Written for noel_of_spike. Just over 1300 words, rated R for language. Standard disclaimers apply. Many thanks to apreludetoanend for ultra-rapid beta-reading and moral support.
Warning: Religion is discussed. I think of this as a companion piece to my Easter fic Resurgens, but it stands on its own.
O magnum mysterium
Xander was happy.
His stomach was pleasantly full of turkey and all the extras. He’d been charged with bringing the wine for dinner, and with some helpful advice he’d managed to pick a good one – even Giles had joined in the praise. He had a stash of very thoughtful gifts at his feet, including absolutely no socks. Better yet, all his efforts at gift-giving had been highly successful, received with exclamations of delight and many hugs and kisses – Giles hadn’t joined in the kissing. He’d rigged the tree stand so expertly that it hadn’t fallen over once this year, despite the depredations of Willow’s possessed kitten, and it looked beautiful. Dawn’s messy, homemade decorations from preschool days hung on the lowest branches, and he didn’t think too hard about how they could exist because it really didn’t matter. She was here, with all the rest of his, well, family, and it had been a good Christmas.
Well, almost all the rest. And on that thought, he stretched and rose to his feet.
“Girls, Giles – it’s been great. You cook a mean turkey, Buff.” He smiled around at them all. “Time I headed out, though. Have a good evening.” He pulled his new sweater over his head. “Hey, looks good! Thanks again, Dawnie.”
He bent to gather the rest of his presents into an empty gift bag. He didn’t miss the looks that were exchanged above his head, but he didn’t react to them.
Willow hugged him once more. Buffy walked him to the door.
“You know he’d be welcome, Xand.”
He smiled gently. “I know. Thanks.”
As he turned onto the main street, he ran into Spike, who appeared surprised to see him there. Xander noticed the pile of cigarette butts behind the tree on the corner, but didn’t react to that either.
“Nice dinner, was it?” Spike eyed the bag Xander was carrying. “Get some good loot?”
“It was a good time.” Xander’s voice was mild. “You should have come.”
“Don’t do Christmas, mate.” Spike’s tone was curt. “You know that.”
“Uh-huh. Don’t think that’d work out too well.”
“They’re cool with us, Spike.” He overrode Spike’s sardonic laugh. “Really. Dawn was disappointed you didn’t come. She sent you a present.” He hefted the bag invitingly.
Spike scowled and started walking faster. “’S not the point.”
“She’ll be flying back before New Year’s, and Buff’s got major shopping plans for the next few days. This was your best chance to hang out. Celebrate.”
Spike abruptly glared at Xander. “What are you celebrating?”
“Christmas?” Xander sounded genuinely confused.
“Right. You’re celebrating the manifestation on earth of a god I refuse to believe in, and the beginning of the religion that kills vampires. Call me crazy for not getting all peace, love and good will to mankind about it.”
“Huh? Spike, I – we don’t – ” Xander looked completely floored. “What? It’s Christmas. Dinner and presents and getting pleasantly drunk with friends and family. Candy canes and Santa. Nobody’s getting all baby Jesus on your ass.”
“That’s the craziest thing of all.” Spike shoved his hands deep in his pockets. “You don’t even believe your own myths anymore, but the power’s still there. Crosses, holy water, words… how the hell can you still use them on me?!”
Xander blinked rapidly. “I don’t use them on you.”
Spike hissed in frustration. “Not you and me specifically. Humans. Vampires.” He kicked a trash can in passing. “It’s still effective. You pour all this energy, money and expectations into a ritualistic celebration of a god you’ve forgotten, and it doesn’t matter that you don’t care what’s at the heart of it anymore. It’s got a life of its own now, and it kills whether or not you believe.”
Spike ignored this. “You never wondered why Red didn’t whip out a Star of David to fry me with? Or why her ankhs and pentacles are so much decoration as far as vamps are concerned?”
Xander frowned. “No. I really didn’t.”
“’Course not,” Spike muttered. Xander glared, shuffling his bag to the other arm as he tried to keep up.
“Christianity kills. Christian symbols kill, because it’s the dominant religion. Or used to be. You built this great hulking monolith of a religion, and filled it with all this power. So many people believed it, it became real.” He rubbed distractedly at the back of his head. “Most of you don’t believe now, not really. But the forms are still there. Power hasn’t dissipated.”
Xander shook his head helplessly. “You’re not making sense. What, we created God?”
“You – humans – have this urge to call in gods. Find yourselves here, in this red-in-tooth-and-claw world, where the killers and thieves come out on top – you call for a god. You want someone to punish the bad people and keep you in line. Someone to reward you for good behaviour – sort out the naughty and nice.” He scowled. “Most of all, you want to feel there’s someone who’ll take charge and take care of you and make sense of this fucked-up world. You want someone to cling to in the dark when you’re wondering why you’re even here in the first place.”
Xander was looking at him as if he’d grown another limb.
“You pour all that energy and belief into the ideas of your gods. And you wonder why every demon and manifestation and two-bit hell god like Glory comes knocking on the doors?” He pointed accusingly at Xander. “Because you invite them in. Because you’re out there screaming so loudly for something, anything, to believe in. You want to have faith. You want to hold onto something, without the slightest shred of evidence.” His voice wound down, wearily. “You’re all fucked in the head.”
“Spike – I have no idea what you’re saying. I have no idea how the hell we started talking about this.” Xander stared at him in bewilderment. “Have you been out here angsting about religion all this time? That is so bizarre. I kind of never figured you for the church-going kind.”
Spike shot him a look that said you blithering idiot. “Grew up in Victorian England. Everybody with any pretensions to decency went to church.”
They walked another block in silence.
“Got a soul now. Haven’t a fucking clue what that means, in the grand cosmic scheme of things. Don’t like any of the gods I know.” He looked at the sky, spoke barely above a whisper. “Don’t know what I believe in anymore.”
He stopped so suddenly Xander ran into him, turned and looked him straight in the eye. “What do you believe in?”
“Spike…” Xander said plaintively, “I’ve had eggnog. With rum. Can we get existential some other time?”
“Have you been drinking?”
“Answer the damn question.”
Silence. Xander shifted the bag from one arm to the other, and looked fixedly at a point somewhere over Spike’s shoulder. Finally he spoke.
“I believe the girls love me. I believe you love me. I believe that most of the time I haven’t got a clue what’s going on in the universe but it doesn’t matter and I can’t do anything about it. I believe that Buffy saved the world, and died and came back – twice.” He shifted his gaze back to Spike. “I believe there’re still battles ahead of us. I believe that if we go down, we’ll go down fighting. I believe you came back for a reason – and I believe you’ll figure it out eventually.”
He turned and started walking again. They were almost home. Spike’s boots clumped along behind him.
“I believe,” Xander said slowly and deliberately, “that the minute we get inside, I am going to strip down and invite you to have your no-longer-evil way with me.”
The boots sped up.
Obviously, that was something Spike could believe in too.