Santa Claws by Lilachigh
Summary: Updated summary: Christmas has come and gone in Sunnydale, Buffy has told everyone about her feelings for Spike. But the little boy, Eric, is now at the centre of her attentions.
Categories: General NC-17 Fics Characters: None
Genres: Romance
Warnings: Adult Language, Sexual Situations
Series: None
Chapters: 19 Completed: Yes Word count: 42664 Read: 25575 Published: 11/27/2005 Updated: 09/02/2014

1. Chp 1 Going Alone by Lilachigh

2. Chp 2 An Ancient Enchantment by Lilachigh

3. Chp 3 One Little Step by Lilachigh

4. Chp 4 Red Mist Closing by Lilachigh

5. Chp 5 Breaking Through by Lilachigh

6. Chp 6 Consequences by Lilachigh

7. Chp 7 Green eyes by Lilachigh

8. Chp 8 One wrong word by Lilachigh

9. Chapter 9 Morning Blues by Lilachigh

10. Chapter 10 Let him go! by Lilachigh

11. Chapter 11 by Lilachigh

12. Chapter 12 Like....forever by Lilachigh

13. Chapter 13 Anger Management by Lilachigh

14. Chapter 14 Their blood by Lilachigh

15. Chapter 15 Parenting by Lilachigh

16. Chapter 16 Alarm Bells by Lilachigh

17. Chapter 17 Intervention by Lilachigh

18. Chapter 18 Pressure by Lilachigh

19. Chapter 19 Showdown by Lilachigh

Chp 1 Going Alone by Lilachigh
Author's Notes:
First chpt. I love this time of the year and I love Buffy and Spike at this stage of their relationship. I do wish they’d shown more of Christmas in the series.
Santa Claws

by Lilachigh

Chapter 1 - Going Alone

Buffy was being strangled - tight wire wrapped round her neck, tangling her arms as he fought to free herself! She couldn’t get her balance and the more she fought, the more she swayed and choked and -

“Buffy!” The shriek from her sister hurt the inside of her ears. “You’re going to fall off that ladder. Don’t break the Christmas lights. I love them. Mom bought them.”

Buffy defeated the lights with a vicious tug and stared out at the living-room as it swam back into vision through the tangles of golden hair that had fallen in front of her eyes.

“Oh sure, Dawnie. I’ll be very careful. Why don’t you put the lights on the tree? Be good practice for when you grow up and have a home of your own and I can come for Christmas and criticise everything!”

“I’m sorting out the music. We can’t have all these old tunes playing at the party. And why haven’t you put the fairy on top of the tree? You know I love her. Mom and me - ”

“Bought her,” Buffy finished the sentence for her, sighing. Of course Dawn hadn’t been with their mother when she bought the fairy, but she remembered that she had and that was what counted.

She reached down towards the box on the table top, the ladder tilted dangerously and just as she was about to crash into the tree, a slim, cool hand grabbed her ankle and pushed her upright.

“Spike! What are you doing here?” Buffy hissed.

The vampire was gravely inspecting the ragged skirt of the fairy doll he was holding. “I reckon she’s about as old as me, pet,” he said wryly. “Her wings are broken - look!”

Buffy snatched the doll away and with a disdainful sniff, clambered back up the ladder and forced the top branch of the tree firmly up the pink and white skirt.

“Ouch!” Spike muttered, then grinned up at her, his face mischievous. “Oh, I see. Is that a sort of signal, pet? Like it rough like that, do you? You should have said - oh, I was forgetting - you did!”

Buffy glared and ran down the steps. “Will you be quiet! Dawn’s only next door. If you’re not careful, I’ll make you sort the box of angel ornaments over there.”

The vampire winced and threw his hands up in surrender. “No, no. Not the angel decorations! Have pity, brave Slayer, have pity.“

Buffy tried to smile, but found it hard. The last few days had been difficult, with Dawn determined to have the biggest and best Christmas ever, as a memory celebration for their mother.

Buffy wondered how Joyce had ever coped with everything. There was so much to remember to do. Food, cards, presents, more food, drink, tree, decorations, more food. The drain on the little money she made was enormous. Even working all sorts of shifts at the Double Meat, the cash just vanished out of the door - usually with Dawn - as fast as Buffy brought it in.

“I wondered if you wanted to patrol tonight,” Spike was saying, lifting one eyebrow suggestively, making little chills run up her body. She knew exactly what he really meant. His idea of patrolling recently meant both of them being horizontal on the floor of his crypt. And, if she was honest, sometimes vertical against any wall they could find.

“Spike, we’ve got just over a week to Christmas and I haven’t made the cake yet.”

His blue eyes lit up. “Are we having a proper cake, then? With icing?”

Buffy stared at him. Oh god, she thought. He expects to be asked here for Christmas. With Xander and Anya and Willow. He’ll be sitting there, making suggestive remarks. He might even - no he definitely would find a way of touching her and how could she hide from her friends how that made her feel?

She hunted desperately through her brain for the right words to tell him - and there weren’t any. Even as she fought to break their gaze, she saw a bitter sort of understanding begin to cross his face.

The insistent ringing of the phone saved her. She picked up the receiver, blessing Mr and Mrs Bell’s son for having existed. “Hi, Giles?”

There was a series of crackles and her Watcher’s voice came and went on the waves of the transatlantic satellites. “What - Giles, I can’t understand what you’re saying. Slow down.”

Dawn appeared in the doorway and stood, listening apprehensively, pouting, her eyes wide and worried. Phone calls from Giles usually meant trouble and they were so close to Christmas now. It just wouldn’t be fair if Buffy was going to be all Slayer-girl over the next week.

“Well?” she said when Buffy finally said goodbye and hung up. “What’s up? Don’t tell me there’s all sorts of nasties coming to Sunnydale for Christmas.”

Buffy was frowning. “What? Oh, no, I don’t think so, Dawnie. Nothing big, anyway. Don’t worry. Look, go and finish sorting out the music. Xander and Anya will be here soon.”

“Problems, Slayer?” Spike asked, lounging against the wall.

“I’m not sure. Giles was doing his ‘must investigate’, ‘sources tell me’, ‘evil afoot’ routine.”

“What sort of evil?”

“He didn’t know. That’s what’s so irritating about Giles when he’s over in England. He gets told things by the Council people but they never seem to have the whole story. Just bits of it. Like they did with Glory. Oh yes she’s a god, but oh no, we’ve not the slightest idea how to fight her.”

Spike frowned. “You don‘t mean we’re facing another hell god?”

Buffy picked up a shiny golden bauble from the box on the table and fastened it to the tree. “No. Nothing that bad. Apparently some children have gone missing from all over the States recently and the last one was from here in Sunnydale. Giles thinks there’s a connection.”

“Children go missing every day, pet. Sad but true. It could just be a criminal, kidnapping thing, not mystical at all.”

“Don‘t call me pet,” Buffy replied automatically. “Look, Spike, believe me, I don’t want to have to deal with any sort of problem so close to Christmas. But I know Giles. He’ll ring every hour, on the hour until I give him a report. So the tree decorating will have to wait.”

“Where are we going?”

Buffy looked up at him, surprised. “I’m going to the local Children’s Home. That’s where the boy was living when he vanished. But I’m going alone, Spike. I don’t need you along.”

Spike had purloined a little china angel from another box and was tossing it from hand to hand. “Not busy tonight, Slayer. Done my Christmas shopping. Could be useful.”

Buffy hesitated. Every bone in her body cried out to her to let him come with her, and every brain cell she possessed told her that that was a bad bad plan. The less she saw of Spike at the moment, the better it would be for her.

“No need, Spike. Thanks, but I’ll be fine.”

“OK, I’ll just sit and wait with Li’ll Bit until the Boy and demon girl get here. Pour myself a couple of whiskies, relax, have a nice chat. Trouble with alcohol, it tends to make me forget what i’m supposed to forget, if you see what I mean, pet. I wouldn’t want Xander and Anya to get a nasty shock if I started telling them - ”

“Okay! Okay! You can string along. Jeez, Spike. Anyone would think you were scared to let me out of your sight for two minutes.”

She turned to grab her denim jacket off the sofa and didn’t see Spike’s hands jerk convulsively and the head break off the china angel.

The Sunnydale Children’s Home was a very old building. There had always been an Orphanage in Sunnydale - with the number of people who died with the town being built on the Hellmouth, sadly kids without parents were not uncommon. Most got fostered or adopted, but there were always a few living in the big Victorian mansion.

Buffy stood by the big iron gates that guarded the driveway up to the rambling house.
Her enquiries about a missing child at the reception office had been met with a blank “no comment”. The woman behind the desk had been perfectly polite, but determined not to give her any information at all.

She was only too aware of the vampire standing just behind her. Even though she knew he wasn’t breathing, it felt as if cool air was touching the back of her neck.

“What next, pet?” he asked. “Would you like me to go back and scare some information out of her?”

“Oh yes, that’s going to help. We’d have every police car for miles descending on us.”

“Miserable looking place,” Spike commented. “Not a single sign of Christmas in there. Did you notice?”

“Yes - ” she began and then stopped as he held up a hand, his brilliant blue gaze swerving round to some bushes behind her. “Yes, very plain and cold and - ”

Moving with the speed and grace that always left her breathless, Spike dived into the shrubbery and came out holding a wriggling and kicking -

“Spike! Put him down. He can’t be more than six or seven! You’ll terrify him.”

Spike dropped the boy and sucked one of his fingers. “Me terrify him? Little devil bit me!” he snapped.

Buffy shuddered as his tongue crept out and licked the trickle of blood. Bad bad memories of what he could do with that tongue raced through her brain and when she caught his gaze, she knew he was sharing the same thoughts.

The boy rolled over, got to his feet and stared up defiantly at them. He was small and thin, with a thatch of bright blond hair that needed cutting sticking out from under a shabby baseball cap. His clothes were clean but so well worn that they were thread bare in places.

“You shouldn’t be listening to other people’s conversations,” Buffy said severely. “What’s your name, kid?”

“Eric. What’s yours?”

“I’m Buffy. This is - ”

“Cool coat!” Eric said, fingering the black duster.

‘“Hey, hands off!” Spike snapped, brushing the sticky fingers aside.

“ - Spike,” Buffy finished. “Listen, Eric, I’m sorry if we frightened you. Do you live here?”

“No one frightens me,” he boasted. “And I’m only here till I get adopted.”

“What happened to your parents, Eric?”

He pushed his hands into his jeans pockets and shrugged. “My Mom died when I was little. My Dad died a few months back. He got caught in a fire somehow and got all burnt up in the street. I reckon it was a gang. I’ve seen gangs on TV.”

Buffy caught her breath and glanced at Spike, knowing exactly what he was thinking. Oh god, Eric’s father was one of Sweet’s victims. Xander’s stupid behaviour had taken this child’s only parent away from him.

Eric was continuing, oblivious of the distress he’d caused. “Won’t be long now, I reckon, till I’m adopted. You see you have to be cute to get taken by parents. I can play cute. People like cute. And I’m the youngest here now that Terry has gone.”

Buffy knelt down in front of him. “Was Terry adopted, then?”

“No. Father Christmas took him. Have you any gum?”

“No. Hey, Eric, what do you mean about Father Christmas?”

The little boy sighed as if all adults were stupid. “Father Christmas came into our room a few nights ago and asked who was the youngest and when Terry said it was him, he told him to get dressed and then they went out together. I expect he needed help. Now I’m the youngest. Bet I get a family before Christmas.” He shot a penetrating look at the two figures in front of him. “Would you two like a little boy? I don’t often bite.”

Spike growled and Buffy stood up and kicked him. “We’re not - we’re not parents - I mean, we’re not looking for a family,” she got out at last and dug Spike in the ribs with her elbow when he whispered,

“But we have a lot of fun trying for a baby,” in her ear.

“OK,” Eric said sadly. “Well, I’d better get back. They’ll be looking for me.”

“Wait up - do the police know about the man taking Terry, about Father Christmas?” Buffy asked.

“They came and talked to us, but they didn’t believe me,” Eric said with a shrug. “They said I was making it all up. That Terry had run away. That there isn’t any Father Christmas. Huh - like I’d believe that!”

He pushed his way back through the bushes and Buffy watched as he climbed like a monkey up onto the wall. “Let me know if you change young minds about adopting me,” he called. For a second the brash street kid vanished and a sad little boy stared down at them. “I’d be good, promise.”

Then he was gone.

to be continued
Chp 2 An Ancient Enchantment by Lilachigh
Author's Notes:
I’ve always been irritated that Xander never seemed to care that his actions caused at least 2 people to die. And hey, he has a soul!
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chapter 2 An Ancient Enchantment

The atmosphere around the dining-room table could have been cut with a very, very blunt knife.

Buffy had called a meeting of the Scoobies and told them what she and Spike had learnt at the Children’s Home. That a small boy called Terry had been kidnapped by someone disguised as Father Christmas.

Xander, his face pale and drawn, was sitting slumped in his chair, very still; Buffy could see big drops of sweat beading his forehead. Anya had slid her hand onto his arm, but Xander didn’t respond.

Finally he looked up at Buffy, his voice strained. “So, what you’re saying is that this little boy who told you about Terry, this Eric, is an orphan because I called up Sweet from his hell dimension? Eric’s father was one of the people who burnt up?”

Buffy hesitated, then nodded slowly. It was difficult to say, but she had to tell the truth. “Well, we knew people had died, Xander? We just didn’t know who. Now we do.”

“Sweetie, what you did, it was a mistake. Anyone could have done it,” Anya said brightly.

“But anyone didn’t. I did,” Xander said bitterly. “Let’s face it, it’s typical. Everything I touch in life goes wrong.” He raked his fingers through his black hair and glanced up swiftly to where Spike was lounging against the wall in the shadows, watching silently. “I suppose you’re having a good laugh about this, bleach boy? Go on, have your say. I deserve it. I wish I had burnt up instead.”

“Xander!” Willow sounded horrified.

Spike shrugged. “I think if we’re going to get involved in a “who’s killed more people ” competition, then I win hands down. I’m in no position to beat you up over what you’ve done.”

Xander laughed, but it wasn’t a happy sound. “You kllled because of what you are, Spike. I killed out of stupidity. Somethings never change.”

Buffy broke in quickly. “Look, this is getting us nowhere. What’s done is done. What we need to concentrate on now is finding these children and the guy who’s dressing up as Santa Claus and kidnapping them. The police obviously aren’t getting anywhere with it and I feel we have to lend a hand - because - because - ”

“Because I’m a homicidal fool!” Xander said angrily and pushed his chair back from the table.

“What do you mean, Buffy - the guy who’s dressed up as Santa Claus?” Anya was busy peeling an orange, looking puzzled.

Willow sighed. “Come on Anya, keep up with the conversation. The little boy told Buffy that Father Christmas came and took his friend Terry.”

“So an evil Father Christmas is working in Sunnydale.”

Buffy stared across the table at the ex-demon. “But Father Christmas isn’t real. This is obviously a guy wearing a red robe and a beard. Dressed up.”

“What do you mean, Father Christmas isn’t real?” Anya said hotly, digging her fingers into the orange, and not realising that Willow and Dawn both had to duck as juice squirted in all directions. “Of course he’s real.”

Buffy laughed, the sound tailing off as she realised Anya wasn’t joking. She glanced at Spike but he was looking as bewildered as Anya.

“Of course he’s real, Slayer,” he said. “Why did you think he wasn’t?”

Dawn squealed with delight, her eyes shining. “Honestly, Spike? You mean there’s a real Father Christmas living in Lapland in a snow house with elves and reindeer and he flies through the air in a sleigh every Christmas Eve delivering presents and - ”

“The one I knew was a distinctly unpleasant old man with bad breath who drank too much and spent most of the year in Hawaii on a beach,” put in Anya. “He hated reindeer - said they made the most dreadful smells which wasn’t pleasant when you were flying behind them. He detested going back to all the ice and snow and having to do the whole gift thing every year, but then he had no choice, of course. That’s part of the magic contract.”

“I knew a very nice one once,” Spike said eagerly, his blue eyes dancing. “Dru and me, we met him in Vienna. Dru wanted to help him prepare the toys for Christmas - she was fascinated by the dolls, you know - but Darla and Peaches thought he was boring so we - ”

He stopped, suddenly aware of the appalled faces turned towards him. Everyone except Anya who was still calmly eating her orange, had eyes as round as baseballs with mouths open to match.

Buffy took a deep breath. “So Father Christmas is a demon?”

Spike shook his blond head, his blue eyes showing the faintest glimmer of a smile. “No, Slayer, of course he isn’t. Not a demon. Not a vamp. He’s - well - he just is. Into every generation one man is born to be Santa Claus. When one dies - ”

”Another one is Chosen! Why does that sound so familiar?” Buffy asked dryly, grinning back at him.

Xander gazed between the two of them, frowning at the identical expressions on their faces. “So he isn’t always a good Santa?”

“Of course not, sweetie,” Anya said airily. “I don’t suppose the Slayer has always been a nice girl over the centuries. I mean, look at Buffy. I mean, don’t look at Buffy because when you do you get that silly expression in your eyes that I hate so much, but yes, sometimes the Santa Claus is just plain mean, nasty and evil.”

“Wow!” Willow said. “I’m so glad I’m Jewish! No sense of loss here.”

Dawn pouted and tossed back her long dark hair. “Well, I think you and Spike are making it all up. You’ll be saying there’s such a thing as a real Easter Bunny next.”

Anya screamed and leapt up from her chair. “Don’t even mention that monster out loud! You’ll bring him right here, into this very room! You should know what happens when you do things like that.”

“Look, Anya, sit down. Dawn’s sorry. She didn’t mean to upset you. Look, you have to tell us how to find the evil Santa. Spike - do you know where he’ll be?”

The vampire hooked a booted foot under the rung of a chair and pulled it over to him. He sat astride it, his face close to hers. “Well, Slayer, we know where he’ll be in a week’s time. It’ll be Christmas Eve. He works on that night.”

Buffy sighed. “We can’t wait that long. He’s got these little kids. What does he want them for? Is he - I mean, does he kill them? What if he takes some more before Christmas? We daren’t take that risk.”

“Perhaps I can track him magically,” Willow said. “I know I said I wouldn’t use my powers, but this is an emergency.”

“No!” Buffy and Xander both spoke at once.

“It wouldn’t do any good,” Anya added. “Santa is part of old magic, far older than yours, Willow. He belongs to an ancient enchantment that existed back in the Dark Ages. That’s why he’s survived for so long. There’s no one left who knows the spells that made him or the ones to stop him.”

Buffy stood up, looking grim. “Well, ancient magic or not, I’ve got to find him and stop him,” she said. “Anya - Spike, we’re relying on you two. Come up with something, some idea of where he’ll be.”

She turned away from the table, resting her hand briefly, absently on Spike’s shoulder as she passed, needing the contact but unaware that Xander was watching, frowning.

“I’ll ring Giles in London,” Willow said. “He might know where to look.”

“And I’ll start on the books he left behind when he went,” Dawn said enthusiastically and Buffy didn’t have the heart to tell her that it was extremely unlikely that any of The Watcher’s reference books would mention magic this old. There would have been no one around in those days to write it down.

Buffy pushed open the door and went outside, glad of the fresh air on her face. The moon was rising and a fine scarf of stars crinkled across the sky. She sat down on the top step and closed her eyes. She was so tired; and she was due at the Double Meat Palace for her next shift in half an hour.

But the night was lovely; it was hard to remember that wickedness could roam at will through this town and she was the only one who could stop it. She thought of little Eric in the children’s home and wondered if he was out in the grounds again, slipping through the trees like some little animal instead of being safely tucked up in bed, dreaming of Christmas presents and fun.

She felt rather than heard Spike come outside and sit next to her. She didn’t look at him.. She didn’t need to. She could remember, so clearly, sitting here with him on the night her Mom had told her she was seriously ill. The pressure of his shoulder next to hers was the same, the faint smell of leather, whisky and cigarette smoke, the tang of blood. Buffy knew that if she lived to be a hundred - unlikely, but hey, miracles happened - she would always be able to recall that smell and link it in her mind to a very strange word where Spike was concerned - comfort.

“Thinking about Eric?” he said with that uncanny ability he had to read her mind.

“Yes. He was a cute kid. And brave.”

“Got sharp teeth,” Spike said, holding up one long slim finger for her to inspect where the little boy had bit him.

Without thinking, she reached over and dropped a kiss on the chill skin. “There, all better,” she said and then drew back as his breath hissed through his lips and the hand dropped to her thigh, cold through her jeans, sending ripples through her nervous system.

Green eyes and blue clashed fiercely and, for one wild second, Buffy wondered what would happen if she threw herself into his arms and kissed him properly.  There, on the porch, with all her friends and family within a few feet of them, liable to come out and join them at any moment.

And then the moment passed, the door creaked and Xander and Anya came out.

“Buffy!” Anya said importantly. “I’ve been thinking. There’s only one person I know who might be able to help. We need to contact my ex boss. We have to speak to D‘Hoffryn. And quickly, before he goes away for Christmas!”

to be continued
Chp 3 One Little Step by Lilachigh
Author's Notes:
I’ve been waiting for this moment for years. Well, since Spike saw Buffy dancing at the Bronze. And she thinks the worst is now over. Poor deluded girl!
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chapter 3 One Little Step

I thought we needed something cheerful to read as we begin the count down to Christmas! Hope you like.

Three humans, one ex demon, one energy ball and a chipped vampire sat around Buffy’s dining-table in a circle, holding hands at shoulder level

“Are you sure this will work? That this charm will summon D‘Hoffryn?” Buffy asked Anya who was sitting between Xander and Spike, her eyes shut tight, her lips moving silently as if she was praying.

Anya opened one eye. “Hush! Now you’ve made me forget where I was in the summoning charm! I shall have to start all over again.”

“Isn’t there a short version?” Dawn whined. “My arms are aching.”

Spike, who was holding her right hand, stretched his arm further over the table so the pressure on Dawn’s hand lessened. He’d gone to sit next to Buffy when Anya told them to take their places for the incantation, but Xander had made sure the Slayer was seated between him and Willow.

“Just a few minutes, more, Dawnie,” said Willow, who was finding the whole procedure dreadfully difficult. Even just being this close to magic made her feel bad and it wasn’t helped by Anya’s incompetence.

“Chenetsa, chenetsa, D’Hoffryn. Come, hear my plea. I wish to speak to thee!” Anya shouted at last. There was a loud bang and a puff of lavender smoke filled the room.

Coughing, Buffy dropped Willow and Xander’s hands and stared round. But there was no demon chief standing behind her.

“I think that was his engaged signal,” Anya said unhappily. “Perhaps he’s busy. I mean, it is nearly Christmas, and just because you’re a demon, doesn’t mean you don’t have presents and cards and family problems to sort out. I mean, D’Hoffryn has fourteen wives and countless children. Can you imagine trying to keep everyone happy at Christmas.”

“Fourteen wives - hell - ” Xander broke, his eyes shining avidly.

“Hell’s just about what it must be,” Spike added dryly.

“OK, people, listen. This hasn’t worked. Anya says D‘Hoffryn is the only one who can help us find Santa Claus. So we need another plan.”

There was silence for a few seconds, then Willow said tentatively, “I can do it.”

“Will, we’ve been through this already,” Buffy said, reaching out to touch her friend‘s arm. “We can’t afford for you to go down that magical obsession road again.”

“No, I don’t mean doing magic - well, I do, but not in the way you mean. You see - ” she fumbled in the pocket of her jeans, “Do you remember when I was all upset about Oz and made a spell that went wrong? When Giles went blind and Xander became a demon magnet and you - ”

“Spike and I got engaged,” Buffy said quietly. “Yes, I remember.” Her gaze flashed across the table to Spike and blue fire met it. He remembered as well.

“When I was in the demon dimension, D‘Hoffryn gave me a token, to call him any time I wanted a job. Of course, I told him I didn’t want one and he sent me back unharmed, super kind. But I sort of brought the token with me and I’ve kept it ever since. Just - well, just in case.”

She held it out on the flat of her hand and the others stared down at it.

“It wouldn’t be doing any big spell. I‘ll just - ” her voice died away, her eyes went black, and before Buffy could stop her she said, “D’Hoffryn - Willow Rosenberg here. Can I have a word if you’ve got a moment. Like - now!”

There was another loud bang but this time the room filled with a dark purple smoke that flashed and sparkled. As it cleared, Buffy could see the chief demon standing gazing angrily at her. And she had to admit that as he was holding a chicken leg in one hand and had a napkin tucked under his chin, they’d probably called him at a bad time.

“Miss Rosenberg - how very nice to hear from you. Not a particularly good time - oh, Anyanka, you’re here, too. I suppose it was you who tried to contact me earlier? You do realise it’s nearly Christmas, I suppose.”

“I’m sorry, Mr D’Hoffryn - ” Willow said. “And it’s really nice of you to give up your time like this.”

“So you’ve changed our mind about becoming a vengeance demon? A little late in the day, perhaps, but then you’ve experienced a lot more grief since those early days, so perhaps you - ”

“Willow doesn’t want to become any sort of demon,” Buffy broke in hastily, getting up and walking round the table to face him. “We have a problem and need your help.”

The demon vanished the chicken leg and wiped his lips with the napkin before vanishing it as well. He sighed. “The Slayer - interesting.”  He gazed round at the others. “Mr Harris - nice work summoning Sweet. Couldn’t have done better myself. I always like a good cremation, especially when the victim is still alive.” He stared at Dawn, started to speak, then stopped, frowning. Then he saw Spike. “And the vampire, William the Bloody. I had high hopes of you once upon a time. But, alas, it was not to be. You never had an Angelus side to your nature. Odd, but true.“

Spike eased his way in two long strides to Buffy’s side. “Cut the bloody chat. We need to know where to find Father Christmas.”

D‘Hoffryn looked as surprised as a demon with his face could look. “Santa Claus? Well, I wasn’t expecting that sort of request. I thought you might all want to return to the spell Miss Rosenberg cast a few years ago. But actually, the spell holds true, even today. ”

Xander jumped up, going red in the face. “What the hell are you talking about. We’re not under any spell.”

“You’re quite right, Mr Harris,” D‘Hoffryn said, rubbing his chin with a long pointed finger. “The spell has become reality, of course. Your feelings for Anyanka have become stronger as have hers for you. The Watcher, Mr Giles, is blind to what is going on in Sunnydale, even when he is here. And the Slayer and the vampire - ” he shrugged. “Well, to be honest, no spell was actually necessary in the past to make them get engaged and it certainly isn’t necessary now. Their passion is obvious to anyone who cares to look. it always has been.”

There was a silence so intense that the humming from the fridge sounded like a jumbo jet taking off.

“Passion?” Xander said hoarsely and sat down with a thud.

“No!” Willow said, her cheeks flaming. “There was a spell - I cast it. I made them get engaged. But they didn’t - well, nothing happened - well, a few kisses, I couldn’t help the kisses, but that was all, well, maybe a bit of touching, but good touching, I mean, not that touching is always bad, but Spike and Buffy, they never, it was a spell and - ”

“No it wasn’t.” Buffy heard herself speaking and was vaguely surprised, as if her voice belonged to someone else.

“Pet - ?“ Spike sounded worried, concerned. “Are you sure? You don’t have to tell them. It doesn’t matter.” His hand was on her shoulder, she could feel his strength pouring into her body, there, as always for her to lean on. She felt dizzy, as if she was very, very drunk.

“Yes, it does matter.”

There would be no turning back. She was the Slayer and once she’d set her feet on a path, she followed it to the end. As in all journeys, the first step had been the hardest, but that had now been taken. One little step - all this time, all these years, that was all was and now she’d taken it, she couldn’t remember why she’d thought it would be so hard. What awaited her and Spike at their destination, she had no idea, but at least she had started on the journey with him.

“It wasn’t a spell. Oh, a part of it was, Will. The getting engaged part. But Spike and I fell in love. You never magiced that.”

The pencil Xander was holding snapped in two. “Buffy - ” he whispered, pleadingly.

“I‘m sorry, Xander,” she began, then stopped, staring at his appalled expression. Willow was biting her finger so hard blood was running down her hand. Anya was staring, curious, uninvolved. Dawn - Dawn was smiling at her, a great wide grin that lightened her heart. “No, actually, I’m not. Look, my love life will have to wait. We’ve got work to do.”

She reached up and clasped Spike’s hand. He looked as shattered as she felt, but the glow in his eyes was brighter than a million candles and she felt hot waves rush through her veins. She had put that expression there and she felt it was one of the best things she’d ever done in her whole life.

“We still need to know where Father Christmas is right now,” she said briskly, turning back to the demon chief. “He‘s kidnapping children and it’s got to stop.”

D‘Hoffryn shook his head. “Gone off the rails again, has he? I never thought he was up for the job, but then once you’re Chosen, there’s no going back.”

“Can you help or not?” Buffy snapped. “We’re wasting time here.”

D’Hoffryn shook his head. “Never any patience in the young of today. I can send only four - but remember, whatever happens, there has to be a Father Christmas working on the 24th of December.”

He clicked his fingers, there was a bright white flash and when it faded, Spike, Buffy, Xander and Anya had vanished.

Dawn gasped and Willow reached out to wrap an arm round her shoulders.

‘“So what happens if there isn’t a Father Christmas working on the 24th?” she whispered.

D‘Hoffryn spun round twice, waved his hand and began to vanish himself back into another dimension. But his voice could still be heard echoing as he went,

“End of the world, Miss Rosenberg. End of the world.”

to be continued
Chp 4 Red Mist Closing by Lilachigh
Author's Notes:
I think I’ve fixed the problem! If you are reading this, my computer has let me post it!
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chapter 4 Red Mist Closing

There was a bone-chilling cold, so deep that Buffy felt every drop
of blood in her veins had frozen into ice. She knew her eyes were
open: she couldn't blink. Vaguely she was aware of Spike's hand
in hers.

Were they moving? She couldn't even tell - the darkness was
complete and suffocating and she was going to die again!

Then - pop! Her feet hit ground, her knees crumpled and she was
rolling over and over, tangled up with Spike's arms and legs, so
cold, so very cold....

And she could see again!

She forced her frozen lips to say, "Wow!"

A little way away, Xander and Anya were picking themselves up,
groaning, shivering, gasping for breath.

Spike was still sitting on the ground humming what sounded
suspiciously like Jingle Bells. He looked up at Buffy and grinned.

"Oh what fun it is to ride in a - bit cold for you, was it, pet?"

Buffy glared. "I suppose you enjoyed that?"

"Well, nice little trip. Cold didn't bother me, quite restful, really."
He stood up and stretched, then wrapped an arm round her
shoulders. Buffy couldn't help watching the easy play of the
muscles across his chest. Sometimes he reminded her of a panther,
the way he moved.

In comparison, Xander stumbled across towards them, tripping
over his own feet. Buffy could hear his teeth chattering.

'Where on earth are we, Buffy?"

Spike raised an eyebrow. "Well, on earth is probably wrong for a

"I wasn't talking to you, bleach boy! And take your hands off

"Xander! Chill out. We're not going to start arguing about my
relationship with Spike. We're here to - Actually, Spike, where
the hell are we!"

She gazed round, her green eyes widening. They were in some sort
of cavern, a space so vast, so high and wide, she couldn't see the
roof or the walls. Every foot was filled by shelves, boxes, cartons,
crates. They towered up into the blackness above their heads.

"It's like that final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark," Xander said
enthusiastically. "When the government are storing the Ark in
some huge warehouse. Only this is - bigger, much bigger."

Spike swung round slowly, scenting the air, then he glanced across
at Anya who'd been silent since their arrival.

"Different dimension, do you reckon?" he asked.

She nodded. "Yes, but not demon. Just - very old. There's no
ending - and no beginning. You could walk for days and never get
to the last shelf."

Buffy sighed. "So, big and non-demony place. I'm guessing Santa
Claus store room, right?"

Anya shuddered. "It's too cold. It all feels dead, Buffy. There
should be light and warmth and - " she hesitated, and Spike broke
in - "happiness, pet. This place is sad. Bloody tragic. Can't you
sense it?"

Buffy pulled a face. What he said was true. She could feel the
gloom and despair in the air.

"Well, tragic or not, we're here, so Father Christmas must be
somewhere close by, right?"

Anya shrugged. "It depends on D'Hoffryn and what sort of mood
he was in when he sent us here. We could be on the other side of
this universe from where we need to be. We could walk for years
and still not get to the end. We could - "

"OK! Getting your point, Ahn!" Xander broke in. "So, what's the

"We split up," Buffy said firmly. "You and Anya go that way - "
she nodded to the left - "And Spike and I will try over here. And
remember, we're looking for the children he's taken. They must be
our first priority. We have to rescue them. We can deal with Santa
Claus later but the kids must be saved."

"I know it's probably a silly question," Xander said, "but exactly
how are we going to get back with the kids, even if we find them?
I mean there isn't any sort of big glowing portal thingy with an
arrow pointing through it marked 'Way Out', is there?"

Buffy bit her lip. She'd already realised that their escape route was
non-existent. She only hoped that somewhere, in that other,
happier dimension, Willow and Dawn were working on the

'Spike - give me your shirt!"

The blue eyes danced as the vampire gravely pulled off his leather
coat and slid the red silk shirt off over his black T shirt. "Any
excuse to get the clothes off my back, Goldilocks," he murmured
under his breath.

Buffy resolutely ignored him and dropped the shirt on the ground.
"Right, try and remember which way you went. Mark the route if
you can. Move boxes. Scatter the contents. Make like Hansel and
Gretel, but get back here to this spot in half an hour, Xander. OK?"

He nodded and taking Anya's hand, walked off into the dark
alleyway between the towering stacks of goods.

"Hope they'll be OK," Buffy said anxiously.

Spike hugged her briefly. "They'll be fine. Anya's got brains and
bloody good instincts. She'll hide if she has to. She won't let
anything happen to your pet boy."

They turned and walked together down the opposite aisle, their
footsteps echoing in the silence.

"Why did you do it, pet?" Spike asked at last.

Buffy didn't bother to pretend she didn't know what he was talking
about. She'd told all her friends that she and Spike had been in
love. There was no going back from that now.

"Are you sorry I did?" she said quietly, a dreadful thought
burrowing into her head. She'd been so sure he would be pleased.
But what it he wasn't? What if being marked down as the Slayer's
boyfriend, lover, significant other, or probably some even ruder
demon nickname, was the last thing William the Bloody really

Making love to her might be fun for him. He might say he loved
her, sincerely and often, but that was just between the two of them.
Having their relationship out in the open - well, that was
completely different.

Spike stopped and pulled her roughly round into his arms. He
glared down at her, his eyes furious. "How can you even think
that?" he snarled, vamping into game face, and the fury in his
voice burnt away the last sticky pieces of uncertainty that clung to
her mind.

Then his mouth was on hers, searching, asking an age-old question
that could only be answered by her lips, her tongue.

"Yuck! That's gross. You'll get her spit all down your throat!"

Buffy pulled away, her heart racing and spun round. To her
amazement, little Eric, the small boy she and Spike had met at the
children's home was standing there, staring at them, his jeans and
T-shirt torn and dusty, his blond hair a tousled mop, and a look of
horror on his freckled face.

Spike was busy buttoning his duster and Buffy swallowed a smile.
She knew exactly why he was pretending he was cold. The
physical reaction to their embrace was all too obvious!

"Eric, how on earth - " She stopped and glanced around, her gaze
hunting for enemies in all the dark shadowy places. "Did Santa - ?"
"He came to get me last night," Eric said cheerfully. "He said he
needed one more and it had to be the youngest. I was the youngest
left. Why were you kissing her? Is she your girl friend? I thought
you were a mommy and daddy. I thought you might be looking for
a little boy."

His voice trembled and then his face toughened and Buffy's heart
flipped. No one of six years old should look like that - ever!

"We were kissing because - "

"Because it's a nice thing to do when you love someone," Spike
broke in swiftly. "Listen, kid, where's Santa Claus now? Do you

Eric regarded him from under dark lashes that rivalled the
vampire's for length. "He's gone away - he won't be back till
Christmas Eve he said. We've got lots to do till then. Does she
taste funny?"

Buffy dropped to her knees, wondering if every male she met
today was going to explore her love life in detail. "Eric, can you
take us to the other kids? Do you know the way?"

He treated her to a long look of scorn. He was a six year old in a
giant toy-shop. How could he not know the way?

She stood up and held out her hand. Eric took it, then automatically
took one of Spike's and skipped along between them, swinging his
feet off the ground every three steps and giggling.

"Should I go and find Xander and Anya, pet?" Spike asked over
the child's head.

"No, we'll handle this on our own for now. I don't want to have to
watch their backs if it gets physical."

Spike nodded. The longer he was away from Xander's accusing
glare the better. He was still trying to come to terms with what
Buffy had done tonight. There was no going back from this. He
wanted to shout and yell with happiness, with the sheer delight of
her final declaration of their love for each other.

But there would be consequences. He'd lived too long and too
well not to understand that. He'd seen the look on Xander's face
long after Buffy had turned away. That hatred and rejection
weren't aimed at the Slayer, they were aimed at him.

They turned another corner and were faced with an even longer
aisle, stretching on into infinity. He glanced down at the blond
head by his side and smiled. Eric could have been their child, if
things had been different. He was a good kid. Brave. Sharp teeth -
Spike's finger still ached from where he'd bitten it. Teeth were
useful in a fight.

Their child! Well, that was never going to happen and in the future,
would she regret that? Would she wake up one Christmas morning
and wonder why she wasn't hanging up a couple of stockings for
her own hostages to fortune? When that day came, would she look
for someone else to give her what she needed?

He frowned and fought to keep his human face. He didn't want to
terrify the boy by vamping. But the thought of anyone else
touching her, sleeping with Buffy, making love to her - No!

A quarter of a mile away, Xander and Anya were arguing.
"Sweetie, I know it's interesting and appalling and fascinating, but
don't you have any other topic of conversation except for Buffy
and Spike having sex?"

Xander scowled. "They probably haven't - well, you know."

"Yes, you're quite right there. I mean you could see from their
expressions and the touching and the body language that getting
naked and indulging in sexual intercourse had never crossed their

"Anya! This is Buffy we're talking about. How dare that filthy,
perverted, evil - thing - think that I'd allow - "

Anya stood stock still in the middle of the passage-way, all
the impatient good humour draining from her face. "You allow?
Xander, what is wrong with you. You don't own Buffy! She isn't
your wife, or fiancée, or even your girl friend. In case you've
forgotten, standing right here is the person who has that role in
your life. Why do you act as if she's your personal property?"

Xander had the grace to look shame-faced for a second or two.
"Nonsense, Ahn. She's a friend, our friend. I won't let her be taken
for a ride by another dead creature. Angel was bad enough - and
that's a pun I didn't intend to make - but Spike? At least Angel
was tall, dark and brooding. Spike's just - pathetic."

Anya started walking again, quickly, her heels tapping out a cross
tune on the floor. "But sexy," she shot back over her shoulder.
"Very sexy," she added firmly.

Xander stood watching her go, his fists clenched by his sides.
Now even his girl friend was saying she preferred the vampire. He
could feel the bitter ache of jealousy burning through him. All his
life, there had always been someone else in front of him who was
bigger, better, stronger, more interesting. And usually it was
someone who Buffy loved - Angel, Parker, Riley.

He didn't know why he felt so strongly about Buffy and Spike. Did
he envy that togetherness that he'd seen tonight? He and Anya
were close. And he loved Anya, he really did.

But when Buffy had told them, his mind had raced back to seeing
Spike in bed in his crypt, a few weeks ago when Buffy had become
invisible. Exercising, he'd said.

Now, with sweat beading a face that was still cold from travelling
into this other dimension, Xander played out the scene and realised
with a sick, sinking sensation, exactly what the Slayer and the
Vampire had been doing.

Ignoring Anya, he turned on his heel and headed back to find
them. A red mist was closing in on his brain and all he knew was
that Spike must never touch Buffy again.

To be continued
Chp 5 Breaking Through by Lilachigh
Author's Notes:
Hopefully get last episode done in time for Christmas. Thanks for all the great reviews.
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chapter 5 Breaking Through

Buffy stopped walking, trying to catch her breath. Spike slowed and turned. He was carrying Eric on his back now. The little boy who'd been skipping along quite happily had suddenly got so tired he could hardly put one foot in front of the other. All his chatter had stopped and he’d fallen asleep as soon as Spike had picked him up.

"Spike, something's wrong," Buffy said. "It's getting darker and mistier and I can hardly breathe."

Spike frowned and glanced around. She was right. The towering shelves that vanished into the gloom above their heads were now shrouded with grey fog. He could no longer see to the next corner.

He swung Eric to the ground and sat down with his back to a crate labelled 'Dolls' Houses'. "We can rest up here for a while, pet. We must have walked for miles. I wonder how Xander and Anya are getting on."

Buffy sank down next to him and he wrapped an arm round her shoulders and pulled her close. "Weird place, Slayer. "He shuddered. "If this is where Santa Claus normally works, then no wonder he's in a rotten mood."

Buffy didn't reply. With every second that passed, she felt worse. But she didn't feel ill, just dreadfully depressed. She glanced across at the sleeping Eric and suddenly a great wave of jealousy swept over her.

"I suppose you've always wanted a son," she snapped, pulling away from his arm, the words coming out of nowhere.

"What?" Spike sounded stunned.

"Oh come on, Spike. It's quite obvious. The way you've been behaving towards little Mr Freckles there. All paternal and bonding. Well, being with me won't get you a child, will it? And here's one ready made. Why don't you just take him and clear off, Spike. I reckon that's what you've been planning on doing all along, anyway. After all, why would you want to stay with a Slayer? Why would you want to stay with me? Plenty of girls out there who can give you exactly what you want, I'm sure. Why not just admit it, Spike. I was an easy lay, isn't that what the boys call it. I came across for you and I'm sure you enjoyed yourself, but I reckon all the time you're wishing you were with someone more exciting, more experienced than me."

Spike's expression had changed from stunned to bewildered to shocked to angry and back to stunned again. "What the bloody hell are you taking about, Buffy? Where's all this rubbish coming from?"

Buffy stood up, rubbing her arms to try and warm them. The temperature had dropped again and her breath was now forming white clouds as she spoke. "I'm not letting you hurt me like everyone else has. I'm going on by myself. I don't want you and that rotten kid near me. I'll find the lost children and Santa Claus and sort the problem. That's what I do, don't forget. That's what I'm for!"

She turned away and started to stride off into what was now thick fog. Spike growled and vamped into game face, his eyes glowing gold. He grabbed her arm, his fingers digging deeply into the flesh and pulled her back towards him.

“Don’t touch me!”

“Buffy, what the hell’s wrong. Oh, I get it. You’re beginning to regret telling your friends about us, aren’t you? Dirty little secret out in the open now, eh? Well, don’t worry, sweetheart, I knew all along you’d freak out. I knew from the start that — ”

“Get your filthy hands off her!” Xander stumbled out of the mist and launched himself at Spike, catching the vampire off balance, he threw him against a pile of toy rocket launchers and they rolled across the ground, fists and feet punching and kicking.

Spike flung Xander off him and leapt to his feet; in a movement that seemed like a blur to Buffy, he grabbed him by the hair, tilted his head forward and with a vicious growl, glared at Buffy. “Is this what you want, Slayer? Does this make you hot? Men fighting over you. That’s what it’s all about isn’t it, pet. Blood and fists, fangs and death. Your Christmas dreams come true, eh?”

Buffy stared back into those golden, feral eyes, her heart racing. She was dimly aware of Xander’s feeble struggles to escape, the squeaks and moans that were coming from his throat.

“Oh yes, it’s all my fault again, is it? Buffy’s always in the wrong. Well, that’s your Christmas wish, isn’t it, Spike. To kill Xander! Don’t tell me you haven’t dreamt of that for years. You knew we’d have problems when he knew about us. Well, kill him, then you won’t have to deal with it and – ”

She stopped, just as Spike raised his head, the fangs that had just broken the skin of Xander’s neck, retracting and with a shimmer his human face appeared.

“Why isn’t the chip working? Buffy, help me, the chip isn’t working!”

He swayed with the effort of keeping himself in check but his dark blue gaze never faltered. He knew if he once broke eye contact with Buffy, he would be lost forever. The desire to eat, to feed was growing stronger every second. All he had to do was sink his fangs into the whelp’s neck and the hot, red, terror-laced blood would slip down so easily, so well… but – and he grabbed at the elusive thought that was fighting to survive in his brain - if he fed, he’d loose the woman he loved.

With a howl, he threw Xander to one side and clenched his fists; fighting the overwhelming need to take, bite, feed.

Buffy felt as if she was plunging deeper and deeper into a morass of despair. The only lifeline was Spike. A vampire who wanted to feed, needed to feed, and the chip that stopped him wasn’t working. So – she fought against the dark thoughts that crowded into her head – so he was holding his impulses at bay by sheer willpower because – because he loved her!

As fast as it had come, the despair lifted and her brain began to work. “Spike – listen! It’s this place that’s making us act like this. It’s controlling us somehow – ”

“It’s Santa Claus,” another voice broke in and there was Anya, falling to her knees next to Xander who was struggling to sit up, still gasping for air. “He’s altering your emotions, Buffy.”


Anya shrugged. ‘I’ve no idea, but I would guess he was a demon before he was Chosen. There’s no rule that says a demon can’t be Santa Claus – it’s quite democratic, you know - but usually they don’t make very good ones. He can’t effect me, but look at the rest of you – My poor Xander’s gone mad with jealousy, this little boy’s fallen asleep so he won’t have to cope with how unhappy he feels, Spike’s reverting to a basic vampire state and you’re going all ‘nobody will ever love me,’ Buffy, which I can well understand knowing your past history.”

Buffy still kept her gaze locked with Spike’s. He was swaying now, but still had Xander “How do we break out?”

Anya sighed. “You’ve already started. You guessed what was happening. All Santa is doing is making you remember the deepest concerns you’ve ever felt at Christmas time. Most humans are miserable at Christmas, I’ve noticed. I suppose it’s having to spend time with all those family members you never see from one year to the next, having to recall everything that’s gone wrong in your life since last Christmas. When I was a demon I always went on holiday for a week. Somewhere warm, a long way away from everyone I knew, even Halfrek because she got very cross one year because she gave me a present – it was an entrail necklace but it didn’t go with anything I had to wear and I didn’t get her a gift in return, so – ”

“Anya – how do we stop it!”? Buffy yelled.

The girl screwed up her face as she thought. “Try concentrating on all the good things in life, instead of the bad. That should work. Xander! Listen, Xander. I want you to think hard about us having sex two nights ago on top of the washing machine in Buffy’s basement. Concentrate on how happy you were.”

Buffy shuddered and shut out the rest of her words. “Spike,” she said quietly and the golden eyes flashed back into focus. “We’re being controlled. We can fight this. Give me your hand.”

The vampire stood for a long moment, then slowly, infinitely slowly, he reached out and Buffy wrapped her fingers tightly around his.

“I love you, Spike. And you love me,” she said loudly. “Everything else is in the past. I believe in the future and so will you. Right now, all we have to think about is our love. Think, Spike. Think! Remember how it is for us, how it always will be.”

As the pictures in her head grew stronger and clearer, little flames began to dance along their joined hands. She pushed her mind back over the years, gathering and cherishing every moment they’d shared on their journey to this spot. They loved each other and nothing and no one was going to spoil that for them.

Even as she watched, Spike’s face shimmered back to normal, the burnished eyes
Vanished and the sapphire she loved so much appeared once more.

And even as he pulled her roughly into his arms and held her so tightly she felt her ribs were going to break, she was aware that around them everything was changing. The mist was vanishing, the air had become softer and the light was altering. The grey and gloom were going and slowly, as if a veil was being lifted, glowing colours began to appear on the racks and shelves that surrounded them.

Screaming scarlets and crimsons, greens and orange, vivid blue and sunshine yellows, stripes and spots and a kaleidoscope of patterns as the toys that lined their pathway now became apparent.

Xander staggered to his feet, leaning heavily on Anya. He stared at Spike and Buffy locked in each other’s arms and bit his lip. He didn’t like it, would never like it, but that overwhelming sense of always being second best had vanished and along with it the desire to kill the vampire.

He stared at Anya. She was there for him; she always would be. And he realised, for the very first time, that to her he would never be second best.

Eric stirred, rolled over and blinked drowsily. He stared in wonder at the Christmas extravaganza spreading out before him and began to smile.

“Do you reckon Santa Claus has finished being cross?” he asked breathlessly.

Buffy lifted her head from Spike’s shoulder. She could still feel him shaking, as the full realisation hit him of how close they’d come to disaster.

“I think this Santa Claus is finished completely,” she said grimly. “I think this Santa Claus is about to retire!”

to be continued
Chp 6 Consequences by Lilachigh
Author's Notes:
Apologies for long delay in posting this chp. I realise Christmas is over, but the story is going on into the New year. My computer has refused to let me log in for over a week now. I only hope it doesn’t do it again
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chapter 6 Consequences

The very air seemed to glitter as the two couples and Eric walked deeper and deeper into the cavern. The little boy’s energy had come back with a rush – of all of them, he seemed the least effected by the spell that had cast them all into such dark despair.

The shelves and stacks of glorious toys and gifts seemed to be growing brighter and brighter with every step the five of them took. It was growing lighter and warmer every second.

Spike cast a couple of nervous glances upwards, but he felt they were still inside. Whatever the light was, it wasn’t the bloody sun, thank god.

Xander risked a nervous sideways glance at Anya. She’d said very little since the red rage of jealousy had faded from his eyes, but he could tell by the thin line her mouth had become that there was still a reckoning to come between the two of them.

Some time soon they would have to sit down and talk out the whole Buffy thing. He sighed silently. He knew only too well where his possessiveness came from – Buffy had been the only female friend he’d ever had - apart from Willow - and because they’d been together since infancy, Red was beyond counting.

Buffy would have been blind over the years not to have noticed the way he’d grown in stature when he was with the two of them. But there’d always been Angel, although he’d hoped and waited - and then, miraculously, he’d fallen for Cordelia. And for a short while, he’d been a Xander who was an OK guy, who got the girl, the pretty one, too.

Then Spike had kidnapped him and Willow, Cordy had been injured and he was looser Xander again, the one who messed up, the one who lost out. Okay, he had Anya now, but – he stared at the blond head of the man walking in front of him – he didn’t know how to forgive Spike for being the force behind Cordy leaving him.

Anya suddenly called out. “Buffy, how much further are we going to walk? We’re miles from where we started and there’s still no sign of Santa Claus.”

Buffy stopped and turned, her hand on the orphan’s shoulder. “Eric thinks he knows where the other kids are being kept.”

The ex-demon shook her head. “You can’t rely on the little boy,” Anya went on. “This dimension is changing all the time. Time and distance have no meaning that we could understand. I mean, we seem to have been here for about an hour, but days might have passed back in Sunnydale.”

“Oh great,” Xander groaned. “Now you tell us.” He swung a fist at a giant toy snowman standing sneering at him – and yelped as his hand went straight through it.

“Buffy! Look – the snowman - it’s not there. It’s just – ”

Disbelieving, Buffy pushed her hand through the snowman’s head and frowned. “That’s weird.”

“It’s a hologram, ” Xander said.

“A portal, luv?” Spike asked.

Buffy nodded and turned to Eric. “Does this look familiar to you? Did you come this way?”

The little boy looked suddenly uncertain. “It was dark, different,” he whispered. “I’m sorry, but we’ve walked an awful long way.”

“OK, kid,” Spike said. “Don’t worry about it.

“So, we go through,” Buffy said wearily. “I need to find this Santa Claus before he does any more damage.”

“You can’t just hurl yourself through a mystical portal without knowing what’s on the other side,” Xander said.

“He’s right,” Anya added brightly. “I’ve told you before about all the different types of dimensions that exist. That doorway could lead anywhere - and I’m getting hungry.”

Spike strolled up to the snowman and kicked its knee. “Well, you might get lucky. Could be a world made of burgers and chocolate shakes.”

“Wow!” Eric’s eyes widened in anticipation.

Buffy sighed. “Knowing our luck, it’ll be some disgusting fish world,” she said. “But we’ve no choice. Xander – Anya – you can stay here if you want. Spike – ”

A scarred eyebrow lifted as she turned to look at him. “I hope you’re not going to do the brave little Slayer act, pet, and insist on going alone. You need someone to watch your back. I’ll be right behind you. ”

“I’m going with Spike,” Eric piped up, and the vampire looked down, startled to find the little boy had taken a firm grip of his hand and was clinging to it like a limpet.

“Oh, we’ll all go,” Xander said. “You’re not leaving me to explain to Dawnie that we lost you in Toyland, Buffy.”

“OK, we all go. Stay close.”

With Eric between them, Buffy and Spike launched themselves at the snowman. There was a blinding flash, a bitter chill, and then they were rolling over and over on the ground on the other side. Seconds later, Xander and Anya followed.

“Well, about time! I’ve been expecting you for hours. What does it take to get you people to move a bit faster, Slayer?”

Buffy rolled onto her knees and froze for a second. Then she lifted her head, refusing to believe what she was seeing. They were in a modern, streamlined office. One wall was lined with computers that flashed and buzzed, obviously dealing with vast amounts of information.

A large desk in the centre of the room was empty - except for a bottle of brandy. Sitting behind the desk squinting at them through a half full glass, badly in need of a shave, his feet propped up in front of him, his shirt half unbuttoned, was –

“Ethan Rayne!” Buffy said in cold horror.

The renegade Englishman smiled warmly. “Slayer, how very nice of you to drop by. You can’t imagine how delighted I am to see you.”

“What the heck – you mean, you’re Santa Claus?” Xander blustered, looking appalled. “You can’t be. You’re in prison in Nevada. You’re evil.’

“For my sins – and I mean that quite sincerely – yes. But human prison doesn’t matter to old magic. I was Chosen last year and I refuse, repeat, simply refuse to do it this year. Chosen or not, I’m retiring. Goodbye Santa Claus, hello world.”

Buffy was staring round the room. “This is – ”

“Christmas Headquarters. Oh, there’ve been a lot of changes. All automated now, you know. The elves had to go. That was the first thing I did when I got here. Very unhappy about it they were. Went around muttering about pensions and retirement bonuses. They’re still lurking about outside somewhere, waiting to cause trouble. All very boring.”

Xander was staring at the computers, reading some of the screens. “So these are all – ”

Ethan yawned and took another swig of brandy. “Boring little lists from boring little kiddies all over the world. All stored and noted. It isn’t a difficult job, just bloody wearying being good all the time. And jolly. I don’t do jolly.”

Buffy crashed her fists down on the desk and swept his feet down onto the floor. His chair flew backwards and he went tumbling head first.

Spike leapt forward, hauled him up by his collar and dangled him, his toes an inch off the ground, in front of Buffy. “C..c..can’t …,” he gasped, as the slim hand on his neck tightened its grasp.

“And you won’t again if you don’t tell me what you’ve done with the children,” Buffy snapped.

“They’re back home,” Ethan gasped and at a sign from Buffy, Spike gave him a final shake and dropped him.

He staggered over to his desk and leant against it, massaging the red marks on his neck. “I only took them because the elves refused to finish up all the intricate work before they left. I needed little fingers and the kids provided them. They’ve been perfectly happy. I gave them shakes and burgers.”

“Cheap child labour,” Anya said, her eyes brightening. “That’s quite a good idea.”

“So why take Eric?” Spike asked, swigging brandy out of the bottle and ignoring the glare Buffy sent in his direction.

“I had to make sure you’d find me – fast. I gambled on you getting in touch with D’Hoffryn and I knew he’d send you in the right direction, but you could have got hopelessly lost out there in the warehouse. I knew Eric would remember the way. I just hadn’t banked on the dimension walls changing so much. That’s why I had to make the portal, to get you here before Christmas Day. Can’t you stop him drinking my brandy, Slayer?”

Buffy stared at him, bewildered. This old sparring partner of Giles’ always landed them in the deepest trouble. How the Powers had made him Santa Claus was beyond her. “You still haven’t said what you want us for?”

“Ah – well – you see, as I told you, I refuse to be Santa any more. I’m taking early retirement, but the only way I can do that is to Choose my Successor.”

“Yeah, like that’s going to happen,” Spike said. “You reckon we’re just going to sit back and let you push one of us into this job? You’re crazy.”

Ethan picked up his chair and sat down behind the desk. He stared at the four adults and Eric, then sighed. “To be truthful, Slayer, I had hoped dear Rupert would be with you today. I hadn’t realised he was in England. I’d set my heart on him taking over from me.”

“Look, no one’s taking over from you. You’ve been Chosen. Live with it. I have to.”

Ethan shook his head sadly. “Yes, you do, but you see, I don’t. There’s a sub-paragraph in section D, appendix AA of my contract that specifically states that if I voluntarily retire and forfeit my salary for the final three months, then whoever I suggest becomes Santa Claus. And sadly, he – or she – doesn’t have a choice.”

“You have a contract?” Buffy asked.

Ethan yawned. “Of course there’s a contract, Slayer. I expect you have one, too. But dear Rupert probably never let you know. It’ll be filed away somewhere in the Council headquarters. Mind you, I don’t think you’ve got a get-out-of-gaol card like mine. Slayers are Chosen until death. Santa Claus has a little more latitude. But I expect there will be lots about working conditions, hours, holidays, that sort of thing.”

Buffy dragged her mind away from the enticing possibilities of annual holiday leave and killing Giles because he’d never told her. “So all this was just to get Giles here – so you could off-load your job onto him.”

Ethan finished the last drop of brandy in his glass, glanced wistfully at the bottle Spike was holding well away from him and nodded. ‘I’ve got plans to spend the holiday in St. Lucia, sitting on a beach, under a palm tree. It would have made everything perfect if I could have imagined Rupert fighting with the elves, trying to work the computers, delivering the presents, wearing the costume. It’s the beard, you know, that’s the problem. Scratchy.”

“Well, Giles isn’t here. So you’ll just have to get on with it, won’t you?” Buffy snapped. “Now tell us how to get back to Sunnydale? I want to check on those children and god help you, Ethan, if one hair on their heads has been harmed.”

“Tch, tch,” the Englishman drawled, frowning. “You never used to be so touchy, Slayer.” He shot a penetrating glance at Spike. “Not getting any recently, is that the problem?”

Spike growled and vamped out, but Buffy managed to grab the sleeve of his duster as he leapt forward. “Listen, Ethan. Send us back, or I’ll let Spike do whatever he wants to you and then another Santa Claus will be Chosen.”

“Slayer, Slayer, you’re forgetting I’m human. Maybe not a particularly nice one, according to your grading, but are you really going to let your pet vampire kill me with all the consequences that will have for him? No, I’m leaving whatever you say or do, so there will be no Santa Claus working tonight, Christmas Eve. And so, end of the world, big bang. What fun.”

“That’s probably true,” Anya broke in brightly. “An old magic contract like this, immense power surge if it gets broken. Like a million hydrogen bombs going off at the same time. Earth would just explode into tiny pieces.”

Buffy stared around her, frantically searching for a solution. She could have cheerfully killed Ethan herself, let alone let Spike loose on him. “But you’ll die, too,” she said at last.

Ethan shrugged. “My dear Slayer, I am so bored and miserable that I would welcome death rather than be Santa Claus for even another hour.“

“Choose someone else,” Xander said suddenly.

Ethan shrugged. “No one else I hate enough. So I reckon I’ll just let it all go with one big explosion because I’m out of here in the next half hour.”

“You can’t just let the world end,” Spike snapped. “Bloody hell, I’ll do it. Choose me. I’ll even wear the sodding beard.”

Ethan shook his head.

“Choose me!” The voice was hoarse, frightened, but firm.

“Xander! What the hell are you playing at?”

He turned and gave her a crooked grin. “Don’t try and stop me, Buff. I need to do this.”

“Why? Xander, this will be until you die! There’s no going back.”

Xander shot a glance towards Eric, his eyes desperate. “When Willow brought you back – you know – Spike said to me that when you use magic there are always consequences.”

“Too right!” the vampire nodded.

“I called Sweet – and we can all see the consequences of that now. I had no idea I was going to hurt other people so badly. And what’s my punishment? Nothing. I need – I need to try in some way to make things better. I can’t bring back the people who died, but I can at least save the world.”

“But what about Anya? ”

“If Xander stays, I stay.” The ex-demon’s voice was sharp and decisive. “I’m sure we won’t need to be here all year. There are always slack times when you’re running a business. We’ll drop in and see you all. And – ” she picked up a sheaf of printouts from Ethan’s desk – “these stock lists are in a shocking state. Xander will never cope with these. ”

“If it can be done, I want to do it,” Xander said firmly. “Tell Willow - well, she’ll understand.

Buffy and Spike exchanged looks. There had been a note of finality in Xander’s voice that made her realise he was deadly serious.

“Ethan – can you Choose Xander?”

The slim Englishman shrugged, opened a drawer in the desk and brought out a small grey stone orb. He held it in the palm of his hand and nodded at Xander. “Wouldn’t have been my first choice, but if he’s that keen - put your hand over mine, lad. And hurry up, time’s getting on.”

Xander swallowed and walked forward. He reached out one hand to Anya and placed the other slowly but surely over the globe.

Bright silver sparks shot out in a halo of fire and Buffy gasped as a glowing silver light covered Xander from head to foot for an instant. Then it was gone, Ethan pulled his hand away and the dull little grey orb remained sitting on Xander’s palm.

“Right, that’s done. The keys are in the desk. The reindeer need feeding and mucking out urgently and one of the runners on the sleigh needs oiling. Good, all yours now. I’m out of here. ’Bye, Slayer. Have a great Christmas.”

And before Buffy could stop him, he snapped his fingers, a side of the office shimmered and he stepped through and vanished.

“Xander?” Buffy reached out to him, but when he turned to face her, her hand dropped to her side. The dark eyes that she’d known so well for so many years were even darker now, but tiny silver flashes burnt across them. Whatever Xander was now, he was no longer entirely human.

“You must go, Buffy,” he said and even his voice sounded deeper. “It’s nearly Christmas and I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Eric suddenly ran up to Xander and threw his arms round his waist. “You’re the real Santa Claus, aren’t you? I knew that other guy was just pretending.”

Buffy gently pulled him back. “OK, Eric, we need to let Santa Claus get on with his job. Xander – how do we get home? Do you know?”

Her friend nodded silently, then walked round the vast desk and sat down in the high backed chair. He gazed for a long minute at Spike and Buffy with the silver glinting in his eyes. Anya stood behind him and the last thing Buffy saw was the ex-demon patting her lover’s shoulder.

The cold bit into her bones again until she wanted to cry. Then there was warmth, noise and light. She could hear Willow’s voice asking questions, Dawn shrieking in the background.

Buffy struggled to her feet. Spike grinned at her; he was still holding Eric’s hand. The little boy was shivering violently, but otherwise seemed unharmed

“Buffy, what happened? Where’s Xander? And Anya? I couldn’t find a spell to bring you back. Dawn and I have been worried sick. It’s Christmas Eve – almost Christmas Day. Are the children OK? Is there still a Santa Claus? D’Hoffryn said – ”

Buffy walked to the window and gazed out into the night sky. Christmas Eve – Xander would already be hard at work on the other side of the world. She wondered how he was getting on with the elves and the reindeer.

How she would miss him, but, as Anya had said, they would be back. If anyone could run a business efficiently, it was the ex-demon.

She sighed and turned back to the others to start explaining. And then she caught sight of Eric staring up at Spike, laughing, and her heart sank. Here was a problem that had to be sorted out straight away.

Spike read her mind and slid an arm round her waist. “Reckon we can cope with one small boy for Christmas lunch?” he muttered. “We’ll work out what’s best for him in the New Year.”

Buffy hesitated. “OK. I’ll ring the orphanage and tell them where he is. But, Spike, remember, after Christmas he’s got to go back. He isn’t a lost puppy. We don’t get to keep him.”

And as she raised her face for his kiss, she didn’t hear a very small growl coming from the child standing next to her.

To be continued.
Chp 7 Green eyes by Lilachigh
Author's Notes:
To quote Spike “don’t wish for something - you might get it!’
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chp 7 Green eyes

Willow Rosenberg looked up from her book as the front door opened and Buffy and Spike came in – without Eric. She winced silently at the look on their faces. Buffy appeared devastated and Spike – well, she couldn’t say he looked paler that would be impossible. But to Willow, he looked ill, his cheekbones slashing at the skin covering them.

She could sympathise. Over Christmas they’d all become very fond of the small blond boy from the children’s home. Somehow he’d fitted into their lives so well, seemingly unphased by the oddness that surrounded the vampire/slaying/magic side. His giggle had been infectious and his experiences with Ethan Rayne and the whole Evil Santa thing seemed to have left him completely unworried.

But Buffy and Spike had seemed more than fond of him. Willow had been surprised at how close the three of them had seemed. Eric had rarely left Spike’s side, except when he was kneeling at the window, waiting for the Slayer to come back from patrol.

Even those had been cut short. Willow couldn’t remember the last time Buffy had spent less than half an hour out slaying. She’d muttered something about Christmas being a slack time vampire wise, but had avoided her friend’s gaze when she said it.

But Willow also knew that Eric’s very presence had prevented the big “let’s talk about you and Spike” discussion that she and Buffy had to have soon. She stared at the couple now as Buffy flung herself onto the sofa, her face strained and unhappy and Spike stood behind her, his long fingers massaging the back of her neck in a way that proclaimed possession and intimacy over a long period of time.

“How was Eric when you left him?” the witch asked at last.

Buffy rubbed at her face with clenched fists. “Upset and trying not to show it. He’s such a brave kid. If only – ”

“Saddest words in the English language, pet,” Spike broke in, walking across the room to stare out at the darkened yard. “And you can’t use them about Eric. Even if the authorities had allowed you to adopt him, - which they wouldn’t - you know damn well that it’s hard enough looking after Dawn who’s fifteen – how on earth could you manage full time with a six year old?”

“I know. I know. And the people at the Home insisted it wouldn’t be long before a nice family would be found for him. But, Spike. I just feel uneasy about taking him back. And be fair, you did too.”

“Well, there’s one person who was glad,” Willow said, raising her eyebrows at the ceiling.

Buffy groaned. “Oh, she‘s not in her room having another temper fit, surely? He’s gone now.”

“Apparently it was something to do with you taking Eric tonight and not going to the parents’ evening at school.”

“But I can go tomorrow. It’s a two day thingy,” Buffy said impatiently. “I’ve never seen Dawn behave like this before. I suppose I’d better go up and have it out with her – again!”

The only cloud over the Christmas and New Year had been her sister‘s behaviour. She‘d made it quite clear that no only did she blame Eric for Xander and Anya vanishing to run Santa Claus central, but loathed it every time Buffy or Spike spoke to the little boy.

They’d had pouting, temper tantrums, door banging, refusal to open presents and the mysterious breaking of the vast bubble blowing gun that Spike had bought Eric could only have been Dawn’s fault.

Willow sighed and stared at her best friend. She wondered if she was being deliberately obtuse about the situation. It was so typically Buffy. She’d kept her affair with Spike secret all this time, but the second it was out in the open, she expected everyone to behave as if it was completely normal. As if the hardest part had been the telling, not dealing with the consequences. And she made no effort to play it cool. She and Spike touched all the time, as if they would collapse if their hands weren’t constantly seeking each other. The air of exclusion around them was scaring.

“Buffy – don’t be hard on her. It’s been a difficult Christmas for Dawn – what with your Mom – and Xander and well, everything.”

Buffy’s eyes glittered with sudden tears. “Oh and I don’t feel the same? We all miss Xander – ” She ignored Spike’s muttered, “I bloody well don’t!’ – but this isn’t about him or Mom. It’s all about Eric and being jealous of a six year old! I don’t understand her, Will. I just don’t.”

“Shall I go and have a word with her?” Spike said.

Willow shook her head. “No! Don’t you see, both of you, that you being together is half the problem.”

“But she was fine with it when we told her!” Buffy exclaimed. “That first night we got back, she was all huggy and kissy and how marvellous it was that Spike was moving in with us as long as he didn’t hog the bathroom.”

“But that was before the reality of it hit her. Spike outside the gang, in his crypt, OK, obviously now to all of us who were blind, your guy, but also Dawn’s special friend. She could hang out there on her own with him. Big not so scary Bad – ”


“Sorry, Spike, but it’s true. Spike indoors, in her sister’s bed and not paying a great deal of attention to her. Different scenario thingy. Even then, I think she would have coped eventually. It would have become romantic in her eyes. But you brought Eric home with you. So not only has she become second in line to you both, she now becomes third.”

“That‘s ridiculous, Willow,” Buffy said wearily. “She’s my sister. I love her. We both love her. Eric is – was – well, - ”

“You acted like his parents, Buffy!” Willow was getting impatient. Why was it so glaringly obvious to her and not to them? “Nice little family group. Mom, Dad and little boy. So where does big sister fit in? Especially when big sis knows she wasn’t real to start with.”

“Eric liked her. He wanted her to like him,” Buffy said.

Willow got up and walked to the foot of the stairs. She turned and sighed. “I’m off to bed. And yes, that’s the saddest thing of all. Eric really liked Dawnie, you could see that. And perhaps if it had just been you bringing him home, then it would have worked. But throwing Spike into the equation – sorry. No. She can’t accept that. She feels excluded and so she’s hell bent on excluding herself so she can’t get hurt any more.”

“So are we going to have this problem every time Eric comes here? Because we’ve invited him to spend next weekend,” Buffy said

Willow stared at her in despair, then shook her head and went up to her room. Buffy still didn’t understand. She could tell by her face, the sharpness of her words. She didn’t even realise how excluded she herself had felt when she learnt about Spike. Her best friend had had a passionate affair – no, not just an affair, was deeply in love with another vampire and never told her. Worst of all – she had told Tara. And double worst of all, Tara hadn’t told her. The bitterness of that had cut so deep that Willow couldn’t even put it into words.

Spike wandered out into the kitchen and began heating himself a packet of blood in the microwave. He felt irritable, vaguely angry with the world, which was ridiculous because at the moment he had everything in life he could ever have wished for. He was here, living with the woman he adored. She’d made that amazing announcement, told her friends and family that she loved him, that he loved her. So why was he feeling like this?

He watched the microwave clock ticking down and pulled a face. What was the old saying, “Never wish for something – you might get it.”

He slashed at the plastic packet and gulped down the warm, boring pig’s blood. God, even now, after all these months, his taste buds still clamoured for something else. This stuff filled you up, but there was no buzz, no warmth flowing through his veins.

God, what was wrong with him? Now he was moaning on about blood. The Slayer would kick his butt around the bedroom if she heard him, but what he really wanted was a big juicy piece of meat, not cooked, raw, running with blood, steaming flesh, pulled straight from a living –

“So what shall we do about Dawn?”

He spun round as Buffy came into the kitchen, looking worried. For a moment the roaring sound in his ears intensified, then as he struggled for control, it faded away.

“Not sure, pet. Leave it for now, I suppose. Hope it all settles down.”

He reached for her and she came gladly into his arms, wriggling as close as she could, her hands linking tightly around his neck. “Willow began to make me feel a bit guilty. As if all this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t told everyone about us.”

“So you’re regretting it now? Am I about to get my marching orders, Slayer?”

The hands tightened, fingers digging deeply into his hair. “Just you try leaving! Dawn will come round and so will Willow. They’ll have to. I’ll try and spend more time with them. But I’m not going to abandon Eric just because Dawn’s got a dose of green eye fever.”

“And we’re still having Eric for the weekend?”

“Yes, of course.” Buffy reluctantly entangled herself from her lover’s arms and prised off the lid of the cookie jar. “Oooh chocolate and almond. Want one?”

Spike stared at it and felt his stomach turn over. “No, thanks, I’m good.” He turned away and didn’t notice Buffy begin to frown as she stared across the room at him.

He went to the window and gazed out. The moon was full and high, sailing above the treetops. He had a sudden longing to be out there, hunting, running across the soft grass, leaping high into a tree – he could feel his claws digging into the bark, the sweet pull of his muscles bunching to push him higher and higher and –

“Spike! Spike! What the hell’s the matter. You’re growling. And your eyes – oh my God, Spike, what’s happening to your eyes?”

to be continued
Chp 8 One wrong word by Lilachigh
Author's Notes:
Sorry for delay, been on holiday. Back now and trying to catch up on all my stories.
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chp 8 One wrong word

“So where is he now?” Willow sat cross-legged on her bed and gazed in concern at Buffy. The Slayer was standing, looking out of the window into the darkened back yard beyond. Her slim shoulders looked tense and Willow could see by the way her fingers were clenched on the curtains that her apparent calm was all pretence.

“Out there somewhere.” Her voice was tight and thin.

“But Buffy, how could Spike become a werewolf? He hasn’t been bitten and I don’t even know if vampires can be changed like that. I’d need to study some of Giles’ books to make sure. Tell me again what happened.”

“Moon came out full, Spike began to growl, and his eyes went sort of silvery.”

“And with the hair and fangs and, you know, running on all fours and wanting to tear people limb from limb? Because, hey, Oz’s girl once remember. Still in the memory bank.”

Buffy opened the window and leant out. “I can’t see him anywhere. But no, there was no hair or fangs or wolfy behaviour. He didn’t howl, just growled – ”

“Spike often growls.”

Buffy felt heat flood through her veins. Yes her lover growled, often and always when they made love. There were certain things he did to her that always had a soft growling accompaniment and just before he roared when his climax struck, a deep growl would shake him from head to toe. But this time –

“This was – different,” she managed. “He looked – well, he looked puzzled, bewildered. Then his eyes went silver and he pushed me aside and vanished.”

“But at least he didn’t try and harm you, so that’s a plus,” the redhead said, trying to sound up-beat. “And at least you had the sense not to follow him. If he has turned into a werewolf, then you mustn’t go near him. And even then, you’ll have to think about – well everything to do with being with Spike – because I don’t know if a vampire goes back to normal once the moon changes again.”

Buffy turned slowly and stared at her friend as her words still rang in her ears. ‘The sense not to follow him.’ Willow was frowning, her expression one of determination and – Buffy searched for the words to describe what she was seeing – Willow looked – smug! There was a ‘don’t say we didn’t warn you!’ expression in her eyes and the shape of her mouth.

Instantly, Buffy knew what she had done and a bitter sense of shame and failure flooded through her. Jeez, the first crisis of her new relationship with Spike and she’d reverted back to the old Buffy. Ignoring the man she loved so deeply, she’d fled to her best friend to blurt out what had happened. As if they were teenagers gossiping at school. But why? For comfort? Understanding? Habit?

Yes, habit. Pathetic Buffy still clutching the invisible ribbons that tied her to her old life, trying to hold onto her out of date loyalties; a time when a group discussion about a personal problem, like who you should love and for how long, helped you forget that in the end, it was really only you, the Slayer, who would have to take the big world-saving decisions. And, of course, when that happened, your friends with all the opinions and advice were only too happy to drop the ribbons themselves and take a back seat.

She sighed. Growing up and taking on the responsibilities that came with real love was obviously not all roses and butterflies.

“Spike would never harm me, Will. He loves me. I love him.” Buffy flinched as she realised she’d spoken without any hesitation and marvelled at how far she had come in such a short time. Only days ago, she would never have admitted to anyone, not even herself, the feelings that existed between herself and the vampire. Now it seemed like second nature and her earlier reluctance ridiculous.

She shuddered. They had been happy for such a short time. Surely it wasn’t all going to end so quickly?

“I’ve got to go and find him,” she said. “Whatever’s happening to him, I need to be there. To help. Like you helped Oz.”

“Buffy, no! You mustn’t. I won’t let you. Oh, I wish Xander and Anya were here. Listen, ring Giles, ask his advice. You don’t know – ” Willow reached out a restraining hand.

Buffy smiled, turned on her heel, snapping the last ribbon that tied her to her old life and headed downstairs.

Outside the night was cool and damp. The moon sailed high, scudding in and out between rags of cloud. One second the yard was bathed in golden light, the next plunged into darkness. Buffy paused as the door swung shut behind her. She didn’t have Spike’s vampire night vision, but hers was still good enough to see that he wasn’t in the yard.

But as she reached out with her senses, they told her a vampire was close by. And not any vampire – Spike!

“Spike! Spike! Where the heck are you? Stop playing games. Speak to me.”

There was no sound except the rustling of leaves in the trees overhead. She walked slowly forwards and then tripped, kicking out at something black and clinging. A familiar smell of leather, cigarette smoke and whisky flooded her senses. It was Spike’s duster, lying discarded on the grass.

The rustling came again, but now she realised there was no wind and as the moon fled out from behind another cloud, she gazed up and saw a shape high up in the tree.

“Spike? What the hell are you doing up there? Come down. Tell me what’s going on.”

“Stay there, Buffy.” His voice sounded muffled, odd.

“Are you coming down?”

“No. I can’t.”

‘Well, then, I’m coming up!” She leapt for the first branch and hauled herself up the tree, swinging lithely from through the twigs and leaves. Spike was sitting on a wide branch near the top, his back against the trunk. As she smoothly climbed up next to him, he turned his face away, deep into the shadows.

The moon vanished again and under the dark leafy canopy, everything went black. Except – Buffy felt a shiver run across her skin – her lover’s hands where they held the branch, were shining even in the dark, as if…as if…they were covered with a fine silver pelt. And although his fingers looked just the same, from his thumbs sprang two long, golden claws that gripped the bark effortlessly.

“Spike!” Her whisper was no more than a croak, her voice had vanished. “Look at me!”

“Go away, Slayer. Spike’s not here any more.”

“Well, whoever you are, I can’t talk to the back of your head. And hey, the back of your head looks a lot like Spike’s so – ”

She stopped abruptly as the vampire turned, the moon came out once more and she got her first clear look at the man she loved. Silver hair lay sleekly across his face; the platinum curls were dark gold now and longer. But it was his eyes that held her spellbound. Wide and slanted, gleaming silver in the moonlight, they dominated the panther face before her.

“Like what you see, Slayer?” The voice was Spike’s but slurred. He stirred and she watched, fascinated, as muscles rippled beneath his jeans and T-shirt. He’d lost his boots and she could see the silver hair on his feet.

Buffy sat very still. She knew that whatever she said now could ruin their relationship forever. If she showed in the slightest that she was revolted by what she saw, or sounded sympathetic, she would loose him.

“I suppose I could have guessed that if you were going to turn into some demon, you’d choose to be a sexy one,” she managed at last. “And I’m warning you, if you shed hair all over the bedroom, you get to sweep it up!”

For a long moment the silver eyes contracted into feral slits, then they widened again and the scarred eyebrow beneath the silver hair lifted slightly. “Bloody hell, Slayer, does nothing throw you off your stride?”

Buffy gabbled a silent prayer to whichever power was guiding her this evening. If it was her mom, then she only hoped she’d stay at her side until this was fixed.

“How did it happen?”

Spike shrugged and stretched his arms above his head, the claws ripping the bark on the tree trunk behind him. “No idea, pet. One minute I was me, next I’m up this soddin’ tree, playing lion king.”

“A spell? A hex? Because Willow can fix those. ”

“That’s good, as long as it wasn’t Red who made me this way in the first place.”

Buffy frowned and reached out automatically for his hand. She found she was stroking the silver hair; it rippled beneath her fingers, soft but strong.
“Why would she do that?”

“Last chance to break us up, pet. Let’s face it; we know she’s strong enough to do it. And this isn’t some werewolf thing. I haven’t been bitten – except by you, sweetheart! Remember?”

Buffy fought to keep a straight face. This was not the time for remembering that particular incident, although the sensation of the fur under her fingers and the silver gleaming in his eyes was sending very odd feelings coursing through her.

Then, suddenly, something inside her head clicked. “Spike, you have been bitten recently! Eric bit you. When we first met him at the Children’s Home. Remember! He bit your finger.”

The rough golden head turned and a deep growl shook his chest. Buffy tried to turn on the branch, slipped and felt herself falling. Spike’s hand shot out and she winced as the claw grazed her arm, but he pulled her upright, holding her close against him as the leaves beneath them rustled apart and a small figure leapt through.

With the ease of the silver panther cub he closely resembled, Eric swung himself onto a branch and stared at them. His hair was shorter than Spike’s; the dark gold obviously came with age. But the eyes were silver and the fine hair covering his face gleamed in the moonlight. He was holding a dead mouse in one hand. The tail was still twitching.

“Hi Spike. Hi Buffy! I thought it was you two up here. You were making so much noise, I could hear you miles away. Would you like some mouse?”

“Eric! No. Put that down. It isn’t even - What – who – Eric, what are you?” Buffy said.

The boy frowned and scratched his nose with a baby claw. “I’m Eric. You know. I went with you to find Santa Claus and your fat friend took his job away from him. That was cool.”

Buffy took a deep breath. Could this night get any more bizarre? “Eric, we know who you are. I mean, what are you? What have you made Spike become?”

The cub-boy bit the head off the now dead mouse with two small incisors and chewed happily. “He’ll go back to old Spike when it’s day time. It only happens at night. Well, at least that’s what Dad told me before he died.”

“Your Dad was like this?”

“No, Dad was like Buffy, quite ordinary. My Mom was special. My Dad said she was the most special person in the whole world. She was a Silvamalkyne, but she was one all the time. I’m only half one, of course. And now Spike is, too. I think it’s great. Aren’t you pleased?”

to be continued
Chapter 9 Morning Blues by Lilachigh
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chapter 9 Morning Blues

Buffy and Spike have returned from the world of Santa Claus, leaving Xander and Anya behind. Buffy was sure that now she had told everyone that she and Spike were in love, her life would be simpler. But the orphan boy, Eric, has infected Spike with some demon blood that changes him every night into a silver panther demon.

Buffy watched the sun come up the next morning from the porch steps, remembering all the times she’d done this same thing in her life. Late in from slaying, or out with Angel, fighting some demon, worrying about her mom and Dawn, too tired to go to bed, too weary to think.

She heard the door behind her creak open and Willow sat down, handing her a mug of coffee. “Did you sleep at all?”

Buffy shook her head. “When I finally persuaded Spike to come down from the tree and go to bed, I had to make sure Eric went back to the orphanage and then – oh, I don’t know, Will, it just seems unfair. We’ve been through so much; everything was beginning to make sense, I was happy. I think Spike was happy, too. And now this – this Silvamalkyne thing – which wasn’t even his fault. It’s so not fair.”

Willow sipped her own coffee, remembering Oz, thinking about Tara. It was pointless telling Buffy that life wasn’t fair for anyone; she only ever saw things from her point of view.

“Is he asleep?”

Buffy nodded wearily. “I hope so. I want him to wake up normal. Eric swears that’s what happens; the transformation only happens at nightfall and vanishes when he goes to sleep a few hours later. But listen, Will, I need you to research this. Spike’s a vampire; does the infection work in him the same way as it would a normal human? It came on so fast, he said. One second he was heating a packet of blood for supper and the next he was climbing a tree and desperate to hunt for fresh red meat!”

“I’ll start right away. I haven’t heard about it before, but there’s sure to be information buried away on some site. I hate to say this, but I wish Anya was here. She would be sure to know something.”

Buffy sighed and rubbed her hands across her eyes. “We won’t see her and Xander again until his time as Santa Claus is over. And I don’t think D’Hoffryn will be too happy if we call him up and say we want to talk to her.”

“Hey, we could ask him about being a Silvamalkyne.”

Buffy frowned. “Only as a last resort. Summoning demons isn’t the top of my best thing to do list. You’ll find something, Will, you know you’re the best.”

The red-head smiled faintly and took a large gulp of coffee. Buffy didn’t understand what she was asking – how seductive it was to plunge into demon research, to pit your wits against magical barriers and force-fields, to use all your witchy powers to get the results you wanted. A seduction that had ruined her relationship with Tara and one she’d been fighting to avoid. But surely this research couldn’t harm anyone and would only help Buffy, make her realise that this relationship she had with Spike was so very wrong.

The two girls went indoors. Sounds of running water and banging doors told them that Dawn was up and getting ready for school. Minutes later a clatter of feet on the stairs and she was in the kitchen, pouring juice, devouring cereal, long hair tied back with a bright green scarf.

“No dear little Eric to look after this morning,” she sniped at her sister. “I expect you miss him.”

Buffy tried to keep her irritation from showing. “He’s gone back to the orphanage, you know that, Dawnie. He’ll be coming to visit again at the weekend.”

“What a surprise!”

“Dawn – that’s just silly. You sound about eight years old! You know, if you tried, you’d see what a great kid he is.”

Dawn poured the last of the milk into her cereal with a triumphant flourish. “We’re out of milk! I think Eric drank a lot when he was here. Kids are expensive. But then, you and Spike know that already, don’t you. You’re always telling me to help save money.”

Even through the mists of her worry about Spike, Buffy could hear the hurt in her sister’s voice. She’d listened to Willow’s explanation of why Dawn felt as she did, but still couldn’t fully understand why she was jealous of Eric. But she had to admit that she seemed deeply unhappy that the little boy had entered their lives. She wondered what her sister would say when she discovered what Eric had done to Spike! That a tiny bite from the small boy had altered something inside the vampire and changed everything. It wasn’t going to help smooth things over, that was for sure.

“Anyway, Janice’s mom has asked me if I want to stay over tonight. We’re going bowling tomorrow. It’s Saturday, in case you’d forgotten, what with all the child care!” She waved a dripping milky spoon at Buffy – “She’s going to call you to ask – arrange it all. Don’t worry. Well, I don’t expect you would worry, but it’ll be fun and as I won’t be here, I’m saving you money to spend on Eric!”

Buffy took a deep breath; she refused to allow Dawn’s petulance to get under her skin. “Bowling sounds fun. Perhaps one day you can teach Eric how to play.”

Dawn looked startled. “Wouldn’t you and Spike want to do that?”

Buffy fought down an urge to tell her sister that from now on, Spike would turn into a silver haired panther every time night fell. Heading out for an evening’s fun at the local bowling alley was probably not going to come out high on his to do list.

When Dawn finally left and Willow settled down at her computer, Buffy fled back upstairs. Their bedroom was gloomy, the new heavy drapes she’d put up only a few days ago shutting out the bright sunlight. Tentatively, she tiptoed across the floor and peered down at the figure sprawled across the bed.

Her heart did a double flip as she made out the tousled platinum hair, the flat planes of the face she now freely admitted she loved. And the face was free of silver hair, his long fingers clawless once more. With a sigh of relief she flung off her clothes and burrowed down next to Spike, pulling the comforter over them. She pushed her nose into the firm flesh across his chest and breathed in the scent of her vampire lover until her head swam.

Running her hands down his back and across his thighs, she muttered, “Wake up! Wake up! Make love to me, now!”

She pulled his face tightly against her breasts and smiled as she felt the brush of his eyelashes against her heated skin. “You’re not asleep, Spike. Stop pretending.”

“Can’t wake up if I haven’t bloody well been asleep, can I?”

Buffy felt a cold shiver run across her body at the pain and anger in his voice. She made her voice as cheerful as she could. “Well, sun’s up and your pretty silver hair has vanished, along with your claws. Just like Eric said they would. And anyway, when did having no sleep mean no sex? Never bothered us before. Or perhaps you don’t fancy me anymore?” She ran her hands over his body again, possessively, intrusively, glorying in the response she achieved. And then –

Spike rolled away from her and sat up. “Always fancy you, Slayer. Love you, that’s a given. But we’ve got to face facts. Things have changed. I’ve changed.”

Buffy sat up, heart racing, trying to find the right words. “If this is about last night – we don’t know what’s involved, what will happen. You haven’t changed, Spike. Just your – ” she gestured – “your appearance.”

The vampire rolled off the bed and pulled on his jeans and a black T shirt, searched for his boots and sat next to her to pull them on. Buffy could have cried at the sheer domesticity of them getting ready in the morning.

“Not just my appearance, pet. Could cope with that – although bloody hell, claws and a pelt need some getting used to – but it’s inside as well.”

He turned to look at her, his heart sinking at the stubborn expression that had appeared on her face. This was Slayer Buffy, who expected the world to be odd and dangerous and who would just keep on attacking it until it did what she wanted it to do. When she was in this mood, it was very difficult to talk to her.

“Last night – I became a predator, Buffy. Oh, I’ve been that as a vampire for far too may years not to recognise what I felt. But you have no idea how hard it was for me not to just run – run and kill, not just for blood, but for the hunt, for meat, flesh and bones to grind.”

Buffy gathered up her clothes from where she’d scattered them, pushing away the stupid thought that flew through her brain that this was the last time she would be naked in front of him. “But you didn’t hunt, didn’t kill. Perhaps the chip stops you from doing that, just like it stops you killing humans.”

For a second, Spike’s face softened with hope, then he shook his head. “Doesn’t matter, pet. There is no way I can stay here in this house with you and Dawnie. We’ve no idea how dangerous these Sylvamalkyens can be. We know what happened to Oz when he changed – seems like the same sort of thing to me except it happens every night, not just at full moon.” He held up a hand, interrupting her before she could speak – “and don’t suggest building me some sort of cage, sweetheart. There is no way I could live like that every night of my life.”

Buffy caught his hand. “OK, no cage, but you’re not a werewolf, Spike. It’s different to Oz. Anyway, Willow is being all research girl right now. She’ll find out what this is and how to cure it.”

Spike leant forward and dropped a light kiss on her mouth, then pulled her close and kissed her, long and hard, as if trying to install every particle of sensation into his brain. At last he broke free and ran his hand gently down her face, savouring the softness of her skin. “Let’s hope Red comes up with something soon, Slayer. I don’t want to leave you for long.”

“What the heck are you talking about? Leaving me?”

“Buffy, I’ve already said, I can’t stay under the same roof as you and Dawn. It’s too dangerous. I’ll head back to my crypt until we get more information.”

Buffy stood up, feeling her temper rising to drown out her fear. “You’re just running away, Spike. How the heck are you going to be any less dangerous away in the cemetery? I love you. You said you loved me. I trust you to stay here. Why can’t you trust yourself?”

He shrugged, realising that she had no idea of how powerful those feelings had been the night before and that he didn’t trust himself. That was the problem.

“Anyway, it’s broad daylight outside. You can’t go anywhere yet.”

Spike hesitated, then nodded. “OK, pet. I’ll stay till this evening. And let’s hope Willow has discovered some sort of cure by then, because whatever you say, Buffy, no matter how much I love you, I am not living here and putting you and Dawn in danger.”

Chapter 10 Let him go! by Lilachigh
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chapter 10 Let him go. ‘

The day dragged by – Spike prowled round the house for a while then vanished into their bedroom and lay in the darkened room, waiting.

Buffy tried to pretend everything was okay: she made a quick visit to the local market, did laundry, ordered pizza for lunch and tried not to ask Willow too many times if she’d discovered anything yet.

Willow dug deeper and deeper into magic, trying to stem the waves of anger that were beginning to overwhelm her. All this was so unnecessary. If Buffy and Spike had never got together, then they wouldn’t have befriended Eric, Spike wouldn’t have been bitten and, what was even more important, Xander wouldn’t have decided to play the martyr and condemn himself to a year or more of servitude as Santa Claus.

She stopped using the computer keyboard and let her magic take her deep inside the streams of knowledge that only she could access. She missed Xander so much – oh, she knew that he thought he loved Anya and perhaps in some bizarre, demon-loving way he did, but he was still her best friend and it wasn’t fair that he wasn’t there for her now.

She broke off working and pulled herself back to the real world as Spike appeared, silently as usual. “Buffy’s gone shopping,” she said swiftly. “She’ll be back soon.”

Spike flung himself down on the sofa. “Any luck with the – ” he waved towards the computer – “magicals?”

Willow shook her head. “But it’s early days yet. This is a very odd type of demon. Not much known about how Sylvamalkyns infect humans.”

“Or vampires!”

She nodded. “OK, yes, much not knowing of the vampire connection, but hey, trying hard here. I know how worried you and Buffy must be.”

Spike looked at her, his expression suddenly shrewd. “You really don’t approve of me and Buffy being together, do you, Red?”

Biting her lip, she turned back to the computer. “She’s my friend. I don’t want to see her hurt again. I was there through all the Angel thing, don’t forget. We all suffered in different ways from that passion.”

“I won’t hurt her; I couldn’t. I love her.”

“Love!” The word sounded bitter from her lips. “Oh, we can all fall in love, Spike. That doesn’t mean it has to end in roses and puppies, white dresses and confetti. It doesn’t stop people getting hurt. I should know!”

He arched an eyebrow at her expression, wondering at the depths of her feelings. Oz, Tara, both loved, both lost but they weren’t the cause of this distress. No, he had a shrewd idea that behind everything was Willow’s unrequited love for Xander Harris.

He knew love came in all sorts of shapes and sizes: he’d spent years loving Dru and he couldn’t even begin to understand his feelings where Angel were concerned, so he didn’t try. But his love for Buffy was – he struggled to put it into some sort of words – right. It was as simple and straightforward as that.
“I’d rather stake myself than see Buffy hurt the way Liam hurt her.”

“Oz was terrified he would hurt me.”

“I liked Oz. Never said much, but he was a cool guy. He’d understand.”

“He left the country,” Willow said carefully. “Went right away, to be sure he couldn’t harm me.” There was a silence, then she added, “So if I can’t find a cure for the Sylvamalkyn infection, what will you do?”

He stood up, pushing his fists deep into his pockets. “I have no idea, but I refuse to put Buffy and Dawn in any sort of danger.”

Willow nodded and watched him lope away back to the bedroom he shared with her friend, where noises she knew they were unaware of disturbed her sleep every night, filling her with an envy, a jealousy she hadn’t known before. A jealousy that frightened her with its black depths.

She turned back to the computer and was apparently hard at work when Buffy came back from the market, and the rich, sweet smell of fresh raw meat filled the house.

“I bought steak and pork,” she said in explanation. “I thought if we had plenty of raw meat on hand, Spike wouldn’t need to hunt for it.”

Willow nodded enthusiastically. “Good plan,” she said, but didn’t believe for a second that it would work. From what she had learnt during these long hours, it was the hunt that drove Sylvamalkyns. They wanted to eat raw flesh but hunting and catching it were the important parts. She didn’t think a plate of cutlets was going to help at all. Even the chip inside his head would make no difference. In some way she didn’t yet understand, this infection overrode the science. As a Sylvamalkyn, Spike was free to kill what and whom he liked. But she didn’t tell Buffy; the last thing she wanted was for the Slayer to ask where she’d got her information.

As dusk was finally falling, Spike came downstairs again. He held out his hands towards Buffy and she felt a chill run through her body as she saw the first faint silver hairs beginning to grow on his arms.

“It’s happening again, pet. Just like Eric said it would. Look, Buffy, I’ve got to get out of here. I’m going to be too dangerous to live with.”

Buffy turned to Willow in despair. “Nothing? You’ve still got nothing?”

The red-head shrugged and pretended to turn off her computer. “Bits and pieces, Buffy, that’s all. As far as I can tell, once you become infected, you should turn into a Sylvamalkyn every night. But I think Spike being a vampire alters all that. He didn’t change when Eric first bit him, did he? I think it has to do with the moon. So much magic does.”

“Like a werewolf?”

“Yes, sort of.”

“But is there a cure?” Spike asked, uneasily aware that the demon power was beginning to grow and surge through his body once more, the tingling on his skin as the pelt began to grow, the feverish hunger for hot, raw flesh consuming his mind.

Willow stared across the room to where the two of them were sitting on the sofa, Buffy’s hands tightly grasping Spike’s as if she would never let him go, her eyes dark with anxiety. This was all wrong! Buffy was the Slayer; she had a mission, a purpose in life that she was ignoring because of her infatuation with Spike. Willow had no doubt at all that it was just that – an infatuation: there was no way her friend was truly in love with another vampire. Angel had been kind of cool and Willow had seen the feelings they had for each other, feelings that had resulted in Angelus. And she could recall clearly all the pain, death and misery that relationship had caused. She refused to believe that Buffy was prepared to go down that road again. She wouldn’t let her.

“I couldn’t find any mention of a cure on line,” she said slowly, waiting for them to ask about finding one some other way. But they didn’t. They just sat, wrapped up in each other, not listening properly to what she’d just said. ‘And I didn’t lie,’ she thought righteously. ‘I didn’t find the cure on line.’

Spike stood up. “So, that’s that. Listen, pet – no, don’t look like that! – I have to go. I’ll move back into my crypt.”

Buffy stared at him. “And how is you moving away from me going to help? You’ll still go all pantherish every time the moon is full. You’ll run wild and hunt for flesh. If you’re living here, I can help you, stop you. ”

Spike cupped her face with hands that were now fully covered in silver fur. “Buffy – Slayer – this isn’t like wanting to drink blood and being able to cope with pig or cow. It’s a hunger far beyond that. It’s the hunt, the tearing, the killing that I lust for – I don’t think there’s anything you can do to stop that. I mean you could tie me to the bed and – as much fun as that would be at other times – no sodding bonds will hold me when the moon is full.”

“Like tonight?” she whispered, her throat dry with pain.

Her lover nodded, his hands dropping away from her cheeks as long curved claws began to grow from the end of his fingers. A shimmer slid across his face and she took a small step backwards as his eyes slanted upwards and she could see the pelt beginning to appear on those high cheekbones she loved so much.

“And it happens so fast,” he muttered. “I have to go. I want to go, now! Don’t try to stop me!” and with a snarl, he pushed her hard, flinging her back down onto the sofa and throwing open the door, fled out into the night.

“Spike!” Buffy’s despairing shout rang through the room and she started after him, then stopped. She knew that she had no chance of catching him: in the dark, with his vampire vision enhanced by Sylvamalkyn powers , he would be out of range before she reached the sidewalk.

“Let him go, Buffy,” Willow said. “He’s doing the right thing. We’ve no idea just how dangerous he might be.”

Buffy whirled round, eyes flashing. “You never gave up on Oz when he went all wolfie!”

Willow bit her lip, backing away from the anger on her friend’s face. “But we knew how to deal with werewolves. There was so much information. But this is demon infestation, totally different.” She hesitated, then went on, “And he really did want to go. You heard him – he said ‘don’t try to stop me’.”

Buffy flinched. “Did he say anything while I was out?”

Willow shook her head slowly. “Nooo, just, you know, worried about the future, Dawnie, you. He mentioned Angel.”

“Angel?” Buffy felt a coldness invade her body. A vampire who’d walked away from his problems – oh, for what he would insist was a valid reason, but he’d still walked. Was Spike beginning to think that his grand-sire had done the right thing?

“Buffy – ”


“Don’t – I mean, listen for a second – this relationship with Spike – I mean, it’s so new, so unusual, do you think that perhaps, well, it’s a realisation on his part that it’s all too difficult, too complicated. First there was Dawn, then Eric and now this demon thingie, maybe, well, perhaps he just – ”

Buffy stared at her, her face very pale. “Just say it, Will.”

“Perhaps he just wants to leave. And perhaps, if you love him as you say you do, you should let him.”

Chapter 11 by Lilachigh
Author's Notes:
Sorry for long delay.
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chapter 11 Demon Spells

The candles were dying - flickering in odd currents of air that drifted through the darkness of the crypt. Spike, slumped bonelessly in a chair, staring at the nearest golden flame. If Buffy didn’t arrive by the time it went out, then he knew she wouldn’t come at all. He’d waited three days - expecting the crypt door to be flung open, her voice scolding but loving. He’d even been expecting her fists to thump into his face, then her fingers to busy themselves with zippers and buttons and him.

But the door had remained close, the candles were now burning low and he felt the sick wash of rejection and bitter acceptance sweep over him.

He’d only left the crypt for a short while, to hunt through the graveyard, cramming a small, squeaking creature into his mouth, hating himself for loving the brief, hot flood of blood in his throat. But the moon was beginning to wane and the Sylvamalkyn demon was finally retreating from his mind. Now when the urge to hunt came over him, he could fight it back. Now the silver pelt only grew thinly on his skin.

A few hours ago, he’d found himself at the door, about to go to her, to tell her he was wrong to have left, that he would wait with her until Willow found a cure. His hand had been reaching out and then he’d somehow managed to stop, forcing control. This was his choice and if she didn’t agree then there was nothing to stop her -

But still she didn’t come. He sipped whisky and tried to tell himself that this was what he’d wanted, safety for her and Dawn. He’d chosen to leave her, he’d put her first because he loved her. He was a bloody fool to think she would have had a different opinion. She had to keep herself safe; she was the Slayer. And there was always Dawn to think about. So there was no reason for him to feel so wretched. OK, he loved her, had done for ages, would go on doing so, nothing new there. Had never thought she would ever love him and had gloried in the times they had spent together when she’d acted as if she did care - a little, anyway.

When a fist finally thudded on the door, he found himself there, hand on the latch, before he could blink. Then from somewhere the cold voice of reason demanded to be heard. Buffy wouldn’t knock - she never did. No, the Slayer would have come bursting in like a small blonde bombshell, scattering all before her.

“Spike - are you there? - Spike, it’s me, Dawn.”

Without thinking, he turned the key in the lock. There was no way he was going to let her in. Dawn wouldn’t understand that she could be in danger from him next time the moon rose over Sunnydale. No, it was best that she thought he’d left town, gone away - which, of course, was exactly what he should have done.

He leant his head against the scarred wood and shut his eyes, pain roaring through his brain as he heard her pleading with him to let her in. But if it kept her safe, then his pain was worth it.

Dusk was falling as Dawn turned away from Spike’s crypt and began to walk home. Angry and upset, she hugged her arms around herself. She was sure Spike had been inside; she’d definitely heard the sound of the key turning in the lock. He’d deliberately shut her out. So OK, he might be up to some yucky, evil, vampire thing that she didn’t know about yet, but - she flung herself down on a flat tombstone, unwilling to go home and face her sister with some lame excuse as to why she was so late. She hadn’t understood why he’d left Ravello and moved back here. Buffy and Willow had been all “oh you wouldn’t understand...and guys need space sometimes....and....he’ll be round very soon, don’t worry about it” as if she was still some stupid kid who believed that everything in the world would come right and they would all live happily ever after.

That kid had vanished forever when her Mom died. But Buffy and Willow didn’t believe that. Spike did.

Dawn shivered: she knew she’d been acting like some spoilt brat recently, especially over little Eric. But she was sorry! Now all she wanted was to tell Spike that because she was pretty certain it was all her fault that he’d left; he’d got tired of her behaviour and now he was gone, she just knew that Buffy would hate her forever and ever.

“Are you crying? Have you hurt yourself?”

Dawn leapt up, all Buffy’s lectures about graveyards, vampires and demons rushing back to hammer guitily at her mind. “Oh it’s you!” Eric, the orphan boy whom Buffy and Spike liked so much was standing on the path, gazing at her, wide-eyed, grubby-faced, cute and as annoying as ever. “No, I’m not hurt and I’m not crying. Go away.”

“Are too! But it doesn’t matter. Girls always cry - ” he hesitated then went on - “Well, that’s what my Dad always used to say - before he - before he...” He trailed to a halt and Dawn felt a flicker of sympathy and understanding. She knew that his father had been burnt up from the inside, a victim of Sweet, the dancing demon who had been so keen to take her away from this world and marry her. She’d never really considered that before, that Eric had lost a parent, just like she had, even though Buffy had mentioned it several times: no she’d been too busy disliking him. She bit her lip; no wonder Spike had left them.

“Have you been to see Spike?” Eric swerved away from a subject he obviously couldn’t face.

Dawn nodded and reached out automatically to push out of his eyes the tousled blond hair that badly needed a cut. “He’s not answering. I think he’s in there but he doesn’t want to talk to me.”

Eric batted her hand away. “He doesn’t want to talk to anyone. Not even me and I can tell him all about being a Sylvamalkyn.”

“A what?”

Eric looked at her with the typical expression of a small boy faced with an adult who seemed lacking in any common-sense. “A Sylvamalkyn! Panther demon. I’m half one because my mom was a whole one. Now Spike’s caught it off me so he’s a quarter one, or at least that’s what Buffy told me. But because Spike’s a vampire as well, I think it makes him feel sort of odd about it.” He shrugged. “If he doesn’t like being one, I don’t get why he doesn’t just do the spell and go back to normal. Dad wanted me to do it, but I like being special.” He gazed round at the tombstones. “This is a cool place to live. Much better than the silly old orphanage. I wish I could live here with Spike. Hey, is that another vampire?”

Dawn spun round in time to see a head thrusting out of a grave only yards away and with astonishing speed, the whole vamp erupted out of the ground and stumbled towards them. She backed away, fumbling desperately to find the cross Buffy insisted she wore round her neck, then remembering in despair that she’d defiantly replaced it with a locket she’d stolen from the mall only yesterday.

With a yell, Eric threw a stone but Dawn knew he was too small to do any damage. Ignoring his protests, she caught hold of his arm and raced with him out of the cemetery. Vampires were rising, so Buffy would be arriving soon and she definitely did not want her sister to catch her here after dark. No, she needed to get somewhere private where she could listen carefully to everything Eric had to say.

Buffy limped through the front door at around midnight. She’d been patrolling for a couple of hours and her last fight with a particularly aggressive vamp had left her with a cut knee and bruises. It had been her fault: her concentration levels were particularly low tonight, especially because they’d been fighting within sight of Spike’s crypt and she’d been gazing past the vamp for much of the time, wondering if her lover would come out to help her, or at least stand and watch, clapping silently as she went to work. But the door had remained shut fast.

Willow was still up, clicking away at her computer. She looked up with a frown. “Bad night?”

Buffy shrugged. “Oh the usual. How about you? Any joy with the research?”

Her friend shook her head sadly. “No, not so far, but hey - ” she tried to sound encouraging - “I’ll find something eventually.”

“Eventually will probably be too late.” She hesitated then blurted out, “I think Spike’s leaving Sunnydale, Will. He might even have gone. I haven’t heard from him in three days.”

“I expect he’s just, you know, getting used to the change. But - ” Willow hesitated - “He really might think this is the best for both of you, Buffy. He’s dangerous, he can’t help himself when the moon rises and he becomes a Sylvamalkyn.”

Buffy turned away. They’d talked themselves down this road before. Until Willow came up with a spell to help Spike get back to normality, there was nothing new to say. “What time did Dawnie get in?” she asked as she headed for the stairs.

“Oh, er, I’m not sure.” Willow felt the colour rise in her cheeks. She’d been so busy with her magics that she hadn’t noticed the teenager. She must have come in quite late and not wanted Willow to see in case she told Buffy. “Not too late,” she said valiantly, feeling pleased with herself for helping Dawn avoid a row and not realising that the youngster had never returned.

“I’ll see you in the morning,” Buffy said wearily and climbed the stairs to bed, to a room that still held the tang of leather and whisky. The pillow next to hers still bore the imprint of his head, most of his clothes had gone, but an old T shirt was thrown in a corner and she picked it up and buried her face in the soft cotton. Being with Spike, admitting that she loved him, knowing he loved her, that had taken away the dreadful loneliness of being a Slayer. Now she was on her own again, realising that she would stay that way for ever.

She curled up on the bed and stared, dry-eyed into the dark. She wished she could cry but somehow she had passed that stage. She was staring into an abyss and had no idea how to climb out.

Willow snapped her computer shut and leant back in her chair, her eyes closed, letting her mind wander up into the stars, wondering how Xander and Anya were doing in that ancient demon world where Santa Claus reined supreme. She missed her friend so much. Oz, Tara and Xander - all people she loved, all gone now. But she still had Buffy’s friendship and now Spike was out of the picture, the Slayer would remember her old friend and that warm, easy companionship would surely return. She drifted off into a fantasy where she and Buffy and Xander were all together again and didn’t notice that the front door had begun to open.

Outside in the dark, eyes wide in puzzlement, Dawn stood very still, her thoughts tumbling over and over inside her head like washing in the dryer. She couldn’t catch hold of an idea long enough to examine it. Because nothing made sense - over a soda and burger, Eric had told her in great detail about the Sylvamalkyn demons, what happened to you when you were infected, how dangerous you could be when the lust for hunting hit you.

But he’d also told her that there was a reversal spell, quite an easy one apparently, that would wipe the demon strain from your blood if you’d been bitten by one, but sadly not if you’d inherited it from your parents. He didn’t seem to mind that; he felt it was cool to be half demon and not just an ordinary little boy. She knew and understood all about that. Sometimes she longed to be special, be a Slayer or a witch, anything except for boring old Dawn who used to be glowing green energy and now was just - Buffy’s little sister.

She’d rushed home, ready to confront Buffy, tell her that she understood why Spike had left and demand to know why she hadn’t allowed Willow to perform the reversal spell. Didn’t she want him back in their lives? But now Dawn had overheard Willow saying she couldn’t find one, couldn’t find a spell that Eric said was easy. Nothing made sense.

Why would Willow not tell Buffy about the spell? Even when she’d felt jealous and resentful of their interest in Eric, Dawn had realised that the feelings between Slayer and Vamp were strong and deep, that fighting against all the odds they deserved to be together. This demon infection had split them up and now it was almost as if Willow - Dawn thrust the thought away; she was being horrible again. Why did she always think the worst of people and not the best? Her mom would have been ashamed of her. Perhaps...perhaps....she desperately sought for a satisfactory reason - hey, yes, Willow had found the spell and it didn’t work on vampires!

Dawn sighed with relief. Yes, that was it - Willow wasn’t being deliberately cruel to Spike - the stupid charm probably only worked on humans.

She tiptoed through the door and scuttled up the stairs before the red-headed witch could spot her. She hesitated outside Buffy’s bedroom, tempted to knock and tell her, but then she’d have to admit to being out after dark in the grave-yard and there’d be a row, especially as Buffy was so up tight at the moment. And jeez, it wasn’t that easy to tell your sister that her best friend was lying to her!

But as Dawn crawled into bed, the nagging thoughts wouldn’t go away. Eric might only be a stupid, annoying brat, but he seemed to know all about Sylvamalkyns - and why shouldn’t he if his mom had been one and he turned at the rising of the moon?

She pulled the quilt over her head and went to sleep with a final grim thought: the next day she would have to find someone she could ask about demon spells!

Chapter 12 Like....forever by Lilachigh
Author's Notes:
I know I am being slow with this story, but am getting there finally!
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chapter 12 Like...forever

Dawn woke early - she’d left her curtains open so that the rising sun blazed onto her face - a far better alarm than any clock and easily the best way of hiding the fact from her Slayer sister that she was up and about. Today was Sunday - the only day of the week when she was actually allowed to sleep in a little longer. She reckoned Buffy wouldn’t check her room until about ten o’clock, which would give her plenty of time to decide who to ask about a reversing spell for the Sylvamalkyn demon who’d infected Spike.

Dressing took moments - there was no sound from her sister’s room or Willow’s. Creeping downstairs, avoiding the steps that creaked, she eased the door open, trying hard not to let it creak. She backed out onto the porch, letting the catch click behind her, then squealed as her sister’s voice said, “Going somewhere?”


The Slayer was sitting on the top step of the porch; she looked pale and tired, as if she hadn’t slept all night.

“I...I...bad dream! Thought I’d go for a walk - clear my head.” She sat down next to her sister, trying to ignore the questioning glance Buffy gave her.

“Dawn Summers! It’s Sunday morning - you haven’t got out of bed before nine o’clock on a Sunday even when we’ve been fighting demons and beasties. So come on, tell me. What’s up?”

The teenager hesitated; it was all so complicated - Spike going, Eric’s revelation that there was a spell that meant the vampire didn’t have to stay a Sylvamalkyn, and what was worse, the fact that Willow must know about it and wasn’t telling Buffy, her best friend! “I was talking to Eric yesterday...” she began cautiously.

“Oh no!” Buffy broke in. “You haven’t been arguing with him again surely?”

“No, no! He’s OK, for a little boy, I suppose. He’s...he’s very fond of Spike.” She felt Buffy flinch even though she was a good foot away from her. Obviously even the mention of the vampire’s name was like poking a bad tooth with your finger to see if it still hurt.

“I know he is. But he’ll soon forget him. Kids do.”

“Have you forgotten Dad?”

Buffy shut her eyes, pretending it was to shield them from the glare of the rising sun, but really to prevent tears running down her face. It was so weird listening to Dawn talking about a father she’d never had, although in her mind she could remember a life where he’d been important and there, loving her in his own way. And it was all false. “Of course I haven’t forgotten Dad. More like he’s forgotten us!”

Dawn broke off a little piece of wood, a splinter, from the edge of the wooden porch steps. “He’s just busy over in Spain. It’s a long way away and there’s the time difference...and...” She fumbled her way into silence. “Anyway, Spike isn’t going to forget us, no matter how much space you say he needs.”

“Dawnie, listen, don’t set your heart of seeing Spike again real soon. He might...well, he’s probably left town already. He’s...well, he’s got certain problems and as Willow says, he can’t solve them while he’s worrying about us.”

“Buffy - I know all about the Sylvamalkyn demony thing. Eric told me yesterday.”

Her sister twisted round, her eyes wide with shock and concern. “What?”

“Buffy, it’s OK to talk to me, you know. I don’t understand lots of things, but I do see that you and Spike are great together and that you’re unhappy he’s moved out. And...” she hesitated, digging the little wooden stake into her thumb and watching a bright bead of blood bloom on the odd that it was bright red. Somehow she always wondered if one day it would be green.... “I know I’ve been horrible about Eric. And I’m sorry. Really sorry. And I do see that it must be so hard to take because the easy reversal spell obviously only works on humans who’ve been infected by blood, not inherited it, but not vamps, but I’m sure Willow will find one that works on Spike if we trust her long enough. Then he can come home, can’t he, as long as...well, as long as you want him to, I suppose.”

Buffy was silent for a long few seconds. She stared at her sister, seeing clearly for the first time how the adolescent was slowly fading away, that a partly grown up woman was beginning to make her very capable and forthright appearance. And the worry of caring for Dawn that had settled on her shoulders for all these months since their mom’s death, eased just a little. Then, at last, finally, the meaning of her jumbled words sunk into her head.

“What reversal spell? Dawn, what are you talking about? There isn’t a spell of any kind - that’s the whole problem: that’s why Spike’s determined to stay away from me - and you! He’s terrified of harming us when he turns into a Sylvamalkyn. I’ve told him I want him here, that I’m certain he wouldn’t hurt us, but he won’t listen! Stupid vamp!”

Dawn suddenly didn’t feel as grown up as she had done only seconds before. She felt very young and scared and - her thoughts swooped to a halt - angry. Because she believed what Eric had told her and if Buffy didn’t know about the spell, then that meant Willow was hiding it from her and, more importantly, from Spike.

Buffy’s hand flashed out and grasped Dawn’s wrist. “This isn’t some silly joke, is it, Dawnie? No, I can see it isn’t. Sorry! Who told you - it must have been Eric! It was Eric, wasn’t it?”

“Ouch! And Ouch!” Dawn pulled her wrist away, massaging the skin that would soon bear her sister’s purple finger-prints like a small amethyst bracelet. “Yes, it was Eric, but Buffy, maybe he’s wrong and Willow’s right. I mean, he’s only young and Willow’s very clever and a witch and - “

Buffy could have sworn she felt a sort of click happen in her head and suddenly everything seemed crystal clear. “Willow hates Spike,” she said softly. “She always has done. She and Xander - they’ve both detested him, like forever.”

Dawn looked anxiously at her sister. Her face seemed pale and sort of blank, as if washed off all feelings. She felt uncomfortable: it would have been easier to know what to say if Buffy had been angry, even if she’d yelled and called Willow names. This cold, implacable expression sent shivers down her spine.

“Well, he was the Big Bad when they first knew him, wasn’t he. With the biting and killing and everything...”

“That was a long time ago.” Buffy stood up, pulling her hair back from her face and tying it tightly into a ponytail with a scrap of ribbon. “He’s changed....we’ve all changed. And not all of us for the better! Spike’s trying to be a good man. Jeez, he’s still trying even when he’s been infected by this panther demon.”

“What are you going to do?” Dawn was beginning to feel scared. Willow was such a powerful witch - there was no knowing what would happen if she and Buffy got into a fight. But that was silly. Buffy was still Willow’s friend, surely? She might be wrong about not helping Spike, but that couldn’t wipe out years of being there for each other. Could it? “Are you going to speak to Willow? Ask her about the reversal spell?”

Buffy looked down to where her not so little sister was still sitting on the deck. She smiled briefly, not realising that made her seem even more dangerous in Dawn’s opinion. “No, Dawnie. I don’t think we’ll bother Willow any more. We’ll deal with this on our own. Come on - we’re going to get Spike out of that crypt and call on someone who can help us, whether he wants to or not!”

Chapter 13 Anger Management by Lilachigh
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chapter 13 Anger Management

In the gloom of his lower crypt - most of the candles had guttered and gone out hours ago - Spike lay on his bed and moodily regarded his empty Scotch bottle and wondered whether he had the energy to head out and either steal or buy some more. He vaguely remembered that this bottle had been nicked from Giles - no wonder it tasted good. He wanted to get drunk, pissed out of his brains, blotto, legless, anything to wipe out the fact that the life with Buffy that he’d only recently begun to believe might work was now over.

But going out meant finding his boots - which he sort of recalled throwing across the lower part of his crypt when he’d flung himself across his bed.

“Hey!!! Ouch!” One of the boots he’d been wondering about thudded against his nose, closely followed by the second one that hit him much further down his body and took his breath away completely until he gasped - “For God’s sake, Slayer! You trying to neuter me!”

“That - “ Buffy said primly, standing hands on hips - “was not me. Dawn’s aim is still a little awry when she’s annoyed. Mine, on the other had, gets better and better the angrier I get! Just be thankful you don’t have three feet!”

“Sorry, Spike!” Dawn had gone pink but was trying not to giggle. Spike so obviously didn’t know what part of his body to rub first.

“We came through the tunnels as you obviously have decided never to open your crypt door again,” Buffy said.

Spike swung himself off the bed and stood up; it was amazing that his two favourite women were there and he could tell from the gleam in Buffy’s eyes that there was a great deal she needed to say to him that she couldn’t with her sister standing next to her. But - his elation died.

“Buffy - I’m still a Sylvamalkyn demon - you’re both still in danger when I change. What are you doing here - apart from trying to kill me. And why are you angry? I’m only trying to take care of - ”

“Spike! Stop talking and listen. I know exactly what you’ve been trying to do and, believe me - ” her face softened - “I appreciate you caring about Dawn, but I’m part of this problem, too, don’t forget. I don’t need looking after.”

Spike found a new bundle of candles and began lighting them to throw warm yellow light around the room. He retrieved his boots and pulled them on. “I didn’t want to take any chances, Buffy. You know how I feel about you. But why the anger, pet?”

Buffy cast a swift glance at Dawn, then shook her head. “I’ll explain later. It’s complicated.”

“Spike - “ Dawn interrupted eagerly, as if she couldn’t wait a second longer to tell him the news - “There’s a spell to get rid of the Sylvamalkyn demon inside you! An easy spell. Eric told me.”

The vampire shook his head. “No, Niblet, there isn’t. I asked Willow and she told me she could find nothing to help. That’s why I left home and came back here, so you and Buffy would be safe. Eric’s just - well he’s only a little boy. Maybe he likes to think he could get cured one day.”

Dawn tossed back her hair. Really, Spike could be so infuriating. She sometimes wondered why her sister liked him so much. “He knows much more than you think. That the spell won’t work on him because his demon is inherited from his mom, but yours can be banished because you caught it from infected blood.”

Buffy stood silently, her lips twitching. Dawn in full Watcher mode was enormously interesting - she could see the bewilderment cross her lover’s face as he struggled to accept what Dawn was saying, and also that the child was growing into a young woman in front of him. Then she winced as she saw the meaning of Dawn’s words sink in. “But surely Red would have discovered - ” He stopped abruptly and the last candle he was holding snapped in two.

He glanced over at Buffy, fury in his eyes. “But why would she - ” And then he stopped as the whole scope of Willow’s treachery began to unfold in his head.

“Later!” Buffy’s words stopped him in mid-stride as he’d automatically headed for the door leading back into the tunnels. “I want the spell gone before we - before - well, I just want it gone.” She reached out a hand towards him and, as they fingers met and twined together, Spike felt a flood of love course through him. “You were wrong to leave and I was wrong to let you. But we can’t waste time talking about that now.”

Spike nodded, then pulled her effortlessly into his arms and kissed her, ignoring the groans of distaste from Dawn. “OK, Slayer. You’re the boss - for a little while! So, what’s the plan?”

“We need another witch. One who knows us, one we can trust. We need Tara.”

* * * * *

“But Buffy, of course I’ll help if I can. But why not ask Willow?” Tara had welcomed them into the tiny apartment where she now lived and had sat, long amber hair falling over her face, as Buffy had explained.

There was a pause. Dawn had curled up on the floor, leaning against Tara’s knees. Occasionally the older girl would reach down and stroke her hair and Dawn felt a glow of contentment. Willow was part of their inner family circle, but she’d never made Dawn feel as loved and secure as Tara did. She understood more about the relationship between the two witches than she let on to her sister. OK, she was a little vague about some of the details, but she wasn’t as naive as Buffy thought. What she was very clear about was that Willow and Tara had loved each other and probably still did. They’d had a dreadful row and split up but Dawn knew it would hurt Tara dreadfully if she found out how badly Willow was behaving about Buffy and Spike.

“She’s dreadfully busy - ” she said swiftly, before her sister could reply. “Big research problem, loads of nasties gathering - we didn’t want to bother her with something as straightforward as this, did we, Buffy?”

“Er - no.” And she dug Spike hard in the ribs with her elbow, just knowing without looking that he was about to blurt out the truth.

“OK, I’ll do my best.” Gently pushing Dawn to one side, she got up and crossed to her bookcase. Pulling out a couple of large, leather-backed volumes, she flicked through the pages.

Buffy frowned. She’d seen the amount of dust that had blown off the books: obviously not ones that Tara used regularly. A slight trickle of doubt ran up her spine: surely this was a good idea? She knew Tara wasn’t even half as talented as Willow, but this apparently was an easy spell. How could it go wrong? She glanced at Spike and felt herself shiver at the blaze of love in his eyes. Was this their only chance of being together again? She knew her lover; knew exactly how obstinate he could be when he made up his mind. Especially if it involved the Summers sisters. If the spell went wrong - well, jeez, it couldn’t make things any worse! But if nothing happened - if he stayed a Sylvamalkyn - then she knew he would be tempted to leave Sunnydale and she just didn’t know how she would bear it.

She clenched her fists. No! She’d had too many men walk away from her before. And she’d never really fought to keep them. But this time - this time she would never, ever
stop. She and Spike belonged to each other; they’d gone through too much, lived too many lies to keep other people happy.

“So? Is the spell in there?”

Tara turned over another page. “Well, nothing mentions Sylvamalkyns exactly, but as far as I can tell, there’s a straight-forward removal spell for animal demons that should work.”

Buffy felt a rush of relief and Dawn squealed with delight as she jumped up from the floor. Only Spike had noted the little frown that had appeared on Tara’s face, read the hesitancy in her body language.

“But ?” he said quietly.

Tara looked up at him. “Well, no biggie, but it’s a removal spell, not a reversal.”

Buffy frowned. “I don’t understand. What’s the difference?”

Spike smiled at her: his lover’s command of the English language could be erratic at times. “Reversal means I go back to what I was. Removal - well - I imagine - “

“Removal means that the demon has to go somewhere else. Into someone else! I can cure Spike, but I have to infect another person. And Buffy, I don’t think I can do that!”

At midnight on a moonless night, the Sunnydale graveyard was very dark, the tombstones showing up as black shapes against the surrounding trees. Buffy paused at the entrance, her instincts telling her there was one vampire around and one or two demons. OK, she’d give the demons a pass this evening because they didn’t seem to be doing anything icky, but she let her senses guide her towards the vampire. Not that it was difficult - she knew quite well which vampire it was - she could track Spike any where, any place, any time.

Spike had left Tara’s home minutes after she’d confirmed that she couldn’t remove the Sylvamalkyn demon from him just to put it into someone else. Dawn had jumped up to follow him, but Buffy had pulled her down again. She knew her lover too well: he needed time on his own to think about what they’d just learnt and fussing him wouldn’t help. She and Dawn had sat talking over the problem with Tara for hours until eventually Buffy had sent Dawn home with orders not to talk to Willow about what had just happened.

She’d patrolled around town, her mind only half on her job, then headed for the cemetery to find him sprawled on his back on top of his crypt roof, staring up at the dark sky where a few early stars were beginning to appear. She’d wondered if he’d decided to get drunk again after Tara’s revelation about the Sylvamalkyn spell, but there was no smell of alcohol in the air.

Buffy hoisted herself up onto the roof to sit next to him. She didn’t bother to say hi; she knew he’d sensed her coming even before she’d sensed him. “You ran off,” she said, trying to sound cheerful

“More of a strategic retreat! There didn’t seem much point in hanging around, Slayer. Tara told us the bad news; wasn’t going to do any good chewing it over, especially with Dawnie sitting there, all sad eyes and tearful.”

“She cares about you.”

Swiftly, silently, Spike sat up, turning to look at her. “And that’s why I thought I should clear out, leave Sunnydale, pet. Your sister has one or two qualities that make her formidable - loyalty and pig-headed stubborness. She won’t give up trying to find a cure for me, and that’s going to lead to a whole load of grief.”

“And you think I will give up?” Buffy asked sharply.

Spike reached out and tenderly touched her face. “No, you’re both cut out of the same piece of cloth, Slayer. But I think I have as much chance of making you leave me alone as I do of catching one of those stars up there when it falls.”

“So, what do we do next?”

Spike pulled her into his arms and together they lay, gazing up at the dark sky. “Well, tempting as it is to say, “let’s run away and live in a tree somewhere and I promise to let you shut me in a cage every full moon” I don’t fancy the idea that much.”

“Willow did that with Oz,” Buffy said softly, wriggling closer. “Perhaps that’s why she’s so determined that you should leave Sunnydale - she doesn’t want to put me through all that grief.”

Spike grunted vaguely. He was quite certain that Willow’s driving force was not one of pity, empathy or a desire to make Buffy’s life easier. He thought it was purely based on jealousy, an emotion that she’d carefully hidden even from herself for so many years it was now part of her nature and nothing she would recognise and try to change, even if she could be made to see it.

He wasn’t the brightest at working out people’s deepest feelings - more of a fangs and fist guy even after living with and loving Buffy, but he would have been blind not to have noticed that since they’d left Xander and Anya in the Santa Claus world, Willow had grown odder, more bitter. He didn’t think that the witch had any idea herself of her true feelings for the Whelp, but he’d seen too much unrequited love - god, even suffered from it himself! - not to know it when he saw it. And even if Xander wasn’t her lover, he was the closest friend she had, even closer than Buffy. Without him, she was - well, he didn’t want to imagine what she might do, what she might have done.

But if he told Buffy what he believed, it would shatter the last remnants of friendship she had for the red-head and somehow he didn’t think that would be good. While all her venom was directed at him, Buffy was safe. But a witch with a grudge against her once best friend - not a bloody bright idea.

“Well, I’ve had an idea - I’ve got a sort of a plan,” Buffy mumbled into his neck. “But it might not work. I need to talk to Tara about it.”

“If it involves me moving in the next hour or so, I say no!”

Buffy struggled clear of his arms and sat, hugging her knees. She shivered and gazed round the graveyard, her eyes automatically seeking vamps, demons, anything odd or spooky. Her instincts told her there were demons around, but none were in view so obviously going about their own business and not bothering with her or Spike. “OK, Tara said that basically the spell involved was easy - we have to take out your Sylvamalkyn demon thingy and transfer it into someone else, right?”

“Not sure if “thingy” is the correct witchy term, but yes.”

“So - what if we find a vamp just rising, transfer the demon and then I kill it?”

Spike felt a quiver of hope. It was a weird plan, but one that might just work. “So we need to get Tara on board with that and what - camp out here and wait? It all seems too easy.”

“And it won’t work!” The words quivered through the night, falling like daggers, spearing their dreams into pieces.

Slayer and vampire swung to their feet so swiftly the air shivered. They leapt off the crypt roof, onto the ground, standing back to back, falling into a fighting mode that they didn’t have to think about. Spike vamped out and Buffy reached automatically for a stake, crouching to attack. She stared round but couldn’t see who had spoken, there was no one in sight. Then a slight movement made her raise her gaze and there, on a branch of the big tree that grew next to Spike’s crypt, stood a woman.

“Vamp?” muttered Spike, then, “No, demon. Not a very big one - I’ll leave her to you, Slayer.”

“But what did she mean? And boy, she must have great hearing to catch my words from that far away! Hey - come down here and - ”

Even as she spoke, the woman leapt effortlessly through the air, her hair streaming out in a golden mane behind her. She landed, catlike, facing them, and as she raised her hands, two inch long claws glittered and shone and her lips pulled back in a snarl to show bright shiny teeth.

Buffy tightened her hold on her stake. She didn’t understand - there was no moon but the female demon in front of her was only too recognisable and got ready to fend off what was obviously a fully grown, deadly Sylvamalkyn.


Chapter 14 Their blood by Lilachigh
Author's Notes:
Don't mess with a mommy demon!
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chapter 14 Their blood...

As the Sylvamalkyn demon raised her head and snarled at Buffy and Spike, fangs gleaming, the razor sharp claws glistening, the branches above their heads rustled violently.

“Bloody hell, there’s a whole pack of ‘em!” Spike yelled, swinging round so his back was tight against Buffy’s, protecting her in a movement that was so natural he never even thought about it.

He was right: even as he spoke, the air was full of swooping bodies, flying down from the trees, arms and faces covered in golden pelt, teeth gleaming points, eyes feral and wild. They formed a circle and advanced towards Buffy and Spike, growling, flexing three inch long claws from each hand. Although the faces were human in shape, both male and female, there was no humanity in their eyes - just the desire to feed, to tear flesh from their victims bones and eat and eat and eat.....

“Too many for us, pet. Need to get out of here - fast.”

“But - ” Buffy feinted forward with her stake as one of the demons made a rush towards her. “We need to talk to them, Spike. To the one who shouted at us. She knows something about the infection.”

The vampire shook his head. Sometimes his lover had as much common-sense as Xander Harris! You could talk to one demon - usually with a weapon held against him - but not a blood-thirsty crowd who obviously didn’t care about dying.

“I’m sure you’re right, Slayer. But not now!” He wrapped an arm round her waist and leapt for the crypt roof. Like lightning, a Sylvamalkyn jumped towards him and he felt teeth grip his boot, pulling him backwards, off balance. Then somehow Buffy was kicking down violently towards the creature’s head and face, then with a howl and a shower of broken fangs, he fell back towards his friends and Spike was racing with Buffy at his side through the graveyard. As he reached the outer fence, he swerved behind an enormous tombstone, pushed the slab to one side and jumped down into the dark beneath. He held out his hands and Buffy leapt into his arms, aware of his wicked grin as he gave her a fleeting kiss and then reached up to pull the slab back across the entrance.

Spike strode along the dark tunnel, as sure-footed as a cat, Buffy’s hand tight on his shoulder, trusting him not to lead her down a bottomless pit or a muddy sewer.

Within a few hundred yards, he turned left and pulled open the door into the lower chamber of his crypt. He slammed it shut behind them and clambered up the ladder into the top room. Buffy waited impatiently as he lit candles, the flames making little yellow oases in the dark. She pressed her ear against the main door: she could still hear growling - the Sylvamalkyns were still there.

“What’s wrong with you? Why did we run away?” she snapped.

“Too many of them, pet. We didn’t run away, we retreated.”

“I didn’t notice the difference! Spike, listen, we needed to talk to that woman - the first one we saw - just before she attacked, she said something about it not working - transferring the Sylvamalkyn demon into a new vamp. How would she know that?”

“No idea, Slayer. But it’ll be far easier to talk to her if she’s on her own and not part of a blood-thirsty mob who would cheerfully tear us limb from limb.” He gazed at the stubbornly angry look on her face and grinned. “It’s no good sulking, pet, just because I spoiled your little fight. Believe me, we were outnumbered and I don’t say that lightly.”

Buffy eased away from the door and flung herself into Spike’s favourite chair. “I’m not sulking. OK, OK, I suppose I’m not used to you being all Mr Sensible Guy.”

Spike poured himself a cup of cold blood and raised an eyebrow. “Hey, haven’t stayed dead this long by taking stupid risks. OK, perhaps I did when I first knew you but things are different now.”

Buffy looked up sharply. “You mean because you’re half demon or because we’re together? But that shouldn’t - mustn’t - change who we are, what we do. We could have taken those Sylva thingies outside. Might not have been pretty, but we could have done it.”

Spike sipped his blood slowly. He knew that logically she was right; when they fought in tandem they were almost unbeatable. But just now, surrounded by killers, he’d immediately thought of her safety, his instinct had been to protect, not fight. It made his head hurt because he knew she was right - nothing good would come from trying to change who they were - vampire and Slayer.

“Unless - Spike, tell me - did you feel you couldn’t kill them because you’ve got the same demon in your blood, because you’re part Sylva?”

The cup of blood crashed against the stone wall and Spike vamped out and back. “Bloody hell, Slayer, is that what you’re thinking? You believe I’d put you in danger because of a sodding infection? Great! Thanks a lot. Nice to know how much trust you have in me.”

Buffy leapt out of the chair to face him. “It’s nothing to do with trusting you. l love you, you stupid vamp. And I wouldn’t blame you. We don’t know what all the effects of being infected might be.”

“Bloody hell - someone give me strength! That’s exactly why I wanted to leave Sunnydale in the first place! But you were dead against that - we could fight it together, you said, find a way, you said - sounds like you’re now beginning to see what was blindingly obvious to me right from the very start. Let me spell it out in little words - When the moon changes again, I Will Become Very Dangerous! So what do we do now? Or rather, what do you want to do now?”

Silence flared between them - so tense, so thick, it hung in the air like an invisible curtain. It needed to be broken, torn down, destroyed, but they both hesitated - somehow they both knew this wasn’t just about the demon infection or even Spike being over-protective. No, this was deeper - Spike had to be certain this amazing relationship that seemed so real, was based on genuine feelins and he waited, desperate to be convinced. Buffy was unaware that in the deepest recesses of her mind, there lurked a coiled worm of doubt, fed by all the men in her life who’d left her, men who’d never been able to cope with her being the Slayer. Was Spike really putting her safety first or was it just an excuse to get out of Sunnydale, away from her, away from the complications of their relationship?

“You’ve always been dangerous.” Her voice was thin, just above a whisper and he could see the blank Slayer face wipe away the emotion that had been shining out of her eyes.

Spike sighed. “Listen, pet - “ he began, then froze.

“What’s up?”

His hand swung up to silence her and she bit back the words, watching him vamp out, relying on the instinctive trust she had in him where danger was concerned.

“I can’t hear the Sylvamalkyns any more,” he said softly at last.

Buffy frowned, puzzled. “So, that’s good, isn’t it? They’ve wandered off back into the trees. OK, not so good because now we’ve got the bother of tracking them down to find out what that one female knows about vampires and infection, but hey at least they’re not outside and - “

Spike shook his head. “Not that sort of silence. They’re still there - I can sense them - don’t forget their blood is in my veins, too, Slayer - but they’re too quiet. As if they’re laying in wait for something, or someone!”

Buffy leant her head against the crypt door but knew her hearing was very second-rate compared to that of a vampire. Then, suddenly, a scream sounded outside, long and piercing and scared. “Buffffffyyyyyyy!” It drilled through her skull and in the split second before Spike was at her side, throwing open the crypt door and racing outside in full vamp face, she knew.


And there she was, backed up against a tombstone, surrounded by panther demons, and in the split second it took for her to cover the ground, Buffy felt a surge of ridiculous pride because her sister was not cowering or crying. She was trying to defend herself with a large stick and must have known that it would be of no use whatsover once she was attacked.

The demons turned, enraged, thwarted from an easy meal as Slayer and vampire threw themselves into the fray. The world turned into a growling frenzy, the starlight glittering down on flying fur, blood lancing through the air, the screams of injured demons, the crack of Spike’s boots on bone and flesh.

“Dawn! Head for the crypt. Get inside. Lock the door!” Buffy yelled, but her sister ignored her and thumped her stick across a Sylva’s shoulders, who turned and roared as it broke in half, the splinters drawing blood from his golden pelt.

Then Spike was there - lifting the creature into the air and tossing him yards away to crash into a tombstone. Buffy spun in a circle, stake jabbing out and the pack of demons hesitated then began to back away, leaping for the tree branches.

“No you don’t! Gotcha!”

Spike flung out a hand and dragged the female Sylvamalkyn down from the branch just above his head - where she’d been standing when they first saw her. “My girl wants to talk to you.”

“Dawn! Are you OK?”

The teenager wiped a drop of blood from her cut cheek. “I’m fine, Buffy. I’m sorry. I didn’t know they were here. I knew you and Spike would have been patrolling. I thought the cemetery was clear.”

“No harm done,” Spike said swiftly before Buffy could lose her temper. “In fact, you’ve done us a favour, Niblet. We needed to talk to this one and it could have taken us ages to find her again.”

He pulled the Sylvamalkyn’s head back, fighting to hold her still as she struggled and growled, trying to escape. “Need a bit of help here, Slayer,” he muttered under his breath and then suddenly, something leapt out of the tree above his head and clung to his back, yelling. His grasp on the demon slackened and before Buffy could move, the Sylva had bound away into the night.

“What the - ” Spike swore viciously and reached behind him to detach the small body that was wrapped around his shoulders, hitting his head with small clenched fists. “Eric!”

Buffy pulled the little boy away and stared down at him as he fought to escape her grasp. “Hey, what the heck!”

“You leave her alone!” Eric looked nothing like the little boy who’d gone with them to the alternate Santa Claus world. Now he was all Sylvamalkyn cub, his eyes silver, the panther pelt glistening in the starlight. “I won’t let you hurt her. I won’t! I won’t let you kill my mom!”

Chapter 15 Parenting by Lilachigh
Author's Notes:
In which decisions are taken! Oh dear!
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chap 15 Parenting

The crypt smelt of blood - Dawn, Buffy, Eric, Spike - everyone had cuts and wounds and Buffy could see that Spike was struggling to stop himself running his tongue across bleeding hands and faces.

Eric was sitting on the floor, his back to the stone wall, knees drawn up to his chin, his face with its silver fur buried out of sight, refusing to talk. Buffy crossed the crypt and knelt in front of him. She reached out a hand, but he pulled away as if scared she would hurt him. “Eric - listen - ” She hesitated. What could she say? No one’s going to hurt your mom? Right, he was totally going to believe that!

There was a rush and rustle and Dawn dropped to her knees beside her. “Eric! Stop being such a big baby. It’s wonderful that your mom is still alive. I only wish ours - well, even if she’d been a Sylvamalkyn, she wouldn’t have been dead and that’s what matters.”

A big sniff but the boy still refused to look at them. Buffy tried again. “No one’s angry with you, Eric, but why did you make us believe she’d died?”

“Didn’t want her being hunted.” The words were muffled and indistinct and suddenly Spike swooped across the room, lifted the child bodily and sat him down on a stone coffin lid in the middle of the room.

“Right! Enough dramatics, kid. “

“Spike! He’s only a little boy!”

“Listen, pet. He’s not just a little boy, he’s a little demon as well. Far tougher than you or me in some ways. OK, Eric. Tell us about your mother. We want to help. Trust us. You know we will if we can.”

Eric wiped a furry nose across a furry arm and sat up straighter.

“Right, your dad died when the Sweet, the Dancing Demon came to town. Fact.”

Buffy flinched; she knew the man had burnt to death and even if Eric was a demon and as tough as Spike proclaimed, it still wasn’t good to hear that. But luckily he went no further.

Eric nodded. “When dad died, my mom didn’t know what to do with me. She was born Sylvamalkyn; lots of those people in the trees tonight are uncles, an’ aunts, an’ cousins of mine.”

Dawn frowned. “But she married your dad, who was just a normal human?”

“Yes. I don’t know why.”

Buffy glanced swiftly across at Spike: she knew. Demon and human, vampire and human: it didn’t seem to matter about the combination, or the fact that most people would find the whole relationship wrong - if the attraction was there it would overcome everything.

Eric sniffed again and went on - “Mom said I couldn’t go with her ‘cos I’m only a half so she put me in the orphanage and hoped I’d find a nice home. I thought you and Buffy would adopt me, then you became a Sylva and I thought you might take me with you and join my mom’s pack, but you don’t want to be one, do you? Then tonight - I wanted to see Mommy and there she was and then you were going to kill her...” He trailed to a halt with another loud sniff.

“Jeez, what a mess,” Buffy groaned. “Hey, Eric, don’t cry any more. We’ll sort it out somehow. Dawn - see if you and Eric can find anything to eat around here. Clem’s been crypt-sitting for Spike, so there’ll be chips and cookies somewhere!”

She waited until the two of them had clattered down the ladder into the lower crypt, then turned to Spike. “So, what the heck do we do now? We can’t just take him back to the orphanage and pretend none of this has happened.”

He held out his hand and, without a second thought, she went to him, swiftly and without a pause, their earlier argument put to one side. Forgotten? No, but the love they shared battered back all her doubts and made them seem very small and unimportant. Spike wrapped his arms round her slim shoulders and hugged her in a grip that would have broken most people’s ribs. But to Buffy it was like coming home. “Well, Slayer, I’ve got the flickering of an idea, but we’ll need to speak to Eric’s mum first.”

Buffy wriggled even closer, trying not to worry about Spike having a plan because, hey, sometimes they worked out and if it was a complete failure, she’d be there to pick up the pieces. She stayed still for another long few seconds, savouring the feel of his body against hers. Whatever Spike’s plan, she knew one thing for certain - she was not going to let him leave Sunnydale and vanish into some half-demon life without her.

A few minutes later the four of them were standing on the roof of the crypt, gazing up apprehensively at the trees above them, outlined blackly against a dark blue, star scattered sky. Buffy had tried to make Dawn stay inside, but the look she’d received in return would have killed her on the spot if looks could have killed! So she’d agreed that the teenager could watch, but had to keep perfectly silent and not interfere.

“So, what now, kid?” Spike asked. “Do you whistle or shout or do we just stand here like idiots waiting for a bus?”

“Mom will be watching somewhere,” Eric said confidently. “She won’t go away until she knows I’m OK.”

“Our mom would have done the same,” Dawn said enthusiastically. “She never let me get on the School Bus without waiting to make sure I didn’t get off again, did she, Buffy? And she was always there to meet me when I got home again.”

“Er...yes,” Buffy muttered, feeling once again the oddness of remembering something so plainly, in such detail and yet knowing it had never happened.

“And sometimes - ”

“Dawn! Sshhh.” Spike lifted a hand and gestured towards the branches above their heads. Buffy could see them moving a few yards away; whoever it was was approaching cautiously, silently. Then there was a whirl of broken leaves and twigs and the Sylva leapt to the crypt roof beside them, teeth bared, claws shining. With one swift motion, she scooped Eric up in her arms and was about to leap back into the safety of the trees when Buffy yelled.

“Please, please stop. Don’t go. We won’t hurt you. We need to talk. Please!”

The Sylva hesitated, then putting Eric down but keeping her claws firmly on his shoulders, she backed away from the others, a soft growly coming from her throat. But she didn’t leap away.

Buffy stared: the Sylva was beautiful, her limbs covered in shiny golden fur but her eyes, slanted and golden, gazed back at the Slayer with interest and suspicion. She started to speak, then gave a strange cough as if it had been a long time since she’d made any sounds other than growls and hisses.

“My boy...” the words were husky when she finally managed them.

“Yes, Eric, he’s a fine boy,” Buffy said quietly. “We’re very fond of him.”

Spike stepped forward and the Sylva raised her head and sniffed at him. “You Sylva, too.”

“Eric bit me. Didn’t have much of a choice and to be brutally honest, I’d be bloody well glad not to be one.”

“Good life. Free. Exciting. With Family.” She glanced up at the trees above them and as Buffy followed her gaze, she could see the gleam of many panther eyes hidden amongst the dark leaves.

“But you didn’t take Eric with you?” Spike said.

The Sylva growled, but to Buffy it sounded more like a cry of despair than a challenge. “Not fully Sylva. Only half. Better to stay with father.”

“But now his father’s gone.” Spike’s words sounded harsh and Buffy reached out to grasp Dawn’s arm, scared that she would intervene and frighten the Sylva away.

“Yes, a human summoned a Dancing Demon and my man died. No Sylva would ever have done such a thing.”

Buffy groaned silently. Xander’s actions were still causing grief all these months later. At least he was atoning for what he’d done by taking on the role of Santa Claus, but it didn’t help the woman in front of her now, who’d lost the man she loved.

“I can understand that leaving Eric with his dad seemed like a good idea,” she said. “But it hasn’t turned out too well, has it? He’s still half a Sylva, when the moon is full. There’s no way he can keep that a secret as he grows up. Someone, or some thing is going to get him one night.”

The Sylva shut her eyes briefly and when she opened them again, Buffy could see the despair in her expression. “Can’t come with pack. No half Sylva in pack. Not allowed. Too difficult.”

“But what it he were a whole Sylva?”

Spike’s words were greeted with silence, broken only by a squeal from Dawn and then a muffled “ouch” as Buffy pinched her.

The pantheress ran her claws gently over Eric’s head, ruffling the untidy fair curls. “If that could happen, then I would take him with me and the pack would accept him without question.”

“Spike!” Dawn couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “Do you mean that Tara can take the demon from you and put it into Eric? But...but....”

Spike turned to look at Buffy. “OK, not a brilliant plan, pet. What do you think?”

Buffy stared at the mother and son in front of her, her mind whirling. Eric was half demon, there was no way he could ever have a happy life as he grew older. But making him a full demon! How could she possibly take that sort of decision for a child? She wasn’t a relation or guardian - no, his closest relative was the woman holding him close to her heart at the moment. And would they be doing it for the right reasons - to free Spike from the Sylva charm, to free him to come back to her?

“Buffy! Spike!” Eric pulled away from his mother and gazed up at them, the starlight glinting on the silvery hair on his cheeks. “Please! Please! I so want to be with mommy.”

Buffy took a deep breath. She could say no and Eric would go back to the orphanage and grow up to a half life, not accepted by humans or Sylvas. She’d never really thought too much about what the future would hold for him before and for that she felt bitter regret. She’d been too busy worrying about Dawn’s brattish reaction to him, enjoying the way he and Spike reacted to each other, playing at being the mommy to a little boy herself in some sort of childish way. Then when Spike had become infected, all she could think about was his decision to leave Sunnydale, to leave her. Again, Eric’s problem hadn’t even entered her mind.

But this she realised was the sort of decision that only a proper parent could make. Eric was not hers; he belonged to the Sylva panther standing in front of her. And if she thought it was a good idea, Buffy couldn’t see that she could stand in the way of possibly reuniting mother and son.

“OK, I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do or not, but if Tara will perform the spell, we’ll try and move the Sylva demon from Spike into Eric!”

Chapter 16 Alarm Bells by Lilachigh
Author's Notes:
In which Willow makes a decision
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chapter 16 Alarm bells

It was dark in the bedroom where once Joyce Summers had lain in pain, shutting her eyes against even the dim bedside light that sent shafts of agony through her head, worrying about her daughters, wondering why she couldn’t quite remember silly little details about Dawn, her youngest, wishing Buffy could have had a safer life, comforted by the odd knowledge that a certain cocky, dangerous vampire would take care of both of them once she was gone.

This was the room where Willow had once shared a bed with her beautiful Tara, loved her in full sunlight, adored her in silver moonlight and betrayed her trust.

But Willow no longer needed light; not when she was floating just inches above the quilt, her body relaxed and pliant, but her mind tense and in turmoil, constantly sending out feelers, questions, searching the strange mystical paths that she now used all the time for answers. Information flowed back into her brain, the myriad cells that humans rarely used humming into life as they filled with images and knowledge and a power that surprised even her.

The feeling this gave her was beyond description - better than sex, better than joy, better than being happy - this thought shot a sharp spear into her mind but she knew she was brave enough to consider it. So she wasn’t happy. OK, she accepted that. She’d known happiness but it was a pale, pastel thing compared to the violent surging colors that flooded her life now.

And Willow was very sure that she would be happy again. Oh, not in the pathetic ways she’d been before - no - but her plans were working; Spike would soon be gone from Sunnydale for good and nothing would stop Buffy from turning back to her oldest friend once more. Dawn meant nothing - she was no more than a necessary addition to Buffy’s world but Willow wanted Buffy back. Then she could concentrate on Tara - and her power levels surged again and she knew with complete certainty that if she could just spend some time with her ex-lover, she could make her come back. And this time, Tara wouldn’t even know that her mind was being tampered with.

Willow felt contempt now when she remembered her earlier attempts to control her friend. How pathetic they had been; how easily Tara had seen through them. But now - now was different. And after Buffy and Tara were back, loving her, liking her, accepting that she was the right person to be in charge, then she could finally use her power to go back to the odd universe where Santa Claus lived, where Xander and Anya were playing at being Mr and Mrs Christmas. Then she’d smash their silly world, make Xander realise that he had nothing to be sorry for by calling the dancing demon to Sunnydale and bring him home. Anya would stay there, locked into a world, alone for all eternity, which would serve her right. And once Xander was home.....

A shudder ran through her body and she dropped the few inches down onto the bed. For a second she felt a flicker of unease - something she’d seen, felt, amongst all the information she was receiving, one thing alone had jolted her out of her pleasure.

Willow swung herself off the bed, crossed to the window and flung it open wide onto the dark night. She could taste magic in the air - its flavour tingled on her tongue, crept to the back of her throat, made the little hairs on her neck quiver. Because this wasn’t her magic - there was no brilliant, harsh reds and oranges. No black or crimson sparkles flooded her mind - no, this magic was greener, emerald leaves and newly cut grass, the warmth of honey dripping from a comb, the brown of the first nuts of Fall, the deep of the earth and the gold of corn lying in silky green sheaves. Tara! No one else used magic like this.

And for a long few seconds, Willow relished it, longed to be back in that world of being one with the earth rather than fighting to defeat it at every turn. How easy life had been then, how simple - how ..... how boring!

With a mental twist, Willow flung away the memories of being loved for herself alone, of warmth and friendship and belonging. Because with those memories came others - of never being first, of always being the follower, never the heroine, always the heroine’s ‘best friend’, never the leader, although she was far cleverer than most people. Of always having to fight to get across her point of view and to watch the first man she’d ever loved fall for someone who would never look at him in that way. And even then, when Willow would have cheerfully accepted second best, once again she’d found that she wouldn’t even be given that prize, or third, or fourth or fifth!

No! Loving Tara had made her soft. She wanted her back in her life, but she refused to return to Tara’s world. Love was not enough. She didn’t need it - only on her terms and those would soon be made clear to everyone.

Tara was using magic tonight: lots of magic. But why? And this was a strong magic, oh the same type as she always used, tapping into the earth’s softer spirits, but not just the charms and fancies she’d been using recently. This was something else.

Willow’s eyes blazed black and she sent her mind spiralling out into the night. No! She’d been so sure that she had done enough to keep Buffy and Spike apart, but they were there, together! Dawn was there, too. And Eric, the strange half demon child. But what caused the cry of pain she forced back was that Tara was with them. They’d gone to her and whatever their plan was, she was helping them.

Once more Willow was shut out. No one had asked for her advice. OK, she would have done nothing to help keep Spike around but that still didn’t heal the pain of not being consulted in the first place to help them with whatever silly little magics they wanted to cast so badly she could taste it. So - she smiled, and the last little potted plant that Tara had left on the night-stand, shrivelled up and died. Whatever they were doing, she was going to stop it! For their own good.

The veil of existence that separated Sunnydale from that of the old magic world of Santa Claus was impossible to see through from the human side, but logically, Santa had always needed to see what was happening to children everywhere and the ability to gaze through the veil was a skill that Xander and Anya had - at long last - perfected. To be truthful, Anya had known she would be able to do it from the very first day of their sojourn in this weird world where Xander now ruled as Father Christmas. But she’d been kind enough not to experiment and tell Xander, exclaiming in delight that she could see, too, once he’d managed the art himself.

The surface of his desk vanished now and flickered back into life with pictures of a back yard Xander recognised immediately - and the figures of some of his closest friends, sitting in a circle on the grass.

“They look well,” he murmured.

Anya leant on his shoulder and peered down at the desk top. “They look tired,” she said firmly. “And something is very wrong with Spike. Look - he’s got fur all over his face!”

“So he has!” Xander sounded pleased. “I expect he’s caught some foul vampire disease. As long as he doesn’t give it to Buffy, I’m good with that.”

Anya sighed. She’d hoped the time they’d spent here, running Santa Claus’ empire - and really, what was it about elves and reindeers that made them so intractable? She’d had enough talk about unions and full days off with double hay to last her several lifetimes - would have given Xander time to realise that his hatred for Spike, his disgust at the vampire being Buffy Summer’s lover was all a complete waste of time and energy.

Suddenly she frowned. It was some time since she’d been a demon but she could still recognise all the signs of magic being called. And from the looks on Buffy and Spike’s faces, it had something to do with them.

“There’s that boy Eric,” Xander said suddenly. “I thought they were sending him back to the orphanage.”

“He’s got fur on his skin, too. Xander - look - the circle, holding hands, burning something, I think Tara is trying to work some extremely difficult magic and it’s to do with Spike and Eric.”

“Well, Tara’s a good witch - I mean, she’s not likely to go all blurry like Willow and want to take over the world.”

“No....” Anya didn’t sound convinced.

“Come on, Ahn. I expect Buffy has stupidly persuaded her to use a charm to get that fur off Spike’s face. What harm can a little white magic do? It’s not as if Tara is going to use powerful stuff - like D’Hoffryn did to get us all here.”

The ex-demon pulled a face but kept quiet. She knew, probably better than Xander, that in her own quiet way, Tara was just as talented as Willow. Oh, she always declared that her lover was now far better than she was, far more powerful, but Anya was very well aware that Tara’s talent lay in generations of witchcraft. Willow’s power was all new and shiny but Tara could call on abilities that had lain undisturbed for centuries.

“Look! Willow’s arrived! Oh, it is good to see her.”

Anya flinched at the joy in Xander’s voice. He’d stood up and was now leaning right over the flickering desk-top, almost as if he was desperate to leap through the portal, back home to Sunnydale to be with the girl he’d always said he didn’t love.

“Good - she’ll be able to sort out any problems they have with whatever they’re doing,” he murmured under his breath. And he concentrated even harder because he still hadn’t perfected the listening side of this talent and he was desperate to hear what was going on. He was concentrating so hard that he didn’t notice that Anya had vanished from his side, leaving the office and heading out into the vast, endless caverns of the Christmas warehouse. Because Anya could hear only too well, and what she was hearing sent demon alarm bells ringing inside her now human brain.

Chapter 17 Intervention by Lilachigh
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chapter 17 Intervention

Dawn Summers was feeling guilty - very guilty. She had the nasty feeling that Tara’s inability to complete the spell that would take the panther demon from inside Spike and give it to little Eric was somehow her fault. Jeez, to be fair, she thought, screwing her eyes tighter shut, they’d all been kneeling on the hard ground of the back yard for a very long time and her legs had gone numb. But she wasn’t a child any more, she told herself fiercely; Buffy coped with pain all the time. OK, she was the Slayer but still, Dawn refused to let her sister think she couldn’t put up with sore knees in order to get Spike back to normal.

Over the last few weeks, she’d realised that the feelings her sister and the vampire had for each other were outside her understanding. She didn’t even know if she ever wanted to feel so deeply for another person. It made you searched her mind and came up with the word vulnerable. She gave her head a little shake. Perhaps when she was older, but all she knew at the moment was that if her sister lost Spike then she would no longer be Buffy, but just an outer shell with nothing inside.

Although Tara had wanted them all to keep their eyes closed, finally Dawn let her lids flicker slightly and peered out from under her lashes. She was holding Eric’s hand on one side and Buffy’s firm fingers on the other. She could see that her sister’s grasp on Spike’s hand was so tight that her knuckles gleamed white in the night gloom. On Spike’s other side knelt Tara with Eric again completing the circle round to herself again.

On the grass in the middle of the circle sat a copper bowl with thin spirals of blue and yellow smoke circling up into the sky. The air felt heavy; Dawn realised that it was becoming harder and harder to breathe deeply. She could taste - well, she wasn’t sure exactly what it was - something old and rotten, like one of those foreign cheeses that Spike and Anya both loved so much. It filled her head, closed her throat and nose and she felt her chest heave as her lungs fought for air. The fumes from the fire burnt her eyes - she felt tears forming but didn’t dare let go of Eric’s hand to brush them away.

“Buffy,” she whispered anxiously.

“Sssh! Tara’s working.”

“But Buffy - I can’t breathe.... I feel weird....”

“Please, Dawnie. For my sake. Just hold on a few more minutes. This has got to work. It just has to!”

Dawn shut her eyes again and tried desperately to drag air into her lungs. She knew if she once started coughing she’d never stop and the noise would shatter Tara’s concentration. But even as she swayed and fought to keep upright on her knees, she felt Eric’s hand start shaking in hers and then the whole group collapsed onto the grass, spluttering, coughing and gasping for air. And through the tears streaming down her face, Dawn saw the blue and yellow flames turn black and go out with a nasty hissing sound.

Appalled, she scrambled to her feet and realised Eric was staring at her, his panther eyes shining in the moonlight, his bottom lip trembling. And even as she watched, he turned and vanished into the bushes that surrounded the yard. Dawn didn’t hesitate; she knew that Eric mustn’t be allowed to wander off but she really didn’t want Buffy or Spike to be angry with him. She could only imagine how disappointed he must be that Tara’s spell hadn’t worked. He was so desperate to become a true Sylvamalkyn and be reunited forever with his mom.

Slipping through the bushes, she could hear him ahead of her and then the sounds were coming from above her head and she guessed he’d taken to the trees.

“Eric!” she hissed. “Come back.”

The leaves above her parted and a small face, covered with a smattering of golden hairs peeked through. “Dawn - go away! Leave me alone. I want my mom.”

Dawn felt sudden tears stinging her eyes. Oh how she knew how that felt. It would have been so wonderful to have her own mom indoors right now, ready to give advice, help or just be there. If she shut her eyes, she could almost feel the touch of Joyce’s cheek against hers, feel fingers softly pushing her hair back from her face, twisting her necklace straight....yes, she could understand Eric only too well.

She hesitated - all she wanted was to go back to the house, find Buffy and Spike and Tara and let the adults work out all these problems with Eric. He could be such an irritating kid. But somehow she felt that would be letting everyone down, including herself in some strange way....

“Your mom will come and get you when we’ve got the demon out of Spike and into you. That was what she agreed with Buffy. She can’t be too close while the spell’s being done in case Spike’s Sylvamalkyn demon goes into her by mistake!”

“But the stupid spell didn’t work.”

“Well, no, not this time, but Tara will try again. Buffy and Spike will help. Tara’s a clever witch, really, really clever. She’ll find a way to make it happen. Believe me.”

“I thought Mom would be watching. Someone was looking at us, but it wasn’t Mom.”

Dawn glanced round, nervously. The last thing Buffy would want was for one of their neighbours to be out in their back yard, watching. Although the trees and bushes had been allowed to grow tall and thick over the years to stop just such a thing happening, sometimes Buffy got visits from the couple who lived next door who said they were worried by the odd people who came and went at all hours of the day and night and was Buffy managing to cope okay now her mother had passed away?

She shivered: she was beginning to imagine things - the chanting, the failed spell, the dark yard and the despair she felt coming from Buffy and Spike, everything had conspired to make her jumpy. But, even so, it did feel as if someone, somewhere was watching her. Making up her mind, Dawn leapt to grasp the lowest tree branch and clambered into the dark shadows where the foliage was densest to get out of sight.

Eric was curled up in the fork of two big branches, swaying comfortably as the tree moved in the wind. Cautiously, Dawn eased herself down beside him, peering at a new tear in her jeans that she just knew was going to cause her grief with her sister when it came to laundry day.

“So what do you reckon is watching us? If it’s something dangerous, we should tell Buffy.”

Eric shook his head, then frowned. “The red-headed lady lives in your house so she can’t be dangerous, can she? And the other - ”

Dawn turned too fast and almost fell out of the tree. She grabbed a branch and peered down at the little boy. “Willow? Willow is out here watching us?”

A nod and an impatient shrug answered her. “Yes, of course she is. Over there, on the other side of the yard. You must have seen her.”

Dawn’s mind whirled helplessly. Jeez, if Willow was out here in the dark, why hadn’t she joined them, helped Tara with the spell? And why the heck was she invisible? That was kind of creepy. OK, more than kind of. And OK, equally weird that Eric could see her and the rest of them couldn’t, but hey, he was half demon, so maybe that was why. And again, OK, Willow wasn’t supposed to do a lot of black magic, because as Buffy had told her, it was making her ill, but this was the good kind, wasn’t it? Otherwise Tara wouldn’t be attempting to make the old charm work.

She gazed up through the canopy of leaves, trying to see through the darkness to the stars above. She was so confused. There was something about Willow and the Sylvamalkyn spell that she didn’t understand. Thinking back - OK, Willow had insisted to them all that there was no spell to take the demon out of Spike, then Eric had announced that yes, there was an easy one and she’d told Buffy and Buffy had said they would go to Tara and not bother Willow any more....

Dawn had thought it was because Willow was too...too high-powered to be bothered with a little charm. But maybe...a thought slid into her mind and she pushed it away. But it refused to go. What if Willow didn’t want Spike to be cured?

She shivered: she didn’t want to think about what that would mean. Willow was Buffy’s best friend - except that, of course, now she wasn’t! Spike was. Did you feel differently about your friends when you grew up? Janice was her best friend - and Dawn had to admit that she hated it when Janice went to the mall with other girls and didn’t ask her to go too.

But even as she thought it, she knew it wasn’t the same. Willow and Buffy weren’t teenagers any more; they’d shared all sorts of adventures, most of which she didn’t know about except when little snippets of information came her way. And Willow had lost her other friend, Xander. Even Dawn could see that the witch loathed Anya and had been upset when Xander stayed in the Santa Claus world to become Father Christmas.

So -

“I don’t think the Willow lady likes me and Spike much,” Eric said suddenly. “She never smiles at us. I think she’s very sad.”

Dawn didn’t reply. Something the boy had said earlier niggled at the corner of her mind. “Eric - just now, you told about the red-headed lady, then you said, ‘And the other’ and I interrupted you. Do you mean two people have been watching us?”

Eric gave her the sort of look most little boys reserved for when their big sisters were being particularly dumb. “Are you blind or something? Jeez, the lady who stayed behind in the Santa Claus world has been waving at everyone and jumping up and down all the time and everyone’s ignored her. I reckon she’s going to be so cross when people do speak to her!”

.......As the foul air choked the five people in the circle, sending them collapsing to the ground, Spike rolled to his feet: the fumes hadn’t touched his lungs - hey, not having to breathe had advantages sometimes, but his eyes stung and he would have killed for a large glass of Giles’ best whiskey to take the rotten taste from his mouth. “What the heck happened, Tara?” he said as he and Buffy helped her to her feet.

Tara shook her head, looking worried and scared. “I...I...don’t know, Spike. It should have worked. All the ingredients were right and I checked the spell - several times. The circle was complete. I...I just don’t understand why it went wrong. I’m so sorry.”

Buffy felt angry words crashing into her brain and pushed them back. Shouting at Tara wouldn’t help Spike. If this plan wasn’t going to work, then they’d just have to think up something different. And if nothing worked - she shuddered - refusing to believe that would happen. If Spike stayed a Sylvamalkyn, he would leave Sunnydale. Whatever she said, no matter how many times she told him she would never let them part, she knew, deep down, that she would wake one morning to find him gone. Because he would never, ever, put her and Dawn in danger.

As if he sensed her anguish, Spike’s arm encircled her waist. “I reckon we all need to sleep and tackle it again tomorrow, pet. Tara’s exhausted and Eric must be - hey, where is he?” He spun round, lifting his head to sense the little boy.

“And where’s Dawn?” Buffy found herself pulling away from him, grimly, realising her sister was also missing. “Jeez, if they’ve wandered off on some stupid - ”

“They can’t have gone far,” Tara said wearily. “Shall I go and look for them? The sun will be up soon and Spike needs to be inside.”

Buffy made a swift decision - “We’ll be quicker if we split up. Spike - check the basement, Tara have a quick look upstairs, in case Dawn’s just gone to bed - I’ll scout round out here.”

Spike could see the anger and tension written across her face and found himself saying, “Buffy, listen - Eric might be upset that the spell didn’t work. Don’t be angry with him when you find him. You might scare him if you go all Slayer. He’s not being deliberately naughty; he just wants to be a Sylvamalkyn like his mum.”

Buffy was astonished at how hurt she felt at those words. What did he think - that she was some sort of monster who’d terrify a little boy who only wanted his mom? OK, perhaps she did lose her temper with Dawn occasionally and hey, perhaps she wasn’t cut out to be a parent, good or bad, but that didn’t mean she was completely clueless.

“Well thanks for your vote of confidence, Spike. I know he’s only a little boy who wants his mom - and I’m sure she’ll be around somewhere, watching. In fact, I’m wondering if he’s run off to find her and Dawn went with him. But check the house first. And don’t worry - I’ll try not to let everyone down.”

He moved to kiss her and then the same hurt expression leapt into his eyes as she turned her head to avoid his lips.

“What’s up, Slayer?”

“Nothing - nothing’s up. We need to find Eric and Dawn, that’s all.”

Spike vamped out and back again. “First time in months you haven’t wanted me to kiss you, so something’s wrong. And if I’ve learnt anything during these weeks it’s that if we don’t talk to each other, problems fester and run out of control.”

“And now, of course, is really the right time to stop and chat!” Buffy snapped sarcastically.

“Buffy! Spike! Stop it!” Tara whirled round, long hair cascading across her face. “Why are you doing this...this...arguing? What’s happening to you?”

Her two friends stared at her, their faces showing the conflicting emotions that were cascading through them.

“I feel...” Buffy stopped...she felt weird, as if another person was staring out of her eyes, as if someone else was saying the words that longed to be shouted out loud. And before she could bite them back, she heard her voice saying, “I just want this to be over. I want to go back to how life was before. Is that too much to ask?”

Chapter 18 Pressure by Lilachigh
Author's Notes:
In which Anya makes a big decision
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chapter 18 Pressure

Anya fought her way back from Sunnydale to the old magic world of Santa Claus, feeling shaken and angry. Travelling between two realities wasn’t easy. She thought she’d managed to do enough to materialise in the Ravello backyard, but then realised the powers she’d gathered from the Santa Claus world had only been strong enough to give her a faint, shadowy image. She’d tried shouting and waving, but no one had seen her - well, she thought the young half Sylvamalkyn, Eric, might have done. But that was because he was so young: you lost the ability to see beyond as you grew older.

She did think the others might have been more alert. Trying to help people and being ignored was something she’d gotten used to where Buffy and the Scoobies were concerned, but she also knew that this wasn’t the right time for hurt feelings and revenge. And of course, there never would be a time ever again for vengeance, which was good - but oh so irritating as well!

Xander was no longer at his office desk, staring down through the magical mists to watch what was happening in Buffy’s back yard. Anya had a very good idea why he’d left: he wouldn’t have wanted to see Willow doing her best to disrupt the spell Tara was trying to cast. But she also knew that if he’d stayed he would have been delighted to witness the problems the witch was causing Buffy and Spike. Because as much as Xander professed to love her and her alone, Anya knew there was one spot in his heart that would never be hers, would always be Buffy’s. Love sometimes seemed indestructible.

Anya scurried through the elves’ dormitories - lazy things were still fast asleep - out into the stables where the reindeers stood, eating, relaxing, waiting for the one night of the year when they were needed. Xander was sitting in the tack room, a picture of gloom and misery, polishing a crimson leather bridle that already gleamed. She hesitated in the doorway, staring down lovingly at his dark head. Love, she’d discovered once she became human, was a very odd emotion. She’d never really believed in it before but now - she knew that there was nothing she would not do him. Love was all about caring.

He glanced up, his dark eyes anxious. “You’re back. Is it over? Has Spike stopped being a panther demon? I suppose him and Buffy are all lovey-dovey again?”

“No and no, and I don’t know, although personally I can’t see why he would want to stop being a Sylvamalkyn! I’ve always thought they were a particularly nice type of demon to be, if you had a choice. But there’s no pleasing some humans, or vampires, for that matter. But listen, Xander, Willow is out of control. I know you want her to stop Buffy and Spike from being together, but this isn’t the way to do it.”

Xander turned his gaze away and rubbed violently at the leather once more. “Don’t see why not.”

Anya sighed and sat down next to him. “Because you know what using magic does to her: it eats her up, takes her over until the Willow we know vanishes and someone - something - remains in her place.”

“Perhaps it won’t this time. It’s only one little confusion spell, isn’t it?”

She stared at him, wondering how, after all this time, he could be so dense when it came to magic. “Tara is trying to use very old earth magic, not particularly difficult, but old as old. Once you tap into that sort of magic, you have to be very focussed because you can set off all sorts of consequences. And with magic there’s always consequences. I mean, we’re here because - ”

“Yes, I know!” Xander interrupted her swiftly. He hated being reminded that his actions in calling Sweet the Dancing Demon to Sunnydale had resulted in ordinary people dying, including little Eric’s father. “So you’re saying that Tara isn’t focussed because Willow is interfering with the spell? So what? More nasties are going to hop into town from another reality? I’m sure Buffy can deal with anything like that. She always has before.”

Anya took a deep breath - oh, how easy it would be just to nod and agree, wash her hands of Willow, Buffy, Spike, and all the rest. She and Xander could open a bottle of wine and one of those fancy Christmas cheese presentation boxes that were stacked mountains high in the warehouse, relax and just enjoy spending time together. But - and it was the sort of but she would never have even considered when she was a vengeance demon, if what she thought was going to happen to Willow, did happen, then Xander would be heartbroken. And she loved him too much to allow that to happen.

“Listen - every time Willow tunes into old magic that she isn’t controlling, a little bit of her soul gets sucked away. And she won’t even know it’s happening.”

Xander looked ill. “Ahn, that doesn’t make any sense. Will’s the most powerful witch probably ever! She must know these things, if you do.”

His partner pulled the polishing cloth from his hands and gripped them hard. “That’s the whole problem - of course she knows, but she believes that she’s so strong the laws don’t apply to her. It’s the same problem she’s always had. She thinks that what she does is right and that somehow the rules of magic don’t apply to her. And in lots of cases that’s true, but not in this one. Tara will try again to get the Sylvamalkyn out of Spike and into Eric, Willow will try to stop her and another big piece of her soul will vanish!”

“So how do we stop her? We must stop her. Can we stop her?”

Anya wound her arms round his neck and pulled him close, as if she would never let him go. She could feel the tension in his body and knew what she would have to do. Love, she decided sadly, was all about sacrifice.

** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

Buffy Summers clattered down the steps into the basement. “Dawn! Eric! Are you down here?”

There was no reply, just the chugging the elderly washing machine as it ground its way through the rinse cycle. Buffy felt another wave of irritation sweep over her. She’d told her sister not to turn it on just for a few knickers and bras. It was an old machine and they had to make it last. There was no money for a new one. Jeez, would this night ever end? When was Dawn ever going show some signs of responsibility? Running off like this with Eric was just plain stupid. Another feeling washed across her mind - a longing for years ago when she’d been a teenager herself - no Dawn, no Spike, just her mom and Xander and, of course, Willow, her very best friend. In those days everything had been so simple and straightforward. And she wanted them back so bad.

“I thought you were going to look round outside. What’s up? Don’t you trust me to recognise Bit when I see her?” Spike had followed her downstairs and stood, arms folded, frowning at her, his eyes dark and shadowed. A shiver of feelings ran through his mind - life was so hard, so difficult being with Buffy. Always problems, always the mission, always something or someone coming between them. But he didn’t have to stay, did he? He could remember a time when he’d been free, not tied by emotions to this place, these people. He wanted that time back so much.

Buffy jolted into the present. “Tara’s got a headache. She wanted to stay in the fresh air so she’s searching for them outside.” Buffy could hear the snappish tone she was using but wasn’t sorry. Spike was annoying her and she wished he wouldn’t follow her everywhere she went. Why wouldn’t he leave her alone? Everyone knew she needed her own space. Xander and Willow had always known to leave her be when she was stressed.

“They won’t have gone far. Dawn knows how important it is to us for Eric to have the bloody Sylvamalkyn that’s hanging about in my head.”

Buffy turned away from the searching blue gaze and busied herself putting away the packets of washing powder and softener that Dawn had left strewn around. She felt sick - guessed it was some overspill from Tara’s failed spell.

“So, are you going to tell me what you meant by wanting life to go back to what it was before? Before the Sylvamalkyn? Before going to the Father Christmas world? Or did you mean further back still? Before we fell in love? When you loved Angel?”

Buffy shrugged. Why did he keep asking these stupid questions? She could hear a roaring noise in her ears and was so tired. There was a pressure somewhere in her head that hurt. Stupid spell...stupid demons and stupid vampire. All she wanted was to lie down somewhere quiet and sleep and wake up to find her mom downstairs in the kitchen and Xander and Willow laughing and talking in the family room and....

“Believe what you want to believe. You always do. Everything’s always about Spike these days.”

Spike felt the pressure in his head increase. The aftermath of the failed spell was making him queasy. He wanted his nice quiet crypt, a bottle of Scotch and a pint of blood. A bitching match with the Slayer was not how he wanted to spend the rest of his evening.

“What? Oh great. Now I’m to blame? No good getting all huffy just because things haven’t gone your way. You were the girl who wanted me to get rid of the demon in the first place,” Spike snapped, striding up and down the basement, the swirl from his coat making dust bunnies leap on the floor. “I just wanted to sodding well leave town, which wouldn’t have been convenient because hey, I live here, but I thought that would help, but you were all, ‘oh no, Spike! I can’t live without you, Spike. Don’t do that, Spike. We’ll find a way!’ I was stupid enough to believe you.”

His falsetto tones dug like wire into her brain. How dare he make fun of her. She’d been trying to help him but now she had no idea why she’d bothered. She should have let him go: her life would be so simple without him. How could she ever have thought that they should be together? She must have been insane. She swayed for an instant, spun away from him, her hand flung out to balance herself and as it gripped the top of the washing machine her fingers curled round a stake lying on the battered top cover. Dawn must have taken it out of her jeans. And the roaring in her ears and the pressure in her head intensified. How good the stake felt: warm and comforting. How easy it would be to plunge it into Spike’s heart and then he’d be gone for good and all this anger, the arguments and disagreements would vanish in a puff of dust.

Behind her back, Spike suddenly vamped out as the roaring in his ears grew louder and louder - the back of the Slayer’s neck was suddenly exposed as her hair swung forward over her shoulders. Slender and white and so, so biteable.

He tensed every muscle in his body - all the old preparations for attack coming back so effortlessly and yes it would hurt, yes the chip would fire but he didn’t care....

And as he took a step forward, Buffy swung round, her hand lifted above her head, the stake poised, aimed straight at his heart!

Chapter 19 Showdown by Lilachigh
Author's Notes:
At last I have found the time to post the final chapter of this story. i do hope you will enjoy it. Thank you for all the comments and apologies for the long delay.
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chapter 19 Showdown

For a split second neither Buffy nor Spike moved - they could both smell death in the basement air, as icy cold and damp as the ocean, freezing their brains, stopping all rational thought. She refused to look away from the golden eyes, the fangs, the - oh - how ridiculous to worry about such a stupid thing when she was just about to kill him - a small green bug was crawling across the platinum curls and she couldn’t understand why her fingers wanted to flick it off.

Suddenly a rip of light burnt inside her brain, carving a small bright path through the black clouds of weariness, hate and distrust. Buffy swayed slightly, fighting to keep the stake from starting on its downward journey into Spike’s heart. This was madness - because she remembered - how had she forgotten! - that this was the man she loved! Loved with all her heart, body and soul - and OK, perhaps he didn’t have a soul to match her own, but he was still hers, all hers and she would never give him up. But...but...even as she thought it, a cloud of despair and anger swept over her again, the clouds fogging her mind.

Spike struggled for control. This was the woman he loved: how the sodding hell had he even thought of biting her? Suddenly everything seemed very clear - these other feelings were not his own. Someone, some thing, was causing him to doubt.

Buffy could have sworn she feel water lapping at her feet as she stared into the vampire’s golden eyes - eyes that were suddenly very blue and wide and gazing not at her neck, but behind her...

“Uggh. My feet are soaking!”

“Bubbles, Buffy. Hundreds of bubbles. Hey, Slayer, I think your washing machine has gone to the big laundry in the sky.”

Buffy leapt forward, away from the surging foam coming out of the machine, automatically slipping the stake back into her waistband, reaching out just as automatically to catch Spike’s hands as he turned and half threw, half carried her up the basement steps. The draught of their passing caused the bubbles to fly everywhere, a snowstorm of soap.

Sitting on the stairs, gazing down at her ruined basement, Buffy glanced at her lover and wondered what the heck had just happened. All the fear and anger and tension had vanished as if it had never been. She was just desperately tired, bone weary, all she wanted to do was crawl into bed with Spike and not come out for a week. Perhaps two!
She smiled. “You’ve got foam in your hair.”

Spike brushed it away, then caught up a handful from the step and daubed it on her face. “Now we match, pet, and that’s in punishment for waving a stake at me.”

Buffy frowned. “What the heck was I doing?” She shuddered. If it hadn’t been for the bug, would she have staked Spike? “There was a bug - in your hair - “ she tried to explain, half to Spike, half to herself why such a silly, domestic problem could have saved them.

He wrapped his arm tightly round her waist and held her close until he felt the tension begin to drain from her body. “I’ve no idea what’s you’re talking about, Slayer, but if a bug saved me from becoming dust, then perhaps I should get one tattooed somewhere that only you can see.”

She grinned at the images that rocketed through her head then frowned again, “But Spike, something happened to us. We can’t just ignore it. It was as my brain wasn’t my own any more. What if it happens again? How can something make me forget I love you? Or that you love me? And we’ve still got to find Dawn and Eric.”

Spike stood up, pulling her to her feet. “The kids will be fine. I trust Dawn to look after herself and Eric. I know you still think she’s a baby, but she’s grown up a lot recently. And we didn’t forget we loved each other - something blocked it in our heads - your love for me broke through the block and I don’t think whatever - whoever - is doing it will find it so easy a second time.”

“Oh sure, Dawn’s so grown up she can’t remember how much soap to put in the washing machine, but hey, protecting herself and Eric from all the nasties out there in Sunnydale - no problem! Right - you said whatever or whoever was doing this. Do you mean...” Her voice trailed away and from the look on his face she knew his thoughts mirrored her own.

“She’s strong enough, pet. And I reckon with all that old magic around that Tara was using, she could have muffled our feelings in some weird way.”

“She wouldn’t,” Buffy went on, but even she could hear the lack of conviction in her voice. “Jeez, I know she finds it hard to stay away from the spells and charms, but she knows what it does to her. Willow might be many things, but she’s not stupid.”

Stupid, no, Spike thought grimly. But there are far worse things than stupidity where powerful witches are involved and jealousy was one of those. Oh, he knew she wasn’t jealous of him and he didn’t even think that she loved Buffy in the same way she loved Tara, no, this was a jealousy of their being together, of not playing an important role in Buffy’s life. And in some weird, terrifying way, it reminded him of the way Giles felt and acted these days.

“Well, whatever she is, we’re not going to find out by standing here admiring the bubbles in your basement. Let’s go find out, Slayer.” He held out his hand, sensing her reluctance to face up to the truth once and for all. He knew that she’d long ago ceased to completely trust Willow - sensed the pain losing that trust had caused. He’d guessed, better late than never, that the witch would do her utmost to split him away from Buffy, but even he hadn’t thought she would go this far - making them want to kill each other.

“Perhaps we’re wrong,” Buffy said quietly but he could hear that she didn’t believe there was any doubt.

Hand in had they left the flooded basement and headed upstairs. The Ravello backyard was still deeply shaded by the trees that surrounded it, but the sky to the east was a myriad shade of peach and apricot. The sun was nearly up - and Buffy wondered suddenly if Tara could attempt the Sylvamalkyn spell in daylight or would they have to wait through till night fell again. And what if she failed again? Uneasily, she scanned the thick branches above her head. Was Eric’s mother perched up there in the high tops, waiting for her son to become a full Sylvamalkyn? And what would she do if that didn’t happen?

Suddenly the bushes at the end of the yard parted and, to her relief, Eric, Dawn and Tara appeared. She took a deep breath, about to yell when Spike’s hand tightened warningly on her arm. And a second look at their faces told her now wasn’t the time for dire warnings about wandering off and getting lost.

“Buffy! Listen, Eric says... why have you got foam in your hair?”

“I can see these two ladies...”

“Buffy, Spike, something very odd is happening...”

“OK, OK, slow down everyone. Tara, what’s up?”

Her friend pushed back the thick amber hair from a face that was creased with worry. “Buffy...I realised that someone was interfering with the spell - at first I’d imagined I just wasn’t clever enough, then I knew it wasn’t that. And Eric can see someone - a woman - and Buffy, I think it must be Willow because I don’t know of anyone else who could do it. I’m so, so sorry, Spike. I know you were relying on me.”

Spike waved away her apologies. “Don’t beat yourself up about it.”

“But how can Eric see her if we can’t?” Buffy asked.

“He’s a child and half demon as well. I think whatever spell Willow is using to keep herself invisible, it doesn’t work well on children.”

“So if we get Will to show herself and stop interfering, you can try again to switch the Sylvamalkyn demon from Spike to Eric?”

Tara nodded, looking unhappy: she knew what was coming next.

“OK.” Buffy strode into the centre of the yard where the copper bowl and the remains of the failed Sylvamalkyn spell still sat: she turned slowly on the spot, her gaze raking the bushes, the trees, searching in the early morning light for any sign on the grass that an invisible someone was standing there. “Willow! Please, we know you’re here. Just show yourself. We need to talk. This isn’t doing any good. Will - please!”

She glanced back to where the others were standing on the porch steps - Tara biting her lip, Dawn and Eric whispering together, Spike scowling, hands thrust deep in his jeans’ pockets, casting an occasional look at the sky, measuring where the sun would appear over the tops of the trees. Even in this faint light, she could see the silver sheen of the Sylvamalkyn hairs on his face.

“Eric says she’s over there!” Dawn said suddenly and pointed to the far side of the yard.

Buffy swung round, but there was nothing to see.

“The other lady is here too,” the little boy piped up. “The one wearing a funny hat. She’s angry - they’re both angry. Real mad.”

Buffy bent down to Eric. “Is this the truth? You’re not story-telling?”

The half demon boy shook his head. “I don’t know why you can’t see them or hear them, but they’re having an awful big argument.”

Buffy looked up helplessly at Spike. “Who’s the other woman? And what the heck is going on?”...........

Fury - hot, corrosive, acid sharp - had flowed through Willow when Buffy and Spike came out of the house together. She’d been so certain that her interference charm would break them up - in the same way it had destroyed Tara’s ability to cast the Sylvamalkyn spell. Admittedly, she hadn’t intended to go so far; she’d just wanted to keep Spike as a half panther demon, knowing that he would leave Sunnydale for good if that happened. There was no way he would put Buffy and Dawn in danger. But somehow, when she tapped into Tara’s magic, she realised how incredibly powerful it could be and that with her own skills unleashed, she could probably make Buffy stake Spike and rid him from her life for ever.

A shimmering of gold and silver stars suddenly filled her vision and she felt a deep trembling under her feet and there in front of her stood Anya, wearing a green tunic, red and white striped tights and a long pointed green hat with a red bobble on the end.

Willow stared in astonishment: Anya, even with the shimmer of magic around her she was clearly visible to her, but obviously not to Buffy, Spike and the others in the back yard who were still gazing round, confused and puzzled. “What the heck are you doing here?” She gazed round wildly. “Is Xander here too?”

Anya shook her head. “Xander can’t leave the Santa Claus world until his time is up. But I volunteered to join him of my own free will, so the rule doesn’t apply to me. I’ve read all the small print in the contract very carefully. I mean, that’s why they print it, for people to read. And as for what I’m doing, I’d have thought that was obvious, Willow. I’m trying to stop you killing yourself by using this old magic.”

The red-head laughed, but it wasn’t a happy sound. “Anya, you’d be only too delighted if I killed myself. And what’s with the pixie outfit? Don’t tell me you’ve got poor Xander wearing those ridiculous clothes, too.”

Anya sniffed disdainfully. “This is the proper uniform for the role and work I undertake in the world of Christmas. It is comfortable, warm and drip-dry. However Xander only wears the official ceremonial robes at Christmas time and I think they look very becoming. Red is a good color for him.”

The witch shrugged. “OK, none of that matters to me. But what gives you the right to interfere now? Isn’t being with Xander in your own little happy world enough for you?”

“I’ve told you already - you’re killing yourself with this type of magic and yes, as you rightly say, if you died, I’d only be sorry for a few hours or so - perhaps five - but Xander would be broken-hearted and so it’s important to me that you don’t die. And anyway, why are you so determined to break up Buffy and Spike?”

“It’s for their own good. Well, it’s for Buffy’s good. She doesn’t understand what she’s doing, getting involved with Spike. He’ll ruin her life.”

“So why not confront her, face to face? Tell her what you think? Or are you scared of what she’ll say?”

Willow laughed again, the scorn she felt flicked acid at the ex-demon. “Anya, there is nothing I’m scared of in any world you can imagine!”

“Right. Then tell Buffy what you think!” And with a click of her fingers on both hands, the invisibility shield broke into a thousand shimmering pieces.

The first thing Spike sensed when Willow and Anya appeared in front of them was the jolt of sheer hurt that powered through Buffy. He knew that logically she’d known that her best friend was involved but seeing her there, a look of disdain mixed with fear on her face made it a truth that no amount of denial would alter.

“Anya - what the hell - nice hat!”

“Spike - Buffy - Dawn - hi, Tara.”

“Will - “ Buffy stepped forward, one hand out-stretched towards her friend. “I don’t understand. Why would you do this?”

An odd smile curved Willow’s lips. “Buffy, you just won’t listen to reason - I had to stop you from having this bizarre relationship with Spike. It’s wrong, totally and utterly wrong. He needs to be out of your life and this seemed like a good way of getting that done.”

“But Willow, why do you think you should decide what’s right for me? I’ve never interfered in your life this way.”

“Perhaps you’ve never cared enough about me to bother.”

“What? Jeez,Will, you’re my best friend.”

“Best friends worry about each other. They tell each other the truth, even if it hurts. What I’m telling you about Spike is the truth, but you won’t listen. Spike leaving town as a Sylvamalkyn demon seemed like a good idea. And it would have worked if Anya hadn’t interfered.”

“Me? I didn’t do anything. I was going to but the charm was already smashed by the time I arrived.”

Buffy shook her head impatiently. “We’d already broken the spell. Love’s a pretty powerful antidote to the magic you were using on us. And that’s what you just don’t get, Will. I love Spike, he loves me. It’s simple, straightforward and not up for discussion.”

There was an uneasy silence, then Tara said softly, “And what about me? You tell me you love me, Willow, but apparently you don’t mind making me look stupid and helpless by interfering with my spell. Where’s the love in that?”

“Tara, sweetheart - “

“And you promised you wouldn’t use magic again. And this old magic is so dangerous, so unpredictable when you play around with it. Willow, it could kill you.”

“That’s exactly why I’m here,” Anya said. “Xander’s worried.”

Willow laughed. “Oh jeez, I’m so touched! Everyone’s suddenly worried about me, when they should be worrying about the Slayer living with a vampire. And I know the old magic is dangerous, but hey, that’s half the fun, don’t you all see that? Every time I merge my own powers with it, well, wow, you’ve no idea what happens to my mind. I can do anything, go anywhere, change everything!”

“And is that what you want?” Spike said dryly, taking a few steps backwards so he was sheltered by branches from the rising sun.

Willow shot him a vicious look. “Of course I do. None of you can imagine what I could achieve. Buffy dusts a few vampires and demons and everyone thinks she’s wonderful, special, but I could rid the whole world of every vampire and demon if I could just find the right combination of spells and you all want me to give up, fail before I start.”

“You can’t treat old magic like that,” Tara said desperately. “Please, Will, think what you’re doing.”

“All she’s doing so far is to try and stop Eric getting back with his mom,” Dawn said angrily. “You’re all forgetting Eric.”

Buffy felt a shudder of guilt wash over her. Dawn was right - all she’d been worried about was getting Spike back in one piece. She’d quite forgotten that Eric was waiting, desperate to become a whole Sylvamalkyn, to live with his mother. The little boy was the one who was suffering the most.

“Sorry, Dawn. You’re right. OK, Will. Look, just let Tara do the charm to get the demon out of Spike and into Eric and we can discuss the rest of the magic business again.”

The red-head shook her head stubbornly. “It’s wrong - you’ll just go back to Spike. I won’t let you, Buffy, and I’ll do everything I can to stop Tara. You’ll thank me one day.”

Tara whirled round to Buffy, her amber hair flying loose from its braid. “I can’t stop her if she tries to take over. I’m sorry, I’m just not strong enough - or ruthless enough. There’s nothing that can prevent her from doing exactly what she wants about the Sylvamalkyn spell.”

“I can!” Anya broke in, her voice steady, her face serious in contrast to the elf costume she was wearing. “One of the places where you can’t use old magic is Father Christmas land. The magic there is older still - no one taps into it. No one knows how. And if there’s one person who can make Willow see sense, it’s my Xander.”

Buffy frowned. “But he can’t leave until his time is up.”

Anya nodded. “But I can. My contract is quite explicit, even in the small print. I stayed with Xander as an act of free will and so I can leave - as long as I find a replacement. And so - “ She spun round and Willow, understanding crossing her face in horror, shouted “No!” but it was too late. Anya made a complicated gesture with her fingers and Willow vanished in a shimmer of green lights.

There was a long silence, then Dawn whispered, “Oh Anya, what have you done?”

The ex-demon brushed green lights from the tips of her fingers with her back to them so they couldn’t see her expression. Then she turned round and forced a smile. “Willow has taken my place with Xander. I think it will help. Even though I hate to say it, he knows how to get through to her, so perhaps he can make her see sense. And if not, then at least she isn’t here to upset Tara’s spell and spoil Eric’s reunion with his mom.”

“But you love Xander! How can you bear to do this?”

“Xander and I have learnt a lot in the other world. Whatever you call him, Father Christmas, Santa Claus, most people stupidly as they grow older believe he doesn’t exist. But the idea of him is all about love and the love of giving. That’s what Xander and I have chosen to do for Willow.”

Anya smiled wearily at Dawn and pulled off her elf hat, aware that she would never need to wear it again. She knew Buffy, Spike and Tara understood the price she’d paid, what this act could cost her, and only hoped they thought it worth it. Perhaps Dawn would learn one day that when you loved, you would give everything in your power to make that person happy. So she had given a few months of her life with Xander to a rival. Perhaps he and Willow would get together and she would lose him, but at the end of the day, his happiness was what was important.

Fifteen hours later, the Sylvamalkyn demons crouched high in the trees above Buffy’s home, watched as Tara once again lit the cauldron in the middle of the yard and the magic flames began to leap and dance. Anya joined in the circle and felt the old magic begin to stir, leap and power out from Tara towards Spike. She guessed she was the only person there who could imagine what the demon inside him was experiencing as it was pulled from him and transferred into the small boy to join with its kin there.

For a minute, Eric sat, flames dancing on his head, then suddenly, he leapt to his feet, broke the circle of hands, threw back his head and a pure wolf howl broke from his mouth and silver hair began to grown over his face and arms. Answering howls echoed from the trees above and as the others backed away from him, a pack of Sylvamalkyns came swooping down from the sky, barking and howling, fangs glistening, claws gleaming.

With a shout that still sounded more little boy than wolf, Eric leapt into the arms of the tall female demon who sniffed him carefully, then threw him up, up and away into the trees. The pack vanished after him and she turned to follow, then stopped. Cautiously, she held out her front paws, claws retracted, towards Buffy and Spike. For a few seconds they touched her, acknowledging her unspoken thanks, and then she was gone, leaping away into the tall trees, her howls of delight and triumph marking her journey away from Revello Drive.

An hour later, Buffy was standing at her bedroom window, her body aching from the passionate sex she and Spike had just experienced. The moon was shining in, bathing her lover’s body sprawled naked across the bed with silver light, but this time there were no pelt, no claws or fangs.

“Do you think Eric will be OK?” she murmured and Spike gazed blearily up at her, then blinked, swung himself off the bed and stood behind her at the window, his hands cupping her breasts.

“He’ll be fine, pet. Have the time of this life, I reckon. Back with his mum, a wolf cub with the whole world to explore. I think I’m jealous.”

Buffy reached behind her and rubbed her hand across him.

“Well, maybe not that jealous,” Spike groaned, into her hair.

“And Willow?”

“That’s one person we’re not going to talk about tonight, Slayer. We can do nothing to help her, but perhaps Xander can. Don’t envy him the job.”

“It’s odd, I’ve just realised everything that’s happened is because people love each other. Even Dawn got to love Eric and is upset because he’s gone.”

Spike grinned. “I think she enjoyed being a big sister for once, instead of the problem teenage one.”

Buffy groaned. “Jeez, I’d forgotten about the flood in the basement! We won’t have any clean clothes to wear if I don’t get it sorted.”

Spike nuzzled at her bare shoulder, enjoying the helpless wriggle she always gave when he kissed her back. “Prefer you without clothes anyway, Slayer.”

Buffy took a final glance out of the window at the empty yard, the gently swaying trees, and everything bathed in moonlight. “Poor Anya. I wonder what she’ll do now.”

Spike yawned and pulled her back to bed. “She’ll wait for him, of course. Just as I’d wait for you. But - “ and just before his mouth closed possessively over hers - “Luckily I don’t have to!”

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