Title: A Christmas Wish
Note: This fic was written for sandy_s for the Elysian Fields 2020 Secret Santa Challenge. It was just my luck that I decided to post it on the same day as Seasonal Spuffy’s Winter Soltice Free for All day! This story has been cross-posted to Elysian Fields, AO3, and my journal.
Note 2: This story was inspired by The Family Man, starring Nick Cage
Dog tired and wincing in pain, Buffy trudged out of the cemetery and closed the heavy iron gate with a loud clang. Sore in places she didn’t know could hurt, she rubbed the interior spot at the crook of her arm—elbow nook—she thought, wondering if there was a scientific term for that part of her body. It had been a while since she’d sat in anyone’s biology class. And speaking of biology, I’m seriously too young for joint pain, right? she mused silently, stopping in front of a darkened storefront, and stared at her reflection in the window. Buffy stared at the woman looking back at her with a mussed ponytail adorned with bits of twigs sticking out and violet circles under her eyes. She looked practically decrepit. Which was a shame; no one should look that bad during the holidays—the most wonderful time of the year. With only two days left until Christmas, Buffy reminded herself that she was spending it alone, and it didn’t matter if she looked like a ghoul. No one would see her, anyway. There were no Christmas parties to attend or family gatherings to show up to that year. The only thing she had to look forward to was a box of pinot grigio and a Hungry Man turkey dinner waiting for her in the freezer—she got the one with a slice of apple pie. Yum.
Her mother used to make the best apple pies. Buffy recalled the years she spent helping Joyce or getting in the way while preparing their Christmas feast. When Dawn got older, she had joined them in the kitchen, taking her duties as sus chef with uncharacteristic seriousness. Buffy could almost smell the roasting turkey and sweetness of apples glazed in cinnamon and sugar. While everything browned and baked, Joyce would make them each a cup of hot cocoa with extra, extra marshmallows for Dawn… and Spike, too. Buffy missed those times with her family, but she didn’t allow herself to dwell on her memories for too long—not when Dawn was spending Christmas with her new boyfriend and his family in New York that year. Even Willow was in the big apple celebrating with Kennedy’s family, leaving Buffy and Xander to their own devices. Despite his family’s dysfunction, Xander had opted to spend it with his parents in Reno, leaving Buffy to fend for the holidays solo. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Dawn had insisted that she tag along with her to New York.
“Come on, Buffy. Who am I going to spend Christmas Eve, Eve with?”
Christmas Eve, Eve was their silly tradition dreamed up one year when they decided that since Christmas Eve was a holiday, then the day before deserved its own eve too. Every year after that, the two girls had made it a special point to celebrate the makeshift holiday by doing something.
“Kenny and his family,” Buffy retorted with a crooked smile. She had no interest in being the fifth wheel. “This is your first Christmas together. You don’t need me cramping your style. Besides, it’s weird inviting your older sister to your boyfriend’s parent’s house for the holidays. Don’t worry about me. I’ve got The Grinch, Rudolph, and Charlie Brown to keep me company.”
After some convincing, Buffy had declined all of her friends’ invites to spend Christmas with them. She was fine. She could handle it by herself. There was no need to worry. Take lots of pictures—especially if it snowed.
On her way back home, Buffy stopped at the little corner store by her apartment and made a beeline to the dry goods section. After searching the cramped, narrow aisles, she spotted the last box of Swiss Miss that had seen better days and headed for the checkout counter. For the past week, the weather had stayed fixed at a balmy 75 degrees, but she was in the mood for cocoa—even if it made her think of Spike. He also had an affinity for the drink. Although Joyce tried to be stealthy about it, Buffy had spied her mother, making him a cup or two around the holidays after catching him lurking around the house.
“Will that be all?” the clerk asked as Buffy handed him some folded bills.
She nodded with a tight smile. “Yep.”
“You know, we’ve got mini-Christmas trees for sale, fully decorated. You could put it in your window and give the entire neighborhood some Christmas cheer.” The clerk pointed to a display of sad little plastic trees by the door.
Buffy turned her head, noticing the short row of greenery for the first time since walking into the store. Each tiny tree was decked out in cheap colored tinsel, the reds and golds sparkling under the fluorescent store lights. Buffy pulled her lips into a thin line as she eyed the miniature bulbs and ornaments hanging from the prickly branches with metallic gold string. There was also a choice between a plastic gold star or a generic-looking angel. She turned away from the sad little trees and forced her cheeks to curve into a polite smile.
“Thanks, but I think I’ll pass on the Christmas cheer this year.”
The corners of the clerk’s lips turned down into a sad pout. “No Christmas cheer? What are you, The Grinch?” he teased good-naturedly, making Buffy shake her head ruefully.
“No. It’s just me this year,” Buffy confessed, the words tumbling out before she reigned them back in. “I’m not really in the jolly spirit. Maybe next year.” She imagined the following year with her friends and a massive six-footer with all the trimmings stuffed into her tiny apartment.
“That’s too bad. No one should spend the holidays alone. Tell you what, I sell, half-off.”
Buffy looked at the mini trees again. The sticker price boasted a cheerful $13.99 on the tag. Buffy’s fingers closed around a few more folded bills in her pocket. She could afford a seven-dollar tree. Besides, she had a feeling that the clerk needed the sale.
“Okay, why not? I’ll take the one with the gold tinsel.”
“Star or angel?”
It didn’t matter either way, but she went with her gut, pointing to the tree with an angel on top, it’s blonde tuft of hair adorned with a plastic halo hovering above its head.
Buffy gave him another polite smile. She was pretty sure he would have said the same if she had chosen the one with the star. But the angel was an excellent choice. It was nice to think of someone or something watching over her for the next few nights. She paid for the tree and cocoa before heading out of the store and toward her apartment building. Buffy walked back to her lonely four-story walk-up in what they considered a developing neighborhood. They called it developing because a few months ago, someone got the bright idea to open a Jamba Juice and an artisan coffee shop—whatever that meant—down the street, turning the slightly rundown neighborhood into a hipster Mecca. To residents like her, developing meant rent would definitely go up next year. It also meant the choked little city trees that flanked both sides of the street got a Christmas upgrade, complete with twinkling lights. Buffy had to admit that it brightened the L.A. neighborhood up a bit and made it feel less dreary. It also added some extra lighting where the lampposts had died out. Sal, their resident panhandler, said, “it classed the joint up.”
Buffy pressed her new Christmas tree to her chest and waited for the streetlight to change. As she waited for traffic to stop, her mind drifted to Christmases past, and she secretly wished she hadn’t spent the holiday alone. New York and Reno sounded better than spending it alone in her dingy apartment. But she hadn’t requested the time off, and who else was going to operate the front desk at Rothstein’s? Thanks to her dad pulling some strings, Buffy was one of two part-time receptionists at his firm. And no, her father hadn’t invited her to spend Christmas with him and his new girlfriend, Candace, in the French Riviera—not that she had any interest in traveling with her father and his ever-revolving door of buxom bimbos, anyway. He could keep his sprawling beachside condo, luxurious spas, sparkling beaches, and shove it–
From the corner of her eye, Buffy saw a man dressed in a brown trench coat step off the sidewalk. From that point, everything happened so fast. She saw the man’s foot dangling off the sidewalk, heard the rush of oncoming traffic in her ears. The fuzzy part in the recesses of her brain fired off warning signals that something terrible was about to happen in a few seconds. Instinctively, her hand shot out and grabbed the stranger by his collar, yanking him back onto the safety of the sidewalk just as a city bus whizzed by only inches from both their noses.
“I didn’t see it,” he stammered at Buffy, looking simultaneously spooked and relieved.
“It did just kind of appear out of nowhere. I hear city busses do that sometimes.” She tried for some levity, hoping it would relax the man who looked ready to boot all over her favorite pair of shoes.
A strangled laugh escaped his lips. “Yeah. Next time I’ll look both ways.”
“Also something I heard is pretty useful when crossing the street,” she added with a nod.
“I crushed your tree,” the stranger observed, eyeing the bundle of green plastic cradled in her arms.
Confused, Buffy frowned before realizing he was talking about her Christmas tree. “What? Oh?” She looked down at the bent limbs and straightened them back out. “It’s plastic. No harm, no foul. See?” She held it up to the streetlight.
“Still, I almost ruined your Christmas.”
The laugh came quick, sputtering out of her in short snorts. “Trust me, my Christmas is already ruined,” she confessed, realizing that she was oversharing again. Did she want every stranger she encountered to know her holiday was one big bah humbug? And did she just use the term bah humbug?
“It doesn’t have to be.” The stranger looked at her from behind thoughtful brown eyes. “If you could have anything for Christmas, what would it be?”
Buffy looked the man up and down. Usually, when a guy in a trench coat propositioned a woman in the middle of the street, it ended with body parts of some sort getting flashed. He didn’t look like the type, but this was L.A., and those types came in all shapes and sizes. “Hey, I—“ She held up a hand.
“Sorry, that came out all wrong.” As if reading her thoughts, he added, “I’m not a flasher or anything. I know the question might sound weird coming from a stranger, but trust me on this. You saved my life. If it hadn’t been for you, someone would be scraping me off the side of the road. Look, it’s Christmas. I’m just trying to pay it forward.” He flashed her a warm smile.
Buffy gave him a skeptical once over. He was wearing pants, so that was a good thing, but she still wasn’t convinced that he wasn’t some sort of creeper. People rarely did anything out of the goodness of their hearts. “I don’t usually do the whole wishing thing,” she said after a pregnant pause. “There was this one time with a jinn and—“ She shook her head, stopping herself from revealing too much. “I don’t make wishes to random guys on the street. Sorry.”
“Oh, it’s more than just some wish.” He gave her an enigmatic smile before adding, “But I understand.” He looked down at himself. “I guess I’m not really selling myself here. It’s been a rough year, and I haven’t been myself lately. Still, I think I know exactly what you need, Buffy Summers.”
Every cell in Buffy’s body froze, and the hairs on her arms pointed skyward, as tiny warning bells flashed behind her eyes. She hadn’t told him her name, had she? Buffy frowned as she tried to recall every detail of their brief conversation “I didn’t–“
“No, you didn’t. And don’t be alarmed, I know you, you don’t know me. In fact, I kind of know everyone. Anyway.” He waved his hand dismissively. “You did a good thing just then, and it’s about time that some of that goodness got turned back on you. You may not want to make a wish… but oh yes, oh yes, a wish is what you need indeed.” He smiled at her and tipped his hat before slowly disappearing.
Speechless, Buffy blinked her eyes several times and watched the man fade out of sight. Seconds later, he was gone, leaving Buffy standing at the crosswalk alone and confused with a smashed tree pressed to her chest. “That was weird,” she muttered, waving her hands where the man once stood. Finally, the streetlight flashed green, and Buffy took a hesitant step off the sidewalk. She glanced behind her again, expecting the strange little man to be standing there watching her, but there was no trace of him. For a second, Buffy wondered if she should call Giles, but thought better of it after quickly calculating the time difference. She’d call him in the morning. With a shake of her head, she crossed the street, leaving the strange encounter behind her.
Minutes later, Buffy found herself in the safety of her apartment, the mystery man momentarily forgotten. She glanced around her living room, surveying the small space for the perfect spot for her tree, which now resembled the one in Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Figures, Buffy thought as she placed it on the kitchen counter. Gingerly, she straightened out the drooping branch and fixed the angel on top, righting the halo over its head. A few seconds later, it drooped back down again, and Buffy shook her head.
“Yep, I feel that way, too,” she spoke to the tree before storing her box of cocoa in the cabinet.
Buffy reached into the freezer, pulled out a frozen ham dinner, and slid the plastic tray out of the box. With her fork, she poked random holes into the film and placed it into the microwave. While her food sizzled, crackled, and popped, Buffy turned on the radio, and the sound of Blue Christmas filled the room.
“Merry Christmas to me,” she whispered.
It was morning. Buffy could tell by the sounds of birds chirping joyfully outside of her window—a rare occurrence in the middle of the city. Typically, she was used to being greeted by early morning traffic. Its noise replaced the need for a bedside alarm clock. Today was different; today, the call of nature filtered into her bedroom, making it even harder to wake up. So, I’m not gonna, Buffy thought fuzzily as she burrowed even deeper under the fluffy, duvet that covered her. She couldn’t recall ever feeling this soft and warm, and Buffy couldn’t think of a single reason to leave her bed. Without warning, an arm slid around her waist, and seconds later, her back connected with something hard and solid behind her. In the quiet part of her mind—the part that was aware she wasn’t in her bed alone—she realized there was someone else lying beside her. A man. A man who seemed achingly familiar. Instinctively, her hips curved and molded into the hollow of his front, which appeared made just for her. With a satisfied sigh, she snuggled even closer, enjoying the symphony of pleasure erupting from their skin-to-skin contact. She felt relaxed, warm, amazing—and who the hell was lying in her bed?
Buffy’s eyes snapped open as realization cut through the morning fog in her brain, clearing everything out as panic crept in. Someone was in her bed! She wiggled her hips. And apparently, they were naked as the blue jays singing outside of her window. Buffy glanced down at the arm thrown casually around her waist and stifled the surprised choke lodged in her throat. Her mind raced as she tried to recall the night before. After work, she had stopped at a corner store, saved a man from nearly getting flattened by a city bus, and come home to a frozen dinner and boxed wine. She’d only had one glass before giving up on the sharp, bitter taste and dumping the rest down her kitchen drain. So, if she hadn’t gotten drunk last night, what exactly happened? And why was there a stranger in her bed?
Buffy held her body still and looked around the room, slowly realizing that she didn’t recognize any of the furniture surrounding her. Clean lines, Home and Garden decor—the complete opposite of the well-used mismatched furniture in her cramped bedroom.
So, next question: where am I?
Ignoring the arm draped around her waist, Buffy searched for clues, her gaze landing on a brochure on the nightstand. She slid the glossy pamphlet off the table and stared at the photos of picturesque cabins flanked by ice-capped mountains. Welcome to Lake Tahoe! she read, connecting the bright professional pictures on the front page to her current location. Lake Tahoe! How the hell did she end up in Lake Tahoe? Buffy sat up, disturbing the body attached to the arm wrapped around her.
“Hey, come back here,” a familiar voice said from beneath the heavy blanket before poking his blond head out to greet her with a lazy smile.
Buffy froze as her mind rushed to process what or who she was looking at. She had sensed something familiar about the person beside her, the scent of his cologne, the tang of tobacco, the coolness of his touch. Buffy blinked her eyes. She had to be dreaming.
“Spike—“ she croaked, her mouth sticky and dry. In shock, she barely registered Spike taking her stiff hand and tugging her back on the bed beside him.
“It’s early yet. I reckon we still have some time before we have to show our faces downstairs.”
Biting his lip, he nodded, his blue eyes sparkling with boyish mischief. Confused, Buffy allowed him to pull her close as she tried to make sense of everything. As her mind grappled with filling in the blanks of her most recent memories, Buffy recalled her last conversation with Spike. They had agreed to meet at a diner some months after he had returned from the dead and helped Angel takedown Wolfram and Hart. It had upset her at first, only learning of his return after he’d been in L.A. for almost half a year. But despite her anger, she had been more than ecstatic to learn about his return and had agreed to meet him.
Buffy recalled sitting across from him in that dingy diner. The red plastic seats had crinkled loudly with each nervous movement, and the bright fluorescent lights had made them both look pale and washed out. They’d sat in silence for several long moments; all the things she had wanted to say hung over their heads like a thick cloud of unspoken secrets ready to burst with the slightest prodding. She had opened her mouth; the words forming tentatively on her lips, but then he stood up, and the moment collapsed on top of itself, taking everything with it. Whatever she was going to say had died a swift death under the impassive look on his face. The moment they had shared in Sunnydale was nothing more than a distant memory, promises made with shaky optimism meant to fuel them through another apocalypse. If we survive this, then we’ll give us a try. They both knew it was a promise made under duress; at least one of them wouldn’t make it out of the Hellmouth alive. It had been a nice thought.
Spike planted light kisses on her cheek, skimming his lips along Buffy’s jawline before returning to her lips for a playful nip. She closed her eyes and sighed, relishing in the taste and feel of him. I should stop this, she thought, even as her body rebelled against the sensible part of her brain. Mindlessly, her arms wrapped around his shoulders, drawing him even closer to her. She still wasn’t entirely sure what was happening, but it felt too good to stop.
After Spike had died, she’d often dreamt of him; each fantasy started much like this. He scraped his teeth down her throat, and her insides liquefied, warming her in places that had gone dormant. After a few moments, her mind snapped back to reality. She was instantly transported to the present, where she was lying in bed with Spike while he did things to her that only happened in her dreams. Buffy placed a hand on his smooth chest, gave him a firm little push, and immediately regretted her decision to stop.
“We should stop,” she whispered half-heartedly.
“You’re right.” Spike sighed and combed his fingers through his blond curls, his usually perfectly coiffed hair now mussed from sleep and her searching hands.
Buffy bit back a groan and tried to ignore how thoroughly sexy he looked in the morning. Spike reached over the side of the bed and slipped into a pair of pajama pants just as the sound of pattering feet came charging down the hallway and into their bedroom. Buffy barely had time to react when the door swung open, and two children came bounding into the room like a fully charged locomotive.
“Aunt Buffy!” the boy yelled with excitement before leaping on top of the bedspread.
Buffy stared at the little strangers on her bed with wide eyes. Aunt Buffy? She looked around the room, a befuddled expression on her face. Buffy had never seen these two children in her life. The boy and girl squirmed their sturdy little bodies between her and Spike, allowing Buffy to get a better look at them. They each had thick curly hair that hung around their shoulders, wild and free against their toffee-colored skin.
“What are you lil buggers doing up so early?” Spike asked, tickling the boy along his ribcage. Laughter erupted from deep within the child as he wiggled out of Spike’s grasp.
“Daddy’s making breakfast,” his sister lisped as she snuggled against Buffy and popped a wrinkled thumb in her mouth.
As if on cue, the smell of coffee and bacon wafted into the room, and Buffy’s stomach grumbled loudly. She had only eaten about half of her frozen dinner the night before, and hunger gnawed at her belly.
“Jesse!” a woman’s voice called from below, and the little boy perked up first. “Quinn!”
“Well, we better get to it then.” Spike looked over at Buffy and winked before he slipped out of bed and into one of his signature dark-colored t-shirts. Buffy watched in muted awe as he tucked each child into his arms, their laughter filling the room with a burst of joy. Lowering his voice, Spike added to Buffy, “And we’ll get back to that a little later.” He angled his head toward the bed and grinned.
Nodding dumbly, Buffy watched him carry the two giggling children out of the room and down the hall. As soon as they were gone, she leapt out of bed and ran into the adjoining bathroom. Catching her reflection in the mirror, Buffy paused, and her eyes broadened to the size of saucers as she studied the woman staring back at her with the same honey-colored eyes that were her own. Except, these eyes appeared a little older and wiser, as if they had seen some things she had not. The longer she stared, the more she noticed about herself, and with unsteady hands, Buffy combed her fingers through her long blonde hair. Miraculously, it had grown several inches overnight. This can’t be right, Buffy thought as she inched closer to the mirror and studied her face for any other signs of change. After several minutes of staring, she looked around the bathroom. She noticed her usual choice of toiletries along the counter, a blouse hanging casually on the back of the door, and other unmistakably feminine objects in the room. Tentative fingers glanced over the bottles of perfume and face creams, confirming that everything belonged to her. These are mine, alright. Curiouser and curiouser, she thought, fighting the dizziness clouding her vision. Buffy gripped the countertop until her knuckles turned white and swallowed the panicky feeling making its way to her throat. Stiff legs carried her back to the bedroom she’d shared with Spike, and she made a beeline to the closet. Buffy pulled the door open and faced a closet full of hers and Spike’s clothes—well, mostly her clothes. Spike had hung up a few shirts and jeans, but the closet belonged to her. Stumbling backward, she plopped clumsily on the bed.
What kind of sorcery was this? Had Willow screwed up one of her spells again? No, that couldn’t be it. Willow hadn’t made such an amateur mistake since before she’d gone all dark, veiny, destroy-the-world Willow. Had she fallen into some kind of pocket dimension? What was really going on here? Not wanting to draw any more attention to herself, Buffy followed the sound of laughter down the stairs, to the first floor, and into the bright farmhouse style kitchen where Xander stood over the stove next to a Slayer she only vaguely recognized. Spike hovered by the microwave with a mug of blood to his lips while the two kids sat at the kitchen table coloring. Everything seemed so homey and so out of place. Xander wasn’t supposed to be in some cabin in Lake Tahoe. He was spending time with his parents in Nevada, where they had moved before Sunnydale became a giant crater in the middle of the desert. She looked between him and the woman—Renee, was it?—and frowned. Since when was Xander dating? She noticed the twin rings on each of their left fingers. Correction, married. Since when was he married with kids? No wonder they had looked so familiar.
“Hey, Buff,” Xander greeted her.
“Coffee’s fresh,” Renee added.
Buffy nodded mutely as Spike slid beside her, wrapping an arm around her waist.
“Everything alright, pet?” he whispered in her ear, making her jump.
“Yeah,” she squeaked, unsure of what to say. If this was some sort of trick, she wouldn’t let on that she knew something was very wrong.
During breakfast, things got even more Norman Rockwell-y when Dawn arrived with Willow and Kennedy from New York, reuniting the Scoobies for the holidays—sans Giles, who was back in London. Buffy kept uncharacteristically quiet during the reunion as everyone settled into a routine that she was no longer part of; she felt like an outsider looking in. There was an entire history between these people she had never experienced, making her feel like a stranger in her own skin.
Buffy slipped away during the noisiest part of the reunion and headed to the solace of her bedroom. She needed a moment to figure some things out. So far, nothing seemed like it would jump out and get her, but she was the Slayer; looks could be deceiving. When she allowed herself to relax, being around her friends and family felt nice. It was an improvement from the evening before—which she still didn’t understand. Then there was Spike. All the rest she could handle… but Spike’s inclusion in this little fantasy world (and she was sure it was a fantasy world) made her uneasy in a she-didn’t-know-what-to-do-with-herself kind of way. Every time he touched her, a riot of sensation exploded beneath her skin, making her feel like a mass of nervous energy. She was in a relationship with Spike! And apparently, it was a good one.
Buffy stepped into the spacious shower and stood beneath the steaming spray of water. As the steam filled the room, her mind cleared, and she thought about the strange man from the other night—what had he said? That he knew what she needed. What was that supposed to mean? And did he have something to do with this? The shower door slid open, letting in a blast of cool air, making Buffy yelp in surprise. She swirled around and came nose to nose with Spike.
“Sorry ‘bout that.” He nodded at the shower door. “Heard you in here and figured you could use some company.”
Buffy swallowed hard as she forced her eyes to remain focused on his. Rebelliously, they slid from his face down his muscular chest, past his tight abs, and landed to the spot on his body she had tried hard not to think about since waking up in his arms earlier that morning. Her gaze stayed fixed for several long seconds before she willed her eyes back to his face. This couldn’t be real. She was not standing naked in a shower with Spike.
“Buffy, love?” His brow knitted in question when she didn’t respond.
Her mouth grew arid as she stammered a soft apology. “I thought I locked that—I mean, you were downstairs.”
“I was,” he spoke slowly, dragging out his words. “Then you disappeared, and I came to find you.” He reached behind her and grabbed a bottle of men’s body wash. “Lather me up, woman.”
He handed her the bottle, and Buffy looked down at it as if she wasn’t sure what to do. Slowly, the gears in her brain started turning again, and she squeezed a quarter-sized amount of gel into her palm. Buffy rubbed her hands together, prolonging the moment until she had to touch his skin. She gulped again and placed the flats of her hands on his back. The water had warmed his skin, and Buffy enjoyed the feel of it as she touched him. She touched him gingerly at first, giving his back a perfunctory scrub, but soon she kneaded her fingers into the muscles of his back. He had a perfect back and a perfect front, a perfect everything. Forgetting that she was in some kind of trick of her imagination, she fell into the task with gusto. Buffy slid her hand around to his torso, and her fingers danced along the ripples in his abs.
Buffy had lost count of the times she had imagined a scene like this. When she realized Spike was alive, Buffy had envisioned over a dozen different reunions between them—most of them didn’t involve clothing. But they had decided they were better off apart than together. Or rather, he had decided, and she had done nothing to stop him from leaving her sitting alone in that diner.
Before she realized it, Spike clasped her hand and guided it lower. Buffy’s eyes snapped open as she came to her senses, and she stumbled backward, her back smacking against the slick tile.
“W-what are you doing?” Buffy stammered. As much as she enjoyed rubbing her hands all over Spike’s body, she realized that she was playing a dangerous game here. She still didn’t know if this was a trap.
Spike turned around to face her, and a slow grin danced at the corner of his lips. “Enjoying being felt up by my girl. Gotta problem with that?” he teased.
Buffy’s stomach did a tiny flip, and she shook her head. She didn’t have a problem with it at all. But… “We better get back downstairs before they send a search party.”
Spike pressed her against the wall. “They won’t even know we’re gone.” His voice was soft and husky in her ear. His fingers caressed her, and Buffy’s legs liquefied beneath his touch.
“The kids will,” she rasped.
Spike sighed and shook his head. “Alright. Alright.” He turned off the water and followed her into the steamy bathroom.
Buffy wrapped a towel around herself, grateful for the barrier between them. Shyly, she tightened it around her body and tried not to feel disappointed as he draped his towel around his trim waist. Buffy turned away from him and walked into the room. Her skin prickled as goosebumps appeared along her flesh. She wasn’t sure if it was from the cool air or him. Nervous energy reverberated between them as Spike sat on the bed and reached for her hands, closing his around hers.
“Talk to me, pet. Something’s going on with you. You haven’t been yourself all morning.”
Buffy forced herself to meet his eyes and fought the urge to run her hands through his damp hair and tell him everything. Instead, she imagined twirling one of his curls around her fingers, luxuriating in its thick softness. Why can’t this be real? she lamented silently. Buffy bit her lip and asked, “How long have we been together?”
Spike’s brows knit together in thought. “Uh, a little over six years now.”
Six years. Most of her relationships had the shelf life of a banana. Amazed, she asked haltingly, “After you died in Sunnydale, right?”
“Not quite. Spent a little time as a ghost for a bit. Tried my best to stay away from you. Thought I was doin’ the right thing. Then you sought me out, and here we are.”
“Did we meet at a diner?”
“Yeah… you know all of this.”
His Buffy knew their story; this wasn’t her life. So, I—she didn’t let him leave that night. Buffy blinked back her tears. That was where her story had diverged. If she hadn’t let him walk away, this was the life she might have lived with him. But she had let him walk away, and now she was all alone in her too-small apartment, slaying solo at night, and working a crummy job as a receptionist by day. Was this the life she was missing out on? If so, what a cruel trick to play on her.
“Right. I was just thinking.”
Spike pulled her close. “Having second thoughts, are you?” he teased with a lazy grin.
Buffy forced a smile. This version of herself and Spike seemed to have a wonderful life with each other. Whatever darkness that had bound them together in the past had been chased away by the light, and Buffy wished she could experience this for herself. “Of course not. She’s very lucky.”
“She being me,” Buffy amended quickly. “Let’s get dressed.”
“Right then.” Spike rose to his feet, gripping the towel around his hips.
Buffy bit her lip and turned away. She was going to have to figure this all out soon.
After their shower, she and Spike spent the rest of the day partaking in the holiday festivities, baking cookies with Xander’s kids and chatting with Willow, Kennedy, and Dawn. Buffy didn’t have to pretend to enjoy being in a relationship with Spike. He made it entirely too easy to forget that she was an imposter—an outsider with front row seats to another, better life.
Buffy loved the casual intimacy they shared, sitting close on the couch, the way he laced his fingers with hers, or the quick kisses to her temple. As her adversary, Spike had been formidable, as her friend, her rock; as a lover, he was incredible.
I know exactly what you need.
Buffy recalled her conversation with the man on the street; after some thought, she became convinced that he’d handled her vacation in La-La Land. If he wasn’t malevolent, she wondered why he was doing this to her. Being with Spike like this was the sweetest torture, and he was totally oblivious. Well, not totally oblivious–he’d always had a way of sensing her moods. Somehow, he knew something was different between them.
Buffy stood up and walked to the kitchen. She needed some air, a place to think and breathe. After a few moments alone, Spike appeared in the kitchen with a concerned look etched across his face. God, she loved that look. It was the same one he had given her that night in the abandoned house so many years ago. Back then, she had taken him and his love for granted, and when she finally realized how much he meant to her, he was gone, and she had no way of proving to him she had meant what she had said.
She had loved him.
She loved him. By the time Buffy had worked up the nerve to find him in L.A., Spike had decided that she was better off without him.
“Just popped in to refill this?” Spike greeted her, holding up his mug.
Buffy gave him a wan smile, recognizing a flimsy excuse when she heard one. “I can get that for you,” she offered.
Spike shook his head and set the mug aside before crossing the room to stand in front of her. His blue eyes searched her face pensively before he gathered her into his arms. And just like that, she let go of the silent breath she’d been holding all morning and allowed him to embrace her. Buffy pressed her cheek to his shoulders and closed her eyes, relishing in his strength, drinking in his scent. She could live in his embrace, spend her entire life there. They stood that way for several long minutes, only breaking apart when the noise outside of the kitchen grew louder as the sound of booted feet came pounding down the hall.
“What was that for?” she sniffed.
“Didn’t know I needed a reason to hug my girl.”
“No, you don’t. Please feel free to hug me whenever you get the urge. Did I tell you how much I enjoy getting hugs? It’s the highlight of my day.”
Chuckling, Spike placed a finger under her chin and lifted her face so he could meet his eyes. Buffy’s lips parted expectantly, and she longed to feel his lips pressed against hers. She was just about to get her wish, when Dawn poked her head through the kitchen door, ending the moment.
“The kids want to have an epic snowball fight outside, and they want everyone to play. I checked the weather; not a ball of gas in sight. If you cover up really well, you could get your ass kicked by yours truly and not go up in flames.” Dawn’s eyes danced with mirth as she eyed Spike, then Buffy.
Buffy looked at Spike with a tight, worried smile. She knew he was pretty good at getting around during the day, dodging in and out of shadows, traveling through underground tunnels and secret passageways in Sunnydale, but this was different. This was direct U.V. light that could turn him into a pile of dust instantly. She had just gotten him back; Buffy didn’t want to lose him again.
“Are you sure it’s safe?” she asked him, unable to mask her worry.
“Yeah. You’ve seen me do it a thousand times. Got my hood and my gloves. You go on ahead, and I’ll see you out there in a few.”
Buffy nodded and followed Dawn to the coat closet by the mudroom, relieved to see that there was only one coat left for her to choose from, and it had to belong to her. She slid into the parka and headed outside into the frigid mountain air. Once she stepped outside, Buffy gasped at the scene before her. Snow gleamed across the landscape, making her feel as if she had stepped out of the real world and into a painting. Everything glittered icy and white, perfect. Buffy breathed in the crisp, cool air and crouched down to gather a handful of snow. The ice crunched in the palm of her mitten and easily rolled into a small white ball.
Everything felt so real; it was hard to imagine that all of this could be a figment of her imagination or a trick. Buffy looked up and spotted Willow and Kennedy huddled together a few feet away. Buffy trotted over to the couple and made small talk as they waited for Xander and Renee to bring the kids out. She still couldn’t believe Xander was married with two children! Earlier, she had learned that they had planned this vacation every year over the past three years. Although Renee was a Slayer, she and Xander enjoyed the civilian life together, something Buffy had never given much thought to—after all, she’d done the whole “she alone thing” for most of her years as a Slayer. Not to mention, activating every potential Slayer in the world had given her a level of responsibility that required more of her time than she had to give. Still, Buffy was happy for them. The life Xander had made for himself was much happier than the one he had in her world. Buffy wished life had been this kind to him in her reality, too.
“Is everyone ready for the most epic snowball fight ever?” Xander shouted.
Jesse and Quinn both squealed in delight as the rest of the adults took cover. Within a matter of moments, snowballs were flying, and Buffy dodged behind a towering pine tree, its massive trunk serving as a shield from all the snow. From the safety of her hiding place, she scanned the battleground and spotted Spike standing near the porch, grateful that he hadn’t strayed too far from the cabin. He wore his usual leather coat but added a dark hood and leather gloves to his ensemble. The hood seemed to give him some added protection, but Buffy was still worried that one wayward snowball could literally kill him. Even with the threat of danger hovering over him, Spike attacked the game with a certain joie de vivre that made her heart smile.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Startled, Buffy whipped around and came face to face with the man from the stoplight. She’d been so transfixed by the boyish grin on Spike’s face, Buffy hadn’t noticed the person standing beside her. “What are you–? How did you get here?” Buffy stumbled over her words as she tried to gather her thoughts. “Did you do this?”
“All good questions and I promise, I’ll get to them. But it’s suddenly occurred to me I’ve been a bit rude. And I’m sure this is more than a little unsettling.”
“That’s an understatement,” Buffy mumbled.
The man chuckled and extended a gloved hand toward her. “I’m Gabriel, but my friends call me Gabe.”
Buffy looked down at his hand before taking it for a quick shake. “I would introduce myself, but you seem to know who I am. How is that?”
The man smiled, and tiny lines gathered at the corner of his eyes. “One question at a time. Now, let me see. You wanted to know how I got here. Well, that’s simple enough. I can be anywhere I want, any time I want. It’s kind of hard to explain, but let’s just say I go where I’m needed. Last night you needed what I like to call a little nudge, so I found you. And this is your glimpse.”
“Have you ever heard of the term ”the road less taken?” Well, this is it. This is your unbeaten path, your road less taken. The life you could have if you’d gone left instead of right. You see, Buffy, for you, going left meant stopping your fella from walking away. Last year, you wanted him to stay, and yet you didn’t even try to stop him. You let that pesky thing called pride get in the way and watched Spike walk out of your life. So, I offered you a chance to have your innermost wish come true.”
“So, you’re saying I wished for this?” Buffy asked slowly.
“Yes. You want a life filled with love and family, and you want that life with Spike. This is it,” Gabe said, spreading his arms. “Though I have to admit, this is quite lovely. Most people aren’t as imaginative as you.”
Reeling, Buffy sagged against the tree, both relieved and disappointed all at once. She was glad to get some answers—although the verdict was still out on Gabe’s status as a good or bad fairy—but a small part of her had hoped this world was real, that somehow, she’d been plucked out of her life and given a much better one. To learn that it was nothing more than an illusion probably brought on by too much boxed-wine and cheap t.v. dinners was disappointing.
“So, if this isn’t real, when does my carriage turn back into a pumpkin?” she asked.
“Christmas night at exactly eleven fifty-nine p.m. everything will go back as it was, and all of this will cease to exist.”
Buffy’s heart sank, and she imagined waking up in her dreary apartment alone, returning to a life where she spent most of her time alone with dead things. Ever since the closing of the Hellmouth, she had curated an existence in which she… existed. Sunnydale was gone, life had moved on, and she had allowed it to swallow her along with it. In this world, she was happy. And by some miracle, she hadn’t botched that up. Buffy glanced at Spike, and their eyes connected for a moment before she turned away. She wasn’t ready to give all of this up just yet.
“But that’s tomorrow night!”
Gabe pressed his lips into a sad smile. “As I said, it’s only a glimpse.”
“I never knew there was an expiration on wishes.”
“Sorry, kiddo. These are the breaks. But…” he leaned in closer and whispered, “some advice; this is the world you created. Enjoy it while it lasts.” And with that, Gabe was gone, leaving Buffy standing behind the tree alone once again.
Later that evening, Buffy sat alone in front of the fire and watched as the flames danced and sizzled, twirling along the logs in a whimsical flash of red and orange. One more day with Spike, she thought pensively. According to Gabe, it was up to her to make the most of it. Buffy still wasn’t clear on why that strange little man had chosen her, but here she was, apparently getting her wish. Buffy looked around the cabin, taking in the warm interior and cheery decorations, thinking that as far as wishes go, this was a good one.
“Cocoa with extra marshmallows,” Spike announced, entering the room with two steaming cups in his hands. “Looks like we have downstairs to ourselves,” he added, settling beside her.
Buffy looked up as she took the mug from him. The scent of rich chocolate filled her senses, and she set the cup aside to snuggle next to him. “Looks like,” she agreed.
Xander and his family had retired to their suite upstairs. An hour later, Willow and Kennedy drove into town, giving Spike and Buffy some alone time. Buffy enjoyed the quiet. Now that the children were asleep—or at least laying quietly in bed waiting for Santa to bring their gifts—she could finally spend it with Spike, making the most of her wish. The more time she spent with Spike, the more she wanted to stay in this world with him. Buffy rested her head against his shoulder and tried not to watch the clock. From the moment they had ended the snowball fight, she had stuck by Spike’s side, spending as much time with him as possible without drawing too much attention to herself.
Spike had noticed the change in her demeanor, but he didn’t seem to mind the extra affection she was lying on him. In fact, he seemed to enjoy it, mentioning several times that he “could get used to this.” So could she. Pushing any melancholy thoughts aside, Buffy took his hand in hers and gave it a comforting squeeze.
“What’s on your mind, love?”
Buffy sighed as she thought about her real life and her missed opportunity with Spike. She wanted to tell him she’d been too stubborn, too afraid to take a chance with him. She wanted to say to him that she regretted walking away from him and the life they could have made together, and now that she had a taste of what might have been, she wasn’t sure how she was going to give it up.
“I’m happy,” she said instead. “This holiday has been the best one I’ve had in a long time.”
Spike lifted a brow and grinned. “Better than that time we took out that evil Santa and his merry band of minions?”
Buffy smiled, trying to imagine the two of them fighting off a demon in a jolly red suit together, and wished with all her heart that she could remember it. “Much,” she said, planting a kiss on his lips.
His mouth was warm and tasted sweet, like chocolate and marshmallows. The longer they pressed their lips together, the more heated the kiss grew until Buffy pulled away, gasping for air. Face flushed and body tingling, she looked into Spike’s intense gaze and drew in a sharp breath. Her mind flashed to an image of him naked in the shower, and her stomach fluttered as she imagined the two of them standing naked under the hot spray of water. Oblivious to her musings, Spike drew her back into his arms for another kiss, and Buffy sank into it, enjoying the feel of his cool hands against her fevered skin. A few moments later, Spike scooped Buffy into his arms and carried her out of the living room and toward the stairs. Hazily, she nuzzled her lips against his throat as anticipation thrummed through her body the closer they got to their room. Spike paused, and Buffy looked up, her eyes fluttering dreamily. Once they walked through that door, they would be completely alone with nothing stopping them. Buffy swallowed nervously. When Gabe told her to enjoy herself, did that mean sexy time with Spike? Or would that ruin everything? Spike stepped over the threshold and set Buffy down before closing and locking the door behind them.
Before she could ponder any further on that question, he flashed her a sexy grin and said, “Got a little surprise for you.” And Buffy’s insides turned to butter.
“For me?” she croaked.
Spike nodded and pulled her into his arms again for a quick kiss. “Just need a bit of privacy first.”
Buffy raised a questioning brow. When had Spike become shy? Back in Sunnydale, he’d found every opportunity to get naked in front of her—not a timid bone in his body. She recalled the many times she had watched him strut around the room, admiring the play of his muscles as he moved. Heart pounding in her throat, she nodded as Spike caressed the side of her neck with his index finger; a small smile curved his lips when her pulse jumped beneath his fingertips. Buffy looked into his eyes, and a shiver ran down her spine and bloomed hot and heavy at the center of her body. Without further hesitation, she stepped into the bathroom and quickly assessed herself in the mirror, running her hand through her hair before rinsing her mouth with water and patting her cheeks with her damp palms. Okay, this is happening, she thought, hands shaking as she unbuttoned her shirt to her navel and stepped out of her jeans. Buffy took in a deep fortifying breath and relaxed her tense shoulders before stepping through the door once again.
He was standing in the center of the room in nothing but a sly grin, red Santa hat, and his signature motorcycle boots. Buffy’s mouth instantly grew arid as her eyes swept him from head to toe, taking in each hard muscle on his arms, chest, and legs. Naturally, her gaze paused at the juncture of his thighs, where he covered himself with his hands, and she could feel him watching her admiring him.
“Merry Christmas, love.” He took a step forward, dropping his hands.
Like a magnet, her body propelled her toward him, and she wrapped her arms around his neck. Everything felt perfect; he was perfect, and Buffy couldn’t think of any place she would rather be than with him in that very moment. “Merry Christmas,” she repeated in a husky voice she could hardly recognize as her own.
A slow grin stretched across his lips. “You’ve been such a good Slayer.” He swept her into his arms and carried her to the bed. “But there’s still time to get on the naughty list.”
Buffy laughed as they tumbled across the bed.
Christmas passed in a blur of colors, twinkling lights, and laughter that warmed Buffy’s soul. With each passing minute, she knew her time with Spike was ending, but she savored each moment with him, making memories that would sustain her through the rest of the holidays. Throughout the day, she had wondered what her Spike was doing. Did he get a wish too? Would he wish to be with her like this? Did he ever think about her? They had lived in the same city for a year, and except on those rare occasions when they were tracking the same demon or monster, they had made no efforts to contact each other. Buffy was convinced that he had moved on, and so she had pushed her feelings aside, determined to get on with her life as well. Now, she knew she had made the wrong decision. This was the life she wanted, the one she had always dreamed about, and in a few hours, it would disappear.
At around ten o’clock, the day’s festivities ended when Xander and Renee sleepily hauled the children upstairs, each child tucked safely in their arms. Willow and Kennedy followed them shortly after, leaving Spike and Buffy alone again. Not wanting to waste any of the precious time she had left with him, they returned to their room, spending the rest of the night together. Spike lit a fire, and the two made love nestled on the rugs in front of the roaring flames. Afterward, Buffy had rested her cheek on his chest and languidly rubbed his smooth, hard skin. After a few moments of comfortable silence, she propped herself up to look at him, admiring the sharp angles of his face and the fullness of his lips. Buffy ran a gentle finger along the scar on his eyebrow before giving it a loving kiss. Spike’s eyes fluttered open, and he gave her a lazy smile.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Nothing.” She shook her head. “Just looking.”
His smile deepened, accentuating his cheekbones. “Well, look all you want s’ long as you return the favor.”
Buffy shifted her position beside him, giving him an unrestricted view of her body, unashamed of their nudity or shared intimacy. Looking at him in the firelight made her heart swell, and without preamble, she blurted, “I love you,” and marveled at the ease in which each word came to her. Years ago, she had denied herself the pleasure of expressing her feelings to him until it was too late. Now, she couldn’t say the words enough. I love you, I love you, I love you, her mind repeated, stamping the words across her heart.
“I love you, too, pet,” he said, easy, simple, and as natural as the air they breathed. Spike gathered her into his arms and kissed her temple.
No, he didn’t understand. She loved him. She wanted to be with him, and in less than two hours, she’d never see this version of Spike again.
“I know, but this is different—“ Buffy paused, stopping herself before she revealed too much. Spike wrinkled his brow, and she swallowed hard, desperately trying to pull her thoughts together. “I just mean that things could have gone differently, and I’m glad they didn’t. And I’ll never forget this… us. I love you,” she repeated.
Before he could respond, Buffy covered his lips with hers, drawing him into a kiss rife with meaning. And with their bodies tangled together under the warm glow of the firelight, they made love again. And again.
She was cold.
Buffy shivered and drew her legs closer to her chest to ward off the chill that permeated through her comforter and prickled her skin. Instinctively, she shifted her body, expecting to feel Spike’s solid body curled around her protectively. Instead, she felt the emptiness of cool sheets and wondered if he was already downstairs with the others. Shivering again, Buffy slowly forced her eyes open and for a moment wondered where she was. After they had made love, Spike had covered them with a fur blanket, and Buffy remembered the two of them curling up by the fire, falling asleep to the sound of crackling wood.
She blinked her eyes rapidly as everything came into focus. The lodge had melted away, revealing that she was back in her bedroom in her tiny flat in L.A.–alone. Buffy sat up as disappointment washed over her, dragging her back to reality as if she’d been doused with buckets of iced water. She looked out the window, hoping to see picturesque scenes of snow capped mountains and clean downy snow blanketing the ground around their cabin. Instead, she faced an empty city street. And as if to solidify her return to reality, an empty plastic bag blew aimlessly across the sidewalk until it was out of sight while a city bus rumbled by.
She was back home, and either that had been one intensely vivid dream, or Gabe had been right, and her wish had expired. Buffy eyed the digital clock on her nightstand and read the date, December 25th. If that hadn’t been a hallucination, she had experienced the most wonderful two days of her life in the span of eight hours. Reluctantly, Buffy climbed out of bed and padded to her bathroom. Her hair was back to shoulder length again, and the fine lines around her eyes had disappeared, reverting her back to her current incarnation. She was back, and everything she’d experienced had faded away. Buffy slumped down on the edge of her bathtub, willing herself to ward off the emptiness growing inside of her. She knew the dream or wish, or whatever she had experienced, wasn’t supposed to last. Still, she couldn’t shake the feeling of loneliness settling over her.
She missed Spike. Buffy had gotten used to feeling him, real and solid, beside her. She missed his gentle kisses and their shared looks. She missed being near him. Gabe had given her a touch of heaven only to snatch it away from her the moment she was truly happy. Thanks a lot, Gabe, she thought glumly as she forced herself to push the memories aside and start the rest of her life.
After getting dressed, Buffy watched A Christmas Story reruns on loop and ate a tv dinner for lunch. Dawn called to wish her a merry Christmas, and they spoke for a few minutes before she and Kenny dashed out to go ice skating at Rockefeller Center. Willow and Xander called later that day, and they chatted for a while before the conversation got awkwardly interrupted by the sound of Xander’s parents yelling in the background. Buffy wanted to tell her friends about her experience but thought better of it when she realized that it wouldn’t do Xander any good knowing that she had imagined a better life for him. They were already feeling down, and part of her wished she had gone with him to Reno—at least he wouldn’t have had to face his parents alone.
At Sundown, Buffy grabbed her bag and headed out for a quick patrol. Christmas day was usually slow for demonic activity, but she could always count on one idiot looking for trouble. A part of her hoped she would run into Krampus and imagined fighting it with Spike at her side. Pushing the wayward thought aside, Buffy wandered through the streets of L.A. until she stood outside of that diner again. Somehow her feet had led her back to the place where it all started—or ended. Since the night she and Spike had met up the year before, Buffy hadn’t returned to the restaurant. It still looked the same—washed out and dingy, but a few people were sitting at the counter eating dinner or drinking coffee. Buffy scanned the inside, hoping with all her might that he would be in there waiting for her. Her eyes landed on their old booth, and she saw that it was empty.
Deflated, Buffy turned away from the window and walked away. Instinctively, she lifted her eyes from the ground and gasped as she came face to face with Spike, who was looking at her with the same mixture of surprise and confusion. They stared at each other for several long moments as Buffy took him in. Although it had been some months since they had seen each other, it felt like yesterday to her. All at once, she longed to walk into his arms and nestle in his tight embrace. Still, she wasn’t sure if he was just another figment of her wild imagination, conjured up from her desire to see him again. Buffy watched as Spike looked her over, an odd expression on his face.
There was so much to say, but neither of them spoke or made a move. Finally, their gazes met again and held, communicating everything they felt before they each took an instinctive step toward each other until they were only inches apart. Buffy’s heart pounded in her chest as she felt him close to her. His expression softened as she looked into his eyes and smiled.
“Hey,” they both said in unison, and without further hesitation, she stepped into his waiting arms.
Originally posted at https://seasonal-spuffy.dreamwidth.org/949791.html