Home for the Holidays

Rating:  PG, for Spike's use of Spike-like words

Feedback:  Yes, thank you very much. Melpomenethalia@aol.com

Spoilers:  Takes place after "Wrecked," but ignores everything after it.

Distribution: The Bunny Warren and fanfiction.net.  If you're interested, please let me know.

Summary:  It's Christmas during season 6.  Spike ends up playing Santa for Buffy and Dawn, but the results are... well, not always optimal.

Author's Note:  The quote is from Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol," and yes, there are hints of "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry.  Two other things:  Dawn has completely forgiven Willow for the car accident, and my version of the Scoobies (particularly Spike) is a bit kinder and gentler than the one Joss gave us this year.

Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy.  Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you.  Thank you.

Dedication:  Happy holiday, everyone!  Granted, the holiday is Labor Day, but, hey, would you rather have had this be an ode to slinging burgers at the Doublemeat Palace?

December 24 (later):  Finishing Touches

The fireplace flue had been open, of that he was certain.  The smoke from the fire was going up the chimney just like a charm.  So why were clouds of blackish air wafting past his nose?

"No," he murmured quietly.  "No, not… not the TURKEY!" 

The last word was a wail of Wagnerian proportions as Spike scrambled towards the kitchen, tripping over his own feet, becoming momentarily ensnared in the red and green plaid tablecloth that puddled on the floor, and at last stumbling haphazardly into the a room nearly obscured by clouds of smoke pouring from the oven.  Shoving on the potholders once more, he flung open the oven and was witness to the turkey's second death. 

The bird was on fire.  At least he though it was the bird.  It might have been a lump of charcoal by this point.  Flames were licking at the pan, and the sudden rush of oxygen from the outside had caused the embers to ignite into a full-blown conflagration.  Thinking quickly, he pulled the fire extinguisher off the wall and sprayed the poultry with the foam, suffocating the fire.  He then picked up the pan with his covered hands, dashed across the room, flung open the back door and hurled the carcass into the yard.  It landed with a sick crunching noise and a splash in the birdbath. 

For a few long minutes, the vampire stood staring at the smoking mess in the clamshell basin.  Granted, his plans never really had a penchant for turning out well, but this, this was ridiculous.  Spike turned back to the house with a stricken expression on his face.  There was no dinner for the girls, unless he counted the liquefied potatoes.  The kitchen was covered in a thin layer of soot.  The oven was full of foam.  And there was smoke everywhere, even with the turkey gone.  

"It can't get any worse than this," he consoled himself dolefully. 

That was when he heard the heavy crash followed by the tinkling sound of breaking glass.

His eyes bugging out in disbelief, Spike ran to the living room to find that not all of the remaining smoke was from the decimated turkey.  When his foot had caught in the tablecloth, he had unwittingly pulled the edge of the cloth off the table so that it landed in the fireplace.  The table was now ablaze.  However, this was not his only problem.  The unconfined flames had succeeded in catching the wrapping paper of the Christmas presents on fire, which led a perfect path to the tree.  The pretty Christmas decoration had apparently been highly flammable.  Currently, it lay on its side across the rug, surrounded by pieces of twinkling, multicolored glass.  Thankfully, the plug for the lights had been pulled free of the socket by the tree's fall.

The fire extinguisher was pulled out of the kitchen once more and the entire living room liberally soused with foam as Spike cradled the phone on his shoulder, shouting instructions to the 911 operator to get a fire truck to Revello Drive quickly and blatantly refusing to leave the residence in the meanwhile.  By the time the red engine pulled up the driveway, the blaze had begun to get a bit beyond the vampire's control. 

Ten minutes later, the flames were out.  The table was scorched, the tree was a skeletal mess, the presents were unsalvageable, the walls were water damaged, and the carpet had a burn mark eight feet wide.

"Hey, buddy," one of the firefighters asked gently, "you okay?"

Spike turned disbelieving eyes on the man.  "Not particularly, no."

"Think of it this way," he said sympathetically.  "The house is still standing and nobody got hurt.  There's no damage done that can't be fixed."

The vampire nodded stoically and stumbled into the kitchen once more as the firefighters pulled away from the house. What was he going to do now?  Not only had he been unable to give Buffy and Dawn a happy place to come home to after their deadbeat bum of a father had let them down again, he'd trashed their living room.  He'd made things worse.  In his mind, he could see Buffy looking at him with vacant, listless eyes, the same eyes she'd had ever since her return, and Dawn surveying the damage he'd caused with a trembling lip. Suddenly, a horrible thought leapt into his mind.

He was so terrified that he couldn't run, didn't want to see what had happened, but he was compelled to do so.  With even, measured steps, he slowly entered the living room and steadfastly turned his head to look at the mantel.

Joyce's picture was a vacant, blackened square, nothing more.

Spike sank to his knees in shock before the hearth.  Of anything in the house he could have destroyed, it had to be this.  Perhaps it was a sign:  evil, soulless things had no business trying to treat others with kindness. 

As he knelt there, the phone rang.  The answering machine picked it up, and Spike cringed inwardly.

Beep.

"Willow?  You're, um, you're there, right?  Must be in the shower or something.  Buffy and I just landed at the airport.  We're going to take a taxi home, so we should be there in about twenty minutes.  Willow?"

The long, empty pause that followed was threatening to make the answering machine start weeping.

"Oh.  I guess we'll see you in a few minutes.  Merry… merry Christmas?"

With that last note of uncertainty and disappointment, the phone went dead.

The Little Bit was going to be devastated, he thought, and an odd pain shot around his heart.  Well, twenty minutes.  With vampire speed, he could do a lot in twenty minutes.  He hoped.

The third best tablecloth was quickly flung over the charred table, and the throw rug from the hallway almost succeeded in covering the burn mark.  The tree was dragged through the back door, and the vacuum cleaner whirred to life in an attempt to clean up the smashed ornaments.  A damp sponge was applied to the counters in the kitchen and, as a final touch, he used the cheese slices that were possessed of a color not found in nature to make a couple grilled cheese sandwiches.

With only a minute to go, Spike set the table with the plate holding the sandwiches, which, frankly, did not look particularly appetizing as he hadn't known to use any butter.  Even the addition of the tureen of potatoes, which were, or course, cold as ice, did little to make the room look less pathetic. 

In fact, it looked terrible.  Sadly, Spike sank into one of the dining room chairs and stared about him.  Darla had been right.  He was a numbskull who was incapable of doing the smallest thing correctly.  Everything he touched turned to manure.

Just then, the sound of a car pulling up the driveway broke through his thoughts.  Taking one last look around, he straightened a picture on the wall that didn't need to be straightened, then headed for the back door.  At least there was one Christmas trauma he could spare them… having to be in the same room with him.

As Spike's hand reached the doorknob, a very strange thing happened, though he was completely unaware of it.  Everything stopped.  The cab driver who was waiting for his fare was frozen, the Slayer digging through her purse was immobile, and Dawn's hair, which she was in the process of flipping over her shoulder so she could grab the bags out of the trunk, hung suspended in midair.  Even a leaf that had been blown from its resting place on the roof hovered motionless a few inches above the ground.

In the middle of the perfect stillness, three female figures appeared in the kitchen.  The first one stared long and hard at Spike. 

"He did give it the old college try, I'll give him credit for that," said a dark-haired woman.  "I'd have quit round about the time he had to use the funny pages to wrap the gifts."

One of the other women nodded sympathetically and patted the immobile vampire gently on the shoulder. 

"He can be a good boy, sometimes.  Not that he'd admit to it, of course," she added quickly. 

The third woman smiled broadly at her.  "No, I don't tink dat would be somting he'd want bandied aboot."

The first woman ran a finger down the side of one of the cabinets, the tip coming back with a black stain on it.  "What a mess.  Can't believe he accomplished this much this fast."

The second woman had walked into the living room by this time and was surveying the damage.  Shaking her head dismally, she picked up the sandwiches and eyed them critically.  "I don't think these are edible.  At least, not unless you're starving.  Jenny, do you remember if Ming's Oriental Palace delivers on Christmas Eve?"

The brunette woman shook her head, "Nope.  They close early today."

"Dis is a shame," the smallest of the women cried out suddenly.  "Your picture is all black wit soot.   See?" 

Joyce nodded sadly.  "Look, do you think we can possibly ask for a small intervention?  I mean, my girls have through a lot in the last year.  Buffy's hanging on by a thread.  Dawn's probably a second away from turning into a juvenile delinquent.  And Spike… well, he tried.  Doesn't that count for something?"

Kendra shook her head uncertainly.  "I pulled some strings tree years ago wit dat snow.  I'm not sure if dey'll grant us anodder favor or not."

"No harm in asking," the Rom woman said with a shrug.  "Worth a shot, anyway."

A long pause ensued, followed by three women beaming at one another happily.

"Suppose we should leave now," Jenny suggested.

"Oh, just one second," Joyce called from the kitchen.  She gave Spike a quick kiss on his floury, sticky, molasses streaked forehead before rejoining the others.  "Okay, let's go."

And with that, time suddenly thrust into motion once more.  Spike continued tugging on the back door in an effort to flee, but the door refused to budge one inch.  He thought desperately of kicking it down, but then realized that Buffy couldn't very well afford to replace it and he'd done enough already.  As he dashed to the window in an attempt to escape, the front doorbell rang loudly.

"Willow!" Buffy's voice called.   "I can't get in!  Dawn left my keys at my dad's place by mistake."

"I so totally did not!"  A pause.  "Okay, okay, I did.  Can you let us in?  Please?"

Spike dragged his palms over his face, considering his options:  let them stand out there until next Tuesday when the witches came home, or open the door and see their disappointed and most likely disgusted faces in the case of Buffy.  It was a close call, but eventually he found himself marching to the front door, head lowered in resignation, and undoing the lock.

"Merry Christma… you aren't Willow," Buffy said in shock.

"Good one, Slayer.  Very astute deduction."

In a second, though, he had an armful of hyperactive Nibblet, who was giggling and gushing and actually succeeded in knocking him into the wreath on the front door.

"Easy there, Sweet Bite; your arm's not healed proper yet," he cautioned as he rubbed his arm where the pine needles had stabbed him.  That's when it hit him. 

He hadn't hung a wreath on the door.

"What happened to you?" Buffy asked bemusedly.  "You look like you got caught in an explosion at a bakery."

"Yeah, about that," he began, but was cut off when Dawn breezed past him into the living room and shrieked loudly.

"Buffy!  Come here! You have to see what Willow did!"

"Great, what now?" she grumbled as she shoved her suitcase and Dawn's duffle bag into Spike's arms and stomped into the living room.  Spike shut his eyes and mentally started to count.  Three.  Two.  One.

"Willow!" Buffy yelled. 

"Um, she's not here, Slayer," Spike said as he readjusted the bags that were blocking his face.  "She and Tara reunited and are off to Disneyland."

"So who did all this?" she asked quietly.

"That'd be… me…" Spike answered quietly as he set the bags down on the stairway and turned to face what would probably be a stake in his heart.

That's when he saw the tree.  It stood in the corner, just where he'd put it, only the branches were in perfectly.  The ornaments twinkled happily as the Christmas tree lights glowed warmly.  Beneath the tree was a pile of presents, and from their shapes Spike could tell that they were the same ones he'd seen go up in flames earlier, only now they were wrapped beautifully in red and green iridescent paper and topped with golden bows.  The stockings were once more hanging by the fireplace, telltale bulges showing they held treasures inside.  The table glittered with the red plaid tablecloth and two place settings of the best china, the candlesticks lit.  A bowl of emerald green peas topped with melted butter shone in the firelight, flanked by a basket full of crispy rolls and a covered soup tureen.  On the opposite end of the table sat an apple pie, its perfumed steam making even his jaded taste buds water, and a plate full of gingerbread cookies identical to the ones he'd iced earlier that day.  Glittering in the center of the table was a silver, covered dish.  Stunned, he raised the cover to reveal…

"Turkey!"  Dawn squealed. 

It was, indeed, a perfectly golden-brown turkey.  Beside it sat a bowl filled with stuffing and a gravy boat.  Spike stared at it as though he'd just witnessed Giles enthusiastically joining in the mosh pit at a Sex Pistols concert.

He glanced at the mantelpiece once more, and there was Joyce's picture, perfectly fine, grinning back at him conspiratorially.

"You did this?"  Buffy asked in a strangely blank tone.

"Um… I think so?"

Buffy looked around the room as if she wasn't quite sure what she was seeing was real.  Her face was very strange.  Spike couldn't quite tell whether she was about to laugh or cry, but then he realized that it was the first real expression she'd had since her return, the first one that had reached all the way to her eyes.  And when she walked wonderingly over to the mantle and stroked the fuzzy velvet of her stocking, she actually smiled.  Dawn wrapped her free arm around her and the two of them turned back to Spike.

"Thanks," she said quietly.

"No trouble at all," he lied quickly.  "I'll be off then."

"Aw, do you have to go?" Dawn said quickly.  "It seems like everyone's always leaving."

"Best let you and big sis eat your dinner before it gets cold," Spike said with a note of gratitude.  It was nice that the Bit wanted him about, but still, he doubted that the feeling extended to her sister.

"Spike," Buffy started, and then stopped suddenly, seeming unsure of herself.  "Stay for dinner.  You shouldn't be alone in a moldy old crypt on Christmas Eve, especially after all the trouble you went to."

Spike blinked.  Okay, now he knew he was in an alternate dimension.  But it was a nice alternate dimension.

"Um, maybe I'll stay for a mug of gravy, anyway," he agreed.

Dinner was actually a lovely affair.  Dawn bustled an extra place setting onto the table and conned Spike into trying a bit of everything, even the very strange potato soup.  The two girls were thrilled to hear again in detail about the reconciliation between the two Wiccas, and the news that Xander and Anya had taken off for the ski slopes was greeted with warm grins.  As they lingered for a while over pie and gingerbread, Spike decided that however all this had come about, he wasn't complaining one iota.  There was only one thing missing, he thought idly, but there was no way that would ever…

There was a loud knock at the door.

"Who would be out on Christmas Eve?"  Dawn asked.

"With our luck, one of Santa's elves trying to end the world," Buffy replied with a strong trace of her old banter.  She got up from the table and went to the door, squinting through the peephole. 

With a loud gasp, she flung open the door and threw her arms around the person on the other side.

Not Angel, not Angel, not Angel, Spike silently chanted.

"Happy Christmas, Buffy," he heard in an immediately recognizable voice.  "Um, yes, haven't lost any of your strength at all."

Dawn whizzed to the front door to receive her hug in turn, and Spike strode out from his place at the table.

"Rupert… nice of you to grace us with your presence," Spike said in what he hoped was an effective scowl.  In all honesty, he was quite happy the Watcher had flown in.  "How long you back for?"

"Yes, well, about that," Giles said with some embarrassment as he placed a suitcase in the hall.  "I'd barely gotten back to England when I came to the conclusion I'd been, well, somewhat amiss in my actions."

Spike cocked an eyebrow at him.  "You mean you realized you'd acted like a moron."

"As usual, Spike, you manage to spew the truth a bit too well.  I, ehm, won't be returning to England.  I've come to the conclusion that my place is here, if you'll have me back?"

Buffy's eyes filled with tears and she pulled her Watcher into yet another tight hug, her lips curling into a smile.  "Of course we want you back!"

"Well," said Spike, breaking the moment quite well, "this is turning into a bleeding Norman Rockwell painting, so I'm getting out of here.  Watcher.  Bit.  Slayer."

"Yes, um, happy holidays, Spike," Giles said with a smile as he went to raid the icebox for some cold turkey.

"Bye, Spike.  Oh, think I can stop by in a couple days and you could help me out with that history paper?"

"Sure thing.  See you then."  Spike tried very hard to ignore the way Dawn pointed at Buffy and then at him from behind her sister's back, as well as the smooching faces she was making as she left the room.

"Yeah, well, night Slayer."

"Night," she said as he walked onto the porch.  "Oh, why not," she muttered to herself as she followed him out.  "Spike?"

"Yeah?"

She reached out and shyly gave him a soft, warm, surprisingly tender kiss on the lips.  For an instant, the vampire thought he was going to melt away entirely.

"What was that for?" he asked after she'd pulled away.  "Not that I'm complaining, mind."

"Just following orders," she said, pointing at him with a grin, then going back in the house and shutting the door.

Spike looked down and had never been more humiliated in his entire unlife, even when Angelus had forced him to read his journal out loud to the minions.  He was still wearing Joyce's "Kiss the Cook" apron.

When Spike got back to his crypt that night, he was completely exhausted.  Without a word, he crashed onto a sarcophagus, not even bothering to go downstairs to his bed, and proceeded to sleep until noon the next day.  When he awoke, it was to a rumbling belly.  Flopping off the coffin, he wandered automatically over to the fridge and took out a bag of O+, downing it happily.  That was when he remembered his refrigerator was supposed to be empty.  He opened the door again and found several bags of blood lined up neatly on the shelves, but that wasn't the strangest thing.  Sitting atop the old, dirty, off-white appliance was a large box.  Curious, he opened the lid only to pull out his own duster.

"What the…?" he mumbled blearily.  He slipped the coat over his shoulders and examined it.  There was no question about it; it was his.  There was the mark from where Doc had knifed him, and over there were the teeth marks from when Dru had chewed on it during one of her more bizarre episodes.  But, patting it down, he felt something strange.  Reaching into his left pocket he pulled out an unfamiliar object.

In his hand, he held a large, heart-shaped piece of coal.