy and now was just - Buffy's little sister.

She'd rushed home, ready to confront Buffy, tell her that she understood why Spike had left and demand to know why she hadn't allowed Willow to perform the reversal spell. Didn't she want him back in their lives? But now Dawn had overheard Willow saying she couldn't find one, couldn't find a spell that Eric said was easy. Nothing made sense.

Why would Willow not tell Buffy about the spell? Even when she'd felt jealous and resentful of their interest in Eric, Dawn had realised that the feelings between Slayer and Vamp were strong and deep, that fighting against all the odds they deserved to be together. This demon infection had split them up and now it was almost as if Willow - Dawn thrust the thought away; she was being horrible again. Why did she always think the worst of people and not the best? Her mom would have been ashamed of her. Perhaps...perhaps...she desperately sought for a satisfactory reason - hey, yes, Willow had found the spell and it didn't work on vampires!

Dawn sighed with relief. Yes, that was it - Willow wasn't being deliberately cruel to Spike - the stupid charm probably only worked on humans.

She tiptoed through the door and scuttled up the stairs before the red-headed witch could spot her. She hesitated outside Buffy's bedroom, tempted to knock and tell her, but then she'd have to admit to being out after dark in the grave-yard and there'd be a row, especially as Buffy was so up tight at the moment. And jeez, it wasn't that easy to tell your sister that her best friend was lying to her!

But as Dawn crawled into bed, the nagging thoughts wouldn't go away. Eric might only be a stupid, annoying brat, but he seemed to know all about Sylvamalkyns - and why shouldn't he if his mom had been one and he turned at the rising of the moon?

She pulled the quilt over her head and went to sleep with a final grim thought: the next day she would have to find someone she could ask about demon spells!

tbc