A Spander Christmas Stocking
Hung With Care
"He's not coming."
Xander shook his head in response to Dawn's statement as he closed the flat's door behind him. He supposed that his expression had given her the answer, and he felt guiltily grateful that she had said it aloud rather than forcing him to. He watched her stomp over to the fireplace where six stockings hung cheerfully. She yanked one off of the Santa Elvis stocking hanger and returned to shove it into Xander's hands.
"Guess we won't be needing this, then."
"Dawnie," he began helplessly.
"No, I'm tired of this. If he can't care enough to show up on Christmas Eve, then I don't want his stocking here to remind us that we're not enough to help him out with whatever has crawled up his ass this time."
Xander stared down at the red velour stocking with the sparkling "Spike" spelled out in gold glitter across the furry white top. He understood Dawn's anger. He had felt it often enough himself when Spike hid away in the crypt that he insisted on inhabiting despite repeated invitations to move in and share Xander's flat.
"He's upset that Buffy and Willow wouldn't let him go with them."
Dawn flung herself onto the couch and crossed her arms. "I know that. What I don't get is why that means he gets to be such an ass to everyone else who didn't go along. Besides, it's not like they wanted to go. I mean, hello, Christmas! Nobody wants to be off chasing down demons when there's Giles's eggnog to be had."
"Although most of us could willingly give up the morning-after results of said eggnog," Xander grimaced as he recalled learning the hard way that Giles liked his nog industrial-strength.
"It's all about pacing," Dawn nodded, stifling a grin. The grin quickly faded as she watched Xander slide his fingers over the glittering letters on the stocking in his hands.
"Are you okay?"
Her serious tone nearly broke through the brittle shields he had put up to protect himself from yet another of Spike's mood-swing rejections. He shrugged but didn't meet her eyes.
"You do know it's not just you, right? He does this to all of us." Dawn shifted forward on the couch, as if willing her words to penetrate.
"Yeah," Xander flashed a grimace, "but none of the rest of you are in love with him."
Xander squared his shoulders as he approached Spike's crypt. Cemeteries in London might look different than the ones in Southern California, but they somehow managed to exude the same vague air of menace. Or maybe that was just him.
He knocked on the door before easing it open. Late afternoon light cut across the dirt floor as he eased through the opening and closed the door behind him. It took several blinks to get his eye to adjust to the dark. He listened carefully for any sign of Spike, but met only stillness. He forced his hands to stop anxiously twisting the stocking.
Great, judging by the slur in those two words, Spike had continued his determined effort to drain every bottle in the crypt.
"I come bearing Christmas cheer." Xander peered through the dark until he made out the glint of a bottle and a dark form in the far corner.
"Vampire. Don't do Christmas."
"C'mon, this place is a dump. You need a bit of Christmas shiny." Xander held up the stocking, knowing Spike would be able to see it clearly in the dim light. "Dawn made it for you, so don't make me go back and tell her you wouldn't let me hang it up for Santa."
"Sanna's dead. Slayer got ‘im. Or maybe he got her. Either way, he's not comin' here."
Xander watched the bottle rise and heard Spike taking deep swallows. He turned away and surveyed the windows for a place to hang up the stocking.
"It's not like the Buffster is killing the real Santa. Just some jelly-bellied, white-haired, red-nosed demons that eat kids." Xander refused to dwell on the mission that had Buffy and Willow leading a group of slayers through the north of Canada instead of safely swapping gifts in front of the over-zealously decorated tree in the Giles's flat. He ran his fingers over a candle holder mounted on the wall, finding a curled filigree that would work as a hook for the stocking. He hung the stocking and trailed his fingers over the soft material.
"There ya go. All ready for Christmas." His forced cheer echoed flatly off the crypt walls. He got an answering snort and more thick swallows in return. His heart ached for the vampire curled up drunk on the floor and in pain, but he couldn't choose to go to him. Since Spike had returned to the Scoobies two years after the massacre in Los Angeles, Xander had spent too many hours, too many days and weeks cajoling Spike and pulling him out of the dark moods that isolated from everyone around him. The vampire would be fine for a while, back to his swaggering self, joking with Dawn, fighting alongside Buffy and the other slayers, and fucking Xander with a joyful ferocity. Then the tide would turn and the cycle would begin again, plunging him back down into the darkness with Xander following to coax him back out.
"Merry Christmas, Spike." The soft words lingered in the air as Xander slipped from the crypt and walked away.
Swaying slightly under the influence of Giles's potent eggnog, Xander leaned forward from his cross-legged position on the floor to light the last candle. He watched the flickering glow of candlelight from the circle in front of him. In the midst of the candles sat a small pile of brightly wrapped packages arranged carefully on top of the stocking that Dawn had made for him. He spared a quick thought that he would be in trouble once she realized that he had taken the stocking with him when he left their small Christmas celebration, but decided that if this worked, it would be worth enduring the mighty Dawnster pout.
Taking in a deep breath, Xander gazed down at the book spread across his lap. After Africa, he had worked with Willow to gain proficiency in basic spell casting that didn't require much innate power, but this went well beyond anything he had tried before. But when he had joked about Santa teleporting gifts into houses without chimneys, the sudden glimmerings of an idea had taken hold.
He cleared his mind to visualize the stocking he had hung in Spike's crypt, concentrating on the exact location and the feel of the cheap red velour with shaggy white band at the top. Holding the mental picture carefully, he intoned the Latin text. As he spoke the last word, the flames of the candles flashed before a sharp wind crashed through the flat snuffing them out. In the moment before he passed out, Xander grinned at the stocking lying alone in the midst of the candles.
Spike cursed as he rolled over onto the bottle that had slipped from his grasp when he drank himself into unconsciousness god knows how many hours before. With a good drunk on, he could guarantee at least ten solid hours of alcohol-poisoned sleep. He stumbled to his feet, blinking blearily as he searched for a bottle to sink him back into the safety of oblivion.
Pushing away the yearning for strong arms to hold him together, he tossed aside empty bottles, cringing as one of them shattered against stone. He didn't need anyone, he insisted to himself, not when whoever he got close to would leave or die. The last year with Angel proved that with a finality that Buffy, Drusilla and Cecily had never managed to achieve. Yet despite that, he had been stupid enough to let loneliness drive him back to Buffy and friends and into the arms of a one-eyed ex-bricklayer whose warm, welcoming body that could make him forget the pain-filled fears for a time.
He growled, wanting to roar out the despair, but knowing it would only exacerbate the pounding in his head. The glint of red spoke of something out of place and he forced his eyes to focus. A red stocking hung heavily on one of the sconces on the wall. He staggered toward it, yanking it down with the intention of throwing it into the corner and out of sight.
"Fucking Christmas." The surprising weight of the stocking halted him. Gifts. After all of the ill-temper and biting cruelty he had offered in the last week, he had Christmas gifts in his hands, and he couldn't bring himself to toss away the tangible evidence that he was cared for. Even if he hadn't been able to scent Xander on the stocking, he would have known who would still keep trying despite the repeated rejections Spike threw at him as the dread of irreversible losses encompassed him.
Spike folded to the ground, gripping the stocking to his chest as he fought the longing to be holding Xander. After several long minutes, he tipped the contents of the stocking onto the floor in front of him. He fingered each package, debating where to begin. The largest package was misshapen and squished softly in his grip. He ripped off the paper and bit back a laughing sob as he beheld a small puppet vampire that was clearly meant to be Angel with the overhanging brow and leather coat. Xander had periodically burst out in giggles for hours after Spike had shared that story, complete with digital pictures stored on his cell phone.
He ran a finger over the vampire ridges. "Hated you, you know," he told the puppet affectionately. He laid the stuffed toy on top of the stocking, making sure it was safely away from the dirt floor before reaching for the next gift. The square package turned out to be a pack of Death cigarettes that had Spike grinning despite himself as he remembered the drunken debate over whether vampires could get cancer. As he recalled, the discussion had ended when Xander swallowed Spike's cock, effectively forestalling any further attempts at logic.
Two gifts remained, and Spike debated briefly before tearing into the larger box to find two airline-sized bottles of JD. He swallowed down the guilt that threatened as he quickly set the bottle aside. The fact that Xander didn't condemn him for the descents into drunkenness hurt more than any lecture.
Holding the last package, he swallowed heavily before undoing the wrapping, not wanting the moment to end, leaving him to inevitably crawl back into the bottle to escape the terror-inducing love wrapped in glittering paper and a gaudy stocking. Crumpled paper set aside, he blinked back tears as he stared down at the house key on a miniature railroad spike keychain resting on cotton in the small white box.
An hour after dark on Christmas Day, Spike cursed himself as seven kinds of fool as he stood on the sidewalk outside the house that contained Xander's flat. He fingered the keychain in his pocket, rehearsing his carefully worded return of the gift. Bloody unfair it was to give him the key as a Christmas present when he had been refusing for months to take it because he had his own place, ta very much.
He forced his feet forward, but instead of raising his hand to knock, he pulled the key from his pocket and watched his fingers slip it into the lock and turn. The latch released, and the door opened. He slipped the key back into his pocket and stepped across the threshold.
Xander awoke feeling sore all over. He struggled to sit up and nearly tumbled over as the ground beneath him had more give than he expected.
"Shh, pet. Might be best if you didn't move for a mo'." Spike gently guided him back down and sat next to him.
"Spike?" Xander blinked as he realized he was no longer on the floor but in his bed. "What happened? Are you okay?"
"Should be asking you that. What kind of mojo were you doing in there?" Anger colored the concern in Spike's voice.
"How'd you get in?" Xander ignored the question and pushed himself up on the bed, sitting back against the headboard as the room turned sideways.
"Had a key." Spike held out the metal keychain with its single key.
Xander grinned. "It worked." In the face of Spike's serious expression, Xander's smile faltered. "The stocking...it worked, right?"
Spike shifted his gaze to the bits of metal in his hand. He wrapped his fingers around the key, recognizing the rightness of its weight in his palm. All of his painstakingly crafted words faded into meaninglessness as he considered giving up the key and the stability it offered.
He looked up and stroked a finger along Xander's cheek, wanting suddenly to erase the uncertainty in that expressive brown eye that spoke of Xander's expectation to be hurt once more.
"Yeah, luv." Spike leaned forward and captured Xander's lips in a gentle kiss. "It worked."
Xander reached out to pull Spike to him, and they quickly entwined arms around one another, bodies pressed together on the bed.
Spike nuzzled the warm neck and breathed in the scent that spoke of security, passion, and love. "Happy Christmas, Xan."
Xander tightened his arms around the vampire he loved. "And a very happy New Year."