Best Christmas Ever

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"Does it look okay?"

"It looks perfect. Now, come to bed," the latter words a growl.

Spike turned and glanced at his lover, arching a brow as he asked, "Did you just growl?"

The redhead felt a blush crossing her cheeks as she shook her head in denial. "Me growl? No. You must be hearing things, what with your old age and all."

"Better watch out, Willow, or someone's not going to be visited by Santa next week," Spike said, clucking his tongue as he finished hanging the last stocking from the mantle.

Willow snorted, raising her hand and saying, "Hello! Jewish!"

"Maybe, but I was told by a very reliable source that Christmas is still one of your favorite holidays," he said smugly as he surveyed his work. "Xander needs to keep his mouth shut," Willow muttered as she frowned at her lover. He was right, though. She'd always loved Christmas, much to her parents' disapproval. Of course, her parents had no idea that she was studying the Wiccan faith, so she supposed they'd be less horrified at the thought of her singing Christmas carols than of her practicing ceremonies they would consider pagan. She shook her head, deciding it was too late to think about anything except getting Spike into bed.

"Red, this is going to be the best Christmas ever," Spike declared as he fell onto the sofa beside her. He glanced at the redhead and saw her look at the fireplace, a sad _expression on her pretty face. He moved his arm around her shoulders and pulled her head to rest against him, knowing that this was going to be a tough year for her. Hell, it was going to be a tough year for all of them.

It had been a little over six months since Buffy had died. The first month had been the worst. With time, though, they had gradually moved on. He had watched as Willow had lost Tara, the other girl frightened from the entire experience with Glory. He had watched as Willow had become a mother and sister to Dawn, being strong for the younger girl. He had watched as the redhead had given the entire group the much-needed push into living again. And, along the way, he had fallen in love with her. True, a part of him would always love Buffy, something that he still couldn't understand but had finally accepted. He couldn't imagine his life without Willow, though. Buffy had been right. She'd told him once that Willow was their strength. It had taken him another month to convince the redhead to give him a chance. It had been so soon after Buffy's death that she had been cautious, worried, and reluctant to accept his words of devotion. Then one day, she'd taken his hand and smiled and he'd known then that she loved him. He hated seeing sadness in her eyes, that being one reason for his sudden desire to turn their house into a Christmas showcase. He might have loved Buffy, but he hadn't been as close to her as the others. Now it was his time to be their strength, to get them through the holidays with as much enjoyment and good memories as possible. Strangely enough, he didn't mind being cast in that role. It was nice being needed.

"Buffy loved Christmas," Willow whispered as she watched the flames flicker.

"Did she?" he asked softly, his left hand stroking her soft hair as she spoke.

Willow nodded, "That's what makes it so hard. I see the gifts under the tree and realize that there isn't one for her. She'll never unwrap another present or sing awful Christmas songs or watch Xander do his snoopy dance."

"I don't know about that," Spike said after a moment of silence. He felt Willow look at him and smiled softly, "I'm sure she's here now, admiring the decorations. Probably thinking how nicely the stockings are hung. She's pleased that there are so many gifts under the tree for her friends, happy because you all are happy and alive. Willow, honey, she wouldn't want you to be so unhappy on her favorite holiday."

"I miss her," Willow whispered as she wiped away a tear. "You're right, though. She is here. There are times that I can feel her, and it's like she's hugging me and then I know that everything is going to be okay. She wants us to be happy. She knows that I'll never forget her."

"None of us will," Spike said, brushing his lips over her wet cheek.

"Every day that we live is another day that she lives, in a way," Willow said thoughtfully. "Her memory lives on in us."

"Yeah, it does," Spike agreed, glad to see some of the sadness replaced by happiness.

"I think she approves of us," Willow whispered as she looked up at him. "When we first started dating, I was confused and uncertain and worried that I was just second choice and letting my insecurities convince me that you could never love me, and I felt her. That was when I realized that I had fallen in love with you somewhere over the days. I knew that I wasn't second choice, that you were sincere. I don't know, I might just be crazy. It's comforting to think that she still watches over us."

"Well, I, for one, am thrilled that she was able to override those insecurities of yours," Spike said with a loving smile.

"I'm sure you'd have worn them away soon enough," Willow said with a smile as she leaned up and kissed him briefly. "I love you."

"Probably not as much as I love you," he responded.

"Thanks for this," Willow gestured around the overly decorated room. Buffy would have loved it. The tree was huge, every branch decorated by the gang the previous Saturday. Knick-knacks, garlands, stockings, and other festive decorations covered the tables, walls, and doorways. There was mistletoe hanging from the both doorways, as well as above the bed in their room, though the last bit of information was a bit more personal. Normally, she might have thought it was overkill, but now she thought that it was just perfect. Spike had been perfect.

"It's nothing," he said as leaned back against the couch, glad that she liked his efforts.

"It's everything," Willow corrected, leaning up to kiss him again. As soon as their lips touched, she heard the front door open. Voices came to her as she pulled back, giving him a sheepish smile. "Guess bed is gonna have to wait," she whispered before looking at the doorway and smiling, "Hey guys."

"Wow, this place looks great," Xander said as he took off his coat. He moved to the fireplace, noticing the stockings and moving his fingers over the names. "Look Anya, we have stockings."

"That means presents, doesn't it?" Anya said with a pleased smile as she laid her coat over Xander's. She saw Xander look at her and smile the largest smile she'd seen in weeks. She sighed softly, her finger moving over her engagement ring as she again thanked every God she knew for giving her this man. She looked at Spike, gratitude in her eyes as she said, "Thanks."

"Look here," Willow said as she got to her feet, moving to point out at several of the brightly wrapped gifts that Spike had already put under the tree.

Spike watched her and smiled, answering Anya, "What can I say? They need us."

"Oh, can we watch a movie?" Dawn asked as she made her way into the living room. She'd had dinner with Xander and Anya, staying later than normal so that Willow and Spike could have some alone time. She knew it must be tough for both of them to have her around constantly, though neither would ever admit that fact. They'd become her parents over the last year, and she didn't want them to ever regret their position in her life.

"I can make some popcorn," Willow said, smiling at Dawn as she moved to hug the girl. "Why don't we watch "It's a Wonderful Life"? It was Buffy's favorite. Maybe she'd want to see it again."

Dawn smiled and nodded, hugging Willow a bit tighter before moving to the movie cabinet. "Yeah, it can't be Christmas without watching it at least once. I'll get it and then call Giles. He wouldn't want to miss this."

"Oh, and afterwards, we can watch Charlie Brown. No Christmas is complete without the snoopy dance," Xander declared loftily.

Willow leaned over the back of the couch as Xander started to practice his dance, watching as Anya was reluctantly dragged into the middle of the floor to learn the dance. Dawn was laughing as she searched for the movie. Willow hugged Spike, whispering, "I think Buffy's here right now and that this is the best present she could hope for."

"Need some help with that popcorn?" Spike asked, thinking that stolen kisses in the kitchen wouldn't be bad.

"No, but thanks," Willow kissed him softly and smiled, "You're right. It's going to the best Christmas ever."