Author: Sandy S.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Joss Whedon owns all.
Spoilers: Set post “Not Fade Away” and not comic book related. I’ve only read season 9 and two volumes of season 10. (I skipped season 8.)
Summary: Sent on a mission to find yet another slayer, Buffy is stuck in Colorado, it’s Christmas, and it’s snowing. Buffy POV.
A/N: Written especially for velvetwhip, zarrah04, inxsomniax, and my brother, John, with special thanks to facingthesun for help with the Christmas song at the end of the fic.
Huge thank you to velvetwhip for the beta read! You’re amazing, dear!
The inside of the bar smells and looks like Christmas. The scent of pine, cinnamon, and apple permeates the air, and I spy a large evergreen tree in one corner of the surprisingly large rectangular space. The tree is blanketed with mounds of silver tinsel, metallic red and green ornaments, and rainbow-colored lights. A gold star leans to one side atop the tree and glows ivory with tiny bulbs.
Soft yellow Christmas lights line the ceiling of the room, sagging in places despite someone’s failed attempt to mount them in a straight line. The floor is dotted with kitschy-looking metal tables and chairs, each set a little different in size and shape than the next. A young couple rises from one of the tables in the back and heads toward a private room in the back where a sprig of mistletoe hangs from the doorframe.
Cushion-covered metal stools poke up in front of the long, darkly-stained wooden bar on the opposite side of the room. A large wreath covered in red ribbon and pine cones hangs in the center of the rack that holds glasses above the bar. An upbeat and familiar Christmas song I can’t remember the name of softly plays in the background.
Spike shrugs off his coat as he enters and stands next to me. “Looks like Christmas tossed her cookies in here.”
I smile for two reasons. One is that all the decorations make me feel a twinge of nostalgia for Christmas with Dawn, and the second is that I forgot how much I missed Spike’s offhand remarks. “Yeah. It does.”
Spike makes eye contact with me for the first time in the bar’s low light, and no longer cloaked in shadows, his expression tells me that he at least has some feeling left for me.
I emulate Spike’s actions and tug off my damp gloves and coat, shaking snow onto the ground. “And it’s warm. Can’t feel my hands. . . or my nose now.”
“Let’s get you a drink to warm you up,” he suggests. I make a face at him. He tilts his head in good humor. “I didn’t mean of the alcoholic variety. . . at least for you.”
The bartender calls to us then, “Don’t worry. Round here at this time of year? We have apple cider.”
“I’ll have that!” I settle onto one of the bar stools and plop my coat onto the seat beside me to drip melting snow onto the ground at my feet. “Spike?”
“I’ll have the same. Add rum to mine.” His leg brushes me as he sits down, and I shiver as a thousand tingles sweep over my body. He, of course, notices. “Cold, pet?”
“Little bit.” I can’t resist and put my half-frozen hand on his. I’m startled to find that his hand feels warmer than mine. That’s a first.
Spike jumps a little at my touch but takes my cue and covers my hand with his, rubbing my fingers and palm between his own and his jean-covered thigh. Oh boy, does that make my head spin. I haven’t been touched like that in. . . I can’t remember how long. How lame am I?
Setting giant steaming mugs in front of us, the bartender, whose name is John according to his Christmas sticker-infested nametag, asks, “So where are you guys from?”
Spike is faster than me, but his speech is slow and casual, “We’re from out of town. Live in separate parts of the world. Meet in the middle when we can.”
I reluctantly move my hands to the warm ceramic and pick up from Spike, “Long distance relationships are hard.”
Spike slides his arm around my shoulders, and he hugs me. I lean in and relish the touch. His body still feels familiar even after all these months apart, and I almost close my eyes. . . almost.
“So, why here? We’re sort of in the middle of nowhere.” John leans back on the counter behind him, running a hand through his shaggy brown hair.
How do I phrase this? “We know someone who lives here. She told us about this place, and I rented us a little cabin up the road. She said it would be a romantic place to spend the holiday. We’re not sure if she’s in town though.”
I take a sip of cider and delight in the feeling of the hot fluid running down my throat as Spike adds, “We’ve both been so busy that we didn’t get a chance to confirm her whereabouts before we came out here.”
I nod. “All we know is that she was either planning to stay here or go out of town to meet friends for the holiday.” Spike and I are proving to be good at this, and Spike doesn’t even seem like he’s lying, which is weird since he’s never been all that good at cover stories. . . at least, not with me.
John regards us thoughtfully. “What’s your friend’s name? Everyone knows everyone around here. Maybe I can help you find her.”
I don’t dare look at Spike as I say, “Her name’s Gabrielle.”
Spike reaches into his jeans pocket, and his arm briefly leaves me to unfold a small picture. What is he doing? That’s gonna look majorly weird. Who carries a photo of a “friend” around in his pocket? Spike follows through with it anyway, slipping the paper across the bar toward John. Mentally, I face-palm my head. “Here’s a photo.”
John doesn’t look deterred. He takes the crumpled picture and studies it for half a second. “Gabi? You’re friends with little Gabi?”
“Do you know her?” I ask.
“Of course, I know her! Everyone here knows Gabi!”
“Great,” Spike says. He’s a tad overeager, and he tries to slow himself down by taking a swig of his rum-laced cider. “Where can we find her?”
John frowns. “Gabi moved to Cleveland two weeks ago.”
Bewilderment washes over me. What?! I sure hope I have my poker face on. “Oh, I. . . we forgot about that!” Well, that sucked.
Spike’s next words don’t help at all either, “Well, yeah.”
John puts both open palms on the bar and leans toward us, narrowing his brown eyes and whispering, “Who *are* you? And don’t lie. You don’t really know Gabi, do you?”
Spike pushes his stool back and stands. “Now, hold on there, mate. Don’t go accusing us of. . . .”
John’s eyes are worried now, and he puts his hands up in a defensive posture, glancing to the back of the room. “Careful. I want to help you, but you have to be qui. . .”
A small rustling from behind me catches my attention. I whip my head around as I see six. . . no, seven vampires threading their way around the tables from the back room.
Spike gives me a look, his face set and ready just like the old days. I nod, slap one of my stakes against his palm and bend to pull the second out of my boot.
With a roar, the first vamp launches himself at me, flannel-covered shirt un-tucked, face slipping into his vampire visage. He swings one arm at me, and I duck and sweep a leg so that he’s tripped up, thrown off by his missed punch and resulting stagger. He falls to the floor as a female vampire with long red hair flies at me, kicking me in the head. I stumble back but reach around for my mug of hot cider, which I throw in her face. She shrieks in pain and brings her hands up to see what the liquid has done. I brace my arms on the bar and return her kick with two of my own. . . one to her chin and one to her chest. As she flies back, I dip to plunge my stake into the first vamp’s heart. He explodes with a satisfying gush of dust.
Meanwhile, Spike’s attacker has grabbed a table and is using it as a shield, so Spike spins and dusts the red-haired female. The vamp using the shield utters what can only be described as some sort of battle cry and charges Spike, pushing him into one of the walls. A string of Christmas lights falls off and dangles free, and the force of the table slamming into Spike’s arm leads him to drop his stake. The lost wood rolls under the bar. I vaguely see John drop to his knees to hunt around for it. His efforts are in vain, and he watches helplessly from the sidelines.
I shake off my fresh opponent and grab the shield-bearing vamp by one shoulder, jerk him back, and plunge my bit of wood into his heart. The table clatters to the floor, and I heft and swing it at the vampire behind me who has his baseball cap on backward and his belly hanging over the top of his jeans. We trade blows as Spike drops into a roll behind me to avoid two vampires who are chasing after him. From behind me, I hear the Christmas tree crash to the floor, glass ornaments shattering and wood cracking. As I’m staking my out-of-shape vamp, I hear Spike shouting my name before a recognizable sound signals that another vampire is dead.
I whirl to make sure Spike is okay, and brandishing a giant Christmas tree branch that’s still covered in silver tinsel, he gives me a little grin before taking on another adversary. He loves this brawl, and I have to admit, it’s kind of nice to be fighting alongside him again. We end up back to back while the final two vampires stalk around us. They really don’t know who they’re up against.
As if he read my mind, the remaining teenaged male vampire with curly black hair, fair skin, and freckles asks, “Who *are* you?”
His female companion speaks for him, “Obviously, a slayer, but why is a vampire fighting *with* her?” She’s somehow found Spike’s lost stake.
“Well, pet, should we tell them who we are?” Spike asks, aiming his query at me instead of answering the enemy vampires’ questions.
I hardly pause, “Nah. Not worth it. Great job improvising with the Christmas tree.”
“Gotta work with what I’ve got.” The female vampire raises her weapon and charges Spike. I hear him deftly block her attempted blows.
I study my target. He looks really young and innocent for his age. . . almost too young to stake. I continue speaking with Spike, “Forgot you were good at that.”
“Almost as good as you.”
The imp ignores our conversation and tries to start one of his own with me as he attempts to hit me with a right hook. “You know, it’s really annoying when strangers come to our town during the holidays. You’ve pretty much ruined my Christmas by killing all my friends.”
I easily dodge his attempted swipe, but he also evades mine. I decide to ask, “So, did you guys kill Gabrielle, or did she move to Cleveland?”
The teen snorts. “No, Gabi was my girlfriend. I wanted to make her like me. I got turned because she and I were. . .”
He grunts as I land a well timed and very hard hit to his jaw. He reels two steps back and rubs his cheek, wiggling his lower jaw. “Ouch.”
Then, I stake him. I spin to look for Spike and find him tree-branch-less and trying to hold the female vamp in place with the fallen string of Christmas lights tight around her neck. I’m so not sure how he ended up in that position, but I run forward, dodging her flailing arms and piercing her heart.
Spike sags forward as the vampire dissipates. He tosses aside the strand of lights. “Thanks, pet.”
“Any time. Guess you were right.” I scrutinize him. He appears to be intact. Relief washes over me. I notice him surveying me in the same way, and he gives me a small smile.
He cocks his head to one side. “About what?”
“Snow. Vampires. Inside.”
His laughter warms me, and then, he turns in the direction where we last saw our frightened bartender. He rounds the bar and helps the cowering man up. “So, John, explain yourself.”
John meets both of our eyes. “T-thank you. You don’t know how bad it got after Gabi left town. I didn’t even know vampires existed until her boyfriend showed up one night, demanding a drink. I couldn’t serve him; he’s underage. . . well, he was.”
I cross my arms. “So did Gabrielle actually leave for Cleveland?”
John takes a deep breath. “Look. Gabi is like my little sister. She lived next door to me when we were growing up, and I used to babysit her. She was smart as a whip. Her mom died, and her dad worked out of town a lot, and she’d come to work with me, hang out in the back, and do her homework. She just graduated high school. And yes, she left for Cleveland. I drove her to the airport and met the girl who flew here just to fly back with her, too.”
“What girl?” I inject.
“Her name was Faith. Dark hair. Petite. . . super ho. . . er, sassy.” John seems embarrassed at his slip.
Spike and I exchange glances, and he raises an eyebrow at me. So Gabrielle is in Cleveland? I’m extremely confused now.
“So when did the vampires show up?” Spike asks.
John nods as if he expected the question. “Only recently. Gabi’s boyfriend, Desmond, was the last one you. . .”
“Staked,” I supply for him.
“Right. Staked. He got bit. . . transformed when he and Gabi were out late. He was walking her home from the bar. It wasn’t quite winter yet. . . at least, we hadn’t had a good freeze. Gabi was really freaked out but managed to get away. The vampires converted a couple of other people in town, but they stayed away for a while for some reason. Gabi. . . she didn’t know what happened to Desmond and she didn’t know that when she left, they would become bolder. They’ve been hanging out at the bar and getting free drinks since she left. They left me alone because they wanted the option of drinking my customers should the opportunity arise. There wasn’t much I could do.” He pauses. “You know, you’re really strong for a girl. And Gabi. . . about a year and a half ago, she got really strong, too. Does that have anything to do with the vampires showing up and why she went to Cleveland?”
“Probably to both your questions. I’m sorry, John. This must be so confusing.” I’ve heard this tale since we’ve been finding slayers all over the world. . . the mysterious increase in strength, the sudden appearance of vampires. It’s almost like the vamps are drawn to the slayers. Yet another instance where the plan I came up with to save the world has had terrible consequences for innocent people. “Do you know if there are more of them in town?”
John shakes his head. “As far as I know, you and your friend got them all. Thank you.”
Spike, who’s been listening, comments, “Sorry about your place.” He rights a table that has been flung aside and picks up his coat, which has fallen on the floor by the bar.
John sounds completely sincere, “It’s fine. I’m just glad to be rid of them. Is Gabi a slayer like. . . her?” He waves a hand in my direction.
Spike dons his jacket. “She is, and she’s in good hands now. Faith runs the Cleveland outfit, and she’ll do right by your girl.”
“If you want, when I get a signal back on my cell, I’ll call Faith and check on her for you,” I offer, emulating Spike’s movements to prepare to leave.
“I’d like that.” John turns to the cash register and scrolls out a blank piece of receipt paper. He scribbles his number on it, which I stuff in my pocket. “Let me know?”
Spike puts his hand on the small of my back. “Going to get some stuff out of the car. Can’t exactly drive it to that cabin of yours with the snow covering the roads.”
“So. . . you’re staying with me?” I almost forgot he never answered my earlier question.
He gazes at me with hope in his eyes. “If you’ll have me.”
My only answer is my smile.
“Hold on a minute.” John jingles what sounds like a set of keys. “I have a truck and snow tires, and I’m closing up. Want a ride?”
I can’t take my eyes off of Spike, and I try hard to read the emotion in his expression. His eyes are less naked to me now, but the feelings are still there. I’m just not sure whether he feels as unresolved as I do. “That’d be great.”
Spike takes my offered hand as John leads the way out the door. We have a lot to talk about, but for now, I’ll take his. . . friendship.
As if he’s just realized something, John asks one final question as we follow him back into the cold, “So, you’re a vampire. Why *are* you fighting other vampires?”
Spike chuckles. “Long story, mate.”
* * *
“Why do you have so much stuff?”
John’s taillights are a soft red glow in the distance, and Spike and I are juggling a suitcase, a cooler, and a giant cardboard box. Well, I’m carrying the box, and it’s not heavy, but it’s awkward. I fumble with numb fingers for the keys to the cabin, which are wedged in my jacket pocket. Apparently, jacket and gloves that are wet with melted snow combined with sweat from a fight equals freezing my ass off in winter weather. I didn’t put the gloves back on, so my hands are numb again. At least, the snow has stopped falling.
Spike tries to balance his overnight bag and the cooler in one hand, and his hand brushes mine as he helps me disentangle the keys. “Didn’t know how long I’d be here so had to have weapons, change of clothes, blood. I also didn’t know there would be no place to stay in this sodding dump. They plan for a lot of things in L.A. but not that. I have to fend for myself.”
I fumble with the key in the lock. “Good thing the windows in your car are blacked out in case you needed to sleep there. What’s in the box?”
“Something Andrew told me to give to Gabrielle. I haven’t really looked inside.”
“Oh.” Now I’m really curious. “I’m actually surprised you haven’t.” I push the door open and relish the burst of hot air that invades the icy cold outside. I may have unplugged my Christmas tree, but I left the heat on.
“Honestly? I wasn’t that interested. You know how many of these missions I’ve been on in the past six or seven months? Thia always has me delivering something or other to the little girls. She’s a mother hen even though she’s only nineteen.” He pauses in the living room, setting down his bag. “Actually, she reminds me a bit of Joyce.”
Okay, so that jealous feeling? It’s back. I wasn’t exactly the maternal type with the slayers-in-training in Sunnydale, but Dawn says I’ve gotten better since Sunnydale. Hey, I know everyone’s name now, and there are a lot of names. Shaking my head and wanting to avoid acknowledging my jealousy, I decide to try changing the conversation’s direction, “I miss Mom. The holidays make me miss her more.” I don’t want to dive into sentiment too fast, so I move to the basics, “It’s still cold.”
Spike notes my shivering. “I’ll make a fire. Is there any wood?”
“Yeah. I noticed a pile under the tarp on the front porch.” I tuck the box into a corner. The cabin really is tiny. “I’m going to change into something. . . well, dry. Want me to heat you up some blood?”
I could use some. Thanks.” With that, he heads back into the cold.
I virtually scamper into the bedroom, lightly shut the door, and smile at the Christmas tree. I peel off my cold, wet clothes and ruffle around in my suitcase for my coziest green sweater, yoga pants, and fuzzy socks. Don’t want to look like I’m trying too hard. I glimpse myself in the small wood-framed mirror propped up on top of the short bureau. There are dark circles under my eyes from lack of sleep during all my travelling, and my hair is damp, the waves somewhat flattened, but my green eyes are bright and somehow more alive than they’ve been in a long while.
Spike is coming back in with an armful of logs when I burst out of the bedroom, and in the soft lamplight, he stops and studies me.
My heart skips a beat, and I wonder if he can hear it. “What?”
“I never imagined this.”
My alarm grows. One hand goes to my hair and the other moves self-consciously around the bottom of my sweater. “Do I look funny?”
He shakes his head at me. “No. You look. . . fine. . . better than fine. I never imagined being here with you. Just the two of us.”
My mind flashes to Sunnydale and the abandoned house where we curled up together for the first time and slept the exhausted sleep of soldiers who had crossed the emotional battlefield together. I honestly didn’t realize the extent of how much I missed him until this moment. “Me either.”
He breaks the contact first, crossing the room and squatting in front of the fireplace. As he arranges the wood, I take the cooler and head into the kitchen nook to prepare food for us. Luckily, there are two pots, and I pour the leftover soup from my bowl in the fridge into one and pour blood from a thermos into the other. As the food stuff is starting to simmer on the burners, I add Spike’s four thermoses of blood to the refrigerator next to my lonely cans of Tab on the second shelf. Then, I return to the pots, stirring the contents each with a wooden spoon and losing myself in the movement.
The blood and soup are slowly beginning to steam when Spike shows up in my peripheral vision. I glance over and see that he’s changed into a plain black t-shirt and jeans. He leans against the tiny entry way with his hands in his pockets and watches me.
Right away, my senses become aware of the smell of wood burning and hear the crackle of flames. “You got the fire going.”
“Yeah.” He slips behind me to snag a mug and fresh bowl from the open cabinet on the wall. “Thanks for heating this up.” Using a towel, he grasps the pot handle and pours his blood into the cup.
“You’re welcome.” I move the bowl closer to the stove and fill it almost to the brim with the chicken noodle.
He’s standing so close that I find myself holding my breath. Even though there’s no actual physical contact involved, this seems so much more intimate than touching him in the dark with our coats on or holding his hand in public.
He slips a clean spoon into the broth in my hand and moves away to sit on the sofa, legs splayed. Is he that much more laid back about this than me?
I follow him and choose a position on the opposite end of the couch, my legs tucked close to me. We eat in silence for a few minutes, and between the fire and the soup, my insides feel warm again. The fire pops as the wood burns, but a tiny screen prevents flame-y pieces from flying out and catching anything or anyone on fire.
Spike breaks the quiet first, “You know, pet, I’m still confused about what happened.”
I glance at him and then back at the fire. “What do you mean?”
“How we ended up here, hunting down the same slayer at the same time. . . a slayer that isn’t even here.”
Cradling my bowl in my hands, I say, “Me, too. It doesn’t make any sense at all. I heard about it third hand. . . or was it fourth hand? Willow told Dawn who told Giles on my end.”
“And Thia told Andrew on her way to Cleveland.”
I shrug. “I guess we won’t find out what happened until we get cell service back. May as well enjoy the break.” I snuggle down into the comfortable cushions. “This is nice.”
He slouches back, emulating my stance. “You’re right. Haven’t had a break in. . . well, I haven’t had a break at all. . . not since I became corporeal again. And even then, I wasn’t. . . .” He trails off, and I hold my breath, waiting for him to continue.
When he doesn’t, I ask, “What was it like to be a ghost?”
“It wasn’t fun. Almost got sucked into hell, and I couldn’t touch anything. Couldn’t leave the bloody city.” His eyes find mine. “And you know me, I’m tactile. . . have to touch things, get in there and do something, rough someone or something up, but I couldn’t. . . not at first.”
I can’t imagine Spike stuck in a mode where he can’t touch anything. It makes me want to touch him now, and I draw on my courage, set aside my empty bowl, and scoot closer to him. “You must have felt so helpless.”
Spike stares into the fire. “And when I became corporeal again, I stuck around. Helped Angel and his crew out when I wasn’t antagonizing them, and then, after we ended up surviving the fight with the Black Thorn and the demon army, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Don’t think any of us did. I’m still figuring it out.”
“I can relate to that. . . and not just the demon hordes thing. I haven’t exactly known what to do with myself since Sunnydale. It’s been hard with everyone so spread out, and being one of hundreds of slayers? It’s a good thing, but I am realizing that I need to figure out what I want to do with my life. I mean, I have a mission, sort of, but that’s only part of me.”
Spike finds my hand and laces his cool fingers through mine. “Sorted it out yet?”
I squeeze his hand. “Not yet, but I’m starting to figure out that the figuring it out isn’t going to stop. . . probably for my whole life. And I’m kinda okay with that.”
He laughs. “Lived over a hundred years, and I’m still sussing things out, too.”
I continue before my fears can stop me, “And you know what? I thought I had to have it all figured out before I. . .” How do I say this next part without invoking that cookie metaphor that I’ll never live down? “I thought I had to know exactly who I was before I was with someone else. . . like genuinely with someone else.”
“Ah, I heard about that.”
Damn, he’s already heard about it. I lift my chin and make unwavering eye contact, willing him to go ahead and make fun of me. His blue eyes are bright with amusement and something else that I can’t name, and I simultaneously want to hit him and kiss him. “Well, I decided that was pretty unrealistic. I mean, if I’m going to spend my whole life figuring out who I am, it could get awfully lonely if I don’t let myself fall in love and share my life with someone, too.”
He doesn’t say anything for several seconds. Not sure what he’s thinking, but at least he’s rubbing my thumb with his. I’m so terrified that I’ve jumped the gun that I want to backpedal and unsay every word.
We speak at the same time.
“Just like you, pet, to skip all the. . .”
“I’m so glad I ran into y. . .”
I start to pull my hand away, but he grasps it firmly. “Wait.” He gently touches my cheek and turns my gaze back to his. “I’m glad you’re here with me, too.” My eyes fill with tears, blurring out his features, but I listen as he continues, “And I’ve been an idiot.”
I laugh, and a tear escapes my eye, trailing down my cheek. He brushes it away with a deft touch. “Me, too. I’ve been an idiot, too, and I’ve been awfully lonely without you.”
“What say we use this nice little snowstorm as an excuse to catch up? I know there must be more to tell than going around the world scooping up slayerettes.”
“And you with slaughtering demon hordes. Sounds very Lord of the Rings, by the way.” I’ve heard the story of what happened more times than I can count, but I haven’t heard Spike’s version, which makes all the difference.
“Well, there were swords. . . and a dragon!”
“Get ready for tales. Lots of them.”
We exchange grins.
Now, he’s hesitant. “Do you mind if. . .”
“Say it.” With two simple words, I try to convey the compassion he showed me now and that he’s shown to me time and time again.
“Do you mind if I hold you while we. . . ?”
I hate that he still feels like he has to ask permission when I should be asking his, too. “Please.”
The relief between us is palpable and so akin to the last night in my house in Sunnydale that I almost start crying again. I find myself immediately in his arms, leaning back against his chest, and cradling one of his arms across my abdomen. He sighs behind me, a sigh that speaks volumes. We’ve been apart far too long.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/527408.html