full 3/4 1/2   skin light dark       
Santa Claws by Lilachigh
Chp 20 Showdown

Santa Claws  by  Lilachigh


Chapter 20    Showdown



For a split second neither Buffy nor Spike moved - they could both smell death in the basement air, as icy cold and damp as the ocean, freezing their brains, stopping all rational thought. She refused to look away from the golden eyes, the fangs, the -  oh - how ridiculous to worry about such a stupid thing when she was just about to kill him - a small green bug was crawling across the platinum curls and she couldn’t understand why her fingers wanted to flick it off.


Suddenly a rip of light burnt inside her brain, carving a small bright path through the black clouds of weariness, hate and distrust. Buffy swayed slightly, fighting to keep the stake from starting on its downward journey into Spike’s heart.  This was madness - because she remembered - how had she forgotten! -  that this was the man she loved!  Loved with all her heart, body and soul - and OK, perhaps he didn’t have a soul to match her own, but he was still hers, all hers and she would never give him up.   But...but...even as she thought it, a cloud of despair and anger swept over her again, the clouds fogging her mind.


Spike struggled for control.  This was the woman he loved: how the sodding hell had he even thought of biting her?  Suddenly everything seemed very clear - these other feelings were not his own.  Someone, some thing, was causing him to doubt. This was what had happened before Christmas when they'd first gone to the Santa Claus world, when all their feelings had been manipulated and he'd almost fed off Xander.


Buffy could have sworn she feel water lapping at her feet as she stared into the vampire’s golden eyes - eyes that were suddenly very blue and wide and gazing not at her neck, but behind her...


“Uggh. My feet are soaking!”


“Bubbles, Buffy.  Hundreds of bubbles. Hey, Slayer, I think your washing machine has gone to the big laundry in the sky.”


Buffy leapt forward, away from the surging foam coming out of the machine, automatically slipping the stake back into her waistband, reaching out just as automatically to catch Spike’s hands as he turned and half threw, half carried her up the basement steps.  The draught of their passing caused the bubbles to fly everywhere, a snowstorm of soap.


Sitting on the stairs, gazing down at her ruined basement, Buffy glanced at her lover and wondered what the heck had just happened. All the fear and anger and tension had vanished as if it had never been. She was just desperately tired, bone weary, all she wanted to do was crawl into bed with Spike and not come out for a week.  Perhaps two! 

She smiled.  “You’ve got foam in your hair.”


Spike brushed it away, then caught up a handful from the step and daubed it on her face. “Now we match, pet, and that’s in punishment for waving a stake at me.”


Buffy frowned. “What the heck was I doing?” She shuddered.  If it hadn’t been for the bug, would she have staked Spike?  “There was a bug - in your hair - “ she tried to explain, half to Spike, half to herself why such a silly, domestic problem could have saved them.


He wrapped his arm tightly round her waist and held her close until he felt the tension begin to drain from her body.  “I’ve no idea what’s you’re talking about, Slayer, but if a bug saved me from becoming dust, then perhaps I should get one tattooed somewhere that only you can see.”


She grinned at the images that rocketed through her head then frowned again, “But Spike, something happened to us.  We can’t just ignore it. It was as my brain wasn’t my own any more. What if it happens again?  How can something make me forget I love you? Or that you love me?  And we’ve still got to find Dawn and Eric.”


Spike stood up, pulling her to her feet. “The kids will be fine. I trust Dawn to look after herself and Eric. I know you still think she’s a baby, but she’s grown up a lot recently.  And we didn’t forget we loved each other - something blocked it in our heads, just as it did back in the Santa Claus world, but more so - your love for me broke through the block and I don’t think whatever - whoever - is doing it will find it so easy a second time.”


“Oh sure, Dawn’s so grown up she can’t remember how much soap to put in the washing machine, but hey, protecting herself and Eric from all the nasties out there in Sunnydale - no problem!  Right - you said whatever or whoever was doing this. Do you mean...” Her voice trailed away and from the look on his face she knew his thoughts mirrored her own.


“She’s strong enough, pet.  And I reckon with all that old magic around that Tara was using, she could have muffled our feelings in some weird way.”


“She wouldn’t,” Buffy went on, but even she could hear the lack of conviction in her voice. “Jeez, I know she finds it hard to stay away from the spells and charms, but she knows what it does to her. Willow might be many things, but she’s not stupid.”


Stupid, no, Spike thought grimly. But there are far worse things than stupidity where powerful witches are involved and jealousy was one of those.  Oh, he knew she wasn’t jealous of him and he didn’t even think that she loved Buffy in the same way she loved Tara, no, this was a jealousy of their being together, of not playing an important role in Buffy’s life.  And in some weird, terrifying way, it reminded him of the way Giles felt and acted these days.


“Well, whatever she is, we’re not going to find out by standing here admiring the bubbles in your basement. Let’s go find out, Slayer.”  He held out his hand, sensing her reluctance to face up to the truth once and for all.  He knew that she’d long ago ceased to completely trust Willow - sensed the pain losing that trust had caused. He’d guessed, better late than never, that the witch would do her utmost to split him away from Buffy, but even he hadn’t thought she would go this far - making them want to kill each other.


“Perhaps we’re wrong,” Buffy said quietly but he could hear that she didn’t believe there was any doubt.


Hand in had they left the flooded basement and headed upstairs. The Ravello backyard was still deeply shaded by the trees that surrounded it, but the sky to the east was a myriad shade of peach and apricot. The sun was nearly up - and Buffy wondered suddenly if Tara could attempt the Sylvamalkyn spell in daylight or would they have to wait through till night fell again. And what if she failed again?  Uneasily, she scanned the thick branches above her head.  Was Eric’s mother perched up there in the high tops, waiting for her son to become a full Sylvamalkyn?  And what would she do if that didn’t happen?


Suddenly the bushes at the end of the yard parted and, to her relief, Eric, Dawn and Tara appeared. She took a deep breath, about to yell when Spike’s hand tightened warningly on her arm.  And a second look at their faces told her now wasn’t the time for dire warnings about wandering off and getting lost.


“Buffy!  Listen, Eric says... why have you got foam in your hair?”


“I can see these two ladies...”


“Buffy, Spike, something very odd is happening...”


“OK, OK, slow down everyone.  Tara, what’s up?”


Her friend pushed back the thick amber hair from a face that was creased with worry.  “Buffy...I realised that someone was interfering with the spell - at first I’d imagined I just wasn’t clever enough, then I knew it wasn’t that. And Eric can see someone - a woman - and Buffy, I think it must be Willow because I don’t know of anyone else who could do it. I’m so, so sorry, Spike. I know you were relying on me.”


Spike waved away her apologies. “Don’t beat yourself up about it.”


“But how can Eric see her if we can’t?” Buffy asked.


“He’s a child and half demon as well.  I think whatever spell Willow is using to keep herself invisible, it doesn’t work well on children.”


“So if we get Will to show herself and stop interfering, you can try again to switch the Sylvamalkyn demon from Spike to Eric?”


Tara nodded, looking unhappy: she knew what was coming next.


“OK.”  Buffy strode into the centre of the yard where the copper bowl and the remains of the failed Sylvamalkyn spell still sat: she turned slowly on the spot, her gaze raking the bushes, the trees, searching in the early morning light for any sign on the grass that an invisible someone was standing there.   “Willow!  Please, we know you’re here. Just show yourself. We need to talk. This isn’t doing any good.  Will - please!”


She glanced back to where the others were standing on the porch steps - Tara biting her lip, Dawn and Eric whispering together, Spike scowling, hands thrust deep in his jeans’ pockets, casting an occasional look at the sky, measuring where the sun would appear over the tops of the trees. Even in this faint light, she could see the silver sheen of the Sylvamalkyn hairs on his face.


“Eric says she’s over there!”  Dawn said suddenly and pointed to the far side of the yard.


Buffy swung round, but there was nothing to see.   


“The other lady is here too,” the little boy piped up. “The one wearing a funny hat. She’s angry - they’re both angry. Real mad.”


Buffy bent down to Eric. “Is this the truth?  You’re not story-telling?”


The half demon boy shook his head.  “I don’t know why you can’t see them or hear them, but they’re having an awful big argument.”


Buffy looked up helplessly at Spike.  “Who’s the other woman?  And what the heck is going on?”...........


Fury - hot, corrosive, acid sharp -  had flowed through Willow when Buffy and Spike came out of the house together. She’d been so certain that her interference charm would break them up - in the same way it had destroyed Tara’s ability to cast the Sylvamalkyn spell.  Admittedly, she hadn’t intended to go so far; she’d just wanted to keep Spike as a half panther demon, knowing that he would leave Sunnydale for good if that happened. There was no way he would put Buffy and Dawn in danger.  But somehow, when she tapped into Tara’s magic, she realised how incredibly powerful it could be and that with her own skills unleashed, she could probably make Buffy stake Spike and rid him from her life for ever.


A shimmering of gold and silver stars suddenly filled her vision and she felt a deep trembling under her feet and there in front of her stood Anya, wearing a green tunic, red and white striped tights and a long pointed green hat with a red bobble on the end.


Willow stared in astonishment: Anya, even with the shimmer of magic around her she was clearly visible to her, but obviously not to Buffy, Spike and the others in the back yard who were still gazing round, confused and puzzled.  “What the heck are you doing here?”  She gazed round wildly. “Is Xander here too?”


Anya shook her head.  “Xander can’t leave the Santa Claus world until his time is up. But I volunteered to join him of my own free will, so the rule doesn’t apply to me. I’ve read all the small print in the contract very carefully. I mean, that’s why they print it, for people to read.  And as for what I’m doing, I’d have thought that was obvious, Willow. I’m trying to stop you killing yourself by using this old magic.”


The red-head laughed, but it wasn’t a happy sound.  “Anya, you’d be only too delighted if I killed myself. And what’s with the pixie outfit?  Don’t tell me you’ve got poor Xander wearing those ridiculous clothes, too.”


Anya sniffed disdainfully. “This is the proper uniform for the role and work I undertake in the world of Christmas. It is comfortable, warm and drip-dry. However Xander only wears the official ceremonial robes at Christmas time and I think they look very becoming. Red is a good color for him.”


The witch shrugged. “OK, none of that matters to me. But what gives you the right to interfere now?  Isn’t being with Xander in your own little happy world enough for you?”


“I’ve told you already - you’re killing yourself with this type of magic and yes, as you rightly say, if you died, I’d only be sorry for a few hours or so - perhaps five -  but Xander would be broken-hearted and so it’s important to me that you don’t die.  And anyway, why are you so determined to break up Buffy and Spike?”


“It’s for their own good.  Well, it’s for Buffy’s good.  She doesn’t understand what she’s doing, getting involved with Spike.  He’ll ruin her life.”


“So why not confront her, face to face? Tell her what you think? Or are you scared of what she’ll say?”


Willow laughed again, the scorn she felt flicked acid at the ex-demon.  “Anya, there is nothing I’m scared of in any world you can imagine!”


“Right. Then tell Buffy what you think!”   And with a click of her fingers on both hands, the invisibility shield broke into a thousand shimmering pieces.


The first thing Spike sensed when Willow and Anya appeared in front of them was the jolt of sheer hurt that powered through Buffy.  He knew that logically she’d known that her best friend was involved but seeing her there, a look of disdain mixed with fear on her face made it a truth that no amount of denial would alter.


“Anya - what the hell - nice hat!”


“Spike - Buffy - Dawn - hi, Tara.”


“Will - “ Buffy stepped forward, one hand out-stretched towards her friend. “I don’t understand. Why would you do this?”


An odd smile curved Willow’s lips.  “Buffy, you just won’t listen to reason - I had to stop you from having this bizarre relationship with Spike.  It’s wrong, totally and utterly wrong.  He needs to be out of your life and this seemed like a good way of getting that done.”


“But Willow, why do you think you should decide what’s right for me?  I’ve never interfered in your life this way.”


“Perhaps you’ve never cared enough about me to bother.”


“What?  Jeez,Will, you’re my best friend.”


“Best friends worry about each other. They tell each other the truth, even if it hurts.  What I’m telling you about Spike is the truth, but you won’t listen. Spike leaving town as a Sylvamalkyn demon seemed like a good idea.  And it would have worked if Anya hadn’t interfered.”


“Me?  I didn’t do anything.  I was going to but the charm was already smashed by the time I arrived.”


Buffy shook her head impatiently. “We’d already broken the spell. Love’s a pretty powerful antidote to the magic you were using on us. And that’s what you just don’t get, Will.  I love Spike, he loves me.  It’s simple, straightforward and not up for discussion.”


There was an uneasy silence, then Tara said softly, “And what about me?  You tell me you love me, Willow, but apparently you don’t mind making me look stupid and helpless by interfering with my spell.  Where’s the love in that?”


“Tara, sweetheart - “


“And you promised you wouldn’t use magic again.  And this old magic is so dangerous, so unpredictable when you play around with it.  Willow, it could kill you.”


“That’s exactly why I’m here,” Anya said.  “Xander’s worried.”


Willow laughed. “Oh jeez, I’m so touched!  Everyone’s suddenly worried about me, when they should be worrying about the Slayer living with a vampire.  And I know the old magic is dangerous, but hey, that’s half the fun, don’t you all see that?  Every time I merge my own powers with it, well, wow, you’ve no idea what happens to my mind.  I can do anything, go anywhere, change everything!”


“And is that what you want?”  Spike said dryly, taking a few steps backwards so he was sheltered by branches from the rising sun.


Willow shot him a vicious look.  “Of course I do.  None of you can imagine what I could achieve.  Buffy dusts a few vampires and demons and everyone thinks she’s wonderful, special, but I could rid the whole world of every vampire and demon if I could just find the right combination of spells and you all want me to give up, fail before I start.”


“You can’t treat old magic like that,” Tara said desperately.  “Please, Will, think what you’re doing.”


“All she’s doing so far is to try and stop Eric getting back with his mom,” Dawn said angrily. “You’re all forgetting Eric.”


Buffy felt a shudder of guilt wash over her. Dawn was right - all she’d been worried about was getting Spike back in one piece. She’d quite forgotten that Eric was waiting, desperate to become a whole Sylvamalkyn, to live with his mother.  The little boy was the one who was suffering the most. 


“Sorry, Dawn. You’re right. OK, Will.  Look, just let Tara do the charm to get the demon out of Spike and into Eric  and we can discuss the rest of the magic business again.”


The red-head shook her head stubbornly. “It’s wrong - you’ll just go back to Spike. I won’t let you, Buffy, and I’ll do everything I can to stop Tara.  You’ll thank me one day.”


Tara whirled round to Buffy, her amber hair flying loose from its braid.  “I can’t stop her if she tries to take over.  I’m sorry, I’m just not strong enough - or ruthless enough. There’s nothing that can prevent her from doing exactly what she wants about the Sylvamalkyn spell.”


“I can!”  Anya broke in, her voice steady, her face serious in contrast to the elf costume she was wearing.  “One of the places where you can’t use old magic is Father Christmas land. The magic there is older still - no one taps into it. No one knows how.  And if there’s one person who can make Willow see sense, it’s my Xander.”


Buffy frowned. “But he can’t leave until his time is up.” 


Anya nodded. “But I can. My contract is quite explicit, even in the small print. I stayed with Xander as an act of free will and so I can leave - as long as I find a replacement. And so - “ She spun round and Willow, understanding crossing her face in horror, shouted “No!” but it was too late. Anya made a complicated gesture with her fingers and Willow vanished in a shimmer of green lights.


There was a long silence, then Dawn whispered, “Oh Anya, what have you done?”


The ex-demon brushed green lights from the tips of her fingers with her back to them so they couldn’t see her expression. Then she turned round and forced a smile. “Willow has taken my place with Xander.  I think it will help.  Even though I hate to say it, he knows how to get through to her, so perhaps he can make her see sense. And if not, then at least she isn’t here to upset Tara’s spell and spoil Eric’s reunion with his mom.”


“But you love Xander! How can you bear to do this?”

"Xander and I have learnt a lot living in that other universe. Father Christmas, Santa Claus, call him what you like, but most people seem to stop believing in him when they grow up. And that's plain stilly, but never mind. At the end of the day, he's all about love and giving with love. That's what Xander and I decided to do for Willow. And it's useful that no actual money has to change hands."


Anya smiled wearily at Dawn and pulled off her elf hat, aware that she would never need to wear it again. She knew Buffy, Spike and Tara understood the price she’d paid, what this act could cost her, and only hoped they thought it worth it.  Perhaps Dawn would learn one day that when you loved, you would give everything in your power to make that person happy.  So she had given a few months of her life with Xander to a rival.  Perhaps he and Willow would get together and she would lose him, but at the end of the day, his happiness was what was important. 


Fifteen hours later, the Sylvamalkyn demons crouched high in the trees above Buffy’s home, watched as Tara once again lit the cauldron in the middle of the yard and the magic flames began to leap and dance.  Anya joined in the circle and felt the old magic begin to stir, leap and power out from Tara towards Spike.  She guessed she was the only person there who could imagine what the demon inside him was experiencing as it was pulled from him and transferred into the small boy to join with its kin there.


For a minute, Eric sat, flames dancing on his head, then suddenly, he leapt to his feet, broke the circle of hands, threw back his head and a growl broke from his mouth and silver hair began to grown over his face and arms.  Answering howls echoed from the trees above and as the others backed away from him, a pack of Sylvamalkyns came swooping down from the sky, barking and growling, fangs glistening, claws gleaming. 


With a shout that still sounded more little boy than panther, Eric leapt into the arms of the tall female demon who sniffed him carefully, then threw him up, up and away into the trees. The pack vanished after him and she turned to follow, then stopped.  Cautiously, she held out her front paws, claws retracted, towards Buffy and Spike.  For a few seconds they touched her, acknowledging her unspoken thanks, and then she was gone, leaping away into the tall trees, her howls of delight and triumph marking her journey away from Revello Drive.


An hour later, Buffy was standing at her bedroom window, her body aching from the passionate sex she and Spike had just experienced. The moon was shining in, bathing her lover’s body sprawled naked across the bed with silver light, but this time there were no pelt, no claws or fangs.


“Do you think Eric will be OK?” she murmured and Spike gazed blearily up at her, then blinked, swung himself off the bed and stood behind her at the window, his hands cupping her breasts.


“He’ll be fine, pet. Have the time of this life, I reckon.  Back with his mum, a young panther with the whole world to explore.  I think I’m jealous.”


Buffy reached behind her and rubbed her hand across him.


“Well, maybe not that jealous,” Spike groaned, into her hair.


“And Willow?”


“That’s one person we’re not going to talk about tonight, Slayer.  We can do nothing to help her, but perhaps Xander can.  Don’t envy him the job.”


“It’s odd, I’ve just realised everything that’s happened is because people love each other. Even Dawn got to love Eric and is upset because he’s gone.”


Spike grinned.  “I think she enjoyed being a big sister for once, instead of the problem teenage one.”


Buffy groaned. “Jeez, I’d forgotten about the flood in the basement!  We won’t have any clean clothes to wear if I don’t get it sorted.”


Spike nuzzled at her bare shoulder, enjoying the helpless wriggle she always gave when he kissed her back.  “Prefer you without clothes anyway, Slayer.”


Buffy took a final glance out of the window at the empty yard, the gently swaying trees, and everything bathed in moonlight.  “Poor Anya. I wonder what she’ll do now.”


Spike yawned and pulled her back to bed.  “She’ll wait for him, of course.  Just as I’d wait for you. But - “ and just before his mouth closed possessively over hers - “Luckily I don’t have to!”