“Isn’t this tree a bit too big, Spike?”
Spike tilted his head back. “I can see the top.”
“But can you reach it? The apartment has eight foot ceilings; then there’s the bucket it goes in, the star on the top – we need something around six foot, max. This is more like nine.”
Spike pouted. “Like this one. It’s a good shape; not all spindly. Some of them look as if the needles’d fall off before we got it home.”
Xander shushed him frantically. Spike’s voice had risen accusingly and the owner of the Christmas tree lot was glaring at them.
“What? Bloke’s charging six dollars a foot for firewood, he can expect to get complaints.”
Xander looked around and saw a section they hadn’t explored, far enough away from the cash register to be out of earshot unless Spike started shouting. And if he did that...Xander frowned. The best way to shut Spike up wasn’t really possible in public, though there had been that one time behind the Bronze...
“Let’s look over here,” he said, tugging at Spike’s arm. “I have a good feeling about Row G.”
Spike let himself be dragged down a narrow corridor, walled in with dark green branches that gave off a spicy scent, sharp and clean. A faint glow from the street lights was all that illuminated this section, which was probably why people had avoided it; you didn’t live long in this town if you made a habit of going into dark alleys, no matter how good they smelled.
“This one.” Spike stopped, looked up and sighed. “Perfect.”
Xander came up behind him and slid his arms around his waist. “Hey, not bad. Pricey but it comes in a bucket. And I can trim some off the bottom if we need to.”
Spike growled. “You are not pruning it to a twig. Tool-happy maniac!”
“Fine. We’ll bend it in half then. Start a new trend. U-shaped trees.”
Spike stared at it. “It’ll fit just right,” he said with certainty.
“What makes you say that?”
Spike turned, locking his hands behind Xander’s neck and pulling him in for a kiss from lips as cool as freshly-fallen snow. “Because this is our first Christmas together and everything’s going to be perfect.” He paused as if he were listening to a mocking echo of his words. “I just buggered everything up, didn’t I?”
Xander looked around him, as if expecting every needle to fall in a gentle patter of green rain. “Maybe no one heard you?”
“Yeah, right. Evil has big ears you know.”
They bought the tree anyway and lashed it to the roof of Xander’s car. It probably had been too big, but as a van, skidding in the rain that had begun to fall, took off the top two feet of it, that wasn’t a problem. The shape of the tree was.
“I’ve never seen a tree that comes to a plateau, not a point,” Xander said, tilting his head and squinting at it doubtfully.
“Means the ornaments won’t fall off,” Spike said.
The thought of the serried ranks of lights and baubles, wrapped lovingly in tissue paper, nestled snugly in sturdy boxes, made Xander smile. “There’s this really cute one I made in kindergarten; it was supposed to be a reindeer but the antlers fell off, so –”
Spike frowned, looking around the room and not seeing anything that looked like it would hold ornaments. “Wouldn’t that be back at your mum and dad’s place though?”
Xander stared at him. “Of course not – why should – oh, shit, yes of course it is! What am I thinking?” He sank down on the carpet, wincing as a pine needle wormed its way through jeans and boxers and jabbed his backside. “I’m so used to Mom doing it all – well, decorating anyway, that I forgot. We don’t have anything to put on the tree.”
“We used to put candles on it,” Spike said wistfully.
“Hello? Smoke detectors!” Xander snapped. “Unless you want to spend Boxing Day sleeping in the gutter because we burned the apartment down...”
Spike’s lower lip pushed out. “Listen, mate; it was your idea to have a tree, to have all the trimmings, make this Christmas special. I’m an evil, undead creature of the night, remember? Not so big on goodwill to all men. I’m doing this for you.”
“For me?” Xander drew breath, fully prepared to remind certain vampires of just who had been making mornings hideous with off-key renditions of carols in the shower and filling the fridge with eggnog in a suspicious shade of red. He stopped, closed his mouth and reached out, pulling Spike down onto the carpet beside him.
“You’ve been doing this for me?” he said, taking all the bite out of his voice.
Spike’s eyes dropped and then he smiled. “Little bit for me, too,” he confessed.
Xander kissed him. The ceiling was dotted with mistletoe, so it was likely he was under some, but it didn’t matter. He didn’t need an excuse to kiss Spike, just a spare half hour or so, because when he kissed him – like this – when Spike kissed him back –like that – when they both found themselves lying down, hands busy, clothes vanishing...
A sock landed on a lower branch, clung and dangled down. Three more followed it and then the tree swayed gently as two shirts floated through the air, spreading out in a flutter of cotton, before coming to rest. The boughs of the tree dipped and straightened and the jeans, mercifully weighed down by keys, loose change and assorted hardware as they were, slid under the tree to catch the sprinkle of needles escaping the onslaught.
One pair of boxers snagged on a spike of wood protruding up, jagged and sharp; the remnants of the top of the tree, wrapping around it and making it safe.
When Spike and Xander had finished what the kiss had started, when hearts that beat had slowed and bodies at room temperature had turned warm from friction, they saw the tree.
“Did we do that?” Xander asked, his voice uncertain.
Spike looked at it. “Dunno.” He tugged at a sock. “Oh, fuck!”
It landed on Xander because he jumped under it to save Spike, who’d already seen that it would miss Xander and had rolled out of the way to save himself.
By the time they’d untangled most of the clothes, propped it back up and vacuumed – even though it wasn’t the first Tuesday of the month – the tree looked battered.
By the time Twelfth Night came and the sparse, hastily scavenged decorations had to come down, it was drooping, but valiantly clinging to life. In fact, as Xander discovered when he took it down to the garbage, it had cost so much because it was rooted; a living tree, not a dying one, one that could be replanted, one that could continue to give back to the earth that had produced it.
Except it was wilting and broken, bare in places and with a sock still wrapped around its trunk.
Xander took it over to Buffy’s and planted it in a sunny corner anyway.
Even dead things deserved a chance to live.
After half a mile, he remembered zombie cats, people who had been in heaven and a certain experiment Dawn had confessed to late one night, turned around and went back to it.
Recycling was part of nature too.
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