Giles rose from the couch when he heard the knock on the door, putting his brandy on the table in front of him. When he opened the door, all he saw were the green, prickly branches of a pine tree. “What—”
“Can you give me a hand?” Spike’s voice came from the other side of the tree. “I don’t really want to lose my life for somethin’ as ridiculous as a Christmas tree.”
He moved to the side, taking the end that Spike shoved through the front door. “What is this about, Spike?”
“The girls weren’t goin’ to have a tree for Christmas,” Spike replied. “But it’s not Christmas without a tree.”
Giles frowned. “What do you mean they weren’t going to have a tree?”
“Money,” Spike explained succinctly, wrestling the tree into the living room with Giles’ help. “She doesn’t have any, an’ trees are expensive.”
The Watcher’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. “And how did you get your hands on this one?”
“It’s not stolen, if that’s what you’re asking,” Spike replied testily. “She wouldn’t like that.”
“No, she wouldn’t,” Giles agreed. “You’re going to need a tree stand, you know.”
“A what?” Spike asked.
“A tree stand.” He sighed, realizing that he was in it up to his knees now. “And where is Buffy? I thought you two were patrolling tonight.”
Spike glanced over at him, preoccupied with how he was going to get the tree up. “Told her I had some errands to run an’ couldn’t make it.”
“And she bought that?”
“Dunno. I’ll probably catch it from her later, but this’ll make it worth it.” He scratched the back of his head. “How are we gonna set this up?”
“You were the one who brought it in,” Giles replied. “That would be up to you.”
Spike gave him a dirty look. “She’s had a rough time of it, an’ so has Dawn. So, are you goin’ to stand there bein’ a git, or are you goin’ to help make Christmas a little merrier?”
Giles swallowed his retort. Spike had a point. “Very well. I imagine that the Christmas decorations are in the basement somewhere.”
Buffy entered the house wearily. She’d actually missed Spike’s company on patrol, something she hadn’t thought possible. And what kind of errands did a vampire have to run, anyway?
Giles had returned for Christmas, and she’d left Dawn with him. She just hoped that Dawn hadn’t driven him too crazy.
She paused inside the doorway, seeing an odd glow from the living room. “What—” Buffy stopped cold when she entered the living room. Both Giles and Spike were surrounded by boxes and the bits of tissue her mom had used to pack away the ornaments last year. There was a tree in the corner—big and green, with the lights already on it.
“Buffy.” Spike scrambled to his feet. “Thought you’d be gone a while longer.”
She shook her head wordlessly, still staring at the tree. “It was quiet tonight.” She looked at him. “Was this your errand?”
Spike shrugged and shuffled his feet. “Wasn’t a big deal.”
“It’s a huge deal.” She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. “Do you guys want something to drink? Hot chocolate?”
“D’you have any of those little marshmallows?” Spike asked hopefully.
“I think so.” She looked at Giles. “Thanks.”
“It was Spike’s idea,” he admitted. “I had no idea that money was so tight for you right now, Buffy. If you’d told me—”
“You wanted me to stand on my own two feet, right?” she asked, trying to keep the bitterness out of her voice. “It’s okay. We’re not starving, but I just thought that Dawn would probably appreciate presents more than a tree.”
He looked at her, concerned. “If you need help—”
“No.” She shook her head. “You were right. I need to do this.”
She might have taken Giles up on his offer of assistance if he hadn’t said that he was leaving to let her stand on her own. She felt bound to succeed or fail on her own now; taking Giles’ money would mean that she’d failed before she’d even tried.
Spike’s tree, on the other hand, was the sort of gift that didn’t feel like charity, that instead felt like she’d been given something precious.
Buffy started getting the hot chocolate ready, but she faltered while pouring the milk, knowing that she was forgetting an ingredient that her mom had always added.
“Here.” Spike’s hand closed over hers on the handle of the wooden spoon. “Why don’t you sit?”
She sat, watching as Spike reached up into the spice cupboard; it was clear that he knew his way around the kitchen. “I see you two have become close,” Giles murmured in her ear.
Buffy raised an eyebrow, knowing that with his sharp hearing he would have heard her Watcher’s comment. “Yes, we have,” she said calmly.
“We make quite the team,” Spike said from his position at the stove, half turning to give her a challenging look over his shoulder.
Buffy knew exactly what he was up to, but she felt like she owed him for the tree. That, and she liked surprising him sometimes. “Yes, we do.”
His eyes crinkled at the corners. “The cocoa’s almost ready.”
Giles heaved a sigh, and she knew that he was resigning himself to Spike’s presence—and her acceptance.
When Spike set her mug down in front of her, their hands touched briefly, and Buffy met his eyes. Somehow she knew that no matter how awful this past year had been, things were beginning to look up.