This was originally written for a Christmas 2002 Challenge on Spike's Salvation, with the contributions to be posted Christmas Day. The time frame is after "Bring on the Night." Although I had not actually intended it that way, you can actually read this story and "An Unexpected Gift" as a pair, with this being read first. Both occupy the same corner of the universe.
If you're interested, you can read the other stories in the Challenge here.
"And who's that?" she heard Molly ask as she entered the room with yet another bowl of chips (did she eat that much at their age?), pointing to a particular picture.
Dawn's expression grew serious. "Her? That's Faith. You know, the other Slayer."
A noise of disgust from Kennedy, something else that was fast becoming familiar. "No, I meant the guy," Molly said.
Setting the bowl on the coffee table, Buffy leaned forward to see which picture they were looking at. "That's Angel," she told them.
That brought the girls' heads up. "Angel?" Kennedy frowned. "I've heard that name somewhere."
How to explain Angel? "He's a vampire. A vampire with a soul. The other vampire with a soul," she amended.
"Buffy dated him," Dawn chimed in, prompting a big disgust noise from Kennedy and a look of utter shock from Molly.
"It was complicated. It's over. I don't want to talk about it." With that, Buffy turned and walked out of the room, hoping they'd have the sense not to follow. The last thing she needed to be reminded of was that Christmas three years ago. She still remembered standing on that cliff, trying to convince Angel he shouldn't fall prey to the machinations of the First Evil, that he was worth saving. She'd never know if he had listened to her words without the snowfall that had kept the dawn from coming.
Now here it was, Christmas and the First Evil was upon them again...and it was interested in yet another vampire with a soul. Glancing toward the ceiling, she decided it was time to check on the patient.
The bedside lamp threw most of the room into shadows, but left enough light for her to clearly see the vampire who slept under the covers. Aren't monsters supposed to lurk under the bed? she thought idly. Of course, in order to do that, Spike would have to fall into the category of "monster" and Buffy now realized he'd left that some time back, even if he didn't believe it himself.
He looked quiet and comfortable, which was an improvement over the bruised and haggard expression he'd worn when she'd come for him. It was only then that she'd learned the First Evil had been taunting him with her image for some time, telling him she couldn't be bothered to rescue him. He'd thought she was another apparition with more doom and gloom until she'd touched his face. Then he'd almost wept, telling her that her words had kept him going, her belief in him was what had sustained him.
So many roads they'd been down together...where had he been that Christmas when she'd been trying to save Angel? Probably in Brazil in a last, desperate attempt to win Drusilla back. When had she left him for a fungus demon? In the spring when Angel had made the decision to go to Los Angeles? Buffy didn't really want to look at pictures of that Christmas because there had been a moment when the world had seemed so right, that maybe she and Angel could find a way to make it work.
She looked young and untouched and she didn't think she could bear to remember herself that way.
Spike stirred, moaning a little in his sleep. The physical wounds would heal; his bruised eye was looking better already. It was the other wounds that worried her.
He stirred again and his eyelids fluttered open. "Hi," she said softly, her voice gentle.
"Hi yourself," he responded, his voice a bit raspy. "How long...?"
"About twenty-four hours. You needed it. How are you feeling?"
"Like I've been hit by a truck five times, but I'll live. Well, look like I'm living, anyway."
He shifted himself to a sitting position, and then suddenly started adjusting the sheet. "How...you put me in your room?"
"You looked like you needed a comfortable bed. Don't worry; I bunked with Dawn."
He pulled the sheet more tightly around him. "Who undressed me?" he asked in a somewhat strained voice.
Buffy rolled her eyes as she folded her arms across her chest. "Oh, come on. It's not like I haven't seen it before. I got you undressed and put your jeans in the wash. They were pretty disgusting."
The annoyed look he flashed her was wonderfully familiar, as was the chuckle that followed. "Pretty silly that I should get embarrassed about the idea of you seeing me naked. Just..."
"A soul thing?"
He thought for a moment, head tilting to one side. "Let's call it a 'William' thing. Victorian prudery and all that. Was a bit of a repressed git in the day."
Buffy couldn't help laughing. This was the Spike she liked to remember, the one she could talk to, laugh with. It was good to see him smile, see those blue eyes light up. "Feeling up to company? You could get dressed and come downstairs. I think Giles wants to ask you some questions," she warned.
"Watcher's here? Probably all serious and researching."
"Probably. There are some other things you should know, aside from the potential slayers. You can have some blood and we'll fill you in."
He nodded and she started to go so he could dress. He reached out and caught her hand before she could get too far, though. "Buffy...thank you."
"For what? The bed? You needed it. It's not permanent, though. We're going to see about clearing out the little room at the front, the one on the other side of the bathroom, put some heavy curtains over the window and you can sleep there. You might have to stay in the basement for a few days until we get it sorted, though."
She was babbling and knew it, but he let her run down before he spoke again. "For believing in me. It means...well, it means the world to me."
They were simple words, but his eyes told the story. Last year she'd shied from the emotions she saw there, but now they brought a warm glow she didn't quite understand. "You're welcome," she said softly. "See you downstairs."
The girls were still on the couch, still going through the albums. "We've passed through Angel and have commenced with Riley," Kennedy announced. "Big and beefy, wasn't he?"
"Corn-fed Iowa boy. Again, over and I don't want to talk about it." So did not want to revisit that. She and Riley hadn't actually shared a Christmas. The first year they hadn't been seriously dating yet and the second year...it'd been just before Christmas that Spike had alerted her to Riley's extra-curricular activities. She still owed him an ass kicking for that little stunt. When he was better, he could help her teach Kennedy and Molly how to deal with vampires, make it up that way. "Dawn, are you going to put those away any time soon?"
"Oh, I'm enjoying it," Molly said. "Your mum was quite pretty."
"Her mum was gorgeous and bloody brave." Spike's voice came from behind Buffy and she turned to find him buttoning the shirt Xander had fetched from his place. "Hit me over the head with an axe the first time we met and she didn't even know I was a vampire, much less a mean, nasty, slayer-eating vampire." He paused, peering at the girls. "You two are potential slayers, aren't you?"
Kennedy looked skeptical, taking in the mussed hair and bare feet. "This is William the Bloody?"
"William the Bloodied-up, more like. Um, everything in the kitchen still in the same place?" he asked Buffy, looking a bit uncomfortable.
"You knew Buffy's mum?" Molly was leaning forward, looking very quizzical. "I mean, before you got the soul?"
"Joyce passed before I went looking for my soul. Sweetest lady one could hope for and she loved her daughters dearly. Never hesitated to offer me a cuppa when I dropped by."
"I think..." Dawn flipped through the pages. "Yes, she did put them in here."
The photos were almost at the end of the album, snaps taken after their mother had fallen ill but before her death. Shots taken in the kitchen, mostly. Spike and Joyce at the counter, Spike caught in the act of dropping little marshmallows into his mug. Dawn hanging around Spike's neck, both looking perfectly pleased with the arrangement as they mugged for the camera. He looked surprisingly relaxed in the photos, his smile a little broader than she remembered, as if he was perfectly at home in the bosom of her family.
The last was more formal, Spike and Joyce caught in front of the Christmas tree, a scarf wrapped around Joyce's head as usual in those last months, Spike's expression more serious than in the previous shots. They were still comfortable with each other, Spike's arm around Joyce's waist. "I didn't know Mom..."
"Mom asked me to take the last one. I didn't know she'd put it in the album. She...she always liked Spike." Dawn looked up, her expression challenging, as if she still hadn't forgiven Spike for breaking that trust.
The carefully cultivated know-it-all air had disappeared from Kennedy's face. "She wasn't afraid you were going to bite her?"
"I would never have bitten Joyce," Spike replied indignantly. "I liked her. She listened when Dru...well, she was special. I'm going to grab some food."
With that, he practically fled to the kitchen, past a rather surprised looking Giles and Willow who'd been dealing with research at the dining table. "I'm surprised you didn't take those out," Buffy said to Dawn."
Now it was Dawn's turn to look nervous. "Mom wouldn't have wanted me to. She always did like Spike, even after he chained you up and tried to feed you to Drusilla."
Kennedy and Molly looked at her, faces filled with naked curiosity. "Complicated. Over. Don't want to talk about it," Buffy told them before heading after Spike.
He was in the kitchen, fumbling with the blood bags they'd gotten. With a sigh, Buffy rescued the bag from his grasp and took over the operation. "I wouldn't have," he said at last. "Bitten her, I mean."
"I know." Buffy finished emptying the bag into the mug. Tossing the bag into the trash, she put the mug into the microwave and hit the combination that would bring it to ninety-eight degrees. "When I told her you liked me -- you know, that time -- she was worried I might have led you on."
"You quickly disabused her of that notion, I imagine."
"Said I'd been hitting you, which kinda equaled third base as far as you were concerned. Believe me, she gave me a talking to when I got back about giving boys the wrong impression."
Spike chuckled. "She gave me hell when I came by later, trying to get a re-invite. Told me she was disappointed in me."
"Ooh, the dreaded Mom Disappointment." Buffy paused. "She only did that to people she liked."
The microwave dinged and Buffy retrieved the mug, handing it to Spike. "I miss her."
"I miss her too, pet. Must be hard for you now, it being the holidays and all."
"Doesn't really feel like the holidays without her. And there's all this other mess with the First and the potential slayers and Giles trying to get them all here. I don't know where I'm going to put them and there's the problem of feeding them because you think Dawn eats a lot? I mean, we've been going through bags of chips like crazy and then there's all the other food and..."
"Buffy." He caught her by the shoulders. "Don't distress yourself. You can do it. I believe in you."
His words stopped her short. Spike was looking down at her with all seriousness and it was no difficulty to realize he meant what he'd just said...just as she'd meant those same words when she'd spoken them to him. He'd been evil, vile, violent, destructive...and she'd read enough tales of the Scourge of Europe to have a pretty good idea exactly what Spike was capable of, despite his protests. She knew he'd taken pleasure in the kill, schemed to get his chip out even at the possible cost of her life and the lives of her friends. He'd also been loyal, steadfast and a support when she could turn to no one else. He'd believed in her even when she'd been at her worst, using him for pain and pleasure.
The Slayer and the Slayer of Slayers, standing in her kitchen as if it were the most normal thing in the world. They believed in each other even with -- or perhaps because of -- all they'd been through together.
There was a burst of laughter from the living room and Spike pulled his hands away, the moment gone. Buffy caught one before he could shove it in his jeans pocket, glad that he was here and safe, even if all she could count on was this moment. "I miss Mom," she said, "but I've got the people I care about here around me and that's what makes the holidays."
She hesitated, unsure if she was going too far too fast. She'd been too cautious in the past, though. "I'm glad you're here with me. It wouldn't feel right if you weren't."
His face took on that look again, the same he'd gotten just before he'd been taken and Buffy found herself going shy. "I'd better see if they've gone through yet another bowl of chips. Drink your blood; you're going to need your strength."
She left him in the kitchen and headed for the living room. A few chips still occupied the bowl and she decided the girls had had enough for the time being. The three of them were still occupied by the photo albums, Dawn reliving old memories and looking happier than she had in a while.
The phone rang and she grabbed the receiver, wondering if this was some new dire news. Instead, it was Xander, calling to say he and Anya were on their way back from the store and would be there in a few minutes. They'd gotten delayed by holiday lines. After all, tomorrow was Christmas Eve.
She hung up the phone and looked about the living room. She'd joked to Giles that maybe they should decorate the rubble. The large picture window was still boarded up, Xander having suggested they wait a little before replacing the glass again. But the fireplace was intact and while they didn't have a tree, there were still plenty of places that could do with a little holiday cheer. Next year, they'd do it right, but at this moment, Buffy suddenly felt that letting the day go by without marking it somehow was giving in, surrendering a little piece of themselves to the evil that faced them. They were here together, all of them, and that was in and of itself something to celebrate. The VCR still worked, now connected to the TV from Buffy's room and they had a copy of A Charlie Brown Christmas and Xander could probably be convinced to do the Snoopy dance. After all, it couldn't frighten Molly and Kennedy any worse than the Uber-vamp.
"Spike," she called, heading back to the kitchen. "Come help me get the decorations out of the basement. We've got some trimming to do."
He looked puzzled, but a smile slowly spread across his face and he followed her down the stairs. A few minutes and they were hauling the boxes back up, slayer and vampire strength letting them carry the load in a single trip. The effort was worth it for the smile of delight on Dawn's face and Buffy let her take charge, stepping back to watch the fun. Giles and Willow were fetched from their research work, Giles set to draping things on those surfaces too tall for the others to reach and Willow's complaints of "Jewish, remember?" ignored as tinsel was dumped in her arms. The moment Xander and Anya walked through the door, they were dragooned as well.
"Good job," Spike whispered in a low voice from where he stood behind Buffy. "They needed this."
"Better than sitting around reliving memories," she told him. "It's nice to revisit the past, but we need to make the present better."
He opened his mouth to reply, but Willow called out, "Spike, get over here. If I have to do this, you do, too. Buffy, you don't escape either."
They joined the group with good humor. The room was going to look like something out of a Chevy Chase movie when they were done, but Buffy didn't care. For this moment, Christmas was real and alive.
Digging in a box, Spike frowned and held up a sprig of mistletoe tied with a red ribbon. "Do you think we should...?" he asked, his question clear even if the words were unspoken.
It was too soon and the peace between them too fragile. Giles would look at her askance, Xander would get annoyed, Willow would flutter, Dawn would glare and she didn't even want to think what the potential slayers would say, much less Anya. Kneeling next to him, she shook her head. "No, not this year." Her hand closed over his. "Next year we definitely will."
She wasn't quite certain where the words had come from, but the smile Spike gave her made Buffy certain it was a promise she wanted to keep.