Maybe he was momentarily possessed by the Christmas spirit. That wouldn’t have been any stranger than being possessed by a hyena demon, and Sunnydale certainly had been especially Hellmouthy lately. Or maybe two decades plus of unremitting holiday misery had inflicted him with the desire to do what he could to make other people’s Christmases slightly merrier. Even if the other people in question were snarky, formerly evil and now sort of crazy vampires. Maybe he just felt sorry for Spike, who he knew owned nothing but a pair of jeans, a couple shirts, his Docs and duster, and a Zippo. Maybe it was just another sign of the impending apocalypse.
Whatever the reason, as Xander left Hot Topic with a gift card for Dawn in his pocket, on his way to H&M where he’d be buying one for Buffy, he did not stop at Auntie Anne’s for a pepperoni-topped pretzel. Instead, he found himself wandering into Barnes & Noble. And when he spied a book of photographs of Victorian London, he picked it up, and a moment later he also grabbed a book of Romantic poetry, and then, over in the DVD section, he added The Fast and the Furious to his stack. Spike didn’t have a DVD player, of course, but he could always borrow someone else’s. Xander figured the resourceful vampire would find a way to watch if he wanted to.
Back at his apartment that night, Xander wrapped his purchases in red paper covered with penguins and Santas. You would think he’d be better at this—it was just construction, sort of—but he always ended up with wrinkled paper, crooked bows, and tape everywhere. Still, it was the thought that counted, right?
Only, his thoughts were pretty gloomy right now.
It was the end of the world again, and he was so damned tired. He remembered how Tony had looked, coming home from the plant with his face lined and gray, and that’s how Xander felt right now. Just like his father’s, his work was never done. You clock out and go home, but the next day there’s another evil to fight, another demon to kill. He didn’t even have the solace of Anya’s arms anymore, not after the mess he’d made of that. And Spike! He was never going to open these gifts. He was probably a little pile of dust now, or, even more likely, he’d shed his shiny new soul as handily as Angel had once shed his, and was even now plotting with the First to destroy civilization.
Nonetheless, Xander enclosed the books and DVD in the colorful paper, and he stuck on a gold-colored bow and a little sticker that said To Spike from Xander. He added the parcel to the others in his small pile and smiled.
They ended up skipping Christmas that year. With the sudden arrival of Giles and his slayer entourage, and Andrew’s uncertain status, and the ubervamp and the Bringers and all the rest, well, nobody had the time or the inclination for festivities. But one day Buffy announced that they all needed a diversion of some kind, something to get their minds off everything going on. So they’d celebrated Groundhog Day instead. They squeezed together in Xander’s apartment—too many stray slayers at Buffy’s place—and ate the traditional Groundhog Day takeout Chinese and sipped the traditional Groundhog Day Diet Pepsis and Coronas and watched the traditional Groundhog Day Groundhog Day video.
All the old gang was the there: Buffy and Dawn and Willow and Giles and even Anya. Spike came, too, and spent the evening skulking around the edges of the room as if he hoped nobody would notice him. He was wincing periodically, Xander noticed, and he wondered whether Spike could still be feeling the aftereffects of his encounter with the First.
Not surprisingly, it was Anya who noticed the neat little stack of presents sitting on Xander’s kitchen counter and asked whether one of them might be for her. So Xander distributed the gifts and they sat in a circle in the living room to open them. The Summers girls grinned over their gift cards and Willow got a little weepy over the necklace he’d had custom-made for her, a gold chain with a gold pendant in the shape of a tiny crayon. Giles seemed pleased with his gift, a bottle of very expensive Scotch which, the clerk at BevMo had assured Xander, was really good stuff. Xander had agonized the most over what to get Anya. He wanted to get her something she’d like, but not as personal as jewelry, given their somewhat uneasy relationship. But he’d evidently chosen well, because she beamed over her stock certificate and gave him a hug and then ran home to research 3Com Corp, of which she was now a proud, if very partial, owner.
Of course, that left one more bright package. It was Dawn who read the tag, her voice slightly puzzled. Spike startled a little when she said his name, and then stared at Xander with a mixture of confusion and suspicion. “Take the piss out of the vampire. That’s funny, Harris,” he growled, but his arms were wrapped protectively around himself.
“It’s not a joke. It’s just…well, it’s no big deal. I got carried away with my brand new MasterCard, is all.” Xander felt like he might be blushing.
“Demons don’t celebrate Christmas, berk.”
“No, but do they celebrate Groundhog Day?” Xander took the gift from Dawn and held it out toward Spike.
Spike hesitated a moment and then snatched the package away. “Most likely a King James Bible,” he muttered to himself, but he tore the paper off anyway and let it flutter to the floor. When he saw what he’d actually been given—it took him a second or two to shuffle through the little stack—his face briefly went soft and wondering. He’s beautiful, Xander had time to think, and then those blue eyes were turned on him with a gaze that seemed to pierce him like needles.
“Cheers,” Spike said quietly and then turned and stalked off to stare at the poster Xander had hung on one wall, as if Spike really was interested in Watchmen.
Not too much later everyone went home. Spike’s presents were never mentioned again, but sometimes Xander thought he caught an odd look from the vampire, just a quick glance now and then. A few months later, Spike tackled Caleb, saving Xander’s right eye and, quite possibly, his life. And then, not too long after that, Spike went one better and saved the whole world.
Xander supposed that those two books and the stupid movie had ended up obliterated along with Spike himself and the rest of Sunnydale. But several years later, he flew to Krakow to spend Groundhog Day reminiscing with Buffy over mugs of hot chocolate at Wawel. They started talking about Spike, who was rumored to be leading a crew of demon fighters somewhere near Boston.
“Remember those presents you gave him, that one year?” Buffy smiled and sipped delicately at her cocoa.
“He spent hours with those books, down in my basement. He pointed out to me all the sites he knew in those pictures. He wouldn’t read me any of the poems, though. But I think they helped…settle him, when his screws were getting a little loose.”
“Oh,” was all Xander said, and then he changed the subject, asking about Dawn’s fiancé and how the poor guy had reacted to learning he was engaged to a former mystical key. But for months afterward, whenever he allowed his mind to wander a little, Xander found himself grinning at the mental image of Spike huddled over his presents, comforted by them.
He didn’t often act on impulse, not any more. He’d been cured of that first by the chip and then by the soul, so that now he sat and thought over things so thoroughly he feared he was in danger of turning as brooding as his grandsire.
But this time…well. There he was standing in the queue as if a 150-year-old vampire had nothing better to do than surround himself with humanity just so he could buy some hair bleach and a packet of fags. He wished he could still eat some of this lot—he’d feel guilty about it later, but at least it would speed things along. But then he spied the display near the checkout desk and paused.
It was a set of seven action figures from the film Dragonball Evolution, and it made Spike think for the first time in ages of Xander Harris. The last he’d heard Harris had hooked up with the sodding Watchers, or what was left of them, anyhow, and he was traveling the globe on their business, miraculously not yet managing to get himself killed. Spike wondered if he was happy, then snorted at himself over the thought. Still, he found himself picking up the bulky box and juggling it along with his other purchases, convinced as he was that vampires did not use shopping trolleys.
Back in his flat, he shoved the box into a cupboard and promptly forgot about it, as Angel rang to warn him that there were rumors Wolfram & Hart was trying to start something on the East Coast—Spike really didn’t fancy facing those wankers again—and a member of Spike’s crew got himself killed by a Polgara in Hartford, and the bird Spike had been shagging lately—a pretty little girl with a thing for vamps who didn’t sparkle—moved away when she got a position at an advertising company in New York, and, well, unlife happened.
And then, six months later, Spike came across the box when he was rooting in the cupboard, searching for a spare broadsword after he’d broken his good one in a lovely brawl. He didn’t find the weapon, but there were the ridiculous little pieces of plastic, and of course that resurrected his curiosity about Harris himself. He pulled the box out and stared at it for a moment before setting it on his sofa. Then he went off in search of his mobile phone.
Xander got a package. Xander never got packages, not unless he’d ordered something for himself. Even when he found something interesting or useful during his journeys he generally just shipped it back to Giles, who would then send him emails telling Xander how dangerous or important the things were, and how he really shouldn’t trust the post with them. But it wasn’t like Xander could just drag them around until he managed to get back to London, so he kept on mailing them anyway.
But this day, Xander got a package, and it wasn’t anything he’d bought himself. Just the sight of the brown paper wrapping was exciting, a reminder of when he was very young and his grandmother would send him parcels containing Matchbox cars and clothing and several weeks worth of the Sunday funnies. This one was even more interesting, actually, because it had the customs forms attached, and a postage sticker from the good old USPS, and a return address in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Xander loped up the stairs to his room—the closest thing he had to a home—and plopped down on his bed. He’d just returned from Hong Kong two days earlier, and the room still had a stale, unused feel to it. He was hoping it would stop raining soon so he could open the window and air things out. But now he was more interested in his surprise anyway, and he ripped the paper off with wild abandon, feeling absurdly like he was once again six years old.
Inside was a box covered in Batman wrapping paper. A white envelope was taped to one side, with his name written on it in neat blue ink. He tore the envelope off the box and got it open. It contained just a single piece of plain paper, which read,
Do Watchers’ minions celebrate Cinco de Mayo?
Xander was too overcome by surprise to take offense at being called a minion. Besides, it what he was, more or less. A slightly glorified gofer, maybe. At least he wasn’t fetching donuts anymore. But all of that was beside the point, because at the moment the real question was what had Spike sent him and why?
Xander removed the wrapping paper, grinning for a moment at the thought of the vampire going to Target or somewhere and buying the stuff. When he saw what was inside, his smile grew even wider. Not so much at the gift itself—although, and he’d admit this to nobody, he thought the toys were kind of cool—but at the idea that Spike had seen them, and thought of Xander, and bothered to ship them several thousand miles away.
He ended up taking the little figures out of their boxes and scattering them on his otherwise bare desk and dresser. They made the plain little room look more lived-in, he thought. Like home.
Six weeks later, Xander was still in London. That was unusual; he rarely stayed for more than a week or two between trips. But Giles and the rest were preoccupied with some sort of demonic problem at Silbury Hill—turned out, disturbing mysterious 4600 year old earth mounds was not such a great idea, as some archeologist had recently discovered—and Xander was a little at loose ends. He went to a couple clubs, but, honestly, he was starting to feel a little old for that sort of thing. He watched tv. He went for long, aimless walks and spent whole afternoons riding the Tube to nowhere in particular. He drank a lot of ale.
One day he was in a secondhand bookstore near the British Museum when he found an interesting-looking book on Jack the Ripper. He bought it and the next day stuck it in a padded envelope, along with a postcard of Tower Bridge. On the back of the card, Xander wrote a short message:
Look what they’ve built since your day! And soon we celebrate the perfect vampire holiday—July 3 is Stay out of the Sun Day. Here’s something to keep you busy in the dark.
He’d saved the Cambridge address from off his parcel, and now he scribbled in onto the envelope and, whistling, walked off to mail it.
Xander left for Melbourne a few days later. When he got back in late August another package was waiting for him. He whooped with glee and took it up to his room, where he dumped his bag on the floor and toed off his shoes before tearing the thing open.
Twinkies. Ho-Hos, Ding-Dongs, and the cupcakes with the white swirl on top: The chocolate trifecta. Cheetos and Jolly Ranchers and Twizzlers and Chips Ahoy. A cornucopia of American sugar and preservative heaven, all for him. With it was a note:
I just have to say
It’s Bad Poetry Day
Celebrate with a bite
Of this horrible shite
Spike had come a lot closer to being dusted than he had in ages—not since that battle in LA, actually. It wasn’t the lawyer twats this time, but only some very determined Erapis demons. Normally they wouldn’t have been much of a challenge, but Spike hadn’t been on his best game for a long time. He was tired. Tired of fighting and tired of his nightmares and tired of his lonely bed and his own company and…just bloody tired. So the Erapis had nearly got the better of him and by the time they were dead he’d dragged himself back to his flat and lay there for days, bloody and tattered, only his lack of energy to rise keeping him from just opening the curtains and being done with it all.
Then there’d been the sound of his door unlocking and a moment later Palmer was looming over him, clucking unhappily. “You’re a mess, man,” Palmer said.
Palmer was an ex-cop who’d seen one too many strange things on the streets of Boston. He was big as a bull and twice as stubborn. He grabbed Spike’s wrists in his paws and dragged the vampire upright. “C’mon, dude. We got shit to do. Chavez says there’s a vamp nest in the North End and something creepy going on in the Back Bay.”
“Don’t bloody care,” Spike said, trying half-heartedly to wrest himself from the man’s grip.
“Yeah? Well, I do. Plus, there was a big-ass package outside your door. Probably a bomb or something, gonna blow us all to bits. That’d kill a vamp, right?”
That got Spike up and moving.
The note was written in Xander’s barely legible scrawl.
Shiver me timbers—it’s Talk Like a Pirate Day. Pretty appropriate for me, with the whole eyepatch thing. So, swill some grog and plunder my booty.
Xander had filled the box with English goodies—Wheatabix and crisps and HP sauce and a dozen varieties of Twinings. There was also an antique map of Britain, carefully wrapped, and a Manchester United scarf. Spike crowed with delight and, despite the fact that it was nearly 90 degrees out, wrapped the scarf around his neck.
“Looks like somebody loves you,” Palmer said, pulling a face at a packet of curry crisps.
Spike blinked. “Nah. It’s just…an old mate, is all.”
“Well, they went to a lot of trouble to make you happy, looks like.”
Palmer was right. This hadn’t been just a quick run through Tesco.
Spike grabbed some blood from the fridge and chugged it cold. It had nearly gone off, but that didn’t especially matter to him right then. He stroked the red fringe at one end of the scarf. His body might have been standing in Cambridge, but his thoughts were thousands of miles away.
“Plunder my booty??”
Yeah, so October is Halloween, but that’s too obvious, I think. How about October 12, Face Your Fears Day?
This was a much smaller package than the last. Aside from the note it contained an autographed photo of Patrick Stewart. Also a copy of Out magazine with Neil Patrick Harris on the cover.
For the first time in what might have been months, Xander laughed out loud.
Never Mind the Bollocks, on vinyl, the cover signed by Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, and Steve Jones. A black leather thong with two rows of metal studs down the front. And a note:
Happy Celebrate Your Unique Talent Day.
And I faced that fear years ago, pal.
Xander hadn’t actually planned on being in London on Christmas. Usually, he pretended not to pay any attention to the holiday at all. It helped if he happened to spend it somewhere distinctly non-Christian. Afghanistan had been a good, if fairly dangerous, choice the previous year.
But here he was back in Christendom on December 24. He was by himself. Giles had gone off to the Canary Islands with another Watcher, a fortyish guy named Oliver Davies. Everybody had been pretending the two of them weren’t an item, most especially the two of them, until Xander accidentally on purpose found them in bed together during his October visit. They’d seemed relieved to finally be caught in flagrante, and since then they’d been so lovely-dovey that it made Xander slightly ill. So he wasn’t too sorry they’d be gone for the holiday.
Buffy was with Dawn and Dawn’s new hubby in Greece, which sounded nice and warm. They’d invited him to join them, but Buffy had a boyfriend, a serious one, it sounded like, and Xander would only be a fifth wheel.
Willow and her girlfriend had already celebrated Hanukkah and the solstice in Vancouver. She’d probably call him on Christmas Day. She usually did if he was somewhere accessible.
It had rained all day. Xander had slept in until almost noon, took a long, hot shower, and then strolled over to Sainsbury’s before they closed. He didn’t have a kitchen, which was fine, he ate out all the time anyway. But nothing would be open tonight or tomorrow, so he stocked up on a few comfort foods and then tucked them away in the tiny refrigerator that was next to his bed. That was where he generally kept his beer cold. He had one last Twinkie left from Spike’s August care package, and Xander was saving it for tonight.
Xander had also stocked up on DVDs for tonight. Nothing holidayish, no Jimmy Stewart or Red Ryder BB Guns, not even Snoopy and Charlie Brown. No, tonight he’d gone for Hitchcock, and he had his choice of Vertigo (okay, that was Jimmy Stewart, but it didn’t count) or North by Northwest or To Catch a Thief or The Birds or Rebecca.
Xander had opened a bottle of Fuller’s and decided to watch the movies in chronological order when a knock sounded at his door. Swearing slightly, he heaved himself out of bed to answer. It was Dudley, one of the Watchers-in-training who’d been unfortunate enough to pull guard duty at the Headquarters this night. He had a paper-wrapped parcel in his hand.
“This arrived for you by courier, sir,” Dudley said.
Xander took the package and looked it over, bemused. It had no stamps or return address on it. Nothing at all, actually, except his name, written in a familiar hand. He waved Dudley away, closed the door, and unwrapped the paper.
The gift was wrapped in garish green and red paper, with sparkly little bits that immediately got all over his hands. A piece of red yarn was tied around it, with a tag attached that read, Happy Christmas, pouf.
It was just a silver foil box, the type that might hold a piece of jewelry or a watch. This one, however, held nothing but a rectangular piece of plastic imprinted with the logo of the Kensington Hotel and a small slip of paper with the number 314 on it.
Xander didn’t stop to think or wonder, or even to find the breath that had suddenly escaped him. He shoved his feet into his shoes, threw on his coat, and, clutching the plastic key card, he ran.
He’d passed the hotel plenty of times before. It was a big white building off Old Brompton Road, maybe a half mile from Watcher HQ. Xander made it there in minutes, and by the time he entered the attractive lobby he was panting and flushed. The man behind the marble counter gave him a skeptical look—Xander no doubt looked pretty disreputable, with his eyepatch and messy hair and lounging around in bed clothes. But Xander ignored him and went straight to the lift.
It was a very slow lift. He should have just taken the stairs.
But then he was there, and there was room 314, and that was his own hand knocking on the white wooden door.
The door swung open, and it was Spike, of course. Spike wearing nothing at all but the leather g-string and a Santa hat, and he was smiling widely and Xander lost all power of speech.
“Well, come on in then, before we scandalize the whole place,” Spike said.
Xander entered the room—a nice one, he noted absently—and Spike closed the door behind him. Xander couldn’t help but note as well that Spike’s ass looked even better than he’d imagined in the thong.
“So,” Spike smirked at him. “Thraxis got your tongue? Never used to be able to shut you up.”
Xander swallowed audibly. “You never used to show up unexpectedly and dressed like…that.”
The smirk grew even smugger. “If I’d known this was how to quiet that gob I’d have done it ages ago.”
“But…but…but….” With some effort, Xander stopped sputtering. “But you said demons don’t celebrate Christmas.”
Spike stepped in, close, so close that Xander only had to move his arms if he wanted to touch that smooth, milky skin. “We don’t,” Spike purred. “But humans do, yeah? Thought I’d give you a pressie.”
Xander was finally able to move his hands and he did, drawing the vampire into an embrace that felt so damned good he couldn’t believe he’d lived nearly three decades without it. Spike burrowed right up to him, sighing softly against Xander’s cheek.
“It’s just what I always wanted,” Xander whispered.
“No returns on this one, you know. No exchanges.”
“No problem. I think you fit just right.”
Spike turned his head just a little and they were kissing, softly and sweetly, as if they had all night. Which, Xander supposed, they did. It was Spike who pulled away first, his blue eyes sparkling. “We have some celebrating to do, pet,” he said, and drew Xander toward the bed.
Xander smiled, warm through and through for the first time since—well, since ever, maybe. “Good. And then we can discuss how vampires observe Boxing Day.”
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