Ready to Unwrap

Chapter One

"Hello? Andrew?"

The voice was so strange, and at the same time so familiar, that she couldn't speak for a full minute.

"Hello? Who's there?" The touch of impatience told her that she didn't have time to indulge in wondering where the voice was coming from.

"Sp-Spike?"

The silence now fell on the other end of the line as she waited to be told she was imagining things. Finally, the voice she'd thought never to hear again came back.

"Buffy? What are you doin' answering Andrew's phone?"

"It's nice to hear your voice, too," she said stiffly. Clearly he hadn't wanted to talk to her. But then, I already knew that, didn't I?

"I'm sorry, love." His voice softened to that sweet rumble that she didn't think anyone but her had ever heard. " Of course I'm glad to hear your voice. I'm just a bit gobsmacked, is all. Wasn't expectin' to hear it now, was I?"

"So I gather. I'll just take a message for Andrew then, and you can get back to...to...whatever you were doing before you called here. For Andrew." Not for me. Didn't call here to talk to me.

There was a heavy sigh from the other end of the phone. "Don't be like that, Slayer. You know I'd rather be talkin' to you than that annoying little git."

"Really? And how would I know that, Spike?" Righteous anger was taking the place of the flurry of emotions that had run through her at the first sound of his voice.

"Bloody hell, Buffy! How can you doubt it?"

How can I dou—Okay, you know what? I'm not going to play this game with you. If you wanted to hear my voice, you could have called me. Anytime. Anytime within the last five years would have been good. Yesterday would have been good. This morning, even. But don't expect me to believe you're glad to talk to me when the only reason you are is because I happened to answer the wrong phone!" The hand holding the phone was shaking with the effort it was taking not to throw it against the wall.

The only sound for minutes was the Slayer's ragged breathing as she struggled to control both her temper and her tears. The growing silence on the other end of the line began to frighten her and she finally said, "Spike? Are you still there?"

"Yeah. 'm here, Buffy," was his quiet response; his voice was thick with emotion. "An' I'm sorry, love. Thought I was doin' the right thing – staying out of your life. Didn't want to complicate— Never mind, pet. I've been a git. You're right. Should've called you a long time ago – before the whole dustup in LA. Should've let you know that I was back, just in case you..." There was a heavy sigh. "You knew, though, didn't you? Didn't the watcher wannabe tell you?"

"Not until after," she said dully. "You let me mourn for you twice, Spike. That's once too many. Give me a number where Andrew can reach you." Her voice was flat, all emotion drained out of it as she waited for his reply. When he hesitantly gave her a cell phone number, she scribbled it down, repeated it back to him and then with a quiet, "Good-bye, Spike", she placed the phone in its cradle.

Exercising more control than she'd had any reason to in years, Buffy jotted down a quick "Call Spike" above the phone number and put the paper where she was sure that Andrew would see it when he got home. She stubbornly refused to look at the number again, wanting to take no chance that it would go into her memory to taunt her with the nearness of his voice. She'd meant what she told him just before she ran for her life. Her proud grief after he used the amulet to pull Sunnydale down and close the Hellmouth was forever eclipsed by the gut-wrenching pain of learning that he'd returned, not wanted her to know about it, and had then perished again when he stood with his grandsire to face an army of demons.

By the time they learned that he and Angel had apparently survived the battle – attributing it to assistance from a being called 'Illyria' which Giles had tried to explain was something very old and powerful – her heart had a hardened shell around it specifically designed to keep out anything Spike shaped. If she was waiting for him to contact her so that she could coldly reject him, she refused to admit it; and eventually she quit expecting him to call or to show up on her doorstep, moving on to a string of forgettable boyfriends, none of whom interested her for more than a few months at a time.

Now she was faced with the deeply buried emotions that she had been sure were long gone.

He sounds just the same. He sounds like he still cares. But he couldn't care. If he did he would never have let me think he was dead...twice. Even if he didn't believe me, he had to know that I was grieving for him. That I would have missed him. Stupid vampire. I hate him!

Slamming the door behind her so hard that she winced and had to turn around to be sure she hadn't broken it, she left Andrew's apartment and went out into the chilly English night, determined to find and destroy every vampire she could find.

Bonus if I find a blond one! she fumed, heading for the nearest cemetery. So intent was she on her quest to find some newly-risen vampires upon which to take out her righteous anger at Spike, that she failed to notice that her vampire tingles were going off long before she got anywhere near the cemetery. She charged ahead, vaulting over the big iron gate across the drive and searching avidly for some sign of nighttime activity.

She shivered slightly, not having thought about dressing for slaying when she went over to Andrew's to compare notes on the latest squabble among the rebuilding Council of Watchers staff. The cold damp London air went right through her thin coat and even thinner Italian leather flats. Too stubborn to admit it wasn't a good idea to be trying to hunt when she was busy shivering, she jumped up and down a few times and tried to get her blood warmed up.

There are times when I really, really miss Southern California, she grumbled silently as she did a few more jumping jacks. At least there, if it was cold at night it didn't seep into my bones like this. You'd think if it was going to be this cold in England in the winter, it would at least have the grace to snow and look pretty…

Before she could allow her common sense to overrule her intense desire to kill something, she was gratified to see the ground shaking over a newly filled grave, and she hurried over to stand watch. Stake in hand, she shook off the memory of the vampire who had instructed her to always have a weapon and waited for the one now struggling to emerge from the damp soil.

Rather than stake him immediately while he was stuck half-in and half-out of the grave, she waited until he was standing on the ground and brushing the dirt off his burial suit. She could see the instant that it dawned on him what he was and what his body was craving. Amber eyes zeroed in on her neck and he leapt forward so quickly she almost didn't get out of the way in time.

But she did; she dodged his clumsy attack and waited for him to spin around and charge again. She quickly tucked her stake into her waistband and met his attack with a foot to his mid-section, causing him to double over. She followed up with a right uppercut to his easily reached jaw and a flurry of shorter jabs to his face. With each punch, she was saying, her voice getting louder and louder, "That asshole! Who does he think he is? Acting like it was just yesterday that he saw me! Like I have no right to be angry or hurt that he didn't want to see me when he came back. Like I would have lied to him about my feelings!" She paused, giving the dazed vampire a minute to regroup and try to focus on the small woman who had been punching and yelling at him for the past long, unpleasant minutes.

"'ey, listen, lady. I don't know what your problem is, but I don't even know you – and I sure as 'ell haven't done anything to you. I don't know where you get off calling me an arsehole."

Buffy stopped her rant to stare at him in disbelief.

"You just tried to eat me!"

"Well…yeah…but there was nothin' personal in it, was there? It's not like I gave you any reason to yell at me. I never called you a liar, did I?" He glared at her in righteous indignation, eying the stake that was now clutched in her hand. "Tell you what, miss. I'm a reasonable sort of bloke; I'll just be one my way and we'll forget this whole thin-"

Buffy stared at his dust, muttering to herself, "That didn't make me feel better at all." She sighed and dropped her hand to her side, the stake dangling loosely from her fingers. "It did warm me up, though. I guess that's something."

With another loud sigh, she turned around and walked back towards the exit. If she were honest with herself, she would have to admit that pummeling the newly-risen vamp, as easy and as uncomplicated as it had been, actually had taken the edge off her anger. At least to the point where she could think about going home and having a chance at getting a night's sleep.

She paused once to turn around and scan the street when the back of her neck told her there was a vampire somewhere in the area, but the signature was too faint and too far away for her to have any hope of finding it. With a silent wish that the vamp would encounter a gang of slayers-in-training before he could make a kill, she rejected the idea of searching for the source of the tingles and hurried towards her flat and the warmth waiting for her there.

The following morning, before she had even finished her coffee, the bell rang and a pleasant-looking young man asked, "Miss Summers?" Buffy nodded and automatically reached out to take the box he was holding. She smiled absently at his wish that she have a "lovely Christmas"; then closed the door and stared at the long flat box he'd handed her.

She pulled off the card, setting it on the bookcase by the door while she opened what she was beginning to realize was a florist's box. Inside were a dozen long stemmed red roses, nestled in a froth of white tissue paper. Taking care not to prick herself on the thorns, she carried them into the kitchen and carefully placed them in a bowl of cold water.

On her way to search for a suitable vase, she picked up the envelope containing the card and examined it curiously. The little holly leaf with berries in the corner of the envelope was a reminder that Christmas was only a couple of weeks away, and she grimaced at the thought.

Another wonderful Buffy Christmas – Dawn will parade her latest boyfriend around, Willow will bring her latest flame, Xander will…Xander probably won't come…again. Giles will try to pretend that he's not wishing he and Olivia had gone away for the holiday. And everyone will feel sorry for Buffy because she doesn't have a man in her life. A fun time will be had by all.

She opened the envelope, watching the card slip out and fall to the floor.

I wonder who sent me roses? Maybe it's that good-looking artist-guy that I met last week. He seemed interested. I hope he doesn't think that because my mother owned an art gallery, I know anything about art!

She knelt gracefully, picking up the card and turning it over. She read the short message there and toppled over to sit down with a small thud.

"I'm sorry."

No signature, no name, just two words. Two words that could only have come from one vampire.

"Oh no you don't," she said aloud, even as she clutched the card with its elegantly lettered message. "It's not that easy, Spike."

With a determined shove, she pushed herself to her feet and stalked into the kitchen. She grabbed the flowers out of the bowl - crying out when she pricked her fingers on the thorns – and carried them to the window where she threw them out into the drizzle. She watched impassively as they fluttered to the street below, cringing when cars and buses began to run over them, quickly churning the beautiful flowers into unrecognizable street debris.

She tried to throw the card into the trash, but it wouldn't seem to leave her fingers and she ended up putting it into the small drawer beside her bed.

Wearing a large, oiled leather hat with a brim that hid his face, and a long leather coat that defied the drizzle, a man stood across the street from the building watching the flowers rain down into the street. He gave a rueful smile and shook his head.

"Alright, Slayer," he whispered. "We'll try something else next time."

By the time Buffy had emerged to go to her job at the new Council building, the man was gone, safely away from any break in the clouds that had made it possible for him to walk around at ten o'clock in the morning.

Chapter Two

Buffy walked into the building, making a beeline for Andrew's office and brushing off his secretary when the poor girl tried to prevent the world's oldest slayer from barging in. He glanced up when the door banged open, then dove under his desk when he saw who it was. He sat there, trembling and praying that she hadn't seen him, until the heavy walnut piece of furniture was lifted up and tossed to the side.

With a whimper, he cowered on the floor, his eyes squeezed shut and his lips trembling. Using only one hand, Buffy yanked him to his feet, holding him by the collar as she glared at him.

"How long have you known where he is?"

He had the good sense not to pretend that he didn't know who she meant.

"I don't – didn't actually know where he was," he stuttered. "He just calls me when he wants to know something, or when he has information for us. That's all. I swear, Buffy!"

"And you didn't tell me this because…?"

Andrew did his best to stand up straight and appear dignified, even while cringing away from her furious face.

"He's my friend. My noble vampire warrior friend and my loyalty to him prevented me from violating my promise."

"What promise?"

"That…that…I…you…that I not mention him to you."

She allowed him to drop, absently stepping aside to avoid his stumble as he was released. Her glare faded into a resigned sadness that softened her eyes until he no longer feared for his life.

"I guess he really didn't want me to know," she whispered.

Feeling much braver as Buffy turned to walk out the door, Andrew managed to say, "He always asks about you. It's his first question, every time he calls. He asks how you are and if you need anything."

"What I needed was…never mind."

"I tried to tell him that you missed him," Andrew ventured. She stopped, hand on the doorknob, back rigid. "But I don't think he believed me."

"Asshole," she muttered, opening the door and walking out without making it clear to whom she was referring. Behind her, the phone, now under a chair where it had rolled when the desk was toppled, began to ring. She pulled the door shut on the sight of Andrew crawling across the floor to reach the phone before it could stop.

"Hello?" His shaky voice left no doubt in the caller's mind that Buffy had been there.

"Did she tear you a new one?"

"She's very…scary," Andrew responded with as much dignity as he could muster. "And very, very angry…and sad, I think."

"Yeah, yeah. Got that. I really bollixed things up this time."

"Did you send her the flowers like I told you?"

"Sent them, and watched her throw good money into the gutter. What else have you got?"

"I guess candy is next. She really likes chocolate. Maybe an expensive box of candy?"

"Maybe I should jus' let her bloody m'nose a few times and it'll be alright," Spike muttered. "Always worked before."

"This isn't before," Andrew said, putting on his most knowing "watcher" voice. "You've never rejected her like—"

"I didn't bloody reject her!"

"That's not how she sees it," Andrew responded, sounding more mature and genuinely wise than usual. "I don't know what happened between you two in that cave, but whatever it was, she expected you to come running as soon as you came back. And when you didn't even call…"

"I had my reasons," the vampire muttered, not sure he really wanted to be having this conversation with the hero-worshipping young man.

"Yeah, I know. You told me – back when you asked me not to let her know that you were alive. But you said you were going to tell her…in your own time. If I'd thought you were going to be too chicken to…"

"Who are you callin' 'chicken'?" Spike's voice was a guttural snarl and Andrew quickly reverted to cowering human admirer.

"Okay, maybe that was a poor choice of words. But, you should have told her, Spike. She had a right to know. Now she's all mad at me again – like it's my fault she didn't know where you were."

"Well," Spike sounded a bit more cheerful, "with a little luck, she won't kill you before I can grovel enough to calm her down."

"Ha, ha," Andrew replied weakly.

"So, chocolates, huh?"

"It's on her Christmas wish list," Andrew replied. "I'm her Secret Santa, so I got the list."

"I want it." There was no room for argument in the vampire's voice. "And you've just been fired. She has a new Secret Santa."

"Right. Got it."

"I'll pick the list up tonight. And be sure you're alone when I get there. I don't want any more surprises!"

When the large box of Godiva chocolates was delivered, Buffy didn't even blink, sure that she knew who they were from. Steeling herself, she dropped them into the trash bin with a small whimper, then bent to pick up the card that had fallen onto the floor. Unable to resist, she opened the card and found to her surprise that it said simply, "Happy week-before-Christmas-week," and was signed "Your Secret Santa".

With a sigh of relief, she quickly pulled the unopened box out of the bin and ripped through the red and gold wrapping paper. If there was a glimmer of disappointment that the gift had turned out not to be from Spike, she ruthlessly pushed it away and began to sample her first gift of the season.

She answered the phone with her mouth so full of chocolaty goodness that she was difficult to understand.

"Mullo?"

"Buffy?" Andrew's voice was unsure. "Is that you? Are you all right?"

"Mmph. 'M fine, 'ndrew." There were chewing and swallowing sounds, followed by a throat clearing "ahem". "I had my mouth full," she explained more clearly.

"Oh?" He tried his best not to sound more interested than he should be.

"Yep. Whoever my Secret Santa is, he sure knows what I like. I got a big box of Godiva chocolates this morning. And they're delicious," she concluded, somewhat unnecessarily as the sound of crinkling paper carried over the phone line.

"Well, that's great! Good for you and your Secret Santa." His voice trembled with the effort to contain his excitement. "I've gotta go now. See ya, Buffy."

"Andrew? What did you want…? Damn, he hung up already. What a doofus." Buffy went happily back to sampling her gift, shrugging off Andrew's obvious inability to follow through on an errand.

He'll remember it in a little while and have to call me back and be all, 'Ha, ha, Buffy. Guess what I forgot?'

When she got to the Council offices, Buffy peered with happy suspicion at everyone who greeted her, wondering which one might be her Secret Santa. She'd filled out her list of likes, needs, and wants, just as had everyone who was participating, and dropped it into the big bag along with everyone else's. Most people were planning to use the lists they'd received to buy one perfect gift for the person whose name they'd drawn – a gift that was to be delivered on Christmas Eve.

I guess I hit the jackpot. My Secret Santa started early. I wonder if that means I'm going to get lots of prezzies?

That question was soon answered, as every day that week brought something new to her doorstep. One day it was a bottle of her favorite perfume, carefully wrapped in the same red and gold wrapping paper; the next day it was a new set of hand-carved wooden stakes. The day after that a lovely, soft cashmere sweater in a shade of moss green that brought out her eyes.

My Santa not only has money, he has wonderful taste, she purred to herself as she held the sweater up to her face and rubbed it against her cheek. When the next gift turned out to be reservations for two at a restaurant that she'd been wanting to try, she put on the green sweater and asked Willow to accompany her to dinner. The two friends had a lovely evening, the entire dinner - including wine and ice cream for dessert - all paid for ahead of time.

"Come on, Willow," Buffy wheedled. "Do you know who it is? I just want to say 'Thank you'."

"I don't know, Buffy. I really don't know who it is. I've figured out a couple of the Santas – because you know how some people are, they just can't keep a secret, even a Santa secret – but nobody has said they have you. Your list is gone. I can tell you that; so somebody has it, but whoever it is, is being pretty cagey."

"You'd think whoever it is would want to see me enjoying the prezzies," Buffy said with a pout. "I even wore this sweater…just in case…"

"It's really beautiful," Willow smiled her approval. "Whoever he – or she – is has great taste."

"I know…it's like…not only is he getting me stuff that's on my list, but he's getting exactly the right kind of chocolate or the perfect color sweater, or …" Her voice trailed off as she focused on a scene across the room.

While they ate and talked, Buffy's eyes had been darting around the restaurant, hoping that her Secret Santa might have wanted to see her enjoying her gift, but she had seen no one she recognized. Just as she was licking her lips to get the last trace of hot fudge sauce off her mouth, she caught a glimpse of a man wearing a Santa Claus suit standing near the exit. He was staring in her direction, and, as her eyes swept across and noticed him, he raised one hand in a jaunty wave, then turned and hurried out of the restaurant before she could get to her feet to follow him.

"That's him, Willow! That was my secret Santa. I know it. Damn! I wish I'd seen him sooner."

"Are you sure it's a him? Anybody can hide inside a Santa suit." Willow frowned at Buffy's agitation. "Are you all right, Buffy? Don't you like all your presents? You're the envy of the whole Council, you know. Your Santa is making everybody else's look bad, and we're all starting to get little gifts every day or so – just to keep up."

"I know it's a 'him'. I can't tell you why. I just do…Gah! This is so frustrating!"

"Yeah, mysterious stranger showers you with wonderful prezzies. I can see where that could be infuriating." Willow's couldn't smother her grin and Buffy reluctantly joined her oldest friend in laughing at her own behavior.

"Pretty ungrateful, huh?" she sighed. "I do love the gifts, all of them. I just wish I knew who he was, that's all. In my experience, mysteries and Buffy are not of the good."

"Well, it'll be Christmas in another few days and you'll find out then. Probably…"

"PROBABLY?"

"Well, yeah. There's nothing in the rules that says a Secret Santa has to identify him or herself; just that they have to get a nice present for their person."

"Wonderful. With my luck, I'll never find out who it was. I find a man who knows just what to do to make me happy, and he never tells me who he is."

The next gift to appear was a beautiful white, down-filled coat with a hood trimmed in faux fur. Buffy looked at it and shook her head.

It's pretty, but what do I need something like this for in London where all it does is rain? I did say I liked white coats, though…I guess it was on the list.

She tried the perfectly fitting coat on and studied her image in front of the mirror, admiring the way the white fur framed her face and brought out the color in her cheeks. She pulled the hood around her face and tried to imagine herself walking through the falling snow, mysterious stranger by her side.

Chapter Three

As the days went on, each one bringing her a little closer to Christmas and her decision not to join Dawn and everyone else at her ex-watcher's home, she found herself taking less and less joy in the steadily increasing collection of presents. Every item so far had been on her list in one form or another, but even as she opened every new box and marveled at how perfect the gift was, her happiness diminished.

In spite of the flowers and the apology Spike had sent her, she hadn't heard from him again, and she assumed he'd left London to go back to wherever he'd been.

Who knows if he was even here? He could have been calling from anywhere – and you can order flowers by phone or online. He's probably not even in this country, let alone this city.

Pride prevented her from asking Andrew if he had heard from Spike again, or if he knew where the vampire might be. She had even ceased watching the faces of her fellow employees, finding herself unable to imagine any of them knowing her well enough to have picked out such perfect gifts. She didn't think that even Willow knew her well enough to have selected some of the presents she'd received.

I can only think of one person who ever knew me that well, and he- She froze, then flew down the hall to Andrew's office, bursting in and sending him diving under his desk again.

"Come out of there, you moron!" she growled. "I have some questions for you."

His head appeared around the corner of a drawer, and he asked apprehensively, "Questions?"

"Yes, questions. Like, where's Spike? Was he here? Is he still here? Do you still have his phone number? How would he get hold of my Secret Santa list? Where the hell is he?"

"I don't know where Spike is – I told you, he doesn't tell me where he is when he calls." When Buffy's eyes narrowed and she stepped towards him, he hastily qualified his statement. "He…he might be still here…in England…but I don't know that for sure," he finished apprehensively when Buffy looked like she was about to shake Spike's location out of him. "I do have his mobile number," he added. "I could give it to you."

"Give it. Now."

He quickly scribbled down the number for her, handing her the paper with an eager smile.

"Does this mean that you've forgiven him for not telling you he was alive?"

"It means I have something to say to him," she growled, snatching the paper out of his hand and whirling around. "And if you know what's good for you, you won't tell him I asked for the number!"

Andrew mimed zipping his lips behind her back. "Mum's the word, Slayer. You have my…word."

"I'll have your ass, if you don't keep it," she muttered as she left the office, the scrap of paper clenched in her hand. She walked down the hall to her own office and threw herself into her chair, staring at the telephone.

As soon as the door slammed behind her, Andrew fell onto the phone, punching numbers frantically. As he waited for Spike to pick up, he kept anxious eyes on the door to be sure Buffy wasn't going to come back and surprise him.

"Yeah?" Spike's voice brought his attention back to the phone.

"I think she knows," he whispered. "She asked for your phone number."

"What did you tell her?"

"Nothing!" Andrew sounded as wounded as possible, causing Spike to sigh loudly. "I gave her the number and told her I didn't know where you were. I didn't mention the Secret Santa list and she didn't ask again, but I think she's figured it out."

"Does she look brassed off?"

"I…I don't think so. It's kinda hard to tell with Buffy sometimes, you know."

"Tell me about it," Spike sighed again. "Alright. Nothing for it now but to wait and see what she does."

"Are you getting her another gift today?"

"The last thing on her list was 'snow'. Not bloody much I can do about that, is there? Although, I guess I could try to track down…" There was some quiet mumbling from the vampire, then, "It's Christmas Eve – I should have somethin' really special for her, but I'm out of list ideas."

"When in doubt, buy expensive jewelry," Andrew said with the confidence of someone who had never had a girl friend.

"Yeah. The old stand-by, I guess. Alright. I better get off the line in case the Slayer's trying to get me. Happy Christmas, Andrew."

"You too, Spike. I hope it's a happy one for both of you."

Buffy spent the rest of the afternoon staring back and forth between the paper containing Spike's phone number and the phone on her desk. By the time the office closed early so that everyone could go home, she still hadn't decided what she wanted to do. She put the paper into her pocket and walked out of the building into an afternoon that was much colder than normal. Heavy, gray clouds covered the sky and she wondered briefly what snow clouds looked like in England.

California girl, here, she chided herself. It's not like I'd know a snow cloud if I saw it, anyway.

She made it all the way home without seeing anything more exciting than the normal late afternoon drizzle. It was a colder drizzle than usual, and she was glad that she had worn her new down coat. With it zipped up to her neck and the hood keeping the drizzle off her hair, she could almost pretend that she was walking through falling snow rather than a cold mist.

She fixed herself a light meal and sat down to eat it, wondering if she'd made a mistake by insisting on spending the holiday alone. Sipping on the glass of wine she'd poured for herself, she stared absently at the empty chair across from her and tried to picture someone sitting in it. When she couldn't picture anyone who wasn't blond with blue eyes that looked at her with utter devotion, she gulped the rest of the wine and resolutely turned her attention back to her food.

After she had finished eating and had carried her plate to the kitchen, she wandered by the window and found to her delighted surprise that fat, wet snowflakes were floating by. She watched, mesmerized as they wafted past, landing on the ledge outside and doing their best to accumulate on the damp surface. She was just turning away, planning to get her new coat and go out for a walk in the snow, when movement in the street below caught her eye. She followed the track of the motion until she found Santa Claus standing across the street and staring at her window. As she watched, he blew her a kiss, then whirled and disappeared down the street, the cotton ball on the top of his hat, bouncing as though waving 'good-bye'.

With an exasperated gasp, she scribbled something on a piece of paper, grabbed her coat, and flew down the stairs, ignoring the elevator in favor of slayer speed. She dashed out into the street, looking back and forth frantically, but seeing nothing but a few people hurrying home to spend Christmas Eve with their families. She sighed and began to jog down the street in the direction the Santa hat had been going. When she didn't catch up with him after a few blocks, she slowed down and began to stroll through the rapidly accumulating snow, indulging in the sensation of having a fantasy come true and sticking her tongue out occasionally to catch a melting snowflake.

The flakes came faster and harder, quickly turning the ordinary looking city street into something completely different from the neighborhood she was used to. With the diminishing traffic and snow covered cars, it was easy to picture the old buildings as they must have looked in Dickens' day. She walked for blocks, enjoying both the silence and the transformed neighborhood. The unfamiliar scenery was so beautiful with it's dusting of white and the wavy illumination from the Christmas lights barely visible through the falling snow, that she almost forgot her original purpose in coming out.

Until she entered a small park, newly fresh and clean under its coating of icy decoration, and felt the vampire tingles on her neck. She turned slowly to find Santa gazing at her from the park entrance. When he didn't move to approach, Buffy began walking towards him. Her heart was pounding – whether from nerves or excitement, she couldn't have said. She stopped a few feet away and stared into the familiar blue eyes gazing back at her from under the white trim on his hat. Where she would have thought to see chubby red cheeks above the white beard, defined cheekbones gave the final lie to the disguise.

Still, he didn't speak or make a move towards her, so Buffy decided to play the game.

"Santa Claus?"

The figure nodded and cocked his head expectantly. Buffy held out the paper she'd scribbled on before coming outside.

"I've added something to my list," she whispered. "Something important."

Silently, he took the paper from her, their woolen gloves just brushing each other as he did so. He glanced at the paper, then back to her face.

"So, little girl," he rumbled. "Is this a 'would like', a 'want,' or a 'need'?"

"All of the above?"

She gazed up at him, blinking at the wet flakes falling onto her eyelashes. He thought she resembled a Christmas card angel – her face surrounded by the snow-covered fur, her cheeks pink and her eyes glistening.

Santa waved his hand at their surroundings. "Already got you the last item on the list, didn't I?"

"I guess you did."

They stared at each other for another few minutes, then he surprised her by offering a red, fur-trimmed arm.

"Would you join me in a walk around the closest thing to a winter wonderland that this part of England has to offer?"

She nodded silently and tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow, smiling slightly when he pressed his arm against the padded side of the suit. Without another word, they began to stroll through the park, pausing every now and again to admire the way the snow had settled on the bare tree branches, or to watch a confused pigeon pecking at the cold, wet white stuff on the ground. When they had walked entirely around the small park, he paused by a snow-covered bench.

"Sit for a bit, love?" he asked quietly.

Buffy nodded again, grateful for her warm coat that protected her butt from the cold bench. Even though Santa had cleared the bench with his gloved hand, it was still damp and chilly. She sat down primly, being sure to keep the coat underneath her legs, and waited for him. Instead of sitting, he began to pace in front of her, clearly trying to work his way up to saying something. It reminded her of the night so many years ago when he had tried to think of a way to tell her that she was "The One".

Finally, when he just continued to pace back and forth, turning the wet snow into dirty slush beneath his boots, she said, "Spike…"

"Santa!" he almost growled. "I'm just Santa."

"Santa," she repeated obediently. "Come and sit with me. Please?" she added when he hesitated.

With a sigh he sat down beside her, close enough for the well-padded suit to be touching her coat, but not so close that he could be said to be invading her space. He stared at his clenched hands while Buffy stared at him, searching under the beard and hair for the vampire she hadn't seen in so long. Finally, with a soft sigh, she asked, "So, how did you make snow?"

"Weather fairy owed me a favor," he mumbled.

"I love it," she whispered, taking his gloved hand in hers and pulling it into her lap. "And I love my coat, and my sweater and my perfume and the dinner you didn't stay to watch me finish…"

"Really? Did you really like them?" His lips twitched in just the hint of a smile as he struggled to keep the hope from his voice.

"I really, really did – do. They were wonderful." She played with his limp fingers for a minute, bending them back and forth and twining them together. "Do you want to know how I figured out it was you?"

He peered at her from under bushy white eyebrows.

"How?"

"Because I couldn't think of anyone else who knows me well enough to get me all those perfect gifts. And as soon as I realized that, I knew it had to be you. I was gonna call you, but…"

"But?"

"But I didn't know if you wanted me to know, and I didn't want you to go away again if you didn't."

"Wouldn't have done that to you, love. Not now that I know…"

She waited, then when he didn't finish the sentence, she said quietly, "Now that you know what? That I missed you? That I cried over you – twice? That I wasn't lying?"

He shook his head. "Never doubted that you'd miss me. You'd told me as much already, hadn't you? But you thought I was gone. Had done your mourning and moved on…I didn't want to complicate your life." He shot her a look out of the corner of his eye. "Not sayin' that I wouldn't have been there in a heartbeat for a seriously loud conversation if you'd still been seein' that Immortal pillock; but, you weren't. Had yourself some Watcher fella, and then some rich bloke, and then…."

"And the fact that I didn't stay with any of those men very long didn't give you a clue?"

"Damage was done by then, wasn't it?" he asked with shrewd perception, smiling sadly when she gave a reluctant nod. "You were too brassed off at me to want me back, so stayin' away seemed like the best thing to do. Figured sooner or later you'd find somebody – or the great poof would get his soul anchored and come riding in on his white horse…"

"He did," she said softly. "A couple of years ago."

"That right?" He kept his voice carefully neutral. "And...?"

"And, I did the same thing I did when he came to Sunnydale to give me that amulet." When Spike just waited patiently for her to continue, she added, "I lied."

"You lied? About what?"

"About being cookies. I told him I still wasn't done. But I was – am. Have been all along, I …I just couldn't tell him, you know?"

"You can explain cookies to me later – what was it you couldn't tell him?" His voice trembled in spite of his best attempts to keep it flat and uninterested, and the fingers she'd been playing with were suddenly rigid in her hands.

"That I loved you too much to give up the chance that… That I wasn't ready to settle for somebody else. Not yet."

"You told Angel that bein' with him would be settling?"

"No, dummy. That's what I just said. I couldn't bring myself to tell him that I was waiting for his stupid grandchilde to come to his senses, so I lied and told him that I still didn't know what I wanted."

"But it was a lie?" He raised his other hand and turned her face towards his.

"Big lie," she whispered, leaning towards the mouth dipping down to hers.

The kiss lasted only as long as it took Buffy to dissolve into giggles over the way the nylon "hair" of the beard and mustache kept getting into her mouth. With a rueful laugh, Spike pulled away and brushed a snowflake off her nose.

"Sorry, love. Santa doesn't do a lot of snoggin'."

"Let's go."

He raised an eyebrow in silent query when she pulled him to his feet.

"My place. I have another prezzie to unwrap."

Chapter Four

The walk back to Buffy's apartment building went much faster than her stroll to the park had, even with the now handholding couple stopping occasionally to admire a particularly pretty sight. Spike advised her to take her time enjoying the snow, as he was fairly sure it would all be gone by the morning.

"It's really too warm here most of the time for decent snow," he grumbled. "Not like it was in my day, when we had ice-covered ponds to skate on and…"

Buffy's giggles interrupted him. "You know you sound like an old man, don't you?" she snickered. "…in my day…"

"Was my day. love. No sense in pretendin' it wasn't."

Before she could decide if she wanted to continue to tease him about his age, they were at the entrance to her building and looking up at the main door. Buffy turned to face him, tugging gently.

"Come on," she said. "My feet are freezing."

"Right. Up you go then." He followed her into the lobby, nodding his head at the concierge who was watching with wide eyes as his American tenant led Santa Claus into a waiting elevator.

"Merry Christmas!" Buffy caroled, waving as the doors closed.

When she turned back to Spike, it was to find that he had pulled the beard and mustache off and dropped them to the floor. Without speaking, he pulled her into his padded chest and stomach and continued the kiss that her giggles had interrupted earlier. With no distracting hair in her mouth, Buffy was able to lose herself in the lips that she'd wondered if she would ever know again. Eager lips and tongues battled to devour the other's familiar and yet so long denied taste.

Frustration over not being able to get around the padded belly of the Santa Suit finally overcame their enjoyment of the kiss and they broke it off to stare at each other with matching grins on their faces. The instant the doors opened, Buffy darted out, glancing back in surprise when the vampire wasn't at her side. Instead, he had stooped to pick up the discarded facial hair from the floor of the elevator. Buffy raised astonished eyebrows at him.

"What? I have to return this stuff – all of it."

Shaking her head, she turned towards her door mumbling, "William the bloody is afraid of a costume shop manager…"

"I had to leave a deposit," he offered in weak defense.

"Says the vampire who must have spent well over a thousand dollars on Christmas presents for me!"

She inserted her key in the lock and opened the door, turning to look over her shoulder.

"Come in, Spike," she said, her voice suddenly husky with need.

As soon as he had entered and the door was closed and locked, Buffy put her hands on the buckle of the large black belt surrounding his ample middle. With single-minded determination, she began unbuckling and unbuttoning the big suit, pushing aside the thick padding, until she had burrowed her way down to the muscular chest and flat stomach that haunted her dreams. With a happy sigh, she paused and rested her hands against his pale skin.

While Buffy had been working out how to get Spike out of the heavy layers of red flannel, his own hands had been occupied unzipping her coat and shoving it off her shoulders to hang on her upper arms.

"Do you know how this coat would look really amazing, pet?" he asked, gasping when she slid her hands around his back and pressed her face against his bare chest.

"Mmmph?" she replied, kissing every bit of bare skin that she could reach. With the pants to the suit still on, Spike still had a fairly substantial amount of padding between his lower body and the woman currently licking his hardened nipples, and he groaned at his inability to feel her body against his.

He leaned towards her, whispering into her ear and causing her to shiver, "Just the way it is now, but with you naked inside it. That's how I pictured you when I picked it out…"

The idea of lying naked on the soft coat while the crooning vampire admired her body was all it took to have moisture pooling between Buffy's legs. With a wicked grin, she backed away from him and dropped the coat to the floor. While he watched in gleeful appreciation, she pulled her sweater over her head, giving him a good look at the taut skin of her stomach and the expensive scraps of lace barely covering her breasts.

Shaking her finger at him when he reached a hand towards her chest, she backed up another step and unfastened her wool slacks, allowing them to drop to her feet, covering her boots and leaving her standing in a pool of black fabric and matching bra and panties.

Steady growls were coming from the vampire as he forced himself to stand by while she unfastened the bra and tossed it over her shoulder. She hooked her thumbs in her panties and began to slide them down her legs, dropping her head so as to be able to see what she was doing when she got to her feet and slid everything, including her boots, completely off. Before she stood up, she turned around, allowing Spike a good view of her firm rear while she picked up the discarded coat and draped it around her neck and shoulders. The fur from the hood nestled next to the back of her neck, the coat itself was hanging from her elbows leaving her bare shoulders and body fully exposed.

"Was this what you had in mind?" She posed, blushing in spite of herself at the ravenous look on his face.

"You're a bloody vision," he managed to gasp. Without waiting for a response, he picked her up and laid her gently on the nearby dining room table. Stepping back, he shrugged out of the top part of his Santa suit, pausing to admire the view before him, then leaning in and placing her legs over his bare shoulders. He smiled when he saw her shudder with anticipation, running his mouth down one inner thigh, across her neatly-trimmed mound, and up the other thigh to her knee. He sucked briefly on the soft skin behind her knee, then dropped his head to the place he'd never thought to be again.

At the first touch of his tongue, she arched into his mouth, her cry of "Spike!" giving him all the proof he needed of her joy in having him back. He kissed and licked, plunging his tongue in and out of her until she was whimpering with need and pushing her hips off the table in an attempt to get closer to his mouth. Giving in to her unspoken pleas, he fastened his mouth on her swollen nub and began to suck. Within seconds, she was crying out and clenching his head between powerful thighs.

He raised his head to look at her, the Santa hat somewhat askew, but still perched upon his head. The proud grin on his face faded as he saw the tears running down her cheeks.

"Buffy? Love?" Uncertainty colored his voice and shook her out of her post-orgasm emotion.

"Come here," she whispered, her voice thick with tears.

Trying to obey as best he could while still wearing the bottom half of the padded suit, he got onto the table and moved up her body until he was close enough to put his forehead against hers. They remained like that for long minutes, Spike holding himself up on his arms while his head dipped to stay in contact with hers.

"I love you, Spike," she said, her voice still an emotion-choked whisper.

"Love you so much, Buffy," he rumbled. "I can't tell you how much I've missed those little sounds you make when you come for me."

"I can't tell you how much I've missed making them," she managed to say with a shaky grin. "Don't you ever leave me again."

With a relieved laugh, he dropped down beside her, catching himself before he rolled off the table. He kept one arm across her stomach as he dropped kisses on her bare shoulders. She turned to face him, smiling as her hands went to the suspenders that were holding up the pants.

"I think I want the rest of my prezzie," she purred, sliding the suspenders off his arms and pushing on the waistband of the suit. "How do I unwrap it?"

Spike was busy kicking off his boots while Buffy's hands pushed the loose pants down until she could see his swollen cock lying tightly against his abdomen.

"Ah, there it is!" she giggled, wrapping her fingers around it and smiling at the way he pushed into her hand.

"I think you're doin' fine, pet," he groaned, struggling to kick the pants the rest of the way off without interrupting her squeezing and stroking. "Think you've pretty much got me as unwrapped as it gets."

Finally free of the heavy pants and boots, he sighed with relief and relaxed into the welcome sensations being created by Buffy's hand. His low growls and occasional gasps of surprise accompanied her stream-of conscious commentary.

"Which feels best, I wonder?" she murmured, switching from stroking him the way she knew he liked, to squeezing him until he groaned. "When I do this?" She pulled hard on his cock until she could see the precum oozing from the tip. "Or when I do this?" She squeezed him with both hands, smiling when he snarled and his hips came off the table. "Or, could it be when I do this?" With a wicked gleam in her eye, she ducked her head and licked the under side of his cock while she cupped his balls and rolled them gently in her hand.

His incoherent muttering came to a halt when she put her mouth around him and began sucking. He allowed himself to enjoy the sensations for a few minutes, but quickly realized that he had been deprived for too long not to succumb to the pressure building in his balls. With a whimper, he touched her head and urged her to look up at him.

"It's gonna be over too quickly, if you keep that up, sweetheart," he gasped. "Not sayin' don't ever do it, but I want to be in you the first time…"

She nodded her understanding and agreement and within seconds, he was poised above her, the white tip of his Santa hat still bobbing above his head as he gently touched his cock to her entrance. He slid it up and down, spreading the moisture he found there and teasing them both until she impatiently wrapped her legs around his hips and pulled him down onto her body.

"Now," she gasped. "I want you inside me now."

"Bossy little bint," he muttered, doing as she asked.

"You know you love it."

"I do," he agreed as he sank into her warmth and lost himself in the sheer pleasure of feeling her surrounding him again.

Matching sighs of completion and relief marked their responses to his complete penetration.

"I missed you," she whispered, squeezing him until he gasped and trembled within her. "Missed you so much…missed this."

"Never stopped missing you. Buffy. Never stopped lovin' you. Not for one second." His hips began to rock against hers as he continued to murmur in her ear. "Never want to leave here – want to be in you forever."

"I might have to check my calendar," she gasped, "but, I'm pretty sure 'forever' works for me."

The ability to speak coherently having abandoned them both, their bodies took over and began to move against each other, their motions becoming more urgent and more powerful as they built towards the inevitable conclusion. With another wailing "Spike!", she shattered around him, clenching him tightly with her arms and legs. As soon as he felt her shuddering against him, he thrust himself into her so hard that his roar of release was lost in the sound of the table breaking under the combined force of two supernaturally strong people.

There was no sound at first, except their ragged breathing as they struggled to recover from the strenuous reunion. When Buffy's breathing was approaching normal, she relaxed the death grip that she had on his body and rolled her eyes to one side.

"We broke my table."

"Was worth it. I'll buy you a new one – a stronger one," he mumbled in her ear, nuzzling her neck as he did so.

"We messed up my new coat, too." Her voice contained more of a complaint. "It's all full of Buffy juice and Spike stuff."

"It's washable," he chuckled. "And if it wasn't, I'd buy you two or three more – just so we could make love on it again."

"Or," she said, reluctantly allowing him to shift his weight off her body, "we could take this to my bed which has way fewer pointy wooden objects for me to worry about you rolling onto."

He glanced around at the broken pieces of her table and nodded.

"Got to agree with that, pet. Your bed it is."

He followed her example and rose gracefully to his feet, preparing to follow her into the bedroom. The Santa hat was somehow still perched on his head, and he started to remove it. Buffy's hand on his stopped him.

"Keep the hat, Santa," she said with a twinkle in her eye. "You owe me a whole lot more prezzies. Six years' worth of them, by my calculations."

"You know the real Santa's half-demon, don't you, Slayer?" he muttered, following her down the hall. "Are you sure you want to pretend that's who you're shagging?"

She stopped and turned to face him, suddenly serious.

"I'm not planning to pretend you're anybody but who you are," she said. "I've done all the pretending I want to in the last few years. I want the real thing in my bed – the man I love."

"The man who loves you," he corrected gently, pulling her into a loose embrace. "Don't need a Santa hat for that, pet. It's as true now as it's ever been. More, maybe."

"Are we going to fight about this?" she grumbled. "Who loves who the most?'

"Bloody hell, I hope so!" His eyes glazed over, remembering how many of their arguments and fights years ago had ended in violent, spectacular sex. "But not tonight," he amended when he saw her face. He stroked her hair with his free hand and pulled her closer to his naked body. "Not tonight."

"Not tonight," she echoed, giving a little squeal of approval when he swept her up and began striding towards the bedroom. "Tonight it's Christmas."

"Happy Christmas, Buffy." He sank down onto her bed, still holding her in his arms. "I love you."

"Merry Christmas, Spike. I love you, too."

The End