Misc. Season Six ficlets

AN: These are all short, "fix it" things set within Season Six. There may be a prequel or sequel or two that are not part of this because they would not pass the rating criteria. Those can be found at my website.

We begin and end with fics that twist Buffy's birthday into a more Spuffy shape (not that in canon it wasn't pretty Spuffy, but I take that to another level). In between are fill-in-the-blanks and/or episode re-writes, as well as a group of Christmas-themed stories written years ago. Almost all of these stories are pretty old and would probably not have been written now that I have a more nuanced view of the characters and season. But they are what they are, and they will ring true for many readers, I'm sure.

#1

Summary: Meant to be a drabble, but it grew. A Spuffier twist to Older and Far Away in which Buffy admits some things and the world, surprisingly, doesn't end. Takes place before things go really bad with demons and spells and so on.

Older and Far Wiser

"I can't believe you told her that!"

"What? That I had a cramp? I do. Want to feel it?"

"Like she believed you." Buffy didn't answer his question, but her hand drifted to the bulge in his jeans. "What if it hadn't been Tara? What if it had been Xander?"

"Caught is caught, innit?"

Not meeting his eyes, Buffy slowly stroked the hardening bulge. "She knows," she murmured, not meeting his eyes.

He studied her bowed head, trying to ignore the way her warm hand was coaxing him to let it go.

"Buffy?"

When there was no reply, he took her hand and gently removed it. "Why does she know, pet? "

The only response was an embarrassed shrug.

"You told her because you wanted her to tell you what was wrong with you, didn't you? Because God forbid you could just want to be with me because I love you."

"I...no...yes...it wasn't like that..." She refused to meet his too-perceptive eyes.

"No? What was it like, then? Know bloody well you didn't tell her you were in love with me. Didn't go looking for permission, did you?"

"She...she asked me if I loved you." Her voice was barely a whisper. "She said it would be okay if I did...because you love me and you've done a lot of good..."

"She asked you that? Asked if you love me?" His voice betrayed the hope he couldn't push down.

Buffy nodded silently. When she didn't say anything, he repeated his original question.

"What did you tell her, Buffy? How does she know what we're doin'?"

"I...you were right...sort of. I asked her to read my aura, to see if I came back...wrong, because..."

"Because why else would you want my soulless, evil body." His voice was flat, the hope gone before it had time to blossom. "Had to be because something was wrong with you to make you want to be with me."

"You told me there was! Isn't that what you said? 'You came back wrong, Slayer'. I remember it. You told me I came back wrong – that your chip doesn't think I'm human anymore. Told me I belong in the dark... "

"I'm a fuckin' demon! What would make you believe me?" He threw his hands in the air and made no attempt to keep his voice down. "Jesus Christ, Buffy, I tell you that I love you and you call me a liar. I tell you something stupid about yourself, and that you decide is the gospel truth? What's wrong with you?"

Her face hardened, even as he tried to recover.

"I didn't mean that, love. You know I didn't. There's nothing wrong with you. You're as perfect as you've ever been. Please, Buffy…." His plea trailed off as she marched away from him, her back stiff. Before he could move to intercept her, Xander came around the corner and heard his plea.

" 'Please, Buffy'?" he mocked. "What's the matter, evil undead? Did Buffy turn you down again? Seems to me you'd get the message by now. She will never, ever want anything to do with your undead self." He didn't notice that Buffy had turned around, but continued his confident dismissal of Spike's feelings.

"You're pathetic, Spike. Really you are. At least Angel had the good sense to leave when he knew he wasn't going to get anywhere with Buffy anymore. But you – you just keep hanging around like a whipped puppy. 'Please, Buffy'. Please what, Spike? Please don't hit me? Please, let me pretend you actually like me? Please—"

His vitriolic rant at Spike, who was visibly withdrawing into himself more and more with every word out of the boy's mouth, was brought to an abrupt halt when Buffy stepped between them, her stare hard and cold.

"That's enough!"

Xander shrugged, uncomfortable with the way she was glaring at him, but not perceptive enough to understand why.

"It's no big, Buffster. I was just asking the evil undead here why he was still begging and pleading with you – like you were actually going to listen to him."

"He was asking me," Buffy said clearly, stepping closer to the wary vampire, "not to be so quick to get mad at him when he tells me things I don't want to hear."

"Well, exactly! My point entirely. He needs to learn to leave you alone. What's he even doing here, anyway?"

"He's here because…because…" She felt rather than saw Spike stiffen beside her as she fumbled for something to say.

"Because I'm evil and I crashed her party," he said, his voice tight. "It's like you said, Harris, just making myself unwelcome again."

"No!" Buffy's sudden outburst surprised herself as much as it did the two men now glaring at each other over her head. "No, that's not why he's here. He's here because it's my birthday and all my friends were invited. All of them, Xander. Not just the ones you approve of."

It was hard to say which of the two men was more taken back at her statement.

"You consider Spike a friend? William the used-to-be-Bloody? What's wrong with you?"

Spike and Buffy flinched in unison as Xander unwittingly repeated what Spike had said to her, and he sighed heavily at this proof that Buffy had reason to think it was wrong of her to spend time with him. Buffy, on the other hand, stood up a bit straighter and looked her best male friend in the eye.

"What's wrong with me is that I've been a coward and I've allowed my so-called 'friends' to abuse one of my other…friends. I'm done with it, Xander. You can treat Spike just like you do anyone else."

"Since when is Spike your 'friend'," Xander asked in a suddenly calm voice, remembering how much time Buffy had been spending in the vampire's company since her return from the grave.

His eyes took in the body postures of the couple in front of him. Buffy's stiff and determined, although her brow was furrowed with anxiety; the usually snarky vampire standing, as he so often did, at her shoulder but waiting quietly to follow her lead. Unlike the reaction Xander would have expected of him, which would have included triumphant sneers and sarcastic remarks, he found Spike's quiet patience and the easy way that Buffy allowed the vampire's shoulder to brush hers more unsettling than any verbal retaliation would have been.

"I asked you a question, Buffy," Xander said, his artificial calm evaporating in the face of the closeness he could now sense between the two people in front of him. "Since when is Spike considered one of our friends?"

"If I wanted to get technical about it, Xander," Buffy replied, her own voice rising a bit, "I would probably say – about the time he let Glory almost beat him to death to spare me the pain of losing Dawn; or when he got thrown off the tower trying to save her; or how about all the times he took care of her last summer because of a promise he made to a dead girl? Or the times he saved your life, or Giles' or someone else's who you consider to be one of your 'real' friends?"

She stopped, fascinated by the play of emotions going across Xander's face – anger, guilt, suspicion and a growing horror as he listened to Buffy defending the still-hovering vampire. In spite of the growing distress on Xander's face, she continued.

"But, in all honesty? I'd say it was when he was willing to accept me the way I was when I came back. He never asked me to act happy, I never had to pretend that I wasn't… He's been a good friend to me, Xan. He's…he's important to me."

When, without thinking, the boy pulled out a stake and lunged past her, intent on removing the latest vampire to become part of Buffy's life, she stepped in front of Spike, and the intended death blow glanced off her shoulder, tearing her blouse and the flesh underneath.

With an inhuman snarl and supernatural speed, Spike wrenched the boy's arm and sent the stake flying across the hallway. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he pushed Xander to the end of the hall, and threw him against the front door, his emerging fangs and wrinkled forehead making his intentions more than

obvious.

Buffy's quiet "Spike" was enough to stop the attack, and he walked back to her side, shaking his head in a vain attempt to make the pain go away. Xander immediately straightened up, the triumphant smile fading from his face when he heard the rest of her sentence. "You'll just hurt yourself," she finished, holding her hand out to the still game-faced vampire.

While Xander stared in bewilderment, shaking his head as Willow demanded to know what was going on, Spike's face shifted back and he cradled Buffy's injured arm in his hand.

"Let's get this cleaned up, love," he said, as though touching Buffy and doctoring her wounds was something he did every day. Without a word to anyone, they walked into the kitchen, closely followed by Tara, who automatically got out the first aid kit. Willow and Xander, flanked by a confused and angry Dawn, watched with frowns on their faces as Spike and Tara worked on Buffy's arm – neither of the two girls appearing to be uncomfortable with his obvious familiarity with Buffy's wound care.

When Tara went to cut away the ruined sleeve, leaving the strapless blouse to be held up by Buffy's good arm, there was a shocked hiss from the doorway, followed closely by a possessive growl aimed at Xander. In spite of himself, the boy couldn't help staring at Buffy's bare shoulders and almost bare chest. If Spike's lethal glares and low rumblings were not evidence enough that he had more of a place in her life than anyone had suspected, Buffy's complete lack of concern for his proximity to her bare flesh completed the picture.

Paying no more attention to their audience, Spike held Buffy's shirt together while Tara cleaned and bandaged the wound. She held her hand over the bandage and muttered a few words in Latin, ceasing her repetition of the healing spell only when she saw Buffy visibly relax, the lines of pain on her face smoothing out as the wound ceased hurting.

With a shy smile, Tara said, "That should help it heal, Buffy. And, if it doesn't, at least it won't hurt anymore for a while."

"Thanks, Glinda," Spike's voice as he obviously spoke for both of them was warm with gratitude.

"No problem, guys. I'm glad I was here to help."

Willow's face twisted at their easy acceptance of her former girlfriend's magical assistance.

"I could have done a healing spell, too," she muttered, glaring at the three blonds who were smiling at each other so comfortably.

"Oh, of course you could have, sweetie!" Tara was quick to assuage Willow's feelings. "It's just…I was here, you know?"

Spike had stepped away from Buffy as soon as she had both hands free to hold up her shirt, but he remained close enough to be sure that he could get between her and anyone other than Tara.

The cold glare that he fixed on Xander only served to aggravate the man more; his own guilt over having injured his friend causing him to project his anger onto what he saw as the source of the problem.

"I want someone to tell me what's going on here," he demanded, ignoring the incredulous stares from everyone except Anya. The ex-demon just rolled her eyes at her fiancèe's denseness. When no one else said anything, she finally spoke up.

"It looks to me like somebody staked Buffy. I don't know why you would do that, Xander, but I'm pretty sure Spike didn't do it, so…"

"I didn't stake Buffy!"

"Then who did?"

"I…he…she…" he stammered helplessly, cringing from the shocked expressions on the faces of his friends.

"You were trying to stake Spike," Dawn said with sudden understanding. "You were trying to kill Spike, and Buffy got in the way. That's what happened. Isn't it?" The teen's voice was rising into a shriek as she began to realize how close she had come to losing one of the two most important people in her life.

"Why were you trying to stake Spike?"

Willow's question was more rhetorical than real – Spike's protective posture and Buffy's willingness to remain beside him making the answer obvious. Before Xander could explain himself, Buffy spoke up.

"This is my fault," she said quietly, waiting until the disbelieving babble had died down before continuing. "I've been keeping a…a secret…for a few months now, and this is what happens when we aren't honest with each other." She stepped even closer to the astonished vampire and reached for his hand with her uninjured arm.

"It's not a secret how Spike feels about me…" She glared at Xander when his mouth opened, and he shut it with an audible snap. "You all know what he went through last year to help me keep Dawn away from Glory; you were all here over the summer while I was…gone… and you know how he kept his promise to a dead girl. He took care of Dawn, he patrolled with you guys and saved your lives more than once." She glared at Xander again. "And before you accuse him of doing all that to get into my pants, Xander, I'd like to remind you that my pants were under six feet of dirt – along with the rest of my body. He had nothing to gain from staying here to help you, and everything to lose."

She pointed at the demon peering into the crowded kitchen. "Clem is probably one of the few friends Spike has left in the demon world. He would have been much better off to leave and move somewhere that he could get some minions to feed him.

"The point is," she continued, squeezing Spike's hand, "that he loves me, and I…I've been taking advantage of those feelings to help me forget how unhappy I am about being back in this world. I've been using him…using his love and…and his…" She paused again, at a loss for how to say that Spike could make her body happy to be alive in ways she'd never imagined.

"Buffy?" Tara's voice was soft and quiet, but the unspoken question was there for all to hear.

Buffy's chin came up with determination. "I can't tell you how I feel about him," She squeezed Spike's hand again as she felt him stiffen beside her. "I can't tell you, because I've never given us a chance to be…to be an 'us'. I've had to hide what he means to me for so long that I haven't been able to let myself feel it. He's been my dirty little secret, and tonight that almost got him killed."

She pointed to her injured arm. "Xander," she said, holding her oldest male friend's stubbornly angry gaze, "this is nothing compared to how badly you would have hurt me if you had actually taken away the one thing in this world that can make me happy about being here. Would you really want to do that to me? Have I disappointed you so much that you would rather see me in mourning for Spike than to have him in my life?"

The two old friends stared into each other's eyes, one pair sad but determined, the other guilt-stricken. When he didn't answer Buffy, Anya poked Xander and hissed, "You're supposed to say something now. Something that will make all this awkward tension go away."

He blew out a breath that he hadn't even been aware that he was holding. "I'm sorry, Buffy," he said sincerely. "I just thought he'd been taking advantage of your… depression, and that if he was gone, you would be all right again. I didn't know you had feelings for the peroxided menace."

"Neither did I," she admitted. "Not until you started telling him…not until I thought I was going to lose him." She turned to the still-shocked vampire beside her and looked him in the eye. "I don't think I could take that. If he wasn't here for me…I don't think I'd still be here. Some vamp or demon would have had his 'one good day', and I'd be back where I…" She stopped speaking, the guilty gasps from those involved in her resurrection reminding her that they were well aware of where she had been and who was responsible for her not being there anymore.

"So what does that mean, Buffy?" Dawn's voice cut through the sudden silence. "Is Spike moving in? Am I going to have to buy earplugs to keep from being grossed out every night?"

"Dawn!"

Spike's snicker was cut short by a glare from the girl still holding his hand and he tried to appear less smug and more interested in hearing the rest of her response.

"It means we're going to be doing couple-y things. Like, we won't have to play footsie under the table anymore, cause it'll be okay for us to hold hands where you guys can see—" She stopped when she was interrupted by Spike's disappointed "No more footsie?" "Well, no more footsie just because that's the only way we can touch when everybody's around. I didn't mean we couldn't do it just cause we want to…"

"Okay, okay," Xander seemed recovered from his guilt-induced silence. "Can I just be the first to say TMI! Please spare us the gory details."

"No, Buffy," Anya pushed past her boyfriend. "I want the details. All of them. Is Spike good in bed? Of course he is. He's a vampire – wonderful stamina as I recall from my demon days… Slayers have stamina too, though, don't they? So which one of you gets tired first? How many orgasms do you usually have per night?"

"Speaking of TMI!" Willow interrupted the ex-demon, and said to the blushing slayer, "Dawn has a legitimate question. Will Spike be moving in? Does that mean that you're going to move your bedroom to the basement?"

"All it means just now, is that Spike and I are…dating… for want of a better word. It means we don't have to sneak around and hide, and yes, sometimes, I suppose, it's possible, he might, maybe spend the night here – we'll see how it goes."

She took a deep, shaky breath and stepped away from Spike's protective presence.

"The point is, unless and until I say something different, you can assume that Spike is my boyfriend; and I expect you to treat him accordingly."

She glared around the room, knowing that the only ones who really needed to be glared into acquiescence were her two oldest friends. Her stiff posture relaxed a bit when Willow nodded and smiled timidly.

"It's fine with me, Buffy. I'm just glad that you have somebody in your life who can make you happy. That's all we've ever wanted for you – to be happy. Isn't that right, Xander?"

She fixed her best I-can-turn-you-into-a-toad-in-a-heartbeat gaze on her oldest friend and silently pleaded with him to help her repair the damage that they had unintentionally caused.

Flinching from the pointed finger that Anya had dug into his kidney, he looked apologetically first at Spike, and then at Buffy.

"I'm sorry, Buffster. If Captain Peroxide is what you want, then Captain Peroxide is what you'll have. You hear that, Deadboy Jr.? If she wants you, she gets you. Don't even think about leaving her." He folded his arms and did his best to appear firm and frightening. "Unless she tells you to, of course. Then I want you gone."

Spike folded his arms around Buffy, taking care not to push against her wounded arm. "Hadn't actually crossed my mind," he said quietly, reveling in the new-found freedom to touch Buffy whenever he wanted. "Leavin' her. Don't plan to. Ever."

"Okay, did anybody besides me find that just the tiniest bit scary?" Xander glanced around. "Come on, guys – 'ever'? This is the undead talking. For him, for `ever' is a very long time."

"It sounds just about right to me," Buffy whispered, not caring if anyone other that Spike heard her. An almost imperceptible tightening of his arms told her that he did.

"Can we do back to the party now?" Dawn's voice was just shy of being whiny. "Buffy hasn't opened her presents yet."

There was general movement back into the living room, leaving Buffy and Spike temporarily alone in the kitchen.

"Feel like it's my birthday," Spike murmured, burrowing into her neck.

Buffy snorted softly and leaned into him.

"I can't say that this was part of my plans for the evening, but I think it turned out okay." She raised her eyes to his and forced herself to endure the intensity there. "It's not…"

"If you're about to tell me this doesn't change anything, don't bother. Know you didn't suddenly decide you love me jus' cause the whelp got a little meaner than usual. But you've let me into your life, and that's good enough…for now."

"For now?" Buffy raised her eyebrows. "What happened to 'I feel like it's my birthday'? Are you getting greedy already?" The twinkle in her eyes betrayed her attempt to sound indignant and disbelieving, and Spike just chuckled as he ducked his head and captured her lower lip in his teeth.

"Was born greedy, love," he purred.

"Well," she said, refusing to give in to the silent plea from his talented mouth, "so was I, and I have a roomful of birthday presents to open. So, just keep your lips to yourself and come watch me open my gifts."

With a willing nod, he followed her into the living room, taking up his accustomed place against the wall as he watched her sit down amid her chattering friends and begin to rip open the packages in front of her. He responded to Dawn's happy grin with a wink and a broad grin of his own. Unlife had suddenly become better than he'd ever hoped.

The end

#2

A fill-in-the-blanks set sometime early season 6 -

The Way a Vamp Loves His Car

She felt him as soon as he entered the darkened bar and wondered idly how long it would take him to find his way to her side; trying to remember when she had begun to take for granted that Spike would always be there. Whether she needed him for extra muscle on patrol, as a sounding board, someone to complain to, or just a silent companion when that was what she wanted. She found she was having a hard time pinpointing exactly when he'd gone from annoying-pain-in-her-ass to a welcome companion and realized with a start of surprise that it had happened some time well before Riley left her.

Probably why it upset me so much when he told me he loved me. I needed him to be my friend just then, not another boyfriend.

The tingles on her neck told her he was right behind her and she turned slowly to meet his eyes, giving no sign of welcome or rejection, but no surprise either. With a nod, he pulled out the chair beside her and sat down, placing his beer bottle on the table. For minutes they just sat, side by side, watching the growing condensation crawl down the sides of the bottle to form a small ring around the base.

When he picked it up to drink, Buffy ran her fingers through the small pool of water, drawing random designs on the table top before stopping to dry her hands on her jeans and pick up her own beer.

"What are you doing here, Slayer?"

"Getting drunk, apparently," she answered with a small burp.

"By yourself?"

"I'm always by myself, Shpike. I'm the Shlayer."

"Don't have to be, you know," he ventured cautiously. "Alone, I mean."

Since she'd come back from Heaven, he'd carefully avoided reminding her of the feelings he had forced on her the previous year, almost ruining their budding relationship. However, his behavior after Glory tortured him, the fact that he'd stayed around to keep his promise to protect Dawn, the look on his face when he'd seen her coming so slowly down the stairs after her resurrection – all made it unnecessary. He loved her. It was a given.

That he wanted more than just to be allowed to follow her around like a lost puppy was also a given. One that he feared to mention lest it shake the tenuous friendship that had developed between them since her return.

"Don't start," she warned, inexplicably tempted by what he seemed to be offering and immediately throwing up a defensive shield of anger.

People who loved you did terrible things to you. They cheated on you with vamp whores, they left you even though you begged them to stay, they pulled you out of Heaven where you were happy and at peace and said they did it for you, even though it was obvious they did it to make themselves feel better. Even your mother – the one who should love you most – could still die and leave you alone. Much safer to never acknowledge love, than to risk losing it.

Oblivious to Spike's hurt and confusion, she nodded her head at her own ability to protect herself from more pain.

Yep, better to remember he's an evil, bloodsucking demon. Can't hurt me if I don't let him in. Don't look at the pretty blue eyes. Definitely don't notice how sad they are. Just my patrol-buddy. That's all he is. Another friend to keep at arms length so he can't hurt me if – no - when he turns on me.

The sigh from Spike brought her attention back to the table and she looked up in surprise when he rose to his feet, beer in hand.

"Where are you going?" Her voice sounded petulant even to her own ears.

"Gonna leave you alone, luv. Isn't that what you want?"

Buffy waved her hand dismissively. "Oh yeah, that's right. Just go away and leave me alone here. I knew you would. I knew you'd leave. You're just like everybody else. Only want Buffy around when they need a Slayer…"

Spike glared at her, the frustration on his face clear to see.

"Thash okay," she continued, standing up and draining her glass. "I'll just go patrol. Stake a few vampires…kill a demon and go home to bed like a good little Slhayer. That's my life now. Patrol, slay, go home and try to shleep. It's so much better than boring old Heaven!"

With surprising dexterity for someone who seemed to have gone from mildly intoxicated to very drunk in a short period of time, she wove her way through the tables towards the exit, ignoring the angry vampire stalking behind her.

"You're too drunk to patrol tonight, Slayer. Let me take you home."

"Oh ho! You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

She struggled to focus on his face as she waved a finger at him.

"You think I'm so drunk I might let you put me to bed. Might let you help me undress. I might even let you get into my bed with me! That's what you want, isn't it? Everybody wants something from me. Isn't that what you want?"

When he just shook his head and tried to steer her towards his car, she yanked her arm away and began to raise her voice.

"It is, isn't it? You want me, don't you? Don't you?" her voice dropped to a plaintive whine and she began to hiccup softly.

"What I want, Slayer, is to get you home while you can still stand. Now come on, get in the car."

Buffy allowed him to take her arm again, following obediently as he walked toward his old Desoto. She ran one hand along the tail fin as he led her to the passenger side door.

"You love this ugly old car, don't you?" she asked suddenly.

"She's my baby," he answered noncommittally.

"Do you love it more than me?" Her question surprised them both into silence – Buffy clapping a hand over her traitorous mouth while he stared at her in shock. Buffy had broken her own rule and brought up the forbidden subject. Neither of them was quite sure what to do about it and they remained frozen for several seconds.

Her obvious horror at her own words, as well as her less-than-sober condition helped Spike make up his mind how to respond. Instead of answering her question directly, he just growled, "Don't be stupid," and opened the car door for her.

Gratitude that he was giving her an easy out had the uncharacteristically meek slayer climbing into the big front seat and sitting quietly while Spike closed the door and went around to the driver's side. As he slid behind the wheel and turned on the ignition, she tried to salvage the situation by saying, "I was just thinking… you could teach me to drive on this car."

Sheer horror left him speechless. He pulled out of the parking lot and began to head for Revello Drive without responding at all. The silence grew until Buffy finally muttered under her breath, "You do love this stupid car more than me."

She'd forgotten about vampire hearing and almost hit the windshield when Spike threw on the brakes suddenly and whirled to face her. His eyes were flashing amber as he struggled to speak coherently. Her own eyes widened as she took in his obvious anger. For long seconds they just stared at each other, Spike furious that she would use his feelings for her in such a casual manner, Buffy understanding through the alcoholic haze that she had crossed a line.

Spike stretched his neck and with a quick little movement he shook off his demon, taking a deep breath and counting mentally to ten before answering her.

"You're drunk," he said flatly. "So I'm going to forget this whole conversation ever happened. And if you're smart, so will you. You're not drivin' my car. Wouldn't matter if I loved you or hated you. You want me to teach you to drive, fine, but it'll be in your mother's car that's been sitting in that driveway for months. And it will be at a time when you haven't been drinking yourself stupid."

He carefully avoided any mention of the real reason for his anger, and Buffy again was grateful that he understood her so well. As drunk as she was – and her spinning head could attest that she was very drunk – she still didn't want to take a chance on losing the only person around whom she could feel comfortable by trivializing his feelings for her. She nodded meekly and slouched against the door, laying her head against the cool window pane and fighting the sudden nausea now grabbing her attention.

The rest of the trip to her house was made in silence as she fought down the urge to throw up in Spike's car. Just before they pulled into her driveway, she lost the battle and quickly rolled down the window, leaning out and spewing used beer all over the side of his car. She remained where she was, head hanging out the window as the cursing vampire stopped the car and jumped out. Rather than coming to her aid, as she'd expected, he went to get the hose, washing off the door before even acknowledging her existence.

Only when he was satisfied that the car was clean and the hose had been put away did he open the door for her, catching her limp body as she tumbled out. He ignored her mumbled apology, lifting her up carefully and stalking to the front door. He kicked the locked door with his foot a couple of times, nodding his thanks when a sleepy Dawn opened it and let them in.

"Oh my god! What happened? Is she hurt? Does she need to go to the emergency room?" Dawn's panic was real when she saw that he was carrying her semi-conscious sister in his arms.

"She's not hurt, Bit," he said tightly. "She's just pissed."

Dawn frowned in confusion. "She doesn't look awake enough to be mad about anything."

Spike rolled his eyes, starting up the stairs with his burden as he did so. "Drunk, Niblet. She's drunk. Up-chucked all over my car, she did. Bloody stupid bint." His voice trailed off as he carried Buffy into the bathroom and sat her down on the closed toilet. He propped her up against the wall while he started the shower.

"What are you doing?" Dawn watched with more curiosity than concern as Spike set about removing Buffy's blouse, skirt and shoes.

"Gonna wash the vomit out of her hair and try to sober her up a bit before I leave," he answered absently. He tried to control the response the sight of Buffy in her underwear was evoking, even as he pulled her up and guided her to the tub. The Slayer followed obediently until he deposited her under the cold water flowing from the showerhead.

Her shriek was enough to hurt his ears and he winced, quickly shrugging out of his duster so that he could hold her struggling body under the water. He stuck her head under the water, laughing when she began sputtering threats to stake him as soon as she could see less than three of him. He poured shampoo into his hand, rubbed vigorously and then rinsing both shampoo and vomit down the drain.

By the time he'd finished, Buffy's teeth were chattering and she was leaning against the wall, miserable and wet, her arms wrapped around her shaking body. He quickly turned off the water and lifted her out of the tub, gratefully taking one of the towels Dawn was holding out to him and wrapping it around her head. He then took another fluffy towel and began to rub her arms and legs vigorously until they were pink and warm.

Having lost interest in her sister's predicament now that Buffy was no longer screaming, Dawn waved "good-night" and went back to her room, confident that the vampire who had taken care of her all summer was more than capable of putting her sister to bed.

Spike carried the towel-wrapped Slayer back to her room, setting her down and biting his lip as he tried to decide what to do about her wet underwear. He resolutely kept his eyes away from her breasts, now showing through the soaked bra, and tried very hard not to see the light brown curls behind the equally transparent panties.

"Wet." Buffy pulled on her bra, trying to get it away from her body.

"Yes, pet, they're wet. But I don't—"

"Off!" Her lower lip came out in a pout and he groaned his agreement.

Gritting his teeth, he said tightly, "Okay, Slayer. Off it is. Just promise me tomorrow you're going to remember whose idea this was."

Reaching behind her, he quickly undid her bra and pulled it forward so that it could slide down her arms to the floor. Keeping his eyes away from her now-bare breasts, he hooked his thumbs in the waistband of her panties and pulled them down, waiting patiently until she lifted her feet out of them. As soon as she was naked, he wrapped the towel around her again while he searched for pajamas.

Growling at her to lift her feet again, he slipped the bottoms of a pair of flannel pajamas on her legs and pulled them up as quickly as he could, his eyes squeezed shut so as not to see the smooth skin in front of him. His hands were trembling as his fingers lightly brushed her stomach and he flinched when she gave a small gasp. As rapidly as he could, he whisked off the towel and pulled a tee shirt over her head.

He blew out the breath he'd been holding and stepped back, sighing with relief at the sight of a fully clothed Buffy. The towel had fallen off her head and he knew she wouldn't be happy going to bed with wet, tangled hair. With a sigh, he picked up a hairbrush and the dryer while encouraging her to sit down on the stool at her dressing table. He quickly stripped off his own soaked tee shirt, draping it over a chair to dry while he finished getting her ready for bed.

He knelt behind her, carefully untangling the long blond hair with his fingers until it was safe to run the brush through it. He brushed and dried it until it was a silky, shiny curtain around her shoulders and Buffy was visibly dozing off.

While she swayed on the stool, barely awake enough to stay upright, he ran his hand lightly from the crown of her head to the ends of her now-dry hair and let it curl around his fingers. It was the only caress he had allowed himself to indulge in the whole time he'd been cleaning her up and it ended quickly when she began to topple off the stool.

He caught her before she could actually fall, holding her slight body against his as he rose gracefully to his feet. Buffy snuggled into his chest with a contented sigh, almost causing him to drop her in his surprise. He stood quietly for a few minutes, enjoying the physical contact that she would never permit if she were awake and sober. When, in her squirming around, her mouth ended up right in front of one of his nipples and her warm breath sent a thrill from there right down to his groin, he knew it was time to put her down before he got himself into even bigger trouble.

He walked the few steps to the bed and gently deposited her there, pulling the blankets up over her still-chilled body and tucking them in around her shoulders. He stared at her relaxed, smooth face for a minute, aching for her when he realized how rarely he had seen a content expression like that since her return. He grazed her cheek with one gentle hand before standing up to go.

The hand that shot out and grabbed his arm surprised him so much he almost vamped out before he realized that Buffy was looking at him with eyes that, while still sleepy, were much more sober than they had been when he brought her home.

She pulled him down to sit beside her on the bed, studying his face as though she'd never seen it before, then whispering with what sounded almost like surprise, "You don't love the car more than me, do you?"

"No, pet, I don't," he answered softly. He dropped a chaste kiss on her forehead before removing her hand from his arm and standing up.

As he picked up his shirt and coat and walked to the door he heard a faint, satisfied, "Knew you didn't," followed almost immediately by a soft snore.

The end

#4

A Very Spuffy Christmas (December, 2005)

amidst my christmas present fics for various people, I had two requests for fluffy spuffy, so i made two separate but continuous christmas eve fics. then I remembered i wanted to make one for someone else, even though she didn't ask, so I added a third part, taking place on christmas day/evening. There is a fourth part, but it can't be posted here.

Part I

"What do you mean, 'Where's Spike?' It's Christmas Eve, Dawn. He's a vampire – you know, all with the cross avoidance and violence? Why would he want to join a celebration of goodness and peace?"

"Because he's Spike and he likes Christmas…and because he brought you a present and-he-thinks-he-isn't-going-to-be-allowed-to-give -it-to you-so-I-invited-him-over," she finished in a rush.

Buffy stopped her tree decorating and flushed. "Why would Spike, of all people, buy me a Christmas present?" she demanded, hoping Dawn would believe her skeptical words.

Instead, her sister cocked her head in a gesture very reminiscent of the vampire in question and said with some asperity, "Because he loves you, Buffy. You know that. I don't understand why you seem to be trying so hard lately to pretend he doesn't. Everybody knows he does – even Xander. You can't tell me you've forgotten about it!"

Buffy blushed again, with genuine shame this time. "Oh. Oh yeah, I guess that would be a good reason to…I mean, not that he needed to get me a gift! I certainly wasn't expecting one. I don't have anything for him, and…what if he stole it? What if he killed someone for it? Oh, this is bad. Very bad. No. We can't do gifts. It's too much like—Nope. No gifts from the vampire," Buffy finished with a note of finality to find Dawn staring at her with suspicious eyes.

"Jeez, Buffy. Calm down! It's just Spike. He got you a gift because he loves you and wants you to have a Christmas present. He knows we don't have much money and I'm sure he isn't expecting anything from you."

"No," Buffy admitted softly. "I don't suppose he is…"

"Anyway," Dawn chattered on as she picked up another ornament, "I invited him to come over tonight and help us decorate the tree so he wouldn't have to fight all the Scoobie snarkage tomorrow."

"You what? Now? Tonight?"

Rather than look at her sister, to whom she addressed the shrieked questions, she ran to the hall mirror only to see a girl with circles under her unmade-up eyes, wearing baggy sweats and a lopsided ponytail staring back at her.

"Um, Dawn," she said, ignoring her sister's curious stare, "I'm just going to run upstairs and, um…clean-up. Yes, that's it. I just noticed how dirty these sweats are and I'm going to go get some clean ones. I'll be right back."

She ran up the stairs to her room before Dawn could point out that the clothes she was wearing had come right out of the dryer and couldn't be much cleaner. She was still staring thoughtfully after Buffy when Spike, rather uncharacteristically, knocked on the front door.

With the beginnings of an understanding smile on her face, Dawn opened the door and stepped back so he could come in. Spike glanced around, noticing the half-done tree and otherwise empty room before turning to give Dawn a quick hug and kiss on her cheek.

"Happy Christmas, Bit," he said, shrugging out of his coat and trying not to appear to be looking around. "Buffy's not here, then?" He struggled to keep the disappointment out of his voice and off his face as he draped the coat over the banister, but he couldn't hide it from the girl who'd spent the entire summer watching him mourn her older sister.

"She's here, Spike," she said softly. "She's just upstairs. I told her you were coming and she suddenly decided she wasn't pretty enough and ran off to change."

"Yeah," he scoffed, "I'm sure that's it. More like she ran upstairs to hide until I go aw—"

He paused, the words choked off, as an uncharacteristically subdued Buffy came slowly down the stairs. In just the few minutes she'd been gone, she had managed to brush her hair into loose curls, apply some mascara and lip gloss, and put on tight-fitting jeans and a red sweater. She slowed even more when she saw the awestruck vampire watching her. Something about his expression was so reminiscent of the look he'd worn when she was just back from her grave that her breath caught in her throat.

Blushing slightly from the look of complete adoration on his face, she pretended to be surprised to see him, completely missing the way Dawn rolled her eyes as the teenager walked back into the living room.

"Spike!" Buffy said brightly. "I wasn't expecting to see you tonight. Dawn and I were just—"

"I know, pet. I hope it's alright with you. The Niblet invited me to come over and help with…whatever you need help with, I guess." He spoke quickly, anxious to let her know that he hadn't appeared without permission.

"Well, sure. I mean if Dawn wants you here…it IS Christmas, after all. Good will toward men – er – vampires and…"

"Buffy," he said too low for Dawn to hear him. "If you want me to leave, just say so. I don't want to spoil your Christmas, pet. Just wanted to…oh, bollocks! Here!" he finished, taking a small, neatly wrapped box from his duster pocket and handing it to her. Without looking at her to see what sort of reception his gift was getting, he took another, similar box out of his other pocket and walked in to place it under the tree with the sparse packages already there.

"One for you too, Niblet," he said as he put it down. "But no opening them until tomorrow." He glared sternly at her until she sighed and nodded.

"Fine, Spike, we won't open them until tomorrow. Now grab some ornaments and start hanging."

He shuffled his feet uncomfortably, glancing back towards the hallway before saying, "I know I said I'd help, Bit, but if big sis doesn't want me here…"

Before Dawn could indignantly point out that it was her house too, Spike's apologetic attempt to leave was interrupted when Buffy shocked all three of them by standing on her toes to kiss his cheek, saying softly, "Thank you, Spike," before putting her own gift down in the meager stack of presents.

Dawn all but squealed in joy, as her sister continued to amaze her by saying cheerfully, "Please don't go. Why don't you help Dawn with the ornaments while I go make us all some hot chocolate?"

Fighting to keep his Big Bad image, Spike shrugged and agreed gruffly, "Well, alright then. Just because I promised the Bit."

Buffy gave him a smile that said he wasn't fooling anyone before going into the kitchen to get out the ingredients for hot chocolate. She searched the whole kitchen while the milk was warming, but found no sign of any of the tiny marshmallows she knew her mother used to keep around for Spike. Reminding herself she should get some soon – Just in case he comes around to visit Dawn and she fixes hot chocolate – she put the mugs of hot drinks on a tray and carried it back into the living room where Dawn and Spike were arguing over which one of them had accidentally unplugged the lights.

With a sigh, Buffy put the tray down and walked over to put the plug back into the wall. She waited while their argument wound down, then sat on the couch and gestured to the tray.

"Come on, you two. It's going to get cold." She turned to smile at Spike apologetically as she said softly, "I couldn't find any of the little marshmallows. I know you like them, but—"

"That's ok, pet," he interrupted quickly. "I…um…I brought my own. Just in case," he added, looking at her from under his lashes to see if she was going to be mad.

Buffy rolled her eyes, but said with surprising good humor, "Well, where are they? You'll have to share."

Reaching into yet another pocket of his duster, he fished out a small bag of marshmallows and quickly brought it back into the living room, opening it and offering some to both Dawn and Buffy before dropping a handful into his own mug.

They all drank in companionable silence for several minutes before Buffy said abruptly, "The star! Dawn, we forgot to put the star on."

She jumped up and rooted through the box of left over ornaments until she found what she was looking for and triumphantly held up a beat-up old cardboard star. What little was left of the glitter that had originally covered it, began to fall off and trickle down onto Buffy's hair and face as she held it overhead.

She looked up at the top of the tree with dismay. It was clear none of the three of them was going to be tall enough to reach the top without standing on something. Buffy set the star down and went to get a chair from the dining room when Dawn spoke up.

"Why don't you just get Spike to lift you up, Buffy? I mean what's the point of having super strength if you never use it?"

She beamed innocently at the two adults who were carefully avoiding looking at each other, smiling quietly to herself at her own cleverness.

"Well, yeah, I guess that could work…if Spike doesn't mind…"

"Oh! Oh, no, pet. I'd be happy to. I'll just—"

He walked over to her, trying not to let his pleasure at being allowed to help her show on his face. Buffy's heartbeat increased as he carefully turned her to face the tree and placed his hands on her waist. With the exception of her quick kiss on his cheek, it was the first time they'd touched since he came in and the usual immediate spark of electricity jumped from his hands to her body. They both gasped, frozen in place while each tried to conquer the urges inspired by their nearness. Hoping desperately that Dawn could not see or interpret her flaming face, Buffy faced the tree and held her arms up. Spike easily lifted her slight frame, holding her above his head as she reached for the top of the tree. Glitter drifted down from the star, settling over both of them as she wiggled it around until it was firmly in place.

Dawn watched them carefully, smiling at the sight of them sprinkled with flecks of gold, before realizing that Spike was bringing Buffy down and would be releasing her soon. With a quick jump to her feet, she blurted, "I have to go to the bathroom!" and raced out before they had time to separate.

Left alone, after clearly hearing the slamming of the bathroom door, they stood trembling with the suppressed need to continue touching. When Buffy leaned gently back against his chest, Spike groaned and slid his hands from her waist, wrapping his arms all the way around her and holding her tightly. He dropped his head to nuzzle her ear, reveling in the way her heartbeat sped up again and the muffled whimper struggling to get out of her throat.

He slid his lips down her throat, pulling gently on the soft skin over her pulse and losing himself in the scent of her warm body. Without a thought to being visible through the unclosed drapes, or that her sister could come back at any moment, Buffy put her own hands over the strong arms holding her tightly against the body she'd come to crave and allowed her head to loll to one side, giving him complete access to her neck.

So lost were they in each other, that neither one heard Dawn come back to the entrance to the room. The teenaged Key stood there for several minutes, smiled happily at the two most important people in her life as they shared a rare moment of tenderness. Too soon, the moment was interrupted as they both remembered her presence and stepped apart, looking with guilty eyes toward the hallway.

Dawn had ducked back quickly and made a great show of clearing her throat and walking heavily as she rounded the corner and paused to admire the newly-starred tree.

"Oh, that looks great, guys! We should do this every year – have Spike come to help us decorate, I mean."

Buffy flushed and moved away from the vampire, saying quickly, "Dawn, I'm sure Spike has much more interesting things to do most years than help us with our tree."

"Oh yeah, I'm sure he'd much rather be moping in his crypt than sitting here having hot chocolate. Not to mention the novelty of having you be nice to him for a change."

Dawn's voice dripped with scorn and Spike shot her a warning growl, "Bit…"

"I'm just saying. You two look like you're having a good time – I mean the way regular people have good times, you know?"

"Regular people?"

"Yeah – non-Slayer, non-vampirey type people. You know, who don't get off on killing things and fighting? It's a nice change from all the blood and yelling and—"

"All right, Dawn," Buffy held up her hand, laughing. "I think we get the picture."

"I'm not sure you do," she mumbled almost to herself. "But you're going to."

"What'd you say?"

"Nothing!" she responded brightly, then gave a big yawn. "Oh, my. I'm suddenly so sleepy. I guess, since we're done with the tree, I'll just go to bed. The sooner it's Christmas, the sooner I'll be able to open my prezzies."

"Right," Spike tried to smother his disappointment. "I'll just be going then, leave you two to—"

Moron! She gave the vampire an irritated glare before saying quickly, "Oh no. You two don't have to call it a night just because I'm tired. Why don't you keep Buffy company? Watch "It's a Wonderful Life" or something. I'll just go up to my room and go to sleep. We all know what a heavy sleeper I am." She edged toward the stairs, pausing to grab a ball of mistletoe off the hall table.

"Oh, here, we forgot this. Maybe you can lift Buffy up again so she can hang it in front of the door?"

She tossed it to her embarrassed sister and with a "Good night, Spike. Merry Christmas!" she ran up the stairs and into her room, falling on the bed with a sigh. "Well, I've done what I can. I hope they aren't too stupid to figure the rest out for themselves."

Downstairs Buffy was still bright red, tossing the mistletoe ball from one hand to the other and struggling for something to say.

"Well, that was subtle," she finally managed, still not looking at him.

"I don't think 'subtle' is in the Bit's vocabulary, pet. I'm sorry she—"

"It's okay," Buffy whispered. "I think I understand what's going on. She loves us both and she wants us to—" She looked up at him and said sadly, "I've been very selfish; keeping you away from here because I was afraid somebody would…I didn't think about the way Dawn feels about you or consider that she might miss you."

"Or me, her," he said quietly, reminding her that his feelings for her sister were not based completely on the long-ago promise he'd made to take care of her for Buffy.

"It's just…it's so hard to be around you now and not want to…"

"Shag my brains out?" he said hopefully.

"I was going to say 'touch you'," she said, biting her lip and glaring at him.

"I don't think Dawn cares if you touch me, pet," he said carefully, stepping closer to her.

"Yeah, that was pretty much the heavy-handed message, wasn't it?" she surprised him by agreeing.

He slipped his arms around her lightly, kissing the top of her head as she rested it against his chest. While Spike rejoiced in the moment, fully expecting to be shoved away any second, Buffy found herself unable to resist indulging in the safe, loved feeling that being held so chastely inspired. Where she would normally have pushed him away, refusing to admit to herself or to him that she liked it when he held her; something about having her sister's tacit permission to do so gave her the courage to admit that she craved the vampire's touch for more than just the great sex that she insisted was all there was between them.

Her own arms, acting independently of her brain, slid around his waist and she settled against him with a contented sigh, telling herself it was just for the night and they could go back to normal after Christmas. Or New Year's, at the latest.

Part II more FLuffy Spuffy – a continuation of the Christmas ficlet above

Spike was sure he was asleep and dreaming as he stood, arms around Buffy, sharing what could only be called an affectionate hug. With every fiber of his being he hoped not to wake up, quite certain if he dusted right then and there that his dust would drift around forever, too happy to settle into the earth where it belonged.

The longer she stood there, happily wrapped in the arms of the vampire she insisted she didn't love, the more confused Buffy became. Spike made no attempt to escalate the embrace into anything else, although she could tell by his silence that he was struggling to contain the endearments and declarations of love to which she always turned a deaf ear. Giving him a little squeeze to indicate she wasn't moving out of his embrace because she didn't want to be there, she straightened, tilting her head up to look into his wary eyes.

"I think we're supposed to be hanging this mistletoe ball," she said softly, knowing that her usual rejections of his attempts to show affection were responsible for the uncertain look on his face.

Relieved that she didn't appear to be regretting the moment of tenderness, he responded with a smile, "Ready when you are, pet."

This time, he lifted her up where she stood, holding her tightly and trying to ignore the fact that his face was right next to the zipper of her jeans. Any other time, he would have taken advantage of their positions to grab the zipper pull in his teeth and slide it down, but the trust clearly implicit in Buffy's allowing him that kind of access prevented him from taking advantage of it. Instead, he allowed himself to take only small sniffs of the delightful scent coming from her warm body as she squirmed around trying to tie the ball to the light fixture.

Buffy was more than conscious of the fact that Spike's face was within a few inches of her suddenly damp crotch; memories of the things that he could do with his lips and tongue made her fumble with the ribbon she was trying to tie to the light. She wanted very badly not to make the night about the violent sex that was all she normally allowed between them, but her body was responding to his nearness in spite of herself and she allowed a small whimper to escape as she finished tying the ribbon.

"Okay," she murmured. "I got it. You can let me down now."

"Don't want to," he growled, giving up the fight now that he could sense and smell her arousal. Instead of letting her down, he pulled her closer and buried his nose in the apex of her thighs, nipping gently at her through her jeans. Buffy grabbed his hair, curling her fingers into his scalp as she pushed against his face with a small gasp.

Frustration with the layer of denim between them finally took its toll and he allowed her to slide down his body slowly until he could put his mouth on the bare skin of her throat, leaving open-mouthed kisses until he reached her mouth. With no hesitation, they fell into a deep kiss, tongues and lips alternately rough and tender as Buffy melded her body with his, trusting in his ability to hold her up if her knees choose not to work.

"Buffy," he gasped, pausing to pull on the soft skin over her pounding pulse. "Didn't want to do this tonight, love. Was just enjoying the—"

"Neither did I," she murmured, tilting her head to allow him better access to her neck. "Don't want you to think—"

With a supreme effort of will, they broke apart at the same time- staring at each other from a few inches away and breathing heavily.

"We can do this," Buffy gasped. "We can be around each other and not be all about the sex. We do it all the time when other people are watching."

"Maybe you can," Spike grumbled. "You think I wear that duster all the time just because I'm cold?" He gestured to the very obvious bulge in his own jeans and tried to shift it to a more comfortable position.

She laughed and, without stopping to think, reached out and stroked the offending body part, eliciting a heartfelt groan from the vampire.

"Bloody hell, Slayer!" He struggled to keep his voice too low for Dawn's ears as he grabbed her hand, stilling it in place.

Buffy gave him a soft squeeze, bringing another groan, then reluctantly removed her hand saying sadly, "I guess maybe you'd better go then. I don't know what Dawn thought she was setting up, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't what's going to happen if we keep this up much longer."

Spike sighed, agreeing in spite of himself. "I suppose you're right, pet." He hesitated; then said softly, "I'm sorry."

"You're sorry? For what?"

"For turning what was becoming the best night of my life into just another reminder that I'm a vampire with no self-control. I'm sorry, love. Would've – should've been perfectly happy to stand there and hold you all bloody night. Didn't need to ruin it by—"

"Spike!" Buffy interrupted him, blushing furiously. "Do you think I don't know you well enough by now to know what you were responding to?"

Remembering how wet her underwear had become just thinking about him, and knowing how much he loved the smell of her arousal, she had no doubt what had caused his loss of control. She struggled to relieve his guilt, while not admitting more than she wanted to about her own craving for the sexy vampire.

"Got to admit, there was a certain amount of temptation…" he responded with a grateful smile; then shrugged and said with a sigh, "Still an' all, pet, I wish I hadn't— was really enjoying the evening and now it's got to be over."

"There's always tomorrow evening," Buffy whispered, not looking at his suddenly intent face. She continued, still without looking at him but studying the rug with great interest, "Christmas dinner, opening presents, here…"

"Are you inviting me for Christmas, Slayer?"

He refused to allow her to pretend the invitation was casual and nothing out of the ordinary.

To Buffy's credit, she accepted the challenge in his voice and raised her eyes to look into his while she said firmly, "I am. Would you like to come back tomorrow and join us for Christmas Day, Spike?"

"You know nothin' would make me happier, love," he answered softly. "But I don't want to spoil your Christmas by causing—"

"If I want you here, and Dawn wants you here, then I don't see how you can possibly spoil the day. And if anybody else tries to ruin things, that won't be your fault."

The stubborn look on her face did not bode well for any Scoobies who intended to complain about the vampire's presence, and he nodded, giving her a shy smile.

"Alright, then, pet. I'll see you tomorrow afternoon. Do you want me to come early to help with anything?"

Buffy shook her head and said, somewhat shamefaced, "No, that's okay. Willow went on vacation with her parents and Tara is coming over to do the cooking. It'll just be us – Dawn and me – and Tara, and Xander and Anya," she finished quickly.

"You know the whelp is gonna go bonkers, don't you?" Spike said with a worried frown.

"I thought you wanted people to know about us?" she said, sticking out her lower lip.

He titled his head and looked at her with the barest trace of hope on his face.

"Is that what this is, then?" he asked, keeping his voice as steady as he could. "Coming out of the closet – or the crypt, as the case might be?"

"I don't' know…let's not make a big deal, okay? It's just Christmas and you're going to be here because you're…you're…you're one of us. Okay? You're part of Dawn's life and…part of my life…and if Xander wasn't such a jerk, he'd admit you're just as much a part of the Scoobies as Anya or Tara. You have a right to be here and I have a right to invite whoever I want to and…"

"Alright, love, I think I've got it. Not a big deal, just my usual hanging around – except that this time when the whelp tells me to take my evil, soulless self out before he stakes me…"

"He'll have to go through me to do it," she said quietly. She looked up at him anxiously. "I'm not planning to make some big announcement, you know. It's not like I'm going to say, 'Hey, everybody, Spike and I are together now. Surprise!' We're just going to act like you have every right to be here and…and then we'll see how it goes. Okay?"

He was touched by her uncertainly as she asked his permission to give him more recognition than he'd ever hoped for. He stepped closer to her and touched her brow with his fingers, smoothing the worried frown away.

"Whatever you want to do is alright with me, Buffy. You know that. Always has been, always will be. I'll follow your lead, love."

"I just want it to be a nice Christmas," she said with sigh. "For everybody. Including you," she added, leaning into him lightly. She glanced up as he rested his hands lightly on her shoulders. "Especially you," she amended, dropping her eyes and blushing.

"It will be, pet."

He dropped a quick kiss on her forehead and stepped around her to open the door.

"I'll see you tomorrow, love. Happy Christmas, Buffy."

"Good night, Spike. Merry Christmas." She smiled and gave him a little wave as he took his duster and walked out the door. "Merry Christmas," she repeated in a whisper before turning to go up the stairs to her bed.

part III of the Christmas spuffy

Christmas day dawned bright and sunny, as befitted a holiday in southern California; in spite of the beautiful day, Buffy did her best to sleep in. The dreams she was having in which there was a lean, muscular body sharing the bed with her, dreams in which she woke up to soft lips on her neck and murmured endearments, were making her feel all warm and snuggly and she had no desire to interrupt them before she was ready. Unfortunately, Dawn had no interest in what anybody was dreaming and she proceeded to bang things around in the kitchen until a bleary-eyed Buffy stumbled in.

"You had better have the coffee already made," the Slayer threatened. "Or Christmas will be cancelled."

Dawn smiled weakly and shoved a cup of warm, muddy-looking water in front of her.

"Uh, I couldn't remember how to turn the coffee pot on, so this was the best I could do," she said sheepishly.

Buffy took one sip and immediately threw the rest into the sink with a groan.

"Couldn't you have waited just a little while, Dawn," she said with a whine. "Are you still five?"

She flashed back to implanted memories of a hyperactive Dawn running around making everyone get up at daybreak to open presents on Christmas morning.

"Buffy, it's ten o'clock already. I think I've been very patient. What's the matter? Did someone keep you up too late last night?" She gave her sister a sly, hopeful look.

Buffy flushed and said quickly, "No. No one kept me up late, Miss Wannabe Matchmaker. I'm just tired, that's all."

"Oh." Dawn's face fell. "So you and Spike…I mean not that I expected to wake up and find him in your room or something…but…"

"He's coming back for dinner," Buffy replied shortly in a voice that said she clearly did not want to discuss it any further.

A voice that Dawn cheerfully ignored, squealing in delight. "Spike's coming for dinner? With us? Oh, that is so cool!"

"He has a right to be here," Buffy said primly, trying to not smile at her sister's enthusiasm. "Just like any other Scoobie."

Dawn bounced into the living room, heading immediately for the small stack of presents with her name on them. Thanks to some foresight on the part of a still guilt-stricken Willow, the meager gifts that Buffy and Dawn could afford to give each other had been supplemented by those from Xander and Anya, Willow, Tara and Giles. So, rather than having to wait until the evening to open their gifts from their friends and face a dismal Christmas morning, each Summers girl had a small but respectable number of gifts waiting to be opened.

Buffy found herself reaching first for the small, neatly wrapped box that Spike had shoved into her hand the night before. She started to hesitate, then saw Dawn's eager expression and finished reaching for it. She turned it over, but there was nothing on the outside to indicate neither for whom it was intended nor from whom it had come.

She opened it carefully, pausing when she saw that the box inside was from one of Sunnydale's better jewelers. Almost afraid to open it and find that Spike had stolen something valuable for her, she hesitated, box in hand until Dawn snapped angrily, "He's been working as a bartender at Willies' for a whole month to be able to buy us presents. Stop looking at it like it was a snake and open it. I want to see how you like it."

With a sigh of relief, Buffy opened the box to find a multi-functional, but still-delicate, wristwatch. The bracelet-like band was made with gold and silver links, the watch's barely over-sized face contained in a gold case with silver trim. She gave an involuntary gasp at the beauty of the piece, even as she made a wry face at reading about its features. The most prominent of which was an alarm that could be set to go off just like a clock.

Buffy hid her face behind her hair and blushed, knowing he'd given her a watch with an alarm so that she wouldn't fall asleep in his crypt and not make it home before Dawn awoke. She smiled at his thoughtfulness and stroked the beautiful band, not noticing Dawn's pleased smile and hopeful expression.

"Put it on," the teenager urged, and Buffy quickly complied, finding that the band had already been sized to fit her slender wrist. She turned her arm this way and that, admiring the way it glinted when it caught the light. She stopped quickly when she caught Dawn beaming at her, bringing on eye-rolling and sighing from her younger sister.

"It's okay to like it, Buffy," Dawn snapped. "He spent a lot of time trying to come up with something you could use that would also be gifty."

"I don't have anything for him."

Buffy's sudden, panicky declaration softened Dawn's face and she said quietly, "Do you really think he cares? You're letting him come here and spend Christmas with us. For once, you aren't treating him like hired muscle that's not fit to be around real people. I think that's probably the best present you could give him."

Dawn missed the hot flush that covered Buffy's upper body as she thought about an even better present to give the vampire. Already, Buffy was planning how she could use her new alarm clock to allow her to spend the night with Spike with way he always wanted her to and that she so rarely did.

Trying to take her mind off the vampire's cozy bedroom, she asked, "Did you help him pick it out?"

Dawn shook her head, not looking at Buffy as she picked up her own small box from her favorite vampire.

"No, he did it himself. But he showed it to me before he wrapped it and I told him it was perfect. Did you look on the back yet?" she asked, her head whipping up as she suddenly remembered that Spike told her it was engraved.

"On the back? No, I didn't…" She took the watch off and turned it over to find a small inscription in fine script.

"Yours forever, W" was etched into the flat gold surface. Buffy rubbed her finger over the lettering, a small smile gracing her face until Dawn's "What does it say?" jolted her out of her reverie.

"Oh! Oh, nothing important," she said, quickly putting the watch back on her wrist. "Just 'Merry Christmas', you know."

Dawn's face said that was the lamest thing she'd ever heard, but she didn't pursue it, deciding just to wait until Buffy took it off again to read it for herself. The girls then addressed themselves to the rest of the gifts, alternately displaying and oohing over them until they had unwrapped and examined everything. If either girl was upset by the practicality of most of the presents, she didn't show it; pretending to be just as exciting about getting new socks and underwear as she would be to get a new CD.

Dawn's gift from Spike was one of the few non-essential gift items opened. He had given her a silver bracelet from the same jewelry store from which he'd purchased Buffy's gift and she promptly put in on her arm in imitation of Buffy's response.

When the usable wrapping paper and ribbons had been carefully folded away and the non-usable debris thrown out, they each went back to their rooms to shower and dress for the coming meal preparation. By the time that Tara arrived at noon, both Dawn and Buffy were dressed and ready to help. They waited expectantly while Tara got the turkey out of the refrigerator and began to make the stuffing.

As soon as she was assured that the meal was well under way and nothing more could be done until almost the last minute, Buffy excused herself and went upstairs to dress for dinner. She went through her closet, searching for just the right combination of seasonal sexiness, finally settling on a long, black skirt and tight-fitting red sweater. The sweater had three-quarter length sleeves, leaving her newest jewelry acquisition clearly visible on her wrist.

She added gold earrings, and a silver ring to compliment the mixed metal on her new watch, brushed her hair, added mascara, blush and gloss – then stepped back to evaluate her look. She refused to admit to herself that she was dressing for Spike. This just happens to be the best outfit for the occasion. And, of course I would wear the watch, because I have to know when to start the rest of the food and when to get it out of the oven and…

In an unusual moment of honesty, she admitted that she was looking forward to seeing the vampire and that she had dressed in a manner she hoped he would like. The moment of honesty ended quickly as she refused to consider the ramifications of those feelings and swished out of her room, ready to greet her guests.

Dawn and Tara were sitting in the living room, the witch watching with tolerant amusement as Dawn displayed each and every item twice over. Buffy arrived just as her sister was showing off her new bracelet and she watched closely as Tara didn't blink at hearing who had given it to her. She admired it with a small smile and then beckoned Buffy into the room.

'I hear you got some new jewelry too," she said gently. "May I see it?"

Buffy gave Dawn a glare before remembering that Tara actually knew more about her relationship with Spike than Dawn did. Relaxing a little, she held out her left arm, blushing when Tara exclaimed over the beautiful and practical gift.

"He's coming for dinner," Buffy blurted out, as Tara admired the watch. "I think that's okay, don't you?"

"I think it's more than okay, Buffy. You know that. He belongs here just as much as I do."

"Let's hope everyone else thinks so," Buffy said wryly as the front door was pushed open and Xander and Anya came in with a flurry of "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Solstice" wishes.

After gifts had been dutiful presented again and admired – with Anya commenting on the apparent monetary value of each one – the small group moved to the kitchen to help Tara with the dinner. They arrived just in time to jump out of the way of the smoking blanket under which Spike was trying to hide.

Xander's attempt to demand an explanation for Spike's presence was drowned out by Dawn's squeal of delight and loud expressions of gratitude for her bracelet.

"That appears to be quite valuable, although not nearly so much as Buffy's new watch," Anya volunteered helpfully as the embarrassed vampire returned Dawn's grateful hug.

Xander's eyes swiveled to Buffy. He had not actually noticed the new wristwatch on her bare arm, having been more interested in how beautiful she looked in the elegant skirt and tight sweater. Now his eye was drawn to the gleaming piece of jewelry and even he could figure out that it must have come from the same place and person as Dawn's new bracelet.

His face darkened as he took in the flush on Buffy's face and the sheepish grin on the vampire's. As Spike shrugged out of his duster, revealing a blue dress shirt over a black turtleneck and dress pants instead of his usual black denim the young man whirled and left the kitchen, throwing himself onto the couch and turning on the television.

There was an uncomfortable silence for a few seconds, during which Anya appeared uncharacteristically abashed.

"I'm sorry, Spike," she said directly to the vampire. 'I'm sure he didn't mean to be rude – well, actually, he probably did—but that's what he always says to people when he thinks I've done something inappropriate, so it seemed like the right thing to say."

She looked around to see if she'd done the right thing, heartened when she met smiles of approval from almost everyone. Everyone except the Slayer who was glaring towards the living room.

"Buffy, that is a very scary expression you're wearing and I would appreciate it if you did not wear it when you are looking at my boyfriend. I apologized for him and that should make it okay."

Buffy cut her eyes towards Anya, who flinched back unconsciously, then she relaxed and let out her breath in a deep sigh.

"It's all right, Anya. I'll give him some time to get over it."

No one commented or questioned what "it" it was that Xander was going to need to get over. Spike's very presence, his unusual dress and the gleaming band on Buffy's arm all spoke for themselves. There was no need for the big announcement she'd assured Spike she wasn't going to make; everyone in the room knew that there had been an important shift in the relationship between the Slayer and the chipped vampire. Xander's retreat to the loud TV set made his position on the change very clear and it cast a temporary pall over the celebration.

Spike's eyes and face couldn't hide the way he felt at seeing Buffy wearing his gift and she blushed when she saw him looking at her with open adoration. He took his cue from her and when she didn't run to embrace him as Dawn had, but merely smiled and thanked him for the lovely gift, he nodded back and told her she was more than welcome.

"I'm glad you like it, pet," he said quietly, moving to her side.

"I love it," she whispered back, more because he was standing so close it was taking her breath away than to keep anyone from hearing.

Before they could move, Anya whipped a disposable camera off the counter and quickly snapped a photo of the two beautiful blonds in their nice clothes. She started to put it down, but Dawn grabbed it and said, "Just a couple more. You guys look so good today!"

Buffy grabbed Tara and Anya, insisting that they be in the picture also, so Spike put his arms around both girls and pulled them in close while Buffy posed in front of him. She leaned back against him, grateful for the opportunity for physical contact. The picture was followed by a flurry of different combinations of people and poses – Dawn and Spike, Dawn and Tara, Spike and Tara, Buffy and Dawn, and, finally, Spike took the camera and snapped a picture of all four girls laughing and huddled together in front of the stove.

There was one picture left when the vampire suggested that Anya might want to have one of her and "the whelp". The ex-demon gave him a grateful look and went to get her boyfriend. Dragging Xander back into the kitchen, she insisted he pose with her while Dawn took a picture of them. Oblivious to the dark looks he was sending their way Spike and Buffy had moved to stand together near the refrigerator, their shoulders touching as they waited for the photograph to be completed.

As soon as Dawn had snapped the picture, the still-fuming Xander went back into the living room, turning the TV up as loud as he could so as not hear the laughter and excitement from the kitchen. When it became obvious that everyone was going to be expected to help, Anya quickly left the kitchen, mumbling that she was a "guest and shouldn't be expected to help serve the meal."

She threw herself down on the couch next to Xander, immediately turning the volume down to a tolerable level and demanding, "What is wrong with you?"

"There is a soulless, bloodsucking demon in that room carving a turkey. What do you think is wrong with me?"

"You're narrow-minded and jealous?" Anya made no attempt to hide her own growing anger. "In case you haven't noticed, Buffy is not your girl friend. And when she was dead, Spike spent more time here than you did. He took care of Dawn, kept you alive on patrol, and kept his mourning for Buffy thankfully out of sight. Well, after those first unmanly tears when she landed at the foot of Glory's tower, anyway," she finished. "He has every right to be here if they want him to."

They were saved from having a full-blown fight by Tara's quiet request that they come to the table. Xander placed himself as far away from Spike as he could, unclear whether to be grateful that the vampire was at one end of the table and Buffy at the other or to be annoyed at the implied domesticity of their positions. He was still trying to make up his mind while he filled his plate with the delicious food that Tara had helped make happen in the normally chaotic Summers kitchen, but lost the thread of his anger as he began to eat.

Pointedly ignoring Spike's presence at the end of the table, he offered a toast to, "Happy holidays spent with good friends and family," glaring angrily when everyone but him included the vampire before drinking.

Beside him, from her spot at the end of the table, Buffy hissed, "I think if you tried, you might be able to be a little bit more obnoxious, Xander. Don't you have any Christmas spirit?"

Before he could answer, the front door flew open and to everyone's surprise, Willow burst into the room babbling about business emergencies and shortened vacations. She slid to a halt, smiling shyly when she saw Tara sitting beside Dawn. Her eyes went from Tara and Dawn to Buffy then Xander and Anya, widening when she recognized the man at the head of the table.

"Willow!" Xander rose to his feet, happy to have some support. "Look at this!" He waved his hand at Spike, whose countenance was darkening as he saw Buffy begin to look distressed.

Willow gave Buffy a hard stare, then looked back at Spike who was now glaring at her best male friend.

"What's going on, Buffy?" her housemate asked with deceptive calm. "When I left a few days ago, Spike wasn't part of this household."

"Well, maybe he should have been," Dawn muttered, earning a nudge from Tara.

"My point exactly!" Xander, feeling he now had reinforcements, began to unleash the venom and anger he'd been keeping under control while he was so badly outnumbered. As he went through a litany of reasons why Spike should not be there, beginning with his obsession with Buffy and his having given her a Christmas present which she "had no better sense than to encourage him by wearing", Buffy's face was visibly crumpling.

Willow walked around the table and patted Buffy on the shoulder saying encouragingly, "I'm back now, Buffy. We'll find a way to get rid of him." She stood up and looked at the vampire with the air of someone who was now in charge.

"I don't want to get rid of him, Will." Buffy's quiet response caught everyone by surprise, including Spike, who had already stood up, preparing to leave before his presence ruined what had been a nice Christmas dinner.

Immediately, Willow and Xander began to berate her, insisting that he must have put a spell on her, that she wasn't herself, hadn't been since she got back, and needed to let them help her make these decisions. While Tara tried to prevent an angry Dawn from throwing mashed potatoes at Willow's face, and Spike edged along the wall, thanking Buffy for asking him to dinner, the Slayer remained quietly in her seat until her friends ran out of breath.

When they stopped for air, she stood up and walked over to Spike, looking up into his face for a second.

"It's alright, pet," he said quietly. "You've got all your mates here and I don't want to spoil the rest of the night. I'll see you later, yeah?"

"No," she said clearly. "You'll see me now and later. I'm tired of this!"

Buffy turned around and glared at her friends, who immediately began protesting that they were only doing it because they loved her.

"I know how you feel, Buff—" She cut Xander off with a wave of her hand.

"I don't think you do, Xander. And I know you don't know how I feel," she growled, glaring at Willow.

"I find one thing that helps me forget, for a while, how miserable I am here and you – the people responsible for my pain – want to take it away from me. You can't begin to imagine how I feel – or how much being around Spike helps me deal with it. He is the only one in my life who isn't trying to run it for me. Who just loves me the way I am. I need him. He makes me happy. And you want me to make him go away because you don't like him here? Xander? Willow? You want to tell me again how much you love me? How you're trying to help me? Cause, the helping? The love? Really not seeing it here. Not from either of you."

She glared around the table, breathing hard, her face flushed as she challenged them to argue with her. A sideways scowl halted Dawn's attempt to provide applause for the speech and the teenager put her hands in her lap and waited for the outcome.

"Buffy – we just don't think you're thinking clearly. We're just trying to help yo—"

"And, again, I'd like to point out that the only thing keeping me sane, the only thing – besides Dawn — anchoring me to this world that demands so much of me is that man there." Buffy pointed to the completely overwhelmed vampire standing behind her.

"He's not a man, he's a demon, Buffy." Xander was almost spitting in his haste to get his words out. "That right there shows that you're not thinking right. You need us to tell you wh—"

"I don't need you to tell me anything, Xander. Except, maybe, Merry Christmas. And if you can't include Spike in that, then the only thing this family needs to hear from you is 'good-night'."

She held her chin up defiantly and waited for her two oldest friends to decide what was more important to them, that she allow them to run her life, or that she be happy to have them in it.

Willow looked around the room quickly and saw no support for her position from anyone except Xander. Dawn was clearly on Spike's side, as everyone knew she would be after spending the previous summer with the chipped vampire as her constant companion and protector. Tara was staring at her plate sadly – her distress evident in every line of her body – and Willow flinched, remembering how she'd tried to control her former girlfriend's life with a forgetting spell. Anya was glaring at Xander in a way that promised serious retribution when they got home, although at the moment he was still too wrapped in righteous indignation to notice.

The vampire in question was waiting with uncharacteristic patience; he was standing quietly behind Buffy ready to do whatever she asked and Willow studied him for a second with new eyes. Unlike Xander, she didn't doubt his love for Buffy. If nothing else, his protecting and caring for Dawn when Buffy was dead and there was no reason for him to keep his promise to her showed the depth of his emotion. Their eyes locked briefly, hers challenging, his almost pleading. With a guilt start she realized that he was asking her not to hurt Buffy any more than she already had.

She turned to her best female friend and saw, beneath the clear anger and determination, the pain waiting to emerge at the expected rejection for which Buffy was bracing herself.

She looked back at the man who'd been her best friend since kindergarten and suddenly understood that he had never outgrown his teen-aged crush on the Slayer. Through two girlfriends, multiple dates with demons, and a flirtation with her, he had never given up the idea that someday Buffy would see him as more than her good friend. The idea that she could prefer a vampire, one of the same beings that had killed his friend Jesse, was more than he could handle. His reaction had nothing to do with Spike's being bad for Buffy and everything to do his own frustrated longings.

She shook her head slowly, her red hair glinting in the light from the candles on the table.

I've been a fool. When did I go from sweet little Willow who wants everyone to be happy to arrogant Willow who thinks she should decide for them what that would be?

"I'm sorry, Buffy. I don't know what we were thinking. Of course, it's your house and your life. And if you want Spike in it—if he makes you happy—then I'm happy. For both of you," she added with a tentative smile at the astonished vampire.

"'Preciate that, Red," he said with nod.

Every eye in the room swiveled to the equally amazed man standing near the doorway.

"Xander?" Buffy's voice was soft and pleading, as was the expression on Willow's face. Spike's eyes were calm and unconcerned. His only interest was in Buffy's happiness, and for that reason he hoped the man would at least pretend to accept the no-longer-secret relationship.

Smothering the urge to run to the weapon chest for a stake or a sword, Xander swallowed the refusal that was ready to spring from mouth and admitted to himself that he had, at least temporarily, lost this particular fight.

Avoiding eye contact with either Buffy or Spike, he sat down again, saying coldly, "I think someone mentioned pie? I'll have whipped cream on mine, please."

Spike touched Buffy's back gently and whispered, "That's the best we're going to get, pet. Let it go. It's Christmas."

Without looking at him, she nodded briefly and let out the tense breath she'd been holding. Moving towards the kitchen she said quietly, "Spike, why don't you come and help me with the pie? Dawnie, Tara, would you two please clear the table?"

As soon as Buffy was in the kitchen, her shoulders slumped and she leaned into the counter, holding it tightly with both hands. Spike watched uncertainly as she took several deep breaths, then turned to face him saying with false perkiness, "Well, that went well, don't you think?"

"It went better than it could have," he replied honestly. "Red came through like a champ."

"Yeah, she did, didn't she?" Buffy gave a wry smile. "I guess she figures she owes me."

"She does owe you, love." He stepped closer and risked running a hand lightly down one arm. "They all owe you."

"They owe you, too," Buffy said fiercely. "Dawn told me – hell, they've all told me about how you helped them while I was…gone. I can't believe they forgot that so fast once I was back. They just treat you like…like hired muscle." Her face turned white, remembering her sister's words earlier in the day. Her eyes flew up to his, wide with apology.

"And so have I. Even if we weren't…whatever we are…" She blushed, not sure what to call their relationship now that'd she'd acknowledged they had one. "Even if we weren't together," she finished firmly, trying not to notice the joy spreading across his face, "you would still have earned the right to be here with everyone else. It's time they – we – all realized that."

Whatever further admissions might have been made were cut off by the arrival of, not Dawn and Tara, but Willow and Tara carried armloads of dirty dishes from the dining room. Spike smirked and winked at Tara as she tried to pretend that there was nothing unusual about her willingness to be around her former girlfriend. Dawn followed closely behind them, carrying the remaining dishes and piling them in the sink.

Xander's face was still thunderous when they all came back out, carrying plates of pumpkin pie liberally covered in whipped cream. He mumbled his thanks when Willow set the plate with the largest piece down in front of him and immediately began to eat without waiting for or looking at anyone.

Willow hesitated briefly, holding her own plate, looking from the side of the table where Xander and Anya ate in silence to the other where Dawn and Tara were already moving their chairs closer together to make room for her. Casting a sad look at her friend first, she gratefully sat down next to Tara and tried not to look as thrilled as she felt about being there.

Dessert was over with quickly; Dawn being the only one at the table willing to ignore the various tensions in the room and chatter as she ate. Buffy quickly picked up the dishes and carried them into the kitchen, insisting that she and Dawn would clean up while their "company" went back to the living room and made themselves comfortable.

Spike gave Dawn a jerk of his head to indicate she was to join the witches and Xander and Anya in the living room, then followed Buffy into the kitchen.

"Why don't you join your mates, pet, and I'll get this started," he said quietly, beginning to scrape plates.

"You're going to do the dishes?" The disbelief on her face was so comical that he was wishing the camera still had pictures left, but instead of laughing, he growled, "If you tell anyone about this, I will make you my third dead Slayer."

"No you won't," she laughed confidently. "But you should be very grateful the camera is full."

He growled again, turning her and giving a light shove toward the living room. "Go," he muttered. "Go sing carols or talk about puppies or whatever it is you lot do after stuffing yourselves. I'll keep my under-appreciated self out here for awhile and give the whelp some time to cool off."

"Okaaaaay. Who are you and what have you done with Spike? He's about your height, blond hair, considers annoying Xander one of life's great entertainments…"

"You're pushing it, missy."

"Not yet, I'm not," she replied with a sassy wink as she left the kitchen. "But maybe later."

"There's no maybe about it, Slayer!" he called after her as she walked away laughing softly.

Smiling so much he was afraid his face would break, Spike turned back to the sink full of dishes and began filling the sink with hot water and detergent. Even with his arms in dishwater up to his elbows, he had no doubt this was turning into the best Christmas of his life.

Part IV (as much of it as is appropriate for this site)

By the time Spike wandered back into the living room, the atmosphere was much more relaxed; so much so that he felt comfortable walking over to Buffy's chair and sitting at her feet. It was clear from the expression on Xander's face that, while his own feelings had obviously not changed, he had lost any ability to get anyone to agree with him and he did not say anything when Buffy rested her hand on Spike's head briefly as she thanked him for doing the dishes.

As the guests began stirring restlessly and talking about getting home, Spike stood up and walked over to the coat he had carried in from the kitchen. He took out his cigarettes and said casually, "I'm just going to slip out the back for a fag, so I'll say 'good-night' now. I want to thank you for allowing me to share your holiday." He surprised them all by adding sincerely. "I appreciate it."

Xander stood up and glared a challenge at the vampire. "We're all leaving now, Spike. You might want to think about smoking that cigarette while you walk back to your crypt." There was no mistaking his intent when he stared meaningfully at the front door.

Spike took a quick look at Buffy to see if she wanted him to leave and come back later. He assumed she would want to stay home with her sister another night, rather than come to his crypt, but to his surprise and disappointment, she stood up also and handed him his coat. He took it from her in silence, trying not to see the flash of triumph in the brown eyes watching them so closely as Buffy walked with him to the front hallway.

Her eyes were twinkling with mischief as they stopped under the mistletoe ball.

"Oh look, Spike," she said in her blondest voice. "We're standing under that ball of mistletoe we put up last night. That means you have to kiss me."

Spike's answer was lost as Anya glared at the decoration and huffed, "I don't know how that Druid plant became something to kiss under. Do you people have any idea what they used to use it for?"

"Uh, no, and I'm pretty sure we don't want to, Anya." Xander tried to head off a story that might ruin mistletoe forever for the whole group.

"But, it's interesting. And people should know what they're—"

"And on that note, I think we'll say 'good-night'," he said quickly, pulling Anya out the door and on to the porch.

In spite of the flurry of Merry Christmases that followed them, there were none of the usual hugs as Xander pulled the still-protesting Anya towards the car. In his haste to get his girl friend out of there before she could remind everyone that she was, in fact, an ex-vengeance demon and had probably killed many times over the number of people Spike had in his pre-chipped days, he forgot that he was leaving the vampire in the house.

At the last second, Tara ran after him to ask for a ride back to her apartment, leaving Willow to gaze wistfully after her. Vampire, slayer and witch stood with the thousands-of-years-old-Key and waved as the car pulled out of the driveway and drove off into the night.

Everyone except Spike stepped back into the house, leaving the vampire standing on the porch by himself. Buffy turned as she realized he wasn't behind her and looked at him curiously.

"Are you going to have your cigarette out here instead of on the back porch?" she asked with a slight frown.

"I thought I was leaving," he answered calmly, gesturing to his coat.

"Oh." The disappointment was clear on her face. "Well, if you want to…"

"You handed me the coat, love. I'm just trying to follow the plan."

"I was just trying to bug Xander," she admitted. "I thought we'd kiss under the mistletoe and when he made a big deal of it I could say I didn't trust him not to stake you, so you had to stay here. Anya kind of spoiled my plan," she pouted.

"We can still kiss under the mistletoe," he said softly, reentering the house and closing the door behind him. "Can stand here and kiss the whole bloody night if that's what you want."

"I kinda had other plans for the rest of the night," she murmured, lifting her face to his. "Much better plans…"

Dawn's "Get a room!" reminded them that they were not alone with the mistletoe this night, and they broke apart reluctantly, turning to face her and an embarrassed Willow.

"I think we will," she said, blushing. She looked at her sister's happy face and her friend's concerned one and added, "I was planning to go home with Spike tonight anyway. I'd much rather not have to sneak out."

"Buffy, I understand that you and Spike are closer than I realized, but are you sure you're ready for—"

Buffy looked her friend in the eye and said quietly, "I've been sleeping with Spike for a couple of months, Willow. I'm not jumping into anything. I'm just bringing it out in the open."

"So when you said earlier that Spike makes you happy, you meant he really makes you…" Willow couldn't finish her sentence when she caught Spike's smirk at her embarrassment. With a red face, she quickly amended for Dawn's benefit, "You meant you want to spend as much time with him as possible and that's why you are going home with him."

Dawn rolled her eyes and started up to her room. Her voice carried down the stairs as she disappeared from view, "I'm not twelve, you know! I know what a 'happy' is!"

"You'd bloody well better not!"

Spike's roar startled both Buffy and Willow, not to mention sending Dawn scurrying into her bedroom in a very undignified fashion. When Buffy had recovered she asked him with a smile, "When are you going to admit that Dawn is old enough to be thinking about boys and sex?"

"When she's thirty. Maybe." He was clearly not amused at the way Willow and Buffy were laughing at him.

"She's not a whole lot younger than I was when you first came to town. And I was already dating Angel."

"And look how well that worked out," he growled, unhappy about the reminder of his grandsire's claim on her affections.

"I think it worked out pretty well in some ways," she whispered, sliding her arms around his waist. "It gave us a reason to stop trying to kill each other and form that truce."

"I guess it did at that," he agreed, pulling her in even closer and dipping his head down to nibble on her lower lip. Neither one actually noticed when Willow said a quick "good-night" and ran up the stairs.

"So, you're coming home with me tonight?" he said hopefully. "Is that what you said?"

"That, or you could stay here. With me, in my room, in my bed," she murmured, slipping her tongue into his mouth.

"And the advantage of that would be…?"

"It's not very far away. We could be in bed in a few minutes instead of walking all the way to your crypt."

"Definitely has a lot to recommend it, then," he agreed as he slid his hands under her sweater to stroke the warm skin on her back. Her own hands were busy unbuttoning his shirt and tugging it out of his pants so that she could tickle his flat stomach.

"On the other hand," he said, pulling away from her mouth with groan, "there are no little sisters or friends a thin wall away when we're in my bedroom. Nobody to hear us but the dead."

"Also a good point," she said with sigh. "Help me close up the house, then, and I'll race you there."

They reluctantly separated and went in different directions, turning off lights and locking doors and windows. When things were closed up to Buffy's satisfaction, she grabbed a coat and followed Spike out the front door. Rather than the race that she had joked about, they strolled through the quiet streets, their hands clasped together and swinging loosely between them.

The (sort of) end.

The rest of this part of the story went way into MA territory, so I cut it off. You can use your own imaginations to picture how Spike and Buffy sent the rest of their first Christmas...

# 5

Rewrite of Seeing Red (5/23/05) Retitled SEEING YOU 12/13/07 – thanks to Always_jbj. My attempt to fix everyone's least favorite episode...

Buffy/Spike in bathroom – begins with a line from the show and goes AU from there.

SEEING YOU

"You could try not sleeping with my friends." Buffy's voice was tired and flat, but the pain in it was unmistakable.

"Buffy… please… I said I was sorry. I didn't – I'm so sorry, love. Please believe me. I would never have—"

Ignoring him, she turned toward the tub and began playing with the taps, without turning the water on. She took a quick glance at him, looking back at the tub quickly when she saw that the anguish on his face matched her own.

"When I told you to move on – I had in mind someone a little farther away from me than Anya," she gritted out, edging away from his pleading eyes. "And, I thought it might have taken a little longer…"

"I wasn't… I haven't… that wasn't…." He threw his hands up in frustration. "Fuck this! I got drunk and helped a heartbroken girl feel a little better about herself. I'm not going to apologize for that. I'm sorry you found out about it. Or that it… it… bothered you, but—"

The emotion that Buffy had been suppressing for three days suddenly burst forth in spite of her best attempts to control it. She glared at him, clutching her robe tightly as she choked out, "You're sorry I 'found out' about it?" Her voice rose as she let out all the pain she felt every time she relived the scene from Willow's laptop; one that she had played over and over in her mind until it seemed burned into her brain.

"I didn't just 'find out' about it, Spike. I saw you! I don't just know what you did; I had to watch it. In living color – with my friends and my sister. Do you know what that felt like, Spike? Do you even care how much it 'bothered' me?"

"My god, Buffy!" He whispered. "How can you ask me that? How can you think I would deliberately hurt—"

He tried to reach out to her to offer the comfort of his arms, but she waved him off with one hand, still clutching her robe with the other. They faced each other from opposite ends of the bathroom. The air shimmered with repressed violence. The vampire replayed in his head what she'd just said and frowned at her.

"What do you mean, you saw me? Were you there? Why didn't you just stop us if you didn't want it to happen?"

She took in huge gulps of air, struggling for control as she continued to avoid looking at his stricken face. "There was a camera in the store. I saw you kissing her, saw her wrapping her legs around you, heard her screaming your name. I saw you…" She sank to the floor, ragged sobs finally tearing from her throat as she turned her head away from the man she had been so sure she didn't love.

"Go away… just go… I can't.…" Now that she had begun to let out the pent-up agony of seeing him between Anya's thighs, she couldn't seem to stop and she curled into a ball of misery on the bathroom floor.

Unable to think of any way to make up for the pain caused by his unthinking attempt to ease his own anguish, he started to slink out of the bathroom; not sure if he was going home to drink more, or to just sit outside his crypt and wait for the sun.

He got as far as the bottom of the stairs before the impact of what she'd been saying hit him and he whirled to rush back up and into the bathroom.

Buffy was still lying on the floor, the sobs still shaking her body as she gave in to the pain and jealously she'd been fighting since that night. She didn't look up when he came back into the room, but she did try to control her sobs and to appear less devastated.

"Go away, Spike. I'm tired and I'm hurt and I need to soak my back and get a good night's sleep. I don't want to talk about this any more."

"I'm sorry, pet," he said softly. "But we're going to talk about it. I'm not leavin' until we sort this out."

"There's nothing to sort. You're a pig. I knew that. I forgot. Then I got reminded. Now get out of my bathroom!"

She tried to stand up with dignity, but her sore back made her stumble and grab the edge of the tub with a hiss of pain. Her robe gaped open momentarily and he could see the bruises and scratches on her chest and abdomen before she quickly pulled it closed again.

Knowing that she wouldn't let him touch her just now, he waited while she pushed herself heavily to her feet and moved away before he reached into the tub and turned on the hot water. Ignoring her sniffling threats to stake him if he didn't leave immediately, he set the plug and added aromatic bath salts to the water pouring in.

While the tub filled, he sat back on his heels and gazed at her furious face. He knew if she hadn't been hurt so badly, she would have thrown him bodily down the stairs and out of the house, but it was plain that she wasn't able to do that yet. His heart clenched in fear at the thought that she'd come so close to being seriously injured and he accepted his own responsibility.

Whether she wanted to admit it or not, seeing him with another woman had left her distracted and vulnerable. The demon in him celebrated the sweet taste of revenge, while another part ached for her, wanting to grovel at her feet while begging forgiveness.

"Buffy—" he ventured, silencing immediately when she glared at him and started to raise her fist. Her involuntary moan of pain, had him reflexively reaching out to her, but the snarled "Don't touch me!" was enough to make him drop his hand.

"Let me help you, love. Please?" he pleaded, gesturing to the rapidly filling tub.

"Don't call me that!" she almost shrieked, shaking from anger and some other emotion she chose not to explore. "You don't know what that word even means!"

Somewhere inside her tortured mind, she knew she was being wildly unfair, but she couldn't stop the words flying from her mouth.

"If you loved me, you never would have… you wouldn't want to have sex with—I hate you!"

"No, you don't." he said confidently. "You may not want to admit you love me, but you don't hate me."

"The hell I don't." She subsided sullenly, refusing to look at him again.

Spike sighed and turned the water off, turning his back on her to do so. When he looked over his shoulder to see if she was ready to get into the tub, he caught her looking at him with such despair that, had it been possible at that moment, he would have staked himself. Crossing to where she was leaning against the counter, he sank to his knees in front of her.

"Bloody hell, Slayer. Tell me what to do. Tell me how to make this go away. You know I love yo—"

"If you loved me, you would never have gone there to do that. It just shows that Xander was right. You can't love because you have no soul."

Biting back the urge to fly out of the house and hunt down Xander, he tried to explain instead.

"I didn't go there because I don't love you. Or for a shag. I went there because I love you. I was looking for something… something magical to make the pain stop. Not being with you was killing me and I just wanted it to stop hurting."

"Apparently it did," she huffed with just a trace of her usual wit.

"No, love," he ventured, encouraged by the lack of venom in her voice. He lightly touched the back of her hand where it rested against her leg. "It didn't stop. But the scotch dulled it enough that I could see how much the demon-girl was hurting too. At least you never told me you loved me or gave me any reason to think…." He paused, squeezing his eyes shut briefly. "There were no surprises when you walked out. Knew it was coming some day, yeah?

"But Harris. He was such a cowardly wanker that he waited until she was completely vulnerable to tear her heart out. She thought there was somethin' wrong with her. That it must be her fault he left. I was just trying to make us both feel a little better, love. I swear. It was never about sex. Or love. It was just solace for two very unhappy, very drunk people."

Buffy was silent, but she hadn't flinched away from his light touch on her hand and she wasn't screaming at him. Encouraged, he stood up and reached out his arm.

"Let's get you into the tub, pet. A good hot soak and that back'll feel a lot better."

When she didn't move, he dropped his voice to the low rumble he knew she couldn't resist and said, "Come on, love. Let me help you."

"Don't call me that," she muttered, but she straightened up with a wince and began to take off her robe.

Spike quickly reached for the collar and helped her slide out of it, allowing her to keep her arms down at her sides. When it slid to the floor and he saw the huge bruise across her back he hissed and went into game face.

"What did this to you?" he snarled.

"A pile of dust," she replied dully, moving toward the tub.

She allowed him to hold on to her as she gingerly stepped over the side of the tub and lowered herself into the steaming water. She couldn't resist the small sigh of satisfaction when she was finally all the way in and lying bonelessly in the comforting warmth.

She closed her eyes and allowed the moist heat to loosen the tight muscles and strained joints as she half-floated in the deep water. After several minutes, she opened one eye to see the vampire, now back in his human face, leaning against the wall looking very much as though he wanted to be dust himself.

"This was my fault," he said morosely when he noticed her looking at him. "If you hadn't been distracted—"

"Don't flatter yourself. Somebody just came close to his one good day. It happens. You've even come close once or twice," Her lips twitched in what was almost a smile.

"I'm sorry."

"Stop saying that! This had nothing to do with you – or what you did. If I was distracted, it was because… because…." She waved her hand around for lack of a good reason; then winced again.

"You just won't admit it, will you, Slayer?"

She cast a weary eye at him.

"Don't start," she warned, her voice tired but firm.

"Look me in the eye and tell me you don't love me," he demanded.

"I. Don't. Love. You." The words rang with heartbreaking finality, but instead of meeting his eyes, she had her head back against the rim of the tub and her eyes were tightly closed.

"Bullshit," he growled, straightening up and taking off his shirt.

"What the hell are you doing?" Her intended stern voice abandoned her and it came out almost as a squeak. She instinctively licked her lips as he began to unzip his pants; then, remembering the last time she'd seen them unzipped, she bit her tongue.

"I'm going to prove it to you."

Now naked, Spike advanced on the tub full of warm water and Buffy, ignoring her sputtered instructions to take his lying, cheating self out of her bathroom, and out of her life. He slid into the tub behind her, gently moving her forward just enough for him to squeeze in behind her.

He stretched out his legs on either side of hers and pulled her unresisting body back against his chest. He began to gently massage her arms and legs, working out the tension and soothing the aches. Nudging her forward, he very lightly ran his fingers over her back, checking for any permanent injuries or broken bones. He breathed a sigh of relief when he found nothing but a deep bruise and spasming muscles.

He began to massage the cramping muscles, being careful to avoid the bruise and working to bring blood flow to the sore, tight areas. When he felt he'd done all he could without aggravating the injury, he let her settle back against his chest and enjoy the relaxing heat.

Taking the sponge, he poured some bath gel on it and gently cleaned off the scratches on her chest and stomach. To her surprise, he made no attempt to caress her or to touch her anywhere that didn't require some sort of cleansing. He pushed her back down to rinse off and leaned against the back of the tub himself so that she could slide down and stay completely under the warm water.

For long, comfortable minutes they remained as they were, the vampire sitting up and provided a softer cushion for the slayer than the cold porcelain of the tub. His hand was moving absently up and down her uninjured arm, stroking it soothingly and lulling her into a waking doze.

When he leaned forward to plant a soft kiss on her head, she startled and sat up straight suddenly. The pained hiss that escaped her lips brought a frown of concern to his face and he put his arms around her gently, encouraging her to lie back again.

She struggled weakly, then gave in and sank back against his chest.

"I'm not forgiving you, you know," she grumbled as she relaxed against him. She didn't prevent him from folding his arms around her, but stiffened when he nuzzled her ear.

"And I'm not having sex with you, so just forget it," she added, more to calm her body's response to his nearness than to share information with him.

"Not askin' you to, love," he smiled into her hair. "Jus' don't want to leave until I know you're gonna be okay."

"I'm fine," she growled. "Just jim dandy. My back hurts, my front hurts, and one of my friends hurt another one so badly that she slept with my boy—" She bit off the rest of what she was about to say, wondering where in the hell that had come from.

Wisely, Spike didn't push the issue. He just resumed stroking her arms and inhaling the scent of her hair. He'd been dozing off himself, lost in the unusual sensation of cuddling with Buffy when he felt her shaking softly.

"Buffy? Baby? What is it?" He could smell her tears again and was at a loss as to the cause.

Now that she knew he knew she was crying again, she quit trying to hide it and just leaned against him letting the tears flow down her cheeks while he murmured soothing nonsense in her ear. After a while the tears dried up and she gave an exhausted sigh, tipping her head up to look at him for the first time since he got in the tub with her.

"What are we going to do, Spike?" she asked softly, her eyes still damp with tears. "What are we going to do?"

"You're gonna get out of the tub before the water gets cold, put on some warm jammies and get a good night's rest. Let that Slayer healing kick in and make you all better."

"That's not what I meant," she grumbled at him, letting him help her to her feet.

"Know it isn't, pet, but it's what you need right now. You and me? That's a problem for another day, yeah? When you're all recovered and can kick my arse if that's what it's gonna take to make you forgive me."

He put a big towel around her, carefully lifted her out of the tub and began patting her dry. He then gently carried her to her room and rummaged around in her drawers until he found her yummy sushi pajamas.

"Spike."

"Yeah, love?" He didn't look up as he pulled the pajama pants up her legs and tied the string.

"Go put your clothes on. What if Dawn and Willow come home?"

He glanced down at his pale, naked body and gave her a wicked grin. "Then I guess you wouldn't have to worry about explaining what you see in me," he smirked. Her angry glare sent him hustling back to the bathroom to get his clothes on.

When he got back, she had squirmed her way into the pajama top and was sitting on the edge of the bed staring at the floor. She was exhausted from her hysterical outbursts earlier, but the emotional pain that she'd been carrying around for days had abated. In its place was a deep ache for the mess that she had to be honest and admit that she and Xander had created.

Sensing her mood, Spike moved slowly to the bed and pulled down the covers.

"Here you go, pet." He helped her slide into the bed and pulled the covers up. "Sleep tight, love," he whispered, kissing her forehead.

"I don't love you," she insisted, sticking her lower lip out.

"Okay," he responded, kissing her nose.

"I mean it."

"I know you do," he agreed, taking her lower lip in his teeth and pulling it gently into his mouth. He ran his tongue over her lip, caressing it until a whimper escaped her and he dared to slant his head into a real kiss. He kissed her until he felt her heart rate and temperature increase; then slowly pulled away to look into her confused eyes.

"Come on, pet. Let's get you tucked in before your body forgets that you don't love me and says something you don't mean."

Buffy dropped her head on the pillow with an exasperated sigh.

"I want you. I won't deny that. But it doesn't mean I love you. It just means my body makes bad decisions for me."

He tilted his head in the way she found so endearing and said with a smile, "Your body knows what's what, pet. You need to listen to it."

"Stupid body," she groused, snuggling down in the bed. "What does it know?"

"It knows you love me," he whispered softly, leaving another gentle kiss on the top of her head and standing up. He walked out of the room, closing the door quietly and listening outside until he heard her breathing and heart rate even out into the unmistakable sounds of sleep.

"Your body knows," he whispered again, letting himself out the door and into the night. "Someday you'll know too."

The end

#6

Summary: A missing, and probably unlikely (but schmoopy) season six scene that begins just after they return to the house after rescuing Dawn and Janice from their Halloween dates.

Written for Schmoop Bingo.

Nights Off Are Overrated

"Good fight." Buffy said. Spike blinked and nodded at the unexpected compliment.

"Always is when I'm with you," he said, so softly only she heard it. He winked at her and started to follow the others out the door, halting when she said his name. He turned, raising his eyebrows at her. "Something else you need, pet?"

"I was just..." She frowned at the floor. "I was wondering if..." She glanced up at his curious face. "Do you think those were the only vamps out tonight? Should I patrol?"

Spike cocked his head and seemed to give her question due thought. "Dunno, Buffy. It's not like takin' the night off is some kind of hard and fast vampire rule, like 'don't go out in the sun, or play with sharp pointed wooden objects'. Some countries don't even have Halloween; I'm sure the vamps don't take off there."

"So, you're saying, yes. I probably should patrol. Just in case those guys aren't the only ones?"

"Up to you, luv. I'm willin' if you are. I can sleep tomorrow – you'll need to get up."

"I should probably patrol. Just for a while." The fight earlier, rather than tiring her out, had energized her in a way she hadn't felt since her return. The idea of going quietly to bed so early in the evening was suddenly not appealing at all.

"After you, Slayer." He held the door and waited for her to duck under his arm before pulling it shut behind them. As they walked down the sidewalk, heading briskly for the nearest cemetery, he asked, "Did you grab your key?"

"If you mean Dawn -– hell, no! She's grounded forever. If you mean my housekey..." She felt in her pocket. "Dammit!"

She kicked a stone down the street and followed it, muttering to herself. When Spike caught up with her, she had just kicked the stone again, bouncing it off the stone pillars at the cemetery entrance.

"Relax, Slayer. Your window's probably unlocked anyway. You'll just have to get in the old-fashioned way." He smirked at her and made climbing motions.

Buffy snorted a laugh. "I haven't had to do that for so long, I'd almost forgotten about it." She slid her eyes to the side and gave him a suspicious glare. "How do you know about my window?"

His eyes darted around, looking for help before he admitted. "When you were first... gone, the Bit had nightmares. She'd go into your room and lie on your bed, crying." He shrugged. "I knew you used to go in and out that way, so I tried the window one night when I couldn't stand to hear her cry any more. It was open."

"And..."

"And, once she stopped falling asleep in there, I..." He shrugged again, put his hands in his pockets and looked away from her. "It smelled like you, Buffy. It just made things a little easier, knowing I was keeping watch like I promised, and doing it from your room. Didn't mean to violate your privacy, pet. Had no idea you'd be back to complain about it, did I?"

"I'm not complaining," she said. "It's just kind of strange – knowing you were in my room all that time, maybe in my bed— Were you in my bed?"

"Not answerin' that one," he said, dancing away from where she stood, hands planted on hips and indignant glare on her face. When he felt he was sufficiently far enough away to escape if he needed to, he continued, "But I swear to you, the sheets have been changed... several times."

Buffy threw her stake so that the blunt end hit him on the forehead. "You are such a pig!"

"Too true," he said, rubbing his head. "And ow!" He bent down to retrieve the stake. As he straightened up, his eyes widened and in one fluid motion he stood up and threw the stake past Buffy's astonished eyes and into the chest of the fledgling that had crept up on her while they talked. She whirled, noted the dust floating away and ducked the punch thrown by another still-dirt covered vamp.

"What the hell?" She kicked the attacking vampire back and pulled an extra stake from her waistband. Spike, meanwhile, had stepped forward to intercept another newly-risen vampire that hadn't yet realized he wasn't facing two humans. Working as if their moves had been choreographed, they used the same kicks and punches to drive the vampires to the ground, then drove stakes through their chests simultaneously.

Still bent over the dust of her opponent, Buffy glanced over at Spike to see him just beginning to stand up again. He offered her a hand and she allowed him to pull her upright.

"We make a pretty good team," she said, grinning at him. "I think we could take that act on the road."

"We've always danced well together, pet," he said. "Jus' now we're doing it as a team instead of as enemies."

"I always kind of liked fighting you," she said, ducking her head and looking at him from under her eyelashes. "Even when you were trying to kill me. It was fun."

"Some of the best times of my life," he agreed, still holding the hand he'd used to pull her up. "But think I like fighting beside you better."

"You do?" Buffy wondered how long he was going to hold on to her hand, and why she wasn't pulling it away.

"I do," he confirmed. "I like to watch you when you don't need any help and I'm just watching you back. You're poetry in motion when you fight. All style and grace... and lethal as it gets." He smiled at her. "My kind of woman."

Buffy blushed, embarrassed by his praise and the emotion so obvious in his eyes.

"I thought your kind of woman was, you know, taller, paler and less sun-loving?"

"I thought so too. Was wrong," he said, finally dropping her hand. "Not like you didn't already know that, Buffy." His voice contained just the slightest trace of rebuke, and she nodded.

"I did," she whispered. "I'm sorry. I was just trying to be funny."

"'S alright, pet. It's nice to see you tryin' to make jokes again – weak as they may be..."

Buffy tossed her hair and began walking again. Without discussing it, they went farther into Restfield, Buffy's eyes darting around for signs of other newbies that hadn't yet been clued in to taking the night off, but the surroundings remained quiet and empty, only the owls and the insects disturbing the late night silence. They gradually slowed their steps, stopping near his crypt and settling onto a nearby bench.

"Was this bench always here?" Buffy frowned, trying to remember if she'd ever seen it before.

"Nope," he said, leaning back against the tree behind it. "Thought the crypt needed an outdoor sitting area – case I want to invite folks to a cookout or something."

Buffy glanced around. "A cookout. In a cemetery. You are one strange vampire, William the Bloody."

"Not exactly the average slayer yourself, are you, luv?" She sniffed and tried to hide her smile, but he had no trouble seeing it in the moonlight. "Ah, making jokes and smiling. If you aren't careful, you might catch yourself enjoyin' life again."

She heaved a sigh and leaned back herself, her shoulder touching his as she tried to rest against the tree without falling over backwards. Spike shifted over just enough, and put his arm around her, letting her lean against his body instead of the tree.

"I guess everybody'd like that, wouldn't they?" she said. "If I'd stop being all depresso-Buffy and start acting like I'm glad to be here."

Spike tightened his arm slightly and stared straight ahead, his jaw clenched.

"You know, Slayer, you're going to have to tell them someday. There's no reason for you to carry this around by yourself without sharing it with the people responsible. If they knew, they'd get off your back and stop pressuring you to—."

She shrugged. "I can't do that to them... to Willow. It would destroy her."

"Better her than you," he said, holding her a little more tightly as she started to slip.

"I can handle it. I'll be all right." She paused and tilted her head to look at his shadowed face. "I've got you to share it with."

"Keeping it between us formerly dead people, are you?"

"Isn't that okay?" She struggled briefly to sit up straighter, but Spike's arm held her tightly. "Do you not want me to talk about it with you?"

"Didn't say that, love. If talking to me is what you need to do, you know I'll listen all night. Hell, if you need to beat on me to work off some righteous anger at your mates, have at it. I'm yours, Buffy. To do with as you like. Always will be."

"Mine," she repeated. "My vampire." She turned and relaxed against him, her head resting on his chest and her arm going across his body.

"Always," he whispered, putting his other arm around her and holding her in a comforting embrace. "Always and forever."

"I like that," she mumbled against his shirt. "I think I could get used to it."

"That's the plan," he murmured, dropping a kiss on the top of her head.

"Good plan."

If the owls thought it strange to see two people cuddling quietly on a cemetery bench in the middle of the night, they kept their opinions to themselves.

The End

#7

Title: And You Don't Even Need to Wrap It.

Prompt: Finding the perfect gift

Summary: It's Christmas time in a less dark season six. Buffy wants to put Spike on her gift list, but she's clueless what to get him.

And You Don't Even Need to Wrap It

"Why are you asking me?"

"Because you... he..." Buffy blew a stray piece of hair out of her face. "You and Spike are—were... friends." She looked at Dawn's blank face and frowned. "Aren't you?"

"We were. Until you came back—" At Buffy's expression, she corrected herself quickly. "I don't mean... I'm glad you're back. Totally. You know that, right? I love you and I missed you and..." Tears were filling Dawn's eyes and Buffy sighed and nodded.

"I know you didn't mean it that way. And you're right, it is my fault that Spike isn't around to see you as much as you're used to. But still, you must have some idea what he'd like for Christmas."

"You're joking, right?" Dawn just stared at Buffy until she blushed and looked away. "I'm not that dumb, Buffy!"

"Besides that... me. Something I can wrap and put under the tree in case he comes by..."

"Is he? Going to come by? Will he be here for Christmas dinner with everybody else?"

Dawn's eagerness made Buffy cringe with guilt as she responded. "Oh. Oh no! No, I'm sure he wouldn't want to—And even if he did, it would be just... wrong."

"Why?" Dawn wrinkled her brow in genuine confusion. "Why would it be wrong? When you were... gone, he was here all the time. He was my babysitter when Willow and Tara went to class, and he patrolled with them most nights and came back here or to Giles' after patrol. He ate here all the time. Why do you think there was blood in the fridge when you came back?"

"You mean... you don't think everybody would freak if Spike was here for Christmas?" Buffy's eyes were wide and confused. "But won't they think—"

Dawn studied her with suddenly shrewd eyes. "Won't they think what? That he's wearing you down? That maybe you're starting to like him a little bit?"

"I do like him," Buffy mumbled. "He helped me against Glory, and he took care of you, and—"

"And he loves you with everything he has," Dawn finished for her. "If you start treating him like you do everybody else you like..." She grinned when Buffy flinched at her air quotes. "... that would be the best Christmas present you could give him."

"I guess it would," Buffy said softly. "Well, maybe not the very best, but close enough." She stood up abruptly. "Thanks, Dawn." She gave her sister an unexpected hug and then grabbed her coat. "Don't wait up."

"You're welcome, and... Wait? What? Where are you going?" She stared at the closing front door. "Buffy?" A slow smile broke out on her face. "You're welcome, Spike," she whispered as she locked the door and turned to go upstairs.

Continued in:

Title: Merry Christmas, Spike

Prompt: First holiday together

Summary: Dawn has given Buffy an idea for a Christmas present for Spike (see "And You Don't Even Have to Wrap It") and Buffy's run off to make it happen.

Merry Christmas, Spike

Her footsteps slowed as she approached the familiar door. She knew he wasn't expecting her tonight—they'd already said good-night after a quick, but satisfying and passionate, encounter that followed a hard-fought battle in another cemetery.

Maybe he isn't there. He's probably out at Willy's or some other demon bar, playing cards or— Her thoughts were interrupted when the door opened in front of her and his puzzled face appeared. Damn those vampire senses!

"Buffy? Is something wrong, love?"

"Uh... no... I just... Dawn and—"

"Something happened to Dawn?" He frowned. "It's Thursday. Shouldn't she be safely tucked in bed?"

"Very funny," she muttered, brushing past him to enter the crypt. He closed the door and ran to light a few big candles for her. The old TV gave off an eerie silver glow—enough for her to see him moving around, but not enough for her to want to walk around away from its secondhand light. The candles soon replaced the TV's glow with a much warmer atmosphere. Spike hit the off switch on the TV as he went by.

"So, if the Bit's not in need of rescuing, and the world isn't ending, what brings you here this late? Not that I'm not happy to see you," he added quickly, when her face fell. "You know you're welcome here whenever you want to come over, Buffy, but—"

"But you figured I'd already got what I wanted from you and wouldn't be back," she finished for him.

"Well. Yeah. I guess that's what I was thinking. You've got a long shift tomorrow, wouldn't have expected you to come back for more." He couldn't miss her wince.

"I guess I deserved that," she said, shuffling her feet in embarrassment.

He was beside her at once. "No, love. Didn't mean it as a criticism. Know what my job is don't I?" He tipped her chin up and made her look at him. "And I'm happy to do it, sweetheart. You know I am."

She tilted her head a bit and studied his anxious face. "Tell me, Spike, what do you think your 'job' is?" She waited while he took a deep breath and sighed before answering.

"I'm your backup muscle, I'm an escape from a life you'd just as soon not have..." He dropped his gaze and moved away from her, turning his back as he continued. "And, I'd like to think I'm a friend. But I guess that's—"

"That's exactly what you are," she interrupted. "You're my friend, and all my friends are going to be at my house Christmas day. Will I see you there?"

He gaped at her. "You want me there? At your house with all the Scoobies?"

"I do. Will you come?"

He pretended to be thinking, visibly struggling to regain some swagger. "Well, I did have some evil plans, but if you ask me nicely..."

"I didn't ask nicely?" Her stricken face had him back in front of her before she registered that he'd moved.

"Oh, bloody hell, Buffy. Of course you did. I'm just being a wanker, trying to act like you didn't just give me the best Christmas present I've ever had." He put his arms around her in a loose embrace; she could feel his body trembling. "I'm sorry, love. Never meant to... just didn't want you to see me fall apart like the ponce we both know I am."

Buffy put her arms around him and squeezed until he stopped trembling and she could feel the kisses he was dropping on her head. She pulled back and smiled up at him.

"Okay, then. It's settled. We'll see you day after tomorrow for dinner and prezzies." She stepped away, sliding one hand down his arm to his hand and tugging him toward the door. "But I do have to get back. Tomorrow is going to be a long day."

"Let me get my boots on, pet. I'll walk you home." He squeezed her hand, releasing it to jump down into his bedroom. He was back within a few seconds, boots and coat on. "Alright. Let's get you home and to bed."

"If you say I need my beauty sleep, I'm going to punch you," she said, forestalling any more comment on his part.

"Never crossed my mind, Slayer," he said, throwing his arm across her shoulders. "You're always beautiful to me." He kissed her on the cheek and moved away quickly, laughing. "An' anyway, I'm not that stupid."

Buffy threw a half-hearted punch at him, but just shook her head when it missed.

"You're an ass," she said, an affectionate tone in her voice that gave them both pause for an uncomfortable moment.

"But I'm your arse," he said finally, moving back to her side and taking her hand.

She didn't pull away, but rolled her eyes and began walking faster. They were silent the rest of the way to Revello Drive, pausing on the porch for another moment of indecision. Spike broke the tension by leaning down and brushing his lips across hers.

"G' night, love."

"Good night, Spike. See you soon."

As Dawn had predicted, no one seemed shocked or surprised to find Spike joining them for a pot luck Christmas dinner. His contribution was a six-pack of Xander's favorite beer and a small flask of Scotch. He'd had the predictable exchange of insults with Xander, but in light of the holiday they'd kept them snarky rather than mean and everyone was feeling very mellow by the time pie was served.

Spike remained quietly sipping his Scotch while the gifts were exchanged and opened. He smiled gratefully when Dawn handed him a small box, her muffled insistence at not opening it just then causing him to frown with suspicion.

"You haven't done anything that's going to get me in trouble with your sister, have you, Bit?" he asked softly. She flushed, but refused to answer him, moving back to the group without comment.

Buffy frowned at the quiet exchange, then shrugged and went back to opening her own small pile of gifts. When all that was left was a small box wrapped in wrinkled paper, she raised an eyebrow at Spike, who tipped his flask at her and nodded. She smiled, but placed the package in her pocket to be opened later, missing the disappointment that flashed across his face.

Dawn, however, had not missed it and she poked Buffy, saying loud enough for everyone to hear, "Spike gave me a pretty locket, Buffy. What did he give you?"

With a glare at her sister, Buffy pulled the package out and began to open it. I hope there isn't anything in here I'm going to have to stake him for. Under the paper was a box from a local jewelry store, and a handwritten note: "Didn't steal it or the money to buy it." it said. Buffy flushed and shot him an apologetic glance. He gave her a wry smile and tipped his flask again. Damn! He knows me better than I know myself sometimes. That's really annoying... and kinda sweet at the same time.

Under the note was another locket. Gold, where Dawn's had been silver. Heart-shaped where Dawn's had been oval. The heart had a "B" engraved on the front. Buffy turned it over, fully expecting to find and "S" or a "W" on the back, but it was blank. "Wouldn't presume, love," Spike said quietly when she glanced at him. Her heart gave a small lurch and she walked over to his chair. Aloud, she said, "Thank you, Spike, it's beautiful." Whispering too softly for anyone to hear, "Let's presume, okay? I'll go with you to get the other side engraved."

His expression made her blush and hurry back to her place to start gathering up discarded paper and ribbon. She didn't look at him again until everyone was collecting their gifts and putting on their coats. She and Dawn stood at the door, thanking everyone—praising Tara and thanking her profusely for bringing the roasted turkey—as they said, "Merry Christmas" and "Good-night".

When Spike was the last one left, Dawn gave him a peck on his cheek and a cheery "Merry Christmas" before running up the stairs as quickly as she could while carrying an armload of gifts.

Spike put his arms around Buffy and she responded immediately, sliding hers around his neck and lifting her face for a kiss. The kiss lasted longer than either had intended, with predictable results, and Buffy reluctantly pulled away.

"I didn't get you anything," she said, avoiding his heated gaze. "I should have had something wrapped up for you."

"Know what you can get me, love," he said, nuzzling the side of her face. "It's not too late."

"What? What can I give you now? I can't go shopping, even if I could find an open store—"

"Still Christmas Day, isn't it?" he rumbled in her ear. "Just leave your window unlocked."

Buffy laughed and shrugged. "Come on, Spike. You know you can have that anytime. What's Christmassy or presenty about that?"

"Your bed," he said flatly. "Making love to you in your bed."

"Oh," she said softly. "Yeah, I guess that would be... different." She gazed into his intent eyes and tried not to blink. "Okay. Window unlocked. Check." She tried to lighten the mood with a grin. "Should I put a bow on the bed?"

"Just be in it," he smiled back. "Unwrapped is fine with me."

THE END

#8

AN: Ending this batch of season six fics just as I began it, with another twist on Older and Faraway.

It's somewhere between a tweaking and a rewrite and follows my fill in the blanks, "You Always Hurt the One You Love". I don't think it's necessary to read that story first, but if you want to, you can find it at my website. I will be paraphrasing most of the dialogue rather than directly quoting from the show. Hopefully you purists out there will allow me some literary license. ;)

Older and Closer to Love

Buffy looked around the kitchen, counting heads and realized that everyone she was expecting was there already.

Almost everyone, she amended, wondering where Spike was and if he was really going to come. She hadn't seen him since she'd left him in his crypt to heal from the beating she'd given him.

He's fine, though. He's got to be all right by now. I gave him my blood for god's sake! He should be more than fine. Stupid vampire. It's just like him to be late and make me wor—

Her internal fret was interrupted by a knock on the kitchen door, followed quickly by the entrance of Spike and Clem. Her face lit up with a relieved smile that he answered with his own uncharacteristically shy one. He responded to her breathy "What are you doing here?" with his usual bravado as he mumbled that Willow had mentioned the shindig; but she could see that he was tensing for a rejection.

While Clem showed his forgiving nature by actually seeming to be glad to see her and wishing her a happy birthday before moving toward Tara to introduce himself, Buffy moved closer to Spike and put a tentative hand up to his still bruised and swollen eye. She couldn't keep the pain out of her voice as she whispered, "How are you? I thought my blood would—"

"It did, pet. Tellin' me you don't remember how much better it made me?" He cocked an eyebrow at her and let the lust brought on by the memory show in his eyes.

Buffy blushed and struggled on. "Yes, I remember. But your eye…"

"Told you before, love. We heal from the inside out. I'm fine. I promise you," he growled, lowering his voice so that only she could hear him. "Be happy to show you later how fine I am," he continued, leaning in to whisper in her ear. His cool breath stirred tendrils of hair and made her shiver pleasantly before she flinched back at sound of Xander's voice preceding him into the kitchen. With him was the co-worker he'd brought to meet Buffy.

She threw a helpless look over her shoulder as she allowed Xander to hustle her out the door to show Richard where to park his car. Spike just rolled his eyes and mumbled something about "stupid boys". With a wicked glint in her eye, Tara offered her opinion that Richard seemed cute.

She giggled at Spike's indignant look, which turned thunderous when Clem agreed cheerfully that Xander's friend seemed cute to him also. If the demon was aware that the young man's presence was an attempt to fix Buffy up with a date, he didn't show it. He smiled cheerfully at Spike as he nodded his head at Tara before going into the living room to meet the rest of the guests. With a resigned shrug and a puzzled look at Tara's amused face, Spike yanked a can of beer out of the six-pack he'd brought and followed Clem into the other room.

The first time Spike was able to get Buffy alone, she chided him for following her around, rolling her eyes when he asked if she was worried Richard would be jealous.

"I don't think he's the one who's jealous," she teased, but her eyes were warm and promised he had nothing to worry about. She allowed her fingers to wander up the pale skin showing through his open shirt and to run lightly over the silver links hanging there.

"He thinks he's your date," he pouted back. He kept his tone light and teasing like hers, but a shadow went across his face reminding her that she had semi-promised to use the night as a testing ground for Scooby acceptance of their relationship.

After a quick glance around to be sure no one could see them, she leaned in and rose on her tiptoes to plant a light kiss on his willing lips.

"But we know he isn't, don't we?" she murmured against his mouth. She had to smother a moan when his tongue swept around her lips, teasing until she let it in to caress her own. He wrapped an arm around her waist and lifted her off her feet just enough that he could step through the bathroom door with her. He ignored her squeak of protest as he closed the door behind them, beginning to kiss her in earnest.

"We can't do this," she gasped even as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed eagerly against his body. He didn't bother to answer her, running his hands over her firm buttocks and pulling her even more tightly against the hard object pushing against his zipper. He stopped kissing her long enough to run his mouth down the side of her neck, nudging the thin necklace hiding his tiny fang marks to one side in order to run his tongue over the already healed scars.

A gasp and the sudden scent of arousal told him he was having the desired effect and he allowed his mouth to continue across her collarbone, edging her off-the-shoulder blouse even further down.

"Love this shirt, pet," he murmured as his lips followed his nose down to expose one rosy nipple. He ran his tongue over the suddenly hard tip before pulling it into his mouth. Reaching up with one hand, he pulled the shirt the rest of the way down her arms exposing both bare breasts for his attentions.

With the shirt pushed down almost to her waist, Buffy's arms were trapped at her sides and she leaned against the sink for a minute, just enjoying the sensation of Spike's mouth on her breasts. When his mouth began to drop down to her navel, and his hands were at her waistband, she recovered herself enough to protest.

"No, no. We can't. Not here. Not now. Somebody will come looking for us…"

"Tell them you ate some bad shrimp and you'll be in here awhile," he begged, trying to unfasten her pants while she pushed at his hands feebly. "Just let me taste you, love. One little taste and I promise I'll stop."

"Buffy? Are you in there? We want you to open your presents now."

Dawn's whiney voice penetrated the lust-induced fog and while Spike cursed silently under his breath, Buffy pulled her top up and managed to gasp out a promise to be right out.

Waiting until Spike's enhanced hearing told him there was no one near-by, she kissed him quickly one more time and slipped out the door beckoning him to follow. He shook his head and said with a growl, "I'll be out in a few, Slayer. Got something to take care of first."

With an "Ewww, Spike," she shut the door behind her, trying not to notice his hands already puling on his zipper.

Putting all thoughts of sexy vampires with talented lips and tongues as far out of her mind as she could, Buffy went back into the living room to open her gifts. She was just stammering out her thanks for Willow's gift of a massager to soothe away "those aches and pains" of slaying when she felt Spike come back into the room. His sardonically amused expression as she held the gift and listened to Willow's explanation of how it could be used sent the blood rushing to her face.

Hours later, when he caught her in the hall and tried to initiate another round of making out, they found themselves interrupted by Tara's sudden appearance. Spike was just placing Buffy's hand on the aching bulge in his pants, when the laughing witch stopped to look at them. He was shocked that Buffy didn't seem overly disturbed to be caught in such a compromising position, although she did move away, shaking her head at him in exasperation. There was no sign of the panic he would have expected at having one of the Scoobies finding them in such close proximity. If anything, she seemed reluctant to leave and it was he who stood back with a guilty start. Tara's clear disbelief and amusement at his attempt to explain what they were doing left him frowning in confusion until he remembered that Buffy had told her about them.

He studied the girl's face, searching for some sign of disgust or condemnation but all he saw was a gentle amusement at his discomfort.

Amusement which only increased when she began teasing him about his "cramp" during the poker game. He glared at her suspiciously when she suggested he put ice on the cramp, her dancing eyes giving away that she knew exactly what she was doing. He shook his head and muttered something about people surprising you as he went back to concentrating on the interminable card game.

It was soon clear that mystical forces were keeping them trapped in the house, and Buffy went into slayer mode as she tried to find both the source and the cure for the spell. The appearance of the sword demon threw the party into battle status and no one was surprised to find the Slayer and vampire working together to protect the humans trapped in the house with them.

No one questioned Buffy's instructions to "Stay with Spike" or her reliance on him for assistance as she fought the demon, and once again she wondered if she was making too much of their apparent dislike for the vampire. Surely, if they could so easily accept her partnership with him when there was something to fight, they could understand her wanting to have him in her life in other ways? Pushing the thought aside for later, she turned her attention back to the demon trying to kill them.

Hours later, when Halfrek took a surprised and pleased look at Spike, calling him "William" in a flirtatious voice while coyly fluffing her hair, it was Buffy's turn to glare suspiciously as Spike answered her question about whether they knew each other with a weak, "Not really." He refused to meet her eyes as he responded and only the fact that Halfrek slowly agreed that they didn't know each other kept the Slayer's temper in check.

By the time the demon was destroyed and Halfrek had reluctantly lifted her spell, all anyone could think about was home and sleep. While Spike opened the now usable door and held it for everyone, Buffy watched as her friends and new acquaintances all filed out. She smiled gratefully at Xander and Anya as they carried Richard off to the ER, and watched with amazement while Clem offered to escort a giggling Sophie home safely.

With a final smile over his shoulder, Spike turned to follow the others down the walk and away from the house. As he reached the steps, Buffy's soft "Spike?" stopped him and he turned around, cocking his head at her curiously.

"Yes, pet?"

Taking a deep breath, she said carefully, "Would…would you like to stay awhile? Just to talk?" she added for Dawn's benefit.

Staring at her with awed happiness, he stepped back to the doorway. Then he spotted Dawn's tearful face over her sister's shoulder and he smiled sadly.

"You know I would love to, pet. But I think you and Dawn need some sister time. Not to mention, some sleep. I'm a bit knackered myself. I think I'll just go on home and catch up on my beauty rest."

He smiled into her surprised face and waved at Dawn as he started to leave again. Suddenly he moved back to Buffy's side and whispered, "But if you wanted to leave the window open, you never know what you might find waitin' in your bed when you're through talking…"

The end

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