Santa Claws by Lilachigh
Chapter 19 Pressure
Anya fought her way back from Sunnydale to the old magic world of Santa Claus, feeling shaken and angry. Travelling between two realities wasn’t easy. She thought she’d managed to do enough to materialise in the Ravello backyard, but then realised the powers she’d gathered from the Santa Claus world had only been strong enough to give her a faint, shadowy image. She’d tried shouting and waving, but no one had seen her - well, she thought the young half Sylvamalkyn, Eric, might have done. But that was because he was so young: you lost the ability to see beyond as you grew older.
She did think the others might have been more alert. Trying to help people and being ignored was something she’d gotten used to where Buffy and the Scoobies were concerned, but she also knew that this wasn’t the right time for hurt feelings and revenge. And of course, there never would be a time ever again for vengeance, which was good - but oh so irritating as well!
Xander was no longer at his office desk, staring down through the magical mists to watch what was happening in Buffy’s back yard. Anya had a very good idea why he’d left: he wouldn’t have wanted to see Willow doing her best to disrupt the spell Tara was trying to cast. But she also knew that if he’d stayed he would have been delighted to witness the problems the witch was causing Buffy and Spike. Because as much as Xander professed to love her and her alone, Anya knew there was one spot in his heart that would never be hers, would always be Buffy’s. Love sometimes seemed indestructible.
Anya scurried through the elves’ dormitories - lazy things were still fast asleep - out into the stables where the reindeers stood, eating, relaxing, waiting for the one night of the year when they were needed. Xander was sitting in the tack room, a picture of gloom and misery, polishing a crimson leather bridle that already gleamed. She hesitated in the doorway, staring down lovingly at his dark head. Love, she’d discovered once she became human, was a very odd emotion. She’d never really believed in it before but now - she knew that there was nothing she would not do him. Love was all about caring.
He glanced up, his dark eyes anxious. “You’re back. Is it over? Has Spike stopped being a panther demon? I suppose him and Buffy are all lovey-dovey again?”
“No and no, and I don’t know, although personally I can’t see why he would want to stop being a Sylvamalkyn! I’ve always thought they were a particularly nice type of demon to be, if you had a choice. But there’s no pleasing some humans, or vampires, for that matter. But listen, Xander, Willow is out of control. I know you want her to stop Buffy and Spike from being together, but this isn’t the way to do it.”
Xander turned his gaze away and rubbed violently at the leather once more. “Don’t see why not.”
Anya sighed and sat down next to him. “Because you know what using magic does to her: it eats her up, takes her over until the Willow we know vanishes and someone - something - remains in her place.”
“Perhaps it won’t this time. It’s only one little confusion spell, isn’t it?”
She stared at him, wondering how, after all this time, he could be so dense when it came to magic. “Tara is trying to use very old earth magic, not particularly difficult, but old as old. Once you tap into that sort of magic, you have to be very focussed because you can set off all sorts of consequences. And with magic there’s always consequences. I mean, we’re here because - ”
“Yes, I know!” Xander interrupted her swiftly. He hated being reminded that his actions in calling Sweet the Dancing Demon to Sunnydale had resulted in ordinary people dying, including little Eric’s father. “So you’re saying that Tara isn’t focussed because Willow is interfering with the spell? So what? More nasties are going to hop into town from another reality? I’m sure Buffy can deal with anything like that. She always has before.”
Anya took a deep breath - oh, how easy it would be just to nod and agree, wash her hands of Willow, Buffy, Spike, and all the rest. She and Xander could open a bottle of wine and one of those fancy Christmas cheese presentation boxes that were stacked mountains high in the warehouse, relax and just enjoy spending time together. But - and it was the sort of but she would never have even considered when she was a vengeance demon, if what she thought was going to happen to Willow, did happen, then Xander would be heartbroken. And she loved him too much to allow that to happen.
“Listen - every time Willow tunes into old magic that she isn’t controlling, a little bit of her soul gets sucked away. And she won’t even know it’s happening.”
Xander looked ill. “Ahn, that doesn’t make any sense. Will’s the most powerful witch probably ever! She must know these things, if you do.”
His partner pulled the polishing cloth from his hands and gripped them hard. “That’s the whole problem - of course she knows, but she believes that she’s so strong the laws don’t apply to her. It’s the same problem she’s always had. She thinks that what she does is right and that somehow the rules of magic don’t apply to her. And in lots of cases that’s true, but not in this one. Tara will try again to get the Sylvamalkyn out of Spike and into Eric, Willow will try to stop her and another big piece of her soul will vanish!”
“So how do we stop her? We must stop her. Can we stop her?”
Anya wound her arms round his neck and pulled him close, as if she would never let him go. She could feel the tension in his body and knew what she would have to do. Love, she decided sadly, was all about sacrifice.
** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
Buffy Summers clattered down the steps into the basement. “Dawn! Eric! Are you down here?”
There was no reply, just the chugging the elderly washing machine as it ground its way through the rinse cycle. Buffy felt another wave of irritation sweep over her. She’d told her sister not to turn it on just for a few knickers and bras. It was an old machine and they had to make it last. There was no money for a new one. Jeez, would this night ever end? When was Dawn ever going show some signs of responsibility? Running off like this with Eric was just plain stupid. Another feeling washed across her mind - a longing for years ago when she’d been a teenager herself - no Dawn, no Spike, just her mom and Xander and, of course, Willow, her very best friend. In those days everything had been so simple and straightforward. And she wanted them back so bad.
“I thought you were going to look round outside. What’s up? Don’t you trust me to recognise Bit when I see her?” Spike had followed her downstairs and stood, arms folded, frowning at her, his eyes dark and shadowed. A shiver of feelings ran through his mind - life was so hard, so difficult being with Buffy. Always problems, always the mission, always something or someone coming between them. But he didn’t have to stay, did he? He could remember a time when he’d been free, not tied by emotions to this place, these people. He wanted that time back so much.
Buffy jolted into the present. “Tara’s got a headache. She wanted to stay in the fresh air so she’s searching for them outside.” Buffy could hear the snappish tone she was using but wasn’t sorry. Spike was annoying her and she wished he wouldn’t follow her everywhere she went. Why wouldn’t he leave her alone? Everyone knew she needed her own space. Xander and Willow had always known to leave her be when she was stressed.
“They won’t have gone far. Dawn knows how important it is to us for Eric to have the bloody Sylvamalkyn that’s hanging about in my head.”
Buffy turned away from the searching blue gaze and busied herself putting away the packets of washing powder and softener that Dawn had left strewn around. She felt sick -guessed it was some overspill from Tara’s failed spell.
“So, are you going to tell me what you meant by wanting life to go back to what it was before? Before the Sylvamalkyn? Before going to the Father Christmas world? Or did you mean further back still? Before we fell in love? When you loved Angel?”
Buffy shrugged. Why did he keep asking these stupid questions? She could hear a roaring noise in her ears and was so tired. There was a pressure somewhere in her head that hurt. Stupid spell...stupid demons and stupid vampire. All she wanted was to lie down somewhere quiet and sleep and wake up to find her mom downstairs in the kitchen and Xander and Willow laughing and talking in the family room and....
“Believe what you want to believe. You always do. Everything’s always about Spike these days.”
Spike felt the pressure in his head increase. The aftermath of the failed spell was making him queasy. He wanted his nice quiet crypt, a bottle of Scotch and a pint of blood. A bitching match with the Slayer was not how he wanted to spend the rest of his evening.
“What? Oh great. Now I’m to blame? No good getting all huffy just because things haven’t gone your way. You were the girl who wanted me to get rid of the demon in the first place,” Spike snapped, striding up and down the basement, the swirl from his coat making dust bunnies leap on the floor. “I just wanted to sodding well leave town, which wouldn’t have been convenient because hey, I live here, but I thought that would help, but you were all, ‘oh no, Spike! I can’t live without you, Spike. Don’t do that, Spike. We’ll find a way!’ I was stupid enough to believe you.”
His falsetto tones dug like wire into her brain. How dare he make fun of her. She’d been trying to help him but now she had no idea why she’d bothered. She should have let him go: her life would be so simple without him. How could she ever have thought that they should be together? She must have been insane. She swayed for an instant, spun away from him, her hand flung out to balance herself and as it gripped the top of the washing machine her fingers curled round a stake lying on the battered top cover. Dawn must have taken it out of her jeans. And the roaring in her ears and the pressure in her head intensified. How good the stake felt: warm and comforting. How easy it would be to plunge it into Spike’s heart and then he’d be gone for good and all this anger, the arguments and disagreements would vanish in a puff of dust.
Behind her back, Spike suddenly vamped out as the roaring in his ears grew louder and louder - the back of the Slayer’s neck was suddenly exposed as her hair swung forward over her shoulders. Slender and white and so, so biteable.
He tensed every muscle in his body - all the old preparations for attack coming back so effortlessly and yes it would hurt, yes the chip would fire but he didn’t care....
And as he took a step forward, Buffy swung round, her hand lifted above her head, the stake poised, aimed straight at his heart!