DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CIV.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Life goes on for the Scooby gang, but while Spike and Havi are a bit more integrated into the group by the time Christmas comes around, they’re unaware of some of the darker leanings in Sunnydale, especially now that Robin knows Spike is the one who killed his mother…

*************

Chapter 35: Of the Seasons Have I Seen

This late in the semester, Maggie didn’t want to waste her valuable time staring at students take tests, so Robin was the lucky one who got to sit in to proctor the finals. Though he had a stack of other tests he was grading for the professor, the work was mostly a smokescreen as he watched the students scribble away at their papers.

He watched Buffy most of all.

Though part of him was grateful that he hadn’t had any more tutoring sessions with her, Robin still wished he could’ve found the opportunity to talk to her about her so-called boyfriend. He’d done a little digging around, but he couldn’t even find out the guy’s last name, let alone anything personal about him. It didn’t shake Robin’s belief about his identity, however. After what Spike had admitted about the coat’s origins, there was no way he wasn’t the same vampire that had murdered Nikki Wood. How he’d ended up in Sunnydale remained a mystery.

The other unknown was the paternity of Buffy’s baby. She’d made it sound like her boyfriend---Spike---was the father. But vampires were incapable of having children, so that was impossible. Why, then, was this vampire taking on the surrogate role?

More importantly, how could Buffy trust such a dangerous vampire in the first place?

Robin had only one answer to that. She didn’t know what a threat he really was.

When he called time for the test, he watched as she gathered together her belongings, chatting amiably with Willow and Oz as they took their time coming up to the desk. “Not too hard, I hope,” Robin commented when she dropped her paper onto the stack.

“Any time I don’t know an answer, it’s too hard,” Buffy replied with a smile.

“Oh, I like hard,” Willow bubbled. “Because then, when you do well, you know you deserved it.”

“We’ve got her in therapy about that,” Buffy said. “Obviously, we’re not getting our money’s worth.”

Robin laughed, but his gaze was wary. “Listen, Buffy,” he said, lowering his voice for just a bit more privacy. “Can you stick around for a few minutes? There’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Is it important?”

“Well---.”

“’Cause I’m supposed to meet my mom and Spike over at the mall,” she rushed on, oblivious to the fact that he’d tried to answer her question in the affirmative. “Would you believe it, but he still hasn’t done his Christmas shopping?”

Willow poked Buffy in the side. “Neither have you,” she reminded playfully.

“Been a little busy, in case you hadn’t noticed.” She turned an apologetic smile back to Robin. “Can I get a raincheck? It’s just…” She moved out of the way when other students filed past her, waiting until it was a bit more private before continuing. “This is our first Christmas together,” she continued when it was just the four of them. “And Spike’s completely freaking out over the gift thing---.”

“I would’ve called it mild desperation,” Oz commented. “With maybe a tinge of hysteria.”

“Either way,” she went on, “Spike’s feeling way out of control, which is a huge thing for him, and I know you don’t know him, but---.”

“Oh, I know him.”

The solemnity of his tone was completely lost on her. “That’s right, I forgot you met him when you dropped off the book.” She shook her head, laughing. “I swear, this baby has completely fried my memory. Maybe you shouldn’t grade that test after all.”

“Buffy---.”

“So, raincheck, right?” She didn’t even wait for a response. She was moving, along with her friends, for the door, shooting him a warm smile over her shoulder. “Have a good Christmas!”

The lecture hall seemed cavernous on her exit, leaving Robin to stare at the door with a frustrated frown as it slid shut. Maybe it didn’t matter what he knew; he had a feeling Buffy wouldn’t listen to anything negative about the vampire she so casually called her boyfriend anyway. It was obvious her feelings were blinding her to the truth. Spike was a killer. A slayer of Slayers. An abomination who shouldn’t be walking the earth when women like his mother were cheated of just a few more years because of his kind.

Because of him.

Bile rose in the back of his throat, but he swallowed it back down. It was pointless to let his anger get the better of him at this point. If he couldn’t get to Buffy, then maybe her best friend could. He just had to believe that Buffy would do the right thing, once she knew the whole story.

Then, his pain would be eased.

Somewhat.

*************

He was in a foul mood, and, unfortunately, Joyce got the brunt of it while they waited for Buffy to show. Nothing was good enough for Spike today. Kids running through the mall were too loud, the piped-in Christmas music was a “load of rubbish,” and if he heard one more bell from a dressed-up Santa looking for charity donations, Joyce was sure Spike was going to snap.

Currently, he was glaring at the menu options of the Starbucks, and she was desperately trying to figure out how she was going to deny buying him anything with caffeine in it. She didn’t need him hyped up even further; there would be no telling what he might do in his bad temper then.

Thankfully, Spike ended up passing on anything to drink, but insisted on carrying her cappuccino to one of the tables outside the shop to wait for Buffy. Once they were seated, she took a deep breath.

“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?” she said evenly. “Or do I just have to put up with Oscar the Grouch all night?”

“Nothin’s wrong,” he bit out. The plastic spoon he was playing with snapped between his fingers.

“And your grudge with the coffee stirrer is personal. I see.”

She let it rest at that, knowing the slight goad would be enough for---.

“It’s like this…”

Joyce refrained from smiling at Spike’s sudden decision to share.

“Things between me and Buffy…they’ve been goin’ pretty good, yeah? I mean, there’s still the whole issue of what’s goin’ to happen when she moves back into the house this weekend, and then Rupert’s still bein’ a right git half the time, and I don’t even want to get into the patrolling fights Buffy and I---.”

“Every couple has their problems, Spike.”

“Right. That’s what I’m sayin’.” He ran his fingers through his hair. The bleach was only in the very tips now, and it was the longest Joyce had ever seen it. It was hard not to make the suggestion that maybe he should cut it; she knew she sounded enough like a mom more than half the time already.

“But this…” Spike gestured to the various decorations that adorned the mall. “…this isn’t a bridge we’ve crossed yet. And the way Buffy talks, she’s got these high hopes ‘bout what she wants.”

“And you’re worried you’re going to let her down somehow,” Joyce finished.

His head ducked in embarrassment. “No, I know I’m goin’ to let her down,” Spike said. “I haven’t celebrated Christmas proper since I was turned. And the New Year? Forget it. Dru and Angelus’ idea of bringin’ in the New Year usually involved a couple of virgins and a sharp---.” He cut himself with a grimace. “Bollocks. See? It’s not right. That’s not what Buffy’s goin’ to be wanting.”

She took a moment before answering. He wasn’t going to like what she was about to say.

“Buffy’s already got what she wants,” she said. “She has you. I think you’re over-reacting with this, Spike.”

His scowl deepened, and he pushed away from the table to slouch in his chair. “Women,” he muttered. “All the bloody same.”

Knowing now that this was probably the same argument he’d had with Buffy, Joyce decided to press on. “She told you about last Christmas, didn’t she?”

His perpetual glower was the only answer she needed.

“I know how hard you’ve been trying,” she said. “And I know you want everything to be perfect for Buffy and the baby, but, Spike…that’s not life. Bad things happen. People make mistakes. It’s to be expected.”

“See, now, that’s where you’re wrong. I make a mistake, and that’s it for me. I don’t get another shot. I get dusted.”

“What? Why on earth would you say that?”

“It’s the truth, isn’t it?” Spike rolled his shoulders, as if the tension in them was suddenly unbearable. “You think I forget for a second that I’m a vampire? None of the rest of the lot do.”

“That’s not true.”

“No offense, Joyce, but you don’t see ‘em like I do. Now, yeah, Red and Oz are pretty OK with it, since they have to deal with the wolf thing every month. But the rest of them are just looking for an excuse to get me out of the picture. Have you seen the jobs Rupert keeps throwing my way?” He shook his head. “He’s just dyin’ for me to get in over my head one of these times so he can give Buffy his ‘I told you so.’ Or better, get rid of me once and for all.”

She knew that wasn’t true. Because of the odd circumstances, Joyce and Rupert had been meeting more often, discussing how best to help Buffy. She knew that his respect for Spike was growing every day. But she also knew that Spike wouldn’t believe it if she told him so.

“Maybe it’s because he trusts your abilities,” she offered instead. “You’re nearly as strong as Buffy. It makes sense to me that he’d use his strongest fighter to do what Buffy can’t these days.”

He startled her by pushing back in his chair, rising to his feet and shoving his hands deep into his coat pockets. “I can’t do this today,” he said, unable to meet her eyes. “Tell Buffy…tell Buffy I’ll see her at the house later. I’m too wound up to be around her right now.”

The tread of his boots was heavy as he disappeared into the crowd, his coat whipping around his legs as he unceremoniously pushed a teenaged boy out of his path. Joyce sighed. Buffy wasn’t going to be happy about this.

*************

Buffy was pissed beyond belief.

“He just left?” she demanded. Oz and Willow hovered behind her, and she knew her voice was carrying to the other Starbucks customers, but frankly, she didn’t care. “Christmas is in a week. When is he thinking this is going to get done? On spring break?”

“He really wasn’t in a mood for shopping, honey,” her mother tried to soothe. “And I’m sure he’ll find time to get it done later. Sit down. Relax. It’s not that big of a deal.”

But it was a big deal. This was their first Christmas together, and no matter what Buffy said or did, it felt like Spike was fighting it. She asked him to come help pick out the Christmas tree; he conveniently got covered in green slime on patrol. She left a book of English Christmas traditions on his bed for him to show her what he wanted, and somehow, the book got lost. He wouldn’t even give her a wish list for what he’d like for gifts. How was she supposed to make it a good holiday for them if he wouldn’t cooperate?

“Maybe it’s better this way,” Willow said, slipping into the chair next to her. “Now we can buy Spike’s gifts without worrying about him seeing them.”

Her head whipped around. “You know what you’re getting him?”
“Yeah. Don’t…” Willow looked suddenly stricken. “…you?”

With a defeated sigh, Buffy slumped in her seat. The sight of her growing tummy almost made it worse. She felt so fat. “Christmas sucks,” she mumbled, absently smoothing her top over her stomach.

“Not that I think you’re in any mind to be hearing from the mom monster,” Joyce said, “but I think both you and Spike are blowing this way out of proportion.”

Buffy shook her head. “Impossible. Because Spike would have to be showing an ounce of interest for there even to be a proportion. He’s proportion-less. He’s…negative proportion. He’s…god, why isn’t he here?”

“I can go check on him, if you like,” Oz offered.

“No. Thanks, but that’ll just make it worse. He’ll think I’m being all over-everything then.”

“Well…you kind of are.” Willow cringed when Buffy shot her another glare of death, but kept on going. “I mean, maybe he just doesn’t understand how much this means to you. Have you talked to him about it?”

Buffy nodded. “I even had lists,” she said. “And references. But he won’t listen to me, which I totally don’t get. I told him what happened last year. He should…what?”

She stopped when she saw the looks on everyone’s faces, confused as to what they were thinking.

“You brought up Angel?” Willow asked carefully. “And you don’t think that maybe that might have…I don’t know…bugged Spike?”

Buffy waved her hand in dismissal. “That’s stupid. Spike’s not threatened by Angel. He knows that what we had is long over.”

Their silence was damning.

“You don’t seriously think this is about Angel, do you?” she asked the trio incredulously.

“Yeah,” Willow admitted.

“And maybe a little William, too,” her mom suggested.

Her eyes went wide. “That’s ridiculous! Spike is William. I thought that was pretty clear by now. He wouldn’t be jealous of himself. Not even Spike is that narcissistic.”

“Spike doesn’t see it the same way you do, honey. He’s living with this ghost, just as much as you are, and I know you want to believe that he’s exactly the same, but he’s not. And no matter how many times you dress him up like he used to, it’s not going to change the fact that he’s different now.”

“I did that once,” Buffy groused. “And it was Halloween. I wore that stupid old-fashioned dress, didn’t I? We looked cute together.”

“You did,” Willow said. “But maybe your mom’s right. Maybe you should stop trying to focus this holiday on the past, and start focusing it on the future.” All of a sudden, she brightened and leapt to her feet. “Oh! And I just got the perfect idea for a gift for Spike. Come on. I think I know exactly where we can get it.”

She resisted only slightly as Willow tugged her to a stand. She’d never considered that Spike would still have residual jealousy of Angel. Hadn’t everything they’d been through at this point proved to him yet that Angel was the past? What was she going to have to do to convince him he was her future?

*************

With blood trickling from his knuckles, Spike leaned against the hood of the Thunderbird, sucking at the torn skin on his fingers. The wind was chilly for California, and the icy moon that gleamed down from above should’ve been a reminder of more halcyon days, but for whatever reason, it left him cold, wondering just what in hell he was trying to prove by running away from the day’s plans with Buffy and her mum.

He hadn’t thought. He’d just fled on instinct, unwilling and unwanting to have to go through the torture of more Christmas planning, listening to Buffy prattle on about traditions he knew nothing about and affirmations on how this year was going to be different than the previous and somehow that was all going to be because of Spike. She’d turned him into the second coming of the Yuletide Fairy, and the worst of it was she didn’t even realize she’d done it.

It scared him. Things had grown into something so much more than Spike had expected that he’d been on cloud nine ever since the incident at Thanksgiving. Buffy still wasn’t aware of all the details of what had happened---what still happened on almost a nightly basis---but Spike didn’t care. She had enough on her plate to be worrying about with the baby, and her classes, and the mysterious military guys that they still knew next to nothing about. She didn’t need to know how much the demon community actually knew about her pregnancy.

It had started with the guys at the garage at Thanksgiving. Spike had taken care they wouldn’t be making things any worse, but the rumors steadily grew, and it was taking his and Oz’s combined efforts to keep them at bay. And it wasn’t that Spike was fussed about having to do the extra work to protect Buffy. In fact, knowing he was having such an active role in safeguarding her and the little one had just combined with Buffy’s growing demonstrativeness regarding their relationship to make the past month more than he’d ever expected. But…

Buffy didn’t know about the added fights. Or the fact that Oz was going out patrolling with him when Spike was supposed to be doing something else. Or the deals he was making with factions of the demon community to help hold back the worst of it. Although he wasn’t ashamed of what he was doing, Spike suspected that she might not agree with all of it. After all, she was still coming to grips with the idea that not every demon might be out for merely the mayhem. But there was still the risk of it all being shattered with one wrong step. If he were to err in some fashion with this Christmas rubbish, Spike feared that it might be enough for him to lose what unbelievable ground he’d made with her.

He loved Buffy.

He didn’t want to fail her.

Spike rubbed wearily at his face. He was dying for a fag, but he’d ground out his last on the demon he’d left burning behind Willy’s. He’d briefly considered stopping and picking some more up, but his cash was dangerously low at the moment, and with Buffy’s Christmas gift still to be purchased, he didn’t want to squander what little resources he had. That would only make a bad situation even worse.

He grimaced when he saw the headlights of the car turn into the street. Bugger. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with Harris’ state of perpetual bliss lately, or witness Havi’s unspoken pride in the new relationship she was forging with the younger man. It was enough to make a vampire heave. However, Buffy waited for him inside the house. She was going to be pissed about his taking a runner, and he really wasn’t in the mood to have to face off with her, either.

In the end, the choice wasn’t really all that hard to make.

Buffy would always come out on top.

*************

He saw Spike heading up for the house, but didn’t say anything to Havi about it as he glided to a stop in front of the Summers’ home. It was easier to tolerate Spike these days, and, other than the occasional snide comment or sideways glance to Havi, he’d been playing nice enough to warrant the same measure of respect back. But that didn’t mean Xander sought him out, and after hearing what had happened at the mall earlier, he certainly wasn’t going to get into the middle of that kind of domestic dispute. It just wasn’t worth the headache.

Havi seemed to sense his reluctance to get out of the car. “It’s been a long day,” she said, reaching across to lightly touch his thigh. “You should go home and rest.”

“Gee, choose between listening to my parents fight, or Buffy and Spike taking a go at each other?” He pretended to seriously consider it, taking a moment longer than he thought would to reply. “This is actually a harder decision than I thought it would be.”

“You do not have to go alone, if you don’t wish to.”

Xander’s gaze jerked from where he’d been regarding the house to meet Havi’s solemn eyes. “What did you say?” he asked.

Carefully, Havi released her seat belt and leaned closer to him, navigating around the gear stick and hand brake as best she could. “I suggested that perhaps you would like some company tonight,” she said. The fingers on his thigh began to slide upward, finding the rigid outline of his cock as it strained inside his pants. “Do you want me?”

It wasn’t the same as the first time she’d touched him in such an intimate manner. There was a delicacy to the way Havi stroked the length of his erection beneath the cotton fabric, as if she was enjoying it as much as he was. Xander wasn’t sure if that could be possible, though. If she kept it up, he was going to come inside his pants, and the night would be over before it really began.

“Is this my Christmas present?” he joked, trying to ease the heaviness of the atmosphere.

“Do you wish it to be?”

“You’ve really got to stop using that word on the Hellmouth. Making wishes is dangerous in this neck of the woods.”

Ignoring his attempts at levity, Havi bowed even further against him, her firm breast pressing into his arm while her mouth trailed along his jaw. A race of goosebumps trailed down his neck, onto his spine, and his eyes fluttered closed as he sank into the sensations.

“Do you think me forward?” she murmured into his ear.

“Honestly, I think of you forward, backward, and bent over the hood of the car,” Xander replied.

He felt her smile against his cheek. “So…is that the answer to my question?”

“Do I remember which question you’re referring to?”

Her strong hand curled around his cock, and Xander thrust involuntarily upward into her grip. “I have no qualms about doing it here,” Havi breathed. “But I think we would be more comfortable back at your house.”

With his mouth suddenly dry, all Xander could do was nod. He turned his head enough to take her mouth in a searing kiss, his fingers brushing against her hardened nipples, and thrilled at the shudder of enjoyment that rippled through Havi’s body at his touch. All thoughts of Buffy and Spike vanished from his mind. They were grown-ups; they could sort out their own issues.

It was time for him to concentrate on his own life.

*************

Robin watched the house from a distance. Behind the curtains, he could see the outlines of various people moving around, but how many were actually inside, he had no idea. Willow, definitely, and the older man she’d arrived with an hour earlier, but there appeared to be more inside. A tiny female figure and another tall male. Who they were, though, remained a mystery.

He’d merely meant to corner Willow and tell her what he knew about Spike. She seemed the best one to be able to get through to Buffy, and if she knew the whole story, Robin was convinced it would only be a matter of time before Spike was history. But he’d arrived at her dorm to see someone else waiting for her, someone he heard her refer to as Giles. Together, the pair had gotten into a battered Citroen, and Robin had been too curious not to follow. He’d just never expected to end up outside of Sunnydale.

When the first hour began to stretch into two, he realized the pointlessness of what he was doing. He couldn’t hear what was going on inside the house, and he wasn’t even close enough to hear them talking when they finally left. Sitting around watching it wasn’t going to tell him anything. He’d just have to see what came up when he did a search on the address.

The idea came to him on his way back into town, but Robin waited until he was at his apartment before acting on it. He found the number he was looking for with relative ease and dialed it almost as quickly. When the answering service clicked in, his gaze jumped to the clock on the wall, mentally calculating the time difference. Damn it. It was too early for anyone to be available; he should’ve known that before making the call.

He decided to leave a message anyway.

“Yes, this is Robin Wood. I’m trying to reach Quentin Travers. It’s in regards to some questions I have about the Slayer.” After rattling off his phone number, he returned the phone to the receiver and sighed.

Now, it was just a waiting game. He just had to hope that he’d been a good enough boy this year to merit quick replies for Christmas.

 

To be continued in Chapter 36: See Thy Blood Warm