Slayer and a Half: Holiday Edition

Hello, readers!

This is my Christmas gift to you all. I'd like to thank my mom for beta-editing this.

"Rachel! Wake up wake up wake up wake up!"

Rachel groaned sleepily and cracked open one eye to see sunlight streaming in through her bedroom window. Rolling over, she checked the clock on her bedside table- 8:00. She flopped back onto her bed and covered her eyes with a pillow.

"Go 'way, Willow, s' too early…"

But her enthusiastic friend would not be deterred, grabbing Rachel's foot and giving it an almighty yank.

Rachel slid out of bed and landed on the floor with a thunk. Yawning, she untangled herself from her sheets. "This had better be important, Will."

"It's Christmas! And there are presents under the tree and Giles said we couldn't open them until you were awake!"

Rachel's eyes lit up. "Well, why didn't you say so earlier?" she demanded jokingly. Brushing past Willow, she barreled down the stairs, hopping over the tinsel-coated railing on the heel of her hand.

Buffy waved at her. "Hello there, sleepyhead. Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas to you too."

Giles ambled in, carrying a steaming mug of tea. "Oh, good morning, Rachel. I see Willow woke you up."

Rachel laughed as she rubbed her backside ruefully. "Not without bruising my tailbone in the process. Anyone for hot cocoa and Christmas cookies?"

Xander lit up. "Did you say that you're making hot cocoa and Christmas cookies? Sign me up!"

Rachel smiled fondly. "All right, all right!" She padded into the kitchen and grabbed some almond milk, cocoa powder, vanilla, sugar, and salt. Everyone in Rachel's circle of friends acknowledged Rachel as the best barista of the bunch. She could make tea and coffee, but her hot chocolate was in a league of its own. The secret was the almond milk - it had its own sweet note that just made the drink that much more decadent.

Humming under her breath, she mixed up the ingredients in five mugs and put them in the microwave for a few minutes- almond milk heats surprisingly quickly. While the microwave hummed, she grabbed some candy canes from the tree and mini marshmallows out of the pantry.

The microwave beeped, and she took out the mugs, hissing through her teeth as the hot ceramic singed her hands. She dropped a handful of marshmallows into each mug, then it stirred with a candy cane. Loading the mugs onto a tray, she carefully walked back into the main room where the others were waiting.

Rachel passed the hot chocolate around. As her friends sipped their hot cocoa and smiles spread across their faces, a pleasant, warm sort of feeling ignited in Rachel's chest. So many of her skills revolved around hurting and killing, and it was nice to help her friends in a way that didn't involve staking things. She sipped her own drink, smiling as marshmallow, chocolate, and peppermint mingled on her tongue.

Giles set down his mug. "Who wants to open stockings?" Everyone leapt at the tree and grabbed their stockings.

Giles opened his first, smiling as he unwrapped his candy and several warm pairs of socks. Rachel ducked her head and grinned. Giles had been complaining all year long that he didn't have any comfortable socks. Giles next pulled a copy of Dracula out of his stocking. Chuckles filled the room. Giles frowned at the book, but Rachel noticed a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "Ah, this brings back memories! Rachel, didn't you read this in English once?"

Rachel grinned. "Best assignment ever. And they had to call you in for a parent-teacher conference because half my essays were explaining just how lame a vampire overlord Dracula was!"

Buffy frowned. "How so?"

Rachel began ticking off points on her fingers. "No minions, he had no idea how to turn a vampire, all those big, roaring fireplaces in the manor, the fact that there were reflective surfaces in there… Giles almost had a heart attack when he realized just how much of my knowledge of vampires was going into those."

Buffy snorted. "He must have been so awkward at that parent-teacher conference."

Willow giggled. "It actually went pretty well. Giles assured the teacher that Rachel was going through a 1930s horror movie phase. The essays criticizing Dracula stopped."

Giles adjusted his glasses. "B-Buffy, would, would you like to open your stocking next?"

Buffy opened her stocking next, gasping as she saw an ice-skater figurine with blonde hair and green eyes. "Rachel! How did you know that I liked ice skating?"

Rachel shrugged. "I asked your mom. There's also a coupon for a few hours at a rink near here in there."

Buffy beamed. "You're a good friend, Rachel. "

Rachel smiled back as her heart swelled. "So are you, Buff. Vampire slaying's not easy. Given the fiasco with the Anointed One, I… I thought it might be good for you to have something other than Slaying to do, something that lets you forget all your responsibilities."

Then, Xander emptied his stocking. Rachel's heart warmed at the beaming smile on her childhood friend's face as he unwrapped a box of peppermint bark- Xander had an incredible weakness for the stuff. Rachel grinned in memory. "Hey, Xander, remember when I made two trays of peppermint bark and you ate both of them?" She chuckled as she remembered walking down the stairs to find Xander's face and hands covered in chocolate. His deer-in-the headlights expression had been just priceless.

Xander groaned. "And then I spent the next twenty-four hours barfing."

"But you learned a very valuable lesson."

Xander frowned innocently at her. "Don't eat Rachel's peppermint bark without permission?"

Rachel rolled her eyes. "Moderation is the best policy, you nimrod. Don't eat it all in one go."

Willow went next. Even though her family didn't celebrate Christmas, she'd been celebrating the winter holidays with Rachel and Xander since they were little kids. Willow gasped in pleasure over the black rose hair clips Buffy had gotten her- they would look lovely nestled in Willow's fiery hair. Buffy smiled slightly. "I heard you complaining about how your hair always got in your eyes in labs. And Rachel mentioned that roses were your favorite flowers."

Willow just smiled her megawatt smile and pulled the Slayer into a fierce hug.

Finally, it was Rachel's turn. Excitedly, she reached into her dark blue stocking. Her fingers closed around a squishy object, and she pulled the object out to find a bag of Skittles. She also found a version of Willow's rose hair clip in red. She looked at Buffy in surprise. "Buffy, I…"

Her friend smiled. "You don't have to say anything. You're a beautiful girl, Rachel. I just thought it was time that the rest of the world realized that. Plus, I sharpened one end. That way…"

Rachel grinned. "That way I can stab people with it. I love it, Buffy."

Buffy nodded. "Beautiful and badass. You in a nutshell."

With stockings emptied, it was time to open up the presents under the tree. Rachel smiled as she watched her friends open their gifts. They hadn't been cheap, but their surprised, joyful expressions were made it worthwhile. Everyone laughed themselves silly at the Christmas sweater Rachel had gotten Xander. It was knit in an eye-watering shade of red, with wreaths, penguins, Christmas trees, and snowmen picked out in orderly rows. She, Xander, and Willow all had a rack full of similar sweaters in their closets, one for every year they'd known each other.

Buffy opened her gifts next, smiling wolfishly at Rachel as she unwrapped Rachel's present: a pair of combat boots. "They're exactly my size!" She turned them over and frowned at the heels. "Why'd you engrave crosses on the soles?"

Rachel grinned. "Just… a little something extra. It was actually Xander's idea- he saw something similar in a comic book. I have boots just like them- wore them when we fought the Anointed One."

Buffy rubbed her shoulder. "That was a tough fight. I was wondering where all those cross-shaped burns were coming from. Now I know!"

Buffy slid her feet into them, smiling as she laced them up. She tried a few practice kicks, nearly hitting Xander in the process. "These feel great, Rachel. Like I could take on the world."

Rachel nodded. "Then they're good boots. Very good boots."

Willow gasped in pleasure at the pendant Rachel had gotten her. It was a simple black stone disk, with a protective symbol inlaid into it in silver and turquoise stone. Ms. Calendar had laid a protective spell on the amulet that would let Rachel know whenever Willow was in danger. "Rachel… this is perfect. I love it!"

Rachel smiled. "I saw it at the mall in LA and immediately thought of you. The symbol should provide some measure of protection from hostile magicks and stuff like that. And a friend of Giles' spelled it to let me know when you're in danger."

Her best friend just beamed and enveloped her in a hug.

Giles chuckled slightly at the assortment of teas Rachel had gotten him. "Rachel, this is… very thoughtful of you. Thank you very much!"

Rachel smiled. "I thought you could use a little variety. There's English breakfast, black, white, Earl Grey, green, assam, Darjeeling, oolong… everything under the sun."

Giles smiled. "This is perfect. Now I won't have to put up with the horrid coffee the school provides anymore." Giles was a strict believer in the importance of a proper cup of tea.

The present-opening proceeded. The Kiss the Librarian mug Buffy had bought for Giles drew laughter, as did the sight of Giles wearing a lurid green Christmas sweater with pompoms on it from Xander. Even Willow had gotten a sweater, although hers was ugly Hanukkah, with a giant menorah on the back. The Rolling Stones T-shirt Xander had gotten Rachel drew an approving nod from Giles. For a relatively old guy, her uncle had an excellent record collection

Giles tossed Buffy a lumpy-looking package. Within minutes, Buffy was holding up a cream-colored sweater with sky blue polar bears marching in a band extending from the neck to the beginning of the sleeves. Rachel smiled approvingly- it seemed that her uncle could learn about fashion after all. They'd spent a week prowling through the mall in LA trying to find the perfect sweater for Buffy. Afterwards, Giles had sworn that if he never saw another pair of high heels in his life, it would be one pair too many.

Willow handed Rachel a lumpy package of her own, and she opened it to find a simple, elegant black sweater. It had a large red bow on the front, with red trim on the collar, hem, and sleeves. Rachel pulled it on over her head. "Will-bear, this is perfect. Thank you so much." Then, to everyone's surprise, she tackle-hugged Willow.

Finally only one present remained: a long package from Giles, addressed to Rachel.

Rachel pulled it from under the tree and picked at the wrapping. As it peeled away from the gift, Rachel's mouth formed a small o of surprise.

Inside the wrapping paper was a beautiful hand-and-a-half sword in a black scabbard. The hilt was wrapped in soft black leather, with a glowing green stone at the pommel. The sword fairly hummed with power. Intricate etchings forming the runes for power, strength, speed, and protection glowed along the scabbard, and Rachel whistled. The amount of work that must have gone into this thing…

With a ring of metal, she pulled the sword from its scabbard and gasped in wonder.

The blade was… perfect. Both edges were honed to a keen finish, and it caught the light with a lethal sparkle. It was beautiful in her hand, and as she swung it through a few thrusts and parries, the balance was perfect. A few symbols glowed, and she looked at Giles questioning.

He smiled one of his little half-smiles. "I had a friend spell the blade with a few anti-demon runes."

Rachel sheathed the sword and ran to her uncle, pulling him into a hug. "Giles, this is… perfect." She turned around to look at her friends, awash in a sea of wrapping paper, looking at their new gifts, sipping their hot cocoa, and beaming. "Merry Christmas, you guys. Just… Merry Christmas."

The rest of the day passed in a blur of Christmas movies and cookies and laughter. For twenty-four hours, Rachel and Buffy were not the Slayer and a vampire hunter. They were just two teenage girls, celebrating Christmas with their friends. There were no vampires, no demons, no supernatural threats. The only worry was burning the Christmas cookies. Which they did not do.

As Rachel went to sleep that night, one thought ran through her head. Best Christmas ever.