Buffy noticed as she came down the stairs with Spike that Giles appeared just as bleary eyed as they were. Dawn seemed to have claimed all the possible excitement in the room for herself as she all but started bouncing like Tigger around the Christmas tree.
“Did you let her have cookies for breakfast?” Buffy asked Giles, her hands on her hips. “Cause you know what that much frosting does to her this early in the morning.”
“I didn’t let her do anything,” Giles replied. “She’d already gotten into them before I awoke.”
“I was hyper before I ate any cookies,” Dawn said. “And why shouldn’t I be, huh? It’s Christmas morning. You guys are just all old and cranky.”
“I am not old or cranky. I’m simply a firm believer in the theory that Christmas presents are just as fun to open later in the day as they are first thing in the morning,” Buffy argued. She glanced around the living room, then swallowed before she asked the question she wasn’t completely sure she really wanted to ask. “Where’s Mom?”
She knew the answer was going to be somewhere in the ballpark of what she was expecting when Giles began to clean his glasses. “Joyce isn’t feeling well this morning. She’s insisted that we start without her.”
“Too hung over for Christmas,” Buffy said. “And yet, I’m a disappointment. Go figure.”
“Buffy, you’re not…”
Buffy held up her hand to cut Giles off. “Let’s not, okay? It’s Christmas, so let’s just focus on happy things—like giving Dawn presents so she stops shaking.”
“I like that idea!” Dawn said.
“Yes, well…” Giles stopped, his eyes going to the hand that Buffy had brought up when she’d silenced him. “New ring?” he asked, his eyebrow going up as he spoke.
Buffy and Spike looked at each other for a moment before Spike started to speak. “I…I gave it to her last night. I…”
“You don’t have to explain, son,” Giles said. “To be honest, I’m relieved to see it on Buffy. I was always a bit worried that you’d given it to that Drusilla woman.”
Spike shook his head. “I didn’t give it to Dru. It never…it never felt right.”
Dawn glanced around at the three other people in the room. “What’s up with the ring?”
“It was my mum’s,” Spike answered. “I gave it to Buffy last night.”
“Can I see it?” Dawn asked, calming slightly.
“Yeah,” Buffy replied. She held out her hand towards her sister.
Dawn took Buffy’s hand and peered at the ring. She ran her finger down the emerald. “It’s really pretty.”
“I thought so, too,” Buffy said. She turned and smiled at Spike, warming at the way he smiled back at her. He could pour so much love into just a look.
Dawn pulled back, the momentary distraction of the ring worn off. “Okay, can I open something now, please? I’ve been waiting a whole year!”
Giles reached out and squeezed Dawn’s shoulder. “Go ahead, my dear. You’ve been patient long enough.”
With a squeal, Dawn went to the tree.
*** *** ***
Several hours later, the living room was cluttered with scraps of wrapping paper and bows, but Joyce had still not made an appearance. Her presents sat alone under the tree, making her absence seem even more glaring.
It was also apparent that the Christmas dinner that was usually Joyce’s undertaking was not going to cook itself.
Buffy sat on the couch, her lip caught between her teeth as she tried to decide if she should offer to step up and prepare the dinner in her mother’s stead. She knew they’d have to eat at some point, and all the restaurants in town would be closed. But she was also far from the best cook in the world. Not terrible the way her sister tended to be—Buffy still cringed to think of the peanut butter and banana quesadillas Dawn had tried to thrust on her once—but she wasn’t half the cook her mother was.
She felt Spike’s hand stroke the back of her hair as he asked her, “What’s wrong, luv?”
“My mom always does a big Christmas dinner thing,” she told him. “Dawn and I would help her with stuff. Well, mainly me, cause Dawn—she burns water. But my mom would do most of it, and then we’d all sit down and have a family meal together, but this year…”
“She’s not even coming out of the bedroom?”
Buffy nodded. “I don’t know what to do. She’s supposed to be here, doing all the mom things, because it’s Christmas, and…” Before Buffy could stop her tears, they were falling, and she turned towards Spike and cried against his shoulder.
Spike wrapped his arms around Buffy, letting her cry for a few moments. Finally, he pulled away and caught her chin in his hand to tilt it up. “What do you usually have for Christmas dinner?”
“Turkey,” Buffy said. “It’s already been bought, but it’s gotta go in soon, I know, because it takes a while, but I don’t know how to cook a turkey, and…”
“Shh. It’s okay, pet. I know how to cook a turkey. I’m sure between the two of us we can do it almost as good as your mum, yeah?”
Buffy looked at Spike with hope in her eyes. “You really think we can?”
“‘Course.” Spike tucked Buffy’s hair behind her ear and smiled at her. “You already know that I can find my way around a kitchen, and you know what needs to be cooked. We’ll be fine.”
Buffy threw her arms around Spike and squeezed him tight. “I love you,” she whispered.
“I love you, too. Now let’s go get that bird in the oven.”
*** *** ***
Buffy was pleased to discover that cooking with Spike was even more fun than watching him cook on his own. She still got to check him out, but then there were added bonuses, like the way he came up behind her and wrapped his arm around her waist while she stirred the mashed potatoes. Buffy smiled just thinking about that. It had to be the sexiest cooking she’d ever taken part in, and they’d stayed clothed the entire time.
Visually, at least, the meal had turned out well. They hadn’t actually sat down to eat it yet, but Buffy felt confident that no one would be spitting it out in their napkins. Spike had been telling the truth when he’d said he could cook a turkey, and he’d known what to do with the other things as well. Nothing was burnt or looked like something that could qualify as an alien life form, both characteristics of what Buffy felt like was culinary success.
With dinner on the table and her family sitting down to eat, Buffy felt better. That is, until her mother finally decided to come out of her bedroom and join them.
A silence fell on the room when Joyce walked in, and she didn’t offer any words to break it. She simply sat down beside her husband, her gaze never hitting Buffy or Spike.
Buffy reached under the table and squeezed Spike’s hand as she fought the urge to cry again. They’d worked so hard on dinner, and now with just her presence, Joyce was ruining it all. Buffy didn’t understand why her mother couldn’t just put it all behind her for just one day and let them have a happy Christmas. Was it really so much to ask that her mother be as much as civil?
Buffy supposed it could’ve been a good sign that Joyce had joined them, had she not been so cold. She seemed to be using the meal as a forum to express her displeasure, her silence and sour expression serving to put a damper on any festivities.
Giles was the first to speak after the silence that accompanied Joyce’s entrance. He cleared his throat and said, “Buffy, Spike, this really is a lovely dinner the two of you have made. It was good of you to do this.”
“Yeah, ’cause if it had been left up to me and Giles, we’d be eating something nasty,” Dawn added.
Giles gave her a look. “There is nothing wrong with my cooking,” he insisted.
“Yes there is,” Dawn replied. “It’s all British.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing, bit,” Spike said, his eyebrow raised.
“It is when it comes to food,” Dawn said. “Like blood pudding. Yech.”
“Have you even ever had blood pudding?” Spike asked.
“Um, no. Like I need more than that name to tell me it’s disgusting.” Dawn shivered. “And blood sausage, too. What is it with you British people and cooking with blood? Are you all like secretly vampires?” Her eyes widened. “Ooh, and you’re all really pale, too! Is that why London is cloudy all the time—so you don’t like burst into flames?”
Spike somehow managed to look both annoyed and amused at the same time. “Shut your gob and eat your turkey.”
“And what’s a gob?” Dawn asked, her mouth twitching up. “Is that even a word?”
Spike sighed. “Both of you Summers sisters in on me about perfectly fine words. Just what I bloody need.”
“He’s fun to tease,” Dawn said with a giggle.
“Isn’t he, though?” Buffy agreed. She reached up and ruffled Spike’s hair. “He’s so cute when he’s all irritated.”
“Buffy, I’d appreciate a little restraint from you at the dinner table,” Joyce snapped, drawing the attention of the room back to her. “It’s bad enough whatever the two of you are doing in private, but to flaunt it here like it’s anything but disgusting is more than I’m going to tolerate.”
Buffy pulled herself up straight. “What Spike and I have is not disgusting. I love him and he loves me.”
“Buffy, he’s your brother!” Joyce exclaimed.
“No, he isn’t!” Buffy replied. “God, Mom, just get over this! Yes, you and Giles are married, but that doesn’t make me related to Spike. It’s not like I’m having an affair with Dawn!”
“Yeah, that would be ew,” Dawn muttered. “Like on more than one level, considering I’m underage and stuff.” Joyce shot Dawn a look and the teen immediately grew silent again.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with you, Buffy that you can’t see what you’re doing,” Joyce said, her attention back on her older daughter. “Do you want to spite me, is that it? Did you figure you hadn’t upset me enough with Angel, you’d find an even more wrong relationship to get into?”
“Don’t you dare bring Angel into this,” Buffy snarled, the vehemence in her tone making Joyce pull back for a moment. “He may have been older than me, yes, but he also died for me, and I will not sit here and let you badmouth him, especially after everything you put the two of us through. And my relationship with Spike has absolutely nothing to do with you. I’m with him because I love him, because he makes me feel something I didn’t even think I could feel anymore. I was dying inside, and Spike saved me. He showed me how to feel alive again. And if you can’t be happy that I’ve found someone who means to me what Spike does, then you are the biggest, most unfeeling bitch I have ever met.”
Joyce sucked in a breath, her head pulling up. “I don’t want the two of you here anymore. Christmas is over, and I want you to be on the soonest flight you can get out of here. Whatever it costs to trade in your tickets for something sooner, I’ll pay for, but I don’t want to have to spend any more time with this going on under my roof. You might not see it now, Buffy, but someday, you’ll see how right I’ve been, and you’ll hate yourself for the choices you’ve made.”
Buffy didn’t flinch. “Loving Spike is never something I could hate myself for. He’s…he’s my soulmate.”
The look on Joyce’s face was something akin to disgust. “Oh, Buffy, listen to yourself. Soulmate? Grow up and face reality.”
“I have,” Buffy replied. “You want us out of here, fine. We’ll be on the next plane out. But I’m telling you now that I will never, everspeak to you again after this. I came here trying to put the past behind me, and all you’ve done is spit in my face for it. I don’t know what sort of problems you’re going through, but I’m not going to deal with them anymore. You want to talk about bad choices? You live with the one where you lost your daughter.”
Joyce stood and pushed her chair under the table. “Rupert, make sure they get their tickets taken care of. I’m done here.”
The room fell silent again as Joyce stormed out until Dawn finally spoke. “At least the dinner’s good.”
Buffy laughed softly, though the pain in her eyes was still there. “So it’s not a total bust then.”
Giles reached across the table and put his hand on top of Buffy’s. “Whatever happens, I’m here—for both of you. You may not be siblings, but you are both my children—in my heart at least.”
“Thank you, Giles,” Buffy replied. “It’s nice to know I still have family.”
“You do,” Dawn said. “I mean, Mom’s a loon apparently, but we still love you. And if you want to get all hot and sweaty with Spike, that’s your pergative.”
Giles took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “That’s prerogative, Dawn, and please, keep the mental imagery down to a minimum.”
“Whatever,” Dawn said with a shrug.
“You don’t have to leave, if you don’t want to,” Giles said as he turned his attention away from Dawn and back to Spike and Buffy.
“I know,” Buffy replied. “And I appreciate it. But I think it’s for the best. There’s just too much stress here with her being like this. I can’t…I can’t do it anymore.”
“I understand,” Giles told her.
“You and Dawn will have to come visit us in New York,” Spike offered. “There’s lots of shopping for her and museums for you. You’d both have a great time.”
“Yeah,” Buffy agreed. “You guys totally should.”
Giles smiled and replaced his glasses on his nose. “Then we will.”