The Kitten, the Witches and the Bad Wardrobe - Willow & Tara Forever

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 Post subject: A Holiday Fic: A Sunnydale Carol
PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2002 6:53 pm 
Okay we're back in a Kerry and Katharyn co-production.... What is that you say? "Speech, Speech"?
Okay...

Kerry’s Speech

As a little Christmas/Yule/Chanukah/Seasonal/Holiday present for all the Kittens out there, Katharyn and I have put together a bit of W/T festive goodness to hopefully amuse and entertain you.

Thanks to everybody who has posted on this board, the artists, the writers, the Moderators and their minions, in short - everyone who has made this a very special place to be. [A special thanks to Julia who provided the date for Yule in 2001 - thanks Dumbsaint!]

Forrister (The elf in the festive trench helmet)

Katharyn’s Speech

What Kerry said… with festive bells on. Merry Xmas one and all and compliments of the season to those who have other beliefs.

Katharyn (Well if she’s the elf then I better be the nymph…)

*************************

Title: A Sunnydale Carol (Chapter 1 of 9)
Author: Forrister & Katharyn Rosser
Feedback: Constructive criticism is always welcome
Spoiler Warning: Very limited, set around Christmas in Season 5 between “Into the Woods” & “Triangle.” Spoilers to that point. Reference to a dream sequence from “The Body” but only referring to Xmas, not the events of that episode.
Summary: Everyone is making plans – good and bad
Disclaimer: We don’t own anything to do with the Buffy shows and are making zilch from this except the rush of feedback.
Rating: PG13
Couples: As standard nothing strange!
Notes: The parts of this fic, technology allowing, will be posted daily (as it is already complete!) up to Christmas so check back often. Obviously this may limit the feedback that might occur between updates but feel free to comment on earlier parts if you want… we love feedback.
We have taken a slight liberty with the Spike/Dawn storyline in S5. This version does not go against canon but we have worked on the basis that it was a developing thing over time.
Thanks To: From Katharyn - Kerry for the idea that sat behind this whole thing, this is her gig… I’m just along for the ride, L as always. From Forrister - Katharyn who provided the get up an go that actually got the project moving - and far from being along for the ride, she was one of the engines that kept the train running.

Chapter One

The Magic Box was experiencing a slight upswing in sales, probably because Christmas was coming. It wasn't what any reasonable person would call a rush, but cash sales had increased by about ten percent. Anya looked pensive. She'd been looking that way for a few days, particularly as she saw the Christmas sales figures that appeared in that weeks 'Sunnydale Merchants News'. Sales figures were up all over town, but a simple calculation told Anya that other businesses were doing much better than they were in these last few weeks before Christmas.

"Why aren't we making more money?" Anya complained to Giles who was busy shelving some new books that had just arrived.

"What?" Giles asked absently, his mind on books rather than sales figures.

"Why aren't we making more money?" Anya repeated impatiently. "Other shops are doing much better than we are. Why aren't we doing that well?"

"We're selling more than we usually do."

"Yes, but not enough. We're not getting enough of the holiday trade." Anya was determined to do something and making Giles aware of the problem was the first step. This shop would have been out of business ages ago if not for her with Giles staring bankruptcy in the face.

"We shouldn't be greedy now, Anya." Giles replied, still concentrating more on his books than the sales figures.

"I'm not being greedy!" she protested. "I just want our fair share. Actually I want more than our fair share."

"Our fair share?" Giles put down the book he was browsing in and gave Anya his full attention.

"Of the Christmas sales boom."

"Oh, that." He picked up the book again. Anya was just on about the Christmas thing again. "Its rank commercialism. It'll pass by the time that post-Christmas Sales all finish and things will go back to normal." He replied, not realising what forces he was dealing with.

That thought made Anya positively frown. She became utterly determined to find out how the other stores were making bigger sales and apply it here, in spite of Giles's wishy washy attitude to business, and before the opportunity passed them by.

Her musings were interrupted by the sound of the shop bell. She turned to greet the customers but saw only Willow and Tara as they arrived at the shop, as they usually did most afternoons. She frowned and got back to her planning but her attention was grabbed again by Willow's words.

"What are we doing about Christmas?"

"I believe we agreed at thanksgiving that it was happening at the Summer’s residence." Giles replied, as he picked up another book.

"Yes, but that was before." Willow pointed out as she put her bag on the table. "I'm not sure that with Buffy’s Mom being sick and everything else that they can cope with putting on Christmas as well."

Giles thought about this. She could well be right. She often was. "What are you proposing Willow?

"I just thought that we could help out, you know. Look after some of the cooking, help with the decorations. Give them a bit of a break over the holiday."

"Hadn't we better ask them before we start making any plans?" Tara asked, knowing full well how Willow could get carried away with a plan.

"Well, I kinda thought that if we did a bit of planning first then break it to them later, it would be more of a holiday surprise." Willow admitted, not really wanting to be the one to face Buffy with the idea. That was what Watcher’s were for right? Letting Slayers in on plans?

"I'm not sure that they'd appreciate their own plans being taken over." Tara pointed out.

"They won't be!" Willow felt she was on firm ground here. "I talked to Buffy yesterday and sounded her out a little. They have no real plans. Her Mom is still spending a lot of time in bed resting and Buffy is still pretty down about Riley leaving." She didn't exactly admit that she'd said nothing of her plans to her best friend, but had solidly pumped her for the Summers Christmas agenda.

They were all silent at this observation. The family had it pretty tough this year and they all felt an urge to do what they could to make it easier.

"So what about it?" Willow asked.

Everyone nodded, except Tara.

"I suppose so." She finally agreed. "But only if we ask them first."

Willow smiled. "That’s my baby. Sure, we'll ask them."

Everybody looked at everyone else. Nobody volunteered. While the idea was good the prospect of going to Buffy and her mother with this was daunting.

Willow looked at the small sea of empty faces in front of her. "Ok then, we'll draw straws for it." Thus deciding the matter in the time honoured manner.

At that moment the shop bell rang out in the silence and they all turned to see Xander standing in the doorway. He quickly became aware that all eyes were glued to him.

"Er… Did I interrupt something?" He asked in all innocence.

**********************

"Oh come on!" Harmony stamped her foot in frustration.

“He always was a little slow to get up,” one of her other new minions commented about the latecomer.

“Well he should be up and around by now. The rest of you managed it and I bit you,” she gestured at the biggest of the group, “last of all.” She stamped her foot on the earth of the fresh grave once more. “Get up!”

She had big plans for this group of… group members. And was she going to pile on the pounds after last night’s pig out? All you can eat at the hopeless inadequate bar. Six in one night. She had never managed to take that many before. And they had fallen for it. As if she would have touched one of them. Let alone all six. In turn. Uggh.

Unless she really needed them. And she did. This was a great opportunity to make money and get food. Though she could probably afford a few days dieting. Strictly the pleasure of the kill for her for a little while. Or she wouldn’t be able to fit into that cute costume that she had maimed for.

She hadn’t snacked on the clerk either, which showed the sort of restraint that she had always had in her dieting. Being dead really didn’t make a difference.

Her new minions had all pretty much brushed themselves down when the last one finally made it from his grave. A real weedy guy. She preferred… well everyone in the whole world to him.

He looked up at her and was obviously confused by the change as he looked up at her. “Back for more honey lips?” She kicked him in the privates for the second time in twenty four hours and was satisfied to hear that his shrieking had survived the change.

This was definitely a wonderful opportunity.

It was Christmas after all which was when she was supposed to get things handed to her.

**********************


“Organization. That’s what we need. Organization.” Willow decided that she was the one to get the gang organised properly, so that nothing would be overlooked and everyone would have a job. Last night’s Scooby version of the plan had been less than a success. But with a good night’s rest behind her she was raring to take charge and reorder some lives for them. Now. Who'd do what?

Giles and Anya had the shop so that they'd be unavailable during the days. But after it closed… They could be left off the list and filled in later. Xander, on the other hand, was very useful for putting up decorations and running errands – though he too had a job and that had to be taken into account. He could probably make it back for six each night.

Willow had decided that the Summers home would be a Christmas wonderland, inside and out. The inside they could handle, outside would be Xander's domain – though not his design. Dawn could look after the more exciting interior decorations with a little help… after all she was fifteen and seemed to enjoy that sort of thing, the more mundane stuff the rest of them would deal with. They just had to ensure Dawn didn’t adopt too much of Anya’s… enthusiasm.

The next important thing was the food. Christmas meant lots of good food, Willow knew that and though she wasn’t very experienced with Christmas per se… the winter holidays were a time of celebration for many. And whatever you happened to believe that also usually implied lots of frantic cooking. Except at Xander’s house where the only thing that implied cooking was a general strike in the takeaway industry. Buffy's cooking had improved lately but she'd still need a lot of help in the kitchen. Willow put herself and Tara down for that, although Tara had been quite firm about having her own things to do. Willow vaguely recalled something about a Yule celebration, but as this was to take place some days before Christmas she moved it to the back of her mind.

Mrs Summers wouldn't have to do a thing. She was still a bit weak from her operation and was spending a great deal of time in bed resting. Willow thought that if they made up the couch nice and comfy, that she could lie there and see the entire Christmas thing going on around her. They'd wait on her and pamper her like a queen, and she'd still be at the centre of all that was going on.

There. She had the beginnings of the plan down. She knew the criteria, she knew the deadline. But it was just the beginning… but not the flesh and bones. The next step was to figure out the precise tasks required and then assign them and set it all out in a logical fashion. A chart. She'd make a chart which let you know what needed to be done and when, and who was supposed to be doing it. They'd tick off boxes as the tasks were completed so that the overall progress could be measured. There also had to be personal schedules. Little charts for each person so they'd know what they were supposed to be doing and where they were supposed to be. This could all be linked back to a master chart with spaces for each task and each person so that you could tell at a glance what was going on.

And colours. It had to be colourful. And coordinated in that colour. Hmmm. Thoughts of different coloured papers began to float through her mind. Project colours were important for team identity. How much would some coloured A4 be?

She fired up her laptop, opened up a spreadsheet program and got to work. When Tara arrived back some hours later, fresh from one of her mysterious 'shopping trips’, which seemed to take forever and were becoming more frequent of late, she found Willow hard at it.

“Tara, I've put you down for two cooking sessions, on these two days. You see the orange blocks? My red and your yellow. You and me both together. Isn't that great? Getting all domestic and kitchenny! We don’t get kitchenny often enough. I think the cafeteria food spoils us…” The overwhelming silence she heard…or rather didn’t cause her to look up from the screen.

Tara looked stricken.

Probably not about the cafeteria degrading their domestic skills though. Actually there was that Banoffi pie that Tara really liked. Willow was a bit taken aback though. “Oookay. I can see that the cooking thing may not be such a good idea. I could put you down for cleaning up if you'd rather?” Though that might mean shifting Xander into the culinary role… good idea? No.

Tara frowned. “Willow, have you forgotten? That day, that's Yule! We were going to celebrate a proper Yule. You promised that would be okay with all the other planning.”

It was Willow's turn to look stricken. “I'm so sorry. I remembered, but then I forgot again. It went out of my head entirely.” Tara looked a little brighter, but not much.

“Look.” Willow gestured to her laptop and changed a few things, watching the reordered tasks drop through the sheets, pleased that it had withstood it’s first test. A successful spreadsheet it was like… well something that was very, very pleasing. “I'm putting Xand… no… Buffy and Dawn down for that time. See, all done! We'll have the whole night.”

“And the morning.” Tara added. “We'll need to get some sleep afterwards.”

“Sleep?” Willow joked. “What's that?” It was a joke, but then she realised that in fact there was a whole period on the 24th where she had not allowed for more than 3 hours sleep. For anyone. Nobody was going to be fit for holiday high jinks with just three hours sleep.

“We'll be staying up all night and I know that we'll both need some sleep.”

Particularly since we're supposed to be doing a shopping trip that afternoon, thought Willow to herself as she got back to her charts and allowed Tara to squirrel away the mysterious things from her bag into her closet without peeking. She noticed though that the printed draft of her chart had a woefully blank spot in the middle, and she moved quickly to fill it with a different coloured pen.

*************

“Spike, what was Christmas like? When you were my age, I mean.” Dawn asked as she made herself comfortable. Comfortable as you could be in a musty old crypt with a vampire for company when it was already dark outside. But it was kinda cool in here and the bones were definitely way cool. But part of that was also the thrill of being where she shouldn't be. At least where big ‘I'm the Slayer listen to me’ sister thought that she shouldn't be. This was just the second time and she thought that Spike was almost as surprised that she came back for more as he had been when she first turned up. That was kinda cool too. Shocking the vampire. Probably not much did.

Spike snorted. “I was never your age.”

“You had to be once upon a time. What was it like?” Dawn insisted. That only made sense. Okay he had stopped aging when he died but he was way older than her… ‘old’ even. And English. But not stuffy like Buffy's watcher.

“Ah. A story. You want me to tell you another story.” Spike settled back in his chair and lit up a smoke not fearing to blow it in her direction. If secondary smoking was the biggest danger the kid faced in this town then she would be doing pretty damn well. Time was I might have been one of those dangers.

“I want a true story.” Dawn demanded, knowing that Spike had loved telling her his little story despite what he sometimes said. Then coughed. Smoking was just so… uncool. It was about the only thing about him that wasn't cool though. Everyone had their little faults. Some, like Buffy, more than others.

Spike blew a few smoke rings, showing off now, and thought about it. “Why not?” He could tell the kid the sort of tale she loved to hear. Topical. “Ok, when I was a boy I lived in a big country estate house with my father.” Course actually it was a London townhouse and I was hardly ever there and when I was there the old man was off on one of his bloody business trips.

Dawn looked puzzled. “What about your mother?”

Spike frowned. “She died when I was small, I don't really remember her.” Which was bollocks. I remember how soft her hair was, and how she would sing to me and read me stories. She had a smell like lavender and roses. But am I going to tell the kid that she was about as interested in me as my father was? She thinks I'm cool.

And I am.

“I'm sorry.” Dawn understood his loss, she had been so afraid of losing her mother for a while there, but Mom had pulled through and now everything was all right again now. For a while she had been afraid, that last Christmas would have been… well the last. But Buffy had been right. Mom was fine. A little tired but getting better everyday.

“Don't be. It was common enough in those days.” Happy days. Back then no one cared if a family turned up dead in their house. Damn sight easier to feed in those conditions. “Anyhow, at Christmas the dining hall and parlour were decorated with ivy and holly. None of your tacky plastic tinsel and shiny mass-produced ornaments. Real greenery and little carved wooden figures hung everywhere.” Spike closed his eyes as if he were remembering the scene instead of just visualising every English Christmas movie he had ever bothered to watch. What he was actually remembering was that at the boarding school they put all the boys who stayed over Christmas at one table in the big empty dining hall. The table might have a sprig of holly or two on it but it was pretty much the same as it was all year round.

“Wow!” Dawn exclaimed, tucking the idea away for their own Christmas decorations. “It must have been a lot of work for you and your dad.”

Spike smiled at the naivety. “We didn't do it, we had servants for that. A butler and a housekeeper, upstairs maids and downstairs maids, cooks, gardeners and grounds men.” Spike struggled to think of a few more for the list but came up with a blank. You only needed grounds men if you had grounds and a small garden did not grounds make. There was just old Johns who looked after the townhouse. He was a good enough bloke. Didn't steal from the family, happy with the pay and never caused trouble when later I came home tipsy from a social event. He had done a little cooking for me when I was there, hadn't he? Spike wondered if his memory was playing tricks. Nah I was usually sent to eat at the Inn down the road. Still might as well play to stereotype.

“Servants? Your dad must have been pretty rich then.” Dawn was surprised. She never thought of Spike coming from a wealthy family.

“Yeah, but I never really thought about it.” Actually, he thought, I hated it. Back when I was little we were just a typical lower middle class family, though at least we were a family. When the old bastard made his money in the railways he started to act like a born toff. They laughed at us but he never noticed. I didn't notice them laughing at me until much later. It's amazing what you blind yourself to when trying to fit in. Still it made me what I was when Dru killed me – angry enough to be the bloke I am today.

“Did you have a tree?” The most important part of Christmas for Dawn was decorating the tree with her Mom and Buffy.

“Sure, it was a big pine tree that was grown on the estate.” Spike tried to remember what some of the other boys at school told him about their trees. “We decorated it with paper chains and hung wooden ornaments and sweets from the branches. We also hung oranges and sugar plums on Christmas Eve and we'd eat them Christmas day. All the presents were wrapped in cloth or paper and piled underneath.” At the school there had been a 'tree'. It was several pine branches tied together in what passed for woodwork. There were paper chains but nothing else. For a ‘good’ school it was a sodding pit.

Oranges and sugar plums reminded Dawn about food. A thought that was rarely far from the mind of a growing girl. “What did you do for Christmas dinner?”

Spike described a scene from an old movie he'd seen on TV once. “We had it in the dining hall where the tables were arranged in a big horseshoe shape. All the servants and all the tenants of the estate were invited. There was a great goose, which my father carved. We had several smaller geese as well so that everyone would get some, but the big goose was special – it was the only one he carved. There were roasted potatoes, pumpkin, marrow, turnip, peas, beans, chestnut stuffing and gravy. Plum pudding for desert and lots of rum punch to wash it down with.” Really… well there were slices of chicken and the usual three vegetables. Of course at Christmas there was always a spotted dick with custard and treacle, but it all tasted the same after a while.

Dawn sighed. Images of this wonderful scene filled her head. “I wish I could have lived back then.”

“No. No you don't Nibblet.” That was the truth. She wouldn't have lasted five minutes back then. If disease, poverty or overbearing parents hadn't got her then something nasty would… something like me. “Life was hard and times were harder. We never lacked for food or a roof over our heads but there were many who did. 'You're lucky to live here and now.” Yeah. The kid doesn't know how good she has it.

He couldn't help thinking that was a good thing though – that she didn’t have to know what things had really been like. Which was why he had gilded the lily a bit. Well, a lot really. But it was the sort of Christmas he would have had, if reality hadn't intervened and he had been allowed to live inside his childish fantasies.

Maybe her Christmas fantasies would come true.

**********

Chapter Two

“There, it's all done!” Willow pressed a key and saved her work, then leant back to enjoy the complex, yet easy to read schedule she'd drawn up. Tara came over and stood behind her, using her hands to massage away the tensions in Willow's back and creating a whole new set of tensions elsewhere. Willow wasn’t sure though that she had factored that sort of thing into the Holiday Schedule. Or at least enough of it.

“What do you think?” Willow asked, running her hand affectionately up Tara's arm. “It's all finished now.”

Tara took a look at the chart, stopped her massage, and looked more closely. “Willow, you have everybody scheduled for twenty-four hours of every day!”

“I was careful. I allowed for eight hours sleep and three meal breaks every day.” Willow replied proudly, wishing that Tara's hands would continue what they'd been doing just a moment before.

“Sweetie, there's no time here for anyone to do as they please. No free time.” Tara pointed out gently as she resumed her task, Willow’s back was calling to her as her love’s body always did.

“Hmmmmm.” Willow sighed, closing her eyes and enjoying the sensation for a bit before pointing out. “No, I allowed two whole hours every day for them to do whatever they like. I took account of the holidays.” Two hours though…? Tara was reminding her of just what that time would have to include, but it was a good plan.

Tara began to gently kneed the back of her lover's neck. “I think you should double that at least, and give everyone a day off. If you organise people's lives too much they'll just ignore you.”

“But it's such a good schedule!” Willow complained, as she gently drew circles on the back of Tara's hand. Their own sleepy time would suffer though if they just had two hours…

“You can fix it in the morning. It's late now, and you need your sleep.”

“But I'm not sleepy! And…” Willow looked at her watch, not yet even eight o’clock. “It’s early.” She turned and rested her head on Tara's stomach. The hands that were previously massaging her back were now gently stroking her hair.

“Not yet you're not, but you will be sleepy and it will be late” Tara’s low whisper caused Willow to look up and lose herself in the sexiest pair of blue eyes that ever looked into hers. Those eyes held the promise of everything she ever wanted out of life and she drank them in. She didn't look back at her laptop, just fumbled behind her until she could close the lid to shut it off. Her eyes never left her lover's face and her free hand was doing some massaging of its own. That mundane detail complete, she stood and led Tara to the bed they shared. She wasn't tired yet, but she felt certain that she could find something to keep her occupied until sleep eventually came. And it would take more than two hours, Tara had a point.

The holiday preparations could wait until tomorrow, even if Tara had cheated to prove that point.

**********

A clap rang out across the old church hall, summoning those within to attention. Of course since the church that had given the place it’s title sunk into the ground in an earthquake decades ago, there seemed little reason to call it by that name anyway. Some curious people, not knowing the history of the area also wondered about that and had examined the matter, discovering the obvious, that there had indeed once been a church. If they'd asked the locals they would have found out straight away but they had to go through the tedious process of adding two and two together and getting every other number before finally arriving at four. There had been much in the way of ‘Duh’ exclaimed then.

But all that mattered for its current purpose was that it was empty, had fairly decent acoustics and most important it had distinct lack of old church religious symbols to affect the performance and force the performers outside.

“Where’s….” she looked around desperately trying to remember the name. “Help me out here,” the young woman at the front of the hall asked of the other five individuals. Actually they were more than a group. They were her group. Because she had a plan. She had plan, a group to carry it out and brains.

And a really cute costume.

“Terry?” asked one who was fingering the green velvet costume that he had been given with the distaste of one who has been ridiculed for his dress sense all of his life and knew that it was about to get a whole lot worse. He was called Larry and he was not impressed.

“Yes. Thank you. Where is Terry?” Harmony asked.

“Not here…” Barry guessed. Though he quite liked the purple velvet suit that he had received. Though the blood on the collar might not ever wash out. Still she was his sire and she had got the costumes just like she promised. Actually she had got the costumes before she had… got… the group who would wear them. Which was why they didn’t fit too well. But it was a good plan. He knew that with the conviction of a person whose finest plan previously had been how to take out the nest of orcs that inhabited level 13 of the dungeon with just a broadsword, a sack and a scantily clad assistant.

“Oh well done Cary,” Harmony added scathingly.

“Barry, he’s Cary,” he informed her patiently.

“Okay… fine. He’s Cary and you’re Larry. You’re Barry. Yes? Terry is missing” she was getting testy now. She’d never been much good with names. Important people you just knew. That was the way the world worked and whilst she had definitely heard the names of this lot whilst they were at Sunnydale High she was proud to say that she couldn’t remember ever having to say a word to them. Even in insult. They had been that far below her notice.

How the mighty are fallen….

Actually no they have been elevated to my level. I am sooo generous. Like… that really famous generous person. I’m a really good person. Well vampire. Well totally evil. I am such an evil vampire. With a plan. And brains. And a gang… group. One that isn’t going to try and kill me. And even if they did they couldn’t manage to do more than lace their shoes without help. I am so good… at being evil, she thought. “So who are you?” she gestured at the yellow suited one.

“Kevin,” he replied smiling at her, certain that if he just went along with her for long enough he might even get a kiss off her. That would make all the abuse worthwhile. After all they had eternity now to get it on. She would succumb to his charms eventually it was just a matter of time. This wasn’t like the chess club. This was a choral society. Everyone knew that the choral society was the way to get babes – almost as good as the band for that. The apparently quiet and shy kind. That was where that whole rivalry came from. Not that Harmony was either of those things, quiet or shy, but that had to make it easier right. There had been a whole movie about that.

Well not just about that… but enough. And it wasn’t as if he was looking for anything more than a kiss. Though that might just be the start of an eternal love affair. Full of passion and… passion. He picked at scab that marred his face where he had been picking his human acne. Turned out that being a vampire did nothing for your skin condition… you just kept returning to the state you were when you died.

“And you blue?”

“Bruce.” Bruce was the quiet one. Bruce didn’t have much of a thought in his head at the best of times.

“Right so let me make sure that I have got this. Larry, Barry, Cary… gee that rhymes did you guys know that?” They nodded with varying degrees of enthusiasm and she carried on very pleased with the observation. “Kevin and Bruce. That doesn’t rhyme so well.”

“No,” Bruce confirmed.

“Have you considered changing those names. I really think you should have. If Terry were here like he should be… I mean like the rest of us made it on time… then we could really have some fun with names. It would be just like the elves of legend.” Harmony tried to sound mysterious with that, always best to sound like you knew what you were doing. Spike had always sounded like he knew what he was doing with the mystical stuff and look where it had gotten him.

A chip in his head.

Oh well.

“Elves of legend?” Barry asked, searching his memory… various fantasy novels springing to mind. He could live… well unlive… with being a noble elf like creature. Not that the costume was very noble more sort of fabled toy maker than noble elf.

“Happy, Dopey, Doc… you know.” God they were so dense.

“That was the Seven Dwarfs. We’re vampires dressed up as elves,” Larry told her.

Larry? Yes Larry was definitely the problem one of the group. Harmony knew a lot about controlling a group of vampires. She’d had minions before and learnt a lot from them. Namely never pick a minion with a backbone or who was stronger than you were. Hence… this lot and even Larry the troublemaker… well to call him Larry the Dweeb would be an insult to Dweebs everywhere. He was big, and he would argue, but he didn’t have… stones… Spikey would have said.

“Well…” she thought desperately, not wanting to show any weakness at all. Sound confident. Sound you know what is what and who is who. “I can be Snow White!” That sounded like a good addition to the plan. When they went round they could sing and she could look pretty as Snow White… people were sure to come out of their houses for that. It was a great, great plan. All you could eat and when you were no longer hungry the humans might give them drinks and money. They would leave their houses of their own free will. And before that… shopping precincts and cash aplenty. With cash, equally distributed they could all buy her Christmas gifts. As was her due as their sire.

Brilliant!

“But we’re elves. Not dwarves,” Larry told her.

“You said you wanted to be dwarves!” Harmony was frustrated. They seemed to get the plan but they were just terrible with the details. She could have got better minions she guessed. Slightly less stupid – though these guys had all been geeks too – but they were stuck with their book learning. What good would that do them now? She needed minions who were still basically cowards and obedient. But she had needed them to sing well enough to get people to leave their houses to watch and to give them stuff… and this was a group. Back from college for the holidays and reunited in their old group. They would have to do.

“No… you said you wanted to call us dwarf names.”

Always arguing was Larry. If she didn’t need… well whatever kind of voice he had, then she would have thrown him out of the group. No voting. Just expulsion. “Look enough with the names okay? Fine! Elves with common names. See if I care.”

“Right so what are we calling the group? The group has to have a name otherwise people are going to suspect something is wrong,” Barry tried to divert the conversation. Larry had never been consensus kind of guy. In chess club he had been the one who forced them to play on green and yellow checked boards instead of the traditional ones. We never did know why, Barry mused.

“How about being… ‘In Harmony?’” Kevin replied, his mind whirling with carried over adolescent fantasies about his blonde sire. Sire? Siress? In Harmony… mmmmn.

“Ewww!” Harmony cried.

Okay nix that. Kevin crossed that subtle bit of seduction off his list. He had been thinking about this and her since he had got up… dead… and been told the plan. It was a great plan. Very sexy. Cheap innuendo, though, was not going to get this done. This was going to take seductive wiles. He was good at that, he had actually once made out with Larry’s sister. Well he thought it was Larry’s sister. It had been kinda dark and that bottle of wine had blurred things. But, anyway, that would be nothing to the passion he would show Harmony. She was a babe. Schwing! As the saying went. There had been a movie about that too.

Schwing!

“The Harmettes?” Barry asked eager to please. And pleasing Harmony seemed, in the few short days since she had turned them all, to revolve around complimenting her at every opportunity in every way that you could. They were her group. They were her gang. She was their sire. The Harmettes why not?

“Good!” She clapped her hands once more. “I like that. The Harmettes!” A group could go places with a name like that she realised. That was a name with class. Like all those sixties groups she had never listened to but had their photo’s on walls on TV shows and in some bars. Faded black and white photo’s it would be good to be remembered like that. Appreciated and well managed. The manager was the most important thing after all. Didn’t matter if you could sing as long as you had good management. Look at ‘N-Sync.’

Sunnydale was certainly going to remember them though.

“Okay then… Harmettes.” It even sounded good to say it. “I have another costume gift for you all…” she waved the bag at them. The looks on their faces ranged from eager to please – Barry – to vague disgust – Larry – stopping off in a…what was that with Kevin’s tongue? Eww. “Elf ears! Come and get them everyone.”

They dutifully came forwards and took their ears from the bag.

“These aren’t elf ears,” Larry accused her as soon as he saw them.

“Yes they are!” She replied. Not that she was sure. She had forgotten to ask the clerk at the costume store before she had eaten him. She’d spent hours trying to track down enough sets for them all… though she might have got out of there that much earlier if she had known that Garry? No Terry… would be a no show.

“No they are not elf ears.”

“Yes they are!” Harmony ripped a packet open and modelled them. “Look pointy elf ears.”

“Your ears are lovely,” Kevin told her wanting to stick his tongue down them.

Harmony paused thought about a response and then decided it would be better to just ignore him. But maybe keep him hanging on… I mean as if I would touch that… But hanging on, he was her insurance. Just in case they turned her. Doing one nasty thing with him… and a kiss would be very, very nasty and he would be hers forever.

That was even nastier to contemplate...

“They’re Spock ears,” Larry told her almost patiently.

“No they are not.” She tried to sound firm and authoritative but suspected that she was getting out of her depth and into geek territory.

Barry had to agree with Larry. “They are Spock ears. Sorry… but I have some Leonard Nimoy originals.”

“You're sure?” At least it was Barry and not Larry. She could let Barry win…

“Yes.”

“Okay… well I never watched Star Wars so how was I supposed to know?”

None of them had the heart to set her straight on that and were having a hard enough time imagining someone not having watched Star Wars or Star Trek and being able to tell the difference.

“But…!” she added positively. “They are pointed and elves have pointy ears. Everyone knows that. People will be expecting pointy ears under your hats.”

In the shadows at the back of the hall something absently reached up and fondled it’s own ear, thinking of what people expected. There were standards it was true… not that this lot had any. Time to thin the numbers a little more…Not that it had been responsible for Terry. The blonde vampire outside had seen to that one. It pointed a claw and reality subtly shifted. The effect of that shift would take a moment so it went back to taking notes on the meeting certain that it could not be seen until it needed to be.

And that time was not yet.

Impersonating Elves indeed.

The Harmettes put their ears on some more reluctant than others. “Excellent! Very, very elfy” she told them, happy that her plan was coming together so well, as the minions went back to their places ready for rehearsal. Bruce never made it though.

It was sort of freaky how it happened. Bruce’s ears fell off for no apparent reason, the elastic snagging both his shoelace and a vent in the floor and pulling the former undone. He stumbled over the lace that had not been loose a minute earlier and fell sideways across a table, which shattered under his weight. With a poof he was gone.

Harmony just looked at the rest of them, raised her eyebrows. “Oh come on Harmettes! Be careful!” The meeting proceeded. One minion more or less was no big deal. They were going to sing for their supper and one less mouth to feed was no disaster.


********************

Spike had watched the group arrive and was on his third smoke before the singing actually started. Which took him by surprise. Actually he'd been following Harm, more out of interest than for any specific reason. She’d run off after another of her screaming fits and all because he'd called her blonde bint. As if he had never done that before…

Still she seemed to be doing… something. He’d watched over the last few days, almost interested in what she was doing… Making herself a new gang? He had to hand it to her for her choice of minions though – if they all turned against her at exactly the same time, even she would kick their collective ass. It might almost be fun to see them go up against the Slayer cause that one he’d dusted – just for fun, mind – hadn’t even known how to raise his fists. Spike had given him every chance but it had been, well - taking candy from a baby would have been harder. Where was the fun in that then?

Probably wouldn’t even get time to light a smoke when they came up against the slayer, though that wouldn’t be anytime soon. The Slayer was all cut up about her nancy-boy, poncy out of work secret agent - ‘I’m so sodding macho’- Riley leaving. Good riddance, as far as he was concerned. What with that and Joyce being so badly off this year the Watcher and the friends had decided to give them both a decent Christmas celebration. To which he wasn’t invited, but somehow was appearing on this colourful roster that Red had slipped under the door of his crypt. Rostered for covering the patrolling and slaying on many of the nights around Christmas. Without having being asked. Bloody cheers. And tonight too…

But he hadn’t argued. Not that she had been there for him to argue with. It was a little indulgence that he was gifting himself, playing along with them and doing what they asked without complaint. Joyce was a nice lady and she deserved some quality time. Besides one day he would rip all their hearts out.

He took a drag on his cigarette and then admitted to himself that Joyce was not the only reason for this. There was great capital to be made in helping the Slayer have a nice Christmas. After all she was so… Well… he didn’t like to think about it, but his dream thank you involved the Slayer, some mistletoe and a few minutes later a king size bed. He’d probably have to settle for just the Mistletoe though… Though it might be fun to play around with those witches too. A little tongue under that sprig ought to piss them right off. He’d have to think on that one. Just so long as it wasn’t the librarian or the monkey boy. But monkey boy’s girl. Now that would be fun, and with the Slayer’s sister no doubt begging for a traditional Christmas like he’d told her about there was bound to be mistletoe, so he just had to swing by and visit on the day didn’t he?

Chapter Three

Tara went over things once more in her mind. She had the camping spot booked; the rangers knew they were coming. She had the tent and the other equipment stored at the Magic Box. She was glad that Xander was able to lend it to them, even though they'd only need it for one night. She'd found the perfect spot for their Yule ritual in a State park. There was a clearing near the top of a hill, surrounded by trees except on the eastern side where it was perfect for watching the sunrise. She checked and found that they could camp there and were allowed to have an open fire. That was an important part of the ritual. She debated the need for a tent and sleeping gear since they were planning on staying up all night but finally decided that rituals and talk were probably not all they'd be doing that night and she wanted to be comfortable. She'd laid in a stock of wood for the fire, the incenses and oils she'd need for the ritual. All that was left was the things that required making by hand.

Mr Giles had agreed, after hearing her reason and carefully examining her licence, to loan her his car for the night. Now that had surprised her a great deal. She'd fretted about asking him for a week before she finally found the courage to bring it up, preparing herself to try and find the money to hire a car when he said no. When he agreed, she nearly fell over. His statement that he was sure she'd be responsible really got to her, she was so embarrassed, but also privately pleased at his trust.

She left the hardest part until last. There was the making of all the things needed and also all the presents she intended to give. She spent much of her Christmas budget at the magic box buying the basic supplies she needed. Mr Giles was kind enough to give them to her at cost price. She wondered why he put such a big mark-up on his goods, as the price difference between cost and store price was really huge. He'd explained that Anya set the prices based on some formula of her own, which was linked to supply and demand, and the slow turnover of stocks. He laughingly admitted that he was baffled as well as he personally wrapped up her goods, and threw in a large bottle of pure almond oil and some rolls of real silk ribbon in Christmas colours. Store incentives for a good customer, he claimed. Tara was sure that he was just doing it to be nice, when he saw her interest in the items and her dismay at the cost. He refused to take them back, claiming that it would be bad for business. She smiled and thanked him, graciously accepting the gifts.

Her next few 'shopping trips' involved going to the nearby nature reserve where she collected pinecones and went to 'speak' to the Willow tree there. She did it with a purpose, trying to coax the tree into dropping a branch that she could use to craft a wand for her sweetie's Yule gift. It took three weeks of regular visits before she arrived to find the perfect piece of wood lying on the ground under the tree. She thanked it for its gift before tucking the branch into her bag. She had found a tree where the mistletoe grew and was going to harvest some the day before Yule. Ivy was easy too. The walls of the buildings at the University were festooned with it and the head grounds man gave her permission to take as much as she liked. It was the holly that was the problem. She couldn't seem to find somewhere to get genuine sprigs of holly. There was fake plastic holly in abundance but little of the real thing. Anya promised to keep her eyes open for it when she did the ordering for the shop.

******************

“You did what?” Anya was aghast.

“I sold Tara goods at cost,” Giles told her for the third time; pretty sure that he had done so. That bafflement was threatening to clobber him again.

“Cost? Whose cost?” she pressed.

“My cost…” he replied slowly.

“Do you even know what cost is?” she asked then, astonishingly for her, backtracked as if realising she had gone a little too far, softening her face.

He had been about to interrupt but pleased with her realisation and the progress it might reveal in his assistant settled for explaining. “Tara is a very good customer and more than that, she is a friend who gives us a lot of her time. Not just to help with the,” he waved at the outside world meaning the Hellmouth, “…local situation, but also with the shop.”

“Absolutely.”

Well that was easier than he expected.

“But do you really know what cost is? Do you know how I calculate the prices?” Anya asked, entirely more reasonably.

“Well… I imagine that it involves the cost of the goods supplied.”

“And?”

“Supply and demand?” he added, hopeful that the answer was the correct one, or at least the fundamentals of economics would get him through this.

Anya just stared at him, not believing that he could take on a business and not know. Of course he just applied a huge mark up and that pretty much covered everything – but when you started to sell at cost it helped to know what that actually was.

“Erm. Look this is my shop you know,” he reminded her again.

“You don’t know, do you?” she suggested to him.

“No.”

“The cost of the goods supplied is just the start. Then we have my wages, rent, bills, taxes…” He shuddered at that last. His first attempt at a tax return had been a nightmare and she knew it. “And your profits. If you want to supply at cost then you should just sell minus your profit. The rest is cost.”

“Oh…” Now probably wasn't the time to mention that he had given away the almond oil and the silk ribbon she had ordered for their best customers.

Anya herself decided that it wasn't quite the right time to mention that she'd practically given Tara several sprigs of genuine, naturally grown holly, at far less than cost. Even by his definition.

They looked at each other, keeping their own little secrets, both giving a half smile. One having learnt something.

*************

“Deck the halls with boughs of holly! Fa la la la la, la la la la.”

The late night shopping trade was always brisk around Christmas and the carollers were doing a brisk trade. They were a quartet now, though once there had been six. Well only five who ever made it to a rehearsal. Actually just the four of them who had actually rehearsed. The unfortunate incident with Bruce, a pair of Spock ears and a shoelace had seen to that. They were dressed in their brightly coloured elf costumes. They sang all the traditional carols in perfect four part harmonies. The blond girl with them, dressed in a red mini-dress trimmed with white fur seemed to think she was conducting but anyone with an ounce of music knowledge would not have recognised that as conducting. It seemed to be also her job to pass around the red Santa hat and coax cash from the people who stopped to listen. Plenty of people did stop, for a time, and the hat was filled rapidly. It ended with a discordant and out of time “la” from the young woman. She had also taken it upon herself to sing, but fortunately for their money making not too loudly. After the set, the carollers retired to a quiet alley to rest and count their gains.

“Well, there’s plenty of cash here. Enough to give us some merry Christmas shopping!” The blonde counted the money with undisguised pleasure. Money was, she thought, generally a good thing. Pretty much she would even admit that it was better than blood. Money could buy you blood, but what could blood buy you? And you couldn’t kill every shopkeeper when you wanted something.

“But Harmony, when do we get to eat?” The tallest of the elves, Barry, whined.

“I think we’ve got enough for one night.” She tucked the money into her purse and turned to her little group. “Now for the next part of the plan. We go into the suburbs, door to door. Singing a bit, hopefully getting invited in for a little Christmas cheer, then and only then we eat. Course, if they don’t want us to come in then at least we can get them to come out… all they have to-do is cross the threshold.” She eyed up their costumes and considered what she'd gone though to get them. “Oh, and remember. Anyone who gets blood on the costumes will be doing the laundry for a week.”

Barry raised his hand, hesitantly, pointing at the collar where he already had a bloodstain. He had been complaining about it since she had given him it.

“Yes, yes except for you. But if you get anymore on it…” she warned him.

“I won’t!” he absolutely assured her – though he wasn't sure what use this costume would be after Christmas.

They moved quickly from the mall into the nearby suburbs. Going door to door and carolling their little hearts out. Unfortunately it was twelve days until Christmas and people were too busy to pay them any mind. Nobody invited them in. After the fifteenth such try Harmony gathered the others around her. “Look, this isn’t working and I’m getting sore feet with all this walking. How about we check out the alley behind the bar, pick up a quick snack and head off home.”

“But you promised us a nice fresh dinner, not some wino bum!” The tallest elf whined.

“You just remember who’s in charge here.” Harmony was getting pretty tired of this big bozo, even if he could sing a mean bass. “I’m the boss, your sire, and you're all my minions – sorry elves… get it? Do you think Santa’s elves argue with him?”

They started to mutter about her not being Santa. All except Kevin who still hadn’t gotten over the fake fur trimmed mini dress, fishnets and boots.

“Hey, hands up who wants to be dusted. Anyone?” Nobody raised his hand, “No-one? Good. Then lets go. Things should pick up closer to Christmas.” She paused for a moment to contemplate the effect her nail polish had on her ensemble. “Is this shade of red too bright with this outfit, do you think?”

“Oh no!” Kevin replied quickly. “You know what they say about nail varnish… what it reflects…” he trailed off, thinking the answer obvious.

Instead they all looked at him, Harmony more intently, raising her eyebrows. “No. What?”

“Well you know…”

“No.”

Kevin’s eyes flicked downwards, the direction of his gaze as obvious as his grin.

“Ewww!” Harmony smacked him in the face and stalked off with the others following her.

Barry fell in beside Kevin slapped him on the back and told him mockingly, “That’s not nail varnish stupid… I think you mean lipstick.”

“They’d better pick up though.” Larry whispered to himself as Kevin ran on ahead with an ‘Ohhhh’ to try and get a better look at Harmony’s lipstick. The guy was obsessed.

In the shadows a cloaked figure watched the group silently, still taking notes.

**************


Top
  
 
 Post subject: A Holiday Fic: A Sunnydale Carol
PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2002 6:55 pm 
Chapter Four

The Magic Box was empty and business was slow. That was not, Giles had thought, the way it was supposed to be as you got closer to Christmas. Where were the crowds now? Theyd been here a few days ago Still in the business plan he had drawn up there wouldn't have been the customer volumes that he had had so far, causing him to employ Anya either. After weeks of being rushed off his feet seeing to the ughh customers, now they were all somewhere else. The idea of customers was still slightly repulsive. Yes repulsive was the word. They were necessary for a shop of course, but it was rather like being in the library. The purity of it was spoilt by people taking what you had.

Maybe magic took a back seat at Christmas. Maybe the magic of Christmas was not something that you could conjure for yourself. Besides the peace and quiet well, he was way over his sales targets anyway and it did give him time to think. Plans had to be made. Someone had to organise Christmas and whilst Willow had tried her best he supposed that it should ultimately be him that took overall responsibility in a managerial capacity. He was a manager of staff now so he was the logical choice. What was it those colonials said? The Buck Stops Here. Fair enough. Though actually the dollars always seemed to make their way to Anya. He was the only father figure round here too though. It was nice that. To think that you had someone to go to at Christmas.

When he had been a youngster Christmas was always spent with his grandparents and later, when they got too old to do Christmas his own parents had taken over. Hours of Watcher Talk between his father and grandmother and he had been encouraged to listen, since his destiny was obvious - to them at least. I still, he mused, never got that green grocers. Wands instead of cucumbers. He liked cucumbers. She, his grandmother, had even had a slayer and he seemed to remember a young woman being there one year. He had never seen her again and there had never been another. He liked to think now that she had taught him exactly how not to treat one. So cold and formal he had tried to be like her, but it just wasn't the way to do it. Certainly not with Buffy and look how far she had come. Above anything else she was still alive. When was the last time the council had managed to keep a slayer for over two years, let alone five? Just a smidge of pride was all right.

And now, with Riley gone, he had to do his best once more to make things easier for his slayer and the surrogate family she had introduced him to. Willows plan had already divided up the patrols for the Christmas period, after some argument from Buffy. But then if Buffy couldn't fight the demon-chick as they insisted on calling the new 'big bad' in town, then it was just a question of keeping the vampires down. Besides there was Dawn and Joyce to think about and so Buffy had relented. Buffy thought she was in charge but he knew that they were all intending to try to keep her and Joyce as much out of the loop as possible. He was the one who was in charge giving his approval to Willows colourful open sheet no spreadsheet. Though what was wrong with a nice piece of paper, ruler and pen he couldnt imagine.

Christmas was a time for family and though if he were frank the three members of the Summers family were the only blood relatives amongst all of them that were likely to be involved, they had all shown family was not just an accident of birth. And it was the celebration was the occasion, the feeling and the sentiment rather than the specific message of any group that was important. Much as he had disliked family Christmases back then now he had a very special family.

Buffy of course. Dawn well there was something to think about but an issue that could wait for the end of the holidays. Everyone deserved a break. Joyce more than most. Well she'd had a very unpleasant time of it this year. Not that Joyce would hear of accepting help with Christmas day itself. That was her territory after it had been decided that it should be in the Summers House. Quite definitely hers. But that didn't mean that virtually everything could not be prepared in advance. They would take care of it all. Tara and Willow had it under control he was sure. Nothing worse than running around like headless chickens in the days before Christmas. And those two young ladies were extremely resourceful and so clearly devoted to each other that it made him feel lonely. He was even looking forward to spending Christmas with Xander and Anya.

God that was a terrifying thing to realise.

Strange wasn't it? He remembered another Christmas with the Summers ladies. All of them, Willow and Xander were there too. With Dawn. But Dawn hadn't been there. Not really. She hadn't been real. Then. Was the Christmas memory itself? Had they spent Christmas together or was it just a construct of the monks to hide Dawn? Now she was real though, and it was incumbent upon him to give her the best, and possibly the first genuine, Christmas that he could. He didn't like to admit that it might be the last as well. But it was a distinct possibility unless they could do something about that damned woman.

Sitting thinking about all this he was aware of Anya buzzing around behind him at the counter. She had already done her hourly count of the money three times this morning but it seemed to keep her happy and off the topic of Christmas promotions which were definitely becoming old hat. Chicken feet indeed!

Surely turkey feet would be more festive, though not traditionally used in the magical arts.

The carollers just down the street were decking the halls now and he had not yet been outside to see them. They really sounded rather good. Maybe with a couple of extra singers they could have been even better but it was a lot better than the tape that Anya had tried to persuade him to have playing in the shop. She had even suggested hiring their own carol singers. But she was excellent at getting money out of the customers, he had to admit. It beggared belief how a woman so lacking in traditional customer focus and sales skills could be so successful. She was up there with Smith and Freidman when it came to proclaiming the virtues free market economics, but sometimes that girl made him worry.

And here she came, making that little sound that she always made when she was about to offer a suggestion. A sort of getting your attention without actually coughing sound which he had learned to avoid and ignore as much as possible. Now might be an opportune moment to duck out and see the carol singers. After all they needed as much support as possible. What was it that the young played? Anywhere But Here? Actually there was nowhere he would rather be at Christmas but right now he would rather be outside. Anywhere outside actually.

**************

'We three Kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.'

*************

By the time he had stuck his head out of the door though to a distinctly snowless view, they had stopped and were disappearing around the corner into an alley. For a fraction of a second he thought he recognised no. Couldn't be. What sort of place was it anyway where Christmas was celebrated in the sun? Never a flake of snow. Well, apart from two years ago but that had been a special circumstance by all accounts. But they still scattered fake snow around like... snow. Americans!

With the carollers gone that left him with only two options, either stand in the street alone or return to an empty shop, with Anya. Wonderful. Reluctantly though he went back inside.

You know why there is no one in here spending money? she asked. It was clearly supposed to be a rhetorical question and might well of been because he could guess at her opinion.

Mmm? he replied, non-committal. She was going to tell him anyway so why pre-empt the inevitable.

Because there are no real Christmas decorations or offers to attract the customers.

Of course now why didn't I think of that? Oh yes I did. Anya, we are the only magic shop in town. If people want magical items then they have to come to us. So why should I commercialise my shop? The stress was not accidental. Not in the slightest. Sometimes he thought that Anya more than forgot who was employing whom, sometimes she actually didn't care. Until payday at least when it was his money that ended up in her hand.

Commercialise? This is a shop. We sell goods and services for a cash consideration. That is commerce. Hence we are commercial. We should be commercialised, she told him.

Yes well not this shop. Besides much of what is stocked is pagan or linked to other religions than Christianity as are our customers. It might cause offence if we were to promote one belief above any other. He gestured at his multi-faith banner. Which, he had to admit, was a little dull.

So?! It is just traditional decoration. A Watcher should know the importance of tradition. Did you know that a good Christmas layout can increase sales by up to twenty percent?

He hadn't known that though twenty percent? The magic of Christmas is not purchased in a shop Anya.

Magic, smagic. This isn't about magic. Most of our customers wouldn't know magic if it came and bit them in the ass. They want novelty gifts and what says novelty gift better than a jar of factory farmed frog's eyes?

Well. Twenty percent was twenty percent. And it was tradition after all nothing offensive there. Pay attention to Yule and Chanukah; make sure I observe the other festivals when they come around. Twenty percent.

She looked at him, waiting for an answer.

Well alright then. You can do a little dressing. Twenty percent. It just kept going round his mind.

Oooh goodie. She was happy now. Hyper with the possibilities. I have been reading many, many, books and I think I am ready to prepare our shop-

My shop, he corrected.

The shop - for Christmas. She beamed at him, excited and Giles felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. This was going to end badly he could just feel it. Finely honed senses and all that. Years of experience. He was going to regret this.

Nothing too extravagant mind. A tree maybe, nicely decorated. Perhaps a few lights.

Another banner, she added pointedly looking over at the Don't Forget! Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa & Gurnenthar's Ascendance Are Coming! banner that already hung rather limply over the counter.

Maybe- was all he could manage.

Yes, yes, yes. Now Anya crossed to the cash register and opened it up, her eyes lighting up at the sight of money that she was able to spend, more so when she held some of it in her hands.

What are you doing? She had taken perhaps half the contents of the register. That was a lot of decorations. A forest of trees. She liked to see the money there and would not hear of a minimal float. On which she had been proved right many times.

Going shopping for the decorations. And a tree! Anya grabbed her coat and made for the door. You can mind the store whilst I shop, oh and when I call - bring your car. To pick up the tree.

And she was gone.

Of course, nothing tacky though he said to no one in particular getting back to thinking about his own Christmas preparations and leaving the desecration of his shop to Anya alone.

When she stuck her head back around the door, his door he just sighed.

And check the stock. If you don't want to give away chicken's feet then find something else to offer on promotion! You should always have a promotion.

Will do. He said in his best 'forced enthusiasm' voice. You run along. He didnt bother repeating his warning about being tacky he guessed that nothing she could buy would not be in his shop. Sometimes he thought that Willow might have always had the right idea about Anya.

Who you talking to Giles? It was Willows voice that sang out across the shop as Giles cleaned his glasses in sheer bloody frustration. He suspected that his shop was about to turn into more of a winter wonderland than the Summers House.

Ah Willow. Something wrong? he asked her, glad of the distraction.

Nope. Not a thing. Everything is pretty wonderful her face crinkled. Unless you know about something out there? You know the brewing holiday evil?

The demon drink? he suggested full of mirth.

It took Willow a second to think about that before giving it the forced laugh she thought it would have deserved. Not that he didnt notice. Thats funny.

I thought so, Giles muttered. So what can I do for you?

Im looking for a Amethyst Geode. Theyre really useful for crystal work, Willow explained.

And they sparkle so attractively, Giles guessed that this was not for herself, so close to the holidays and if you were buying gifts for the person you were close to it always helped not to choose something you hated.

Absolutely give me a pretty one for my beautiful girl, she was pleased to see that Giles still actually blushed at the merest mention of relationships. Some things never changed.

You know where the crystals are Willow by all means take your pick. Willow gave him her best poor little student me smile so he continued, And yes being as Anya is not here right now you can have a discount.

Thanks Giles, she disappeared behind the crystal shelf.

As long as you purchase before she returns. And just dont tell her, he called out.

No chance!

No, he rather thought that there wasnt.

You hardly have any crystals left Giles! the voice came from the back of the shelf.

Actually they are proving very popular, but there is a geode?

Two. Willow stepped into the light, examining her choices under the better lighting and watching the reflections dance around the crystals as she moved them beneath the lights.

Good. Anya was sure to have ordered more anyway. They all seemed to be buying a crystal this year and enquiring about their meanings too. Which had, of course, meant he had been forced to refresh his memory on their properties. As a pillar of the shop keeping community he had other things to think about now other than just what a crystal signified.


------------------

Chapter Five

Compared to what was going on inside and occasionally all around him, Xander was having quite a serene and enjoyable day. Building and carpentry skills did not necessarily translate well into decoration guy but it seemed a better way to spend the afternoon and evening than running around like that headless chicken everyone seemed to go on about. He'd been sure that they were due to have turkey. Though who'd know? Buffy's mom was defending her kitchen with a spatula already, having rejected Willows plan for spending her Christmas stretched out on the couch though that didnt sound too bad to him. She had only allowed him to pass through when he showed her his hammer and box of outdoor Christmassy goodies with a complete lack of food or cooking equipment. And in addition to free passage there had been spoon licking.

And exactly how often did he get to lick spoons from baking? Not like there was a lot of baking going on in the Harris family kitchen and Willow's parents were not much for it either so the time had had spent there had been wasted too. Spoonwise. It was a deprived childhood that lacked lickable spoons. At least lickable spoons that had something sweet coating them.

Maybe that chicken had lost its head in the same place that all those chicken feet that Anya was so keen to give away had come from. He hadn't pressed it but he suspected that, as Willow and Giles seemed to think, they would not be great promotions. But who knew with magic users? They were all a little weird. Sometimes it was good to be the guy with no special powers, few responsibilities and a hammer. He just hoped that Anya wasn't allowed to prepare the homemade crackers. Chicken feet wouldn't go down any better as party favours. What did you get? A chickens foot.

No.

He was on a step ladder over the porch. People had been passing to and fro. Fortunately, when he was in front of the doorway, they looked where they were going, although it been very close when Buffy headed out for a jog. He didn't know where these lights had come from, but he'd replaced three bulbs already and it was slow going with trying to fasten other decorations up at the same time. He had argued against the outdoor decorations anyway. We'll all be inside, he had told them, but Willow had insisted. Still, Buffys Mom kept him supplied with snacks. That must have something to do with being the only person not trying to get into that kitchen and remove her from it.

----------------

Out! Out! Out! Joyce cried as she waved the spatula at Willow.

But- Willow protested clutching a bag of peas and wanting to help the wild woman of the refrigerator. This had seemed like her big chance to get Mrs Summers out of the kitchen. She was having none of it though. Days to go and already she was holed up already. A trench helmet would not have gone amiss.

Joyce took the peas from her at the door, not letting her in. Thank you Willow. Its very kind of you. Very kind of you all. Now get out!

Willow backed off and left Joyce to put the peas in the freezer and return to her recipe books. So much to do and so little time to go. She had no idea how she had managed before when she was working as well. But then that had just been for the three of them. This, this was a party. And it was going to be the best one ever. Even if she was still getting tired really easily. After Christmas she knew she would probably take a few days back in bed but until then. Things needed doing.

But they kept trying to help her. And she was letting them, right up to the kitchen door. They were decorating, arranging, sorting the gifts out. Everything. But the kitchen - that was hers. There were snacks, finger foods, traditional pies and food to bake and cook. On the day itself a huge turkey to stuff and prepare. She knew that if she were not vigilant then she would find things getting done. A little at a time. Inexorably getting done without her being involved. At first she might not have even noticed it, perhaps thought she had forgotten doing the task

It was sweet of them.

But this was her job. She was a mom and this was her house. This was what she did. She'd been missing without trace, buried in her bed, far too long and it was time to take care of her girls and their friends. They had forgotten that this place, she took in the kitchen free of decorations and interference, was hers. The spatula was to remind them of that important fact.

----------------

Giles pulled up in his car and just for a moment Xander felt a touch of jealousy once more. Now those were wheels. He went back to fixing the lights up after waving his hammer at Giles who returned the salute somewhat hesitantly. Had Giles actually ever touched a hammer? Not when I fixed up most of his shop at cost that was for certain.

Nor when I repair the frequent damage. Good job he isn't trying to claim on insurance for all that. There must be an exclusion for supernatural occurrences. There was for everything else. Besides his premiums the sky was not the limit. Still Giles had lived longer than most owners of that store seemed to.

Might be funny to find out though what he was like though. Want to give me a hand? I have a spare hammer, he suggested temptingly to Giles as he made it up to the door.

No. No, thank you. I have things that I must do. Giles looked at him, as he often did.

Things? What things would those be? Xander asked curiously then saw that Giles thought he had been accusing. I was just wondering. Interested and curious.

Yes, quite. Well organization. Management. The paternal role. Hunting for other things to justify his presence and realising what he was carrying Giles gestured with the box of streamers and decorations. Supplies! Extra's from the shop.

How is the shop? Anya was very er last night Xander trailed off, thinking of just what term best fitted.

Enthusiastic is I think the word you are looking for, Giles completed for him.

His tone told Xander that things weren't peachy at The Magic Box between his girl and her employer. Then he couldn't imagine working for Giles, or for that matter with Anya. Much better just to share life and love. With her. Not Giles. Oh there was one of those scary visual places again.

She said she got a very good deal on the decorations, Xander offered positively.

Quite. They were very inexpensive and of a very good quality. Giles didn't sound as massively impressed as he should be.

But

Well she bought enough to hide every inch of wall space and the entire ceiling. That was not entirely an exaggeration. His shop was already decorated to the rafters. Any more and he could start selling the decorations. And she had shut the shop for the afternoon to put them up. And who had to go up the ladder? Who was the boss? He was beginning to wonder.

Hence the box.

Boxes actually. There are three more in the car, Giles warned him. And there is a six foot snowman hung over the charms and poultice section.

Oh. I didnt see that one. That did sound like decoration overkill.

Lucky you. I had to sneak these out when she went to the bathroom, Giles revealed.

You went AWOL? Xander asked not quite believing that even Giles could be that naive. On Anya?

Yes Giles sounded less sure of himself when it was put that way.

Good. Fine. You show her who's boss. Oh dear. Scared anyone?

Yeser Giles repeated. Do you think, could you, you could intervene on my behalf well just talk to her?

Oh no. You're sooo much on your own G-man.

Thanks very much I must say, Giles replied and headed inside and away from the obvious avenue of pursuit. Besides he had a car, how fast could she get here?

My pleasure! Xander replied, glad to have remained out of it all. Well that was the point. No way was he going against Anya. Giles just had to work with her. He chose to live with her and glorious as that was ninety-nice percent of the time, well when he annoyed her there was no way he was going down that route for Giles. Christmas spirit only went so far. Twas the season for giving not utter contempt for the laws of self-preservation.

Besides if Giles was organising then what was Willow doing running around trying to coordinate? Friction on the way but hey, it was Christmas. What else was the holiday season for? And besides he was safe enough outside. All night if necessary. It was traditional.


****************


It was very disconcerting. This whole celebration had been planned very carefully to keep Buffy's Mom from doing too much and now it looked like she might end up doing more than any of them. There was a whole division of labour thing that was supposed to be happening - aimed at keeping her, and Giles, out of the kitchen. There was a chart somewhere. In different colours.

Willow had planned it on her laptop and was proud of the result but Tara couldn't quite understand why she hadn't just printed that out instead of getting out her pens. It was a taking control thing. Like printout yawn everyone had a printout nowadays. But the master copy that she worked from needed different coloured pens - gotta take those pens seriously.

Willow. Giles said looking around at what was occurring, seemingly inspecting.

Bossy boots. Hi Giles. She gave him a little wave, but he better not interfere with her coordination. Everything was going just great. She had Xander fitting the decorations. The Dawnster - when she got back - was down to sort out the tree stuff before she joined her sister and mother in dressing that tree. Spike was covering today's patrolling as well as a lot of the next few days. Tara was doing her thing though she wasn't quite sure what that was. Part of it was secret and she guessed that it might involve her present so she left her love well alone when she was plotting and preparing. Besides she could trust Tara to get on with it and make a contribution. Unlike some people she looked at Giles again as he Ummmed approvingly. Go on Mr Magic Shop; find something wrong with my arrangements.

You can't. You can't can you! Haha!

He stuck his head through the kitchen door and was quickly forced to assure the occupant that he had neither any foodstuffs nor utensils on him.

Joyce is still defending the kitchen? he asked Willow as he retreated from the spatula-wielding matriarch.

Drat, that was the fly in the ointment. Or rather the slightly scary recovering lady in the kitchen. She just wished that Buffys mom would relax.

I think we might have to let her do the food and the meal, Willow replied, resigned to it by now.

Well yes, it is her kitchen and her house her family. We are, technically, the guests, he told her. She may feel that etiquette demands that she contribute. Oooh are those mince pies I smell?

Willow nodded And we decided to do the holidays here without asking her and took over the house. That had been Giles's area and he had failed to perform. They had all arrived and found Buffy's mom still in bed and not knowing they were coming at all.

Well yes, Giles raised a finger, seemed about to make a point but relented. Fair enough. My bad I think you would say.

Yay me! One for the Wiccan, and the Watcher has yet to score.

I have some more decorations if you need any. Seeing her look at the box he added, 'There are more in the car.

Giles, that might be more than we need. I don't have that much experience in decorating for Christmas on account of not believing in it and everything but I have to say that would be overkill.

You should see my bloody shop then, he murmured though loud enough to be heard.

Anya? Willow guessed.

Is convinced that sales will pick up with appropriate decorations. There were times when he had to wish that Willow or Tara had been working for him instead, but then they would very likely not have made him the money that Anya was. She was a necessary evil with plenty of practice in that department. And yes he rather liked her. Some of the time. Mainly whilst they weren't alone in the shop together. Anya was much easier to like at a distance and in absentia. He really rather respected Xander for coping with her so well and they seemed happy together. He just wished she wouldnt tell him just how they were happy together. Whilst everyone else worried about him knowing anything about sex, being old as he was, Anya seemed to think he needed to know far, far more.

She gets enthusiastic, Willow summed up. I'm kind of excited about spending a whole holiday with you guys too. You know without Native Americans trying to stick us full of authentic arrows and everything.

Giles nodded. Anya gets excited about the money which, I must say as a shopkeeper, is rather a good thing all things considered. Factor Christmas into that too If only she wouldn't.

Show that enthusiasm?

Exactly. If I had wanted enthusiasm I would have become sports coach. Choosing to be a librarian and then a magic shop where you could charge high prices for relatively few items had been a studied path to anticipated calm and time for reflection. Instead of which

Willow thought about his words and imagined him in shorts and t-shirt with a whistle and started to laugh.

Did I say something funny?

Just imagining you as a coach, sorry. Coach Giles with your whistle and everything. She cracked up and eventually straightened up pained by a lack of breathing.

I could have been a coach. I could have coached club rugby. As for here in America, I can't follow the rules of these uncivilized games that you lot call sports, he complained.

They are a mystery to many and a religion to most, Willow added, perhaps wisely not revealing into which group she fell as only a part-time basketball fan.

Yes, well mocking my sporting prowess and motivation skills aside is there anything that I can do?

Hearing a voice from outside and twisting to see who it was, Willow made the only suggestion that she could. Hide from Anya?

Oh god she's not here already is she?

Yup. That'll teach you to try and rain on my parade mister.

Willow got on with her organising. Xander was where he was supposed to be, but Giles and Anya were here instead of at the shop. Ok. She found the blank columns on the chart that Tara had insisted she put in for flexibility's sake and pencilled them in using the appropriate colours. Then she crossed them off the column marked 'Shop'. She then began top wonder where Dawn was. On the schedule she was supposed to be here putting up decorations and getting ready to dress the tree. In actuality she was nowhere to be found. Willow frowned. What was the point of having a schedule if you didn't follow it? She'd have a few things to say to that young lady later.


**************

Xander!

Anya approach had been almost silent as he had concentrated on fastening up one of those decorations that Giles had brought. So silent that he had almost fallen off the ladder when she attracted his attention by placing her hand on his behind.

Giles is here? she continued rubbing his butt in a way that was still likely to encourage the falling from ladders that he usually liked to avoid.

Yup there's the Giles-mobile. He turned and saw the look on her face. Bad for someone. Still it isn't me so okaay betrayal is a definite option. He's inside. Definitely good that it isnt me, he thought. Organising.

He's supposed to be helping me decorate the shop, but he just disappeared with three boxes of my decorations! Anya was not at all impressed.

In that mood she and Willow were get along just great. Willow being on her coordination kicks deadlines, objectives and rosters. God it was good to be working in the great outdoors. He breathed in savouring the sheer outsideness and not-at-all-insideness of it. Even a rain shower wasn't going to get him in that house until one, or better yet more, of Giles, Willow and his girlfriend left or were separated. By someone else. The Buffinator. It wasn't slaying but it might get nastier. Buffy hear my prayer.

I thought that some demon with a decoration fetish had got them. But he and his car was gone too.

Good detective work hun. You've gotta rule out the demons in this town, he offered.

I know. That's why I thought demon first. But really he is just slacking. If he worked for me then I would sack him, Anya divulged. Not for the first time either.

We talked about this Ahn. He doesn't work for you and if you want to keep working for him and getting paid just tone down your anger a touch.

Even though I'm right? she asked.

Now there was a loaded question. But then Giles didn't pay him, employ him or anything else. Even though you're right hun. It is often called the playing of the game. He stepped a little way down the ladder and stroked her hair as she beamed at him, certain of her position with his backing.

Anya smiled once more, thanked him for that and then headed inside and as he turned back to his task something down the street caught his eye. Carol singers but wasnt that? Nah couldnt be.

From his lower vantage point he could see Giles and Willow through the window. Oh dear. It was kind of like a cat, a dog and a well something that didn't go well with cats or dogs all living in the same house. Maybe a ferret. And if he had been asked nothing in this world would have got him to say who was who. Still he was outside. He wasn't afraid for Buffy's mom; she was safely camped in the kitchen with that knuckle rapping spatula but Tara and Buffy oh dear. Crossfire time ladies.

****************

Mr Giles and Anya are at it again, Tara observed after a few minutes of Anya's no-doubt pointed comments and Giles's increasingly less than patient retorts.

Oh yeah, Buffy replied listening. She had ducked into Dawn's room where Tara was preparing stuff for Christmas, but with the running discussion that was occurring down there it seemed something worth missing. Whilst Dawn had let Tara use her room and she had no doubts that her little sister would be less than impressed with her poking around in here. Which was why it was entirely too good an opportunity to miss out on.

It makes you wonder, I mean why they keep working together, Tara mused.

I think they enjoy it really. Much as he might protest there was a spring in Giles step when he had been in discussions with Anya. A tightly coiled spring but a spring nevertheless.

And Anya is very good, you know at the sales thing,

Better than Giles anyway. The girl has a gift for money. I'm jealous Buffy paused at the glance Tara gave her. I can only spend money.

Oh yeah, Tara smiled the smile of the impoverished student who was spending big for the holidays.

What are you doing? Buffy finally asked after about ten minutes in Tara's company just watching and only then realising that what the young woman was doing was absolutely nothing relating to how Christmas had ever been done before in this house.

Yule.

I'll what? See? Is it a secret? Shouldn't I be looking? Buffy asked suddenly worried that she might be interfering with some spell or rite.

No Yule Y-U-L-E as in a Yule log. Everyone had heard of Yule logs and yuletide greetings and very few stopped to wonder just what Yule was. Well this year they were going to get an education. Well at least Willow was.

You have to make stuff? Buffy wondered. Everything on the desk, laid out on Dawn's bed. It was all so obviously handmade and beautiful.

Tara nodded. I choose to. It's traditional to make the gifts and decorations rather than buying them. She smiled. We, I mean Willow and I agreed that we would do that this year. Besides Dawny had been raving about a traditional Christmas since she'd read some book or something. You didn't get much more traditional than Yule.

Aha you and Willow. Buffy remained non-committal. She had seen Tara's present from Willow. Natural yes but not homemade. Not unless she had a quarry in her dorm. Which Buffy didn't remember from last time she was there. Finally she settled for Nice. Nice didn't actually cut it for these. She turned some of the items over, examining the colours, the touch and the quality. No, not just nice, beautiful.

Really? You should have seen what my mother used to do.

Oh yeah definitely more than nice. Wish I could do something like that The last time she had got art and crafty was setting up for the parents evening that Spike had crashed. And now look; he's frequently a guest in the house. Times change. Chips happen.

Want to try?

Oh no I can't make anything that I would ever be able to give anyone. Whittling stakes is about my limit, Buffy told her, though some of those have been masterpieces of their kind.

Go on have a go at a pinecone. All you need to do is melt a little pine resin, drip it on top and then sprinkle on a little of the incense and a little of that glitter. You could even decorate the tips with gold or silver paint. Then there are more in case it isn't great, Tara argued conceding that it might not be. Her own first attempts back home had been sources of great pride to her mother but quite rightly they had been the first to be ritually burnt.

I can't, Im all

Helps work off tension, Tara saw that perked Buffy up a little. Besides, she nodded at the door. What are you going to do out there? With them was the obvious implication.

With that going on not much, Buffy replied smiling. Though I might have to slay someone if they keep at it too long. Tara returned that amused smiled in reply and proffered a pinecone and a paintbrush. Besides no one will let me do anything.

I will. We're just looking after you for once. We figured that you spent the year saving the world and with your Mom and someone did tell you this right? she asked worried in case Buffy had no more idea what was going on than her mom had.

Riley. You can say his name you know I won't sink into the floor. Much. And yes someone did tell explain it to me. Did you draw straws for that? Buffy asked. Xander hadnt seemed to relish telling her that she was to officially butt out and let the rest of them get on with it.

Paper, stones and scissors actually. Heck of a game for high stakes. Xander had got to tell Buffy whilst Giles had wimped out of his penalty to tell Mrs Summers. Well after Riley and everything we thought you might need a break. It's our turn. Besides Mr Giles did Thanksgiving. It had all been pretty subdued though as Mrs Summers was already getting sick by then. With her getting better this could be a celebration.

Oh yeah, I had some of the leftovers. Buffy pulled a face, it was exaggerated but Giles cooking was definitely in the bachelor style. So that's why you let him think he was organising.

Xander insisted, Tara told her and Buffy looked back at her. Okay Anya may have suggested it too. Withering under the intense scrutiny Tara laughed, and the rest of us agreed. But-

I won't say a word, the Slayer promised taking the cone and examining it carefully. I'm sure this is going to turn out more like a plum pudding than a pine cone.

It doesn't matter, it's for decoration and later, on Christmas day, we burn them in the fire - thats why we're using the incense. Tara pointed out.

There goes Willow, Buffy commented absently as the discussion downstairs became three way, or rather as Willow took control of the argument and made it her own. Never get in the way of a redhead on a mission. They could put that in the slayer handbook too.

Oh yeah, Tara replied smiling. Go get 'em Sweetie.

***************

Things were definitely looking up Larry had to admit. From a financial perspective anyway. Coming to peoples houses, which had supposed to be to get dinner, was starting to pay much better than the daily shopping centre session that they had just come from. People were really getting into the Christmas spirit as it got closer. But for some reason they were still neither getting invited inside nor tempting people to come outside. At least not when they could grab a bite.

His stomach rumbled and it was not the first time. Harmony said that she knew places where you could buy blood and they definitely had the money for that now, but it just didnt seem right. And he wasnt even first up for dinner. Harmony had decided that they would draw straws. So they had. And he was dead last. Great. No one had got a bite yet and he was going to have to wait for the rest. Harmony of course, having studied the art of leadership from a book jacket, had put herself second without a straw. Letting the winner go first, but right up there with them without merit. Or luck.

Im under Harmony Kevin had announced with another leer at the draw.

And got another slap in the face and an Ewww.

But what was this? Was this lady about to she might. She might actually do it. She might let them in. Oh happy day. Only four more successes until I get my own, though Barry might share... Besides at her age this lady was not his idea of fast food.

Come in dear, the old woman said to Barry. My purse is inside and would you like something to eat.

That would be nice. Barry started forward, grinning as Harmony clapped excited. She just loved the fact that her plan had, finally, worked and Barry, being first up, was all in favour of the plan. They had drawn straws and he was first up for dinner. Were he eating the old woman all up then she would probably be a bit stringy but blood was blood was blood as the saying went. Actually there probably wasn't a saying that said that exactly.

With the slightest gesture at the roof above the frauds the large, hidden, figure caused a roofing tile to come loose and start to slide along its fellows, gathering speed. Faster and faster slid. Barry hearing its rattle looked up and could see nothing until the slate hit the gutter, span under its momentum and fell like the blade of a guillotine towards his upturned neck. Slicing and reducing him to a pile of ashes before the slate shattered on the floor. The figure made another note, then scribbled it out realising he had referred to the wrong one. It was the colours they were wearing, to a being that saw in just shades of darkness it was all very confusing.

Harmony sighed and gestured at the remainder of her choral group. Come on. They walked back down the path and into the street.

The resident came back, turned round at the noise, but evidently missed the broken slate on the path. Hello dear? Are you there? No one answered her so she closed her door and went back to her chair in front of the fire.

Storming down the street Harmony was clearly not impressed. What is it with you guys? You have got to be the unluckiest vampires in the world!

Well yeah, Larry told her, thats why you chose us. If we had been lucky wed still be alive. You told us that. You chose us, he continued, because we were losers. I like to think that is down to bad luck.

No, Harmony retorted, youre losers because that is your lot in life. Someone has to be a loser so that there can be winners.

Like you?

Yes, like me. She totally missed the sarcasm.

Does the winner get a kiss? Kevin asked.

Shut up! Harmony and the remaining Elves turned to him and shouted, totally missing the shadow moving along behind them.

Im a winner. My whole life I knew I was better than the rest of you. That was just the way it was and now that we are dead then it is doubly true, as you are my minions, she told them, determined to stamp her authority on them once more.

So that would mean that you were three times better than us? Larry asked, determined to trip her up.

Yes! At least. Duh! What did you think I meant?

Just checking. Not really off the chart smart was she? What about that house up there? The guy is already outside, we might not even have to sing!

Always thinking with your stomach Harmony looked up the street to where Larry was pointing. The house looked vaguely familiar. The man on the ladder looked even more familiar. Xander Harris. But he didnt live there she knew that.

Who lived there? Oh!

Right elves. About face. We are going that way. She led by example and started down the street in the other direction, causing the shadowing figure to disappear behind a telegraph pole that should never have provided cover for his bulk.

Wait! Why? What are we going this way for? Dinner there. Outside. Ready Kevin moaned. He was also hungry.

She wasnt about to tell them that she was afraid. She wasn't about to tell them about the slayer either. Just follow. That is what you're good at.

Okay, Kevin said more cheerfully and started to trail her, watching her legs as he did so.

Larry was less convinced but what could he do? When Cary fell down the suddenly open manhole and landed chest first on a floating piece of packing crate in the sewers no one really thought much about it.

Another piece of bad luck, Harmony was right about that, they were pretty unlucky.


------------------


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 Post subject: Re: A Holiday Fic: A Sunnydale Carol
PostPosted: Sun Nov 28, 2004 3:28 pm 
Chapter Six

Tara got down to work. She started out with the simple things. The wreath of holly and ivy that would represent the wheel of the seasons during the ritual. The decoration and preparation of the two Yule logs. One for their own Yule and the other, more showy and less symbolic version for the joint Christmas celebration. Those little items took her a couple of hours to get right. She then moved on to the decorative cloved oranges and lemons for the tree and the other small, handmade decorations that she had promised Dawn.

Dawn had heard a story somewhere about some of the traditional English customs. Probably from watching one of the seasonal repeats of 'A Christmas Carol' on the television. Tara made small pinecones tipped with gold and silver paint, little ornaments of left over holly, long chains made of coloured paper and ivy, and small bundles of mistletoe, to hang around the house.

She then began work on the gifts. Willow's wand was already a work in progress. She'd tipped it with an amethyst crystal and was working on a complex latticework of tiny quartz beads held by fine brass wire. She'd carefully selected the components, trying to match them to Willow's personality and magic. For the others the presents were simpler. She'd made up several blends of essential oils into bath oils, soaps and lotions for the ladies. Each of the women had a blend that was geared to their own needs.

Relaxation and healing for Joyce, protection and purification for Buffy. Dawn was getting a light fragrant blend for clarity of mind and emotions, while Anya got a blend designed for desire and material wealth. For Xander she had made leather billfold from a prepared kit. She'd also put a lot of effort into the pair of embroidered moccasin-style slippers for Mr Giles. She also prepared him an incense that was designed to relax and refresh him.

Of course this was not all achieved in a day. It took her nearly two weeks of work to get it done. Some of the oil mixing and making of soaps and lotion was carried out in the basement of the Magic Box. For some things she borrowed Dawn's room while she was out. Willow's wand she prepared in a circle cast under the willow tree where the wood came from. It was the only item that she imbued with magic in the making, being careful to do only so much and no more - leaving the wand free to key itself to her beloved.

It was as an afterthought that she made a gift for Spike. Spike still scared her a bit, but she was very grateful that he'd proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was no demon. True, it was by hitting her in the nose, and he may not have been completely altruistic in his motives. In fact she thought that he had probably just hit her to get the argument over with or for the fun of it, hoping she was a demon, but she appreciated it nonetheless. She knew that now he was doing them the favour of taking over many of Buffy's patrols over the Christmas period. This prompted her to think long and hard about what to give him. She finally came up with the idea of a shirt in his favourite colour, black. It took her little time, working from a generic pattern for a loose fitting shirt, but she made it special with some small embroidery on the cuffs in silver.


****************

Spiders!

Willow woke from her sleep and there was something on her face, light, tickling, crawling… Spiders… no it was, it was just…

Tara’s hair.

Just Tara’s hair. Not a spider. Not a spider. Just her love’s hair. In a nice comfy bed, with a complete lack of nature. Nature was best appreciated in the daytime… and outdoors. If we were supposed to have nature inside we wouldn’t have doors, roofs and walls to keep it all out.

Strange way for a Wicca to think, but in her sleep she was much less the Wicca and more exposed girl just waiting for those creepy crawlies to take the opportunity and crawl all over her face. She checked each and every day for spiders or crawlies in the room so there was less chance.

But out there would be…

There would be spiders. Out there in the woods there would be spiders.

She wasn’t as sure about this Yule thing as she should be and the spiders were the least of it. There was so much to do and Tara wanted her to drop everything and go out to the woods with her? For a whole night? And use tomorrow morning to recover putting off some crucial shopping.

Who was going to organise the others?

Time was running short and there wasn't a one of them that she could rely on not to get distracted and ignore her carefully formulated and coloured schedule – Tara had already made it clear that she was making her own preparations until Yule was over, then she would be able to rely on Tara’s unstinting efforts she knew that, but there was so much to do now. And was she supposed to rely on Xander? More responsible by a country mile these days sure, but still not Mr Organization. Giles and Anya had the shop. Buffy and her Mom were sort of the point. That just leaves lil’ ol’ me and I’m going out into the wood to get crawled on.

Had it not been Tara who had told her about the importance of the Yule celebrations she wouldn't have believed that she could have found the time. But it was Tara - and when Tara said that it was something that they should do then she really wanted to.

She wanted to do it. She wanted to celebrate Tara’s beliefs. Share in them. It was just… couldn’t it come after Christmas when they had more time?

Guess not… Yule was when Yule was… and after she would just have run into Chanukah with her own parents. There was no good time anytime soon. Maybe July though?

Still the schedule had been adjusted and there was that big pink block running from 16.15 today to 12.45 tomorrow for both of them. It did all fit… just as long as everyone else kept up with their own personal schedules – which was looking increasingly tighter what with Tara’s insistence that they actually all get four hours a day to themselves uninvolved in sleep, work or feeding themselves.

How was a person supposed to organise on the basis that everyone actually had to have a life outside of what she could arrange for them?

Still four hours rostered in with her love… way better than two. So there were benefits. But strangely Tara hadn’t taken to being rostered into quality time with her. Having it planned for them. Tara had always been there during that time, had made a point of getting back for it. But she had refused to commit herself to it according to the schedule. From anyone else it was rebellion from Tara it was endearing devotion.

And she liked that – but she wasn’t forgetting about the spiders anytime soon.

“Sweetie, it takes the fun out of it,” Tara had told her. Maybe she was right, but at least there was that time. If they had been running around without a plan they might not have been able to spend time together. Each and every day.

Organization was the key to success.

And coloured coded personal schedules.

Maybe a feedback form, so I can make it better next year… Perhaps start earlier. More sleep. More personal time…

But without the spiders.

Course Tara had said that they wouldn’t be sleeping tonight. True enough honey, there is absolutely no way that I am laying down on the forest floor and letting… uggh. There was nothing they could do to protect themselves against creepy insects. And arachnids. She’d looked. Not a single spell that could help keep the crawlies out. If you had a house then it was easy. But if you were going back to nature then you couldn’t exclude the nastier bits of it.

And hadn’t Tara told her a few days ago that she was starting to sleep with her mouth hanging open…

No! That wasn't something that she wanted to think about… at all … ever!

***********

Tara was quietly amused by Willow's fears of the great outdoors. She'd spent nights outdoors before this and her life growing up was lived much closer to nature than she lived now, even in a smallish town like Sunnydale. But Willow had always been a little afraid of nature, hating insects and frogs and 'creepy crawlies', as she put it. The stress seemed to vary between ‘Creepy’ and ‘Crawly’ depending on the specific fear at that moment. Tara wanted this to be a special night, to share something with Willow, not to spend it watching her love jump at every touch or sound.

She’d decided that something would have to be done. She knew there were no spells that could keep out the power of nature, but she also knew that the nature could be worked with and that was what she intended to do. She picked up Mr Giles' car that lunchtime, reassuring him several times that she would drive carefully. It took her about an hour to gather together all her gear and pack it in the back, and then the drive to the State Park. She began by going to her chosen ground and thanking nature for permitting its use that night. She spoke to the spirits of the place and to the insects and wildlife and asked them for their help.

It was late afternoon when she arrived back with an empty car. She'd set up the tent and the circle and made all the final preparations for their arrival later this evening. The only thing left to do was pack the hamper containing the special meal she'd prepared for the occasion. When she walked in the door her nose immediately detected the smell of citronella and rosemary. Willow had gone a bit overboard in trying to mix a suitable insect repellent.

“Willow that really does smell well, strong.” Tara commented as she went to pack the few personal possessions that she would need tonight. She slipped Willow's gift into her bag. She'd wrapped it in a special silk cloth that she had embroidered for the purpose. She hoped Willow liked her gift; she'd put a great deal of love and effort into it.

Willow was still trying to get her stinky mixture just right. She decided that since magick wouldn't serve, chemistry could do the work. Knowing how Tara felt about insecticides and sprays she decided to go with an all-insect repellent. Though why the world couldn't get by with a few less insects she never could understand. The resultant oil was pungent and strong, too strong. She was beginning to be repelled by the stuff herself. And smear it on for the night? Better than spiders though.

Tara came back into the room carrying a small overnight bag. Her nose wrinkled at the repulsive aroma and she came over to try and get the mad chemist to tone it down a bit. “Honey, if you cut that with some pure oil - about a teaspoon of that to, say a cup of oil, it should work just fine and not make a people repellent as well. “

Willow liked the suggestion and tried to calculate the exact amounts needed. She scribbled frantically on the notebook beside her, trying to determine the mathematically perfect amount. She had barely started this when Tara presented her with a small bottle containing oil.

“Sniff this and see what you think,” Tara suggested.

Willow cautiously passed her nose over the bottle and was pleasantly surprised by the subtle aroma. “What did you do?” She asked curiously. She'd been working on this for an hour or more, getting more and more frustrated. Tara had managed it in under a minute.

“I just added a little of your mix into some plain oil and mixed well.” Tara replied. Willow's face was a study in amazement mixed with annoyance. “You did all the hard work.” Tara added quickly. “I just blended it a bit.”

Willow allowed herself a little satisfaction at that. She'd done the initial work, and would have hit on this formula eventually. That didn't stop her being slightly jealous at Tara's instinctive way with such things. But only for a moment. Her love was a natural.

She packed up the ingredients and carefully sealed the bottle with the concentrated oil, for possible use later. Then she took the time to wordlessly tell Tara just how wonderful she was, until Tara broke off the kiss by giving her a push towards her bag. “You'd better get whatever you want for tonight. We should be leaving soon.” Tara carefully packed away the insect repellent, she knew it wouldn't be necessary, but it would give Willow a reason for the lack of those 'creepy crawlies'. She smiled quietly to herself.

------------------

Chapter Seven

Willow had been slightly reluctant to even leave the car. The great outdoors had always frightened her. Not in the same way that the unique Sunnydale nightlife frightened her - she knew and understood them. No it was the unknown world of nature that she had little understanding of – creepy crawly nature specifically. It was just before sunset when they arrived and Tara carried her overnight bag into the tent. Willow liked the idea of the tent - it was a safe refuge from the things outside. She carefully spread some of her insect repellent around the door to keep the crawly nasties away, and then spread a little on herself as well. Tara had said nothing but Willow got the distinct impression that her actions somehow amused her lover. Tara was shy and retiring, but out here she seemed to be the confident one. It was obvious she had been here earlier today to set all this up, and here she was now starting a small fire in a fire pit and hanging a metal grid over it, suspended on a tripod. It puzzled Willow until Tara bought the cold box and the hamper from the car and heated the water for tea.

Tara was amused at Willow's little ways. She knew that the insects and wildlife would not bother them that night, but she allowed Willow to go through the motions of making the tent and herself 'insect proof'. It was sweet to watch her deal with her little insecurities, but Tara knew that as the night progressed she would relax and enjoy herself. To assist this process she carefully lit a fire and set up the cooking gear, putting some water on to boil for tea. She'd made a point of getting some of the herbal tea Willow enjoyed. Soon the clearing was filled with the smell of burning pine and hot herb tea.

Willow sipped her tea slowly as the sun set, watching the stars come out one by one with a clarity that could not be seen in the glow of civilisation. The air was crisp and clear, and a little cold. She was glad Tara had convinced her to wear warmer clothes than she had initially chosen. It was colder here than in town. The view was magnificent, looking eastward into the darkness with the setting sun to their backs. The whole area seemed welcoming, friendly even. Willow began to relax and just enjoy this special time.

When they'd both finished their tea Tara indicated it was time for the Yule ritual. Willow was a bit unsure about this, she'd never been involved in a ritual where a specific spell wasn't being cast. She saw a ritual more as a tool to raise power for a purpose rather than an end in itself. They both removed their shoes and entered the circle. Willow admired the small altar that Tara had set up on a rock that had been there, waiting for them forever. Tara concentrated on the ritual and the lighting of the special Yule fire that she had prepared in a fire pit beside the altar. Willow was impressed when her love caused the flames to rise with just a word, and was even more impressed by the levels of power that she could feel spiralling up between them. Tara looked so beautiful standing there as she raised her hands to offer prayers to the God and Goddess.

Tara lifted her spirit and sent it forth as she rejoiced in the rebirth of the Oak King, the Lord of Light, who comes to dispel the darkness of winter. She could feel the power they had raised as a palpable force and used a little to light the Yule log which would burn through the night. She could see that Willow could feel it too as they both sprinkled a little incense on the fire. As they progressed through the ritual, step by step, Tara was reminded of the last time she had celebrated this way with her mother, about a year before she died. She could feel her mother smiling down on her and her lover, as the power rose to the heavens with the fragrant smoke of the frankincense and myrrh. Then, too soon it seemed, the ritual came to an end. She thanked the deities for their presence and grounded the power once more, returning it to the land from whence it came. She stood there, hand in hand with Willow for the longest time, just content to be there. They concluded the rite by drinking wine from the cup, well - grape juice actually, and offering the last mouthful to the gods in libation. Then they ate the special Yule cakes she'd secretly baked in Xander's small kitchen. With these formalities all was done and she opened the circle, freeing the last of the energies to the four winds.


********************

They were relaxing by the cookfire, watching the Yule log burn while Tara occasionally gave the vegetables frying in the pan a bit of a stir. Willow was amazed at the amount of planning it took to have their meal all prepared and ready for cooking over an open fire. Almost as amazed as she was to find out that Tara was a wiz at outdoor cooking. Her sweetie was full of surprises tonight.

Tara carefully tended the fire and made sure the food was cooking and not burning. She hadn't done this sort of thing since she came to Sunnydale. Sitting here in these glorious surroundings with the most wonderful woman in the world, she felt safe and contented. These last few months had been hard on her. The fears about her presumed destiny as a demon and the relief she felt when she knew it wasn't so. The loss of her birth family and the gaining of another family of choice. The finding of the missing half of herself in the wonder that was Willow. Tonight she was the luckiest woman on earth.

The conversation remained light and cheer during dinner. Tara was pleased to notice that Willow no longer made quick, nervous glances into the darkness outside the light of the fires, expecting some hostile beastie to rush out at them. Willow was really beginning to relax and enjoy herself, not even finding it an effort to refrain from talking about the Christmas schedule which Tara had declared was a forbidden topic for the duration of the night. Tara told Willow the story of the Holly King and the Oak King, and Willow countered with a rendition of the old folk tale of the silver pine cone. By the time they had finished the last vestiges of dessert they were both laughing over various jokes and anecdotes that seemed to flow with ease. The evening was early though and after a few hours the conversation began to turn to more serious matters.

"Its been quite a year, hasn't it?" Tara observed as she poured Willow another mug of hot mulled grape juice.

"The biggest." Willow admitted, sipping at the sweet, spiced drink.

"So much has happened." Tara looked at Willow with that shy smile she still sometimes revealed. "The best part was finding you."

Willow's face lit up, as it always did when Tara declared her love. "That has to be the absolute top of any list of all time tops."

"But it wasn't all good."

"Us?" Willow's smile faded. "I thought we were very good?"

"No not us, things." Tara replied, gently caressing Willows cheek. "There were some bad things as well, like when Faith swapped bodies with Buffy."

"I can't believe that I didn't spot her straight off. I mean, I know Buffy or I thought I did. I should have picked up that she was acting funny. It was great how you picked it up straight off, and then knew just what to do."

"It wasn't really anything." Tara dismissed it as she always dismissed any attempt to give her credit.

"It was plenty something." Willow protested, not willing to let the issue pass. "If Faith had gotten away with it nobody would have been safe and I shudder to think what might have happened to Buffy in the hands of the Watcher's Council."

Tara covered her embarrassment by deftly changing the subject. "You defeated Adam and saved lots of lives. I was so proud of you!"

"It wasn't me, Buffy had the hard part. There were some bad moments there though. What about when we had that big argument and Giles got drunk?

"That was awful. I hate it when friends fall out like that." Tara remembered the time she spent in the bathroom with Anya. "I'm glad it turned out alright in the end though."

"I guess. We certainly paid for it afterwards, I still can't get that dream out of my head. I'm just glad you were in it. You were the one safe thing in the entire dream." Willow ran her fingers over that familiar blond hair.

"I want all your dreams to be good ones." Tara responded while stroking Willow's arm.

"And I hope you're in every single one!" Willow exclaimed with real feeling. She still found this relationship to be nothing short of a miracle.

"I'll always be with you." Tara promised. "You know that."

"I do now. I wasn't too clear about it earlier this year. I guess it was really hard on you when Oz came back." Willow admitted with a guilty flush.

"It was pretty bad, but all I really wanted was for you to be happy." Tara snuggled her head on her love's shoulder.

"And I am." Willow replied with complete conviction. "Don't you ever forget it!" She punctuated her words with a kiss.

"Mmmm. How can I forget when you keep reminding me so eloquently?"

"You can't, that’s the point." Willow breathed as she continued on down Tara's neck with a line of light touches from her lips.

"I think I need to be reminded of that again." Tara took Willow's head in her hands and proceeded to remind herself. Willow leaned into the kiss and revelled in the simple expression of their love. The kiss led to cuddles, and cuddles led to other things. Willow was disappointed when Tara pulled away and stood up.

"The tent is very comfortable." She pointed out in low sultry tones. "Shall we investigate the facilities?"

Willow rose and indicated her consent with a kiss, and they disappeared into the comfortable darkness of the tent. There they remained until just before sunrise.


*****************


They were both a little tired by the time they left the tent to greet the dawn. Tara and Willow stood arm in arm as the first rays of the sun rose on the new day. Tara whispered a prayer to the Goddess, while Willow stood in awe at the sheer beauty of the moment. Soon the sun was fully risen and they turned to go back to the tent. Tara went to her bag and pulled out a parcel wrapped in green silk and tied with red ribbon. She returned to Willow and handed it to her. "Joyous Yule, love."

Willow was curious about the gift but waited until she'd given her own gift to Tara. Together they opened their packages. Tara gasped in wonder at the beautiful amethyst she held in her hands. It was a half geode, forming a bowl lined on the inside with purple crystals of amethyst. Big enough to hold a significant amount of water, it could be used for scrying or for clearing other crystals, or for casting spells. She had never held one quite so beautiful and she resisted the urge to ask Willow where she'd found it.

Willow had unwrapped her gift at the same time. A wand made from willow and tipped with a single large amethyst crystal. This would be invaluable in her spellwork. She examined it carefully, noting the quartz bead work and the craftsmanship.

"Thank you so much!" They both said, almost simultaneously. Then they giggled. Both of them were very happy with their gifts.

"There's a new year ahead of us, I wonder what it might bring." Tara mused quietly.

"The usual, an apocalypse or two, more college fun, classes, exams, and lots of scoobie movie nights." Willow replied, not really wanting to look at the future too closely. When you live on a Hellmouth the future was always an iffy proposition.

"No I mean with us. Sharing a room, taking some classes together. What will we do when we finish college? Find an apartment and get jobs? What does the future hold for us?" Tara wondered, not really caring what they might have to face in the meantime, so long as they did it together.

"I don't know?" Willow reluctantly admitted. "There's always too much happening around here to make long term plans. One thing I do know."

"Oh, and what's that?"

"Whatever happens we'll face it together."

Tara beamed, sometimes her thoughts and Willow's were so much the same. "When you're with me I feel like I can do anything and face anything in the whole world."

Willow wrapped her arms around the woman she looked forward to spending the rest of her life with and together they watched as the world around them came to life in the sunlight. As the birds began to sing it seemed like the beginning of a perfect day.


**************
Two nights later - Christmas Eve

“Sweetie, shouldn’t we be doing, you know… the patrol thing,” Tara wondered, looking carefully at every bush and behind every tree down the long pedestrian lane to one of the smaller of Sunnydale’s cemeteries whilst Willow’s hand explored the contours of her butt. She knew which she preferred but… duty and all.

“Oh you hardly ever get attacked on your way to patrol,” Willow told her with the confidence of a person who had been on the receiving end of those ‘hardly evers’ but had better things to think about right now and besides what were the chances? She stopped, looked around with exaggerated gestures then turned back to Tara and planted a quick kiss firmly on her lips as her hand tightened behind Tara. “I don’t see anything… do you?”

“Just you love. Always you.”

They carried on down the lane. It was a nice night. It was a holiday tomorrow and Giles had assured them that the vamps were almost as reluctant at Christmas as they were at Halloween and the lane, well lit with lots of trees and the occasional bench was not an unpleasant place to take a walk. Even if they did have to call it a patrol.

Not a scheduled patrol – at least not scheduled for them - but they were doing a favour for Giles who had decided that he would like to attend Mrs Summer’s Christmas Eve dinner. Bacon, sausage, egg and fries this year she had said. And Giles had said he had procured some black pudding for the occasion. And having looked up the contents of a black pudding… here they were.

“You know we’re all alone out here…” Willow tailed off.

“We could sit and watch for the vampires…” Tara concluded as they came to a bench that looked out over a large portion of the cemetery.

“The view is not up to much…”

“Who’s looking at the view?”

They sat and turned to each other.

---------------------

This just wasn't getting anywhere. The Harmettes had seemed like a great plan. He had to give that blond ditz who was his sire that. The plan should have worked. They were earning money hand over fist… but that didn’t accomplish much when Harmony just killed the storekeeper that had whatever item they desired.

And he still hadn’t had a live meal.

Packets of blood… uggghh. He was sure that the plastic… contaminated the taste. The only fresh blood he’d had was that Harmony had given him to turn him and compared to that sweet deliciousness a packet was just… dog food. Fake and false.

And was the plan getting him any closer to having that meal?

It should. Larry didn’t even blame Harmony. The plan should have worked. People had always come outside in the past to greet carol singers. He’d been there. All they had to do was grab them by the hair and yank them into our teeth.

But no. They stayed inside and when someone did come out…. Well weird things happened.

Hearing voices on the other side of the bushes he peered out through them and found two young women on a bench, just sat as if waiting for him to snack on their lovely, living, necks.

This would be easy.

He heard the slight drone of a plane overhead, but didn’t even look. He was going to stalk these two, just for the practice and then he was going to eat. At least one of them and wouldn’t Harmony be impressed if he took the other back for her?

There was nothing that could get in the way. No weird accidents were going to befall this vampire.

He just wished that he had got changed. He was still dressed as an elf. Which was definitely the downside of the plan. Not likely to inspire the fear that Harmony said made the blood taste better.

--------------------

Watching Larry approach the young women in his elf suit something large gestured up at the sky and the world changed once again. So very slightly. Sometimes it hardly seemed fair to such incompetents, but rules were rules.

--------------------

Thousands of feet above Sunnydale the representatives of the many nations of the world threw themselves out of an aeroplane in a night time parachute jump dressed in national costumes. Intending to land in the Sunnydale Park at the Festival of Togetherness where spotlights blazed into the sky. Night time jumps were the worst, you could rarely see where you were going and there was always the danger of landing in the crowd when you were doing it for display purposes.

One unfortunate representative lost one of the clogs she was intending to put on when she had landed as she flung herself out of the door.

She just hoped that it wouldn’t smash any windows or hit a car and carried on falling.

--------------------

Willow and Tara broke from their smoochies briefly as the plane droned overhead. “We could swing back past the park and see the festivities if you like?” Tara suggested to her love, reminded of what was going on.

“Later,” Willow suggested and pulled her back to her.

--------------------

Larry moved in, choosing to come at the women from over a small ridge behind them that had good plant cover for his movements. He lost sight of them momentarily as he went behind the hill, but they were wrapped up in each other. Almost literally.

Kevin would love that.

But Kevin wasn’t here and he was. So he got to eat and Kevin didn’t. Which pleased him. A lot.

Larry stepped up towards the brow of the hill, the sound of the tennis machine spitting balls out at the freaks who were playing at this hour reverberating through his enhanced ears from the courts behind him.

---------------------

The clog had never travelled so fast. Not that it was aware of that. But as a rule clogs were pretty slow items. The wood grew slowly before they were carved out and no one ever really ran very fast in clogs. Well not twice anyway.

If it had been aware it would have been pretty impressed by the ride.

Then with a huge denting clank it struck machine that was serving tennis balls, the blow altering the aim. The inevitable bounce, the second descent sent it right into the machine… where not being ball shaped it got, briefly stuck, as the mechanism wound itself up, fired one more ball then tried to pull the clog through. Gears screamed and the wood was getting scored as it moved forwards.

---------------------

The tennis ball hit Larry in the back and he spun round. That had hurt. But it hadn’t killed him. How a tennis ball came to hit him in the back he had no idea. Another of those weird accidents? Maybe but not at all fatal. He bent and picked up the ball…

---------------------

“You hear something sweetie?” Tara asked.

“Kiss me witch.”

“Okay.”

---------------------

The clog made it through the machine. It shouldn’t have. It was entirely the wrong shape and size but there was a hitherto undiscovered design flaw that would allow something resembling a clog, at a certain angle to be pulled though with only a minimum of sharpening.

And it was spat out the service end, watched by the amazed woman with her tennis racket, out over the fence and towards the woods at the edge of the court.

----------------------

Just a tennis ball… no harm there, but it had smarted.

Larry straightened up and his eyes, reacting faster as a vampire than they ever had as a human focussed on the approaching object. A clog…?

He was pondering that when it struck him in the chest and forced the air out of his unbreathing lungs with a cry and before plunging on to impale him and turn him to dust.

The clog finally fell to the ground. Damaged but intact and layered with bits of Larry. Heck of a ride.

----------------------

Larry’s final cry rang out and this time they both heard it. Looked at each other, realising that they were actually on patrol and that was what they were looking for.

Reluctantly they parted and, drawing their crosses and stakes, made their way up the embankment behind them. It took a few minutes before anything turned up though. Tara continued to look whilst Willow watched the woman on the courts trying to adjust her service machine.

“Clog. Strange.”

“Yeah.”

“Tennis ball too.”

“Ooh.”

“Back through the park?”

“Sure baby.”


------------------

Chapter Eight

It was just after sunrise on Christmas morning. Dawn arose quietly and with purpose. Because she had been forced to go to bed at a reasonable hour she'd had sufficient sleep. The rest of the household were still asleep, mainly because of Willow's last minute flurry of organization and the last minute chores, which she guessed were not over. That was just the way Willow was… but it would all be perfect. She doubted that they would all be up for several hours yet after all Buffy had been up with Xander and Mr Giles until very early this morning. She dressed, grabbed the bag with her present for Spike, less than accidentally banged it against Buffy’s door, pleased to hear a groan from the other side and went downstairs, surprised to find her mother working quietly in the kitchen.

"Merry Christmas Mom!" Dawn said as she gave her Mom a hug. "Why are you up so early?"

"I could ask the same question of you young lady." Joyce countered.

"I was going out to see a friend, before everyone got up and started the whole Christmas thing." Dawn replied, not wanting to admit outright that she was off to see Spike.

"I suspected as much." Joyce went to a cupboard and pulled out a picnic basket filled with Christmas goodies. She also got a package wrapped in red cloth and tied with green ribbon. "Wish Spike a 'Merry Christmas' from me dear. Oh and don’t be gone too long!"

Dawn was stunned. "How did you know Mom?"

"I have eyes, and I know that Spike has been helping Buffy a lot lately. I thought that someone would be going to see him today so I got this ready, just to show that I appreciate him making it possible for us to have a worry free family Christmas." Besides he always seemed so pleasant and she had included some marshmallows along with the flask.

Dawn was still in awe of her mother's perception. She hugged and kissed her again and with a brief goodbye and a promise to be back soon, she set off to Spike's crypt.

**************

Had they been in the military it might loosely have been called a parade. Eleven hundred hours in the lounge for final orders before Operation Wonderland really kicked into high gear and started producing results.

Trouble was this shambles, yes shambles, looked a little unlikely to produce very much of anything.

If it was loosely a parade then you could not even loosely call the ranks a line. It appeared that certain individuals had been partaking of rather too much of the holiday spirit… probably spirits in the plural and Willow was not impressed in the slightest. There was of course a standing order to keep Buffy away from anything resembling alcohol whilst she was upset. Guess that went up the chimney too.

Xander, if anything though, looked worse than Buffy who had at least made an effort and her face was still a human sort of colour. And Giles was an interesting shade of olive. Hence the late parade. She had known that they, along with Anya and Dawn were joining Mrs Summers for her traditional Christmas Eve dinner, usually involving fries and burgers or sausage. Nothing special, Willow had been to a few herself in the last few years. Just an opportunity for friends to gather without the supposed formality of Christmas Day. It appeared to have degenerated into an evening involving copious amounts of alcoholic beverages. At least Mrs Summers was doing well – her medication probably not allowing much of that sort of liquid celebration. Buffy’s mom had apparently been in the kitchen for hours already starting on the preparations for dinner.

Good job, Xander and Giles had been rostered for vegetable duty an hour ago and looked as if the mere sight of a potato would cause them to barf. Mrs Summer’s insistence on being in control of her kitchen was definitely a good thing in hindsight. Though there was no way that any of those who were the worse for drink were taking Mrs Summer’s place on the couch. She was going to work them through their hangovers and their pain until they were fit to celebrate all over again. She and Tara were still good though. A quiet night at home. There was nog to come today and Willow knew two things about nog.

One was that she really liked it and the other was that she would undoubtedly have far too much. Whenever she could lay her hands on it, she usually did. And that along with the wine Giles had brought round yesterday for Christmas dinner had made her feel certain she needed that quiet night in advance. Besides Tara had been so persuasive about getting an early night after their quick patrol sweep. Very much a hands on sweep too. They had found a tennis ball. And a clog. And now she also had Tara ready and willing.

To help out. Now. Not that she hadn’t been the same last night.

She decided not to comment on the state of her troops. It wouldn’t solve anything other than her own sense of superior discipline and that was obvious for all to see. They also knew that she was disappointed. The mumbled “sorry” from each had been testimony to that. Resolve face was doing its work just fine thank you. They would just have to work it off. There were still things that needed doing.

“Where’s Dawny?” she asked the assembled friends.

She got variously shrugs, grunts and groans in reply. Tara, who had arrived with her couldn’t know, and Anya was too busy comforting Xander with talk of ancient Celtic hangover remedies. They seemed to be working though… he ran off towards the bathroom as Anya grinned and the sounds were not totally muffled by the closed door. Still it might make him feel better.

“No one knows where Dawn is?” More grunts.

“You worried sweetie?” Tara asked.

“No, just… well she was supposed to be keeping her mom company from eleven till twelve,” Willow revealed from memory. Green, it had been green that block. A sort of Giles green. “On the couch.”

“Her mom isn’t on the couch Willow, she’s cooking,” Tara pointed out. It wasn't a disaster then.

“But Dawn was supposed to be here. She knew that.” Willow sounded resigned to her plan falling apart around her ears. Though she was not sure why things fell apart around ears. Why not feet? Did plans float? Did gravity not affect plans? “Everyone else made it.”

“In body at least” Tara joked.

“Yeah.” That joke wasn't helping. Nor was Tara’s calm demeanour. Couldn’t she see that this was a disaster waiting to happen?

Mrs Summers stuck her head out of the kitchen door, covered with an apron and letting almost heavenly smells emanate from the oven and into the living room. Giles turned entirely another shade of green and tried to run with all of his English dignity towards the bathroom. Mrs Summers smiled apologetically at the sight. “I should probably have cut them off last night, but I just got too tired to stay up with them. Dawn is off seeing a… friend. For Christmas. She probably won’t be back until later. Sorry I forgot to tell you.”

Willow smiled and then as Buffy’s Mom ducked back into the kitchen rolled her eyes. Mrs Summers was still tiring easily which was what this was all about after all. She shouldn’t be doing anything. And Dawn should be here with her. But then, if Dawn knew her Mom was up and cooking why shouldn’t she go and have some time with her friends? Well she wasn’t here anyway. Adapt. Re-plan. She turned towards Buffy about to suggest that she go see if she could actually help her Mom.

It was then that either the memory of last night or the scent of the food got too much for Buffy too. She darted for the door with her hand over her mouth.

Anya stood up, gestured at the departed, almost apologetic for having to follow. “I better go do the girlfriend thing.” Tara smiled at her. “This is the girlfriend thing?” Anya asked the blonde woman looking at Willow.

What had Tara been telling her?

Tara smiled sheepishly remembering mentioning Willow suffering after a dodgy reheated meal a few week before. Willow just looked at the empty room and then down at the schedule. Already behind in nearly every category, Mrs Summer’s doing what she shouldn’t be. Dawn missing. It was all falling apart.

“No one is doing what they should be,” she complained to the almost empty room.

“And they are paying the price hon,” Tara told her, trying to lighten the mood. “They had fun… that was what this was all for. For everyone to have fun. And they will again. We all will. You included, baby.” She listened to the assorted sounds emerging from around the house. “But later for them.”

“I just want it to be perfect. But if no one is doing what they should be, and other people are doing what they shouldn’t and some people aren’t here at all to do what they should, but couldn’t anyway because of the people doing what that shouldn’t then how can I keep track of who is doing what, with who and when?”

“I don’t know but it will be perfect baby. You’ll make it perfect.” Tara stepped over to her love and pecked a kiss onto her lips. “That’s what you do, you make things perfect.”

The continued sound of retching in triplicate spoiled the effect of the reassurance though.

******************

The scheduled time for the giving of gifts had come and long gone, but then Willow had long since put the schedule down and given up on it anyway. Dawn had arrived back shortly after the snack that Mrs Summers had prepared for lunch. Not enough to spoil dinner, but enough to tide them all over.

Those who were eating that was.

Everyone looked something like human now though so Tara assumed that they were all feeling better too. Buffy, who seemed to have suffered the least, was positively perky. Mr Giles and Xander looked as if they would make dinner in good shape too. Willow had, initially, got into a bit of a snit about her schedule being ruined but it was what had got them this far and she was enjoying herself now. Charades was going down pretty well, though they always approached Anya’s turn with some trepidation. Her interpretations were sometimes a little too literal.

But finally they were all present and ready to receive their gifts. She and Willow had already exchanged Yule gifts, but she had also splashed out on a little something for Willow to open from her now too. The lounge table was covered in labelled gifts of various shapes and sizes, though a number of those that seemed intended for her looked to have Magic Box wrapping paper on them. She should know, she had helped wrap enough for customers. Guess I am easy to shop for.

Anya’s obsession with receiving gifts was matched only by the nature of her gifts for everyone else. Buffy had received a tea cosy from her. Why, Tara couldn’t imagine. There was talk of Buffy having mentioned that wish once upon a time. But it was a gift and she suspected that the phrase ‘It’s the thought that counts’ would be heard quite often. Whatever Xander had received from Anya he wasn’t showing, covering it back up in paper as Anya gave him a look that was filled with promise and he grinned sheepishly.

If it was the thought that counted then it seemed that everyone had the same thought about what to get Tara. It didn’t take very long to have a whole array of crystals lined up in front of her. Nothing as beautiful or powerful as Willow had given her, but lovely nonetheless… and useful. But she could have used some new soaps and things. She had deliberately not bought any in case she was overwhelmed with them. Now she would have to go shopping. What was Christmas without receiving shower gel and soap gift sets?

And ooh look, there was some. And… special blend at that. Willow grinned at her. It seemed they were going to be sharing. Oh well that wouldn’t be such a bind would it?

Mr Giles, receiving a collection of socks and handkerchiefs almost to rival her crystals in assortment was peering into the crystals. “You know, I don’t think I have one quite like that,” he commented.

“You can borrow it if you like,” she told him.

“Don’t let Giles near your crystals,” Buffy warned her. “He is banned from using crystals.”

“Now, that was strictly in the course of my duties, as you well know. And I apologised for it. A lot. And got fired.” His tone suggested that should be enough. And apparently it was. Buffy smiled back, looking at the crystals herself.

“So what did Willow get you Tara?” Xander asked her, holding onto the shirt that Willow had picked out for him from them both. “Was it something naughty?” He looked over at Dawn and her Mom’s expression and clarified his question “because you know too much chocolate is not good for you.”

“You use chocolate?” Anya asked them, not getting the dodge. “We have enjoyed chocolate together.”

“Eating chocolate!” Xander added quickly.

“Eventually,” Anya finished.

Tara grinned. You could rely on those two to liven up any party. Sometimes by being funny. Sometimes by just being themselves.

“No nothing naughty… Willow got me a crystal.” Everyone’s faces fell. Absolutely everyone. There were six people in the room besides her and Willow. And six crystals lined up on the table before her. Tara loved their gifts, but she could also appreciate the awkwardness. “And some special shower gel,” she waved that at them and then realised that the logo fell into the naughty gifts category that Xander had asked about.

“We have- ” Anya started but was cut off by Xander.

“We have never used that particular brand.”

“I made her a wand,” Tara revealed and Willow smiled.

“Oh yes? A wand…” he frowned. Best not to go down that path again. “How come you girls get to have your gifts from each other sooner. Than the rest of us? Isn’t that cheating?” Xander asked diverting the subject.

“Yule.” Willow said as if Xander should understand that perfectly.

Which he didn’t. “Okaaay. Yule.”

“If we had just known that everyone was getting you crystals,” Buffy looked at Giles accusingly since every crystal had originated in his shop, “then we could have got you something else.”

“How was I to know who you were all giving them to? I got handkerchiefs, sweaters and socks from everyone you know,” he retorted.

“I love them, really,” Tara assured them.

“And your handmade gifts are lovely Tara. And the decorations,” Mrs Summers told her. “Will you show me how to do some of that next year?”

Tara nodded, sipping her drink and reaching for a nibble. Mrs Summers got up and went to test the turkey leaving the rest of them to study each other’s presents. No doubt there might be a few swapsies going on later. But not for any of her crystals. Or that special shower gel.

***************

‘Spikey!’ Harmony cried banging almost frantically now on the locked door of his crypt. No one was going to let them in as he was leaning on a nearby tree watching with interest, fingering the large brass key in his pocket. It was a new lock, strongly made – though he had been forced to fit it himself.

‘Will he protect us? Give us a place to sleep?’ the dweeb with her asked as she carried on banging. The dweeb was looking around him nervously. It was shocking just what was being made into a vampire these days. Though he had to admit Harm didn’t have the best of luck with her minions. Bound to make her cautious.

And protect you? Fat bloody chance of that mate. Don’t even know what’s after you. Might even be the bloody slayer…. He wouldn’t mind a visit though.

Something was after them that was for sure. The sun was barely set so they weren’t afraid of the kiss of daylight. Maybe he should make his presence known. Or not… if something was after them it would be more entertaining to watch it tear the dweeb apart then rush in an earn Harm’s gratitude and favours once more.

Well a bloke had to have a hobby.

And after Christmas with the Slayer and her lot then there was going to be some tension to work off. And if he was supposed to be patrolling for the slayer why should he waste his time walking around? Stick to Harm and the beastie was going to come to him.

Spike pulled out a smoke and settled back against the tree thinking more about the visit from the nibblet this morning than being concerned about Harm and her pet. This would be a strictly visual pleasure. For now at least.

--------------

“Break it down Kevin!” Harmony instructed her minion, gesturing at the solid door to the crypt. Why the hell had Spike chosen to get a lock for it now?

“Me?” He couldn’t quite believe that she was asking him to demonstrate his manhood. Though he would have settled for another sort of demonstration.

“Yes you.” Who else was there to do it?

“Break that door down?” Kevin was more than sceptical. That door was going to hurt.

“You’re a big… strong… thing.” Harmony lied, desperate now and actually lowering herself to bribery – or at least the promise of it, running her hands over his pencil thin arms hoping that it was resembling seduction. It was awhile since she had tried seduction. Not since that first time with Spike. She sighed. Not to worry though. This was Kevin. Toasting bread together would count as seduction for him. “A strong vampire. Big,” she gave him her best smile. “Big all over from what I hear.” Ewww.

Mission accomplished. Kevin threw himself into the door. Hit hard and decided that a run up was required. Took some steps back and then with a cry ran, hitting it like a bird splat hitting a car at fifty miles an hour. Causing about as much damage.

Mission not quite accomplished.

“Ow,” Kevin moaned from her feet.

Where was Larry when you needed him? Dust blowing down Crawford Street. Great. She looked back towards the gate through which they had entered the cemetery. A large shape was making its way, unhurried, along the path. “It’s coming!” she cried and pointed, realised he was trying to look up her dress and kicked him in the stomach. “Do something!”

--------------

Spike followed her gesture. He had been slightly amused by the dweeb throwing himself into the door. Twice. And falling to the floor clutching his shoulder. More amused still by the idea that the kid could do anything for Harm. He liked it that she wasn’t easily pleased and wouldn’t settle for second… or even fifth best. Though he could cheerfully stake her ninety percent of the time that they were together, she was not easy to please and had more standards than he would have given her credit for. But he did it for her.

And sometimes she did it for him too.

Not that she had anything on… the Slayer.

But that was a long-term goal. Planning was the key, Red was right about that. He knew that. Slayer might be interested in this thing that was coming for Harm and the dweeb, but then it was the holidays and he had promised that he would keep the peace and earn a few brownie points.

He’d never actually seen anything like it before. Still, he thought lighting the cigarette, best to see what it is capable of first.

Fools rush in and all that guff.

Except when I rush in… that’s just sheer bloody enthusiasm mate!

-------------

Its approach was relentless, steady and it seemed to be… reading a notebook. Stay or go? Go or stay? Run or face it off. Harmony didn’t like tough decisions like that and had never been very good at them. It was that sort of decision that had got her killed in the first place. So Kevin, convinced of his male strength and vigour by both the caresses he had received and the pointed boot in the stomach when he was sure he had seen her underwear, picked himself up from the foot of the door – which should have impressed him with it’s own strength – and let out another cry, this time charging towards the huge thing.

Time seemed to slow down to Harmony as he charged down the pathway towards it and it walked under the lamp. It was as big as she had thought it was, bigger even. Two armed and two legged, what was that called? Not bicycle. Bi-something?

The face though… Well really it was just a face wasn't it? I mean. Two eyes… eyes that glowed with a green fire but eyes all the same, a nose. Quite a good nose really. Sculpted she would have said, squinting to see at this distance. She’d known a lot of people who had paid to have noses like that. Paid a lot. And the teeth! Well they weren’t sticking out like fangs. And they looked as if they had been polished up recently. Shining in the light as it… sang to itself.

The ears though. The ears were pointed. Way more pointed than the Spock ears she had got for her elves.

What the heck was it? And why was it singing?

--------------

Kevin charged the figure and was pleased to see as he rushed towards it, giving his ‘war cry’ that it actually seemed surprised by his actions and ceased it’s crooning. You didn’t see that coming did you… you thing…?

Actually it hadn’t.

And it took it all of about four seconds to first realise that the badly dressed vampire was running towards it. That the vampire was screaming. That the vampires left ear had just fallen off. Oh there went the right one. That the vampire would be about a quarter of it’s own weight fully dressed and soaking wet. That it was all pretty pointless and it didn’t even have a weapon. No trouble at all.

By that point Kevin was right up with it, ready to do battle and impress the heck out of Harmony. Who was left? Just him. To come to her rescue. Damsels in distress were always grateful. That was why all those hero’s were in business surely… for the damsels. They had to be getting something out of it… half a kingdom and the damsels hand in marriage! That was traditional.

Harmony didn’t actually have a kingdom…

And he was pretty sure that he didn’t want to marry her…

He’d settle for getting anything.

And the small matter of a huge enemy to kill first was no impediment when you were in the damsel rescuing business. And so he continued his charge, lowering his head and aiming for the things abdomen.

And hit… owww!

Again…

For a big thing that appeared pretty flabby that was a seriously hard gut. That was all that Kevin had time to think as he slid to the ground in front of the thing he had briefly been attacking.

Kevin barely had time to register the bird that had landed on a branch over his head, snapping a branch with it’s weight and launching itself into the air with a squawk. It carried the branch for a second… then let it go.

Kevin never thought about how it would fall, all wooden and pointy and aimed right at his heart.

It was just another accident.

Oh…

-----------------

Oh dear, nerdy boy was out of the game. And who did Harm have to turn to now?

That’s your cue Spike, he thought to himself and stepped out of the shadows and sauntered over towards Harm at the crypt door. That thing must have seen him; Harm certainly did as she came racing over to him.

“Oh Spikey save me! It’s after me!”

“Oh?” He ignored her, smiling to himself and made for the door, pulling out the key and keen to get her out of the way before he started to resume his position as the local big bad. Whining women were always messing that up for him. Showing him up.

“When did you get a lock?” Harmony asked, trying to sound conversational as well as desperate as it came closer and closer.

“About the time you last walked out… didn’t fancy dealing with the things you always bring after you when you come round. It gets so bloody boring, you know,” he told her. “Though this one looks quite interesting. I don’t think I’ve killed one of these before. How’d you piss it off?”

“I don’t know. It just started coming for us. For no reason.” He gave her a look. “Really. You can fight it though, you like fighting… you’re so good at it – and you can hit it, it isn’t human so you’re chip won’t…” Harmony stopped when she saw his face react to the mention of the chip.

“Harm, enough about the damn chip. Now tell me why should I bother to do anything about that guy rather than enjoying the sight of something I have so very often longed for?” he asked. But she didn’t get it. “You blowing around in millions of little pieces.”

“It’s Christmas?” Harmony suggested, guessing that now was not the time for an argument about how nasty her Spikey was to her. The figure was now within earshot.

“So it is… have you got a gift for me?” Spike’s tone was more than just a touch suggestive.

“I could go and unwrap it for you now?” she smiled at him, though her eyes were on the huge figure and he returned it knowingly and as she slipped into the crypt. Not that he would ever make a deal like that when she wasn’t interested. When push came to shove he’d enjoy hitting this thing.

He followed her with his eyes. “Actually Harm,” he murmured, “I was kind of thinking of you wrapping up special like.”

Spike turned to the big bastard who was now right there. And my wasn't he a big one… Slayer’ll be sorry she missed this one. Poncey watcher too would probably be interested. Not especially menacing actually though, just a big bastard.

And singing?

Not generally a demon trait was singing. How often did you see demons doing karaoke after all? There were rumours though… ‘bout some place in LA, but that whole city was entirely too freaky for tastes. Filled with weirdo’s. He was partial to the occasional whistle himself. And a bit of sing along to the classics. “Hey mate. What the hell are you?” he asked, spoiling for a fight already. C’mon big boy just give me an excuse!

Why the hell do I want an excuse? I’m a big bad vampire. And I can hit it. Must be the holiday spirit. That or the size of the thing.

It stopped, as if realising he was there for the first time. The song stopped a moment later. Actually it was a carol…

“Department of Collections,” it replied.

Huh?

The blond vampire said as much. “Huh?”

“Department of Collections. Dues.” The thing saw that Spike wasn't getting it at all. “Membership Dues?” it said slowly as if talking to someone who didn’t have a clue.

Which was fine Spike didn’t. “Membership?”

“Union of Choristers, Leprechauns, Entertainers – Elf section. UNCLE – Elf,” it spoke as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Or some world anyway…

“You work for a union?” That stamped on Spike’s enthusiasm. He’d have to think a bit more carefully about this now.

“Yes.”

“And you’re a…?”

“An elf.” It gestured at the ears. “Dead give away usually.”

“Not a leprechaun…” Spike continued, stalling for time though it seemed quite happy to converse with him.

“Don’t be daft, the Leprechauns don’t work Christmas.” It reached into a pocket and Spike tensed ready for a weapon of some sort – instead it was a leaflet that came out, which it handed to the vampire. “We were formed by a merger of the Leprechaun Pot of Gold Watcher’s Trade Association, the Elven Toymakers and the Other than Human Choristers Guild.”

“Right…. And you a union that protects the interests of Elves in the festive celebration industry?” Spike guessed, speculating about what brought him after Harm and her minions.

“Yes,” it flashed a huge grin when it saw that Spike got the idea.

“And?”

“And your friend and her comrades were breaking union guidelines on the employment of the undead in a recreational capacity in the guise of elves. There are plenty of us out there you know, some of us don’t earn from year to year and then she thinks she can just set up and pretend to be elves and steal our money? Well she could have done… if she had paid her dues.”

“You don’t have to be an elf… to be an elf?” It seemed kind of a logical requirement.

“Oh no. Not for fifty years or so. It’s a recent change I admit - I myself am a ogre by birth.”

“Very forward thinking mate,” Spike complimented them. He was all for equality. He’d eat, hit or kill anyone.

“We like to think so. Can’t go discriminating on the basis of an accident of birth… or just getting bit.”

“No, no. Quite right too.” Spike was rapidly getting out of his depth… but he had heard of the union movements that existed in the linked realities. Bad buggers.

“Right… So why you killing them?” Spike asked. “Not that I object mind, but it just piqued my curiosity. Them being potential members and all.”

“Hey now, that isn’t fair. I don’t kill anyone. We don’t kill anyone. I just – allow accidents to happen that might happen to have the same effect.” It explained further, as Spike looked blank. “We nudge probabilities until events just take their own course. In a trillion of universes the exact same thing is happening. We just make it true here too. We, the union, don’t kill anyone- even those who would use our image rights to kill rather than just make money, which is bad enough. Can you imagine what reception elves would get here next year if I left them to it and allowed them to kill the humans and feed on them?”

“Closed market?” Spike suggested, realising that would be bad for business if people remembered. In this town he figured they might well forget all about it. It was the glory of Sunnydale.

“Right.”

“Well you can’t have her, mate.”

“I don’t want her – Far as I can tell she is dressed up as a nymph… though I will have to report her to the relevant union. The nymphs may have issues too – though they aren’t big on doing holiday seasons. I just have the collect the union’s fifty percent.”

“That’s it?” Fifty percent of Harmony’s cash takings? Well that was easy enough to arrange and to tell the truth he wasn't looking forward to tangling with this guy. Of course he could have taken him, but the unions… everyone knew that you don’t mess with the unions. That was a fast ticket to scattering yourself to the four winds.

“That’s it,” it confirmed.

“Wait here a minute?”

It nodded which was kind of like a boulder falling off a mountain peak and bouncing when it hit bottom.


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 Post subject: Re: A Holiday Fic: A Sunnydale Carol
PostPosted: Sun Jan 01, 2006 12:01 am 
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23. Volumey Text

Joined: Sun Apr 24, 2005 12:23 pm
Posts: 3794
Topics: 5
I just looked at this and found it's not complete. I think that this board has a maximum character count and when they parts were consolidated to move to EZBoard they were all moved into very few parts, risking hitting the limit here because no one ever thought it would matter. Below is the conclusion of this fic.

Katharyn.

--------------------

Continued from above.

Spike went into the crypt and explained the situation to the still terrified but naked-under-the-covers Harmony. “He just wants the money?” she asked him.

“It wasn't easy - he wanted your hide, but I bargained him down to every last cent love. You get to live. Maybe that’ll teach you to dress up…except for me…” he leered looking at her form beneath the sheets.

“Oh thank you Spikey! Will you take the money to him?”

“Of course! Wouldn’t want you to catch a cold love…” So he did it for her and even got a receipt.

Not a bad nights work Spike concluded. Over a hundred bucks in my pocket, the undying gratitude of Harmony who was always willing to play… maybe she would dress up as the slayer for him one day, it might be worth a shot… unless there was a union for that too. Membership of one though. And as soon as he had finished with Harm he could nip over to the Slayer’s house to see what holiday cheer he could spoil for them.

He hummed to himself as he went back inside.

It was going to be a good holiday.

***************
Title: A Sunnydale Carol (Chapter 9)
Author: Forrister & Katharyn Rosser
Feedback: Constructive criticism is always welcome
Spoiler Warning: Very limited, set around Christmas in Season 5 between “Into the Woods” & “Triangle.” Spoilers to that point. Reference to a dream sequence from “The Body” but only referring to Xmas, not the events of that episode. This chapter uses those Christmas memories of Buffy as shown in “The Body” outside of their original context. All credit to the original writers and the transcribers for their foundation.
Summary: Christmas dinner and later…
Disclaimer: We don’t own anything to do with the Buffy shows and are making zilch from this except the rush of feedback.
Rating: PG13
Couples: W/T, X/A
Notes: The parts of this fic, technology allowing, will be posted daily (as it is already complete!) up to Christmas so check back often. Obviously this may limit the feedback that might occur between updates but feel free to comment on earlier parts if you want… we love feedback.
Thanks To: From Katharyn – L. All the kittens of the two boards. Merry Christmas y’all. Or happy holidays. Whatever you choose to believe in and celebrate. Right… I’m off to write another fic… From Forrister - All of the above, and because I've been particularly restrained up to this point - one little bit of festive Latin.

("Attende ad te, noli flere,
Noli plorare ausculta me,
Nicolaus venit as nos.")


("You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry,
You’d better not pout, I’m telling you why.
Santa Claus is coming to town!")

Chapter Nine

“I think we're just about ready for pie,” Joyce announced to the assembled table, the heavy weight of the full dinner sitting a little less heavily on their stomachs by now.

“Then I'll be pretty much ready for barf,” Xander offered.

Willow, who had been at meals with Xander’s family, understood the need for humour during gatherings… but that… If Xander had been sat next to her she would have slapped his arm.

“Xander!” Buffy sounded horrified, and deservedly so. Her mother had done so much to get this meal, ready and served… though she had insisted on doing most of it alone and Xander was going to barf?

“No, no,” Xander adopted his kill me now face. “Barf from the eating. Cause all was good, and too much goodness...”

Willow had to agree though. And thank god Spike was handling the patrolling today. Anything beyond moving from chair, to sofa to bed seemed to guarantee a bad reaction he was right about that.

“I'm taking it as a compliment,” Joyce told him. It was a compliment – it had been scrummy yummy. But too much.

“Yes, uh, everything was delicious,” Giles added.

“Yes, I'm going to barf too.” There was someone else who could do with a slap, Willow thought, as Anya piped up with her attempts at a compliment. Willow was still trying to figure out if Anya really just didn’t get it… people that is or was trying to be what? Funny? Deliberately obtuse? Did it make it easier to be like that? The things she said. She’d been human for what two years now? And she still didn’t get it? Then she had been a demon for a thousand years. That had to be a hard habit to break. It had to be hard for her. Least she had Xander though… they were both happy. Which was a good, good thing. They both deserved to be happy… but together?

Mrs Summer’s smiled as she lifted a pile of dishes and moved behind Anya and those on the other side of the table to the kitchen. “Everyone's so sweet,” she added in that sarcastic tone she usually reserved for her daughters. But she was too experienced a mother to be offended by Xander’s ill thought out compliments.

“How you doing there, Will, are you in the vomit club too?” he asked as Buffy and Giles also left.

“I had too much nog,” she replied. And too much food. Too many snacks before dinner. Too much…

“Oh, baby, want me to rub your tummy?” Tara asked her.

Okay it would have been nice, Willow thought, but what right here? Later honey…

“She likes it when I...” Fortunately Tara broke off.

Maybe I should just strip off, lay down on the table and let her…that actually kinda had an appeal. Nope. Not a party game that she was really interested in. Definitely later fun.

“…stop explaining things.” Tara finished.

“My nog tastes funny. I think I got one with rum in it,” was Dawn’s offering to the barf discussion.

“That’s bad,” Willow told her, definitely of the opinion that any more rum tainted nog would be a very, very bad thing indeed. Nog in general actually.

“Yeah, now Santa's gonna pass you right by, naughty boozehound,” Xander’s humour back on form and avoiding the barf topic entirely. He must be feeling guilty…

“Santa always passes me by. Something puts him off. Could be the big honkin' menorah.” And was this the first time that they had all really been together? More than just the Scoobies? Everyone who was important to them? She could never have got Ira and Sheila Rosenberg to have hosted a big dinner today… forgetting Christmas. It was just a time for the people you loved to be together. That didn’t have to have a religious meaning unless you wanted one.

Look around the table. Willow knew that she might have been the one raised with the most religion in her life… Buffy wore a cross but more as a weapon than a definite indication of faith. She herself was a curious mix of Jewish and Wiccan. Tara… Wiccan all the way… Xander, a great believer in the separation of church and state. Anya? Former demon… who knows what she was when she was human… Giles thought he knew too much about where the world had really come from to be big on any religion.

But they were all good people and not just because they cared for everyone. Or each other. The rest of the world. And they were all here. The spirit that they embraced was not of any religion… it was just general goodness… being together rather than apart.

“Oh, did you write him a letter?” Tara asked Dawn about Santa.

“What'd you ask for?” Willow knew that Xander’s comment was likely more a result of his still writing to Santa every year. It wasn’t that he didn’t know the truth… it was more that there was stuff he had never got when he was a kid and maybe, just maybe by spending ten minutes writing a letter then he might get it. ‘Hey,’ he had said last year ‘it is a Hellmouth.’

“Um, guys, hello, puberty? Sorta figured out the whole no Santa thing,” Dawn pointed out to them.

Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up honey... but as Willow looked at Tara’s hand briefly touching her knee Willow had to admit that there were compensations to being grown up.

“That's a myth,” Anya confirmed.

“Yeah.”

“No, I mean, it's a myth that it's a myth. There is a Santa Claus,” Anya revealed.

Wow. Now that was a conversation stopper. And it was Anya… how could you not believe Anya when she told you something like that?

“The advantage of having a thousand-year-old girlfriend,” Xander told them proudly as she beamed back at him. “Inside scoop.”

Willow had to wonder if he had actually known… was that why he still wrote the letters? Had Anya already told him… no he had been surprised too. He was just charmingly immature in some regards. It was one of his strongest features. Never grow up the rest of the way Xander. Don’t change.

“There's a Santa Claus?” Tara couldn’t believe it, checking with her friend.

“Mm-hmm. Been around since, like, the 1500s. He wasn't always called Santa, but you know, Christmas night, flying reindeer, coming down the chimney -- all true.”

Anya, of course, had probably dated him, Willow realised. She seemed to have made nice with most supernatural personalities. Still this one was nicer than the rest.

“All true?” Dawn checked, sounding as if there was a whole world of present opportunities opening up to her before she was too old. Maybe being thought of as a child would pay off after all.

But Willow fancied that perhaps it was also a return to innocence that she craved. They could all do without the realities of the world sometimes. Like today. Here in our cosy little bubble. A family in the broadest sense. Together. Insulated from all that was wrong in the world.

“Well, he doesn't traditionally bring presents so much as, you know, disembowelled children, but otherwise...”

Until Anya brought all that was wrong into the bubble.

“The reindeer part was nice,” Tara said.

That’s my love. Always finding the positives…

----------------------

Well that had been fun. Spike made his way down the familiar streets to the Summer’s house. Harm had been more than appreciative, she had been downright grateful. And why not? He had saved her life.

Well she thought he had anyway and he would have. If he’d had to.

But now it was fun of a different kind that motivated him. Just the look on the faces of the Slayer and her chums, when he turned up. And besides he hadn’t had chance to say anything to Joyce since her operation. Now there was a lady. How she had produced a daughter like the Slayer… who was not a lady but was far, far sexier, he didn’t know.

Not that Joyce was… well…

No. Focus. The Slayer is your objective. Mother and daughter hi-jinks is more Angelus’s style. Back when he’d had any style anyway.

The place looked more gaudy than ever. Last time he had passed by the decorations outside had been limited to strings of lights but now… snowmen in a town that didn’t know snow. Flat, plastic trees here, there everywhere.

Definitely over the sodding top. He’d thought monkey boy had been in charge of the outside. Spike pulled out his tattered, slightly torn, schedule. Yup Xander had been on exterior decoration duty. He’d done a fair job… until all this appeared since he had last passed by.

Still… ain’t my house and there are no big crosses to keep me away.

He went up to the front door, knocked. The laughing and joking could be heard inside, some music too. Not his style but not outright festive either so there was a plus. Jingle sodding bells was just too much.

It was a slightly bloated looking Willow that opened the door, followed by Giles.

“Spike.” Red sounded surprised.

“Yeah.”

“Is there a problem? Something on patrol you need our help with?” the librarian. Ex-librarian asked.

“Nope,” Spike pulled out a cigarette. “Got rid of the ogre for you.”

“Ogre?”

“Yeah, big sod running around causing accidental deaths” Spike explained, not revealing it had actually just being killing vampires.

“Oh, oh good show,” Giles told him.

“Yes, very good,” Willow added. “We didn’t see anything last night though.”

He just looked at her, ‘much patrolling actually going on then?’ it asked.

“Yes, well good.” Giles said. It was good.

“Good.” Yes good.

“Yeah, thanks for checking in!” Willow said hoping that would send him away.

Spike didn’t move. He looked at them, they looked at him. Everyone waiting for someone else to ask. Probably hoping that he wouldn’t. Sod it though… “Can-”

“Hello Spike.” Mrs Summers appeared at the door and greeted him. “I don’t believe you need an invitation. That’s how it works right?”

“No.” He looked at Willow and Giles who were looking sheepish. “I don’t need an invitation because I am already invited.” He started to push past them until the Slayer arrived at the door.

“You’re not coming in,” she told him.

Oh well not worth fighting over that was it. She’d come around.

“We’re coming out.” Monkey boy’s girlfriend was behind the Slayer pushing them all excitedly towards the door. “Anya wants us to see her decorations.” Buffy rolled her eyes safe in the knowledge that Anya was behind her and couldn’t see it.

“Well okay… I invite you,” Spike said “into my outside.”

Some of them even laughed. Joyce, Tara, the Nibblet. And they had brought their snacks with them. And a glass of something stronger than fruit juice. Tara was thrusting a parcel into his hands.

"Merry Christmas!" She said, as he looked at the present, not quite knowing what to do with it. "We all hope you like it." Tara hoped that the others would keep their ignorance of the gift to themselves.

Spike opened the gift - it was a flowing, long sleeved shirt, with embroidered cuffs - in his favourite colour of black. He took off his leather duster and tried it on. The effect was not quite his usual tough guy image - but he felt a bit piratical, so that was ok. There were nods of approval from some of the smiling faces around him. "It's the nicest pirate shirt I ever had. Thanks." He said gruffly, not wanting to let them know how this gift touched him. To his surprise it was Buffy who came up and laid an unusually gentle hand on his arm.

“I want to… oh god… I want to thank you Spike. I know you have been patrolling, for them and they were doing it for me.” Buffy told him.

Her gratitude actually put him in a very good mood. More so when Joyce backed that up, thanking him for allowing her daughter to spend Christmas with her family… all the family.

“Well it was…” he changed his mind about talking it up. “Well what else was I doing?”

“Well right now you are spending some time with us.” Joyce was quite firm and a few faces dropped. A few more lit up. One of them was his and he found a glass in his hand. Not blood but almost as good.

“Happy holidays to one and all,” went the toast and he was surprising himself by joining in.

He thought it was Xander who added “Even Spike?” but he knew it was more than one of them that confirmed that. “Even Spike.”

----------------------

Willow and Tara waved goodbye to Xander and Anya as they drove off into the night. They would have waved to Giles too but he was fast asleep in the back seat. He'd had a great time and overindulged in the egg nog just a bit. Xander volunteered to take him home and offered to drop the two women back at the campus on the way. They all knew that the trip was actually in the opposite direction but no-one wanted them to take the long walk at night - even on this special night. This was Sunnydale after all.

"It was great!" Tara was on a Christmas high. "Did you see the look on Dawn's face when I gave her the bath oil - she loved it!"

Willow smiled, it made her happy simply to see Tara happy. "They all loved it, although how you picked just the right blend of fragrances for each of them is a mystery to me.'

"Magic." Tara's simple explanation was combined with a wicked grin.

"Ah, that special magic that my sweetie does so well." Willows grin matched her lover's. Then a question that she'd been meaning to ask popped into her mind. "When did you get time to make a shirt for Spike? And why didn't you tell me about it?" She sounded mildly peeved but the smile on her face said otherwise.

"I knew you were busy. I didn't want to bother you with one more detail. Besides, I thought Spike deserved it after taking on all that patrolling."

"I should have thought of it myself - I guess we did take Spike for granted, didn't we?" Willow admitted grudgingly. "At least he enjoyed himself tonight."

Tara smiled, really quite pleased with Spike's reaction. The whole evening had been a success. "At least we won't need to go out to eat for a week." She gestured at the huge bag of Christmas leftovers that Mrs Summers had laden them down with.

"You have to admit, our little refrigerator was looking a bit on the bare side." Willow shifted the heavy bag to the other side, so that she could hold hands with her baby.

"But I don't think I'll be able to eat again for a week." Tara replied, winding her fingers around Willow's.

"Yeah, me neither. Xander was even beginning to look pear shaped toward the end."

Tara concentrated on walking for a bit. "He had a good time. We all really enjoyed ourselves." They crossed the street and headed for the quad. "Giles loosened up and Anya even managed to restrain herself." They walked on a few steps before she qualified her comment. "Mostly."

"It was funny to watch Xander struggle to cover for some of her more . . . frank remarks." Willow was always amused by the Xander and Anya comedy duo.

"I don't think he fooled Dawn for a second."

"Perhaps not, but it was a matter of form that he try." Willow replied. "It wouldn't do for him to let Dawnie be corrupted." A matter of form? Way too much time with Giles.

"I don't think she even noticed or cared. She's pretty used to Anya's odd verbal outbursts."

"True. She makes so many of them, you get used to it after a while." They turned into the quad and walked quickly towards their building.

"I'm not. She can still make me blush at times." Tara admitted.

"Aww, my delicate darling." Willow wrapped an arm around Tara's waist.

The look on Tara's face was not the look of the shy wallflower she once had appeared. It was a smouldering look that went straight through Willow like electricity. "Not so delicate." She replied in low tones.

"We'll see" Willow promised, with a smouldering look of her own.

They arrived at their block and started up the stairs, trying to walk quietly so that they wouldn't disturb anyone who still happened to be here over the holiday. They succeeded, apart from the sporadic giggling that burst out as they tiptoed down the corridor.

"I'm too keyed up to sleep. Wanna play with some crystals?" Willow asked as Tara unlocked the door.

"We could, right after we get cleaned up. I don't know about you, but I could do with a shower, and I have some really nice shower gel to try." Tara's look was full of invitation, but Willow stoically resisted, for all of about ten seconds, until they got into their room and shut the door behind them and once there unwrapped their best presents.

**************

_________________
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If I wanted a little pussy, I've got my own to play with.

Chance in *Chance*
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