A Day Like a Gift

It doesn't matter why they are together, just that they are.

They still haven't gotten used to each other's schedules. Willow tends to go to bed before midnight. Sometimes she falls asleep on the sofa. Last night it was in the bath. She's sleeping more now that her classes are over, catching up on lost sleep. It doesn't seem possible that he's partly to blame for exhaustion.

He's determined to keep night hours. He might be living in a crappy basement apartment, but he isn't human, and he isn't going to pretend otherwise-except that he now goes to bed earlier than he ever has. Before dawn, he finds himself coming to bed, picking up one of her books to read. He could be watching television, or he could be at Willie's, or he could be right here, watching her.

Tonight she is lying on top of, and across, a body pillow that he recognizes with a small smile. He was formally introduced to the body pillow the night before they became lovers. She called the pillow her imaginary boyfriend. There was something about the way she had said it that told him that she knew where they were going. Almost as though she was hinting to him that there was a rival for her, but that it wasn't serious.

That was when he knew that she had put Oz away the way only humans put away their loves. Because life was too short to be spent wanting what you couldn't have. It wasn't disloyal, though he knew that he was nowhere near putting Drusilla away.

His dedication to certain ideas he had about himself is inhuman.

Before he joins her in bed, he straightens the covers and goes around the apartment turning out the lights until it was almost dark. Two arched casement windows, set high in the wall and faced with a curling iron grill on the outside, had been covered by thick violet plastic long ago. At night, the streetlights shine through the plastic, casting shadows in a bath of colored light across the bare floor and the walls, painted white.

It is just the one long narrow room, a kitchen, and the bathroom. He walks past a narrow console table by the door where Willow's keys rest beside a pile of mail. He should be depressed. He's a vampire living in a crappy basement apartment with bills to pay and nothing better to do three hours before dawn than to crawl in bed with a human who was oblivious and safe from him. This is a relationship as temporary as his time with Harmony, but it's different. It is temporary because she is and not because he is counting the minutes until it ends.

The bedroom was made separate by an idea Willow got from a home improvement show and a series of compromises forced on her by a lack of useful home improvement skills. Makeshift curtains are nailed into the ceiling, crafted of heavy velvet scavenged from the shuttered movie theater above. The floor is covered with throw rugs that overlap around the platform to protect her feet from the colder tile. A battered two-step library stair makes one night table. The other is a child's table, covered by a scarf that she likes but used to be mostly buried under the clutter of her books spilling over to the floor in stacks.

Looking for a book to read, he finds himself drawn to the chest at the foot of the bed where she keeps her magic supplies and some books that she thinks no one knows she has. While she is away at school or the library, he spends his afternoons watching awful television shows and thinking about ways to keep her from being temporary. He hasn't found an answer in those books that he trusts with her life.

No longer in the mood to read, he goes to bed. It is Christmas. He listens to her heart beat. He refuses to believe that there isn't an answer, or that he'll run out of time to find it for them. It's not something that she's ready to talk about or consider, so he'll keep looking and at the end of the day he will fall asleep inside the space she makes private for them, inside the soft wash of her heart beat.

Willow wakes up smiling. Somewhere snow was falling. She might have dreamt it. She's woken up to one Christmas with snow falling, and it might have been perfect if it had been a little more like this. She woke up with Spike's mouth working at the back of her neck. He was, she knew, still asleep. It was an unusual way for her to wake up, not frightening exactly, but a little weird. She could feel his teeth pressing lightly against her skin and then relaxing as his lips moved, sucking on her skin. He never bit her. He never even talked about wanting to bite her. She wishes that she were brave enough to bring it up, but whenever she thinks about it she remembers Harmony biting her, and her heart starts pounding.

She closes her eyes. Years ago there was a couple that lived next door to them. They had two white cats. The older, larger cat had too many toes and he was clumsy. The younger, skinnier cat was deaf. Their names were Bert and Ernie, like the characters from Sesame Street. The deaf cat, Ernie would wander over the fence and curl up in her lap, making odd deaf-cat noises while he kneaded her tummy through one of her sweaters, occasionally getting a mouthful of the sweater and sucking on it.

It made her feel glad that he had found a home with the people who adopted misfit cats.

It was probably extra weird that she felt glad that Spike had her neck to suck on. Except that it felt good, which wasn't that strange. He made a little sound in his sleep. She felt his teeth rubbing against her skin, licking it, and shivered a little at the sensation. If he bit her now, what it would feel like? It had to be different from Harmony lunging at her and biting down so hard that for a moment she had been unable to breathe while she waited for it to hurt.

Spike tended to be very territorial about his space in bed. She had woken up a few times to find him shifting her away from him. When he was done, he would kiss her, or squeeze her hand in a way that she interpreted as a directive to stay on her own side of the bed. Then he would spoon in behind her in his sleep.

The memory of how he had taken care of her last night was hazy, but she knew that there had been care taken. For a confused moment she thought it was because of something she had done, but finals were over and she hadn't done any spells lately, and then she remembered that she had fallen asleep in the bathtub and he had roused her in order to get her out before she became prune-y.

She squirms around in his embrace, feeling his arm clamp down on her rib cage for a moment, before relaxing as he feels her shifting more fully into his body. He blows a bit of her hair off his lip and opens one eye to peer at her, a slow smile appearing.

For a moment she can't speak. A simple hello or good morning couldn't encompass the welcome she feels in the way he smiles.

"Happy Hanukkah," she whispers.

He grunts, his hand moving down her spine.

She lifts her leg to rest her knee on his hip. One eye opens again, slowly, and lazily, as his hand follows her spine to ride the curve of her ass.

"Merry Christmas," his lips purses. "Wanna shag?"

The way he said it, she isn't sure if he's serious. It sounds like he's teasing her. He looks sleepy and kind of adorable with his hair mussed. She kisses the corner of his mouth. "In a cuddly sort of way," she tells him.

He grimaces on general principles. "Better go back to sleep then. I don't do cuddly." He smoothes her hair and kisses her forehead, guiding her head under his chin as he adjusts her against his chest.

The notch of his collar bones is beneath her lips, and she nibbles on it delicately, bringing one hand up to rest on his rib cage, her thumb finding the margin of his nipple.

He makes a sleepy sound of contentment and arousal, kissing the top of her head. "Go back to sleep, baby," he murmurs.

She expects his arms to tighten around her briefly before he disengages himself and moves back to his side of the bed.

She feels his cock brush against her stomach through her pajamas and her hand leaves his ribs to hold him in her hand. He rubs his cheek against her head, sighing his contentment. "That's nice," he whispers. "Like having you hold my cock, getting it all warmed up. I'll fuck you later. We'll have a nice, slow go at it. Does that sound good?"

His voice in her ear is low and husky with sleep. He's teasing her, she realizes. He really does like her holding him like this. A wave of affection crests inside her as she savors the idea of just holding him, intimately, making him feel warm. She kisses his throat. "That will be nice," she tells him.

"Mmmm. Won't it?" he agrees. "Wish you were naked," his hand slides under her pajama top, nestling between her skin and the soft-combed cotton of her top. It comes to rest on her back, his palm directly behind her heart. She lets her eyes drift closed.

He wakes up later with a warm hand wrapped around him, gently moving up and down. With an all over stretch he opens his eyes and finds himself staring at Willow's imaginary boyfriend. She snickers when he rears back in mock disgust, and laughs when he twisted at the waist, reaching up to grasp the slats in the headboard behind them, arching his hips to push against the slow stroke of her hand.

She's still wearing pajamas, but she's been up. Her hair is too smooth. When she had fallen into bed last night, her hair was only half dry. When it's wet there's a bit of a curl in it that startles him. She never looks like she puts a lot of effort into her appearance, so it surprises him to discover that she usually does something to pull the curl out of her hair. She must've gotten up to use the bathroom and then brushed her teeth and her hair before coming back to bed. When she went to bed last night she was wearing a pair of sleep shorts and a v-neck t-shirt in pale green. There's a little wispy bit of translucent pale green trim at the neck with tiny pink flowers on a darker green vine sewn into it that explains the appeal of the garment for her. She's now wearing a clingy little nothing of a t-shirt trimmed in lace and a pair of matching panties.

For a second he feels like they've never done this before. She has such an odd look on her face. Her gaze shifts from his face to her hand, holding him. She isn't laughing anymore, and that seems wrong, too. She laughs at him when he does things like this, and he does things like this because they make her laugh. Making her laugh is a something that he never in a million years would have expected would make him feel so good.

"I feel like we've never done this before," she says, raising wide, worried eyes to his. "What does that mean?"

He lets go of the slats on the headboard and sits up, holding her hand in place when she starts to take it away. "We should do it now," he tells her, mock solemn, ducking his head to kiss the corner of her mouth.

He gets the laugh from her that he was looking for a moment ago.

"Merry Christmas," he tells her when he's able to speak.

She's Jewish and he's a vampire, and it shouldn't matter but as soon as he saw the snow globe he wanted her to have it. When she saw the present, wrapped in silver paper, she got quiet, but he could tell that she was surprised and pleased even when she frowned at him and said that she didn't have anything for him.

She didn't rip into the paper. She found the places where it was held together by tape and used her fingernails to slit the tape without damaging the paper. There's something in the care she takes in opening the present that makes him take a deep breath to ease the tightness in his chest.

She holds it up to the light coming in through the windows, looking so serious and intent that he knows that it means something to her.

The streetscape inside the globe is a Victorian reproduction. It's cleaned-up and pretty in a way that is recognizable to him from movies rather than from having walked similar streets a century ago.

It is a little too heavy for her and his hands steady her wrists as she turns it in her hands to admire it from all angles. When it was turned just right they see the tiny figures standing in the center of the globe, and each other through the glass. It's a man in a frock coat and a top hat and a woman in a blue cloak, and he's holding a sprig of mistletoe over her head. When Willow carefully turns the globe over and then rights it to admire the swirl of snow, Spike could swear that they were kissing.

They are still in bed, kissing. The snow globe is resting on the top of a stack of books on the floor beside the bed. Willow opens her eyes for a moment.

She's sitting in his lap, straddling his hips. She's pulled the disordered layers of blankets up as much as she can to cover him, but they keep sliding off his shoulders, and her hands take their place. His skin cools so quickly when he's sitting up in bed like this, and she wants to keep him warm.

Spike's eyes are closed and for a second she sees what he looks like when he is kissing her. She's accustomed to thinking that the best way to read him is to watch his eyes, but, right now, with his eyes closed, he is more open to her than she ever imagined. Almost as if he knows that she is watching him, he tugs on her lower lip while his hands move under her t-shirt to span her ribs, before moving around to her back and then down to her butt.


Her nose wrinkles. All the words for body parts that flit through her head suck. His fingers spread wide to knead her butt. Ass. Behind. Posterior. Ugh! She wiggles closer, feeling him against her through the thin, stretchy layer of her underwear, her arms braced on his shoulders while he explores that part of her that had no good name.

He kisses her throat and smiles against her skin. "What?" he asks.

His eyes open. He's waiting for her to explain, and she wonders again at how he always knows when she's distracted.

"Nothing," she says, not wanting to share her internal monologue on the lack of good words for buttocks.

Blue eyes glint with a hint of stubbornness. "Spill," he insists. "Whatever you were thinking, it was getting in the way of a perfectly good snog."

She smiles at him. "Nope. Not telling," she's adamant. "You'll laugh at me."

"I like laughing at you," he points out, and she knows what he means. It's nice to know someone in ways that make you smile or laugh. His hands move back up, his thumbs making circles on her ribs.

Her eyes fly to his face. His lips are pursed the tiniest bit and he's looking so smug.

"No tickling," she warns.

His eyebrows rise at her tone.

A distraction is in order. She reaches between them to find the hem of her t-shirt and pulls it over her head. It's a win-win situation she decides, as his fingertips drift over her skin and his forehead comes to rest against her chest. She kisses the top of his head as his hands rise to cup her breasts.

Breast-related words drift through her mind until his lips reach them and then there is just the way he looks with his eyes closed while he kisses her.

"I think the people in the snow globe look familiar," Willow announces, combing her fingers through his hair.

His head is resting on her stomach, listening to it gurgle from time to time. She's probably hungry. He's starving, but doesn't want to move. It feels so nice. Her fingers, drifting through his hair, curling around his ear.

They have nowhere else to be today. The kitchen is not far away. They have books, and music, and each other. It occurs to him that there is an odd similarity in the enclosure around their bed and the globe. The people don't look familiar to him. It's the idea of them shut off in their own little world that resonates.

Not wanting to alarm her, he makes himself form an idea of what the room looks like beyond the end of the bed, and it's all a blank to him, except for the casement windows with the arch and the grille work with the sunlight coming through in purple-tinted patterns. He turns his head to look at the room. It's long and narrow with a kitchen at the end.

"Are you getting up?" she asks, rolling over on her stomach, looking at the snow globe.

"Do you want me to get you something to eat?"

His answer is in the clumsy way her foot finds his leg, rubbing it, and a happy sound she makes as she makes herself comfortable.

He has a feeling that he knows what he will find in the refrigerator before he gets there. This is Willow and the only thing he has seen her eat are things that are lying around. He's almost relieved when he opens the old avocado-green refrigerator and finds a bruised pear, a hunk of Stilton, two beers, and a can of soda. There are bags of blood in the vegetable bin at the bottom. The crazy feeling that things are too good to be true slides away as he realizes that they'll have to go to the market. He doesn't want her eating a lot of rubbish.

They don't talk about the fact that she will age and die, partly because it has no significance for her. She's too young to grasp it and he's lived too long not to dread it, but even more than the prospect of her aging, infinitely more than that, he has a horror of her getting sick, of watching helplessly as she gets sick. He isn't ready to tell her and, while she hasn't lived long enough to understand it, he also knows that her belief, her stupid, blind faith in the promise of the next day, isn't anything he wants to destroy with his fears. It's a fragile thing, that faith. It is part of what keeps her whole.

He makes himself get a bag of the blood out and toss it into the microwave. He knows every inch of this kitchen. He ought to. Willow doesn't know it but the personal storage warehouses on the highway outside Sunnydale provided most of the furnishings and appliances in the apartment. She went from her parents' house to a college dorm to living with him, and she hasn't a bloody clue about how much things really cost.

He opens a cupboard for a cup and goes back to the refrigerator for the pear and the can of soda. There is a moment, when he's returning to the bed, when his step falter at the exotic arrangement at the end of the room. It's like a grotto, and the girl lying in bed is someone he never thought he would know this way, and nothing has ever turned out this well for him.

He brings her the pear. Handing it to her he has the odd thought that if she eats it, he can keep her. It is the bane of a classical education.

Her fingers are sticky from the pear and Spike is licking them, doing naughty things with his tongue that are meant to be sexy, but just make her laugh. Mostly. She isn't immune to the naughty part of it. Sometimes he just carries it all too far. It used to make her nervous, like he might stop at some point and look at what was connected to the body part he was lavishing attention on, and see what the rest of the world saw.

He was charming without meaning to be most of the time, and when he meant to be, he could be devastating. He could make her forget that she was ordinary by sharing the grace of his extraordinariness. But when he's done with her hands, he pulls them to his chest and holds them there long enough to make her aware that he is silently asking her to touch him. When he's sure that she's gotten the message, his attention turns to her arms and her breasts.

She used to imagine having a day like this. A lost day. A day spent without guilt, without demand or expectation. A day like a gift, slowly unwrapped. The weight of him covers her, keeping her steady. Her arms and legs hold him, keeping him warm. Christmas doesn't mean anything to either of them. They don't have a plan for it, or a tree, or much of anything but each other.

Inside the globe resting on the pile of books beside the bed, the snow swirls around an empty square.