The 2005 Spander Christmas Album
Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
It was only four in the afternoon but the low, iron-grey clouds and thick whirl of falling snow made it more than dark enough for one UV-challenged individual to safely walk the streets. Spike stood at the intersection of Sloane and Knightsbridge, fighting with the steady wind to light his cigarette. Succeeding, he drew in a deep lungful and let it go slowly, watching the frantic ebb and flow of people around him. Christmas Eve, and they were all running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
Spike snorted in private amusement. Not like they didn't have a whole year to figure this shite out. He himself had, two weeks ago, dispatched a small crystal box to Dawn, with a nice piece of antique jewelry inside. He'd found the ring in a nest under Abney Park cemetery after dusting the annoying quartet of vamps who'd been living there. Their little magpie trove had brought him in a pretty penny so he'd splurged and bought Dawn a Waterford crystal box, made in the shape of a rose. The ring he'd had checked for curses and authenticity and he'd felt obscurely smug knowing that the Bit was going to be walking around wearing a real Victorian antique on her finger.
Someone plowed into him from behind and Spike snarled, spinning around to glare at the offender. A harried-looking man in an overcoat and snow-speckled glasses gabbled apologies as he picked up his scattered purchases. Spike just stalked away, heading down Knightsbridge. Holiday lights gleamed in the snow-fall, gold and white and red and green, twinkling or fountaining or just shining, steady and true. Music from every doorway and Spike gave in to temptation - after all, who would know? - and stopped at a kiosk that was selling hot cider. He paid for his cup then moved into the lee of a building, sipping slowly and letting the heat come through the Styrofoam and warm his hands, his cigarette smoldering, forgotten, between his fingers. The cider was spicy and sweet-sour and good and he breathed in the steam and listened to the song piping from the shop next door.
'City sidewalks, busy sidewalks...Dressed in holiday style...In the air there's a feeling of Christmas... Children laughing, people passing...Meeting smile after smile...And on ev'ry street corner you'll hear...
Silver bells, silver bells...It's Christmas time in the city...Ring-a-ling, hear them ring...Soon it will be Christmas Day...'
Christmas tomorrow and Spike couldn't help but think about Dawn for a moment - about all of them. Dawn and Buffy were still over in Rome, and Giles and Andrew were in London now, settled into the new Watcher's headquarters. Willow and her Slayer were still in South America - they'd found a fairly unstable Hellmouth near Quito in Ecuador and were making a permanent home there.
And Xander...he could be anywhere. Spike finished his cider and tossed the cup toward a bin - walked on, sidestepping an Arabic woman and her train of minions, all furs and jewels and sweet-musk scent, eyes like sloes in their muffled faces. Xander was - somewhere. After Africa he'd needed a break - needed to be away from the things he'd seen there, so he'd joined Spike on Hellmouth-sitting duty in Cleveland. Angel had offered him a place at the new AI in Los Angeles but Xander had turned him down. He'd told Spike one night after too many beers that Shanshu or not, Angel still got right up his nose. Spike had got beer up his nose at that and Xander had giggled until he'd fallen off his stool and Spike had hauled him home, drunk enough himself to sit for a moment on the side of the bed and work Xander's shoes off - carefully lift the patch of Xander's face and lay it on the night table. Xander's thick hair had flopped over the socket and Spike had brushed it back - then gotten up and away and to his own flat. To another half bottle of Jack and some lackluster porn. He'd had the mother of all headaches when he woke up, but Xander - calling far too cheerfully at four o'clock - had proposed chili-cheese fries and an Alien marathon to fix it. Suprisingly, it had worked.
Spike smiled to himself at that memory - looked around and realized he was nearly at Bond Street. He'd meant to come out and get some food - a nice bottle of whisky - but he'd gotten lost in thought and now he was cold through and just...tired. Wanted to go home, even though his flat was empty. Everyone scattered across the globe or just...unapproachable. Spike tried to spend as little time with the Watchers as possible, even if he was their gopher. Dirty jobs and dangerous ones and he and Xander had paired up on quite a few. Xander was as rootless as Spike, and Spike knew he had more stamps on his passport than months home. It was a symptom of...something. What they'd done - seen - had infected them somehow. Buzzed in their veins until they couldn't stop moving - going - going away.
Inside Bond Street station the air was warmer - steamier - and even more crowded than the street and Spike fought his way to a car - got inside and just hung on the strap, not willing to push and jostle for a seat. He didn't like being down there in a press of humans, anyway. Too many scents, too many hearts pounding - it got his blood up and his demon roused and he was being good, for the moment. Good enough, at least, and that meant no quick snacks somewhere along the Jubilee line.
Swaying there, watching the lights flicker past, then the darkness of the tunnels, Spike let himself be drawn into the past - remembering. Remembering riding the tube with Dru 'til it closed, watching the people get on and off - watching for someone interesting, or pretty, or different. Bakerloo and Central, North and the Metro, Waterloo, Hammersmith, Piccadilly. Old stations, older tunnels - secrets hidden far underground and they'd gotten lost down there once, for three whole days. Found old tombs and plague-pits and a clan of demons that had run, shrieking, from Spike's matches. Grand times. He'd shown Xander all of London one abysmally sunny July day, going from line to line and station to station - showing him old haunts and telling him stories. Another grand time, when there'd been too few just lately. Someone was listening to the radio and Spike could hear the music from their headphones clearly over the rush and roar of the train - the rush and roar of blood and hearts and lungs.
'I'll be home for Christmas...You can count on me...Please have snow, and mistletoe...and presents on the tree... Christmas Eve will find me...where the love light gleams...I'll be home for Christmas...if only in my dreams...'
Bing Crosby crooning out hope and aching nostalgia to the void - reminding anyone who listened of what had come before - what they could have again. It made Spike think of the Christmas after the war had ended, when The Smoke was still half-wrecked - bombed flat and beaten down and grey as the dirty snow. But the people - weren't. The people had laughed and sang and made the best of their rationed food - had made the ruins gay and covered the lingering stink of incendiaries and bodies with cheap perfume and cheaper wassail. And Spike - demon, human, world traveler by then - had felt it. Felt the pride and the ache of a back that wouldn't bend - the spirit that wouldn't lie down and die. He'd kept his mayhem to the deserving ones, on that visit, and bought a few rounds at this or that pub, toasting the holiday. Toasting the New Year and the people that fought with two fingers raised in defiance and fixed broken hearts with a pot of tea. He'd never loved his country more than that year - that Christmas - and he smiled at the dingy walls of the tube car and didn't even scowl when an exhausted-looking woman with three brats and a mound of shopping stepped on his foot. His boots had steel toes, anyway.
He strode out of London Bridge station and headed toward Bankside - toward his flat that was about halfway between the Southwark and Blackfriars' bridge. He liked it there, with the insistent lap and gurgle of the river just a few steps away. The boats churned up and down the water at all hours and the bridges were familiar and...solid. Anchoring. Like his coat and his boots and his Zippo, they endured. Like Harris' ridiculous shirts. Spike grinned into the whirl of snow, turning off onto Rose Avenue where there was a little off-license that he knew would be open. The last time he'd seen Xander - over in Nova Scotia in the middle of a howling gale - he'd been wearing... Well, it had been unthinkable. But somebody had thought it, and made it, and sold it, and trust Harris to be the one to buy it. He'd stripped off his rain gear to reveal a field of white and blue, yellow beach-towels - pink frogs. Six or eight of them, with red or green or purple sunglasses and poufy layered drinks with froofy umbrellas clutched in their webbed paws. Spike had stared, dripping salt-water and rain-water and a little blood onto the bucking planks of the Coast Guard cutty that had rescued them. Xander had seen the stare - had smirked like a fiend from hell and started naming the frogs. Telling Spike they'd been with him since Dubai and they were good luck charms.
Spike had asked why Xander couldn't get a bit of mojo from the witch and burn the fucking shirt and Xander had just chuckled evilly and then groaned and dug into his pocket for some Dramamine. The Viking relics they'd been after had proved harmless but lucrative and Spike had anonymously bought Xander a six-pack of amphibian t-shirts - solid, rich colors with jewel-tone renditions of frogs, toads and salamanders. He'd heard - through Andrew and Xander himself - that the shirts were attention-getters.
The off-license was festooned with strings of twinkle-lights and Spike pushed past a granny and her mangy dog and into the shop, instantly awash in heat and the heady scents of pipe smoke and beeswax candles and steeping tea - home made biscuits and chocolate oranges. The weedy old man that owned the place was shouting something into the back room, trying to be heard over the steady rumble of music and voices.
"Here, you, Percy! Put that bloody chair down and sit on it before you fall!" He turned around to Spike, grinning with crooked teeth - red plush Santa hat perched crookedly on his head. "Now then, now then, now then! What can we do for you this fine, festive day?" Drunk as Percy, apparently, but able to hold it better and Spike told him what he wanted - watched the man wrap the bottle in red-spangled tissue paper and then wrap up two iced biscuits from a plate. "Made by the fine, fair hand of me fine, fair wife - you've never had the like!"
"I'm sure I haven't," Spike said - old manners surfacing for a moment as the scents overwhelmed him. Sense memory of the finest kind - mingled ginger and sugar, cinnamon and orange - the scents of every Christmas of his childhood. Cook baking mounds of cakes and puddings and biscuits, parties nearly every night and a wedding or two before Twelfth Night.
"Now, you must have a cup of nog before you go, yes, you must - mother! Come an' bring a cuppa that fine nog!"
"Oh, no, I -"
"Oh, yes!" 'Mother' emerged from the back room, plump and flushed, her glasses askew and a hat on her head that was hung with sprigs of bobbing mistletoe. "Here now -" The man lifted the brimming cup from her fingers and held it out and Spike sighed softly - took the cup anyway and drank it down. It made his eyes water and sent an instant jolt of heat through his stomach and up his spine and he was damn surprised a one of them could walk, if that's what they were drinking back there.
"Oh, aye, tha's right! C'mon now an' gi'us kiss, handsome," Mother slurred, peering up at Spike from under her mistletoe crown. Spike wiped a foam of nog off his lip and bent down and did it. Soft, soft cheek, Lux soap and nog and the subtle scent of blood as she blushed under his lips. "Happy Christmas, love," she said.
"Dad! C'mon, here's your song!" A tall, red-headed boy stood in the doorway, grinning and gesturing, and someone else turned up a radio good and loud, drowning the rest of the conversation in a swell of choral voices.
"Come along, mother! Happy Christmas, mate!" The man slung his arm around his wife and towed her away, filling up his lungs and starting to sing along with the hymn rolling out of the radio. Cracked voice with no idea of time or tune but it was... Like old times.
'Ding dong merrily on high...in heav'n the bells are ringing: Ding dong! verily the sky...is riv'n with angel singing... Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis! E'en so here below, below...let steeple bells be swungen... And "Io, io, io!"...By priest and people sungen... Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!'
The snow was thicker, if that was possible, and the sun gone down somewhere behind towers of stone and glass. The lights across the river shone and spangled in the swirling night and Spike hummed as he walked, feeling the warmth of the nog like a coal in his belly - the warmth of the woman's cheek lingering on his lips. Vespers was ringing from the Cathedral, made muffled and ghostly by the snow. He could hear, in bits and snatches, songs and laughter and lively conversation from different flats all around. Buildings like solid cores of heat and life and the darkness outside that seemed to whirl up and over and around him, ready to snatch him up and fly him away. He almost felt it could. He felt....too light. Like a ghost again, insubstantial, weightless - voiceless. There was no one in the wide old world waiting at home for him and for the first time in over a year he let himself feel that.
His keys were cold in his fingers and he scowled to himself as he fumbled them out and opened the building door - strode to the stairs and went down the single flight to his own front door. Walk-out to the river bank and a pocket-handkerchief of green - narrow windows that were easily covered and...music. Spike stopped with his hand outstretched, looking at his front door. It was open a half-inch, and music was playing inside.
'Sharp ears are tuned in to the drones and chanters warming... Mist blowing 'round some headland, somewhere in your memory... Everyone is from somewhere...even if you've never been there... So take a minute to remember the part of you that might be the old man calling me... How many wars you fighting out there, this winter's morning? Maybe it's always time for another Christmas song...'
Spike jammed his keys into his pocket and the wrapped bottle and biscuits in the other - reached out and smacked his palm down onto the door, shoving it open hard enough to crash it into the wall.
"Whoever you are, you'd better have a bloody good reason for barging - Xander?"
"Jesus, Spike! Give a guy a coronary, why don't you?" Xander stood there in Spike's gleaming kitchen - gleaming because he never used it. Stood there in socked feet and worn old jeans and the blood-red t-shirt with the poison-dart frogs on it. Stood there with a plate in one hand and a fistful of silver in the other, and Spike just blinked at him - blinked around at his flat, because...
Because it was Christmas, in his flat. One of his little tables had been pulled out from the wall and a drape of heavy, red velvet had been laid over it. A little tree - about two feet high - stood in the center of it, covered with softly glowing lights in red, pink, blue, green, yellow and white. Silver spangles glinted from its limbs and Spike could smell the rich, spicy pine resin coming from it. His gas fire had been lit and glowed like amber through the fireplace's decorative mica panels, radiating heat and the sweet smell of apple wood. Another velvet drape - this one richly green with an embroidery of leaves - was draped over his kitchen table and Xander was laying down the last of a place-setting, poking fussily at the fork and napkin while giving Spike looks from under that fall of heavy, shimmering hair.
"What - I mean, where'd you - how'd you get in?" Spike stuttered, pushing his door shut behind him and just standing there, bewildered. The flat smelled of savory and sweet and spice - there were candles on every surface sending up mellow perfume and steaming platters of food on the table and bags on the worktop from - "How'd you get take-away from Oxo on Christmas Eve?"
"I know one of the chefs. He made us a feast! Only cost me my Fantastic Four Annual number three but hey - so worth it. Roast duck." Five years ago Xander would have saved that sort of awe and longing for a double-fudge Twinkie but he'd grown up somewhere between Sunnydale and Saigon.
"Duck? Did you get - hey! There are presents under that tree." Spike noticed for the first time the fairly impressive pile of wrapped boxes and bundles and Xander lit the fat pillar candle on the table and sauntered over, white teeth gleaming in the honeyed gloom.
"Yeah. I went around to everybody to make my own deliveries and pick-ups and everybody had something for you so -"
"They did? How'd they know you were coming here? Xander -" Spike finally turned and stood face to face with the man, shaking off his shock and tamping down for the moment his incredulous pleasure at coming home to - this. To warmth and light and...family. "Why are you here?"
"It's Christmas, Spike! You know, ho ho ho and all that -" But Xander wasn't exactly meeting Spike's gaze and Spike frowned - reached out and took him by the shoulders and gave him a tiny shake.
"Xander, I know it's Christmas but neither one of us exactly celebrates. Childhood trauma and demonizing, remember? Now - tell me the truth. Is - oh fuck - is everyone all right? Is Dawn -?"
"Everybody's fine!" Xander's own hands went up to Spike's forearms - clutched at his coat-sleeves. The single eye finally lifted and met Spike's gaze and Spike could see the truth there.
"Then tell me."
"Okay, okay. Jeez! Look, it's - it really is 'cause it's Christmas." Xander sighed, making a rueful sort of face. "Buffy and Dawn had plans with some friends they'd made and Willow and Kennedy are like - Missus and Missus Claus with all their witchy friends down there and Giles is with his family and - well, Andrew, you know -"
"Yeah, always something waiting on the side now that he's found his bed-legs," Spike said, grinning, and Xander grinned back. Andrew seemed to date a lot for a geeky demon-hunter who still called Spike a vam-pyre and choked on his pipe smoke. Something in the water in Rome, maybe...
"Yeah. And Faith and Robin are way too into baby's first Christmas for me to want to be anywhere near them and...well -"
"Ran out of names then, yeah?" Spike said, and fuck - that was the last thing he wanted to hear Xander say. But it was sure to come rolling out, glib and sugared but still - bitter. He let his hands slip down from Xander's shoulders, wanting to step away. Xander's fingers just clutched tighter, making Spike's coat creak a little.
"Ran out of ways to say no, actually. Spike?"
"Yeah?" Spike looked up from the black and blue frog on Xander's chest into a serious and solemn face - a wide, dark eye that held a hint of sorrow in it.
"I was making the rounds to everybody and everybody wanted me to stay with them but... I told them I already had plans." Xander's fingers loosened - slid up until they were resting lightly on Spike's shoulders - until the very tips were stroking Spike's neck - slipping up into the curling hairs at the back of his neck and Spike blinked one slow blink, feeling the muscles all down his back suddenly unknot.
"Yeah. Told 'em I was spending Christmas in London. With you."
Xander laughed softly. "Yeah, with you. Even brought food and presents and alcohol to bribe you into letting me in. But then I remembered I had a key to your place from that time you got poisoned? So I just -"
"Made yourself at home," Spike said. He swayed ever so slightly closer to Xander, letting his own hands creep back out and find Xander's ribs - his hips. Curl tight around the heat and solid muscle under the gaudy, giddy frogs.
"Yeah, home," Xander said, and leaned forward and kissed Spike. Slow kiss that took a while, and he tasted like candied ginger and plums. "You taste like egg nog," Xander murmured, pulling back eventually, and Spike opened his eyes.
"You taste like Christmas." Another song started, radio feed from a satellite eight miles high and falling fast. Or rising like a rocket, all glitter and gold. Like the air in Spike's flat - like the energy between them.
"Oh, I like this song."
"Yeah, me too," Spike said, and pulled Xander close again - as close as he could get.
'Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light...from now on, our troubles will be out of sight. Have yourself a merry little Christmas, make the Yule-tide gay...from now on our troubles will be far away... And have yourself...a merry little Christmas now...'