Buffy Summers was dead, to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that. She’d been dead for three months, buried a good six feet below the soil. Life around her grave had gone on, as life always did. People mourned, people cried, but eventually, people moved on. She’d lain dead for over a hundred days. A hundred and forty-seven days, to be exact.
Buffy Summers was as dead as a doornail.
Only that was before. She was not dead now. Not on the outside. Instead, she was gazing out a rainy window pane as Tara helped Dawn decorate their Christmas tree. Her body was worn and tired. She’d slept all summer, but she couldn’t overcome her fatigue. Every inch of her was numb.
She knew she should be thinking about Christmas presents or something to do with the holidays, but the impending loom of the most wonderful time of the year only furthered her depression. It didn’t help that her mind was with someone it shouldn’t be with. Her mind was with the one person that could make her feel anything but dead. The one person she couldn’t see, because he was dead himself. And even in the wake of her delayed afterlife, her life was guarded by a script that the Powers had pre-approved. She’d used her detour to rest-in-peace as an excuse for temporary insanity; it couldn’t be like that anymore.
Spike was dead, and so was she. Two dead people couldn’t make life.
Especially with only her broken soul to guard them both from total destruction.
“Hey, Buffy!” Dawn singsonged, giggling as Tara wrapped a gold rope of garland around her. “Wanna help us put the star on?”
Buffy offered a half-shrug, not tearing her eyes away from the rain-splattered window. “You guys have done all the work,” she reasoned softly. “Besides…height issues.”
The giggling stopped immediately, as did the garland-wrapping. Buffy fought off a groan. Great. Just what she needed. More reasons to feel guilty for not being a beacon of seasonal bliss.
“Well,” Dawn replied, sticking her nose in the air. “Bah humbug to you, too.”
Tara forced a shrill laugh at that, her desperate attempt to relocate the fun making Buffy’s heart ache.
“Any idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart,” the blonde witch quipped, then blushed furiously and glanced down. “S-sorry. I’m just in a festive mood.”
“So you decided to quote Scrooge?” Buffy asked, arching a brow.
“She’s just going off what you give her,” Dawn spat, snatching the gold star from the box of decorations. “Since you’re too much of a Grinch to help out, I’m going to go get a chair to stand on. If I fall over and crack my head open, it’s on your conscience.”
The distress that filled Tara’s eyes only made Buffy feel worse. Her lack of a Christmas spirit wasn’t helping matters, and the blonde was caught in the crossfire. Were it anyone but Tara, Buffy might not have minded. But it wasn’t anyone but Tara. It was Tara. And of her friends, Tara was the only one that had personally apologized for the hell that she’d put her through—in her role in bringing her back. And while she assured Buffy that she definitely wasn’t sad that she wasn’t dead anymore, it gutted her to think about what she was going through.
The fact that she was going through a rather severe rough-patch with Willow, but still made sure to come over for quality time with Dawn, quickly elevated her to Buffy’s new and improved list of best-friends. Tara was the only one who understood her.
That’s not true.
She shivered and gazed longingly in the direction of Restfield Cemetery.
Buffy bit her lip. Her body had a tendency to tremble when she thought of him. Especially now. Now that she knew how his hands felt on her skin, how his lips tasted in the height of lovemaking. How wonderful his body felt against hers; how he fit inside her in a way that made her feel whole.
But it was wrong, and she was fooling herself to think otherwise. Spike made the hurt go away, yes, but it wasn’t where she was supposed to be. She wasn’t supposed to crave his arms around her or his silky kisses. She wasn’t supposed to. It wasn’t who she was. And eventually—eventually—she would remember that, and she’d hate herself for what she’d done.
Right now, she hated herself for other reasons.
“I’m sorry,” Buffy murmured softly. She didn’t know who she was speaking to: the girls in the room, or the vampire half a town away. “I’m just not in the spirit this year.”
Dawn snorted as she dragged a kitchen chair loudly across the hardwood floor. She was doing it intentionally—hoping, undoubtedly, to leave a mark and raise some sort of a reaction from her less-than-emoting sister. Buffy wished she had the energy to care, but she didn’t.
“Yeah,” the young girl snapped. “Not like there’s, oh say, a reason to be happy this year.”
“Dawnie,” Tara pleaded. “Let’s just put the star on.”
“Sure. Wouldn’t want to interrupt the yuletide pity-party.”
Buffy rolled to her feet at that, forcing herself away from the window. The bleak terrain only made her crave Spike more, and that was a road she could not go down again. She was too broken, and he was soulless. He could heal her temporarily with his body, but she needed a soul. She needed a soul, else hers could never heal.
And that was that.
“I’m going to bed,” she announced, heading toward the staircase without awaiting a response.
“Buffy—” Tara protested.
“I’m tired, and it’s not helping…my being down here. I’m just the rain on the parade.” She paused, her hand on the railing. “Have a good Christmas.”
She said it because she very much planned to sleep all through tomorrow.
If she thought about how happy she was supposed to be, she was sure she would break completely.
Her room was disturbingly quiet. When life existed in any space, there was usually sound. Usually breathing. Usually creaks and cricks and some indication to give away the fact that, yes, someone lived here. But there was none in her room. There was nothing. Buffy lay in bed, studying the ceiling, and listened to nothing.
She couldn’t even hear the rain.
Perhaps, had she cared more, she would have thought it strange that she could feel so fatigued after a summer of being dead. The mechanics of the human were wondrous at times. Before the Tower, before the jump, she’d lived for adrenaline. Adrenaline had been her drug, such to the point where she didn’t remember drowsiness or exhaustion. The threat of Glory had prevented exhaustion. If she succumbed to her physical limitations, Dawn would die. She’d known that then, thus, even tired, she hadn’t slept.
Now, though, now that she’d been dead, all she wanted to do was sleep.
And as always, sleep found her. Sleep didn’t care that it was Christmas Eve. Sleep didn’t care that her sister was angry or that her only measure of solace nowadays was a vampire that she could never have. A vampire without a soul. A vampire that couldn’t heal her the way she needed.
Sleep didn’t care about anything. It came to her without bias, and took her away in a matter of minutes.
That was, until, her alarm clock shrilled three times. Just three.
One. Two. Three.
And Buffy shot awake.
Three years earlier, under a dying lot of Christmas trees, Buffy had come face-to-face with the ghost of Jenny Calendar. Then calling herself the First Evil, the visage of Giles’s dead girlfriend had launched into a James Bond-like explanation of her evil ambitions, leading to Buffy’s tearful plea that Angel not dust himself.
The girl that had sobbed for her former love was dead. And while she would undoubtedly feel a pang if this version of Jenny Calendar warned her that Angel was about to dust himself, Buffy couldn’t see herself sobbing over him ever again. The meeting with him had been uncomfortable enough. Sitting in a dingy café half between Sunnydale and Los Angeles, looking at Angel and wondering when she’d stopped loving him. When she’d become so jaded.
She hadn’t thought of Angel at all until that phone call. She’d thought of Giles, her friends, Dawn, and Spike. She’d thought of Spike every day—ever since seeing him at the bottom of the stairs. Since he’d taken her hands in his and told her how long she’d been gone.
But she hadn’t thought of Angel. And she didn’t really think about him now. Oh, she pretended she did; she hid behind that doomed relationship to protect herself from Spike, but her mind and her heart was far from Angel’s. Angel couldn’t touch her anymore.
Her thoughts were too often consumed with Spike.
Said consumption was why her immediate reaction to Jenny Calendar’s presence was cold distress. If the ghost was here now to announce that Spike had decided to dust himself, Buffy could only hope that she could run fast enough.
After all, Dawn would be devastated if Spike died.
“What are you doing here?” Buffy asked the apparition, blinking, unwilling to admit how hard her heart thundered.
Jenny Calendar was very, very still. It was not the Jenny Calendar that she remembered; not in life, not even as the First Evil. There was softness about her that only those that had touched Heaven could recognize, and for a brief second, Buffy found herself overwhelmed by the most prominent wave of homesickness that she’d ever known.
“Is that it?” Jenny asked skeptically. “Ghost standing in the middle of your room and all I get is bored detachment.”
“I’m surprised I could work up that much.”
“I can’t even get a little chill?”
“Ms. Calendar…you’re a ghost. Ghosts are at the very bottom of my easily-wigged list.”
The apparition sighed and waved a dismissive hand. “I don’t know what’s worse,” she mused. “Paralyzing fear or apathy.”
Buffy shrugged, offering a half-smile. “Maybe if I wasn’t the Slayer.”
“Don’t try to make me feel better.”
“As it is, I’m not sure I can trust that you’re here at all.”
The ghost arched a perfect brow. “Oh?”
“Well, disregarding the fact that the last time we talked, you were trying to talk me into letting my then-boyfriend dust, I am recently non-dead girl and not prone to trust anyone.” Buffy shrugged again. “Or, my personal favorite, I’m dreaming.”
“You think you’re dreaming?”
“An overused excuse, maybe, but it makes sense. After all, anything can affect one’s senses. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheat. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.” She paused then with a frown. “There’s more of gravy than of grave about you.”
Silence consumed her. That line sounded too familiar to be random.
“Okay,” she said a minute later. “I don’t remember much from my English classes, but I’m pretty sure that I just quoted Dickens. And…mostly accurately.”
The ghost nodded.
“Okay. That’s kinda wigsome.”
“That’s just the beginning,” Jenny replied, “so you might want to improve your knee-knocking. Some of these guys are liable to get offended if their ethereal presence isn’t met with fear—or at the very least—a little awe.”
There was so much about that sentiment that did not rest well with her. “These guys?” Buffy echoed, wide-eyed. “What are you talking about?”
“You will be haunted by three spirits tonight.”
“Haunted? I think I’ve had enough of that.”
“Oh, so the ghost thing is working on you now?” Jenny demanded, stifling a pleased laugh. “Did quoting Dickens make you a believer?”
“I didn’t say I was afraid. I’ve just had enough.”
“Well, there’s little I can do about that,” the ghost replied, but there was little in her tone that betrayed any true sense of contrition. “They’ll be here soon. The first one will come when the clock tolls one…and the second at two…and so forth.”
Buffy frowned. “Where’s the originality in that?”
“It’s not my job to come up with new methods. I’m just the messenger.”
“But…honestly! Aren’t you all at risk for copyright infringement or something?”
Jenny seared her with a look. “I want you to think long and hard about how much time I spend in my afterlife worrying about copy-infringement.”
“Probably none at all.”
“That would be correct.” She offered a small smile. “Buffy…tonight isn’t about fault or blame. I know our methods are a little…well, unoriginal, but the Powers felt that you needed a kick.”
Buffy snorted ineloquently. “As if I haven’t been kicked repeatedly ever since my bestest buds mojo’d me back from the beyond. Sure. Fine. Bring on the kicking. I think I’m too numb now to feel anything as it is.”
“You understand that I didn’t mean an actual kicking, right?”
“I’ve been kicked pretty much every way there is to be kicked.”
And she’d done some kicking, too.
She hadn’t seen him in days—not since the invisible aerobics in his crypt. He’d kicked her out because he couldn’t have all of her. He couldn’t have her where others had. He couldn’t be the guy she took to the Bronze, or the one that accompanied her to parties. They couldn’t hold hands or kiss in public or do anything that announced they were together.
Spike wanted her to be with him, and she couldn’t. And the more he pursued her, the more she kicked. She kicked until he bled, but he never stopped whispering how much he loved her.
He loved her, and he hadn’t been by to see her since that day in his crypt. Where he’d made love to her as she tried hard just to fuck him, all the while loving the fact that she could see his face and he couldn’t see hers. Patrols since then had been unsettlingly silent. Spike hadn’t popped out from behind a crypt or barraged into her house under a smoking blanket. He hadn’t come to her at all.
Because he couldn’t have her. Not all of her.
Buffy shivered and glanced up again, starting a bit when she realized that the apparition was still there.
“The Powers offer no sympathy for the way things are,” Jenny said without prompt, giving her the unsettling feeling that her thoughts were on full display. And that notion was far more terrifying than anything a common ghost could conjure up. “Human deeds are left in human hands. It’s what one does with what’s left that makes any difference.”
Then Jenny paused thoughtfully and added, “You’re confused and hurt, but you’re not alone.”
It had been a long while since Buffy found herself overwhelmed with emotion, thus the sensation of tears prickling at her eyes went unnoticed for several long seconds. And before she could wipe her tears away, the ghost began to fade into the dark.
“Expect the first ghost when the bell tolls one,” Jenny reminded her, true to form.
Then she was gone.
And Buffy, once more, sat in silence.