Author's Chapter Notes:
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Chapter One: Bah, Hum Bug!

"What about this one, Dawnie?”

The teenager skeptically eyed the tree presented to her. “You’re kidding, right? That thing’s so wimpy,” she criticized. “C’mon, Buffy. I don’t want open gifts under a decorated Christmas shrub.”

With that said, Dawn traipsed off in search of the best tree.

Buffy groaned in annoyance at her spoiled sister’s unabashed brattiness. Did Dawn even know how much she so did not want to be spending her night Christmas tree shopping, especially in the same lot that held for her memories of the first man who had broken her heart, how he had almost faced the sunrise because he couldn’t face another day with the temptation of her in his unlife. Couldn’t her little sister for one moment look outside her own selfish motives to see that the mere idea of the celebrating the holidays just seemed like a pointlessly depressive prospect? Good will toward men was not a sentiment Buffy was presently feeling during this festive season.

Since she was still muddling through the angry phase of the post-break up blues, any man, any male life form for that matter, was culpable for her unhappiness Unfortunately, on separate occasions, Xander and Giles had both felt the brunt of her bitterness, which was further reason for Buffy’s desire to avoid the whole yuletide merriment. Instead of putting her in better spirits, all this Christmas cheer was just enhancing her misery.

“Fine,” Buffy muttered, following behind her sister as they weaved through the small forest of nonnative Californian evergreens.

“Buffy, hurry! I think I found it!” she heard Dawn squeal in delight.

The Slayer shook her head as a long sigh fell from her lips. Picking up the pace, she found her sister standing beside a monolith of tree, proudly displaying her find with a wide smile. “This is the one.”

“Dawn, that’s not even gonna fit through the front door,” Buffy disagreed.

Her sister’s smile waned as she stared up at the giant tree. “Yeah, okay,” she relented. “I just thought Mom would’ve liked it.”

Buffy’s exasperated expression quickly melted into compassionate understanding. After all, her mother was the reason why she was here with Dawn. Normally, it would be the three of them picking out a tree together, a yearly ritual that had become part of their own family tradition since they had moved to Sunnydale after the divorce.

Or had that been another inserted memory generated by a few meddlesome, Key worshipping monks? Maybe it had only been her and her mom who had gone tree shopping. Maybe they had never even gotten a tree. Who knew? All she was certain of was that those memories felt real enough to her and that for all intents and purposes Dawn was her sister, even if she was some sort of mystical ball of energy.

But this year’s tradition was going to have to be different. Recovering from brain surgery barely afforded her mother a few minutes out of bed, let alone a whole evening devoted to tree hunting. So like the dutiful first born she was, Buffy had taken on the responsibility. And if the last doctor’s visit had told her anything, it was that the duration of her mom’s recovery was going to take a while, probably well past New Years, which meant that Christmas tree shopping was to be the first of many duties she would be obligated to perform to try to sustain her family’s Christmas festivities. Something she would have never begrudged if it weren’t for the currently depressive state of her love life and the steady gloominess it inspired within her.

The Slayer gave her sister a sympathetic smile. “I want it special for mom too,” she softly agreed. “We just gotta be realistic. Plus, I don’t even think I could haul that monster home even with my superhuman strength.”

The teen suddenly gestured to something behind Buffy. “Maybe Spike can help,” she casually proposed.

Buffy’s brows domed at the suggestion. “Why the hell would I ask Spike for help?”

Dawn continued to stare over the Slayer’s shoulder. “Cuz he’s a vamp, so he’s all with the super strongness,” she rationalized. “Also, he’s right behind you.”

Buffy sharply spun on her heels, eyes wide at the sight of the peroxide vampire inspecting a few Christmas trees, fingering the branches as he examined them for some unknown, and probably depraved, purpose.

“Dawn, stay close,” she instructed as she marched over to where Spike was.

The nerve of him to show his face anywhere she was after what he had pulled. Recollection of the night the vampire had broken into her room, pulled her out of bed just to make her an audience to her boyfriend’s unsavory midnight pastime, knowing how deeply it would devastate her, sent the Slayer into a rage blackout, where clobbering him in the schnoz seemed like the only course of action. “What are you doing here?” she threateningly inquired, fist clenched and ready for pummeling.

The vampire nearly jumped out of his skin. “Slayer!” he exclaimed. “Can see the split’s given you time to work on that questionable stealth ‘f yours,” he offhandedly commented.

Buffy instantly saw red at the reference to the not so amicable break up with her ex. Her knuckles crushed into the bridge of his nose before she had time to think her actions twice over.

“Ow! Bloody hell!” Spike bellowed, wiping the thin trail of blood from his nose. “Funny way ‘f showin’ your gratitude, Slayer,” he resentfully mentioned.

“Gratitude?!” she indignantly shot back. “You don’t honestly think I’m going to thank you for what you did?”

Spike scowled. “What I did was open your soddin’ eyes to Captain America’s late night back alleyin’,” he defended. “Thought it best for my lil’ show an’ tell to happen sooner rather than later. Least you din’t ‘ave to find out the hard way.”

To put it mildly, Buffy was fuming. “That was anything but easy for me,” she gritted out.

“Would’ve been a hell ‘f a lot worse ‘f his big secret came out with you two as old marries, supportin’ his Whitebread litter ‘f college frat boys,” he reasoned.

The steam was starting to escape from her ears. “Just…just shut up and keep your nose out of my business,” she warned. “Unless you want it permanently broken.”

Spike held his hands up in surrender. “Best keep that rage in check, eh Slayer? Wouldn’t want to be a bad role model for the lil’ Bit.”

“Oh, it’s no biggie,” Dawn piped up with a shrug. “I’ve seen her punch vampires before.”

Buffy turned her head in her sister’s direction, her eyes wide with condemnation. “Dawn, why don’t you go look for another tree,” she requested as nicely as possible, deciding not to scold the teen on her inappropriate timing.

“Fine,” Dawn sighed, heading towards the unexplored patch of trees they had yet to scrutinize.

“Don’t stray too far,” Buffy called out.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Dawn replied apathetically.

Satisfied that her sister was still in her line of sight, Buffy turned her attention back to the vampire. “What are you even doing here? Unless hanging around trees is your idea of a new extreme sport,” she derisively inquired.

“Was out for my nigthly spot ‘f violence, got bored with the things that don’t go bump in the night, and found myself wanderin’ to these parts. Figure the crypt could use some holiday cheer,” he explained, hoping the lie would stick.

“And here I thought demons would hate the idea of a cute Baby Jesus bringing peace on earth,” she skeptically quipped.

“You’re blinkered view of demons shines through yet again, Slayer,” Spike retorted. “You might wan’ to educate yourself on you’re supposed expertise. For one thing, Saint Nick, he’s one of ours.”

“Sure he is,” she dubiously responded. “As much as I would love to continue this test of my nonexistent patience, I have to a tree to buy,” she added, ready to ditch the vamp in search of her sister, who unsurprisingly had scampered off somewhere.

As Buffy’s eyes scanned the grounds for Dawn, she failed to notice the change in the vampire’s demeanor. “Never had the intention ‘f causin’ you pain, Slayer.”

The sympathetic tone of Spike’s voice startled her, her gaze snapping back to his compassionate expression. “What?” she harshly whispered.

The vampire shifted awkwardly under Buffy’s incredulously accusatory stare. “Jus’ was sayin’ that I brought you to that vamp nest ‘cos I thought you deserved to know what your boy was getting’ himself into,” he uncomfortably clarified.

Buffy speechlessly gaped at him. Was that empathy being uttered by her former nemesis? And more importantly, did the soulless vampire mean it? Was he genuinely apologetic that his actions, whatever their initial motive, had caused her some serious emotional anguish? The unexpected softening of his usually sharp features, the warmth that filled his cerulean gaze, inspired a foreign feeling of comfort and appreciation; two concepts which she never associated with anything concerning the peroxide thorn in her side.

It was all too much for her mind to grasp, and so Buffy reacted as she did with anything she encountered that scared her shitless. She went on the attack.

“Yeah, well, next time keep your good intentions to yourself,” Buffy bitingly ordered, bringing them back to the perpetual animosity that regularly flowed between them. “Stay out of my life.”

The sight of his warm expression dissolve into cold, steely resentment set her jittered nerves at ease. Arrogant and verbally malicious Spike she could handle. This new development in his behavior was nothing she wished to reencounter. Hating the vampire was safe, part of the daily routine; anything to the contrary threatened the foundations of her already skewed perception of reality. A once black and white existence that was becoming increasingly grey as the days progressed. A reality where her morally good mother got brain tumors, her supposed stand up kind of guy boyfriend went out to get suck jobs in vampire brothels, and her innocent little sister was actually an ancient, potentially world ending universal power made flesh. The same reality that apparently contained a Master vampire whose sincerity and compassion she was adamantly disregarding.

“Fine,” Spike vehemently replied. “Figures you’d snub a lendin’ hand. Would ‘f pegged it a Slayer thing but you take the whole bloody martyr nonsense to another level.”

“I don’t mind help,” Buffy instantly countered. “I’m all with letting my friends chip in with the demon fighting. I just have a major problem with you trying to help me out. With a big emphasis on the trying. Specifically when it’s got absolutely nothing to do with slaying,” she argued with a contemptuous glare.

Spike crossed his arms as he shook his head. “Still tryin’ to separate the girl from the Slayer,” he said disapprovingly. “Take my advice, Summers. When you start realizin’ that you’ll never escape your callin’ an’ finally abandon this ridiculous idea ‘f bein’ Jill Normal, you jus’ might actually get those permanently knotted knickers of yours untwisted.”

“I don’t want your advice,” she sated in a low, hardened tone. ‘Especially about the current state of her underwear,’ she mentally added.

“Yeah, yeah. No good it’ll do you when you finally fall off tha’ moral high horse of yours,” he flippantly responded, unaffected by her blatant expression of ire. “So go ahead, keep up the denial. Jus’ don’t come poundin’ on my door when you need my assistance with another one of your weekly binds.”

“Maybe the bleach has melted that tiny pea sized brain of yours, but for the hundredth time already, I DON’T WANT YOUR HELP!”

Spike’s unimpressed gaze remained fixed on her. “You’re bloody incorrigible, you know that Slayer? You talk a load of rubbish but we both know the moment you find yourself in hot water you’ll be wavin’ another hundred dollar bribe in my face, persuadin’ me to locate one of your nitwit friends or enlighten you on some tidbit ‘bout demons and slayers. ‘Cept from this point on you’re on your own. Sick of bein’ your bloody lackey if you’re jus’ gonna be an ungrateful…Grox’lar Beast.”

The last remark provoked a flummoxed stare from the Slayer. “There better be something big and snarly behind me,” she warningly replied. “Because you’re ass is so dust if…”

Her threat was cut short by numerous screams as people frantically attempted to escape the giant demon raging its way through the lot, tossing trees out of the way as though it were picking tulips from a flower garden.

“Dawn!” Buffy yelled, realizing that she had no clue as to her sister’s whereabouts as all out chaos broke out around them.

Before she could even ask Spike to distract the beast as she searched for Dawn, the vampire flew past her and threw himself at the demon. Buffy didn’t waste any time, dashing through the rows of trees as she desperately tried to find her sister.

“Dawn!?” she called out again.

“Buffy?!” she heard her frightened sister reply.

Racing in the direction of Dawn’s strained voice, the Slayer found the teenager crouched beneath the vender’s table, eyes wide as she watched Spike get whacked in the face by the Grox’lar’s large hand, sending the vampire flying back a few feet, crashing dangerously close to a collection of splintered trees.

Buffy peered over her shoulder at the advancing demon. “Dawn stay here and don’t move,” she resolutely commanded.

Her sister nodded vigorously at Buffy’s instructions, knowing this was one of those times you don’t automatically fight your big sister when she orders you around.

Satisfied with her sister’s hiding spot, the Slayer charged the demon, leaping into the air to deliver a solid punch to its grotesque face. The thing didn’t even flinch, pushing the Slayer down to the ground like it was swatting a mere fly.

Buffy struggled to get to her feet as she watched the beast ungracefully lumber to where her sister was trying to hide. Panic filled Buffy as the demon’s roar left Dawn immobile, her terrified gaze transfixed on the snarling creature like a deer caught in headlights. She raced at the Grox’lar for the second time, throwing as many blows, as many kicks as she could to get the beast’s attention off of her sister. Needless to say it worked.

The Slayer felt the demon’s large leathery hand clasp around her neck, lifting her off the ground as it tried to choke the life out of her. Cluthing at the Grox’lar’s grasp, Buffy unsuccessfully attempted to extricate herself, gasping for the oxygen that was being squeezed out of her body.

“Buffy!” she heard her sister scream, the fear evident even to her as she fought to free herself, her elevated feet frantically kicking out as her hands pulled at the demon’s grip on her throat.

Then suddenly she fell to the ground, lightheaded at the unexpected rush of air that entered her system. She watched in a blurred haze as Spike, who at some point in time had pounced on the distracted demon’s back, grabbed the Grox’lar’s head and proceeded to twist its neck with a resounding snap, killing the beast instantly.

Even as the creature fell into a lifeless heap at the vampire’s feet, Spike’s focus was on Buffy, the smallest trace of concern evident in his gaze. Walking over to her, he offered her his hand to help her back up. Poignantly refusing the assistance, Buffy stood up on her own, her eyes narrowed in contempt.

“I said I didn’t need your help,” she grumbled, her pride slightly bruised at the idea that Spike had just saved her life, and maybe even her sister’s too. Not that she would ever admit it. “C’mon Dawn. We’ll come back tomorrow to get the tree,” she said coldly, leaving the mess of a Christmas tree lot the now dead demon had created with its inexplicable rampage without so much as another glance at the vampire.

She didn’t wait for her sister either when Dawn paused briefly to give Spike a sympathetic smile before chasing after the clearly pissed off Slayer.

The vampire observed silently as the Summers sisters briskly walked out of sight, leaving him with conflicting emotions.

To hell with the sodding chip and his recently discovered amorous feelings for her. Spike had the overwhelming urge to strangle the Slayer for her stubbornness, for her refusal to see him in a new light where he wasn’t just an evil bloodsucker with an electronic leash in his brain. His desire for her was still so new, so fresh. He knew it would take time for her to even accept his love. Spike knew he had to start with changing Buffy’s view of him before attempting anything else. She needed to see he could fight on her side, that he was a worthy ally. She needed to trust him.

The vampire shook his head. It would be a frozen day in hell before the Slayer ever trusted him but he still had to get her to accept his help, to let him be part of the team. He had come close, had almost gotten his wish, that night after he had told her about the Death Wish, when he’d found her crying on her porch about her mum. She had opened up to him then, the first person she had confided in about her mother’s illness. Then his role in the whole fiasco of what was to be the end of her relationship with Soldier Boy had, in her eyes, sent him back to his previous non-consorting status.

All he needed was an in, a second chance, an opening in her unwavering defenses. But what? None of her do gooder chums or Watcher were exactly on friendly terms with him and except for maybe the demon bint were just as obstinate about his involvement in her life as the Slayer was.

It was why he had followed her that night. Well, one of the reasons why he had followed her. He had set out that night to devise a plan to get into her good graces.

Buffy hadn’t been out patrolling like her normal routine so Spike had traced her scent to the now unoccupied Christmas tree lot. He had watched her, disguising himself among the pine needled foliage. Seeing Buffy there with Dawn, and notably without Joyce, started the wheels in his head to turn.

It didn’t take a genius to realize that this Christmas would be harder on the Slayer and her family with her mother being sickly and all. Spike had detected the frustration in Buffy’s voice and had witnessed the melancholic glances the sisters had shared when the topic of the importance of Joyce’s enjoyment of the holidays was brought up. It was this that was the vampire’s inspiration.

Spike had decided he would play the role of Ghost of Christmas Present to Buffy’s Scrooge. He would bring the Slayer back into the festive spirit of the season. As he mindlessly picked at a tree’s branches a multitude of ideas flooded his conscience as to how he could help her with the holidays, an infectious sense of glee filling him as his plan started to unfold in his mind. An excitement that had distracted him enough to have allowed the object of his newfound affection to unsuspectingly sneak up on him. The same excitement that had vanished when her fist had connected with his nose.

Nothing would dissuade him though. Not now that he finally had a plan. Not her adamant insistence that he butt out of her life, not the continuous string of threats to his well being that she liked to throw his way, and not even the blatant refusal to show him just a smidgen of gratitude for saving her life from the Grox’lar could keep Spike from finding a way to make this Christmas one she would never forget.

Now all he needed was the dosh to finance this little endeavor.

With a genuine smile he rarely granted his lips when out amongst the living, Spike gave the dead demon corpse one last kick before starting off in the direction of his cemetery, a spring in his sauntering step as visions of a very gracious Buffy danced in his head.


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