“I don’t have time for this!” Buffy protested as she rolled up her sleeves and prepared herself for round…whatever with Spike. “I have Christmas to beat into submission, I don’t need the silent minority to goad me into premature punchiness.”
“He’s strangely quiet,” Willow observed, and the three friends peered into Buffy’s sitting room, where the sole occupant was sitting rigidly upright in a dining chair, silent and – although they could barely believe it – seemingly afraid to move. “Where did you find him?” Willow asked.
“In the mall. Borders. He was trying to steal a book.”
“Wait, wait.” Xander paused in befuddlement, trying to get his head around the fact that Spike was not only trying to steal a book, but had been caught? “This isn’t right. I know from personal experience that Spike doesn’t screw up on the theft front. And…a book?”
“I know,” Buffy acknowledged the sense of weird. “Even scarier? He didn’t seem to be stealing so much as…not being able to find the right money to pay.”
“The staff get cranky this time of year,” Willow nodded, “if you don’t have the right money, or if you drop change, or if you sneeze and accidentally turn someone into a stapler.” Buffy and Xander turned a dual stare in her direction. “Resolved,” Willow assured them, adding rather grimly, “Although that particular assistant was probably more use as a stapler.”
“Green streaks?” Buffy ventured.
“Green streaks,” Willow confirmed.
“That explains a lot.”
“So,” Xander recapped, “we have a Spike who is trying to buy – yes, ladies – buy a book, gets dissed by a clerk who is still alive to tell the tale, and has to be dragged away by the slayer.”
“No draggage. He gave up the book without a fight and came along with me…” Buffy looked distinctly uneasy. “Willingly?”
“Willingly,” Xander and Willow repeated as one.
“He may have even…apologised.”
Stunned by the accusation of good manners now levelled at Spike, they once again turned to stare at the vampire. He hadn’t moved a muscle. Not so much as a twitch.
“Someone has to say it,” Willow said, her tone full of foreboding.
Xander swallowed hard and stoically accepted the challenge.
“If we didn’t know better, we could believe that wasn’t Spike at all.”
“That would be what we have to be saying.”
“It’s Spike,” Buffy insisted, but she didn’t sound too convinced herself. “This is…this is…”
“Attempting payment,” Xander reminded her. “Apologising.”
“I give up! Thinking is not my specialty! Whatever’s going on, I’m going to go in there and pummel the truth out of him.”
“But if it isn’t Spike…”
“He has the Spike face, the Spike hair, the Spike coat…”
“And apparently none of the Spike personality. There is non-Spikeliness, and…and…”
“This is a game. We play this game, Spike and I, all the time: he plays at being awkward and I play at beating his ass until I get what I need.”
Xander caught Buffy’s arm and held her back.
“He hasn’t insulted me once since he got here. In fact… Has he spoken at all?”
“Not since the apology.”
“He looks too terrified to speak,” Willow observed, trying to catch Spike’s eye but failing due to the extreme selective blindness the vampire appeared to have developed.
Prodding Buffy and Willow aside, Xander took a step into the room.
“Let me talk to him.”
“C’mon, if anyone’s going to bring out the scary, obnoxious monster in Spike, it’s me.”
The girls conceded that he had a point, and stood back to watch as Xander approached the vampire, wearing the kind of disarming smile that Spike would usually take great pleasure in wiping from the young man’s face.
“Hey, Spike, you feeling okay?” There was no response, so Xander – keeping his body language as unthreatening as possible – very deliberately placed himself in Spike’s eye-line. “You feeling okay?” Xander asked again, backing the soft tones up with another gentle smile. After a moment, Spike gave the briefest shake of his head. “No? Not okay? What kind of not okay?” Spike obviously thought hard about that, but ended up looking as bewildered as the rest of them. “Kinda…not feeling yourself?” Xander suggested, and that prompted a grateful nod of the head.
“See?” Willow challenged Buffy.
“Do you recognise me?” Xander pressed on. Spike gave a nervous shake of the head. “You don’t know me?” Xander reiterated in surprise, earning himself another negative shake. “Do you know where you are?” No was shaken. “Do you know who you are?” Finally a yes, but Spike seemed unable or unwilling to elucidate. Xander paused, exchanging a perplexed glance with his friends. Spike was gazing at him, wide-eyed and forlorn. It was oddly disturbing. “Spike… Is there anything you’d like to ask?”
Spike gave a shallow nod and visibly steeled himself. He politely cleared his throat before asking with some difficulty.
“Why do you refer to me as Spike?”
“Okay…” Xander threw a smile across the room to Not-Spike, then turned to the girls. “The timing is pretty dire, but…”
“Someone has to take him for Christmas,” Buffy finished. “He can’t stay here, and Giles isn’t around, so…” She turned to Willow. “Any chance…”
“No,” Willow said with a determined shake of the head. “Puppy, yes. Kitten, yes. Vampire… My parents won’t let me keep this one because he followed me home.”
“Buffy?” prompted Xander.
“You want to give him the benefit of the doubt. I want to give him Mr Pointy. I think that rules me out and makes you the volunteered volunteer.”
“I didn’t volunteer!”
“Hence the…volunteered,” Willow clarified, and Buffy thanked her for paying attention.
“I can’t,” Xander continued to protest, despite knowing it was a lost cause, and despite knowing it was the obvious solution: his parents would be too drunk to notice. On consideration, some (relatively) sane and sober company – apparently considerate Not-Spike as opposed to legendarily excruciating Real-Spike – might actually be quite welcome. “Oh…what the hell.”
Buffy and Willow flinched, overly cautious regarding that word, and Xander flailed an apologetic gesture.
After a few seconds mental deliberation, Spike figured out that was him, and turned in Willow’s direction. Remembering long-forgotten manners, he clumsily leapt to his feet in the presence of a lady, and gave a slight bow of the head.
“That is so cute,” Buffy acknowledged before it occurred to her who she was talking about. A blah moment ensued.
“Spike,” Willow began again. “We’ve been discussing who you should live with over Christmas.” She waved a finger between herself and Buffy. “We were thinking…”
“No!” Spike protested. “Two young ladies, that would be most improper! I – I – I could not possibly… Oh dear. No. No.” Spike stuttered to a halt.
“That’s pretty decisive,” Buffy said, and smiled at Xander.
“You’ll be coming home with me,” Xander reassured Spike, and Spike turned from stammering posh propriety to coy appreciation in a breath.
“Really?” he murmured, one soft word accompanied by an equally charming blush.
“Sure. Less improper?”
“Yes. Far more…satisfactory.” An unquestionably adoring gaze settled on Xander; the blush deepened. “Thank you.”
Buffy and Willow looked at Spike, looked at one another, then dragged Xander back to the hallway.
“He likes you,” Willow giggled.
“He…he appreciates me,” Xander insisted.
“I think we could all see that,” Buffy agreed.
“Appreciates what I can do for him.”
The girls smothered their snorts of laughter and Xander gave them both a hearty prod.
“Aww. How can you resist that?” Willow asked, and they looked over to where Spike was staring at Xander with unreserved admiration. “And haven’t you always thought Spike was—”
“Willow!” Xander hastily shut Willow up.
“Spike was…?” Buffy asked. “Xander thought Spike was…?” The penny dropped. “Oh! Eww! Gross! No…actually… Really? But it’s Spike and…and…and no, it’s not. And…really? ‘Cause…you’d make a cute couple. Light, dark, nice contrast, like…well accessorised. You and this, not you and that…Spike.”
“Finished?” Xander asked as Buffy babbled to a halt.
“Yes. I enjoyed that, I can see why you do it.”
“Look at him,” Willow told Xander. Xander did as instructed, and Spike very nearly squirmed in his seat. “He so likes you.”
“You think?” Xander frowned.
“Every time you look at him he blushes.”
“You have to be wrong. If you were right, him wanting to stay with me would be way too improper.”
“Cuteness aside, isn’t Spike straight?” Buffy asked. “Drusilla would suggest straight.”
“Xander would suggest bi,” Willow countered.
“That was just a theory,” Xander protested, “and private!”
“I meant…this Spike liking you might mean he was bi,” Willow explained, gradually slowing as Buffy did a classic double-take at Xander.
“Yes, nothing. Nothing,” Buffy agreed, barely keeping a straight face. “As if it would matter.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Willow agreed.
“I have to get out of here. I’ll take Spike…” This time the snort of laughter was not at all smothered. “Home. I’ll take Spike home, and you can do the research. Try to find out why we have nineteenth-century man instead of twentieth-century undead.”
“I’ll ask around,” Buffy agreed, “see if any of the other vamps are becoming their old selves.”
“Spike,” Xander called, “we’re leaving, okay?”
“Yes. Yes, of course. Yes.”
As Spike spluttered and blushed, he threw a tentative smile in Xander’s direction; Xander threw an equally tentative smile back. Willow hooked her arm through Xander’s and leant against him.
“I think you like him liking you.”
“I do? No, I… I…don’t know.” The girls stared questioningly at Xander for a long minute as he self-analysed. “Oookay. There may be something I don’t know that you don’t know either, but when I know you’ll be the first to know and, if he keeps on looking at me like that, I think we all might know sooner rather than later.”
Xander hung up the phone and turned to where Spike was staring with slack-jawed amazement at the TV. He’d been sitting there like that for the best part of an hour and, on behalf of the Cartoon Network, Xander appreciated that kind of mindless admiration.
The walk home had been an absolute delight, with this reborn Spike regularly tugging excitedly at his sleeve or clinging warily to his arm, amazed and terrified by every innovation that had occurred since his last living memory. The only thing that had thrilled him more than the flashy Christmas decorations they’d passed were three simple words: “Call me Xander.”
He’d been curious as to how this jump through time had happened, leaving Xander struggling to explain; he had no wish to inflict the horrific knowledge of the vampire’s ‘birth’ and living death on this strangely endearing character, so unlike the persona of Spike it was almost impossible to see the connection. Consequently Xander feigned ignorance, laughing along with Spike’s self-comparison to a modern-day Rip Van Winkle and dreading the moment when he’d have to tell the truth.
“That was Buffy,” Xander explained, gesturing to the phone. “Apparently this is all due to a spell.”
Spike though, was pointing at the TV again, hand trembling in wonderment.
“He is both man…and bat!”
“Yup. Change channels and you’ll find someone both man and…spider.”
Spike’s hand swiftly withdrew; he covered his eyes.
“It is too much!”
Taking pity, Xander clicked off the TV and joined Spike on the sofa. He gently prised Spike’s hand away and admired the immediate blush his close proximity brought about.
“As I was saying… Buffy’s found out…” Spike was now gazing into his eyes, in complete trust, complete – oh, the irony – innocence. The truth. He had to tell the truth. This was going to be shocking news however it was worded, and then somehow Xander had to make Spike believe the unbelievable.
“Xander?” Spike softly encouraged.
“Yeah, umm… All the guys like you in town, are…like you.”
Spike paid close attention, nodding intelligently.
“I see. Although, in truth…” The nod became a shake. “No. That makes little sense to me. People like me…are like me?”
“What I’m trying to say…”
“Do you mean…English?”
“Kinda. As weird. How do I… Look, Spike…”
“Is that name some sort of slang?”
“Spike. It is not any kind of name I recognise.”
“Okay, yeah, it’s…it’s a nickname. A pet name.”
Xander cringed at his own words, inwardly hoping that, should Spike return to his old self at some point, he’d forget that description had ever been used.
“A pet name? Something you’d adopt…” A bright smile lit Spike’s features. “…for a friend. For someone you have great affection for. Although I have no memory of you that makes such sense. It is plain: your care and consideration would not be fitting for a mere acquaintance.”
“Uh… Something like that.
“So we are friends. My dear Xander, that fills me with joy. My day has been quite wretched, but now, at last, I feel secure.”
“Yeah, we’re all friends. All of us.”
“Miss Buffy and Miss Willow will think me so discourteous.”
“No, they won’t. You may have forgotten them, but you can’t help that.”
“And there are others in my situation? Is this some kind of infection, some disability brought about by inhaling a miasma perhaps?”
“No-one knows,” Xander said, aping Giles’ most sage expression and hoping that the conversation wouldn’t drift any further from his grasp. “But there’s nothing to say you won’t recover.”
Noise from upstairs made the two men fall still, both listening intently. Bangs and crashes followed as Xander’s parents began their Christmas celebration the only way they knew how.
“Hey, Spi— What would you rather I call you?”
“My given name is William. Or is that considered too formal in this wondrous time of the television and the microwave?”
“Kinda formal. How about…Will?”
“Yes,” Spike— Will agreed enthusiastically.
Xander realised he could have suggested just about anything and it would been received with the same gusto. He was almost tempted to try, but this so clearly wasn’t Spike, therefore humiliation didn’t have the same appeal. There was, however, a whole new appeal that Xander was doing his best to ignore. He needed a distraction.
“Will. D’you think you could cope with something even more amazing than the TV?”
“More amazing?” Will gasped. “I should probably swoon.”
“That happens, I’ll catch you.” The adorable blush was back with a vengeance; so much for ignoring the new appeal. “I’d like to take you… I mean…I’d like you to come with me…” Xander took a deep breath. “We’re going to the movies.”
Possibly the one thing more entertaining than sharing Will’s shiny new enjoyment of White Christmas was the sight of so many of Sunnydale’s undead wandering around making friendly conversation and being generally harmless. If, at any time before meeting Not-Spike, Xander had been told that this could happen, he would have seen it as an opportunity to rid the town of as many nasties as possible in one fell swoop. While the biggest and baddest were reduced to their previous personas, they were easy prey for the Scoobies, but, having met Will, Xander couldn’t possibly agree that it would have been fair treatment.
He’d just exchanged cordial seasonal greetings with a crusty old vamp who’d been trying to chomp down on him for more years than Xander could recall, but the night was peaceful, snowy and sparkly and, thanks to some fascinating company, this was turning into quite a memorable Christmas. Just for once, tradition would be broken and the memories would be pleasant.
The local movie theatre ran White Christmas every year, and it had been the perfect way to introduce Will to the wonders of Hollywood. Will, it turned out, loved the concept of breaking into song at a moment’s notice, and had been quite disappointed when he found out that orchestral backing was a device of the movies rather than a technological breakthrough that benefitted every man, woman and child in their daily life.
Xander bought pizza on the way home; Will was predictably amazed that food was made and cooked and ready to go in twenty minutes; the ‘confectionary delight’ that was a strawberry milkshake sent him into paroxysms of joy.
Back indoors it was quiet upstairs – hopefully the folks were in a stupor – and Xander turned on the TV, not to watch whatever show appeared, but to watch Will watch while they finished their food.
“You tired?” Xander asked when he turned off the TV at two in the morning.
“I am far too excited to be weary,” Will announced, turning to where Xander sat and shuffling a little closer. “Xander… May I tell you something?”
“You can tell me anything,” Xander said with a smile.
Will beamed in response and leant in, conspiratorially.
“I confess that once I – I visited a music hall. A rather crass man I was acquainted with convinced me that the proprietors were holding a recital and poetry reading and, always keen to experience the work of others, I visited the establishment he had mentioned. Naturally no such event occurred, but the music hall… It was vibrant and rowdy and, in truth, rather vulgar, but…I confess to being quite giddy with excitement, not least of all because of its elicit nature.”
“That sounds pretty cool.”
“I am equally enraptured by what I experienced tonight, more so perhaps because my attending the presentation was not due to another’s trickery. It was an honour to be there at your invitation, Xander. Bless you, my dear friend. Bless you.”
Oddly touched by Will’s appreciation, Xander got up and made them both hot chocolate before thinking about getting to bed. And thinking about getting to bed brought its own complications. There was one bed, one option, and nineteenth-century man was bound to think it improper to share.
“We’ve got to get some sleep,” Xander told Will as he rinsed out their mugs. “Adrenalin will only keep you going for so long, and…”
“How can I possibly sleep? Surrounded by wonders the like of which…”
“Hey!” Xander called with a laugh. “It will all be as wonderful in the morning.”
“I am a child again. A child at Christmas – what can be better?”
Will looked blank for a few seconds, then abruptly laughed as he caught up with the joke.
“You are a wicked man.”
Xander sighed and concentrated on pure thoughts.
“You don’t know the half of it.”
The bed made, Xander changed his clothes in the bathroom, wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants and setting out the same for his guest. He was in bed by the time Will emerged, looking sweet and bashful and…essentially anything that wouldn’t apply to Spike.
Xander turned down the covers and patted the mattress, approaching this as if it were the most natural thing in the world, in the hope that Will didn’t question the decency of it.
“C’mon, get in.”
“Surely that would be an unacceptable imposition on my part?”
“Hey, we’re friends, it’s what friends do. Ever have a sleepover when you were a kid?” Will frowned in confusion at the term. “Spend the night with…” Xander started to explain; Will looked ready to die of embarrassment on the spot. “I didn’t mean like that.” Xander patted the bed again. “C’mon, I promise this is okay.”
After another full minute’s hesitation, Will crept into bed, lying on his back and hauling the covers up to his chin, staring at the ceiling as if afraid to glance at the man beside him. Xander had no such qualms; comfortable on his side, he studied Will in the lamplight, knowing he’d never have got this close to Spike and enjoying the freedom to admire him without the threat of dire consequences. Eventually Will began to relax.
“I truly appreciate your kindness, Xander.”
“You’re welcome. This has been fun.”
“In my own time, I was never adept at making friends. It is such a relief to know that I eventually acquired the skill.” Speechless at the inaccuracy of that statement, Xander could do nothing more than pat Will’s shoulder through the covers. “Extraordinary,” Will continued. “Quite extraordinary. However I become him, this Spike fellow of yours is a very lucky man.”
Blood. Will – mentally a human but physically a vampire – needed blood to keep his strength up. Sooo… How did you get blood into someone when it was just about the last thing any normal person would want?
“Mix it with something,” Willow replied to Xander’s worried phone call. “Tell him it’s a…a supplement. Tomato juice, that’s usefully red and bloodyish and…don’t think I’ll be drinking that for a while now.”
“Is there any news? Is Spike going to stay like this?”
“Is he being a problem?”
“No, the complete opposite, but…if he’s going to stay like this I have to tell him the truth about what he is, and…I don’t want to have to do that unless it’s really necessary.”
“Okay, he doesn’t need to know yet, and it’s so overcast he can go out safely so you don’t have to make up excuses for that, and…”
“Is this a local thing?”
“Seems to be, yes.”
“How local? If we take a walk will we leave the zone? Is he suddenly going to turn feral on me?”
“I, umm… I don’t know. Stay local. Sorry.”
“This is crazy.”
“I know. Just…try to stay safe.”
“Don’t worry. I’m only in danger of being cuted to death.”
Blood. A bag in the back of the freezer? Check. Tomato juice? Check. Try the concoction to see if it was drinkable? Yeah, forget that.
“Breakfast, sleepyhead.” Xander nudged the arm that was draped over the edge of the mattress, and Will slowly stirred. “Will? Please be Will. Pleasepleaseplease…”
Will sat up, bringing the covers with him and keeping them demurely clutched to his chest.
“Xander? I thought this was a dream. You and the television and…and… Breakfast? For me?”
Xander carefully settled the tray on Will’s lap.
“Hope it’s okay. Toast, cereal, tomato juice. Plenty of tomato juice. With your special supplement.”
“I need a special supplement?”
“You have a…vitamin deficiency.”
“Do I?” Will frowned. “How odd. Well…I have forgotten so much, one more incident should not surprise me.”
“That’s right,” Xander agreed, anxiously watching as Will took the first sip of his drink, and suddenly worried over what excuse he could create on the spot should the blood cause Will to vamp out.
But Will drank without comment or demonic reaction, and a very relieved Xander made short work of his own cereal.
It was hard to know where Will’s natural enthusiasm ended and the benefits of his ‘supplement’ started, but he was raring to go once breakfast and ablutions were out of the way. Xander was wary of wandering too far in case he lost this delightful companion and ended up with a, no doubt, highly irritated vampire on his hands, so the morning was spent indoors.
Will, as expected, was prepared to go along with any suggestion as if it were the greatest proposal ever made, and he enjoyed Xander’s comics as much as he had the cartoons on TV. After lunch they ventured outside into the snow – Will never noticing that the chill had no effect on him – and occupied a couple of hours with snowball fights and the construction of what was proclaimed, “A most marvellous creation.”
It was a pretty good snowman, Xander had to admit that, and it took him back to his childhood – some of the better moments, at least, when he, Willow and Jesse would frolic in the snow for the best part of the day, only venturing indoors for refreshments or periodic defrosting.
This truly was the happiest Christmas Xander had spent in years, and the emotion of it, the stirring of childish joy, allowed him to throw his arms around Will and hug him tightly. Will, with only a split-second’s hesitation, hugged him back.
“This seems to be going better than expected,” Buffy’s voice interrupted them.
They parted and Will gave a polite bow…
…while Xander all but bounced on the spot.
“Buffster! Look what we did!” Xander proudly displayed the snowman. “Isn’t this the most marvellous creation?” he concluded, doing his best to imitate Will’s accent and earning himself a hug from Buffy too.
“You’re so happy,” she stated the obvious, pleased for him but also a little sad.
“I am, it’s been a great day.”
“But…” Her expression darkened, and she drew Xander aside. “This is Spike.”
“This is Will.”
“He’ll be Spike again when whatever this is falls apart, and… Xander, you know what he’s like, don’t give him ammunition now to use against you then.”
“I’m prepared for that. He’s going to make my life misery and…what’s new? After this, maybe I can give as good as I get.”
“After this, maybe you won’t want to.”
“I—” The protestations died on Xander’s lips. Buffy was absolutely right. Xander glanced at Will and received a truly affectionate smile in response. Every time he looked at Spike in future he’d see Will, and he’d be defenceless. But he doubted that anything could change that now. “It’s too late to worry,” he told Buffy.
“You like him that much?”
“I do,” Xander confessed. “This is the best Christmas, just because he’s here.”
Buffy nodded her understanding, gave Xander another hug – this one exuding sympathy – and offered Will a smile before starting to leave.
“Buffy?” She turned back, and waited while Xander floundered over a question he didn’t really want an answer to. “Do you think… Is this going to…” Xander drew a deep breath and sighed it out. “How long?” he asked.
“We have no idea.”
Buffy left, and Will came to Xander’s side.
“Is something wrong?”
Xander forced a smile.
“Nothing for you to worry about.”
“My concern is for you. You look somewhat distressed.”
“No. It’s only… Have you ever had exactly what you want for Christmas, just for it to get broken by New Year?”
Will thought, and shook his head.
“This item… Surely if you are able to predict the outcome, you can prevent the damage occurring?”
“It’ll happen, can’t be stopped.”
“And the damage will be impossible to mend?”
Xander’s looked into Will’s troubled face and wanted the happiness back; he took his hand and gave it a squeeze.
“As I said, it’s nothing for you to worry about.”
“But, my dear…”
“How about…I introduce you to my good friends Ben and Jerry?”
“If they are worthy of your friendship, I should be delighted to meet them.”
“They are more than worthy,” Xander grinned, squeezing Will’s hand again and receiving a knuckle-cracking response. “Plus…they’re almost as sweet as you.”
As the afternoon had progressed the sharp lines of Spike had been softened: the hair was no longer a solid gelled cap but a mass of unlikely waves; any remaining anxiety caused by the situation had been exhausted, allowing the last tinge of stress in his features to melt away, leaving a gentle expression to the vivid blue eyes, and a relaxed mouth that smiled easily and often. Several Christmases ago, Willow had given Xander a huge, fluffy red scarf, and that scarf was now wound around Will’s neck, framing his face and relieving the harsh lines of his jaw and cheekbones.
Now the blush was back, and Will was so, so adorable.
Xander was falling hard and, whatever the consequences, he didn’t give a damn.
“Willow! What do I do? He wants to go to church!”
“He wants to go to church?”
“That’s what I said. He said, and I said, and… What do I do?”
Xander listened to Willow tapping the handset of her phone as she thought. The speed of taps indicated careful consideration and certainly weren’t fast enough to induce any further panic on his part. Which, given his current state, was fairly fortunate.
“I think you should go.”
“Churches have open invitations so he’ll be able to go inside, and…”
“They’re full of-of-of holiness, and other bad-for-vampires stuff! He’ll be cursed or fried or…or… Oh, God, I’m going to watch him go up in flames, aren’t I?”
“Keep him away from anything blessed.”
“It’s a church!”
“It’s possible,” Willow insisted. “Don’t let him come into contact with anything the minister uses, that’s the main thing. And crosses, obviously don’t let him touch the crosses.”
“Can’t you come by and convert him to Paganism?” Xander whined.
“If he does get hurt then…you’ll have to be honest.”
“I don’t want to be honest. He’s happy right now, despite the weird, and I don’t want to change that.”
Xander recognised the tone and jumped straight in.
“Don’t warn me that it’s Spike, I’ve had that from Buffy.”
“But Buffy’s right.”
“I don’t care that she’s right! It’s Christmas, and…every year I have nothing. This year I have something. Someone. Gimme a break.”
So clear was the mental picture of Willow’s solemn nod, that Xander could almost hear it via the phone.
“Just be careful. And…you know where I am when you need me.”
Xander hung up the receiver.
“When I need you,” he muttered dejectedly to the absent Willow. “When Spike comes back and destroys me? Yeah, got that.”
Back outside, Xander joined Will, who was dreamily staring at the overcast night sky.
“I wish the stars were visible. In London it was often impossible to see them for smog. Do you imagine London still has smog?”
“I don’t think so, everything is so environmentally friendly these days.”
“Environmentally friendly?” Will repeated curiously.
“Smogless smog,” Xander randomly elucidated, and Will’s expression veered from confusion to laughter.
“You are funny.”
“That’s my job,” Xander grinned.
With a laugh, Xander shook his head.
“Hey, look… About the church…”
“May we please go? It will be a welcome reminder of times past. My mother was quite pious and her appreciation of the Christmas service was immense.”
“Will… Does it have to be an actual service?”
“No,” Will answered simply.
That made things so much easier, and Xander heaved a sigh of relief. He knew just the place: a long-deserted church on the edge of town that was more atmospheric than dangerous. Now, if only the zone extended that far…
“This is wondrous.”
The two men wandered along the central aisle of the deserted church, soaking up the peaceful ambience. Someone had been there earlier in the evening, and their candles remained lit, filling the nave with a warm, flickering glow.
If Xander threw up a quick prayer of thanks it was because Will had remained Will; Will’s prayers went a little deeper, but were left unspoken.
They sat in the front pew and studied the altar, still draped in cloth, although the material was singed and torn, the vibrant reds and golds now faded and grubby.
“What happened to this place?” Will asked.
Explanations involving a shrinking local population, the undead, unpronounceable monsters and threatened apocalypses flashed through Xander’s mind, but feasible common sense made it past his lips.
“People change, and what they want from religion changes. There just wasn’t the need for as many churches in town, so this one, being the furthest out, got abandoned.”
“How sad. It is atmospheric, and beautiful.” Will turned to face Xander. “It reflects you well.”
“How does it reflect me?”
“You too create an atmosphere, one of wonder. You too are…beautiful.”
Will was almost crushed with embarrassment at his own admission, turning away from Xander but being eased back to be tightly held.
“That’s the best thing anyone ever said to me,” Xander whispered into Will’s chilly ear, and Will suddenly relaxed, snuggling in close and appreciating Xander’s warmth.
“I am not sure how I have the courage to be so bold.”
“I’m glad you do.”
“I was born out of time, surely. This is my place, where I can be free to admire you.” Will wriggled loose and studied Xander’s face, examining him feature by feature. Xander gazed back, nervous about what he wanted to do next – what he intended to do even if it killed him. If Spike killed him.
He leaned in and gently pressed his lips to Will’s, just for a moment, long enough to let Will know his admiration was appreciated. Welcomed.
Will squeezed his eyes tightly shut as Xander withdrew, pushing back into his arms and clinging to him.
“Thank you,” he whispered. “I have longed to know. Thank you.”
The walk home had an indefinable air to it. They trudged through the snow, arm in arm, Will speechless and Xander afraid to break the silence.
At one point Will paused, his head falling forward as he fought back tears, and all Xander could do was hold him and offer comfort, despite not knowing what the comfort was for, what memories might have been evoked of past Christmases with his family. All Xander could do was hope that his actions hadn’t caused the reaction.
Hot chocolate and midnight snacks, shared as they huddled in front of the TV, seemed to restore their previous good humour. Will asked dozens of questions about the programmes they were trying their best to concentrate on, and Xander delighted in being the smart guy for once, providing answer after answer and being repeatedly congratulated for nothing more than an addiction to television.
In the early hours the TV was turned off, and the only thing left to do was go to bed. They stood across the room from one another, peculiarly awkward, and desperate to find the words they needed. The bravado Xander had felt in the church had shrivelled to nothing, and it astounded him when his sweet, coy Will found the courage to address the situation.
“Xander… In these changed times, is it acceptable, for a man to…to feel for another man… I… I’m sorry, I can’t quite say what I mean.”
“Some people don’t approve of guys getting together, some people never will. But most people accept it. A lot accept it better when they don’t have to think about it, or see it, or… When I kissed you in the church, it was private, it was meant, there was nothing for you to feel bad about. If you feel guilty, blame me.”
“Strangely, I have not been experiencing guilt. Very strangely, when you consider my upbringing,” Will smiled. “I merely look upon you and experience…longing.”
“Really?” Xander asked breathlessly. “Really?”
“And, if you will excuse my presumptuousness, your behaviour appears to indicate the same.”
“In which case…” Will ground to a halt, once again flustered. “How do I do this? What do I say?”
“Tell me what you want.”
“I—” Will forced himself to be just a little braver. “A kiss, your kiss. That is what I want.”
“You can have it,” Xander told Will emphatically. “You can have anything.”
They gradually moved together, Xander taking Will’s hands and drawing him close.
“Sure?” Xander asked.
“Sure,” Will answered in the same tone, anxiety and excitement rolled into one.
“I’m thinking about this way too much.”
“I also. Yet…the thought alone is quite divine.”
Xander’s knees might have wobbled a little at that, even the purest words from Will somehow transmuting into unmitigated porn in his mind. If the thought was divine, then the act of divinity… Xander leant in and touched his mouth to Will’s, once gently, then again. The kiss – the kiss – when it came, was intense and delicious, and any anxiety evaporated within its heat. More kisses led to touches, touches that led to a mad tumble onto the bed.
‘Sure?’ was once again established as hands paused on buttons and belts.
Yes, they were sure.
They were very, very sure.
Buffy opened her front door as Xander ran up onto the porch, grabbing him by the wrist and yanking him indoors.
“Is that a good over-enthusiastic welcome, or a bad overenthusiastic welcome?” he asked with a grin that quickly faded when he saw the serious expression on her face. “What couldn’t you tell me on the phone? What’s happened? Is everyone okay?”
“Are you okay?” she replied pointedly.
“I am, yeah, I’m great,” he insisted.
“And… How’s Spike?”
“Will. He’s fine, he’s coping. You and Willow should come over tonight, and…”
“It’s just that… Xander… What happened to the vampires was definitely due to a spell, and…the spell’s run its course. All the other vampires are back to normal.”
Xander felt his heart drop into his boots; he stared at Buffy for several long, suffocating seconds.
“Okay. Okay, I expect Spike when I get home, not…not… Will.”
“The other vampires have been back to normal since yesterday.”
Xander stared again, still not seeing, but thinking furiously.
“Maybe…” he started slowly, but really didn’t have anywhere to go.
“You haven’t noticed anything…Spike-ish?” Buffy pressed.
“No. But…” Memories of the night rushed back to him; he closed his eyes with a groan. “Maybe I didn’t want to look too hard.”
Buffy gave a tense nod and rubbed Xander’s arm.
“Do you want me to…”
“Then maybe I will come over later. Just to say hello.”
“Say hello, sure,” Xander agreed weakly. “I’d better…”
He gestured to the door and left without another word.
Xander ran, slithering and slipping all the way home, knowing what to expect when he got there but vainly hoping against hope that just this once, fate hadn’t kicked him squarely in the ass.
The boot print couldn’t have been more distinct. Not on his own rear, but on the snowman’s, their snowman, his and Will’s. Their most marvellous creation had been viciously kicked over and what was left of it was lolling precariously on its side in the gutter.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Xander said quietly to the absent Spike, voice quavering with pent-up emotion. “You didn’t have to—”
He broke away, not bothering to look in his basement for any sign of the man he’d become so ridiculously fond of in such a short space of time. Running again, he started for Willow’s house, but the thought of her sympathy was too much to bear, and he swerved off in a completely random direction. There were people on the streets, a hum of excitement in the air as Christmas Eve ticked inexorably away; Xander was used to miserable holidays but he couldn’t think how to cope with this one. All he knew was that, if he couldn’t be with Will, he needed to be alone.
It eventually became obvious to Xander where he would find a little cold comfort to help deal with his loss. His loss. It sounded ridiculously overblown put like that, even in his head. His loss. But it was genuine and painful and…
Xander stopped in his tracks and performed a cartoon double take. He was rarely astonished these days – Sunnydale did that to a person – but he was astonished now.
Outside the porch of the abandoned church was an impressive snowman, larger than life and constructed with obvious care. A most marvellous creation. It filled him with irrational hope, absurd joy, a poignant sadness and…absolute dread. Self-preservation told him to turn and run, but a stronger instinct guided him inside the building, and soon he was taking tentative steps along the candle-lit nave, eyes fixed on the figure sitting in the front pew, and the way that untidy blond waves curled over the edges of a familiar red scarf.
Don’t call him Will, don’t call him Will, don’t call him Will, rattled through Xander’s mind. Don’t call him…
Spike didn’t move a muscle.
“Will,” Xander persisted.
“Stop kidding yourself, you idiot,” Spike muttered, quietly, but the church’s superlative acoustics took his words and threw them at Xander from every direction.
Xander carried on walking, past the pews, past Spike, until he was at the altar; he turned around and leant back against it, crossing his arms over his chest and staring hard at the vampire. Spike began to stare back but, surprisingly, was unable to maintain eye contact. Avoiding Xander’s gaze he looked at the walls, the floor, the cracked windows, the vandalised icons, anywhere other than at Xander.
Xander watched this behaviour closely, deeply uncomfortable at how it made him feel. Who cared if Spike was…what? Embarrassed for having his sweet, docile roots exposed? Ashamed of finding Xander Harris, of all losers, such agreeable company? Sick to the stomach for having slept with the subject of so much of his ridicule? Guilty… No. Guilt wouldn’t enter into it.
But Spike looked guilty. And he looked as miserable as Xander felt, which didn’t make any kind of sense. On further examination, the vampire was no way as relaxed as he was pretending to be, in fact his body language suggested he was poised to defend himself. And why not? Xander was well-known to lash out, and it was only logical to assume that he’d figured out Will was actually Spike by the time they’d gone to bed together, so why not an attack? A release for all the rage and humiliation and betrayal Xander…didn’t feel.
There were, after all, far greater issues to confront.
“Why did you break our snowman?”
At Xander’s simple question and reasonable tone, Spike looked at him in surprise. Defensive snark bubbled to the surface but was swallowed back down; the body language subtly changed and now when he spoke, his voice was disconcertingly soft, distressingly like the man Xander had lost.
“I knew what Buffy was going to tell you.”
Spike stared hard at Xander for a few long, intimidating seconds before springing to his feet and swiftly walking away.
“Spike!” Xander called after him, anger finally stirring. “Spike! Come back here, you damn coward!”
As quickly as he’d moved away, Spike was on the way back; before Xander could even consider a tactical withdrawal, Spike had him pinned against the altar, the vampire’s eyes flickering gold in his fury.
“What did you call me?”
Xander gulped, audibly.
“Uhh… Will?” Xander said weakly.
As Xander watched in amazement, Spike’s hostility melted away. His head drooped, brow virtually touching Xander’s shoulder.
“Will,” Xander repeated, his own defences crumbling as surely as Spike’s. It was impossible for Xander to hide his distress: his voice, his body, every breath was full with it. “I know when the spell broke, I figured it out. It was when we were walking back from this place last night.” Spike gave a barely visible nod. “You were upset, and I didn’t know why. To be honest…I still don’t. I don’t understand much at all,” Xander admitted with a defeated sigh.
Spike remained silent, motionless. Xander couldn’t stand the strain of being this close and doing nothing, so – despite reminding himself that this was Spike not Will – he swallowed his fear and slowly put his arms around the vampire’s rigid form.
“I don’t care that you played at being Will even when he was gone,” Xander whispered. “I don’t know why you did it, but it was the best night of my life.”
With a groan, Spike abruptly let himself slump in Xander’s embrace, head resting on his shoulder.
“I took advantage of you,” Spike said quietly, “and I’d do it again, in a heartbeat. Have to be your heartbeat, of course, mine being somewhat…lacking.”
“You didn’t take advantage, I wanted you too.”
“You wanted Will.”
“I guess I’ll eventually pay for saying something so stupid, but… If you’d told me the truth without turning into the jerk you usually are…it would have happened.”
Spike lifted his head, frowning as he studied Xander.
“Are you mad?”
Xander thought about that.
“If you acted kind I’d have sex with you right now on this altar. Does that make me mad?”
Much to Xander’s disappointment, Spike shrugged off the arms that held him and backed away.
“What is this? Another spell? Or revenge? Or…?”
“Okay,” Xander grumbled, “no sex on the altar.”
He skirted Spike and strolled along the aisle; no wonder Spike was confused, his behaviour was baffling himself. But so long as he was mad…
“You want to spend Christmas with me?” he asked without turning back.
“Bollocks,” Spike snapped, on the defensive before actually stopping to consider that Xander’s offer might be entirely genuine.
Besides, did he, Spike, a ladies man with an acute, much remarked upon fondness for the female form, a lauded Master vampire who could boast a reputation for desecration that encompassed the globe, want to spend Christmas with the Slayer’s distinctly male, overwhelmingly do-gooding, lowest of the low?
Ridiculous. Absolutely, bloody…
Fucking Hell! Was he insane?
The lowest of the low had made him come so hard he’d bitten through his own tongue – where did a vampire sign up? How many languages could he say YES! in?
Spike stopped thinking and started pursuing: Xander had left the church and hadn’t shown any sign of looking back. Sprinting along the nave, Spike burst through the porch and spotted Xander plodding away through the snow.
“Wait!” Spike ordered; Xander kept walking. “Bloody contrary little shit,” Spike muttered to himself before coming up with a plan. “Oi! Harris! Turn around right now or the snowman gets it!”
Xander meandered to a halt, and Spike saw him take a deep, deep breath. Then he did as he was told. While Spike paced menacingly by the snowman, Xander returned.
“What?” Xander asked. “I thought you weren’t interested, so…”
“Me or Will?” Spike interrupted him.
“You or Will what?”
“Who did you ask to spend Christmas with you?”
For a moment Xander looked completely confused. Then…
“’Cause… I’d be Will for you,” Spike grudgingly admitted. “It’s why I was so upset. So angry. I didn’t want to stop being Will, I didn’t want to let go.”
Xander felt each step that Spike took toward him; every hair on his body seemed to be standing on end.
“I get sentimental this time of year,” Spike said as he approached. “Daft, I s’pose, but can’t seem to help it. I miss faith…and company…and warmth. Family. Affection.”
Spike stopped in front of Xander, and reached up to delicately touch his cheek. The young man’s empathy was a beautiful thing.
“I’m sorry for everything you lost, Spike. Everything William lost.”
“And I’m sorry I wrecked your snowman.”
“It was just a snowman.”
“I’m no fool, I know what it meant.” Xander accepted that with a shallow nod. “But, like I said, I knew what Buffy was going to tell you, and I was furious because I knew that was it, we were over, virtually before we’d started. Not that it was ever us,” Spike corrected himself with a shake of the head.
“You want it to be us?” Xander asked, still a little amazed that his unlikely feelings were, in any way, reciprocated.
“I got to know you. Saw what I’d been missing.”
Emboldened by Spike’s honesty, Xander leaned in to kiss him, groaning in pleasure as the vampire kissed him back far less tentatively, and with a degree of skill that gave him goose bumps, head to toe. Then he remembered.
“Hey,” he broke the kiss to tease, “bearing in mind that everyone and his reindeer will think that this is the worst idea anyone in the entire history of worstness has ever had… Does this make you giddy with excitement ‘cause of its elicit nature?”
“What makes me giddy,” Spike replied, far more seriously, “is discovering that someone who, two days ago, I barely knew existed, can give me back everything I thought I’d lost.”
Touched by that sentiment, the evident sincerity of it, Xander took Spike’s freezing hands in his and squeezed.
“I guess that’s a yes. You, me, Christmas.” Xander rubbed at Spike’s hands. “Damn, you’re cold. We’d better get home before there’s another snowman in my life.”
Spike’s agreement was implicit; he allowed Xander to lead him away from the church.
“Spike… After this, will things go back to normal?”
“You mean…will I attempt to bring about the Slayer’s downfall at every given opportunity?”
“Naturally. Vampire, mate.”
“Only…not at Christmas.”
“Too right. What do you think I am, a monster?”
“Well…” Xander threw a sideways look at Spike; unfortunately, according to Xander’s lustometer, he really was gorgeous enough to make the death threats worthwhile. “If that’s the way it has to be, I suppose I’ll just have to be grateful you’re… What’s the word Giles uses…”
“Plain bloody gorgeous? Three words, but who’s counting.”
“Inept!” Xander announced with great satisfaction. “If you intend to terrorise Buffy, I’ll be grateful you’re inept.”
Aware that his joking was straying onto dangerous ground, Xander sneaked another glance in Spike’s direction, surprised to find the vampire smiling rather than sulking.
“Thanks,” Xander whispered, knowing Spike would hear.
“I am what I am, love. Inept can be a choice.”
Xander gawped at him in surprise.
“Don’t we all adjust to make our lives fit better?”
“I, umm… I guess we do. So what you’re saying…?”
Spike brought them to a halt, turning Xander to face him.
“I’m saying… You don’t need to worry. Just, occasionally, be seen to worry. Keep us all safe. Respected.”
“Okay,” Xander nodded, “okay, I can understand that. Master vampire, appearance to maintain…”
“You’ve got it.”
“I think I always knew there was a reason why you hadn’t killed us all.” Xander placed his hand over Spike’s unbeating heart. “Maybe the choices you’ve made are what allowed you to be so believably Will.”
“Maybe they are. Contrary to popular opinion, and unlike our friend there…” Spike looked back along the lane to the snowman. “…I don’t have a heart of ice.”
“This is— I can’t find the words. It makes sense. I love it when things make sense. Know how rare it is for things to make sense in Sunnydale?”
“Of course I do. This time yesterday I was nineteenth-century man.”
With a laugh, Xander grabbed Spike and hugged him tightly, but it was only seconds before his jubilation forced him to release the vampire so he could bound along the lane, kicking up showers of snow and singing Frosty the snowman at the top of his voice.
“It makes sense,” Spike said softly to himself, believing and hoping and, for the first time in a long while, daring to trust.
“Spikey the vampire, was a fairytale they say…” echoed over the frozen landscape, reminding Spike what he was getting into. “He was long since dead, but Will raised his head, and he came to life one day.”
The emotions that were roused as he watched Xander prancing around like a madman confirmed for Spike that it wasn’t Will who’d given him a rare chance of happiness: spells be damned, it was an average young man with no supernatural skills who’d supplied all the necessary magic.
Faith. Company. Warmth. Family. Affection.
Along the lane, Xander stopped for breath, turning back to Spike with a look of unguarded fondness; a tender smile appeared, and Xander gave a nod in the direction of home.
It was all the invitation Spike needed: he started in Xander’s direction and rapidly picked up pace.
“Buffy hated me enough before this,” he said gleefully. “Now she’ll be after me with the wrath of a million demons for scoring with her boy.”
“Does that mean Angel will be coming after me?” Xander laughed back.
Grabbing Xander’s hand, Spike yanked him close and planted a firm kiss on his mouth; they shared a relatively evil grin.
“Their disapproval is like the brandy on the pudding,” Spike observed.
Xander nodded, expression blank.
“Y’know the trouble with plum pudding, though? One helping is never enough.”
It took Xander a second to figure out what Spike was alluding to, but the naughtily suggestive raised eyebrow and blue eyes full of unbridled lust were pretty good clues.
“Plum pudding! Yes! Better get home and get…”
“…cooking,” they concluded as one.
Linking arms, they began the trudge back to Xander’s basement, a prospect that felt full of seasonal cheer for the only time in…ever. While Xander chattered on about the prospect of a third snowman now they were a proper family, Spike did little more than contentedly nod in agreement. His thoughts were elsewhere, dwelling on the nineteenth-century man who’d facilitated a little twentieth-century joy.
Will may not have fully understood the here and now, but he’d shown timeless wisdom on one subject: this Spike fellow was a very lucky man.
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