Popcorn and Cranberries
By: Highlander II
Category: Angst, Drama
Archive: Please ask.
Rating: PG-13: language
Summary: Christmas fic challenge response. Christmas with the Scoobies.
Disclaimer: Characters belong to Joss Whedon and are property of Kuzui/Kuzui Entertainment, Mutant Enemy Productions, WB, UPN, FOX etc. etc.
Feedback: Highlander II
"Dawn, why are we doing this?" Buffy asked with a whine and a snarl.
Dawn sneered at her sister. "Because it's Christmas. Buffy, why are you always so insensitive?" She stomped ahead, still sneering.
"I'm not insensitive," Buffy snapped and quickened her pace to catch up with Dawn.
"Xander, hurry up! We have to be there soon. Come on." Anya gathered items into a box, grabbed her coat - her movements quick and erratic.
"Anya, honey, calm down. We have time." He stepped out of her way as she rushed by him.
"I just don't want to be late." She pushed a red and white Santa hat onto his head. "Perfect. Now, come on." She dragged him out the door, shoving the box at him as they went.
Angel shuffled his feet and stopped walking. He turned to the woman following him. "Cordelia, why are we here again?"
Cordelia frowned at him, hands on her hips, already annoyed that she had to walk through the sewers, moreso at his stopping and making it take longer. "Because we were invited. Plus, it's polite. Now come on." She tugged on his arm, turned him around, pushed him to start walking again. At least she had talked him into carrying the gifts.
"Oh dear lord," Giles gasped at the box-laden redhead on his doorstep.
"A little help, please," Willow begged from behind the tower of boxes in her arms.
"Yes. Of course. I'm sorry." He grabbed several of the boxes from the stack and carried them inside to his desk. "What is all this?"
Willow frowned. "Presents."
Giles sighed. "Yes. I'm aware of that. Why did you bring them here?"
"So Dawn and Xander don't shake them to death trying to figure out what they are."
"Ah." Giles nodded.
"Buffy, will you come on?" Dawn whined, exasperated, still walking.
"I just don't understand why we have to do this. We never did before." She stopped beside her sister, still holding the holly wreath she had been ordered to carry. Dawn knocked on the door and they waited.
They heard mutterings and growls and stomping before the door was hauled open and a messy-haired, half-dressed, blond vampire appeared. "What?" he snapped, rubbing his eyes and scratching his head.
Dawn blinked and looked the vampire over, admiring the musculature and flannel pants. Then she smiled and held up a string of popcorn and cranberries. "Hi, Spike. We made this for you."
"Huh?" he grumbled and tried to focus on the object in her hands. "Why?" He backed into the crypt and waved the Summers ladies inside so he could close the door.
"It's to decorate your crypt. We brought you a wreath t..." she stopped when she turned around and saw the tallest tree she had seen since before her mother had died.
Buffy turned too and gasped. "Spike... why is there a tree in your crypt? And why does it blink?" So amazed by the sight, she shoved the wreath at his naked chest - "Here." - and walked toward the tree. "It's..." stunned, she could say no more.
"Ow," he growled at the holly against his skin. "It's just a tree."
Dawn turned to him. "No. Spike, it's not just a tree." She looked down at her limp popcorn and dehydrating cranberries sadly, knowing they would have no place on his wonderful tree with the colorful paper chains and bright ornaments.
"It's beautiful," Buffy managed.
Spike blinked and could say nothing. A genuine compliment from the Slayer was better than any Christmas gift. Not that he would refuse those either. The Slayer turned to face him, then crossed the crypt, took the wreath from him, handed it to Dawn, who hissed and bounced at being poked, then kissed him. He blinked again and gaped at her.
Buffy smiled and pointed over his head. "Whoever decorated your tree, hung mistletoe on your ceiling."
His face fell as he realized she had not knowingly complimented him. She thought someone had decorated for him. His work and effort would go unnoticed yet one more time. "Well, thanks for stopping by. I have things to do, so, you'll have to go now."
"Oh, okay. Here." Dawn handed the wreath and popcorn-cranberry string to him, then turned to go, tugging Buffy with her. She pushed Buffy to the door, but turned over her shoulder to invite Spike to Christmas dinner.
"Dunno, Lil' Bit."
"Just go." He turned away from them and waited until he heard the door close before he dropped the gifts from the Summers ladies to the floor, then stalked to the tree and yanked the plug out of the extension cord and it faded to darkness.
"Drive faster, Xander," Anya snarled from the passenger seat. "We're going to be late. And all because you forgot the eggnog."
Xander sighed and took several deep breaths before responding, "We're not going to be late. We have plenty of time. And, if you hadn't been rushing me, I wouldn't have forgotten the eggnog." He took a turn a little too fast and felt Anya scowling at him because she was afraid he would spill her box. She had hustled around all morning, baking and stirring and cooking and mixing. Buffy had invited them over for Christmas dinner and Anya had insisted on doing part of the cooking, which was fine until she started going overboard with the "traditional" dishes. Stuffing, cranberry sauce, rolls, greenbean casserole, sweet potatoes, three different pies, fruit cake and even latkes for Hanukah because she remembered Willow was Jewish. He thought it was sweet, if a little overwhelming.
"You put the gifts in the back right? You didn't forget the gifts?" she asked, staring at him.
"Yes, Ahn. I got the gifts. Everything is fine."
"What is wrong with you?" Dawn snapped at Buffy as they were walking home.
"Geez, it's Christmas and you can't stop hating Spike long enough to be nice for just today?"
Buffy glared. "I was being nice!"
"Yeah, until you told Spike that he had a great decorator..."
Buffy glared again, confused now.
"...That wasn't him." Dawn shook her head and stomped ahead of her sister, crossing the street as a car rumbled by behind her.
Running to catch up, Buffy had to wait for the car, then darted across the street. She caught Dawn's arm and pulled her to a stop. "What are you talking about?"
Dawn sighed. "You really are an idiot, Buffy. You know that?" She watched her sister scowl. "Spike did all the decorating. The tree, the candles in the window, the rug you were standing on and didn't even notice. Why he still likes you, I will never understand."
"So, Giles, you ready to go? Anya's got some goodies baked if I heard Xander correctly."
"Were we, uh, supposed to make anything?" he asked, handing an empty glass to Willow to put in the sink.
She smiled. "Oh, no. Anya and Buffy were going to handle the food. We were just in charge of hiding the presents."
"Right. Shall we then?" He motioned to the door and Willow nodded.
They started taking the gifts to Giles' car. Somehow, all the boxes fit into the trunk and they were almost ready to go. Willow came up from the flat with the last two boxes. She held one up, studying it. "Who is this from?" She examined the patchwork wrapping with curiosity.
"Oh, that one's from Spike," Giles replied.
Willow blinked. "Spike played Pollyanna with us?"
"I think Dawn talked him into it."
"I think it's nice. A little odd, but nice." She put Spike's wrapped box into the trunk with the others, then settled herself in the passenger seat and waited for Giles.
Angel and Cordelia approached the Summers' house - Cordelia now carrying the boxes, Angel hiding from the late afternoon sun beneath a blanket. He knocked on the door and waited.
"Is anyone even here?" Cordelia asked, turning to look down the sidewalk.
"We're a little early," Angel informed.
Cordelia sighed and turned back to him. "Yes, but who's gone on Christmas?"
"We are," he pointed out.
"Yes," she huffed, "but we didn't invite anyone over."
The door swung open and a lovely woman Angel had seen once before stood before him. "You're not Buffy," the woman stated.
"No. I'm Angel."
"I know that. We've met," the woman snapped.
Cordelia looked at the woman in the doorway. "Anya? From high school?" she asked excitedly.
"Yes." Anya sneered.
"You don't remember me, do you?"
"Yes. You're Cordelia."
"Right," Cordelia confirmed.
"Why are you here?"
Xander's voice carried through the house to the porch. "Anya, Buffy invited them. Let them in."
Anya stepped aside and let the LA visitors into the house.
"Where's Buffy?" Angel asked.
"Not here yet. She and Dawn had to run an errand," Xander informed. "Have a seat."
Angel and Cordelia made their way into the living room to sit with Xander and Anya.
Still grousing, Dawn stomped up the stairs and threw the door open. Inside, she was greeted by Anya. "Hey, you're under the mistletoe. I must now kiss you."
"Uh, Anya..." Dawn countered.
"No. It's tradition! I already kissed Giles and Willow." She beamed and leaned in to kiss Dawn on the mouth. "I love these holiday traditions!" She said and continued to the kitchen.
"Uh huh." Dawn made her way into the living room full of friends. "Wow! I didn't expect everyone to show up while we were gone." She hugged Cordelia and Angel, then sat at Angel's feet, smiling.
Buffy entered the house and closed the door.
"Oh, now you're under..." Anya began.
Buffy put a hand out to stop her and looked up at the frame over the door. "Can we take that down? Please?" She looked into the living room with pleading eyes.
Angel pushed from his chair and walked to the entryway. "Yeah. I'll get it." He reached up and plucked the sprig of mistletoe from the door and handed it to Anya. She wandered off with it muttering. Angel let a hand rest on Buffy's shoulder. "Merry Christmas, Buffy."
She smiled up at him. "Thank you."
"Do I need mistletoe to kiss you?" he asked. She shook her head and he leaned down for his kiss.
"Buggering, stinking, sodding, stupid, bloody, bitch Slayer!" Spike snarled at the empty crypt. "Nothing's ever enough. To hell with you then!" He took a sip of his drink. "This is the worst eggnog ever. I don't think adding alcohol would help." He put his drink down and spotted the wreath and the popcorn-cranberry string. With a sigh, he picked up both. He hung the wreath on the inside of his door, then draped the popcorn and cranberries around the tree. "Thanks, Nibblet."
"Presents!" Dawn exclaimed and jumped up to help Willow pass them out to everyone. "Hey, there's an extra one," she commented, holding up a box wrapped in bright pink, foil paper.
Buffy looked up from her mug of cider. "That one's for Spike," she stated plainly.
"Oh." Dawn held the gift and stared at the floor.
"You drew Spike's name?" Angel asked, a hint of jealousy lacing his voice.
"Yes. I didn't even know he wanted to play. Pollyanna wasn't my idea. It was Anya's," Buffy responded, as though Pollyanna being Anya's idea should explain everything.
"And she let Spike participate?" Angel asked incredulously.
Dawn glared, hard. "Why not? God, why does everyone think Spike has to be left out of everything because he's a vampire? Angel's a vampire. It's CHRISTMAS!" she howled.
Angel blinked and sat back in his chair. "You're right, Dawn. I'm sorry."
"Is he coming?" Anya asked expectantly.
Dawn shrugged. "He didn't really say." She glared at Buffy.
Anya took the gift from Dawn and placed it under the tree. "Well, we'll just leave this here for now. If he comes, he can open it." She smiled brightly at the room. "Now, open your gifts!"
Tearing and ripping and pulling and crinkling, the gifts were unwrapped and examined and commented on with words of approval all around. Even from Xander who had received the patchwork-wrapped gift from Spike.
"How did he know?" Xander asked Buffy while she was checking the Christmas ham.
"I don't know, Xander." She closed the oven and leaned against the counter, her arms crossed over her chest.
Xander moved around the island and put a hand on her shoulder. "Hey, you okay?"
"Yeah." She shook her head and moved away from him.
"But..." Xander prompted.
"But, Dawn said some things. A lot of things really, that made me think."
"Think what? That you should stop being the Slayer just because it's Christmas?"
"No. That I should be nice to Spike because it's Christmas."
"Why? He's still the same old Spike."
"The same old Spike who got you something you wanted for Christmas without asking you."
Xander looked at the floor, then back at Buffy. "You invited him to dinner, right?"
Buffy looked away.
"No. I didn't. Dawn did. And he's not going to come and..."
"Isn't that a good thing? Spike comes, madness ensues. Big vampire fight-y-ness with Angel?"
"Yeah. Probably." She took several breaths. "Hey, go make sure the table's set. Dinner's almost ready."
"Sure thing." He gave her a quick peck on the cheek and strode off to the dining room.
Anya helped Buffy carry food dishes to the table. With each dish, Buffy would look expectantly to the door. Waiting. The fourth time through, Dawn snapped at her that Spike was not coming and it was all her fault. Buffy just sneered and returned to the kitchen.
All the food on the table and ready, everyone sat down to eat. They blessed the food - even Angel - and began serving. Buffy still kept looking to the door. Angel, finally to the point where it was driving him crazy, asked, "Buffy, are you expecting someone?"
She shook her head. "No. I guess not. He's not coming."
"Who?" was the simultaneous question from most of the table. Dawn just glared.
"Spike. He's really not coming." She put her fork down and lowered her head. She had expected a pounding knock at the door and his brash demand to be allowed to have dinner too, but - nothing. Not even a timid knock to leave a decade-old fruitcake on the front porch. Nothing. "He's really not coming."
Read the follow-up piece.