Stalker


by Saber ShadowKitten





Part One



Winter break. Four weeks that spanned from mid-December to mid-January. The dorms closed, the power was shut down, the cafeteria wrapped everything in tinfoil to save for the next semester. It was a time for relaxation after a hard semester at college. It was a time for students to see their parents, do the laundry that had piled up for four months, and beg for money. It was a time to see old friends, to work part-time, and to beg for more money.

Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer extra ordinaire, dropped her laundry bag and suitcase to the floor, turned and waved to her ride, and shut the front door. She looked left and right, then jumped around in a circle and she sang, "No school for a month! No school for a month!"

With a laugh at her own ridiculous behavior, she picked up her suitcase and headed up the stairs to her bedroom. She was happy that school was out. First semester of her freshman year had been harder than she thought it would be. If it wasn't for her best friend-cum-super-brain, Willow Rosenberg, she would be receiving one of those little letters in the mail that read "Don't come back."

Tossing her suitcase on the bed, she looked around the bedroom that seemed very strange after living in a dorm for months. For one thing, it was bigger. Much bigger. For another, she was used to the decorations she and Willow had put up in their shared room, rather than the butterflies and posters on the walls that decorated her bedroom at home. Maybe during break she would redecorate. She would have the time, because her only employment occurred after the sun set and her mother was gone until Christmas on a long-planned business trip. Even then, Joyce Summers would only be home the 24, 25 and 26 of December, then she'd be heading back to New York until January.

Buffy didn't mind that she'd be pretty much alone in the house. She'd known long in advance that her mother would be gone, had even helped pack for the trip, and it wasn't as if Joyce hadn't left her before for business reasons. If she did need anything, she could always call Willow or her mentor and former Watcher, Rupert Giles. Plus, if she was really in a bind and had no other options, she could get the help of the man who lived in the basement.

"Speaking of basements," Buffy said to herself. She grinned and headed back down the stairs. It was time to annoy her mother's houseguest by doing laundry at two in the afternoon on a Friday, instead of on "laundry Sundays."

Scooping up the large bag, she headed for the kitchen. Quietly, she opened the door to the basement and looked down into the dark with an evil smile.

"INCOMING!" Buffy yelled, throwing the bag down the stairs. She hit the overhead lights on the wall, then thundered down the stairs after it. She jumped off the last step and landed with her arms upraised in a gymnast's pose. "Ta-da! Guess who?"

"The entire Man U football team?"

Spike, once known as William the Bloody, hadn't even bothered to look up from the book he was reading when he spoke. A vampire blackmailed into helping Buffy, he'd wormed his way into Joyce's heart and her basement. During the day, the partially converted basement was his safe-haven from the sun, a place where he could sleep and recuperate from the hazards, both physical and erotic, that came with helping the Slayer.

The double bed he was lounging on jutted out from the side wall five feet from the bottom of the stairs. On one side was an old, tired-looking, two drawer night-stand with a simple desk lamp, CD player-alarm clock and a dirty, Playboy Bunny ashtray. Three feet separated the opposite side of the bed from a ten gallon fish tank on a stand against the far wall. Four colorful, tropical fish swam slow laps in the water amidst fake rock formations and plastic plants.

Black-out curtains covered the small windows set high on the walls. Next to the washer and dryer to the right of the stairwell sat a dresser, five drawers in height. On top of the dresser was a small television and piles of CDs. On the floor near it were small towers of paperback books that looked as if they were going to collapse at any moment. A coat tree, with a black duster hanging from one of the pegs, stood guard several feet from dresser along the back wall.

Buffy picked up her laundry bag and went over to the wash machine. "Why aren't you asleep? It's only two."

Spike shrugged and turned the page in his book. "Couldn't."

Buffy and Spike had a strange quasi-friendship that developed from having to work together. Sometimes they got along wonderfully, other times they were at each other's throats. Neither of them ever brought up their respective ex's and both of them ignored the physical attraction they felt for one another. Neither of them consciously wanted to get involved in a relationship with a former enemy. Unconsciously, however...

"Hey, did Mom leave any instructions about Christmas?" Buffy asked, taking things from the laundry bag and tossing them into the washer.

"I was drafted into getting the bloody tree with you," Spike replied. "Joyce wants it up this weekend."

"Don't sound so excited."

"Pet, what do I care about a Christmas tree?" Spike said. He stuck scrap of paper in the book and closed it, then tossed it on the bed beside him. "Or Christmas, for that matter?"

"True," she agreed. She added soap, closed the lid to the washer and turned it on. "Well, I'm going to go unpack. Sun sets at four-fifteenish tonight and I want to make an early round before we head over to Giles' to find out what's on the slaying agenda this weekend. Then we can go tree hunting."

"Joy."

Buffy rolled her eyes and headed back up stairs, leaving the vampire alone with his thoughts -- and her lingerie.

*****



"There's mail for you, ducks," Spike said, setting the pile of mail he'd retrieved on the kitchen counter. He took a seat at the island table with the newspaper and a cup of coffee, painting a picture of domesticity that made Buffy grin. Despite his bad boy looks, he could be any normal twenty-something sitting down to plan his evening, rather than a two hundred year old, vicious vampire, who got his kicks from pounding heads in.

"Thanks," Buffy said, leafing through the mail until she found a standard white envelope with her name scrawled across it in beautiful penmanship. There was no post marking, stamp or return address. Curiosity peaked, she took a knife out of the kitchen drawer and slit the top. She put the knife away, then pulled out the tri-folded white paper.

~~~

Hello, Buffy

~~~

That was all it read. The words were written in the same beautiful penmanship, centered on the page, and there was no signature.

"Huh," Buffy said, a frown marring her brow. "This is odd."

Spike glanced up from the newspaper. "What's odd, pet?"

"I think I got a secret admirer," she told him, passing him the paper.

He read it and a frown much the same as hers appeared on his face. "Let's see the envelope."

"It's got nothing on it," Buffy told him, handing him the envelope. "It's probably Xander." She smiled enthusiastically. "Or maybe Riley from school. I wouldn't mind having him as an admirer."

Spike pursed his lips, causing his cheekbones to become more prominent. Just because he couldn't touch her, didn't mean he wanted anyone else to touch her, either. "Perhaps," he replied, folding the letter and sticking it back in the envelope. He finished off the rest of his coffee, then rose and washed the cup out in the sink. "Ready to go, Slayer?"

"Yep," Buffy said, sliding her winter coat on. She grabbed her wallet with the money for the Christmas tree in it and stuck it in her pocket. She quickly checked her stake supply, then followed Spike out the kitchen door.

*****

Buffy looked over her shoulder, scanning the darkness.

"What's wrong, pet?" Spike asked, looking around as well. "Company?"

"No...I don't..." She frowned. "I got that 'someone's walking over my grave' feeling."

"That could be why," he said, nodding towards the large, dog-like creature that bounded out of the bushes ahead of them. The dog sniffed in their direction, dropped down in attack position, baring its large, glistening teeth.

"I'm gonna have to agree," Buffy said, and the fight was on.

She ran straight at the animal, grabbing its attention as Spike darted behind it. She punched it across the muzzle, then spun and kicked it in the same spot. The animal yelped and growled, barking ferociously and tried to leap on her.

Spike grabbed the animal's tail and snarled when its back feet clawed him. He spun, yanking the animal around and let go. The animal flew several feet and hit the ground with a thud.

Buffy glanced up att he sky, checking the moon's phase. To her relief, it was only a crescent, so she needn't worry that the creature was lycanthropic. She gestured to Spike to corral the animal between them. The blond vampire hurried around the far side of the animal. The creature continued to growl and bark at both of them.

Spike made a sudden moved and it jumped around, facing away from Buffy. The Slayer used this to her advantage. She rushed forward and grabbed the animal around the neck. With a quick snap, she broke its neck and let it drop to the ground, dead.

She looked to Spike, about to comment on the creature's uncleanliness, when she heard it.

Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap.

The sound echoed around them, not allowing either vampire or Slayer to pinpoint the direction it came from. It was a slow clap, not unlike the one Spike had given her the first time she'd seen him.

Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap.

Chills ran down her back. The steady clapping felt more threatening than a horde of vampires, especially since she couldn't see who was doing it.

"Who's out there?" Buffy called loudly. Spike was slowly turning in a circle, listening carefully and sometimes sniffing the air.

Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap.

She rounded the dead creature and moved to Spike's side. Her eyes darted from shadow to shadow. Another shiver ran down her spine as the clapping continued.

Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap.

Spike growled softly in frustration. He couldn't tell where the clapping was coming from. It was unnerving. Buffy put her hand on his arm and he glanced at her. Her eyes were round with traces of fear. His hands clenched into fists and he yelled, "Show yourself!"

The clapping stopped.

The duo waited, tense and ready to move at the slightest sound. The cricket's chirping and other noises of the night were the only things they could hear.

*****

"You say it just stopped?" Giles asked, questioning Buffy later that night at the former Watcher's house.

"Yeah," Buffy said. She rubbed her arms. "It was way wiggy."

"And no one was there?" Giles continued.

"We waited for ten minutes before we left," Buffy replied. "No one even breathed."

"Spike?" Giles looked at the vampire for confirmation.

"I didn't see a bloody thing," Spike said.

"If you weren't standing right next to me, I'd think it was you," Buffy told Spike. He arched a brow in question. "You clapped like that when I first met you."

A half-grin appeared on his face. "Outside the Bronze. Cor, you were a cute little chit back then. What happened?"

"Ha ha,"Buffy said.

"Do you suppose, by, er, your recollection of-of Spike's actions, this could be another master vampire?" Giles asked.

"Ugh, I hope not," Buffy said. "One pathetic, arrogant vampire in my life is enough, thank you very much."

"You're welcome, Slayer," Spike said with a mock bow. She rolled her eyes.

"Well, for now, keep on your guard," Giles instructed. "If it is a new master vampire, the sooner we know who he or-or-or she is, the better."

"Got it," Buffy said. She stood and put on her coat. "Come on, Spike. We have a Christmas tree to find."



Part Two



"Ow! Watch it!"

"Sorry," Buffy apologized. Spike grumbled something obscene about Christmas trees and certain Slayer's body parts. She giggled and continued ogling the vampire. He was on his forearms and knees under the tree, trying to get the tree screws tightened in the holder, his rear in the air.

He had a nice butt, she thought. Especially clad in his well-worn black jeans. It was also nice not covered by anything, something she found out purely on accident one night, but remembered quite clearly. But she wouldn't give into her lust for another vampire no matter how sexy he was or how much she liked him.

She still wasn't over the last vampire.

Pulling her thoughts away from Angel, which always depressed her, she shook the tree slightly. "Are you done yet?"

"If you'd stop shaking it," Spike growled.

The night before, they had found the "perfect tree" and had left it on the back porch overnight to be set up when there was more time. Giles had given them both the weekend off, save for regular patrol, and Buffy planned to decorate the tree...if Spike ever finished tightening the screws.

"There," Spike said, crawling backwards. He clapped his hands on his knees and looked up at the tree. "Let go."

Buffy let go and the tree stayed put. She smiled and ruffled Spike's hair. "Good job."

Spike smacked her hand away and stood. "My Christmas contribution is done. I'm gone."

She chuckled as he quickly left the living room for the basement, running his hand through his mussed hair. She headed for the kitchen to make some popcorn before digging the ornaments out. Humming Christmas tunes, she stuck the popcorn in the microwave and turned it on. Retrieving a bowl, she set it on the island table and began leafing through the stack of mail Spike had brought in as soon as the sun set. He was a good houseboy.

She smiled at the thought of Spike wearing white pants and a bright blue polo shirt with a towel over his arm. The smile faltered as her hand hovered over the plain white envelope with her name written on it. Using her finger rather than a knife, she opened it and unfolded the single sheet of paper.

~~~

I am watching you

~~~

Beeeeeeeeeep.

The microwave let out a loud beep and Buffy jumped and whirled around with a gasp. Her heart pounded in her chest and her eyes were wide as she stared at the microwave. With a shaky hand, she lifted the perfectly scripted letter and read it again. The message had not changed.

She heard the front door slam and she whipped around the other direction, hitting her hip on the counter. Blindly, she reached for a utensil sitting in the ceramic cup on the counter, her eyes never leaving the kitchen doorway. She took a deep breath and crept forward, letter in one hand, kitchenware in the other. She slowly went to peek around the corner and-

"Slayer?"

"AAAH!" Buffy screamed, spinning around and raising her weapon.

Spike looked at her in confusion. "Um, pet? Do you plan to whisk me to death?"

Buffy stomped forward and began hitting him with the wire whisk. "Don't scare me like that!"

Spike managed to grab the whisk from her and set it down. "What the bloody hell is your problem? You knew I was home."

"But you left," Buffy said. Her heard finally slowed down. "I heard you slam the front door and after reading this..." She shook the letter in her hand. "I got a little freaked."

Spike took the letter out of her hand and uncrumpled it. "Luv, I didn't leave," he said absently, reading the letter.

"If you didn't leave, then why did the front...door...slam..." Buffy's eyes grew round and she slowly turned to the kitchen doorway again.

"Cor, Slayer, this is a st-"

"Shh," Buffy interrupted. She looked back at Spike and whispered, "Someone's in the house."

Spike looked at her, then at the doorway as if expecting someone to come around the corner. He listened carefully, but could hear nothing except the sounds of the house settling. He set the letter down and headed out of the kitchen.

"Spike!" Buffy squeaked. She quickly went after him and ran into his back when he stopped in the hallway.

"What?" he whispered.

"I'm coming with you," she whispered back.

He arched his brow at the nervousness in her voice, then shrugged. He continued making his way silently up the hall towards the front door. He stopped abruptly, causing Buffy to bump into him again, but he didn't care. He was too focused on the rose sitting just inside the front door.

Buffy gasped and grabbed his arm, staring down at the blood-red rose. She looked over at the darkened dining room, wondering if the shadows had always been there. Spike bent down to pick up the rose and she yanked back on his arm. "Leave it," she hissed.

Spike glanced back at her and frowned. She was acting as if she was scared. The Slayer he knew was never scared. Deciding to humor her, he left the rose and turned towards the dining room. He flipped on the light inside the doorway and looked around. Seeing nothing amiss, he continued through to the kitchen, Buffy right on his heels.

The two went through the entire house, room by room, leaving the lights on behind them at Buffy's insistence. When they reached the kitchen again, Spike picked up the letter and reread it. "I think someone's playing a joke on you, Slayer."

"It's not a very nice joke," Buffy said. She looked at the rose Spike had picked up on their way back to the kitchen. It was perfect, red, and the thorns were meticulously stripped off. It gave her the wiggins.

Spike tossed the letter back on the counter. "Well, no one's here and I have plans. Sleep tight, Slayer," he said, then grabbed his duster off the coat rack behind the door and left.

Buffy shook her head at his abrupt departure and went over to the microwave to retrieve her popcorn. As she dumped it into the bowl, her eyes drifted over to the letter and the rose sitting beside it. The house seemed to grow unnaturally quiet, save for the tick, tick, tick of the clock on the wall.

She shifted on her feet and looked towards the kitchen doorway. Thirty seconds later, she was out the back door and rapidly walking up the street. She didn't stop until she was outside a familiar set of French doors.

"Buffy, hi," Willow greeted, stepping back to allow the Slayer inside. "What's up?"

"I thought maybe we could do that sleep-over thing..."

*****

By the light of day, Buffy chastised herself for her ridiculous behavior. The rose and letter got tossed in the garbage when she got home from Willow's. She was the Slayer. She fought creatures that made vampires piss their pants. She could handle a prankster.

After changing clothes, she put some Bing Crosby on the stereo and proceeded to decorate the tree. The star went on top again. Spike ventured into the living room after sunset to make fun of her musical tastes and promising to make a sweep around ten before he disappeared for the evening.

She had just finished hiding the empty ornament boxes when the phone rang. Turning down the volume on the stereo, she snatched up the phone on the fourth ring. "Hello?"

No reply.

"Hello?" Buffy repeated.

No reply.

She shrugged and hung up the phone. Turning to the refrigerator, she pulled out a microwave dinner and set it on the counter. The phone rang again.

"Hello?" Buffy said upon answering it.

No reply.

"Hello?" she said, exasperated. "If this is a telemarketing call, we don't want any."

No reply.

Disgusted, she hung up again. "Stupid salespeople," she muttered, opening up the tv dinner box. She was reading the directions on the back when the phone rang yet again.

"Hel-lo?" Buffy said, getting frustrated.

No reply.

"You're starting to piss me off," she growled into the phone. "Stop calling."

She slammed down the receiver and threw her dinner into the microwave. The phone rang again and she let out a small scream of annoyance. "What?" she spat into the phone.

No reply.

"Listen jackass, I'm not into prank calls. Get your kicks on somewhere else." She slammed down the receiver again, then turned off the ringer. She punched the numbers on the microwave with hard, vicious jabs, almost denting the keypad. She heard the faint sound of the phone ringing upstairs, but she ignored it.

The phone stopped after five rings and didn't ring again. The microwave beeped nine minutes later and she took her dinner out. Stirring up the mashed potatoes, she took a seat at the counter and leafed through an art catalog as she ate.

The doorbell rang. Quickly swallowing her mouthful off food, Buffy set down her fork and headed for the door. She looked out the peep-hole, but saw no one. Frowning, she opened the door, only to find no one there.

She was about to close the door when she saw a box on the porch. She picked it up and opened the lid. "What's this?"

She pulled a red and blue jack-in-the-box out of the plain white box. Closing the door with her hip, she set the outer box on the hall table and turned the crank. "All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel," she sang under her breath to the tinny music. "The monkey thought it all was fun, pop..."

She jumped slightly, even though she was expecting the little clown to explode from the top. But that wasn't what made her start pounding in her chest.

Taped to the plastic clown's forehead was a Polaroid of her, fork part-way to her mouth, sitting at the island counter in the kitchen.

Buffy dropped the jack-in-the-box when the doorbell rang again. She turned to the door, heart hammering so loudly, it was all she could hear. She reached for the handle and cracked open the door.

No one was there.

She dropped her gaze to the porch and saw a plain, white envelope. With a shaky hand, she picked it up and opened it.

~~~

I am watching you right now.

~~~

Buffy slammed the front door and turned the lock. Dropping the letter, she ran to the kitchen and locked that door, as well. Standing on her toes, she peeked out the window set in the door. She heard the faint ringing of the phone upstairs. Moving slowly, she picked up the receiver and put it to her ear.

"Hello?" she said in a shaky voice.

No reply.

"Hello?" she repeated, her voice fainter.

No reply.

Buffy hung up the phone and stared at it. When she heard it start to ring again upstairs, she closed her eyes, clenched her fists and counted to ten. Then she picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

No reply.

Her hand visibly shook as she hung up the receiver again. It began to ring again upstairs almost immediately.

"Hello?"

No reply.

"Who's there?" she demanded, panic in her voice.

No reply.

"This isn't funny!" Buffy yelled into the phone. The response was quiet at first, but it grew louder.

Laughter.

Buffy slammed down the phone, turned and fled to the basement. "Spike!"

When she got downstairs, she remembered that the vampire had gone out. She whirled around and looked up the stairs when she heard the doorbell. She waited, not moving, her nails cutting into the palms of her hands. The doorbell rang again and she launched herself onto Spike's bed, bunching up the covers near the bottom before crawling under them like she used to as a child. She curled into a ball and made a small hole so she could see the stairs. Her breathing was abnormally loud in the confines of the blankets.

She heard the kitchen door slam shut and she tensed. "Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god...," she repeated over and over under her breath. Heavy footsteps crossed the kitchen floor, then descended the stairs to the basement. She froze, not even breathing, as she stared out the small hole in the blankets.

Spike nearly jumped out of his skin when Buffy erupted from the pile of blankets at the end of his bed. But he was surprised even more when she threw herself at him, holding onto him as if her life depended on it. "Slayer, what's wrong?"

"Thephonekeepsringingandnoone'stherethenthedoorbellrangandtherewasapictureofmeinthejack-in-the-boxandIgotanotherletter..."

"Slow down, pet," Spike said, taking her shoulders and pushing her slightly away from him. He looked down into her face, noting her pale skin and her fright-filled eyes. "Now, what happened?"

Buffy took a shaky breath and started again. "The phone keeps ringing and no one is there. Then the doorbell rang and...it's better if you just see it." She took his hand and led him upstairs to the front door, then pointed at the floor. "Those were outside the door when the doorbell rang."

Spike studied the jack-in-the-box and the letter. "This isn't a very funny joke."

"No shit," Buffy said sarcastically. She slumped against the front door and rubbed her forehead. "I don't like this, Spike."

"Well, I'm home now," he told her.

"And that's suppose to reassure me?" she asked.

Spike chuckled. If her humor had returned, she was fine. "What do you want to do about this, luv?" He gestured to the jack-in-the-box and the letter.

"I'd say I should call the police, but this is Sunnydale," Buffy replied. She gave him a wry smile. "They couldn't find their mouths unless a donut was in their hand."

"True," he agreed.

"Just leave it," she said with a sigh. "I'll figure something out in the morning."

Spike nodded and held out his hand. "Come on, luv. Why don't we go see what's on the telly."

Buffy gave a final glance at the things Spike put on the hall table, then took his hand. "You're on."





Part Three





Shopping cured all ails, especially when shopping with someone else's money. Buffy tucked her hair behind her ear and looked at the jewelry in the display case. Her mother had left her some "crazy money" for an early Christmas gift and the Slayer was putting it to good use. Hanging from her hand were three bags of proof.

By the light of day, the picture, jack-in-the-box, and letter didn't seem threatening, only annoying. She chastised herself for acting like a slasher movie wuss and deposited all three items in the closest garbage can. If her prankster returned that night, she'd show him what happened to someone who pissed off the Slayer.

Earlier that afternoon, she'd seen Willow and her boyfriend, Oz, off on their winter break trip up to Seattle with the band. The Dingos Ate My Baby had gotten a gig in the Rainy City, courtesy of the drummer's cousin, and would be gone through New Year's. Her other close friend and fellow slaying helper, Xander Harris, had gone down to Los Angeles to "bother and generally annoy his ex-girlfriend." Those had been his exact words.

Knowing that she'd be friendless over break was a bit of a downer. Her other friends she'd made at school lived scattered throughout the state, which would make it too difficult to get together with them. She'd probably end up spending her time with Giles, anyway, because the bad guys didn't take Christmas off like the rest of the world.

A lapel pin caught her eye and she got the salesgirl's attention. She had six hours left until the mall closed and a purse full of money to burn. She may be alone, but she was going to have a very happy holiday.

*****

"Oh look, surprise, surprise," Buffy said, picking up a familiar envelope with her name on it from the stack of mail. "Another letter."

The two had returned a short while ago from a rather boring patrol and a quick stop by Giles' house to check in. Buffy had told the former Watcher about the prankster's tricks the night before and he warned her not to hurt whomever it was too much. She had smiled evilly in response.

Spike took a sip of his dinner and watched as she opened it. She had gone from frightened girl to annoyed Slayer in the span of a day. As fun as seeing Buffy scared was, he much preferred the annoyed one standing in the kitchen with him. He'd seen her defeat a demon three times her height with a broken arm while he was otherwise incapacitated, all because it had ripped her new suede jacket. Of course, she was fighting for her life, too, but it was the ripped jacket that had turned the tides of the fight. He couldn't wait to see what she did to the prankster.

Buffy took out the letter and unfolded it. "Let's see what I've won," she commented sarcastically.

~~~

I will have you

~~~

"Not in this lifetime," she scoffed, passing the letter to Spike. She picked up her dinner plate and took it to the sink.

"I take it this doesn't frighten you?"

She snorted. "The only one going to be scared is the jerk doing this when I get done with him."

Spike grinned and dropped the letter on the counter beside her. "Now that's the Slayer I know and hate."

Buffy flicked soap bubbles at him. He arched his brow, then quickly leaned over, dipped his hand under the running faucet and splashed her back. The ensuing water fight ended up soaking both them, half the kitchen, and most of the house as they chased each other through it.

Grinning like an idiot, Buffy closed her bedroom door and began to strip out of her wet clothing. Sometimes Spike could be a lot of fun, when he wasn't being his usual, cocky self. Sitting and watching television with him the night before and the sheer normalcy of eating dinner together, although his was of the liquid variety, she was reminded of why her mother was able to put up with him on a night to night basis.

The phone rang as she slipped a tank top over her head and she snatched up her portable. "Hello?"

"Hi, Princess," Hank Summers said over the line. "How's my favorite daughter?"

"Dad, hi," Buffy said enthusiastically. "I'm your only daughter."

"Well, you're still my favorite," Hank said. "How are you?"

"I'm good," she replied, walking over to her desk. She pulled out the scissors and the scotch tape and put both on the bed. "Home from school for a month, which is always a plus."

"Should I ask how your first semester in college went?"

"Better to avoid that subject," she said with a chuckle. She pulled out a roll of wrapping paper from one of her shopping bags from her mall excursion. "Actually, I think I did pretty good. Willow... you remember Willow right?"

"The redhead who likes to babble," Hank said.

"That's Wills," Buffy said. "She's been a big factor in my not failing out within a month."

"Well, I'll have to remember to send her a thank you," he said.

She smiled and put the phone between her shoulder and ear in order to begin wrapping her gifts. "So, how about you? Been anywhere interesting since Thanksgiving?"

"Let's see. I was in Southampton, England for a week, then I flew over to Copenhagen, Denmark for a whole hour long meeting," Hank replied. "Then I flew back to London for another week of fun in the drizzle. Let me give you some advice, Princess. If you ever visit England, use some of that Camp Dry waterproofing stuff on your body. It's a wonder the whole country isn't under fifty feet of water."

An image of Spike and Giles dressed in hip-waders and yellow rain hats sloshing through the streets of London appeared in her head and she laughed out loud. "Dad, that's silly."

"You know me," he said. "So, have you gotten anything in the mail yet?"

Buffy paused mid-snip of the wrapping paper. Her father couldn't know, could he? "Like what?"

"Like a Christmas package from your dear old Dad," Hank replied.

"Oh," she said in relief. "No, nothing yet. Unless Spike made off with it. I'll have to beat-er, ask him."

"Spike? Is he still living there?" Hank asked.

"Yes, Dad, he's still living here," Buffy replied. She grabbed a black marker and wrote her mother's name in big letters on the package she'd finished wrapping.

"I don't know what your mother was thinking..."

"Dad," she interrupted, having been over this same conversation ever since Spike moved in. "I think it's good that he lives here. Mom isn't alone, it's extra security for when she's gone on business, and she's stopped mothering me to death and moved onto him." She also trusted him with her life, although she'd never admit it out loud.

"I just can't help it, Princess," Hank said. "I don't want your mother getting herself into something she can't get out of, like doing things with him that I shouldn't talk to my daughter about."

"Eew! Ick! Dad!" Buffy exclaimed. "This is Mom you're talking about. She's old enough to be his..." She trailed off when she realized what she was about to say. Her mother was old enough to be his great-granddaughter, four times over. Not that he wasn't all that and a bag of chips to look at or acted like he was a super-old fuddy-duddy. And it wasn't as if she could talk, her last boyfriend had been forty years older than Spike. But Spike and her mother? Together? Now she was going to have bad thoughts for the rest of the night.

"To be his mother, I know," Hank finished. He sighed. "Oh well, it's not like I can say anything. Jackie is ten years younger than I am."

"Jackie?" she asked. She started on another Christmas gift. "Ooh, is this a new girlfriend?"

"Not girlfriend, but someone I'm dating," he replied. "She works on the third floor. She's one of those computer people who knows the difference between a RAM and a goat."

Her father sounded like Giles, she thought with a smile. "Sounds great, Dad."

"Well, honey, I'd better let you go," Hank said. "I'm sure you have better things to do than to talk to me."

"Never," Buffy told him. Absent father or not, she still loved him as much as she always had.

"You're a sweetheart, Princess," Hank said. "Watch for the package."

"I will," she replied. "I love you."

"I love you, too," Hank said. "Goodnight."

"'Night," Buffy said. She hit the disconnect button on the portable phone and set it down, thinking how great it was that her father had called. She didn't get to talk to him often, so each time she did was a special treat.

Returning to her wrapping, she started to sing The Twelve Days of Christmas, adding new numbers and activities, such as "sixteen Giles' researching" and "thirteen vampires getting dusted." By the time she finished with the gifts, all her friends had been included in the song, as well as some of the creatures she'd fought and defeated.

"'Tis the season to be jolly and joyous, fa la la,'" she sang under her breath as she headed downstairs, her wrapped gifts in her arms to put under the tree. She could hear muffled music coming from the basement, if she were to call what Spike listened to "music." "Whatever the next words that Tiny Tim sing in the song, fa la la. Dum, da, dum, dum, dum, da-"

Buffy froze mid-note, her mouth hanging half-open, as she stood in the entryway to the living room. A small squeak emitted from her as she inhaled in horror, her chest tight with fear. She slowly bent and set down her gifts on the floor, her wide eyes never leaving the sight before her.

The ball ornaments, bead strands and tinsel were all gone from the Christmas tree. In their place were what looked to be hundreds of blond Barbie dolls, all unclothed and hanging by strands of brown twine around their necks. They covered every inch of the tree, overlapping one another, the white lights beneath them causing their plastic bodies to glow pink. She shook slightly when she realized each one bore her name written in black across the stomach.

The doorbell rang and she jumped and gasped, her hand flying to her mouth. She turned to the front door and stared at it, forgetting about her earlier resolve to not act like a wimpy female from a slasher movie. Her mind was too focused on the fact that someone had been in her house. In her house long enough to entirely strip her tree and redecorate it.

She took a shaky breath and walked to the front door. When she saw no one on the other side, she clenched one hand into a fist and used the other unlock the door and turn the knob. A white envelope fell slightly inside when she opened the door a bit. Eyes scanning the darkness, she bent down and grabbed the envelope, then shut the door and locked it. She opened the envelope and unfolded the letter.

~~~

I WILL have you

~~~

The letter fell to the floor as Buffy ran from the front hall to the kitchen. She slid into the door on her sock-clad feet and found that it was unlocked. The back porch light illuminated a small area of her yard and she could see the ornaments that were originally on the tree scattered on the ground. She quickly locked it, turned, and bolted for the basement.

Music assaulted her as she tore down the stairs and ran head-long into a vampire hanging upside down from a metal pipe in the ceiling. She smacked her nose hard on his bare chest, then stumbled backwards and hit the wooden railing with her back.

"Ow!" she exclaimed, holding her nose between the fingers on her hands. Her fright was forgotten with the pain. She stared at the upside down Spike, who was holding his nose much the same way.

"Ow is bloody right!" Spike growled. "You got a set of steel tits."

The pain receded and she dropped her hands. "What in the world are you doing? Practicing your Batman imitation?"

Spike reached up, grabbed the pipe and flipped down. He turned around and glared at her, then stalked over to his night-stand and turned down the volume of the music. "Not that it's any of your friggin' business, but I was doing sit-ups."

"Oh," Buffy said. She looked up at the pipe. "Huh. I'll have to try that."

He made a sound of annoyance and grabbed the towel on the edge of the bed. "Slayer, did you try to break my nose for a reason or were you just bored?"

Everything came back to her at once, causing her to inhale sharply. "He was here."

"Who?" Spike looked at her quizzically

"The...the guy!" Buffy said, gesturing emphatically.

"I thought you were going to beat the snot out of him," he said. He wiped his sweaty face off with the towel. "Leaving gag gifts on the front porch-"

"He was in the house!"

Spike lowered the towel and stared at her. "No bloody way. I would have heard something."

"With the Sex Pistols playing live and uncut in the basement with you?"

He saw Buffy take a deep breath, then sit down on the steps, practically deflating before his eyes. "Cor, Slayer, what did the prick leave this time?"

"Go see for yourself," Buffy told him, folding her arms over her knees and laying her head on them. "I think I'm going to sit here for a few minutes."

She was spooked, Spike realized. Her barreling into the basement without knocking had been from fear, not from any desire to annoy him or desire for him. He headed upstairs and padded barefoot towards the front door. He didn't see any packages, only another letter. Picking it up, he scanned what it said, then turned to head back to the kitchen.

That's when he saw the tree.

"Holy..."

*****

Buffy was still sitting on one side of the steps when Spike returned. He shut the basement door behind him before descending the stairs and stopping in front of her. "Come here, luv," he said, holding out his hand.

She raised her head and looked at him in confusion. "Who's doing this, Spike?" she asked, taking his hand.

Spike pulled her to her feet and led her over to the far side of the bed. "I don't know, Slayer."

With little prompting, Buffy laid down on her stomach and cradled the pillow with her arms under her head. She focused on the tank, watching as the colorful fish swam lazily back and forth. Spike straddled her waist and began kneed the muscles in her shoulders.

"Mmm, that's nice," she said. "When did you get to be so sweet?"

"I have my moments," Spike replied. A smirk crossed his face. "It helps that you shoved your tits in my face."

"Swell," Buffy said sarcastically. She fell silent and continued to watch the fish, her eyes growing heavier with each pass they made. Spike's firm massaged turned gentle and she felt herself relaxing completely, all traces of fear gone

She fell asleep to the Sex Pistols rocking quietly in the background.



Continues