Please Come Home For Christmas
Golden Is The Hour
Spike walked through the snow-bound streets, wondering if anything was ever cheerful in Russia. The district was busy – Christmas Eve, and all – but still hopeless somehow, despite the lights and decorations. It just seemed so dark. Despairing. But perhaps he was projecting.
It was always the hardest around the holidays, which, Spike had to admit, was a pathetic cliché. But it was. It was when they were all together, or tried to be, and he couldn’t distract himself with work. It probably didn’t help that he’d somehow fallen into the habit of taking stock of his life each year; adding up the guilt and good deeds, hoping he’d been a better person that year, hoping that his life had magically become meaningful.
Until he’d confessed it to Xander, that is, who’d told him in no uncertain terms to leave his livestock alone, and that it was intentions that counted, anyway. It isn’t something you can add up, Spike, like a sum, he’d said. If you do the right thing for the wrong reasons it’s never going to get you anywhere because it’s not supposed to be about getting somewhere. It’s about doing the right thing because it’s right.
Funny how Spike had never really understood that good was a state of mind and not a scorecard until Xander. He privately thought Angel could take lessons, but always remembered that Xander’s wisdom was hard-learnt. Spike still wished he could do more, to try and achieve the un-achievable and actually be worthy of all the good things in his life.
Like Xander. Christ, he still had those moments of absolute, paralysing fear that the other shoe would drop and it would all be ripped away from him. Like it had been so many times before. There was no way he deserved to have this man in his life, this one person who always eased his burden just by being in the same room, the same city, hell, even on the same planet. This man, his friend. Truly a fucking miracle, though why anyone would bless him was beyond his comprehension.
And so what if it was hard? To look at that face, those eyes, that mouth, and know none of it would ever say ‘I love you’. To feel almost crippled with want and desire, but not allowed to touch. To want a companion, a lover, a partner, but need it from someone so far out of his league. To want more from a friend, but know that reaching for it would ruin that friendship, the best, most precious part of his life. It was hard, but Spike always reminded himself that losing Xander would be much harder.
And he was content. They had all come across to Russia this year to see Xander, to spend Christmas with him as he was unable to leave the work he was doing here. The others could only stay a few hours, but Spike was hoping to stay a few days. He’d made sure he had time. And Xander would be happy to see him.
As usual, it had been too long since they’d seen each other. A few flying visits, a day here and there. Before that, it had been Christmas last year, in Australia, and it had truly been hellish. Even just remembering it, Spike practically winced. Perfect place, perfect weather, and Xander had wandered around for the entire holiday in nothing but a swim suit. It had been a hard test of Spike’s resolve, but one he would probably repeat, given the opportunity.
And despite the tests, and the difficulty of keeping his feelings to himself, life was good. He was in love, after all.
Reaching the small, dingy house Xander currently called home, Spike paused on the street outside. He could see up into the tiny kitchen, see Xander through the window. Hear him, too, singing as he chopped something for Willow.
He wasn’t particularly good, wasn’t particularly in tune, but for Spike, all other sound faded away as every fibre in his being strained to hear.
It broke off suddenly as Xander stopped to laugh at himself, and Spike smiled reflexively. Not a good singer, but he wouldn’t change that voice for the entire world.
Suddenly feeling light-hearted, he took the steps three at a time, and pounded on the front door. Hurried steps inside, and, sure enough, there was Xander, happy to see him.
“Merry Christmas, pet.” And Spike was content.
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the Angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled
And still their heavenly music floats
Over all the weary world.
It started in Morocco. A busy marketplace, and someone’s radio was buzzing gently in the background. Xander was trying to find a gift to send to Dawn; he knew she’d love the cheap turquoise jewellery this particular stall seemed to be stocking in bulk. He’d paused for a moment to wonder at the Eagles’ Christmas song playing in September in Africa, of all places. Then he’d moved on.
The second time, he’d been back down in Botswana, and he’d flipped on his own radio on his way out to the porch. ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’, a little fuzzy, but distinctive and incongruous against the backdrop of the African plains that bordered the compound and he could consequently see from his windows. Bemused, he’d listened until the song faded out into static.
Then, he was sent to China on a routine meet-and-greet, checking on contacts he’d made the last time he’d been there. He smiled; this place reminded him of Spike, and the fun they’d had infiltrating demon clubs in Beijing. The infiltration itself hadn’t been particularly great; tight clothes, dangerously dragon-like demons, and pretending to be Spike’s bitch. But learning to curse in Mandarin had been entertaining and surprisingly useful. Dawn didn’t speak a word of it, which was good, but also bad, because one more ‘fei fei de pi yan’ from him and Xander thought she might want to learn. Then Spike had been called back to London, and Xander had travelled across through Tibet to India.
Anyway, on this visit, he’d been sitting in a bar in the Chaoyang district, waiting for a contact, and sure enough, ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’ came piping over the stereo system. He’d had enough weirdness in his life that he couldn’t really put this down to coincidence, but…the hell? Someone was trying to, what, break down his defences using Christmas songs? Was there a subliminal message hidden in the song that would allow demons to track him and make him murder his friends? That had gone way too close to paranoia for comfort, so he’d shrugged it off. It was November, after all, and half the time the Christmas stuff started before Thanksgiving anyway.
Japan, ten days later. Standing in what had to be the biggest department store on earth, starting to worry that he’d never see daylight again, and The Eagles suddenly blared out of a stereo someone had turned up way too loud. Laughter and the sound dimmed, but Xander was unnerved. Claustrophobic, and definitely unnerved. Tense, he shouldered through the crowd, momentarily forgetting the mage he’d been tracking, until the song faded behind him.
Everywhere he went, through the last days of November and the first few weeks of December, he’d heard that song. He fluctuated between anger and worry, wanting to call someone but not wanting to sound ridiculously paranoid. He had called; he’d got as far as ‘So, Giles, can people be haunted by…’ before he realised that if he asked Giles if Christmas songs could stalk people, any credibility he’d built up over the years would be completely destroyed.
It had been surreal, though. Travelling back through China, Upper India, Pakistan, Afghanistan. The same song. It had even turned up on his personal stereo, though he’d never downloaded it. There had been a minor panic in Iran, when The Eagles came piping out of a radio despite the recent ban on Western music. He didn’t think anyone had been arrested over it; he hoped not, anyway.
Through Turkey and up into Greece. The taverna owners had seemed bewildered when it came out over their sound systems, but by now Xander was past bewildered and well into ‘what the fuck?’ land. Until one morning, he gave in. Maybe the stalky-song was right. Maybe he should go home for Christmas this year. Belatedly, he wondered if a certain red-haired someone might have decided he’d been away too long, and wanted to send him a message. She could have just used the phone, he thought wryly; the resolve face still worked, even without a visual.
So, it seemed he’d be heading north out of Greece, and up to England. Home, then.
Fuck it was cold. Snow, ice, brutal winds. Bloody England, he thought bitterly, as he waited for the Council car to be brought round out of storage. It was better once he was driving and he could crank the heat up. Easier with depth perception, too; he couldn’t help but be grateful for his re-grown eye every time he had to set foot in a car.
It wasn’t a long drive, and he smiled a little at the thought of surprising them. Maybe he should have called, but it was more fun this way.
Sure enough, Xander got exactly what he wanted. Lots of excited squeals, lots of hugs. It really had been too long since he’d been home, and while the actual holiday didn’t mean much more to him than a break from work, it was a nice time of year for the symbolic family gathering. He’d never been really spiritual, and still wasn’t. He knew too much about the world that organised religion couldn’t account for. But he liked the holiday.
Willow chattered excitedly to him as she dragged him up the stairs into the house, and looked as innocent as she could when he mentioned a certain song. They met Buffy in the entrance hall, and there was possibly more hugging. Willow looked good; they both did. Good, healthy, happy. Well-rested, which was something he possibly couldn’t say about himself right then, but he’d been on the road for almost two straight years.
“Xander,” Giles called to him from the lounge room, if you could call a dignified sitting room in a heritage-listed estate a ‘lounge’.
“Hey, Giles.” Another hug, and Xander felt spoilt. Dawn was there too, and it was a too Hallmark-moment for words. They all sat, relaxed, and for the longest time Xander just sat there, not saying much but grinning like an idiot. God, he’d needed this. Family. He hadn’t even realised how much he missed them.
The atmosphere was almost perfect, too. The room was tastefully decorated, with mistletoe and pine, red and gold ribbon, bells and stars. There had been tiny white lights picking out the doorway, and a large wreath Xander had barely noticed as Willow hauled him in. He knew that the rest of the house would be similarly decorated, and he could count on comfortingly hot drinks and food as soon as Willow could prise Andrew out of the library.
Noise from the hallway, and the front door slammed behind someone. Xander knew exactly who it was, and got up to go meet him at the door.
“Hey, Spike. You’re late,” Xander said from the stairs. Spike looked up at him, halfway out of his coat. The surprise on his face was genuine, and when he smiled at Xander, Xander wasn’t afraid to grin back.
“Sod off, mate. I’ve been here for the past three days. Where the hell have you been?” The pleased expression hadn’t quite left Spike’s voice, but he was trying to bury it.
“Oh, you know,” Xander said airily, sauntering over to help the struggling vampire out of his coat. “Off seeing the world, as usual.”
Spike nodded his thanks, looking Xander over with a critical eye. “Anything interesting?”
“I didn’t get stabbed again, if that’s what you mean,” Xander replied defensively. It was almost laughable how annoyed Spike had been by what turned out to be a minor flesh wound. He’d been positively furious, and Xander hadn’t even lost that much blood.
Spike gritted his teeth. “I should bloody well hope not.”
Xander shrugged amicably, and they turned to walk through to the lounge. “I was in China again. No S&M clubs this time, I’m afraid. I’m sure you’re disappointed that I didn’t get to embarrass myself again.”
Spike snorted. “Embarrassed isn’t exactly the word, mate.”
“You’re right,” Xander agreed. “’Humiliated’ works a lot better.”
Another snort from the vampire, and Xander was pulled into the lounge to comment on the latest batch of slayers he’d handled. An apologetic look to Spike, and he was quickly absorbed in the conversation.
“Hey, Spike, you busy?”
“It’s the middle of the day, and there’s nothing to do here but read. I think it’s safe to say I’m not busy.”
Xander smirked at Spike’s wry answer. “Just wondered if you’d be up for a little mah jong. Pass the time before the ‘Day Before the Day Before Christmas Eve’ feast.”
“Banned from the kitchen again?” Spike asked sympathetically as Xander flopped down on the armchair opposite.
“Yep, but at least I don’t have to do any work.” He’d brought the tiles over with him, taking a guess that Spike would agree to play. They’d learned in China, although they played with the most basic set of rules. The game was fun, and guaranteed to have them cursing with frustration. Especially when they limited the tiles.
“As if they’d put you to work in there. I’ve seen you cook, hell, I’ve lived with your cooking, and you could burn water.”
“Hey! Any more of that, mister, and you won’t get any of the supplies I managed to steal while getting banned from the cooking.”
An innocent look was immediately plastered over Spike’s face. Xander narrowed his eyes in suspicion.
“I’m not falling for that face,” he warned, but reached a hand down to his boot and pulled out a beer. He handed it over, never failing to laugh at Spike’s reaction to the trick.
“Your feet must be the size of boats, Mr Magician,” Spike said, shaking his head. It was a bizarre trick, and one Xander had learned from a trickster in New Orleans. Wait till Spike saw what he had inside his sweater.
He laid the pretzels out on the small table between them.
Spike pounced on them. “Bloody great! I knew she had a bag of these hid somewhere, but I couldn’t bloody well find them. Cheers, pet!”
They chinked bottles, and Xander drank with relish. Ensconced with Spike, mah jong, pretzels and beer. This was what holidays were for.
The following evening they had a ‘Day Before Christmas Eve’ dinner, and unfortunately Andrew had been allowed to cook whatever he wanted as part of his Christmas present. It wasn’t too bad – he’d gotten a lot better in the six years since Sunnydale – but still. To take their minds off the food, Xander regaled the group with a short but sad tale of his time with Edna, the fifty-plus year old motorcycle he’d had in Japan the last time he’d been there. She’d clunked, hissed, and almost vibrated a hole in his crotch, but he’d missed her when she’d finally died in the Mikuni Ranges in the middle of a rainstorm.
“Luckily, I lived the cliché and was taken in by a friendly group of monks. I stayed at the monastery for almost two weeks.”
“You? In a monastery?” The disbelief in Buffy’s voice could have been insulting.
“Hey, I had a blast. Those monks really know how to party,” he defended. They had, too. Apparently getting stoned regularly got you closer to God. In retrospect, Xander had come to the conclusion that they were somewhat removed from the traditional religions.
“Oh, yes? I’m having trouble picturing chaste, god-fearing monks participating in anything that you would consider partying,” Giles commented, teasing.
Xander grinned. “According to this lot, God likes the faithful to partake of the herb, if you know what I mean. And they weren’t chaste, either. I have first-hand experience.”
“Xander!” Buffy remonstrated, wrinkling her nose at him. “You shouldn’t have sex with monks, it’s like sleeping with…a teacher, or something.”
He raised his eyebrows at her and grinned again. “Hey, monastic folk need loving too. And these guys were not your average monks.”
“How about we change the subject? I’m not old enough to be comfortable with you children talking about sex.”
“Doesn’t it get more awkward when you get older, not less?” Buffy asked him innocently.
Xander had turned back to Willow, though, about to ask her what she though of monastic shenanigans, only to catch a look between her and Spike. It was gone before he could really see it, but the look in Willow’s eyes had been something like…pity?
He frowned. Was Spike lonely or something? Had he, like Xander, been unwillingly parted from an ancient motorbike?
Spike must have noticed the frown, as he schooled his features back to blank and started asking Xander about travelling through war-torn Afghanistan. But Xander had caught a glimpse of his expression, too.
He was soon distracted by their conversation, but didn’t forget the look of bitterness and longing on Spike’s face. He didn’t understand. What did Spike want?
“Have you ever considered telling him?”
Xander knew it was wrong to listen at doors, and he knew that you never heard anything good, but hearing Willow’s raised voice, with that mix of frustration and pity that she did so well when she put her mind to it, was too intriguing to pass up.
“No, and I’ll thank you not to do it for me.” Spike was the recipient this time. His voice was tight with tension, a little bit of anger, and every word snapped.
“You have to do something, Spike. It’s eating you alive.”
Xander was shocked. It sounded like Willow had said this before, had this conversation before, and she was almost pleading with the vampire. And what the hell was wrong with Spike? What did he have to tell who?
“Look, you’ve done enough, alright? I know you’ll deny getting him to come here, but I know you brought him. I could bloody well kill you for doing it without telling me. Give a bloke a bit of warning when you meddle in his affairs,” Spike growled. Him, they were talking about him, Xander realised. Willow must have planted the songs, and had done it for…Spike?
Her reply was soft, and he strained to hear. “I missed him too, but you missed him more. Goddess, Spike, you act like you’re missing a limb. Walking on air when you two are scheduled to work together, then a black hole of depression when the job’s over. He’s been here for two days, and you’re happier than you’ve been in a month, if not the entire year. Why don’t you just tell him?”
A mumbled response from Spike, and an exasperated sigh from Willow.
“But he’s grown up, Spike. He’s changed, and matured. I don’t know why you think he wouldn’t be able to deal with it.”
“I don’t want him to deal with it. I want him to feel the same. And he won’t, so I’m not going to fuck up what I’ve got, not this time.”
A cold, slightly sick feeling was creeping into Xander’s stomach. No, it couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible.
“Spike…” Willow said with a sigh, shifting.
“No, Red. He doesn’t love me, not like I love him.”
Xander was struck dumb at the thought. Blind, deaf, and with an option on frozen, too. Spike? In love? With him? No fucking way. He suddenly knew what ‘reeling’ actually felt like. All the air had been sucked out of his body, leaving a numb, unable-to-move, totally shell-shocked Xander behind, gasping.
He must have actually done so, because there was abrupt silence from behind the door. Panicked feet, and Willow flung it open to reveal his stunned-mullet face. They were a frozen tableau for what felt like hours, but was probably minutes. A look of horror dawned on Willow’s face as she took in Xander’s shocked expression, and she turned back to Spike with what could only be described as fear in her eyes.
Xander was sure that, if he’d been human, Spike would have been hyperventilating right about now. He looked about as shocked as Xander felt, but also utterly panicked. Somewhere behind the numbness, Xander realised that this was the first time Spike had ever looked afraid of him.
“Um,” Xander began, his mouth and motor functions apparently thawing. Gradually, anyway.
It seemed to break the spell, and Willow blurted out, “Oh Spike, I’m…”
But Spike had turned to stare out the window. His back was as tight as his voice had been, and Willow glanced once at Xander, somehow hopeful and threatening at the same time, before leaving the room and closing the door behind her.
Xander stared at Spike’s back, absolutely no idea what to say.
Spike seemed to pick up on it, because his shoulders slumped in defeat. “So I suppose you know.”
“Know what, exactly?” Xander hazarded. He felt a little panicked himself all of a sudden, like everything was moving a little too quickly for him to catch. Or like his world had just shifted on its’ axis, and he had yet to catch up.
Spike laughed, but there was that bitter again. The same as the previous evening at dinner. “That I’m in love with you. I’m in love with you.”
The repeat was said almost as if Spike was talking to himself, as if he couldn’t believe he was saying it out loud. He was still looking out the window, but Xander was reeling again, so it didn’t really matter. All he’d see was the pole-axed look on Xander’s face.
“When…How long...” It was really a lack of anything else to ask; Xander didn’t think the answer would really help him out of his shock. And he was right, it didn’t.
“France,” Spike said softly, finally turning from the window and looking Xander in the eyes with a kind of helplessness.
“But that was years ago,” Xander blurted out, almost involuntarily.
Spike smiled, bitter again.
France. Almost eight weeks together, tracking slayers, fighting with demons, fighting with each other. It had only been two years since Sunnydale, then, and Xander hadn’t been quite the mature individual he thought he’d grown into since. He’d bitched and whined, needled at every opportunity. Privately, of course, because it wouldn’t do for the newly-made slayers to think they were being recruited into an organisation of whinging and in-fighting. And Spike had bitched right back. It had been…normal. Just as it had been ever since, although they’d developed more of a friendship than an acquaintance in the intervening years.
But that wasn’t true, really. The friendship part had only come up after France, and abruptly Xander realised he could pinpoint the moment when he apparently became it for Spike.
Late Spring, and they’d been trawling through the Parisienne catacombs. They’d bitched and moaned their way around for almost three hours, found the demons, killed them, and finally broken the surface again. They’d come back out near the river, and started walking back to the hotel. Their bantering was a little lighter in the face of fresh air and the almost painfully picturesque setting of the Seine under a full moon.
Xander had said something, and turned to look at Spike when he didn’t get a response. Spike had just been looking at him, like he’d never seen him before. Thinking back, Xander couldn’t even remember what he’d said, but it hadn’t been anything to deserve that look. Equal parts confusion, surprise, and fear. The air between them had been faintly charged with…something, but Xander had shrugged it off, and Spike had returned to normal.
Dragging himself back to the present, Xander looked at Spike again. The confusion and surprise were gone, though a healthy portion of fear remained.
“It was that night in Paris, wasn’t it?” Although it was hardly a question, Spike nodded.
“I didn’t know what it meant, at first. You just suddenly…matched me. I realised that we fit, and I…wanted.”
“But it was years ago,” Xander protested again. Almost three years ago. He just wanted to understand. “How could you go so long without…saying something? Anything?”
Spike smiled, a little sadly. “Didn’t want you to know. Back then, you wouldn’t have…You wouldn’t have wanted me back, and I couldn’t have coped with…” He waved a hand awkwardly, and Xander found himself inanely focused on how distressing Spike’s complete lack of confidence was. The normally bordering-on-obnoxious vampire still looked like his life had just fallen down about his ears.
“And then we were friends,” he continued softly. He spoke with what sounded like awe, like his friendship with Xander was something precious. Which it was, Xander admitted, but he didn’t feel like he deserved such…reverence.
“And so you said nothing,” Xander concluded for him, tonelessly. Some of his confusion and resentment must have shown in his voice, though, because Spike looked, of all things, hurt.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said defensively. “I thought I didn’t stand a chance, back then. And then I assumed…”
“Yeah, you just assumed,” Xander cut him off. He felt absurdly angry, resenting the assumption more than he thought he would.
Spike looked alarmed, but Xander’s head was spinning, and he needed time to process this. God, he couldn’t understand this. It was all so unreal, and he had to think it through before he fucked everything up.
“Look, Spike, I…I have to go…” he began, heading for the door, determined to find a quiet place where, hopefully, he could sift through the chaos his head had become.
“Wait,” Spike pleaded, crossing the room to stand close to Xander. “I didn’t…I’ve never…Fuck!” Spike’s frustration at his apparent inability to form a sentence would have made Xander smile on any other day. As it was, he watched the vampire take a few breaths to calm himself.
“I never tried to tell you before because I didn’t want you to…not trust me, I guess. And I couldn’t bear to risk our friendship. I’d say that notion’s been well and truly buggered, so…”
Before Xander could react, Spike reached out and pulled him close. Xander registered briefly that Spike’s hands were shaking, and then he was being kissed. Passionately, desperately, and it felt like Spike was pouring heart and soul into it. Into Xander, and it just about scared him witless.
It was over before he could really recover enough to respond, but when they pulled apart, Xander was panting. Spike’s eyes were pleading with him, appealing, but Xander stumbled away. “I’m sorry, Spike, I really need to think about this. I can’t just…”
He trailed off. “Xander…” came the soft plea from Spike.
“Please? You’ve had three years to process this. Can you give me three hours?”
The honest confusion must have been plain enough on Xander’s face, because concern soon mixed with the longing on Spike’s. He nodded, reluctantly, and Xander was out the door.
Xander somehow made it down through the house to the car he was using. He didn’t know where the hell he thought he was going, but if he ever wanted to make sense of this, he needed a place to think. And he couldn’t do it at the house. He drove out of the estate, worrying what the girls would think, whether any of the others knew, hoping they wouldn’t give Spike a hard time, hoping they would know he was coming back. He realised his brain was jumping around all over the place, and he decided he probably shouldn’t drive too far.
After a few miles, he spotted the car park of a pub on the outskirts of a nearby village. That would do fine; all he needed was a place to park. He was too distracted to drive without crashing the car and killing himself, or possibly running over small children. The pub was closed, too, so he wouldn’t be disturbed.
Xander carefully turned off the ignition, and sat back, staring out the windshield at the frozen park across the lane.
Spike was in love with him.
It wasn’t getting any easier.
He sighed, and left the car to walk in the park. Glad he’d had the brain cells to grab his coat, he pulled out the gloves and hat that lived in the pockets. Slightly more protected, he started pacing the still park, trying to clear his head.
Spike was in love with him. That was as good a place to start as any. It sounded impossible, unreal, almost laughable. Not that Xander was laughing, although, back in Sunnydale he had to admit he might have.
But he’d been different then. Spike had been different then, too. They’d both hated each other, but working together made them reconcile a few key differences, and, amazingly, they’d worked through it. For one thing, Xander was no longer as prejudiced against the vampire as he used to be. In the year following Anya’s death, he’d made some horrific mistakes, and realised his attitude needed a bit of adjustment when it came to self-righteousness. Though it had taken a few years, he’d adjusted it, and being friends with Spike had been an added benefit.
Spike. His friend. A real friend, who had looked out for him, been there for him, laughed with him and occasionally at him, all that clichéd shit. Xander could honestly say he’d never considered the vampire…the other way before. For starters, as far as Xander knew all of Spike’s previous loves had been women. And while he had to admit he’d always thought Spike was hot, he thought there’d been enough baggage there to make anything more than friendship not an option. According to Spike, he’d apparently been mistaken.
Giving up on the featureless park, Xander slumped onto a mostly-frozen bench, and settled for staring off into space. Now that he thought about it, now that he started looking, Spike’s feelings were…not obvious, but not completely hidden either. The jealousy whenever Xander mentioned a partner of any kind. He’d been suspiciously tight-lipped when Xander had told him about his last boyfriend, for example. And then absolutely outraged when Xander later admitted he’d been dumped for another man.
Spike had always known where he was, Xander realised. He travelled to a new city every few days, a new country every few weeks, just about. But Spike always kept track. Whenever Xander called, and Spike answered the phone, it was always, ‘Hi, mate, how’s St Petersburg?’ Or Vienna, or Phnom Penh, or whatever the city of the week was. Always the right city, but always so casual that Xander never even noticed.
Another realisation: Australia must have just about killed him. Xander remembered wandering around in next-to-nothing for a good five days, with no-one but Spike for company. It had been a fantastic holiday, and he suddenly remembered where that bloody song was from.
Christmas last year, and they’d been in Australia. Just the two of them, and after their work was done they’d had a few days off for the holidays. And it had been great. Sunshine, seafood, sandy beaches. Everything people always said you found in Australia, but with dangerous reptiles, spiders as big as Twinkies, and a rugged and bloodthirsty vampire population.
He remembered spending hours, just hours, in the water. Chlorine or the ocean, he’d swam so much he’d wondered why his fingers didn’t just prune up permanently and be done with it.
Having a solid tan at Christmas time was a bit of a novelty, too.
As it got closer to Christmas, the heat had got so bad that he’d often returned to the water at night, to cool down before he went to bed. One memorable evening, Spike had joined him, a pale streak in the dark of the swimming pool in the yard of the house they’d been living in. ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’ had come onto the radio, filtering through the kitchen window, and Spike had teased him for stopping their water-fight to listen.
Xander smiled at the memory. He’d told Spike he liked the idea of having somewhere good to go for the holidays, no matter how far he travelled. Buffy and Dawn were more settled than they ever had been anywhere else, and the Council estate, halfway between Cambridge and Bath, had become the home base for all their roaming. Giles was there, Willow was there, Spike was often there. No matter how many places Xander went, it was where he belonged.
Looking around at the frozen trees, the frosted grass, he felt pretty far away from the memories of tropical heat and cool water that were now indelibly linked to that song. Although, he supposed it was also going to remind him of Africa, China, Japan, and the dozen other countries he’d been to in the past few weeks.
Mostly, though, he knew it would remind him of Spike. Spike, who was in love with him. Xander sighed. With that tangent, he’d almost forgotten. Spike.
It was getting marginally easier to believe, but he almost felt like he’d been lied to. By someone he trusted. And that hurt, but Xander could admit that, back in France, he really wouldn’t have been able to deal with it. Not that he was dealing with it particularly well now, but back then…he could admit that he would have treated Spike badly.
Now, though…How did he feel now? That was the sixty-four million dollar question.
Christ. It had all happened so fast, and he didn’t know what to do.
He wanted to run his hands through his hair, try and dislodge some of the debris in his head that way, but he didn’t want to dislodge his hat at the same time. He suddenly realised his ass was frozen, and, wincing at the pins-and-needles, stood to go back to his car. He wasn’t ready to go back to the house just yet, though, so he put on the heat and leaned his head on the steering wheel.
What a bombshell. Christmas Eve, and Xander’s got a great big can of worms as a present. He frowned. He didn’t really think that, he realised, just resented the suddenness of it all. But it wasn’t like Spike had planned it. He hadn’t ever been going to tell Xander, but Xander once again had proof that eavesdropping was a bad idea.
But if he hadn’t, Spike would have gone with…just gone on pretending. Pretending to be Xander’s friend, when really he’d wanted more all along. That was perhaps a little simple – if he’d been friendly towards Xander to try and con him into something, he’d taken his time with the con part. No, Xander knew genuine friendship when he saw it, and he and Spike were friends.
Which took him back to the beginning again. Xander raised his head slightly, and let it fall back onto the wheel with a thump. Still going in circles. He needed some way of sorting through this. Maybe a Valium?
Spike. Spike was in love with him. Xander believed him; he’d just spent the past hour and a half retrospectively realising how oblivious he’d been. Hindsight’s a fucker, but Xander thought he…understood. But the question remained: what was he going to do about it?
The radio suddenly flipped on. Xander frowned; he hadn’t touched it. ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’. Angrily, he flipped it off. He hesitated, and slowly reached out to flip it back on. He listened to the words.
He knew. He knew what he had to do, what he needed to do.
He sighed, and started the car’s engine. He needed to talk to Spike.
When Xander arrived back at the house, he was surprised no-one met him on the stairs. He looked at the time, and changed his mind; it was one in the morning. Christmas Day, then. He walked slowly through the house, and found himself at the door to the smaller library on the second floor. It was his favourite room, and he and Spike always ended up here, just reading or talking. He leant against the back of the sofa and looked around at the walls, the paintings, the shelves. It all seemed different now. Maybe it was just him.
As expected, it didn’t take Spike long to show up. Xander knew Spike would find him, would know as soon as he came back to the house. He came in quietly, closed the door behind him, and just stood there.
“I never meant for this to happen, Xander. And I’ll understand if you don’t…I don’t want to lose you, and I’d rather pretend this never happened than…”
Xander looked at him. He sounded so defeated. All traces of his usual accent were gone, along with all of his confidence. It was still so distressing. He had the look of a man with nothing left to lose because he believed he’d already lost.
“You really weren’t ever going to tell me, were you?”
“God, can you blame me? I thought I’d never see you again if I did,” Spike protested weakly.
“Why?” Xander thought he knew the answer, but he wanted to make sure they were on the same page. He watched Spike pace a little further into the room, arms crossed and frowning as he concentrated on the question.
“You were you,” he finally replied. “Xander Harris, vampire-hater, Spike-hater. You’d never had a kind word from me since I’d known you. The fact that you talked to me at all, and actually treated me like an equal, was enough. More than I ever deserved. That we became friends was…”
“I haven’t been that Xander for years. You know that,” Xander admonished.
“No, I don’t s’pose you have,” Spike admitted.
The mood between them was so strange. It was like the calm before the storm, but what kind of storm? Xander looked at Spike helplessly.
“So…What? Why didn’t you say something?” he pleaded, realised he was repeating himself, and damn that sounded really whiny.
Spike seemed to agree, as his answer was frustrated. “Why the hell would I? In my entire life, I’ve never been in love with a man. And with women…I had a hundred years of violence, followed by a sound kicking. Then I get a sound kicking, some extremely unhealthy sex, and some more kicking. I couldn’t bloody believe it when I fell for you. I mean, what the fuck was wrong with me? It made no logical sense whatsoever, we made no sense.”
Xander looked away. That had stung, but Spike didn’t continue until he looked back.
He looked directly into Xander’s eyes. When he spoke, it was almost too soft for Xander to hear. “At least, that was what I thought. I looked at you that day, and it was like I’d never seen you before. I realised that we could fit, and I suddenly saw this beautiful…” Suddenly they were close, closer than Xander thought, and Spike reached out to trail a fingertip down Xander’s jaw.
Xander could see the longing on Spike’s face. It frightened him more than anything else ever had. “Spike,” he whispered, pleading.
The hand dropped, the longing faded. “You were my friend, pet. I wanted you, but I didn’t want to lose you. You trusted me. I could see it in your face that day, and every day since. So I put you first. No obsession. No schemes. No manipulation. I just…loved you. And I missed you. Still do, on both counts.”
Xander gave a small smile. “How can you miss something you never had?” he asked gently.
Spike smiled back sadly. “You got me there, pet.”
He moved away, over to look out the window, out into the snow. Xander looked at the tense back, wondering…wondering when he’d lost his mind. Spike was in love with him. And, God help them all, it seemed like Xander loved him right back.
It scared the crap out of him to admit that, even to himself. But, now that he had, it was time to do something about it.
He walked over to Spike. Tentatively, he reached out a hand. As soon as he touched Spike, the vampire expelled a heavy breath.
“Look, you don’t have to…” But Xander shushed him. He could live without hearing Spike give him another out. Not when he’d realised he didn’t want or need one.
Spike was looking at him, concerned, confused. Xander met his gaze, eyes open, and finally kissed him back.
It was hesitant, still tentative, still unsure, but Xander was certain that there could be no mistaking what this was. Apparently, though, there could be, because Spike wasn’t responding.
Must be shock, Xander thought wryly, and tried to be a little more insistent. Just as he was questioning everything, about to give up, it worked. Spike kissed back, and Xander was swept away.
Cool, he thought through a haze of feeling. Slick. Electricity was skipping up and down his spine, and he tightened his grip on Spike’s arms, afraid of falling. Falling further, actually, as when Spike’s hands clutched desperately at his back, Xander knew he was gone.
Mine, he thought. All mine. And the thought made him smile, though it broke their kiss. He needed the air, anyway, and gasped a bit as he rested his forehead on Spike’s. Spike’s mouth was open, and he looked completely pole-axed. Xander smiled again, and kissed him some more. He figured they both deserved it.
They broke apart again so Xander could breathe, and this time he asked, “Spike, that song…”
Spike smiled sheepishly. “I think Red might have heard me listen to it a time or ten. She’d already sprung me, and I guess she knew.”
“That it said what I wanted to say,” Spike replied simply, looking at the floor again. Embarrassed, though, instead of afraid, and this time the mumbling was adorable.
Xander’s smile faded a little, though, and he used a knuckle to lift Spike’s chin, making him look him in the eyes. He didn’t try to conceal his insecurity, his fear about what they were getting themselves into, but this time…he thought there was hope in there as well. Spike smiled, and this time he kissed Xander.
Christmas was almost over. As the clock ticked closer to midnight, the house grew quiet and dark, cold and still. Everything was peaceful.
Except for one room on the second floor. A small library, and the lamps were still on. They were low, though, only offering muted, warm light to small pockets of the room. A low fire in the open fireplace added to the glow, flickering over the sofas and chairs, the bookshelves, the windows.
Someone had laid a rug in front of the fire; more of a blanket, really, to cushion against the coldness of the floor. The remains of a late-night snack – pretzels and beer – lay nearby.
On the blanket, two figures writhed, a passionate counterpoint to the peace of the rest of the house. Pale skin and tan skin, white hair and dark. A balance, a perfect fit, and even match.
Xander groaned as Spike thrust into him, his head falling back against the blanket. He was so close; just a few more strokes would do it. Again. Again.
But then they paused, each aware of the passion that lay between them, of the beauty of what they could see. Sweat-slicked skin, heated flesh. Clenching, aching muscles. The tight yet tender grip each had on the other. And the fingers of one hand of each entwined together between them.
Spike leaned down, smiling softly. Xander met him for a kiss that tangled them even more tightly together. Slowly, Spike once again began to thrust, and Xander couldn’t take his eyes off his lover’s face.
They soon reached the peak once more in their unhurried love-making, somehow deliberate for all its passion. Harder. Faster. Deeper. It ended with their bodies locked together as muscles clenched in climax, and their foreheads lightly touching.
In the aftermath, as they lay warm by the fire, Xander looked at Spike to find that look of reverence and disbelief once again in his eyes.
Chuckling a little, he slid his fingers through the hair on the back of Spike’s head to pull him in for a kiss.
“I’m actually here, sweetheart. I love you, I’m not going anywhere, and…this is real.” What started as teasing became hushed as Xander caught himself believing it too, without knowing he’d ever doubted. This was real. They were in love, and even though they hadn’t the slightest clue what would happen next, there was no going back.
And why the hell would he want to? Xander asked himself with another smile. He’d just been given everything he’d ever wanted, ever needed, without even knowing he wanted it. He kissed Spike again, still smiling.
This was the best Christmas ever.
But this is Christmas, yes, Christmas my dear
The time of the year to be with the ones you love
So won’t you tell me you’ll never more roam
Christmas and New Years will find you at home
There’ll be no more sorrow, no grief and pain
And I’ll be happy, happy once again
Oh, there’ll be no more sorrow, no grief and pain
And I’ll be happy, Christmas once again
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