Era/season/setting: Post-series, no comics
Summary: ‘Tis the season at the Slayer Academy, and the night is dark and full of terrors. Join Buffy, Spike, and the rest of the Scoobies for monsters, (mostly) chronologically-appropriate pop culture references, and just a bit of smut. Takes place about three months after the main events of Liebestod, but can be read as a standalone if you ignore the handful of references to preceding events and Spike being randomly human-ish.
A/N: The bit with the tree is a mini ode to another (spectacular!) holiday fic: OffYourBird's "A Different Kind of Christmas"
Dawn had meant to go to sleep. Her head was throbbing and her arms and legs felt like lead. But now that she was actually in bed, sleep was proving uncooperative. She drifted off for a while, then laid staring up at the ceiling. A couple of hours later, she was ready to scream. Throwing the blankets off in a huff, she rose and wrapped herself in a robe. Maybe there was still pizza left in the kitchens downstairs.
She padded down the hall of the old dormitory wing. These were some of the first rooms they’d converted into living quarters upon taking over the building. They were nicer, with their own bathrooms. These days, they belonged to the Scoobies and a few of the older Slayers who had not gone out into the field. She thought she heard some commotion emanating from Buffy’s room down the other end of the hall, but did not dwell on the matter. It was not unusual to hear commotion in Buffy’s room—Dawn suspected that Spike was inevitably involved, one way or the other. Instead, Dawn continued down the hallway towards the stairs. The dim nightlights provided just enough illumination for her to find her way.
She was just contemplating the likely remaining choice of pizza toppings when she stopped dead in her tracks. A hulking shape loomed ahead. She squinted her eyes against the murky dim light—was it… a horse? It looked like it, but there was something off about it. Off in a way that went beyond the fact that the thing was standing on the second floor of the school’s dormitory wing. Dawn edged closer, despite her better judgement. It wasn’t quite black, more like a dirty grey, and its back jutted up at an odd angle. It was then that the stench hit her. It smelled like death.
The thing turned its head and looked square at her with glimmering eyes. It had no ears—just black holes, gaping.
“Jesus!” Dawn screeched.
Behind her a door slammed open. She looked back and saw Buffy stumble out, eyes wild, as she struggled to wrap a robe around herself. Spike followed not far behind, sweatpants tugged up high enough to be decent just in the nick of time.
“What is it, Dawnie?” Buffy called, an edge of panic in her voice.
“There’s a—” Dawn whirled around but the hulking shape was gone. “—a horse,” she finished somewhat lamely. Somehow that didn’t really capture it.
“A horse?” Spike stared at her.
“I mean—we just shoved a fifty-ton cat off your chest, so—” Buffy shrugged at him, looking distinctly unnerved.
Any further conversation about their unexpected nocturnal menagerie was cut off by a deafening clatter from downstairs.
“Jesus-fucking-Christ!” a voice that could only be Xander’s echoed from the direction of the kitchens.
They bolted downstairs to discover Xander in the school’s industrial kitchen, cornered by what appeared, for all intents and purposes, to be the living dead. Three of them. Their blueish flesh, swollen with clotted blood, was patchy and there were several places where it had peeled away entirely to expose bone. The smell was stifling.
“Gahhh! Kill it! Kill it with fire!” Xander yelled as he swung an empty pizza box at the encroaching shapes.
Buffy and Spike reacted immediately. Apparently taking Xander’s advice to heart, Buffy grabbed a stack of dishtowels and stuck them on top of the gas range as she twisted the nob. As the cloth burst into flame, Spike was ready. Spearing a fiery dishtowel with the point of a hefty chef’s knife, he flung it at one of the creatures. The thing shrieked, convulsed, and crumpled into the floor as the flames consumed its withered body.
Its comrades, however, had caught on. They abandoned Xander and charged at Buffy and Spike. Spike reached for the bread knife, moving at lightning speed to repeat his maneuver with a second flaming towel. Buffy, for her part, was forced to emulate his strategy with the use of a spatula. Fortunately, between the advantages of Slayer strength and the fact that the final creature was by this time close enough to be greedily chomping at her face, she was able to successfully ram the flame-wreathed utensil down the thing’s undead throat.
Three smoldering piles of flesh thus lay scattered on the tile floor. Regrettably, setting them on fire had not improved the smell. Dawn, who had been observing the scene from the periphery of the room, coughed and gagged, stumbling back out towards the hallway.
She was met by a frazzled-looking Giles and Willow. Andrew and several Slayers of diverse sizes peered around the corner at the other end of the hall.
“What’s going on?” Willow asked breathlessly. “We heard—”
“Zombies!” Xander yelled in reply, then shuffled back and forth a bit, dropping the pizza box and turning to Buffy and Spike. “Right? I mean, those are definitely in the zombie family—”
Buffy nodded warily. “Something weird is going on, guys. Dawn saw—” she looked at her sister uncertainly, “—a horse? But, like, upstairs. And I woke up to find Spike being smothered by this crazy cat that weighed, like, a ton. We barely got it off of him.”
“It wasn’t just a horse,” Dawn added. “It smelled straight-up dead, and its back was all hunched and weird, and—” she shivered, “it had no ears.”
“This sounds like a book thing,” Willow said, inclining her head towards Giles. “Do we have books on zombies that travel with pets?”
“As I thought,” Giles declared triumphantly about half an hour later. “A revenant.”
“A whattanant?” Buffy looked at him, bleary-eyed.
She was flipping, with torturous slowness, through one of the books in front of her. Digitizing the Council’s library was an ongoing project—they just had to be careful not to scan any more demons into the internet. The Slayers had been shepherded off back to bed, but the rest of the group now sat in the library. It was edging up towards early morning, but the sky outside showed no real sign of lightening as the frigid storm continued to rage.
“A revenant,” Giles repeated. “It’s a sort of corporeal ghost.”
“So, not zombies?” Xander asked skeptically.
“Not quite,” Giles confirmed. “Zombies aren’t sentient. Generally, they’re raised and controlled by a necromancer. The revenant, or the draugr as it’s sometimes called, is a self-animated undead creature.”
“So, like a vampire?” Buffy asked curiously. “Suddenly I’m finding myself really appreciating vampire hygiene—‘cause, man, did these guys reek.”
“Not like a vampire,” Spike piped in, looking a bit defensive. “Vampires are animated by a demonic essence, yeah? These buggers—it’s just magic. Doesn’t keep ‘em quite as well preserved.”
Giles nodded in confirmation. “They are, however, more powerful in their own ways. Revenants have quite a few magical abilities—shapeshifting, seeing into the future, affecting the weather—” He cast a meaningful glance at the swirling snow outside.
“You’re saying that’s why it’s all snowpocalypsey outside?” Buffy asked warily. “Wait—this isn’t an actual apocalypse, is it?”
“Winter is coming,” Andrew mumbled, his eyes twinkling with wild understanding.
“Winter’s bloody here, mate,” Spike looked at him, perplexed. “You been outside lately?”
“Oh, he’s just going on about those books,” Xander explained in nerderly comradery. “The ‘Ice and Fire’ ones. They’ve got magical ice zombies too. Although, kudos to us, I’m pretty sure ours are scarier as usual.”
Giles cleared his throat. “Yes, erm, quite. I’m not sure this fully amounts to an apocalypse, but—” he paused, and thought for a second. “Oh, bloody hell—it’s the twenty-first, isn’t it?”
The others looked at each other blankly, clearly aware neither of the present date nor of its potential significance. Only Spike and Willow seemed to be looking at Giles with understanding now.
“The solstice,” Willow said.
“The bloody solstice,” Spike confirmed. Buffy shot him an interested glance. “‘Tis the season,” he shrugged at her.
“Indeed,” Giles said, closing his book. “Though I must admit, I’m not certain why we would be targeted. Typically, such spirits prey on the young and the sick—”
“I mean, we’ve got a building crammed full of the supernatural,” Willow offered. “Witches, and Slayers, and—well, whatever Spike is these days. Maybe it just seems like the place to party.”
“Uh-huh,” Buffy said skeptically. “Well, I didn’t sign up to host the zombie jamboree—how do we tell them to pack it up?”
“I mean, traditionally, people would have taken precautionary measures against this kind of stuff,” Willow said. “I guess we could start there.”
“Great,” Buffy perked up, clearly encouraged by the prospect of a tangible plan. “Precautionary measures. Like what?”
Willow thought for a second. “Well, mistletoe, for one—”
“You’re kidding.” Buffy stared at her.
“No, no,” Giles chimed in. “It’s quite true. We’d best get a Yule log or two, as well.”
“Better spring for a tree, too,” Spike added. “And some garlands maybe.”
“We are still talking about zombie-banishing methods, right?” Xander asked uncertainly. “Because it sounds an awful lot like you all have switched to decorating for Christmas—”
“They’re not zombies, Xand,” Willow explained patiently. “And, I mean, it’s not Christmas stuff—not really̦—it’s more seasonal. Stuff that people have been doing for a while around the winter solstice. To ward off ghosts, and monsters, and whatnot.”
“Waaait,” Buffy interjected. “I’m not buying this. You’re sure you don’t have your holidays mixed up? Ghosts and monsters…I mean, don’t those go with pumpkins and hay bales and stuff—and, like, a month and a half ago?”
“Nah,” Spike shook his head. “Halloween’s a harvest festival—that and a time for ancestor spirits to come a’visitin’. It’s why demons take the night off. More trouble than it’s worth to go stirring up mayhem just then. Ancestors can be right fierce protectors. Yule’s where the horrors live— ghosts and hellhounds and the walking dead—that’s the true spirit of bloody Christmas.”
“Huh.” Dawn had been listening to this exchange from one of the neighboring armchairs, arms wrapped tightly around her knees. “That doesn’t really jive with all the cookies, and presents, and twinkly lights, does it? And Jesus, I guess. Weird—”
“Not so strange,” Spike shrugged. “Folk back in my day had a better sense of it—before the post-industrial lot came along with their soddin’ Hallmark Santas and their plastic mangers and piled the whole thing up into one religiously-fraught, consumer-driven mess. Like Dickens and his Christmas ghosts, yeah?”
“I guess I did always feel like the Nutcracker was darker than everyone made it out to be,” Buffy mused. “Alright, well, let’s get our halls decked.”
Giles had correctly recalled that there was a place just by the University that sold Christmas trees. Unfortunately, driving had been decidedly out of the question. No one was even bothering to plow the roads anymore and the snow had piled up considerably. And so, Buffy and Spike had set out on foot. It was only a couple of miles but, in the present weather, it had proved to be rough going.
“Remind me again why we’re doing this?” Buffy shouted over the howling wind.
“Evergreens, love,” Spike returned, as though this was sufficient explanation.
“Bugger if I know.” He might have shrugged, but it was impossible to tell under all the layers he was wearing at this point. “Some magical dross about eternal life. Should’ve asked Red.”
Eventually, they spotted the whited-out silhouette of a large Georgian farmhouse off in the distance. Buffy suspected that, this time of year, the place’s “Christmas Barn” would have normally been bustling with activity. As it was, rows of trees were stacked neatly against the stone walls, covered over with a thick layer of fresh-fallen snow. The shop, unsurprisingly, was closed and the grounds appeared to be utterly deserted.
Buffy jiggled the doorknob in frustration. “Goddamn it.” She sighed, twisted the knob violently, and shoved. The door swung open. Spike was looking at her, rather impressed. “We’ll leave money,” she said. “No way am I going back emptyhanded at this point.”
Fortunately, the shop appeared to have everything they needed—logs and garlands and holly aplenty. Buffy began gathering a pile on the floor, but Spike eyed it with dissatisfaction.
“Don’t tell me there’s no fucking mistletoe.”
Buffy picked up a sprig of holly. “Isn’t this it?”
He rolled his eyes dramatically. “Bloody hell, Slayer. Really?”
Squinting, he surveyed the store. There were several baskets filled with greenery in the corner but, upon closer inspection, none seemed to contain the desired product. Mumbling something under his breath about bloody amateurs, Spike went to rifle around on the other side of the counter. Behind him Buffy let out a sudden laugh.
“You gonna help?” Spike eyed her with growing frustration.
“Come here,” she grinned at him. He only glared, so she walked over and tugged him by the elbow. “Come.”
Spike was looking downright mutinous as she dragged him over to the shop’s entrance. “What’re you doing? Can’t leave without all of our anti-beastie décor, can we?”
“We’re not leaving,” she smiled again, pulling him against her. “Look—” her eyes traveled upwards. “We walked in right under it.”
He followed her gaze to the space right above them where, tied into a bushel and hung from the ceiling, dangled a mass of what was most assuredly mistletoe. Spike glanced back down to find Buffy looking at him expectantly.
“Well?” she said.
There was a playful innocence in the glimmer of her eyes and his expression softened in response.
“Didn’t need to drag me under the mistletoe, love,” he said, dipping his head to brush his nose against hers.
“I mean,” she replied, “we already invited in a bunch of zombies by not decorating in time. I’m thinking it’s better to follow tradition.”
He smiled, then pressed his lips to hers gently. When Buffy shivered, she wasn’t sure whether it was the lingering cold or the unexpected rush of affection that this gesture had pulled up from deep inside her. She wasn’t entirely certain she had actually kissed anyone under the mistletoe before. Who’d have thought it would be Spike?
“Better grab a few of these,” he said when he pulled away. “I’ll wager they should go over all the entrances, at least. Mayhaps next time you corner me under one, we won’t both be bundled up in ten bloody layers.” He looked thoughtfully at the pile of logs and greenery. “Wanna find a sack to carry this lot? I’ll duck back outside and see if I can rustle up a tree—”
“You are not picking the tree without me,” Buffy blurted, clearly scandalized at very possibility of such a thing.
Spike eyed her with amusement. “Knew you must have been secretly hankering for all this nonsense—how did we even get this far without decorating?”
She shuffled her feet. “Everyone’s been pretty burnt out, I think. And I figured you wouldn’t really be the Christmas-decorating type. I was kinda banking on Dawn to lead the charge eventually—”
He chuckled a bit at that. “Bit’s been dropping hints for a while. Fancies herself too grown to say it outright, I’ll wager.” He kissed her again. “Let’s find you a tree, love.”
Spike would come to regret allowing Buffy to take charge of the tree-selection process. Much to his consternation, she had immediately set her sights on the biggest one in the lot.
“In for a penny, in for a pound, eh?” he’d looked at her in resignation.
“I mean, we’re gonna have to drag it all the way back, anyway,” she’d said. “Might as well be worth it. Plus, the bigger the tree, the more zombie-repelling power, right?”
“Not sure it works that way, pet,” he’d replied. “But what do I know.”
Getting the tree back to the school over two snow-covered miles had proved to be the least of their troubles. Cold, exhausted, and not wanting to drag the thing all the way around to the front entrance, they’d tried the back door. Unfortunately, this was a mistake that would not be easily reversed.
“Just jam it in, Spike,” Buffy huffed in frustration.
The tree had made it about halfway through the door before becoming decidedly stuck. Any attempt to reverse course was met with the crackle of breaking branches.
“That’s what she said,” mumbled Xander, who was surveying the situation with the look of a man who did not want to fix a broken door on this particular day.
Spike shot her an expressive leer. “I know that usually works, Slayer, but I’m thinking this situation calls for a more delicate touch.”
“God, why did I ever agree to let you try going in through the back—” she tugged at the trunk of the tree impatiently.
There was another quiet mutter from Xander.
“You just keep ‘em coming, love,” Spike grinned at her, amusement overcoming irritation.
“I’ll go get Willow,” Xander declared. “Maybe once she’s done blessing the Yule logs, she can shrink it or teleport it or something.”
Teleportation did the trick. So much so that it made Buffy wonder why they’d had to drag the damn thing all this way on foot to begin with. It was decidedly dark by the time that they finally swept the carpet of needles out onto the porch and shut the door. Buffy paused to look out at the snow-covered courtyard. It was still coming down, wind howling fiercely as ever. Was it just the wind—or did she hear voices somewhere out there in the swirling gray tempest? She looked down from the churning snow-streaked sky just in time to see a large black shape dart across the street. Shivering, she stepped inside and bolted the door. Whatever was out there, she was in no mood to slay it.
Inside, the atmosphere was distinctly merrier. The remaining Slayers had been assigned the task of draping evergreen garlands upon every imaginable surface. The common room contained the building’s largest fireplace, where one of the Yule logs now burned and crackled with far greater intensity than should have been physically possible, given its size. Not far away, Spike and Xander were engaged in a valiant battle with the tree.
“Can’t you just levitate it upright, Wills?” Xander huffed.
Willow gave him a shrug from the other end of the room, where she was occupied with hanging mistletoe over the door. “Maybe if things get very dire—no unnecessary magical shortcuts, remember?”
“Oi, Slayer,” Spike called through a faceful of needles. “Wanna come over here and help? Wager you’re just small enough to crawl under and bolt this bugger into the tree stand without turning into a hedgehog.”
Buffy, who had just entered the room, curled her lip in his general direction. “Get Andrew to do it.”
“Don’t think the boy would survive if this monstrosity fell on him,” Spike returned, an edge of frustration in his tone. “Hop to it, now—you’re the one that wanted the biggest damn tree in the place. Made your own bed, you did.”
Buffy sighed and relented. She supposed he was right, after all.
An hour later, all halls had been duly decked and everyone had dispersed themselves around the roaring fire in the hearth. Buffy and Spike sat together in one of the oversized armchairs, a little off from the rest of the group. Buffy snuggled deeper into the crook of Spike’s arm as she watched Dawn chatting up one of the younger Watchers-in-training while surreptitiously edging him closer to the mistletoe-laden doorway.
“Bit’s turning into quite the femme fatale,” Spike commented. Buffy looked up to see his gaze trained in the same direction as hers had been moments before. “This is baby Watcher number four, is it?”
“I think this one’s the best so far,” Buffy replied. “The other three were a little too—I don’t know—macho snooty, or something.”
Spike chuckled. “I suppose there’s a type, isn’t there? Young blokes who fancy themselves occultists? Tend to have their heads a little too far up their own arses.”
“And here I thought it was just the Britishness,” Buffy grinned up at him.
He gave her a mock disapproving glare before nipping playfully at her ear. “Suppose there’s a touch of that too. Rupes keeps talking about taking this thing full-on international, doesn’t he? Decentralizing power, down with colonialism, and all that? Maybe Bit will have more luck down in Uruguay or some such.”
“Well, hopefully this one sticks for a little while,” Buffy frowned. “I think we’re close to bottom-of-the-barrel territory here.”
“Could always start dating vampires,” he shrugged. “Someone’s gotta carry on the Summers tradition.”
Something in his tone told her in no uncertain terms that he was trying to get a rise out of her. Spike didn’t seem to miss being a vampire, exactly. If he was anything, it was adaptable. But Buffy wondered sometimes if he thought she missed it—that ever-apparent demon within him.
“Nah,” she replied evenly. “Dawn’s human. She needs someone human, or close enough to. Some nice, non-immortal kind of demon maybe—there was some kid at Anya’s wedding she really hit it off with.”
She felt him shift against her in a vaguely surprised kind of way. “A nice demon, eh?”
Buffy rolled her head back against Spike’s shoulder. “You know what I mean. It’s taken me a while to get here, but there’s no sense in pretending the lines aren’t fuzzy at this point. Hell, I’d much rather Dawn dated a demon than Warren.”
“Not a vampire though.”
She turned her head to nuzzle against his collarbone. “She needs someone who can match her, Spike. We all do.”
“You’re not human,” he said softly. Then corrected himself—“Not just human, anyway. Not the regular kind.”
There it was. She didn’t move. “You’re not either,” she said.
“Don’t know what I am.”
“Well, that works out. Given that I don’t really know what I am either at this point.” She looked up at him then, eyes clear. “If anything, I’d be willing to bet some of Giles’ money on the fact that we’re probably more or less the same thing. Whatever that is.”
The corners of his mouth lifted a bit as he looked off into the fire. She took in the sight of him, with his wind-swept, two-toned curls and his cheeks just a bit pink from where the snow and the frost had lashed against them.
“You and me, then,” he finally said. His voice was quiet—soft.
“You just figured that out?” She shifted against him. The movement was half-cuddle, half-jab.
“For how long, do you think?”
It was barely above a whisper. And for good reason, Buffy supposed. It was a loaded question—she could only imagine what it had taken for him to actually put it into words. She bit her lip. He wasn’t looking at her—was still gazing off into the dancing flames. But she could tell there was a bit of a hitch in his breathing.
She didn’t drop her eyes, as much as she wanted to. “For as long as it works?” she said after a while.
She wasn’t sure how she’d expected him to respond to that. He did glance at her now, intently and judiciously. “And it’s working now?”
“What about last week when you got all brassed off over me scaring all the bitty Slayers with that vampire diet business?”
“We’re here, aren’t we?
“And the time before that when I almost wrung your neck over you not telling me until the last minute you wanted to go after that Polgara nest?”
“That’s why it works, Spike.” He nodded, but didn’t seem fully satisfied. “Look,” she sighed, “if there’s one thing I know about you, it’s that you don’t give up. You don’t leave. Which is way more than I can say for any of the other men in my life. That’s a big deal to me—but I’m also not sure that swearing to cling on to something ‘til death do us part and all that is the healthiest way to go. Not if it’s making us both miserable.”
He studied her for another moment and then nodded again. “Fair enough.”
He moved to shift his gaze back to the fire, but she stopped him with a steady hand on his cheek. “I’m all in,” she said. “You and me.”
He dipped his head to kiss her as he pulled her tighter against him. His other hand reached for the woolen blanket draped over their knees and tugged it higher. Moments later, she felt the same insistent hand worming its way under her sweater.
“Spike—” She shot him a glance that tried and failed to be disapproving.
“Don’t fuss, love,” he smiled down at her. “Not planning anything horribly indecent.” Deft fingers brushed over her nipple through the lace of her bra.
“Just mildly indecent, then?” she smirked.
“Just a jiff.”
“Well, okay,” she replied, relaxing against him. His hand was gently kneading her breast now and her eyes dropped closed as she savored this secret bit of intimacy. No one was paying them any attention, after all.
“Still can’t wrap my head ‘round the notion that I get to hold you every day,” he murmured into her hair. “To touch you—wake up next to you—”
She tilted her head to kiss the underside of his jaw. “You know I feel the same way, right?” she said softly. “I mean, I know it wasn’t always—but after everything—everything we’ve been through. What we have now. I never thought—you know me, Spike. And I know you.” His fingers tightened on her nipple and she stifled a tiny moan. “You keep doing that and we’ll have to move this party upstairs.”
“That what you want, love?” His voice was a bit hoarse.
“Not yet,” she said. His fingers relented. She leaned her head against his chest, eyes focused on the tree’s twinkling lights. “I like it down here. It’s cozy.”
Outside, the storm looked apocalyptic as ever. But that hardly seemed to matter now. The scent of fresh pine needles drifted on the warmth emanating from the fireplace. It occurred to Buffy that maybe there was something to all the seasonal lore after all—everything about the feel of the room now seemed totally antithetical to earless horses and ice zombies. Inside the walls of the school, all was merry and bright.