There's a hole in the sky. Oh, it's more complicated than that, as Willow explains a few hours before, over hot cocoa while the others do something arcane and mysterious in the living room. All he knows is that it's magic and involves something that eventually drives him outside, escaping the fumes of sulphur and holly, mixing in unholy union. Good natured laughter chases after him, momentarily warming him the way the winter coat he wraps around himself doesn't.
Christmas in England is cold. Witch-tit cold, as Spike would say if Willow hadn't threatened black-eyed murder the first time it crossed his lips.
It's an appropriate euphemism as the chill arrows through wool coat, wool sweater, and cotton undershirt with the precision of a Robin Hood, everything that can raise up in supplication doing so. He probably looks like a frightened dog, hackling at the sky, or he would if the coat wasn't matched by hat and gloves. Spike calls him a mummy every time he sees him bundled up this way, but he hasn't once moved from the cozy fire Willow lit for him, buried in blankets up to his nose so that only his eyes are visible. He looks like a child, innocent and sweet in ways Xander knows damned well he's not—
Except when he is. Like now. The murdering, mayhem-loving, evil vampire Willow drinks hot toddies with and gushes over British foods Xander doesn't understand is more innocent than Xander, right now. Because it's Christmas.
Xander heads to the field Willow took him to that morning, to point out where it is. She knows, of course. In his less charitable moments, Xander thinks the whole purpose of bringing them out here is just to make Xander lose fingers and toes doing what he always does at Christmas time. Except then he looks up and the less charitable parts of him melt in the cold fire of starlight.
It's partially magical and partially just a physical anomaly, but for whatever reason, if you stand just so in a field of something entirely blanketed in snow, you can see the sky. Not like Xander sees it at home, weak pinpricks of light fighting through lightyears of time and distance just to be brought short by man-made greed for newer, faster, more more more. To the left and the right of him, Xander can see the pollution. It's not as thick as at home, turning the sky a murky yellowy brown almost all year round, but it's still there, a film that lays over the night sky, like chocolate only gross.
Just not above him.
Above him, stars shine down with a brilliance Xander hasn't believed possible until this moment. It's not a few occasional moments of clarity, either, an unrecognized constellation blurring into one he knows, but can't remember the name for. There are thousands of stars above him, blinking and winking their way across galaxies to dance around Xander like fireflies. His arms creak when he extends them, but the cold is forgotten as Xander twirls himself around the way he used to, as a child, the air giving like a lover, before rushing back up to cradle him.
Like this, he can almost forget.
It's been decades, of course. He's not a young man, for all Spike twits him that his presence keeps Xander young. It's been many Christmases since the ones in he thinks of now, Christmases spent happy and sad, with loved ones and without—but these memories persist. Each time he mentally reboots and reformats, these bits of data never let themselves get written over, always around to remind him of a time when Christmas was the worst day of the year, second only to New Years—because on New Years the ‘kids' were sent away. Xander had called himself a child long after he should've, to keep that reprieve.
He's not a kid, hasn't been since before he breached the chronological thresholds, but he still doesn't know how to shake it. The pain is as fresh and real as when he was seven and learned the hard way that the best Christmases were spent away from the annual family gatherings, tucked up in blankets with cool-but-not-cold California air playing games with his hair while the stars watched over him.
The need to be over this is so bad it's an ache. He wants to be back inside, laughing with the friends he hasn't seen in so long, a casual, competent, confident adult who knows his worth and the worth of his friends. And when it's not Christmas, he knows all that.
During Christmas, he's still waiting for one of the stars to detach from the sky and come stay with him, keeping him safe and warm from the kinds of things kids can't fight. An angel, but he doesn't believe in those, not since he learned that since Willow was Jewish, she didn't believe in angels. Willow is his lodestone, his pointer, the ruler against which he measures his life, even to this day.
So Xander sways to a rhythm he can almost hear, playing catch-me-if-you-can with moonbeams, and tries to remember that he's out here by choice, and there're people waiting for him back in Willow's house, if he wants. No sleeping bag, no drunken shouts, since Willow doesn't allow anything more than a slightly alcoholic egg nog, nothing but warmth and safety and love.
He doesn't know how to go back.
The snow is trampled into icy puddles, a misshapen circle surrounding him, marking him as the lunatic dancing with nothing on Christmas eve, but he can't stop. Not until he knows how to let these memories go, to forget the hurts and remember the joys. He knows that Willow is worried about him, knows she wants more than anything to give him the peace he craves—
"Not like that, love," comes a whispery voice, startling him so badly he nearly falls. "Like this."
Hands wrapped up in leather take his, pulling them into the proper position, his feet automatically following. He's whirled around in a proper waltz step, and for a moment he thinks the angels he can't believe in really do exist, because who else is going to come out on a blistery cold night when presents beckon from underneath the tree in a warm, cozy little room?
Strong hands push his head down to rest against a shoulder, too short to be comfortable but so familiar he nearly sobs. "Spike."
"Red told me."
He's not sure if he's upset or not. "It's not a secret."
"No. It's worse than." They're still dancing. Xander's feet are wet, water seeping past insulated plastic and rubber to make his socks heavy and his feet numb. "It's a memory."
"How is that worse than a secret?"
"Because a secret can be shared, love, and shared again until there are enough shoulders to heft the load so that yours can stop hurting. But a memory ... no one knows that but you. You can tell other people about it, try and explain all the twists and turns it's taken in your head, but you can't truly ever get it out."
That prompts Xander to lift his head, watching eyes gone shadowed black in the night. "What's your memory?"
Spike’s expression is fond. "Dancing. Drusilla. The way the starlight would shatter like glass when it struck her hair. Her eyes would light up and she'd beg me to whirl her around until she couldn't tell where the earth and the sky were supposed to be anymore."
Xander stops dancing. Pulling Spike into his arms, bulky coat mating to bulky coat, he leans forward for the kind of kiss he's only just now realized he badly wants. "Spike?"
"Whirl me around, please? I want to dance in the sky."