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 27

The Christmas Eve party went as well as could be expected in a school heavily weighted with hormonal young women. A few girls had brought dates – boys they had met in town who had not yet had reason to learn about the girls’ superior strength. The male watchers and students were, as usual, outnumbered by the dateless slayers and were in much demand as dance partners.

However, Buffy only had to step in once to prevent two slayers from squaring off in the middle of the dance floor over which one had asked a now embarrassed watcher to dance first. She thought for a second that she was going to have to actually fight the more belligerent of the two girls, until common sense prevailed when the angry young slayer remembered that she’d seen Buffy take down the vampire ghost that no one at the school had ever come close to beating.

“That was impressive,” came a familiar voice over her shoulder as the girl reluctantly agreed to go outside and “take a chill pill” as instructed by the world’s oldest slayer. Buffy whirled to find Xander smiling at her and holding out his arms, his one good eye twinkling.

“Xan!” she squealed and launched herself at him. “It is so good to see you!”

“You too, Buffy.” He squeezed her back and whispered, “I’m really sorry about…you know.”

“Thanks,” she said, squeezing, then letting go before he passed out from lack of air.

Unlike Giles, Xander had been able to completely mend his fences with Buffy. The fact that he’d never participated in the attempt to kill Spike went a long way toward keeping him off her no-longer-my-friend list.

While he’d groused about it, he had taken Spike in when Buffy needed to get him out of the Hellmouth, and he’d driven the car for her the night she defeated the Turok-han and went to rescue the starving vampire. Xander had never blamed Spike for what happened at the vineyard, and he was very aware it had been Spike’s quick action that had saved his other eye.

Over the years, as their grief faded, the two old friends had bonded over their losses on that last day in Sunnydale. No one had been happier to hear that Buffy had found Spike’s ghost than Xander. He had been genuinely pleased for them, and genuinely sad to learn that Spike was gone again.

“So,” he said conversationally as they walked back to the punch table. “How are you doing?”

“Good days and bad days,” Buffy said lightly. “But Willow assures me that someday the good ones will outnumber the bad.”

He nodded. “She’s right. But they sure seem to be a long time coming sometimes, don’t they?”

“They do. But, hey! It’s Christmas. I’ve officially designated Christmas as one of the good days. No bad thoughts allowed.”

“Sounds like a plan I can get behind,” Xander said, reaching for a gaily-decorated cookie and a drink. He took a bite of his cookie and asked, with studied casualness, “Have you heard from Faith? Is she coming?”

Buffy cocked her head and studied his face, then broke out in a warm smile.

“I don’t know. Something was brewing in the Hellmouth and she wasn’t sure that she could leave it to the newer slayers. But we can call her tomorrow if she doesn’t show up.” She reached up and wiped a crumb off his lip. “So, Faith, huh?”

“Huh? Oh! No, no ‘huh’. There is no ‘huh’ here. Just asking about a…colleague. That’s all.”

“Right. And I don’t like new shoes.”

Laughing together, they moved towards Willow and the tall, pretty woman she seemed to be standing a bit closer to than might be necessary for conversation.

“Who’s that?” Xander whispered.

“She’s a new instructor for the watchers. She’s a witch of some sort, but I’m not sure what her specialty is. Willow thinks she’s very talented.”

“I think Willow is planning to find out just how talented,” he mumbled under his breath as they joined the two chatting women. Buffy’s subtle poke did nothing to stop the good-natured leer on his face and the two old friends were snickering together as they joined Willow and her new acquaintance.

“Xander!” Repeating Buffy’s earlier actions, Willow also jumped into her longest and best friend’s arms, laughing as he twirled her around. “You made it!”

“Wouldn’t stay away. Christmas in the Buffster’s new house? A chance to see my best girls? An apocalypse couldn’t have kept me away.”

He set Willow down and flashed a smile at her bemused companion. “I’m Xander, very old platonic friend and co-fighter against evil; and you are…?”

The woman laughed softly and held out her hand. “I’m Emily. Instructor in Earth Magic and newly arrived to the fight against evil.”

“Is that ‘newly-arrived’ as in just started working for the Council, or ‘newly-arrived’ as in formerly evil?”

“Xander!” Willow shoved him hard and glared.

“Hey! I’m not judging here, just asking. I like to know that kind of stuff right up front.”

Emily laughed again, and patted Willow’s hand, which had somehow found its way to Emily’s arm.

“It’s all right. It’s a fair question. And, sorry to disappoint, but I meant newly hired by the Council. It’s hard to be evil and be a practitioner of Earth Magic. They just aren’t very compatible.”

Xander nodded. “Good to know. And welcome to the madness that is the Scooby-run Council of Watchers’ Slayer and Watcher School.”

Leaving Xander to try to charm Emily for a minute, Willow pulled Buffy to one side and whispered, “Emily isn’t going anywhere for Christmas. She’s from South Africa and doesn’t have any family here…”

“Well, that’s a shame—oh! You want me to invite her to dinner? Sorry, I’m not too swift on the uptake these days.”

“Would you mind?”

“Of course not. The more the merrier, I always say.”

“You always say that, do you?” Willow’s wry smile was warm, but doubtful.

“I’m sure I do,” Buffy replied haughtily. “If I don’t, I’m sure I’ve always meant to.”

Remembering the tight-lipped slayer whose house had been full of potentials, watchers, witches and assorted hangers on – and how much time Buffy had spent hiding in the basement with Spike – Willow had to roll her eyes. She knew full well that Buffy was quite happy having the big house to ramble around in by herself. However, all she said was, “Oh course you have. So, it’s okay with you, then? If I bring her with?”

“It’s fine, Willow. I’m happy to see you enjoying someone’s company again…”

Neither one made mention of the several disastrous relationships that Willow had been in since her spectacular break-up with Kennedy several years ago. Although more sophisticated and elegant, there was something about Emily that reminded Buffy of Tara and she mentally crossed her fingers for her friend.

Leaving Willow to extend the invitation to dinner at Buffy’s house, the slayer wandered around the room, trying to see the partiers through Spike’s eyes and smiling to herself at the particularly snarky things he would have said about some of them. She was wearing one of those soft smiles when she heard, “Bufffy? Is it really you?”

She turned to find a stunned Riley Finn staring at her from several feet away.

“Riley? What are you doing here?” She shook herself. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. It’s wonderful to see you, but--”

They shared a chaste hug and stepped apart to look each other over.

“It’s okay. I was wondering the same thing about you. Last I heard, you were in Cleveland.”

“I was in Cleveland for quite a while. But Dawn needed me here for… something…and I just never left. I have a new job now – helping Giles sort out where the slayers are most needed and where they will be the most comfortable working. I think it’s going to be fun. Lots of travel, new big bads to fight…”

“Beats being stuck on a Hellmouth, I guess,” Riley said with a smile.

“Oh yeah. Totally beats that with a stick.” They smiled at each other for a minute, then Buffy frowned and looked around. “Where’s Sam? Didn’t she come with you?”

His face darkened and he shrugged. “Sam tangled with the wrong demon, two years ago. She…she’s dead.”

“Oh,” Buffy laid her hand on his arm and squeezed sympathetically. “I’m so sorry, Riley. I know how that…” She paused and looked at him again. “Oh my god. It was you!”

“What was me?”

“The man Teddy wanted me to meet. American, widower, blah, blah. It was you.”

“And you must be the slayer that Teddy told me I’d have a lot in common with,” he agreed, his smile growing wider. “I never imagined…”

“Ah ha! You’ve found each other!” Teddy walked up beaming, a stunned Dawn following him and mouthing behind his back, “I had no idea.”

Buffy nodded back at Dawn and shrugged.

Oblivious, Teddy went on. “So, have you introduced yourselves, or do I get to do the honors?”

“They already know each other, Teddy,” Dawn growled, grabbing his arm. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me it was Riley.” She pulled him away, obviously planning to give him an earful about trying to set up her sister after having been told not to.

Buffy and Riley looked away, equally uncomfortable about finding themselves in the position of potential blind date. Finally, Riley said with a sigh, “Look, Buffy, if you don’t want me here…”

She shook her head. “No. That’s not it. It’s fine. It’s just that I…I’m not interested in dating; and I thought I’d made that pretty clear to Teddy. I’m sorry if you thought you were going to meet somebody--”

“Buffy. I wouldn’t trade running into you again for all the blind dates in the world. I just don’t want you to feel uncomfortable about it.”

“It’s fine, Riley. Look, since you’re here already, why don’t you plan to join us tomorrow for dinner? If you don’t already have plans, that is.”

“Dinner? Us?”

“Yes. At my house. You’ll know almost everyone – Xander, Willow, Giles, Dawn.”

“You don’t live here?”

“No, I…” She couldn’t have said why she was reluctant to tell Riley about Spike, but decided it was because it was too long and complicated a story for the middle of a party. “Teddy and Dawn can bring you. They know where it is.”

“Okay. Sounds like fun. Thanks for the invitation.”

“No problem. The more the merrier…”

“She always says that.” Willow’s voice floated into the conversation and Buffy turned to her with relief.

“Willow! Emily! This is Riley. I mean, Willow already knows this is Riley, but Emily is…You know what? I think there are enough people here that Riley knows, that I can safely sneak away. Got some more cleaning to do before tomorrow, and…and other stuff. Willow, maybe you can introduce Riley to some of the other slayers and watchers?”

Without waiting for an answer, she spun away and almost ran for the door, escaping into the cool night air as quickly as she could. Only to stop when she realized she’d left her coat behind. She turned around and reluctantly started back towards the door when it opened, emitting warm light and the sounds of music and laughter.

“Looking for something?” Dawn said, holding out Buffy’s coat.

“Thanks,” she mumbled, sliding it on and buttoning it against the chill air.

“So, you invited Riley?”

“Well, yeah. It just kind of fell out of my mouth, you know? You don’t think he’s going to think it’s…Oh, crap. This was probably a really bad idea, wasn’t it?”

“No, it’s not a bad idea. It’s Christmas and you were just being…Christmassy.” Dawn turned to walk back into the party. “But you’d better hope that ghost is gone for good – cause you know Spike would go nuts if he saw Riley in his house.”

With a giggle, she shut the door, leaving Buffy standing in the cold, torn between irrational hope that Spike might still be around somewhere watching her, and fear that he would see Riley and misunderstand completely. With a worried whimper, she began the walk to her house, muttering under her breath about stupid decisions and ghosts.

Within a few hundred yards, she’d relaxed and begun to enjoy the beautiful winter night. The sky was clear, stars were visible, and the night was crisp, but not unbearably cold. She found herself wishing that Spike was there to enjoy it with her, smiling as she imagined him trying to rhyme words for a poem about the picture-perfect Christmas Eve sky. Continuing to smile, she walked on up her hill, singing an off-key version of Silent Night and vowing to get through the holiday without once crying.

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