Spikes Holiday Hunt
Willow flung open the front door and rang a small ceremonial bell in her hand. “Happy Solistice!” she cried to the newcomer. The visitor’s face was obscured by the stack of boxes he held balanced precariously in front of him.
Tara, standing behind her effusive girlfriend, peered uncertainly at the person on the porch. “X-xander? Is that Xander? It’s hard to tell with all of the boxes, but the grumbling sounds like Xander, doesn’t it, Willow?”
The pile of boxes tumbling to the floor effectively resolved the question. “Yes, yes, it’s me,” Xander said in a crabby tone. His face cleared, however, as soon as the presents he had dropped were righted and arranged under the tree, and he grinned easily when Willow offered him a candy cane.
“Thought we weren’t going to do any of the traditional holiday trappings, Willow,” he teased her, holding up the candy cane and gesturing to the tree.
“Ha!” Willow responded hotly. “The tree is a pagan symbol; the ever-green pine represents growth even a time of desolate fields and long winter’s nights.”
“And the candy canes?” Tara asked innocently, crossing her eyes at Xander when he looked in her direction.
“What, like the Christians who persecuted the witches and attacked the true rites as superstitions have cornered the market on candy?” Willow asked in a huffy voice.
“Wow, if that’s true, I’m totally going to sign up for this Christian thing. I mean, candy! ‘That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown’ ” Xander started, then laughed helplessly at Willow’s cry of “Aaaaarrrggghhhh!!!!!!” and watched her stalk out of the room.
“I mean, seriously,” he observed to Tara. “Have the Christians cornered the market? Because with the holiday season and all, those churches are open 24-7 lately, and we could totally hit up 8 or 10 of them tonight and raid their supply of sweet, sweet candy.”
Tara ducked her head and smiled, then pulled at Xander’s sleeve. She led him over to the eggnog station and ladled him a cup.
“Willow has been a little stressed about the solistice celebration. Kind of like Buffy is about Thanksgiving, or so I’ve heard?” When Xander nodded at her, she continued. “She just wants everyone to have a great time, and really share the spirit of the season with one another.”
“I’ll tell you where that comes from,” Xander observed conspiratorially. “Solistice probably looks waaaayyy better than the Chanukahs Willow’s parents celebrated with her. I mean, eight nights of polyester jumpers, underwear, and teen books like the Sweet Valley High series? For some reason, those two didn’t catch on that Willow started reading Tolstoy in the fourth grade.”
“Yeah,” Tara agreed, “and the pile of socks and the copies of _Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus_ and _You Can Be Married By Thirty!_ they sent her this year didn’t help her mood any.”
“Did they send the gelt?” Xander asked earnestly. “Because they usually get the high-quality chocolate kind. They give good gelt.”
Just then the doorbell rang once more, and Giles, Buffy, and Dawn chorused cheerful greetings before handing over shopping bags full of gifts. Willow returned to the room just in time to greet the new guests.
“This will be so super fun!” Dawn cried out as she bounded from admiring the tree to tasting the eggnog to knocking over Xander with a bear hug to petting the little plush reindeer on the mantle. After snagging a handful of candy canes, she darted off to find her camera and start snapping pictures.
“Hey, you two,” said Buffy wearily as she gave Tara and Willow a hug. Willow squeezed Buffy back, and wrinkled her nose as Xander, but his forlorn look soon made her pull him into the embrace. The three of them turned to grab Giles, but he sidestepped their group hug, instead patting them all affectionately on the shoulders.
Tara and Giles smiled at one another awkwardly, then blinked to try to clear their eyes after Dawn’s flash went off in their faces.
“Has she been like that all day?” Xander inquired, nodding towards Dawn, who was now dancing around Giles, trying to get him to reveal how many presents he had bought for her.
“No, she’s calmed down a lot in the last thirty minutes,” Buffy remarked, and then whispered, “It’s tiring, but I don’t mind too much. With mom gone, I’m just glad she can be happy today. And with the whole key thing, even though she has memories of previous Christmases, she knows that there have been very few real ones, and I think she wants to make the most of the day.”
“Yeah, plus all the over-excited teenage hormones making her act so goofy,” Xander noted wisely. “But let that be the last time you mention the word ‘Christmas,’ in this household, because Willow is hell bent on all of us celebrating Solis --”
“Merry Christmas!!!!!” Spike roared out as he kicked in the door.
“Happy Holidays, Spike!” Willow said excitedly before Spike dropped his armload of presents and swung her around the front hall.
“Hey!” Xander complained, poking Buffy to make sure she also witnessed this travesty. “How come Spike gets to say the C-word, and I get in trouble if I even so much as sign a card ‘X-mas’?”
“Oh, hush,” said Buffy absently. “I think that this is the first holiday gathering Spike has been invited to since he was turned. Well, the first that didn’t involve riot and slaughter, anyway. Let him have his fun.”
Dawn shrieked and hurled herself at Spike, knocking him and his presents to the floor. “What’d you bring me, what’d you bring me?” she asked excitedly as Spike rubbed his temporarily bruised elbows with good humor.
“Bit, that’s for you to find out when you open yer prezzies,” he said, and then raised a warning hand, “and that’s not until after dinner!”
“That’s right,” said Willow, pleased to have someone else who wanted to do the holiday right. She and Tara supplied everyone with drinks and appetizers, and had each person sign a photo mat would be used in the framed group picture from the celebration.
Despite Dawn’s fussing that everything was taking far too long, dinner was served soon after, and the trio of main entrees (roast beef, vegetarian lasagna, and tofurkey) was rapidly decimated as people helped themselves to seconds and thirds.
“Well, should we serve dessert and coffee first, or begin opening the presents?” Giles asked drolly as he raised his eyebrows at Dawn.
“Presents, presents, time for presents!” she demanded, and dashed off to the living room with Xander’s hand in hers.
“Ow, ow, ow, ow,” Xander shrieked manfully as Dawn released his arm and aimed something hard at his stomach.
“Xanderrrr!” Dawn remonstrated. “You don’t say ‘ow’ when someone gives you the wonderful Christmas present that they got you!!!”
Dawn’s present to Xander turned out to be a beautiful, blue-marbled bowling ball with his initials engraved on it. “That’s just from me,” she said smugly, as Buffy suppressed a smile. Dawn had purchased her presents with a large advance on her allowance, but Buffy was going to forgive the debt as a New Year’s surprise.
“Wow, Dawn,” Xander exclaimed, genuinely excited despite shooting abdominal pains. “It’s fantastic. It’s the bowling ball of my dreams!”
The room was filled with exclamations of surprise and reassurances of gratitude as everyone handed their gifts around and settled down to opening their own presents. Tara displayed to Willow the new journal and jade necklace and matching earring set from Xander and Buffy, and the candle-making kit and silk scarf from Dawn and Spike. Giles handed out gift certificates from the local bookstore to everyone, sputtering indignantly when Spike informed him that he had taken the lazy way out of buying gifts.
Xander, Willow, and Tara thankfully provided Buffy-approved gifts for Dawn: a drawing pad along with pencils and charcoals; a slew of new CDs; a brand-new cordless phone for her room (to match the brand-new phone line Dawn had asked Buffy for); and stacks of tank-tops, flippy miniskirts, and funky shoes. Dawn squealed with pleasure at the ever-growing group of pretty things in front of her and ripped into the wrapping paper on every box with vigor. Buffy looked daggers at Spike when Dawn waved around the concert tickets that Spike had gotten for her. “You couldn’t have given her something less freaky than the all-access passes to the speed metal festival?” she asked furiously.
Luckily, Buffy was distracted and laughed when she noticed Giles opening the presents from Xander, consisting of a framed cartoon-drawing of a librarian super-hero dubbed “G-Man” and two dozen chamois clothes in various colors for, as the card said, “the delicate task of glasses-wiping.”
Her attention was diverted once more when she discovered that Xander had given her the leather boots she had been eyeing, in not only the burgundy but also the camel color. She shrieked happily, and left ten finger-print sized bruises on Xander’s arms when she grabbed him for a thank-you squeeze.
After releasing Xander, she opened Spike’s present. When she saw the heavy bag filled with bus tokens that Spike had given her, she frowned, whacking him upside the head when he explained that he wanted to keep her from driving at any cost.
Willow had a new spellbook that Spike had found for her at a flea-market, a gift of cooking classes for herself and Tara from Buffy and Dawn, and, from Xander, a pile of holiday-themed DVDs (including, of course, A Charlie Brown Christmas) and three gorgeous black and white prints of real winter scenes of snowy landscapes in moonlight. “The series is called ‘Solistice,’ Xander explained as Willow tearfully wrapped her arms around him and brushed her lips against his cheek.
Giles thanked Willow for the offer to detail his car once again (“ ‘cause you did such a bang-up job of it last time after your will-be-done spell went wrong,” Spike teased Willow), and seemed very moved by the framed photos of Buffy and Dawn that the girls had had professionally taken just for him. Tara had surprised him by giving him a care-package of what Xander called “merry olde” products, such as PG Tips, chocolate digestives, Branston’s Pickle, and an assortment of jams and mustards that were impossible to find in California. Spike grinned and handed Giles his own gift, a “get over it, you’re in America now” kit, complete with Elvis CD, framed reproduction of “American Gothic” and McDonald’s McDollars.
Xander looked up from his new kung-fu threads and gift certificate to take a full year of classes at the Sunnydale kung-fu studio and grinned. “Thanks, guys,” he said, nodding towards all the girls and Giles. “The classes’ll be fun, stress-relieving, and, of course, life-saving. A present for all seasons.”
“Here,” Spike abruptly shoved a package into Xander’s hands.
“Oh, uh, thanks,” Xander said as he looked suspiciously at the package. “What is it?”
“Well, you’ll find out when you open it, won’t you?” Spike said with exaggerated diction and slowness.
The girls gathered around to watch Xander unwrap the last gift of the evening, curious themselves to know what Spike had decided to give him.
Xander opened the box warily then gaped with wide eyes at its contents.
“Oh, Xander,” Willow breathed when she saw what was inside.
“Oh, my god. My god.” Xander spoke quietly. “How did you know?”
Spike looked uncomfortable, and didn’t answer.
Buffy and Dawn exchanged a glance, then Buffy said gently, “Xan? What is it?”
Xander sighed. “It’s -- it’s our ID bracelets. Mine, and Jesse’s.”
Giles had been relaxing over in the corner in the comfy wing chair, but he sat up suddenly at Xander’s soft explanation and leaned in to listen.
“Jesse’s mom gave them to us when we were eight. She said we talked so much alike and acted so much alike, we were practically twins, and she needed us to wear them so that she could tell us apart.” Xander looked up and grinned faintly at Willow.
Willow smiled back sadly, leaning against Tara when Xander looked back down at the bracelets and lifted them gingerly out of the box.
“We wore them all though grade school. God, I don’t think I took that thing off once, not when I went to Y camp and swam in the lake, not when I had to wear a suit to my cousin’s wedding, not when some girl I had a crush on said it was stupid for boys to wear ID bracelets.” Xander breathed deeply for a moment.
“How come they’re together now?” Dawn asked, quiet for the first time that day.
“Funny thing,” Xander said ruefully. “The weekend before um, Jesse died, I slept over at his house. We helped his dad with a project, working on the addition. His mom was going to have a baby, another kid after years of trying, and they needed another bedroom. When I figured out we’d be painting, I decided to take my bracelet off. Jesse said it was a good idea, and took his off too. We didn’t want to do anything to mess them up.”
“Then . . . after, it wasn’t until a few days after the funeral when I looked at my wrist, and . . . Jesse’s family moved out of town as soon as they could. I think it hurt his mom too much to stay, and his dad took a transfer. I guess they . . . with the new baby, and not wanting to have to worry even more . . . just wanting to get somewhere not here, maybe.
“I never knew what happened to the bracelets. I thought they were gone forever. Until now,” he concluded in wonder, cradling the matching silver objects in his hand.
“How --” Buffy started, but Willow shook her head, and Buffy dropped it. It didn’t really matter how at this moment.
“Right,” Spike broke in suddenly, and moved towards the door in haste. “Going to smoke outside, Red.”
The door slammed, and Xander slowly turned to watch Spike out the window.
“Um, Xander?” Dawn pulled at his leg from her position on the floor. “I don’t mean to change the subject, or, well . . . but what did you get for Spike?”
Everyone started at this question, and Xander’s bleary eyes came back into focus rapidly. “For Spike,” he said dumbly, and then “Oh, fuck!!!!”
“You didn’t get him anything,” Dawn pointed out unnecessarily, “and he got you that? Who knows how much time it took him, and, how the heck he even figured it out, and what are you going to do, because it’s kind of weird if you don’t give him a present, right?”
Buffy jumped up. Clearly it was time for action. “Is there anything you can use here, Will? Maybe something you didn’t want, that you can re-gift? Or, hey, Xander. Pretend you left it at home? I think there are some stores open late because of holiday shopping.”
“Well, it isn’t yet Christmas,” Giles began, cringing slightly at the reaction he anticipated Willow would have at that word. She was too wrapped up to notice, however, so he went on with renewed boldness. “Today is the solstice, the 21st of December. You technically have four days to obtain a thoughtful present for Spike and offer it to him by the 25th.”
“Giles, you’re a genius,” Xander exclaimed.
“We knew that already,” Dawn whispered to Buffy.
“I’ll figure something out in four days. Um. Yeah. Four days. I’ll just . . . uh . . . Oh, fuck!!!”
“What’s wrong now?” Tara asked in a bewildered voice.
“I don’t know what the hell to get Spike!” Xander yelled. “I have no clue what he’d want. It doesn’t matter if I have four days -- or four years! I’ll never be able to get him something as right as this. I can’t possibly come up with anything like what he got me.”
“Well,” Tara said reasonably. “Why don’t you just ask him what he wants? That way, you can be sure that he’ll like it.”
Everyone turned to stare at her.
“Why, that’s brilliant,” Giles said slowly, and Tara smiled.
“We’re so dumb,” Buffy berated the rest of them. “Ask him. It’s so obvious. It’s diabolical!”
“Well, it’s hardly that, Buffy, but --” Giles began, but Xander didn’t stick around to hear any more, just jumped out of his seat to pursue the vampire.
Spike was stalking up and down the driveway in the moonlight, already on his second cigarette by the time Xander screeched to a halt at his side.
“Spike!” Xander said, and realized that he didn’t have a follow-up sentence planned.
“Yeah,” Spike said in an irritated voice.
“Um. Thank you.” Xander knew he couldn’t come up with anything fancy to say, but he was really so grateful, he had to let Spike at least know that. He dropped his eyes thinking about how to approach the next half of his delivery, so he didn’t notice how the vampire’s eyes had softened at the simple words.
“I didn’t . . . well, I didn’t get you anything yet. I feel like a jerk. Especially because I had no idea, no idea at all that you’d think twice about me, no clue that you’d find something so . . . amazing.” Xander looked up quickly into Spike’s eyes and saw something that he didn’t understand. Could Spike be upset? Confused?
“None of that, now,” Spike said as he started to come to himself. “You don’t need to get me anything. That’s what presents are for, right? You give something, and you don’t expect anything in return.”
“Maybe. But I’d really like it if I could give you something.” Xander looked away again, trying to just work up the courage to ask the basic question. “Is there anything that you . . . need?”
“Me, I’m the vampire who has everything,” Spike announced grandly, twisting his lips into something like a smile.
“Okay. So there’s nothing you need. But maybe something you want? It’s just . . . the ID bracelets, Spike. You’ve given me something I thought I’d never see again. You’ve handed me part of myself that I thought . . . was lost.” Xander stilled himself to try to get a little control of his heady emotions. “Please, I’d like to give you something like that.”
“Well, let me think a mo, then,” Spike said, and turned to go back to the house.
Xander had started to follow him when the vampire suddenly stopped in his tracks.
“You know, pet, maybe there is something. Something, like you said, that I thought I’d never see again? Something of myself that I thought was lost?” Spike turned around slowly, facing Xander.
Smiling, Xander shook his head. “You’ll have to help me out more than that, Spike. I mean, I’m not sure where to start, and like Giles said, I really only have four days left to get you a Christmas present.”
“Oh, but it’s so easy, really, to guess. Why, if I’d realized that people could ask for things . . . I might have just written it on a list or something.”
“Well, it doesn’t sound like it’s too hard, if it can go on a list,” Xander said anxiously. He really wanted to do the right thing, get something for Spike that would be wonderful, that would show him how much Xander appreciated Spike’s efforts.
“No,” Spike laughed, “it’s not too hard at all. Four days, should be about right. Pet?”
“Let me hunt you?”
“You want to hunt me? As my holiday gift to you?” Xander gasped incredulously.
Admittedly, he’d had no idea what Spike would ask for when he’d given him full rein to choose his own present, but this possibility had never entered his mind. He started backing up unawares, and nearly tripped over a small plastic snowman that Tara had positioned on the front lawn.
Spike was gazing up at the night sky as he exhaled. “It’d be quite something. Never thought . . . had given up on getting this damn chip out of my head so long ago, that I . . . ” He dropped his head to gaze at Xander fondly. “It’d be the best present that I could hope for.”
Xander felt his heart skip a beat. Fear, it must be fear that was making that happen, he told himself. Spike came closer, his eyes set on Xander.
“But . . . the chip,” Xander exclaimed. He put his hand out to stop the vampire from invading more of his personal space. “You couldn’t hunt me, right?”
“Well, I couldn’t hurt you, I suppose. Can’t see what’d stop me from hunting you down like a wild boar, though. Though I wonder,” Spike began, but paused, and reached out to take Xander’s outstretched arm.
“What? What?!?” Xander wished that he could inch towards the front door. Spike’s hand had a firm hold, though, and the fact that that hand was moving lower on his arm was more than a little disconcerting.
People can see us, he reassured himself. There was the picture window, positioned to their left, with all of his friends in full view. Spike couldn’t try anything now, could he? Besides, he hadn’t agreed to this crazy scheme of Spike’s.
“I wonder if it -- the chip -- would fire off if I, uh, well . . . caught you . . . in this type of situation.” Spike’s hand had reached Xander’s, and he turned it palm up, stroking the center thoughtfully.
“Huh?” Xander choked out. His eyes were frozen on Spike’s elegant hand. Spike’s fingers were etching intricate designs on his palm.
“I mean, if you were to give your permission to me, perhaps I could hurt you just a bit without getting my head zapped! That’d be fantastic!” Spike looked wide-eyed and gleeful at this thought. He drew Xander’s hand closer, and Xander followed in a daze. They were a few inches apart now.
Xander shook himself. He started to back up in earnest.
“No. No and no. I don’t trust that ‘just a bit’ part. What’s to keep you from draining me dry if I agree to let you hurt me a little? And I’m not agreeing to bites of any kind!”
Spike looked Xander up and down, and licked his lips hungrily. “Well, you say that now, pet, but -- ”
“Aaaaarrgggghhhhh!!!” Xander yelped, and scrambled for the front door.
“So now Xander’s about to trip . . . oh, he caught himself just in time,” Dawn reported to the others.
“What do you think is going on out there?” Tara asked. It didn’t make any sense -- why was Spike gazing at Xander with so many emotions playing on his face? She nudged Willow, who took in the scene.
“Hmmm,” Willow said distractedly, prompting Buffy to join them in peering out of the window.
“Now Spike is grabbing Xander’s arm,” Dawn narrated cheerfully. “I wonder . . . oooh, look, he took Xander’s hand. That’s cute! Why’s he doing that, Buffy?”
Even Giles roused himself at that, and soon everyone was watching the two men outside. The scene was unmistakably a romantic one. They all exchanged glances that communicated their confusion at what they saw.
Dawn ignored the knowing looks and happily continued to provide a running commentary.
“Wow. Xander can’t take his eyes off Spike’s hand. He probably feels all fluttery,” Dawn concluded. “Do you think that Spike is asking Xander out? I mean, he did get him that super nice present. He probably has the hots for him. Xander is a cutie. And Xander totally owes him now. Big time.”
“Come on,” Buffy said impatiently. “Spike isn’t asking Xander out.” She gestured toward the couple outside lamely, frowning at Spike’s unusual interest in Xander’s palm. “Right, Will?”
Willow leaned forward, her brow knit in concentration. She watched Spike pull Xander in closer, and tilted her head thoughtfully.
“Hey, I wonder,” Dawn ruminated out loud into the strained silence, “What’s the rule on putting out in proportion to the significance of the holiday present? I mean, I know what’s supposed to happen when a guy takes you to a movie, or out to dinner . . . ” Dawn pulled up short in the midst of her chatter to find Buffy listening carefully.
“What happens?” Buffy asked, her eyes narrowing.
“Um. You can let him hold your hand?” Dawn improvised. Buffy looked skeptical.
“Looks like Xander and Spike are past the hand-holding stage,” Tara said softly.
“Good lord,” Giles said, taking off his glasses and rubbing them with one of the new chamois cloths that Xander had given him (the magenta one).
“I’ll see you that Good Lord, and raise you a Holy Moly,” Willow offered.
Buffy squinted in confusion at the two men. The two of them were getting awfully cozy out there.
“Hey,” Dawn said excitedly, “check it out. Xander’s about to freak.”
That was when Xander yelped and came clattering through the front door.
He stopped and faced the gang. “Help,” he croaked out, and then keeled over onto the floor.
When Xander came to, there were five people and one vampire standing over him with concerned faces.
“Oh, good, he’s not dying,” Spike remarked, a relieved look on his face. “It’d be a shame to have a hunt end so quickly.”
“Spike, for the last time, you cannot hunt Xander.” Buffy enunciated each word with biting clarity.
Well, at least it sounded like Spike had filled them in on what was happening. Xander wasn’t sure he could explain it without getting all woozy again.
“But he said,” Spike piped up sadly.
“I said no such -- I didn’t agree to your request,” Xander protested.
Spike’s face fell. His bottom lip quivered just a bit.
“Oh great going, Xander,” Dawn shot out. “Now look what you’ve done.”
“What I’ve done!” Xander murmured indignantly. He let his head hit the floor again with a thunk.
“Now, now. Everyone calm down.” Willow took a breath and made an effort to smile. “There is surely some solution to this.”
“Willow, how do you figure?” Buffy asked. “We can’t let Xander agree to what Spike wants. It’s just wrong, even if Xander wants it too.”
“Don’t want it,” Xander said weakly from the floor.
“I’m not saying we should let Spike hunt Xander down and kill him,” Willow said firmly, ignoring the small “eep!” that escaped from Xander at the close of her statement. “I do think, however, that there may be something else that Xander can give Spike. A modification, if you will, of the original proposal. But it requires that I speak with Spike alone first.”
Everyone fell silent.
“All right, Red,” Spike assented. “Let’s have ourselves a talk.” The two of them disappeared upstairs, apparently headed for Willow’s study.
Tara cleared her throat and turned back to the group.
“Okay!” she said brightly, anxious to get everyone’s attention off the topic of the hunt. “Who wants pie?”
“Me,” Xander said forlornly, still in a heap on the floor
“That’s it, you’re fine,” Buffy pronounced, and hauled Xander to his feet. “If you can eat pie at a time like this, you can’t be overly wigged.”
“The pie helps me not wig,” Xander contradicted her. “And if I want to continue to stand upright, I’m going to need to eat a lot of pie.”
“Sure thing,” Tara agreed, steering him back into the dining room.
“Good idea,” Dawn whispered to Buffy. “Get him all fattened up for Spike’s hunt.”
After the group had demolished a chocolate pecan pie, a pumpkin pie, and a crumb-topped apple-cranberry pie, Spike stalked back into the room. He glared at the empty plates, dirtied with crumbs and pooled with melting vanilla ice cream.
“Red wants to see you,” he said gruffly to Xander and sank into one of the empty seats.
“Gosh,” Tara whispered doubtfully to Giles, as Xander braced himself, walking up the stairs like a prisoner headed to his execution. Spike watched him go, and then dropped his head onto the table with a bang.
“Are you okay? Spike?” Dawn tapped the vamp on the shoulder tentatively.
Buffy shrugged. “He’s fine, aren’t you, Spike? Um, aren’t you?” Concern crept into her voice.
Spike was shaking, his head down on the table, a funny muffled noise emerging from his throat.
“Spike?” Giles inquired gently.
Then the muffled sound became clearer, and Spike raised his head, rocking back and forth with laughter.
“Bloody marvelous,” he said loudly, bringing his fist down hard on the table, and smirking at them all.
Xander poked his head around the corner of Willow’s study.
“Sit down, Xander,” she said officiously.
“Um, ‘kay,” he replied nervously. This was starting out like a job interview.
Willow looked at him levelly.
“Spike got you something very thoughtful for the holidays.”
“Yes,” Xander agreed readily. That much was without dispute.
“And you offered to give him something in return,” she went on. “Something that would stand him in similar stead to the present that he provided you with. Something that would give him back something that he had lost.”
“Yes,” Xander said softly. “I did want to do that for him.”
“But I think, and I imagine that you’ll readily agree, that a physical, blood-sport hunt, possibly ending in your death, is not the solution to this. I hardly see the point of Spike giving you such a thoughtful present and then killing you a few days later.”
Xander breathed a sigh of relief. This was Willow, after all, his best friend from forever. Obviously she wouldn’t let anyone hunt him down. But up until that moment he hadn’t been sure what she would say about this. The presentation of the ID bracelets, his and Jesse’s, had brought myriad emotions to the surface. He knew that she would similarly experience the feeling that somehow, he had to give something Spike that would match the significance of the long-lost objects. But thank god that something didn’t have to involve him running like a rabbit through Sunnydale.
“However,” Willow went on, “I have come up with a solution that will allow you to do something for Spike. Mind, he won’t hurt you physically in any way. And it will last for four days, just like the proposed hunt.”
“What is it?” Xander asked with raised eyebrows.
Willow’s calm demeanor and adult tone broke down suddenly.
“The thing of it is, I can’t so much tell you that part. But it’ll be okay!” she promised, hurriedly moving on. “Now, part of the main element of a traditional hunt is surprise. When will the hunter get the prey, how will he take it down, and all that stuff. So that part stays, and because of that element in the equation, you can’t know exactly what it is that’s going on. But on the bright side, no pain, no drainage, right?” she concluded hopefully.
Xander shook his head slowly. “I don’t get it. How can I be doing something for Spike if I don’t know what it is? And are you sure he can’t hurt me? This won’t all end in my sudden and untimely death?”
“Nope,” Willow said firmly. “No killing, no maiming, not even a little spraining. I got him to agree to those terms easily when I explained my idea to him.”
“So Spike knows what’s going on,” Xander said slowly. “And I don’t. But whatever it is, it only lasts for four days.”
“Right,” Willow said hesitantly. “Just one more thing. Do you have vacation these next four days? Because you need to be, um, around. Not at work that is.”
“Yeah, the whole crew has two weeks off for Christm--,” Xander said, and then stopped. “Why?”
“Just the thing going on with your present to Spike,” she said offhandedly. “No big. You can do whatever you want the next couple of days. You just can’t have any firm commitments, so work is out. But go about your business, have fun, relax, and it’ll be over before you know it.”
Xander sighed. Spike had some kind of plan that involved him -- not necessarily a thought to make with the happiness. But Willow had laid out the terms, and he trusted her. Four days, he reminded himself. What could possibly happen in four days that would be so bad?
“Okay,” he nodded. “I’ll do it. Uh, whatever it is.”
Willow’s nose crinkled as she grinned at him. “Don’t worry Xander. You’ll be fine. And if everything goes well, you might even like it.”
Xander looked at her blankly, and then raised his hands in defeat. “I’m not asking any more questions. But I am taking off to go get some sleep. Whatever this is, I guess I want to be on my game.”
“Sure,” Willow agreed, rising from her chair when he did. As he stepped towards the door, she caught him suddenly in a tight squeeze. Xander hugged back, a little confused. Oh well. Confused was probably going to be the state of mind du jour until this was all over.
“Hey Will?” he asked, pulling back. “Do I get to find out what’s happening after it’s over? I mean, this there isn’t going to be some kind of mind-wipe at the end, or some continued conspiracy to keep me in the dark?”
“Oh, no,” she assured him. “You’ll probably figure it out somewhere along the way, but if not, I’ll be happy to explain everything to you when the time comes.”
Xander sighed and stomped down the stairs. He was pretty sure that he didn’t want to know why Willow’s eyes appeared to be sparkling with pleasure over this craziness.
“Uh, bye!” he waved at everyone with false cheer, and darted out the front door. Whatever was going on, maybe he’d start figuring it out tomorrow.
Xander murmured and stretched. It was nice to not wake up to his blaring alarm clock for once. He wriggled his toes a little, then wriggled them to the tune of “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!”
“Ah, winter vacation,” he announced to himself. “A time for watching the VH1 “Behind the Music” marathon and catching up on old “Farscape” episodes. A time for eating creamy spreadable chocolate frosting straight from the tub and chasing it down with Yoohoo! A time for sleeping twelve hours in a row and jacking off whenever I feel like it.”
He sighed happily. “Good times.”
He took his time hauling himself out of bed and examining his potential goatee in the bathroom mirror before resolving to shave later on that day.
It wasn’t until he’d set up the coffeemaker, tried and failed to find his pair of fuzzy socks, positioned himself on the couch, and flipped on the television to find out what Matt and Katie were up to that he remembered the events of the prior evening.
“Holy fuck,” he gasped. “What the--”
He slapped his hand over his mouth before he uttered another word. The hunt! His crazy holiday promise to Spike! What had he been thinking?
He began to remove his hand, but then thought better of it. He looked around to see if there were any obvious technological devices planted in the apartment. Good thing he’d stopped speaking out loud. For all he knew, Spike already had the place bugged and was ready to track his movements.
Glancing around the room nervously, he listened for the sound of . . . anything vaguely hunt-like.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door, and Xander shrieked.
After a few moments he laughed in what he hoped was a careless guffaw. “I sure hope that no one tries to hunt me today,” he remarked with false cheer. “I’ll be pretty hard to find, especially for people who aren’t so good at walking around in daylight.”
He assumed an air of nonchalance and got up casually before racing to the door and peering through the security peephole. When he saw that it was his superintendent, he took a deep breath. “Okay, okay,” he said in a placating tone to himself. “Gotta calm down.” He opened the door very slowly.
“Yeah, uh, hi,” he said, running his fingers through his hair nervously. “What’s up, Joe?”
“Harris,” the super replied in a wary voice. “You okay in here?”
“Oh, sure,” Xander said “Couldn’t be better, me. Why do you ask?”
His super stared at him for a moment, seemed about to say something, but then apparently thought better of it. “You work too hard. Have some time off for the holiday?” When Xander nodded, he shook his head. “You rest up, now. Don’t want to have to take a more extended break, right?” He gave Xander a meaningful look with the last phrase.
“Right,” Xander said miserably. The people in his building already thought he was a weirdo. It was hard not to think someone who occasionally carried a small axe or came home covered in purple goo wasn’t odd. But no one had suggested to him even in this implicit way that he’d better watch out or the men in white would cart him away.
“Okay then,” Joe said gruffly. He stuck out a loaf wrapped in aluminum foil. “Wife made pumpkin bread. Wanted to give you one since you were so generous with the staff donation this holiday.”
After a few more mundane exchanges, and appropriate enthusiasm about the baked goods, Xander bid the man farewell and slumped up against his closed door. “Yay,” he said weakly to the pumpkin bread. “No Spike at the door. Just innocent holiday yumminess.”
He paused, and then went back into the kitchen to get more hot coffee. “This is ridiculous,” he told himself under his breath, and put his hand on the receiver. Should he call Willow and ask her how he was supposed to handle this hunt thing? Or maybe he should just take her advice from last night -- go about his business, do whatever he was going to do over the next few days. Just try to ignore that someone was going to be trailing him, trying to take him down in some as yet unidentified manner. All righty then.
“Maybe, just maybe,” Xander told himself, “I should just get under the covers and hide.”
After a bit of cowering under his comforter, Xander had tried to treat the day like any normal day. He couldn’t really bring himself to leave the apartment for the early part of the day, however. Even though he might have done that anyway, just stayed home relaxing, it gave him the wiggins to think that his uncertainty about Spike was informing the decision.
Finally, the afternoon brought a responsibility he couldn’t shirk, and Xander left the apartment with some relief. As previously arranged with Buffy, he picked up Dawn at three p.m. when her school began its two-week long December break.
“Finally!” Dawn huffed with a grin when she reached his car. She tossed her backpack into the open trunk and planted a quick kiss on Xander’s cheek. When he gave her a big hug, she turned to smirk at the girls gathered on the steps. They looked suitably impressed at the sight of Dawn’s older “boyfriend.”
Xander absently opened the door for Dawn, scanning the area with darting eyes. No Spike here either. Well, that wasn’t so unusual, was it? Even the last few hours of winter daylight seldom sang a siren’s song to the vampire community. Still, Xander felt that Spike could have been there, if he’d wanted.
“So you’re out and on the streets until after New Year’s,” Xander remarked as they pulled away. “Must feel pretty good.”
“It does,” Dawn confirmed with a bounce as she waved merrily at the cheerleaders gathered at the front of the school. The Razorbackettes gaped openly at her and Xander.
Then she turned to Xander with a serious face as he steered them back onto the main road. “But the girls at stupid Kent Prep got out, like, two weeks ago. I guess so they can go to Aspen and Vail and stuff. Stupid Kent Prep girls.” Dawn sniffled injuriously. “Who wants to go to stupid Aspen, and ski with cute guys, and go to all the cool holiday parties, and hang out with rich jerks that have their own cars?” Dawn’s face became increasingly screwed up and reddened.
Xander rushed to avert the sudden mood swing with alacrity. He’d almost forgotten how fast she could change gears, and he very nearly complimented her on the dramatic shift before he caught himself. “Hey, who needs Aspen when you have your very own chauffeur to the mall? And a peppermint stick ice-cream sundae with your name on it at Walt’s Scoops -- my treat?”
“Ooooh,” Dawn breathed, her face brightening. “And then can we check out the puppies at the pet store? And will you come with me to the “Kickin’!” store and watch me try on hats? And maybe we can get you a sweater to uh, cover up that,” she gestured vaguely at the bright blue snow-flake covered tee Xander wore, “shirt?”
“Sure. Great. Anything,” Xander agreed, his eyes scanning the road.
“Hey, what’s up with you anyway?” Dawn asked. “You seem all ooky or something,” she pronounced as she hugged her arms to her chest.
“Uh, sorry Dawnie. . . Just a little distracted.”
“Oh yeah,” Dawn nodded. “How’s that whole hunt thing going?”
Xander gripped the wheel more tightly.
“It isn’t. I mean, I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything all day.”
“Huh,” she said thoughtfully.
“Huh,” he repeated. “What huh? There is no huh. What are you huh-ing about?”
“Nothing,” she said with wide eyes.
“What do you know?” he demanded.
“Listen, Xander, I have no idea what Spike has planned for you. . .”
“He has things planned for me?” Xander exclaimed.
“Hey! Keep your eyes on the road, buster,” Dawn shrieked.
Xander hurriedly turned his attention back to the road and righted the car so that it was no longer straddling two lanes. They drove for a few minutes in complete and utter silence.
Once Xander had pulled into a parking space at the mall and turned off the ignition, Dawn put her hand on his.
“Honestly? I have no idea what’s going to happen with it. But as long as you can’t get hurt -- Spike agreed, plus he couldn’t hurt you, plus Willow said he wouldn’t -- what’s the big?”
“I don’t like feeling that something’s going to happen and I don’t know what,” Xander scowled. “And just because he’s not supposed to hurt me doesn’t mean that he won’t. You may not realize this,” he said dramatically, “but I’m not as strong as I look.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. Come shopping and I’ll make you forget all about it!” Dawn replied cheerfully.
“Great,” Xander said morosely. “Shopping. Sore feet and the spending of my Christmas bonus on jeans you don’t need. Sounds swell.”
The trip to the mall proved uneventful, besides the new corduroys that Xander ended up buying Dawn. When he dropped her home, Buffy invited him in, and they ordered pizza.
They set up camp in the living room with dinner and snacks. Buffy lolled in the easy chair, already changed into her pajamas. Dawn stretched out on the floor, silent for a moment due to a mouth full of pepperoni and cheese. When “Frosty the Snowman” came on, they all unanimously voted it the worst of the Christmas specials, and then watched it avidly.
As the credits rolled, Xander relaxed into the couch and took a gulp of Coke.
“So. What’s happening on the hunt front?” Buffy inquired.
Xander choked and spit out his Coke.
“There’s nothing happening,” Dawn answered for him. “Spike’s been all mysterioso. Hasn’t shown up, hasn’t done anything to Xander yet.”
“ ‘Done anything to Xander’?” Xander asked in a whisper.
“Weird,” Buffy remarked. “You’d think he’d have tried something by now. Especially since he’s only got three more days before his hunt . . . er, gift . . . expires.”
Xander cowered into the cushions.
“Yeah,” Dawn replied nonchalantly. “He must really have something up his sleeve if he’s waiting this long to start up.”
“Okay! Stop right there! Stop with the hunt talk!” Xander put in hurriedly.
The girls looked at him, and then exchanged knowing looks with one another. Xander willfully ignored them and turned back to the comfort of his pizza slice.
While Xander munched away, Dawn jerked her head towards the stairs, and Buffy arched her eyebrows before nodding.
“We think you should stay here tonight,” Buffy said seriously. “You’re a little freaked, and you should hang with us until you feel better.”
“Okay,” Xander answered quickly. Why bother trying to play manly-man when he could have slayer-protection for the night? If nothing else, it would help him get a better night’s sleep instead of tossing and turning, wondering what was going on with the predator currently on his trail.
Xander snuggled under the covers in the Summers’ guest room. He flitted in and out of that weird space between dreaming and waking, vaguely registering the gray sky outside that indicated the sun would rise shortly. After a small sigh and a crack to his shoulders he turned on his side and scuttled back against the wall with a start. Because there, at the window, his face pressed to the glass . . . was Spike.
“Spike!” Xander shouted hoarsely. “Help!”
He heard a thump, a yelp, and a pounding of steps, and in less than two seconds, Buffy was at the doorway, stake in hand.
“What? Where? What?” she demanded. Her hand was already jerking up and down in a stabbing motion with the stake.
“There!” Xander cried out, pointing at the window. Where, of course, there was no longer a Spike visage pasted to the surface.
“Hang on,” she said wearily.
“No way,” Xander asserted himself. “I’m coming with.”
She waved him on wearily, and he followed her, though he couldn’t keep up with her flying run down the stairs. Before he got halfway down, she was back, standing in the entryway and yawning.
“No Spike,” she said simply.
“Maybe he ran away,” Xander proposed.
“Nah,” she said through another yawn. “No tingly slayer sense. No Spike. C’mon. I’ll make you oatmeal.”
“Spike was here, Buffy,” Xander said seriously.
Buffy looked at him for a moment, then nodded slowly. “Okay, Xander. If you say he was here. . . ”
The rest of the day was a replay of the early morning scenario. Only the locations and witnesses changed.
“Did you hear that?” Xander said to Willow as they walked down a quiet street together. Tara had very nicely but firmly made them leave the house so that she could meditate without their continual chatter.
“Nope,” Willow said. She skipped a little, happily, and linked her arm in Xander’s.
“I really think that Spike is following us,” Xander whispered to her. He brought her to a halt and held both her arms, turning her to face him. “Just listen, okay?”
Willow dutifully listened. But even Xander had to admit that the sound had stopped.
“How would Spike be following us down the middle of the street in broad daylight?” Willow asked reasonably. And of course Xander had zero snappy answers to that particular question.
“There. There!” Xander pointed at the flash of platinum blond. Giles looked dutifully. But there was no Spike in the hedges outside the supermarket. Xander gave up when Giles raised his eyebrows extra-high, and trudged inside to help with the shopping for the Christmas dinner the watcher insisted on hosting this year.
“Xander, whatever it is that Spike has planned for you, why do you imagine that he’d attempt to snatch you outside the grocer’s?” Giles inquired.
“I don’t know,” Xander said in frustration. “But I saw him.”
“Yes, yes of course,” Giles said absently. “Why don’t you fetch the non-perishables, and I’ll go select the fresh ingredients?”
“Damn it,” Xander hissed in the movie theater that evening.
“Spike?” Dawn asked with a knowing glance. A smile lurked on her face, but she was trying her damnedest not to laugh at him outright.
Xander opened his mouth, ready to point out that a familiarly-accented voice had been giving the characters onscreen advice loudly, but the comments had stopped.
“Oh, forget it,” Xander huffed, and tipped over the tub of popcorn out of pure spite.
Nothing. No one. No Spike anywhere. But Xander felt so sure that Spike was around, just out of sight, following him, watching him . . . Who cared, though, when no one believed him? Two days down already, and what the hell was Spike trying to pull?
“That’s just fine,” Xander said to himself as he got into bed. He’d refused to go back to Buffy’s, deciding that he certainly wasn’t interested in hiding from Spike any longer. He flipped over onto his stomach after switching off the light. “So he wants to follow me around but not be seen? Thinks he can freak me out with his weirdo holiday hunting tactics? Well, he’s got another thing coming. Because first thing tomorrow, I’m going to find him.”
Spike curled his lips into a menacing sneer. The hunt was going exactly as planned.
Well, not that he’d planned it this way, really, but it looked planned, and that was the important thing.
At Willow’s party, he’d briefly been carried away by the prospect of an actual hunt complete with attendant stalking, domineering, and at least some gesture at slaughtering. He’d no intentions of actually hurting Xander, mind you. He knew he was attracted to the boy, and it made little sense to give him a reason to fear Spike if in the process he wrecked any chance of being with Xander. On the other hand, going through the familiar paces would make for an experience neither of them would soon forget. And if it somehow let him be closer to Xander during those four days -- well, that would be a holiday gift in and of itself, no matter what the result.
Of course, the witch had explained easily that a hunt like that, without the resolution of the kill, wouldn’t hardly be worth the pursuit.
“Wouldn’t you rather,” she’d asked, “try a different kind of hunt? One that actually has a chance of concluding with some . . . uh, satisfying ending?”
So he’d listened carefully and not without surprise. He had worked to hide his feelings for Xander so carefully that he was sure no one knew a thing.
“Oh, come on Spike.” Willow had rolled her eyes. “Maybe I didn’t know for sure before tonight, but the ID bracelets you found for him -- his and Jesse’s -- I mean, no one would go to all that trouble unless he really cared about the other person.”
Spike started. “Okay, so maybe I do have some interest, but you only realized it because of the gift I gave him.”
Willow laughed. “I suspected. You’re not the most subtle vampire -- from the way you look at him, I figured out you were having lusty thoughts about Xander a while ago. But I thought it was just groiny-related, so I left it alone and let you think no one noticed. But if you really like him, want to be with him in both the sexy and non-sexy capacities . . . well, as weird as this sounds, I think that you two might actually be good for each other.”
At that point Willow had cleared her throat and shuffled some papers around her desk as though she were preparing her next statement. In reality, she was kindly waiting for Spike to stop opening and closing his mouth like a carp before she continued.
“Bright one, aren’t you?” he’d smirked, though the look on his face still betrayed some uncertainty. “Should have figured you’d be the one to guess what was happening.”
“So I think we understand each other then,” Willow said, leaning forward conspiratorially.
“Oh, yeah. Absolutely,” Spike said, nodding his agreement. After a moment, however, his eyes tightened in confusion. “What is it that we understand?”
Willow sighed quietly. “You like Xander. I happen to think Xander just might like you back, but he’s not so good at figuring this stuff out on his own. If I told him straight out right now how you feel, he’d be shocked. If you told him right now how you feel, he’d freak and run like a scared little bunny.”
“So what do I do then if I can’t -- ”
“You can use this ‘hunt’ as an excuse to warm him up to the idea of the two of you together. You know. Make him want to see you, do nice things for him, persuade him to recognize what’s been going on all along.”
Spike regarded her thoughtfully. “Sounds like we’re talking about an old-fashioned wooing. Like enough to a hunt anyway, isn’t it?”
“Something like that.” Willow smiled at him. “Think you can do it?”
“Can I!” Spike exclaimed. “I can, right?” he asked in a dubious tone.
“Yes. I have every confidence in you Spike. Now you go out there and get your man!” Willow said, pulling him out of the chair and turning him towards the door.
“Thanks for the pep talk, love,” Spike said as he paused at the threshold. “You really look out for the boy, don’t you?”
“I do, kind of,” she said with a wide grin. “And it’s a job that I recommend highly.”
Spike left that night feeling enormously pleased. Here was his chance to get Xander, in more ways than one.
By the time he arrived back at his crypt, however, he was frowning and kicking up chunks of grass in the cemetery out of spite. How was he supposed to go about this? Considering the problem all night left him with no more than different ways to ask the same question. Just what sort of tricks and strategies would enable him to pull Xander Harris into his arms at the end of four days?
“I’ve no bloody idea at all,” Spike muttered as the first beams of light shone dully through the crypt opening. “And I can’t very well go out and win the boy by making a Christmas kabob out of myself. Best to keep to the non-flammable indoors during the day. Should I begin tomorrow night then?”
He paced back and forth along the stone floor. “Should start small, and build up. That’s right, begin and . . . or sod all, bring out the big guns right away, and then . . .”
Spike paced himself into a kind of fury, then straight on into peevishness, and finally into the realm of pure exhaustion. He dropped down on the couch, still thinking, and didn’t wake until it was nearly daylight. Daylight of the next day.
When he did blink himself awake an hour before sunrise, he wanted to strangle himself for wasting an entire day. But there was no sense dwelling on the mistake. “Fine then. What’s done is done,” he reminded himself. “Best to come up with a new plan, move on with due speed.”
He pulled on his leather duster and began to move to the door. “I’ll just stop by his apartment then. Take a quick peek into the bedroom from the patio, and that’ll give me some ideas. Particularly seeing the boy all stretched out, tousled and luscious . . .” Spike drew in a sharp breath and growled. Why couldn’t he just be in that bed with him already? Stupid Xander. Having to be wooed and won.
But that moment of frustration was nothing compared to how he felt when he’d prowled around the balcony and didn’t find any signs of life in the apartment. He panicked, briefly imagining the terrible reasons why Xander might not be in his own bed. The obvious demonic explanations were quickly shunted for scenarios that inspired more jealousy than fear.
“Oh, well done,” he reproached himself. “One day and the boy’s clearly met someone else already. See what comes of indecision? Act first, I always say – that’s it, I’ve been blinded by feelings and let myself mope about like a poofter while some worthless sort made off with what’s mine.”
He threw one of the iron-wrought chairs off of Xander’s patio, vaguely pleased to hear one of the glass tables surrounding the deck of the pool smash into bits from the impact.
After a bit of stomping around, however, it occurred to him that he might as well check a few other places before the sun came up.
That’s how he came to have his face pressed against the Summers’ guest bedroom window, facing a shrieking Xander (who by the way looked quite scrumptious in boxers with jingle bells all over them). Sure, the scream had made him fall off the roof, but it had been worth it now that he realized what was happening. As he raced back to the crypt to avoid Buffy, he came to a most interesting conclusion.
Xander would likely have been startled any other time, but he’d jumped at that moment as though he were fearfully expecting Spike to pounce from any available corner.
“Must have been the full day that did it,” Spike said thoughtfully as he drew on his cigarette. “Expected something last night, but he got nothing. Saw me just now, and the build-up made him react more strongly than he would have otherwise.”
The pinking of the sky gave way to the sharp light of early dawn while Spike tapped the ashes away and considered his options. “Okay. He’s looking to see me . . . waiting for it . . . ” Spike smiled widely. “Oh, I’ll make him wait. I’ll make him want. When I’m through with him, he’ll come for me.”
The remainder of the day had been almost too easy. He’d popped up here and there, but always out of the boy’s sight and a little quick work with dusters and blankets had kept him mostly singe-free. Well, except for a nasty incident on his left hand when he’d leapt away to avoid discovery after nearly meeting Xander and Willow on the sidewalk.
By the next morning, his hand was healed for the most part, and he’d entertained himself through the early dawn by imagining all of the creative positions they could get into once the boy came around to his way of thinking.
“And now we wait,” Spike announced to his broken lamp, stumpy sputtering candles, and half-eaten pizza. He smirked, and thumped his heels against the stone post he sat upon.
Then he sighed. “Only trouble is, I do hate to wait. Like the boy, but he is slightly slow with this sort of thing.”
A small noise pricked his ears, and Spike tilted his head as it came near. Looked like the boy wasn’t so slow after all.
Xander burst into the crypt, all indignation and yumminess, wearing a dark red sweater with a cheery snowflake pattern splashed across the front.
“Well, well,” Spike said easily. “Look who’s here.” He flashed a look of smug satisfaction, mainly to cover his dismay at falling into such stock situation dialogue. Damn attractions of genre. What else was one supposed to say when the prey turned up at the lair?
“That would be me,” Xander said unnecessarily, and stopped. He screwed up his face and shook his head. “Just what the hell are you trying to pull, Spike? Did you think I wouldn’t see you there?”
“Wouldn’t see me where?” Spike asked with such genuine bewilderment that Xander looked doubtful in less than a second. “Here? I live here. Of course you’d find me in my home.”
“You know damn well what I’m talking about,” he said hotly, but he was starting to blush in a self-conscious manner at the same time.
“Can’t say as I do,” Spike returned. He paused to watch the flush creep over Xander’s face. Pretty, he thought almost dreamily. Then he shook himself, trying to focus on the matter at hand. “Why don’t you tell me all about it, pet? Have a seat.” Spike eased himself onto the couch and gestured for Xander to join him.
Xander sat and opened his mouth to begin his accusations.
“Croissant?” Spike offered.
“Croi-what?” Xander asked in confusion.
“Croissant.” Spike said slowly. “Baked things. The French eat them, I hear. And though you might know little about that, you do like things with butter and jam, don’t you?” He held out a plate of pastries that Xander hadn’t noticed until that moment.
“Uh . . . okay,” Xander said. He took one with only slight hesitation. “This wouldn’t be poisoned, would it?” he asked anxiously.
“Heavens no, pet,” Spike said. “Promised not to hurt you, remember?”
“Yeah,” Xander said. He chewed and looked confused.
“Coffee?” Spike offered with a quirk of his eyebrow. He pointed at Xander with a thermos and then waved it towards a set of mugs on the side table.
“What the . . . hey, I come over here to find out what’s happening, and you offer me continental breakfast?”
“Haven’t eaten yet, have you?” Spike asked. “Just go ahead . . . we’ll figure this all out together.” He patted Xander’s thigh reassuringly.
“Okay,” Xander said with an uncertain smile. He wasn’t really sure what was going on, but the coffee did smell really good. And Spike just seemed really friendly. After watching out for Spike’s tricks for two days, he felt overwhelmingly relieved to see him now. At least he could keep an eye on him for this day, maybe try to put an end to this stalker-y mind-game business.
Spike waited while Xander sipped his coffee. “What were you talking about earlier?” he asked with innocent curiosity.
“Oh, you know,” Xander said, waving his hand around vaguely. “Yesterday. The way you kept popping up, just out of my sight-line, and then disappearing to drive me crazy.”
“Now why would I do that?” Spike asked with wide eyes.
Xander faltered. “Um . . . to make me wig out?”
“What would be the point in that?” Spike asked. His befuddled glance played off Xander’s own expression as the boy appeared to grow more and more uncertain.
“That was you, right?” Xander took a gulp of coffee.
“Maybe you were imagining things?” Spike suggested. Best to keep answering the accusations and questions with questions of his own.
Xander turned away slightly and tried to think. He had been pretty worried since Willow’s party. Could it be that he’d somehow conjured the perception of Spike without Spike actually being around? He watched Spike out of the corner of his eye, but Spike looked kind of perplexed himself. Like he was trying to figure out what was happening with Xander. In kind of a cute befuddled manner, his blue eyes all agog. [And I did not just think that Spike looks cute] Xander told himself furiously. He turned back to face him.
“Okay, okay. I don’t know. Maybe some of it was my mind playing tricks on me. But you’re up to something. I know it. Hell, I agreed to it. Can’t you just tell me and then I can congratulate you on your good plan . . . and I can go back to just sleeping in and watching movies without stressing out over what you’re up to?”
“Surely you’ve figured everything out by now,” Spike said. He clapped Xander on the shoulder like he was congratulating him.
“No. I haven’t figured it out. I don’t get this,” Xander said slowly.
“Really?” Spike asked incredulously. “Well, I’m surprised, but I must say it’s made the whole thing much more amusing.”
At that Xander started up. “There! Now that’s the Spike I know. This amuses you? I’m upset -- I’m freaking out -- and you think it’s funny? Well, screw this, because I’m not playing your reindeer games any more!” He slammed down his mug of coffee, brushed the crumbs off his sweater, and marched indignantly out the door.
Spike set his mug down and swung his legs up on the couch. “Might as well have a nap,” he told himself. “He’ll be hunting me down again by evening for sure.”
Xander let himself back into his apartment and double-locked the door.
“Weirdness,” he said under his breath.
Okay, the only time he could say for sure he’d seen Spike was this morning -- and he’d been the one to seek Spike out instead of the other way around. “And now I’m being brunched by the evil undead? I can’t get a handle on this. Maybe I should just forget about this, go do regular stuff, like Willow said.”
Trouble was, now he couldn’t get his mind off of Spike. “Maybe he just hasn’t been hunting me at all. Kind of like getting a gift certificate that you don’t cash in on. Like if you get one for a store that has nothing you want.” Xander paused, remembering the wide-eyed looks the vampire had given him at the crypt. He shivered slightly. Spike had looked so sweet, so concerned . . . and what was up with that?
He puttered around the kitchen a little, trying to figure things out. He’d begun to flip through take-out menus when he had a new thought. “Wait a second. Does he think I’m not worth hunting or something? Like I’m not good enough prey for William the Bloody! That’s a real kick in the head. Hey, I’m just as enticing and alluring as the next victim. Maybe just because he can’t see it . . . ”
Xander grumped around the apartment and then decided to take a stand. “I’ll show him who’s a prize kill.”
The sky was darkened with dark blue wisps of clouds when Willow heard a banging on their door. She glanced at Tara, who only shrugged and went back to watching the “Year Without a Santa Claus”.
“Xander!” Willow exclaimed when she opened the door. Her best friend stood on the stoop with his eyes flashing and shoulders tensed.
“Where is he? Is he in here? Don’t tell me he left town. That’d be just like him!”
“Whoa, hey there,” Willow said. She grabbed Xander’s shoulders and tried to get him to focus. “Where is who?”
“God, Wills -- of course I mean Spike! Are you trying to mess with my mind?” Xander’s voice rose to a near-shriek, and Willow hastily pulled him inside.
“Look, just come in, and you’ll tell me all about it, ‘kay?” Willow nodded, hoping Xander would nod back.
“I don’t have time to fool around, Wills. He’s not at his crypt. He’s not at The Bronze. He’s not at the dump, or the movie theater, or Willy’s, or Giles’ apartment, or the gay bar down by the piers . . . ”
“You looked for Spike at a gay bar?” Tara bravely asked from her perch.
“Well, what else do you expect? It’s like he’s hiding under a rock!” Xander said. His voice was edged with frustration, and he leaned in conspiratorially. “You don’t think that he is hiding under a rock, do you?”
“Of course not!” Willow said. She searched his face for some kind of clue as to how she should handle this, but Xander had really worked himself into a state.
“I can’t stay, alright? If you don’t know what’s going on, I’ll find out myself.” Xander nodded decisively and rapidly retreated the way he had come.
Willow stared out the open door while Tara padded over, put her head on her shoulder and hugged her from behind with a tender squeeze.
“I’d have thought for sure that Spike would be the one asking where Xander is. You know, I don’t get those boys,” Willow said.
“Well hey, don’t ask me to explain boys,” Tara said with a funny voice, and Willow giggled.
“Ah ha!” Xander said loudly.
Spike looked up from his coffee. The quizzical look on his face threw Xander for a moment, but then he remembered that he wasn’t letting Spike get away with not hunting him. So he said “Ah ha!” again, despite some odd looks from the other patrons of the Espresso Pump.
“What, then?” Spike asked. He laid down his spoon and picked up his mug with deliberate motions.
“Ah ha?” Xander asked in a wavering voice.
“You said that already. Can I help you with something?” Spike asked.
“No. No way. No way do you get to back out of this, Spike. If you’re trying to make me feel inadequate, well, I won’t let you. I refuse to let you give up on this hunt.”
Spike smiled into his coffee. “What convinces you that I’ve given up?”
Xander gestured at Spike and then pointed at himself. “I had to come here to find you. I’d say that if you’re going through with this like you said you would, it should be the reverse, right? You’ve got me thinking about where you are, what you’re doing, what you’re thinking . . . cripes, it’s like I’m stalking you.” He shook his finger at Spike furiously. “And you’re supposed to be the one stalking me!”
“Well, one would think,” Spike remarked thoughtfully.
Xander paced back and forth. Spike watched.
“That’s it,” Xander said at last. “You’re coming with me.”
“What? Hey!” Spike shouted in protest. Xander hauled him up off the chair and stumbled him out of the café. “What gives?”
“Shut up,” Xander said a little hysterically. “We’ll talk when we get back to my apartment. Then you can explain yourself all you want.”
“Oh, you bet I will,” Spike said in what was meant to be a sharp tone. But though Xander couldn’t imagine why, it sounded like a very satisfied purr.
“Okay,” Xander said, giving Spike a little shove in the direction of his couch. It was well past midnight, the fourth day of the “hunt” and he still didn’t know what was going on. He was damned if he wasn’t going to find out right now, though. He gestured at Spike impatiently. “You. Sit.”
“Look at you, being all masterful,” Spike crooned, and Xander “hmph”ed.
“Just be quiet and sit down. I mean, sit down and talk. Don’t be quiet,” Xander amended. “Explain yourself.”
“I’d be more than happy to explain whatever you like,” Spike assured him. “If you could just provide the topic, I’ll explain until the twelfth day of Christmas.”
Xander took a deep breath. “You’re trying to drive me crazy.”
Spike paused. “You know, I’m really not.”
“What are you trying to do then?” Xander asked in a plaintive tone.
Xander had edged closer, his eyes desperate as he searched Spike’s face for the answer to his question. Spike found himself lost in those rich brown eyes momentarily. Well, he thought to himself, might as well go in for the kill.
He reached out and pulled Xander to him, bringing their mouths together with a sudden movement. Xander jumped slightly then went still. Spike kept up a soft pressure, gently sliding his lips over Xander’s in a teasing movement. Xander said “oh!” right into his mouth, and after a few more moments of brushing lips and Spike nibbling at him, he parted his lips and flicked his tongue into Spike’s mouth experimentally. Spike moaned appreciatively, and attempted to draw him closer, but Xander stopped, and retreated.
Xander raised his hand to his mouth and stared. He unconsciously began rubbing his lower lip, and Spike decided he didn’t want to wait any longer for everything to sink in.
He stood, and held out his hand.
“What?” Xander asked with wide eyes.
“Where are we going?”
“To your bedroom.”
Xander leaned back and forward so quickly that Spike thought for a moment the boy would pass out cold. Then he got to his feet, looking down at the ground shyly.
“When did this happen?” Xander said to the carpet.
“What?” Spike leaned forward to try to catch his words.
“You know. You wanting to, uh . . . get all kissy and go to bed with me.”
“What do you think this has been about from the start?” Spike asked.
“This?” Xander asked in a small voice, gesturing back and forth from himself to Spike.
“This,” Spike confirmed, grasping Xander’s extended hand gently.
“Oh,” Xander said. He rocked on his feet like he was still dazed by this announcement.
“Just . . . be still.” Spike spoke softly, but with a firm tone. Xander shivered a little, then nodded.
Spike reached out a hand a lightly slid his fingers over Xander’s chest. He looked up inquiringly. Xander met his eyes in a kind of a fog, seemingly urging more explanation. But when Spike held out both his hands this time, Xander slipped his own in, and Spike led him walking backwards so that Xander could see him the whole time, see that he meant him no harm.
After quickly shucking his duster and shirt, Spike carefully slid Xander’s sweater up over his head. Xander’s thick brown hair ruffled when he was left in just his t-shirt, and his dark eyes shone with confusion and something more.
“What did -- ” he began, but Spike kissed him again so hungrily that he couldn’t help but urge him closer, running his hands through the blonde hair that should have been brittle but was soft and silky instead.
“You like this?” Spike asked as he drew back, sliding kisses along Xander’s neck and thumbing over one of Xander’s nipples through the thin material of the t-shirt.
“Yes,” Xander said in a hiss. He tugged Spike down on the bed next to him, sighing as Spike slipped his hands under his t-shirt and eased it off.
Spike nuzzled and licked the rose-brown nipples, biting lightly back up Xander’s chest and edging their bodies together point-to-point until they were rocking into one another, grasping at buttons and belts and fabric until there was only skin between them.
Small needy sounds emerged from Xander as he tried to move and mold and shape himself to fit Spike’s body. “I . . . god, Spike . . . I’ve never . . . ”
“Nice,” Spike said quietly. “Those sweet little moans . . . all for me?”
Xander gasped and nodded. Spike’s words contributed to his speechlessness just as much as the pressure of their erections rubbing together. But his gesture seemed answer enough, for Spike crooned at him, taking his wrist and drawing over it with blunt teeth before licking and sucking there.
“Oh, man,” Xander said softly as Spike locked eyes with him and continuing his biting and sucking motions up Xander’s arm.
“Lovely,” Spike whispered, and Xander couldn’t tell if he meant this, whatever this was, was lovely, or if he was calling Xander lovely. Either way . . . he blushed, and Spike nuzzled closer, running his hands over Xander’s warm, bright skin.
“Wait.” Xander panted as Spike’s hands gripped his hips and turned them over to that he was lying on top of Xander. “Wait just a second. What was up with those croissants?”
Spike paused, and then wriggled slightly, making Xander’s whimper. “Breakfast?” Xander whimpered again, but still managed to look slightly stern. “Oh, all right, they were part of my grand plan to seduce you.”
Xander turned disbelieving eyes on him. “I freaked out wondering what you would do to me for days, and you basically you went out and bought yummy baked things. And I kind of did the rest of the work. I mean, seduction-wise.”
“I suppose you did make it rather easy for me,” Spike said with a silky voice, skimming Xander’s sides with a ghosting motion that made the man beneath him shiver. “But neither one of us really did the seduction work, did we? I . . . wanted you, but you didn’t realize . . . ”
“Starting to realize,” Xander said slowly, his incredulous look softening as he gazed at Spike. Spike smiled at him, moving down slightly and beginning to stroke Xander’s thighs. “So you . . . oh god . . . you planned . . . This hunt was all about . . . ” Xander trailed off in a moan.
“Beautiful,” Spike murmured as he brushed his cheek against Xander’s abdomen. He looked up to see Xander regarding him anxiously, and he planted a kiss on each of Xander’s hipbones before meeting his eyes once more. “It was about making you mine, pet. And that didn’t begin just a few days ago. That plan has been going on for quite some time. The last few days . . . ”
“Were kinda like . . . ”
“Speeding things up a little. Drawing you in. Making you see how very badly I wanted you,” Spike finished quietly.
Xander reached down and stroked Spike’s cheek. His eyes were wide and dark. “Spike . . . can we just . . . ”
“Talk about this in the morning?” Spike finished for him, and they grinned at each other.
Xander pulled him back up and they kissed again, harder and more desperately this time.
“Um . . . merry Christmas, Spike,” he said shyly.
“And Happy Holidays to you too, pet,” Spike grinned, diving back in to kiss Xander back into distraction.
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