Disclaimer: Sadly, they belong to Joss and ME, not me. Unless Santa comes through.
It was the first tradition that had fallen by the wayside. That Christmas before her mother died – what Buffy had long considered her last real Christmas – there hadn’t been anyone to do it. Her mother hadn’t been well enough, and between the hospital and Dawn, Buffy hadn’t had any time. That year had seen a lot of phone calls to distant relations though, so it wasn’t as if people had really missed out on the contact.
The next year, Christmas had been lost in the anger and hopelessness of being pulled from peace. She’d had absolutely no desire to wish others comfort and joy, especially since the only time she felt even a hint of either one had been in the arms of a soulless demon. And while the following year, the despair hadn’t been quite so deep and the demon hadn’t been soulless anymore, he’d been lost nonetheless.
The year after that… well, they’d been pretty much in each other’s pockets in that tiny livable corner of what would eventually become the new Watcher’s hall, never mind all their other griefs, so there had been no need or desire to send Christmas cards.
But eventually, tradition – or maybe the need for tradition – had reared its head once more.
Buffy dropped her pen and worked her cramped fingers until they were limber again. Come on, she chided herself, sighing at the seeming mountain of cards yet to be written. Mom always had all her cards done and sent by the first weekend in December. You’ve had an extra week to finish, and you’re the Slayer. If you can handle an apocalypse every other month, you can handle this. Her expression newly resolved, she picked up the pen again.
The pep talk was not quite as inspiring after the sixth rendition. She looked at her pitifully small completed stack, then at the still-looming undone pile. With a shudder, she pushed away from the table and went into the kitchen. I’m halfway done, she rationalized quickly. I’m calling half-time.
She prolonged the tea-making process as long as possible, then was able to escape tradition for even longer by convincing herself that it would be really bad to spill the tea over all the cards, especially with all the cream and sugar she’d added. She found a couple of cookies that had escaped Dawn’s notice and dunked them, then spent a fruitless minute or so searching for more. Pouting and vowing to make sure her sister had a big lump of coal in her stocking, Buffy sipped at her tea.
After washing her cup and setting it in the rack to dry, she realized there was nothing left to do. All right, I can’t avoid it any more. Reluctantly, she returned to her seat and stationery. Maybe I should think of the cards as demons… papery demons that I need to slay. Cheered slightly by the thought, she picked up her sword – pen – and resumed her Yuletide correspondence.
After a while, she rediscovered the spirit of the tradition, the warm feeling that grew out of letting family and friends know that they were close in your thoughts, no matter the distance that lay between. The last few cards were suddenly done, and she sat there looking at her list of addresses, searching for one she hadn’t checked off. All done?
With a vague feeling of disappointment, she slumped back in her chair. Huh. Weird. That went too fast. I must have forgotten someone… She flipped through the addressed envelopes, double-checking against her list, but no, they were all there. She went through one more time, just to make sure that they all had stamps and return addresses. They did. She really was done.
Absently, she started to clear the controlled chaos that had taken over the dining room table, sorting the unused cards back into their boxes to use next year and making sure that the extra return address labels and stamps were tucked back into their appropriate spots, so nobody would complain they were missing. Soon, the only things left on the table were the cards to go out in the morning’s post and the pad with her list of addresses.
Sinking into her chair once more, Buffy stared down at the cards. The one on top was for Willow, even though she’d already sent her a Hanukkah card a couple days ago. That little tradition within tradition stemmed from more than one comment over the years on the worship of Santa. The first time she’d done it, partly in jest a couple of years after the relocation to England, Willow had been reduced to babbling and hugs. The more customary Christmas card had since become the joke, where Buffy teasingly mentioned the fact that people who celebrated Hanukkah were among the few who didn’t worship the demon Satan Claus.
The next one was much thicker than the others, and she traced the letters spelling out Xander’s name with a sad little smile. Xander’s card always had at least one letter, more often two, one from her and one from Dawn. Xander hadn’t been back home in years, and as much as she missed her friend, she was glad that he had found some kind of peace in deepest Africa.
She flipped through the rest of the stack. Most of the cards were addressed to the young Slayers at the Academy, or to the ones she’d trained in Sunnydale before the showdown with the First, now scattered throughout the world. There were a few for relatives – aunts and uncles and distant cousins that she and Dawn had rarely seen.
There was even one for Dawn, even though she lived there. It was something their mother had done after they’d moved to Sunnydale, and Buffy remembered how much she’d liked getting her very own Christmas card in the mail, like a real person. It was a special one, like Willow’s Hanukkah card, not one out of a box.
The racks of cards at the Hallmark store had tons of special ones, all red and green and covered with glitter, for sisters and fathers and mothers.
I miss you, Mom, Buffy thought wistfully, and though she still felt sorrow at the thought of her mother, it was no longer quite so overwhelming, muted some by the passing of years. She’d mourned all over again after Sunnydale fell in, and finally managed to come to terms with the loss.
Lost in memory, it took her a moment or two to realize that she’d started doodling on a blank page of her notepad, and had written Christmas several times. She stared down at the words, letters plain and clear and stark black on the paper. Intentionally, she wrote it again, this time using all kinds of curlicues and swirls and making it just as fancy as she could, then snickered a little at how it looked. She wrote it again, this time with the felt tip pen she’d used to address the Christmas cards, and was more pleased with the result.
M is for Mary, mother of the Christ child. Buffy blinked in surprise as a line from an ancient Christmas pageant song popped into her head, and wondered, Okay, where did that come from?
Probably because you were just thinking about Mom.
Idly, she wrote out Christmas again, letting it scrawl over the page. When she was done, she stared down at her handiwork. Suddenly, she recalled another line from that old kiddie song – A is for the angel – then tried to carry on with it. And S is for…
Oh, shoot. Heart sinking, Buffy remembered the card she had put off purchasing, because nothing she’d looked at had seemed quite right.
Now what am I going to do? Sure, I hadn’t planned to give it to him before Christmas morning anyway, but it’s not like the selection in the stores is going to get any better between now and then.
Panic started to build, and she ran her hands through her hair, bracing her elbows on the table and staring down at her scribbles. Think, think, think…
The idea formed only slowly, but when it had, she just had to smile.
She flipped the page on her notepad, just to have a clean sheet of paper on which to practice.
“Wake up! It’s Christmas morning!”
Dawn’s squeal was more than shrill enough to rouse a sleeping vampire. Spike groaned and tried to block out the sound by hiding his face in his pillow.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work.
“Spi~ike! Come on!”
Then he heard Buffy murmuring something to her sister – love you, Nibblet, he thought blearily, but when are you gonna remember how late patrols run? – but it was difficult to make out the words through the door. Blessed silence resumed, and Spike fell back to sleep with a profound sense of gratitude.
What it was that woke him up a couple of hours later, he wasn’t sure. The door clicked softly shut just as he stirred. Maybe that was it, he thought, and briefly thought about succumbing to the lure of another hour’s sleep. Then he pictured Dawn’s pout and sighed. Nothing that girl likes as much as pressies, he thought, and resigned himself to getting up.
It was only then that he became aware of the presence of something cool and papery beneath his hand.
Surprised, he pushed himself upright in the bed and studied it. Huh, he thought. It’s just an envelope. He turned it over in his hand, but wasn’t able to discern anything beyond the fact that it was red and sealed shut. It didn’t feel thick enough to contain any kind of explosive, and in any case, he was fairly certain that he hadn’t done anything recently to warrant Buffy wanting to dust him. With a shrug, he grabbed a dagger from the nightstand, leaned back against the headboard and slit the envelope open.
When he drew out the single piece of paper inside, he discovered that it was folded into quarters, like a homemade card. Then he turned it over to look at the front, and he just had to draw in a breath.
In a fancy script of curls and swoops and tails, using the closest modern equivalent to an old-time fountain pen and its thick black lines, Buffy had written I love you.
For a moment, he ran his fingers over the letters, not quite touching the page, before realizing she had written more inside. This was much plainer, without embellishment, just her normal, slightly rounded and looping script.
I thought about writing a poem, but you and I both know that words are not my friend, and I have a hard time expressing myself normally, never mind in verse. I know I don’t say it often, or at least not as often as you do, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel it. And it’s not that I love you more at this time of the year, though it might be because I’m thinking more about the people I love.
With all the shopping for and picking out and sending of cards, it took me a while to realize I hadn’t found a single one that expressed everything you mean to me. You’re my friend and fighting partner, my lover and confidant and the one who always has my back. You’re everything to me, a gift I never expected. I love you when you’re snippy and I’m bitchy, and I love you when you look at me the way you do that just makes me melt. I love you even when you make me so angry I could scream, and I love you more every time you say you love me.
Just in case it works the same way for you… I love you, William. I love you, Spike. Merry Christmas.
“You like it?”
Startled, Spike looked up as the mattress dipped, and met Buffy’s eyes as she settled next to him. She smiled ever so slightly at him, and reached out to cup his cheek. Wetness smeared under her thumb, and he realized that without his notice, her words had turned the dampness in his eyes to tears. He opened his mouth, but not a sound escaped. Instead, he crushed her to his chest, holding her as tightly as he possibly could, and buried his face in her hair. She embraced him just as fiercely.
It was some time before he could bear to relax his hold on her. “God, I love you, Slayer,” he managed at last, and if his voice was rough, he could pretend it was from sleep rather than emotion.
“Merry Christmas, Spike,” she whispered, her fingers feathering through his tousled hair.
“If you’re done being sappy,” Dawn’s voice carried easily through the door, making them jump in each other’s arms, “there’s a whole bunch of Christmas presents that need to be unwrapped!”
“Bugger off, brat,” Spike replied, smirking at Buffy and using his most lascivious tone. “Your sis and I are… exchangin’ our season’s greetings.”
“Eeew! TMI!” Dawn flounced off, but they could hear her laughing as she did.
“Oh,” Buffy replied, grinning and leaning forward to invite his kiss, “is that what you’re calling it now?”
“It’s Christmas morning. What would you call it?”
Kissing her, Spike realized that he couldn’t have cared less about the gifts beneath the tree.
December 22, 2007
© randi (K. Shepard), 2007