Things That Go Bump in the Night by Slaymesoftly

ReviewsRating: NC-17

Summary: Set several years post NFA, Buffy has moved on, is no longer in mourning for her two dead vampires. Then Dawn calls her for some help and she finds something she never expected to.

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Chapter 26

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Dawn’s question seemed rhetorical as she was hanging a ball of mistletoe while she spoke.

“Yes,” Buffy answered firmly from her perch on the ladder from which she was trying to place a star at the top of a heavily decorated Christmas tree. “It’s my house, and I want it to look like Christmas when everybody comes to see it.”

“I didn’t mean the decorating,” Dawn said, allowing Teddy to help her down from the chair upon which she’d been standing. “I meant the having everybody come here for Christmas dinner. It hasn’t been that long, and…”

“And that’s why I’m doing it. I can’t just sit around waiting until I feel like being Christmassy – I need to make myself do it.”

Dawn and Teddy exchanged looks.

“You don’t think asking everybody to come here might be overdoing it?”

“I haven’t asked ‘everybody’, just our oldest, closest friends. And probably the only ones staying here will be Xander and Willow…maybe Faith, if she can come.”

Buffy jumped gracefully down and was starting to fold up the ladder when Teddy stepped in and took it from her. She gave him a smile, saying, “I’m not sure if you’re doing that to be a gentleman, or because you think I’m going to hit something with it.”

“And I’m not telling you which it is,” he shot back as he carried it to the kitchen and put it away.

“Your boyfriend has a mouth on him,” Buffy said to Dawn. “I like that in a man,” she added, as Teddy returned to the living room.

Buffy had wanted to put the tree in the library, rather than in the large front parlor, which was never used. However, Dawn had pointed out that if and when everyone was together, it would be very crowded and uncomfortable in the cozier library.

“Not to mention, the living room has a big bay window just made for a tree,” she’d said, clinching the plan.

The three of them stood back and looked over their handiwork. In addition to the tree and the mistletoe ball, the mantel over the fireplace had boughs of evergreen shrubs, cut from the garden, winding their way through the small selection of Christmas cards that had begun trickling in from around the globe.

Dawn spoke up, while Buffy was rearranging the cards: “Did you know that in 1674 Christmas was banned in England? People weren’t allowed to decorate, or make pies or anything.” She beamed at her frowning sister. “I learned that in a class last year.”

Buffy shook her head. “Nice to know that they’re teaching watchers such important and useful stuff,” she said, going back to her cards and smiling at the messages.

Most of the slayers who had been part of the group of potentials on Revello Drive had stayed in touch with Buffy. However, with their battle-tested experience and the training they’d received before they came into their powers, these veteran slayers were spread around the world, each heading her own small group of girls and responsible for her own territory, so communication was spotty and mostly via email.

Some fat, bayberry-scented candles on the end tables and a poinsettia completed the decorations. Buffy was hoping the Christmas card collection would grow, although she was painfully aware that her own track record for sending cards out every year was not good. However, many of the girls who’d trained under her in Sunnydale made the extra effort to keep up with Buffy’s life and whereabouts, so cards arrived most years.

Dawn riffled her way through the ones already out and asked, “Why did they send Rona to South America? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to put her in a city somewhere?”

“You’re the watcher-to-be, you tell me,” Buffy responded. “That’s one of the things I plan to work on with Giles this coming year. We’re going to go over where these girls have been sent and see if they might not do better someplace else. I’ll probably be doing a lot of traveling.”

“Oh, then who’s going to—umph!” Teddy stopped talking when Dawn’s elbow connected with his ribcage.

“Who’s going to what?”

“Um…uh…who’s going to…to keep your flowers watered?” he recovered as best he could.

“Teddy. You do know this is England, right? It rains all the freaking time! Really not seeing it as a problem if I’m gone for a couple of days every week or so.”

“Yeah, right. That was dumb. Silly me.”

“Dumbass, you,” Dawn muttered, dragging him over to the tree to admire the ornaments that she and Buffy had traveled to London to find. With nothing remaining of their mother’s decorations, the two girls had decided to begin their own Summers Christmas decoration collection by going to Harrods Christmas shop. The tree wore the results of their expedition into the land of overpriced, but unique ornaments.

“Too bad we couldn’t find any Christmas stakes or Santa Claus vampires,” Buffy said, joining them to admire the tree.

“Anya always said Santa was a demon, anyway,” Dawn said. “Maybe we wouldn’t want him on the tree.”

“Oh come on, she said he was almost harmless. He just brought disemboweled children instead of—okay, maybe not, then. I was just thinking a Santa with cute little fangs would be…”

The thought of a small figurine wearing fangs flashed an image of a vampire wedding cake decoration through her brain and directly to her tear ducts. She turned away quickly, not having any desire to explain to Dawn or Teddy why the idea of Santa with fangs had such an effect on her.

She’d been doing fairly well since her meltdown with Willow. Slowly buying things for the house and making it into a home more suited to a young American woman than the ghost of a Victorian vampire. If she occasionally still closed herself into the basement bedroom and had a good cry into Spike’s pillow, it was happening less and less often.

Two months was hardly enough time to work through grieving over Spike for the third time, but she was making an effort to become a part of life at the Council and in the small town. With every purchase made for the house or garden, she became more the American woman who had bought the old house and was fixing it up, and less one of those freakishly strong girls from the old school complex on the edge of town. Everyone knew where she worked, but it was easy to forget that she was one of “them” when she strolled through town carrying her week’s groceries and smiling in her friendly, Southern California way at the people she saw frequently.

Teddy broke into her musings, asking for the third time if she wanted him to bring “a friend” to the Council’s party on Christmas Eve. While Dawn rolled her eyes, Buffy carefully explained, for the third time, that she was quite accustomed to going to parties by herself and that she felt no need for him to provide male companionship for her.

“I appreciate the thought, Teddy. Really, I do. But if I have to tell you one more time that A) -- I’m not ready to date, and B) – blind dates are really, really not my thing…”

She treated him to her best Slayer glare, and he held up his hands in surrender.

“All right, all right. I just thought…He’s a nice guy, and an American and a widower. I thought you two might make good company for each other, that’s all. I’m not saying you should run off to Tahiti with him.”

Buffy sighed and shook her head. “I just don’t want to have to be polite to anyone who doesn’t know me, okay? I’m not ready for that. I’ve got enough trouble with every shop keeper in town wanting to fix me up with their nephews, cousins, best friend’s sons…whatever.”

“That’s ‘cause they all think you’re rich,” Dawn laughed.

“I am rich. At least, I think so. The bank people are always very nice to me when I go in.”

“That stupid vampire.” Dawn said what Buffy had been thinking. “Making us pay him for stuff, and letting you work at Doublemeat…if he was here, I’d rip him a new one!”

Buffy smiled her agreement. “Yeah, he did play us pretty good, didn’t he? Although, in his defense, he did try to tell me he could get money –after I came back. Of course, I wouldn’t have taken it from him, anyway. I guess he knew that…” The small smile vanished as Buffy remembered her callous dismissal of Spike’s attempts to get her to quit her dead-end job. She had no doubt that if he’d tried to give her money, she would have thrown it back in his face and accused him of stealing it.

“Don’t go there.” Dawn’s warning was almost too late, as Buffy felt tears pricking her eyes. “You smiled about him for a minute. Don’t go spoiling it by remembering something bad.”

“It’s okay. I’m good.” Buffy swallowed the lump in her throat and said briskly, “Let’s go make sure I have everything Willow needs when she gets here and starts making cookies.”

With Teddy trailing behind, the two sisters went to the little-used kitchen and began comparing supplies with the ingredient list Willow had sent earlier. They were soon engrossed in flour, sugar, and various other things for which neither of them had much use for on a daily basis.

“Who knew it took so many eggs to make cookies? I’ll have to go to the market again tomorrow.”

“You’re only missing a few things. By the time Willow gets here, everything will be lined up and waiting for her to start mixing.”

“Mixing?”

“You do have bowls and a mixer, don’t you?”

“Um…actually…”

“Okay, on the list of potential Buffy Christmas presents – write this down, Teddy – electric mixer, mixing bowls, cookie sheets….”

“But I need that stuff now! Not after the fact.” Buffy’s face fell. “Willow is going to be so disappointed in me.”

“We’ll borrow it from the school, okay? It’s no biggie. They’ve got tons of bowls and cookie sheets and stuff.” Sensing a meltdown that would be totally unrelated to the lack of utensils, Dawn quickly changed the subject.

“So!” she said with false cheer. “When does Willow get in?”

“Tomorrow night,” Buffy replied, casting a dubious eye around her kitchen.

“Great! So by this time tomorrow, you two will be up to your elbows in cookie dough!”

To her amazement, Buffy’s eyes filled and she began to sniffle.

“Cookie dough. I’m not cookie dough anymore.”

“No, no. I didn’t say that you were cookie dough, I said you’d be wallowing in it.” Dawn stared at her sister’s trembling lip with bewildered sympathy.

“My cookies were baked,” Buffy said, as if she hadn’t heard Dawn at all. “I was done and too stupid to know it in time to…”

“Buffy? You’re scaring me…”

“Huh?” Buffy’s eyes refocused on her sister, then shifted to the equally puzzled Teddy. “Oh, I’m sorry, guys.” She took a deep breath and swiped at her eyes with one hand. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I just…and Angel…but it wasn’t him…and…I never told…but it’s okay. He believed me anyway.”

She forced a smile and said emphatically, “I’m fine. Really. I just had a…a moment. I need to get those out of my system before the weekend. Can’t be sniveling all over my guests, can I?”

“I’m pretty sure everyone who might be coming here would understand,” Dawn said softly, with Teddy nodding vigorously behind her. Then she frowned. “Well, except maybe for the whole ‘cookie dough’ thing, which I’m pretty sure I don’t want you to explain – just in case it’s some TMI thing between you and Spike…”

Buffy gave a shaky laugh. “No, that’s not what it is. But you don’t need to hear about it. I’m okay now. Why don’t I walk you guys part way home?”

Teddy drew himself up to his full six foot three and said indignantly, “We are almost graduated watchers. And we have stakes. We don’t need to be escorted around.”

“Trust me, Teddy,” Buffy said with a sigh. “That e mail I sent to Wolfram and Hart didn’t do a very good job of convincing them that it was too late to torture Spike by killing me in front of him. The road to and from this house is still more exciting than it needs to be sometimes. Just let me get my coat.”

Wearing a soft Italian leather coat, exactly like Spike’s except for being the right size for a small woman, Buffy accompanied them as far as the fork in the road that led to the complex.

“Goodnight, guys. I’ll see you in a couple of days, right?”

“Yep. See you Christmas Eve at the party.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After ten dozen cookies, one crying jag and a giggle about how silly Spike had looked in Xander’s shorts and Hawaiian shirt, Willow and Buffy were sitting in the library sipping wine as they rested with their feet up.

“This was fun,” Buffy said, silently toasting her friend and confidant.

“It was.” Willow raised her own glass in reply, and nodded. “But I’m not looking forward to doing it again until at least this time next year.”

“I’ll drink to that!” Buffy gulped her wine and reached for the bottle. “Right now, I don’t care if I never see another cookie.”

Willow giggled. “Yeah, I know the feeling. I’m definitely cookied out for a while.”

They drank in companionable silence for a while, enjoying the peace and quiet.

“Is your room okay?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. Yes, it’s fine. I really like what you’ve done so far in those upstairs rooms.”

Buffy nodded. “Yeah, who knew I’d turn into Buffy the compulsive homemaker,” she giggled. “I’m taking my time, though. I don’t want to spend all of Spike’s money at one time. And I don’t want to change too much…”

Willow stood up and stretched.

“If you don’t mind, I think I’ll take a hot shower and go to bed. I’ve still got some shopping to do tomorrow, and then there’s the party at the Council.”

“Sure, that’s fine. I’m just going to do a quick patrol between here and Mildorf. There’s an old graveyard on the way and I think there was a burial there yesterday. Just in case…”

“’k, goodnight, Buffy.”

“Night, Wills. Thanks for the cookie-making help.”

Buffy waited until Willow had taken a shower and made her way upstairs, before putting on her coat and gathering her stakes, hoping to get a good slay in before she got so busy with her guests that she’d have to miss several nights of working off excess energy and meeting her need for action. She smiled, picturing Spike nodding his head and grinning at her desire for violence before bedtime. She’d long since admitted that he’d always been right to tell her she enjoyed a good fight just as much as he did.

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