Disclaimer: Not mine. Playing in someone else’s sandbox. Will put the toys back when I’m finished
Author’s note 1: Boxing Day, I know, not celebrated in Italy, but this fic takes place on 26 December 2005. Work with me. I stink at titles.
Author’s note 2: this one is for cindergal who has been on my case for something Christmasy. It may have taken a year to finally write this, but this one is for you, dear!
The airplane touched down on the tarmac with a gentle thud and Spike’s eyes snapped open as he was jostled from sleep. He rolled his neck, unable to unkink the crick that had tightened down into a painful knot somewhere over the continent. As the jet slowed and taxied toward the terminal, he stowed his book into his coat pocket. The elderly woman next to him reached for her purse and smiled.
The flight was packed, and he reminded himself to never travel during the height of the holidays ever again. At least he didn’t have to translate everything from Russian any more. His skills were rusty at best. But over the past month, a lot of the phrases had slid back into place. After a brief stop over in London, it was nice to hear the mother tongue before heading off once again to the unknown.
“Welcome to Rome where the local time is ten-thirty in the evening,” a voice on the overhead called out. “On behalf of British Airways, we would like to wish you a Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.”
The seat belt light blinked off and people were immediately bustling about the cabin. A little girl paraded down the aisle with a wrapped gift complete with a giant red bow tucked securely under her arm. He took his time and waited for the cabin to empty before he gathered his meager belongings an exited the plan. “Ta,” he nodded to the flight staff
as he headed toward the terminal.
At least he wouldn’t have to struggle nearly as much with Italian as he did with Russian. The rouse with Angel had long been up. And that’s why he was the one to make this trip. The whole not speaking the language bit lasted all of one day during their last trip to Rome.
The last time. When he was told to move on. Right, moving on. Nothing to see. Already moved with the new zip code to prove it. Nope, he wasn’t going there. It would only open old wounds and dig up past uglies. If she could move on, then so could he. The mission, it had been her excuse for years. Now it was going to be his. Find the codex, extract whatever information it had to offer, and head back to Los Angeles. It was the middle of a bloody apocalypse. There was no time for pining for lost love.
Even on Christmas Eve.
Spike followed the other travelers toward baggage claim. No matter how many times he’d done it in the past few months, traveling like a human complete with checked luggage was still nothing short of unsettling. At least there were evening departure and arrival options. Enough wiggle room to avoid the brightest of the sun-filled hours. With heightened security thanks to those sodding al Qaeda wankers, he was quite certain bursting into flames in the middle of a busy airport terminal would not go over well with security, or anyone else for that matter.
He fidgeted with the loose change in his pocket. Enough euros to get him through a day or so. Currency exchange was definitely on the list, he reminded himself as he reached the baggage carousel and waited for his duffel to emerge from its darkened belly. Within a matter of minutes, the belt started to turn, and one by one suitcases and bags began to tumble toward the waiting passengers.
Spike spotted his tattered duffel. He waited for it to glide closer before reaching out to grab it. He set it at his feet only to have it launched back to the waiting carousel.
“You mind, mate?” He turned on a heel to confront the baggage chucker. “Little rude, don’t you think?”
“Oh no you don’t!” Xander Harris announced. “You and your stupid duffel bag can go back to your plane and fly back to that rock you’ve been hiding under.”
Spike glared at him, then his bag that was already rounding the corner and heading once again around the carousel. Guess he’d wait for it to circle around once again. “Me and my stupid duffel bag can go anywhere we bloody well please.”
“I mean it, Spike!” Xander had his best resolve face on, complete with set jaw and squinty one-eyed stare. “Get lost. Just head back to wherever you vampires go and leave her alone.”
Spike rolled his eyes and stomped toward his duffel bag, one again retrieving it from the baggage carousel. “Not here for her, Harris,” he said over his shoulder a she headed toward customs. “Moved on just like I was told. Here on business, not that it matters to you.”
Xander followed behind like an over-eager puppy, his backpack slung over one shoulder. “Right,” he answered trying to catch up. “It’s Christmas Eve and, oops, I just thought I’d stop by the one place on the entire planet where Buffy just happens to live. You, buster, are still one hell of a crappy stalker. Your M.O. never changes.”
Spike stopped and turned around. He fought back the urge to poke Xander in his good eye, took a deep breath and said, “Who’s stalking who here? You’ve been following me for how long again? Mr. Pot, I do believe I would like to introduce you to Mr. Kettle.”
“I am so not stalking you,” Xander countered.
“So following me around is what? Catching up on old times?”
Xander’s eye widened and his jaw dropped. “Hey, wait a second! You’re supposed to be dead!”
“Cupie doll to the one-eyed wonder in the back with the cat-like reflexes.” Without missing a beat, Spike got in line at customs and handed the agent his passport. Citizen of the United Kingdom. Not bad for a forgery. “Let’s just say it didn’t stick.”
“Reason for your visit?” the customs agent asked.
“Academic research at the Vatican. Will be here four days.” Spoken like a seasoned traveler whom had been through this more than once.
“Welcome to Rome,” the agent said, handing the passport back. “Buon Natale.”
Spike nodded and said in return, “Buon Natale.”
Xander followed him through customs and said to the attendant, “Nachos Navidad!” The agent smiled and handed his passport back to him.
Spike stopped for a moment and with an arch of an eyebrow said, “That’s not even Spanish, you stupid git! Italian is the language of love, not the language of fast food.”
“Well it was close enough,” Xander explained. “It got my point across.”
“Yeah, if you wanted to order a burrito,” Spike sighed. He headed to the taxi stand and hoped he could still catch a cab to his hotel. A stiff drink, maybe a hot bath would be nice.
But Xander hadn’t left his side and was still nipping at his heels even after passing through security. “Oh, good one, Captain Not So Peroxide. Pulling the pope card so security will leave you alone?”
Spike silently counted to five before answering, “No, the Vatican visit is real. Even have a nifty pass to prove it. Someone had to become research boy after Wesley died.”
That grabbed Xander’s attention. “Wait, Wes is dead? When? How?”
“About a year ago,” Spike answered as he pushed the door open and headed toward the waiting cabs. “Tried to help us stop the apocalypse. Sorry you didn’t get the memo.”
“Hold on, an apocalypse?” Spike was already queing up for cab by the time he caught up with him. “When?”
“Ongoing,” Spike said as he was about to hop in the waiting taxi. “White hats didn’t win this time.” He paused to size the other man up. “Guess you’re my own personal hell.”
“Does Giles know about this?”
“Not his fight to fight this time.” The cabbie shot Spike an impatient glare as taxis started to line up behind the cab. “And it’s not hers either. With any luck, we’ll get it under control before the New Year. Look, if you’re not planning on stalking me back to my hotel to remind me that I’m still the worst thing that ever happened to Buffy, puppies, and Christmas, I’d just as soon call it a day. Been up for three bloody days straight, and I’m absolutely knackered.”
He slid into the backseat of the cab, the seat weathered and torn, the springs below long since lost their sprung. It reeked of stale tobacco and maybe the faint musky waft of a Boscobel demon.
On most days, he couldn’t have a conversation with Harris if he’d tried. But now he couldn’t get rid of him if his life depended on it. “Well, do you need any help?”
Spike sighed and merely shook his head, only then realizing how weary he actually sounded. “Like I said, not your fight to fight. The white hats are already on it. Now go on, go celebrate your Christmas with the slayer and her kid sis. But don’t tell ’em you saw me. Don’t need to ruin their holidays with the Ghost of Apocalypses Past…or present for that matter.”
Xander paused for a moment before saying, “Merry Christmas, Spike.”
Spike nodded his reply. Their eyes met for a moment before he turned his attention to the driver and said, “Hotel Arenula, per favore.” He didn’t look back as the cab pulled out of the terminal and joined the stream of traffic.
His back ached from hunching over all morning and into the afternoon. Sure, the study area of the Secret Archives-and didn’t that just have the most cloak and dagger ring to its name-was quite the sight to see with it’s antiquated furniture, weathered study carrels and handful of well-behaved scholars. But it was still a musty library. Make that a church library complete with stacks marked with “do not remove under penalty of death” warnings. Somewhere around noon, he’d convinced himself that he wouldn’t spontaneously burst into flames, but he still had no intentions of parting with his flame-retardant gloves. Sure, the priests, librarians, whatever their titles were thought he was just a conscientious scholar not wanting to ruin the manuscripts. But they didn’t need to know why he was really wearing them. If “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” worked for the military, then it was sure as hell going to work at the Vatican.
The Secret Archives weren’t supposed to be open the day after Christmas, but after some persuasion from Angel and the mention of the phrases “apocalypse” and “end of days,” the Holy See was more than happy to open its doors to him and a handful of others. Of course that only meant he was going to be scrutinized all the more while he was there. He’d heard about the vast collections that were housed in the building. Papal Bulls, various proclamations and seals. Even stuff on the Nazis and the uber hush-hush heretical texts that probably went into great detail documenting his own kind. A giant depository that could make any conspiracy theorist tingle with excitement.
Then there were the documents they really didn’t want anyone to know about, the stuff you could only see if you knew it by name and verse, and even then they might not even acknowledge that the texts had ever existed. But he’d been lucky and struck the mother lode. The Spina Nerda Codex-the only known volume that supposedly documented the Black Thorn’s inception and rise to power. And within it-of course the Vatican was tight lipped about its contents-it illustrated the sect’s strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps there was the key to its downfall if Spike looked close enough.
The Latin translations were a piece of cake. He didn’t want to admit it, but the lessons he’d learned in school and university in another life had finally been useful. The pre-human languages that also filled the manuscript were more problematic than he was ready to encounter. Didn’t help that the double top-secret rules of the Archive made this task all the more difficult. No photocopying. No faxing, scanning, or recording by any means was allowed. Volumes were examined before and after study to guarantee that no pages left the room in satchels or pockets. Hell, pens were even forbidden. Might as well throw in a strip search for good measure. And so Spike was left with just a pencil, a notebook and a stack of blank index cards to collect the information that he needed. It was probably easier getting in and out of Fort Knox. Those guards had guns and pepper spray. Might hurt like hell for a few hours, but he’d live. These librarians, on the other hand, no doubt had things to promptly turn him into giant pile of steaming ash if he wasn’t careful. He wasn’t sure if they knew he was a vampire, so he wasn’t taking any chances.
By about four-thirty, his eyes were starting to cross. He shoved his reading glasses that he had finally succumbed to wearing for long research stints like this high on his forehead as he rubbed at his eyes. What he couldn’t immediately translate, he copied word for word. His left hand was cramping from all of the longhand busy work and his stomach rumbled. He was almost thankful when the priests announced that the archive was closing and they promptly started giving him the stink eye to pack up and leave. He had one more day on his pass to finish up his work. What he couldn’t finish today, he’d do tomorrow. Besides, it was time for a change of scenery. Tucking his glasses into his pocket and packing up his things, he headed to the desk to return the codex and get the evening pat down to search for pilfered objects before heading back to his hotel.
The sun was already down by the time he ambled out of the library and headed toward the road. Traffic was buzzing everywhere like it always did in Rome, a tangled mass of cars and scooters. It was always open season on pedestrians. He briefly contemplated catching a cab but ultimately opted to walk back. He’d been sitting far too long and it felt good to stretch his legs a bit.
He made it as far as the square before someone slugged him in the arm. He fought back the urge to bring his game face to the fore and spun around to meet his attacker. “No you don’t, but thanks for saying it?” she spat and slugged him once again in the same spot.
“Owww,” Spike whined as he rubbed his arm. He knew who had hit him even before he’d turned around. Of course it was oh so tempting to throw himself into her arms and take back his last words to her. He wanted to bury himself in that long blonde hair and not come up for weeks. But instead he was just annoyed. “Hello, Buffy,” he said with a sigh.
“That’s all you’ve got?” she countered. “‘Hello, Buffy?’ Why not, ‘I’m not dead after all, and oh by the way, I got my hands chopped off last year but I’m better. Oh, while I’m at it, I’m sorry I forgot how to use a phone and let you know I am still alive. I’ll never do it again?'”
Now he was really annoyed. Stupid girl. Always knew how to make him mad in zero to sixty in three seconds flat. “I don’t talk like that,” he said as he readjusted his pack on his shoulder and started walking again. “Besides, sounds like you’ve known I’ve been alive and kicking for quite some time. Last time I checked, there were phones in Italy. Would it’ve killed you to pick a phone and call me, or am I still beneath you after everything we’ve been through? So now what? We have a Mexican standoff until we’re both thoroughly annoyed with each other and don’t speak for another two years?”
Oh, that must have hit a bone. She stood there with an incredulous stare, hands firmly on hips. He’d seen that look a thousand times. She definitely meant business. Would it kill him to apologize? No, that would be too easy.
“Well, no,” she said, her resolve failing by the second. The anger melted from her voice when she added, “I thought you were dead.”
“Like I told Xander, who apparently still has an enormously large mouth, it didn’t stick,” he said as he started to walk down the sidewalk. This was definitely making his headache worse. “Besides, I thought you’d moved on. Shacked up with the strapping specimen of a male, the Immortal and were getting your Happily Ever After. Figured you didn’t need me getting in the way.”
“Wait,” she said grabbing his jacket sleeve. “How did you know about Rinaldo? Were you spying on me?”
“No, Angel was,” Spike said. No, he didn’t sound all of twelve with that confession. “Besides, it was Andrew that told us about your grand affair with your latest sweetie bear.”
“I’m gonna kill him,” she declared.
“Both,” she said.
“Take a number,” he answered. “The line’s getting pretty long these days for either. And he’s calling himself “Rinaldo?” Interesting.” God, he hated that wanker. Was there anything of his that that stupid git didn’t want to get his hands on?
“What do you mean, ‘interesting?’ That’s his name, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Goes by a lot of names. Never heard that one,” he answered. “And just how is His Majestic Pain in the Ass?”
She scurried to keep up with him as he wove his way through the sea of pedestrians. He stopped briefly at the curb and waited for the light to change before venturing across the street. “We, uh, decided to see other people. It wasn’t working out.”
“You mean he dumped you?” he asked over his shoulder. “You joined the few, the proud. What am I talking about, you joined the masses not the marines.”
When they reached the opposite curb, she answered, “No, I did the dumping. Too high maintenance. It was like dating my sister.”
“That’s just an incestuously scary image,” he said with a shiver. “Pardon me while I go bleach my brain.”
“That’s not what I meant,” she tried to explain. “All drama, all the time gets pretty tiring after a while.” A scooter zipped down the road, skimming too close to the curb for comfort. Automatically he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her from harm’s way without missing a beat for either of them. “Besides, it’s not like I could actually talk to him. Like I could you.”
She felt so good tucked against him. And in that instant, all the anger, all the jealousy that he’d built up in his trumped up image of her life with “Rinaldo” was gone. That urge to hold her was there again, and he never wanted to let go.
“I meant what I said. You know, before you …died,” her voice, small and vulnerable.
And in that instant, the world around him faded away. The traffic, the bustle of the people around them scurrying home for the evening, none of it mattered. She was there, in front of him, confessing the same love that he wasn’t ready to accept two years ago. His eyes prickled with tears, and he fought to force them back.
“I know,” he whispered over the din roaring around him.
“They why’d you say I didn’t?” she asked, brushing away the stray tear that streaked down his cheek.
“To give you what you deserved.” His voice faltered. This was harder than he thought it would be. “The white picket. Thought you had that here, so I kept my distance. It’s not that I never tried to contact you. Knew your number by heart. Dialed it a few hundred times. Got your answering machine once or twice, too. But I thought you were happy, so I stopped.”
“Oh, Spike,” she said drawing him into a tight embrace. By now he wasn’t the only one crying. She placed a gentle kiss over the tip of his nose before searching out his lips for another one and welcoming him home after two years of self-imposed loneliness.
He drank in her scent and savored the steady thrum of her heartbeat against his own stilled chest. It brought him back to a time before everything had literally gone to hell, before the apocalypse and Black Thorn. Before his own death when it was just the two of them in a stranger’s house with nothing but each other for comfort. He’d felt it then. Trust. And he felt it now.
But of course there was the pesky problem of that goddamn apocalypse hanging over him like a black cloud. The all mighty Mission. Somewhere along the line, it’d become important to him as well.
“I can’t,” he heard himself say as he pushed her away. “I can’t drag you into this.”
“What?” she asked, “the apocalypse? Xander told me about it as well.”
He let out an irritated sigh. Christ, Harris really couldn’t keep any secrets.
“Where do I sign up?” she said as though she was reporting for duty.
That was his Buffy, diving headfirst as always into adventure. He paused for a moment to smooth the stray strands of hair that framed her face and kissed the center of her forehead before answering, “Not your battle this time, love. Don’t want you get hurt. Could be an ugly this time, and I don’t want you in the casualty count.”
“Since when have apocalypses been a cakewalk?” she said. Look out, that resolve was back. He didn’t stand a chance against it. “And since when have they gotten in the way of you or me? Well, there was the time that you died. But hey, even then it apparently didn’t keep you down for long.”
“Since you got your white picket.”
“Spike,” she said. “I live on the third floor of an apartment building. I have no picket fence. I’ve tried both worlds, and they’re a little boring by themselves. So tear off one of those pickets you keep talking about and make me a stake because I’m not taking no for an answer.”
Now that was the slayer he knew and loved. Want. Take. Have. It had always been that way. And apparently this time, he was fitting into the mix. And maybe she was right; maybe the Mission could accompany the quest for the Ever After. If she was willing to give it a try, then perhaps so was he.
“So, now that we have that cleared up,” she proclaimed, “where are you staying?”
“Hotel Arenula.” He was surprised Xander didn’t tell her that as well. It wasn’t a bad place. Clean, had a decent array of television channels, internet access and a front desk that didn’t ask any questions.
“You have much there?”
“Some clothes and a handful of books.”
That wicked smile when she suggested, “That’s not too far of a walk from here. So why don’t we swing by there and get your stuff. We can catch a cab and head over to my place. We’ve got some leftovers from last night if Xander hasn’t snarfed them all. It’s still kinda Christmas, and you are not spending it all alone.”
“Still a vampire, remember,” he said. “We don’t celebrate Christmas.”
“Dawn made some pretty good Christmas cookies.”
He felt himself return the smile. “Well, when you put it that way. Help me wrangle up a pint of O-negative, and you have yourself a deal.”
“No O-negative, but I stocked the fridge with some stuff from the butcher’s this morning. Rumor has it Dawn was trying to find a source for burba weed.”
His arm slipped easily around her waist again as they started to walk back to his hotel. “You’ve thought of everything, haven’t you?”
“Hey, I’m a girl on a mission,” she answered. “I knew you were coming over tonight, and I couldn’t let you starve.”
For the first time in ages, Spike let himself laugh. He drew her close and kissed her one more time. This time, there was no hesitation. Everything about it felt right.
“Merry Christmas, Buffy,” he said.
“Merry Christmas, Spike.”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/30756.html