TITLE: One Horse Open Slay
SUMMARY: "Of course," Buffy sighed. "Can't have a holiday on the Hellmouth without morphing First Evils, Irish fear demons, angry Chumash spirits, and other assorted pains in my ass." (Season 5, set between Into the Woods and Triangle)
SPOILERS: Through Buffy Season 5
FEEDBACK: Totally welcome (APostModernSleaz@aol.com)
ARCHIVE: More than likely okay, but please ask first
DISCLAIMER: The characters used within are the property of Mutant Enemy, Twentieth Century Fox, and of course Joss Whedon. It's their sandbox, I'm just playing in it.
NOTES 1: For the purpose of this fic, assume that the flashback scene at the top of the first act of the Season 5 episode "The Body" occured on Thursday, December 21st, 2000.
NOTES 2: Special non-denominational holiday thanks to: my wonderful beta and friend Shadowlass. To my fabulous anchovies Nongenius and little_bit. The people who make watching a tv show just a tiny bit more fun than it has to be: (in alphabetical order) adjrun, angelchicken, bracken, caltrask, cousinjean, escape, fenwic, regina, and soda. To everyone else who isn't named but deserves love anyway. Dirty naked Santa love to you all. (Completed 12/13/02)
Buffy swung the ax one last time before her opponent shuddered and fell to the ground. As she ran her hand through her mussed-up hair, she turned to Xander and said, "Thanks for holding the tree up while I got rid of some of the bottom. I have no idea why Mom thought a tree this big would fit in our living room."
"Hey, it's the least I could do after your mom cooked that great dinner last night. Plus, I think I owe you one after accidentally giving Dawn a rum nog."
"Yes," Buffy nodded sagely, "holding up a tree completely makes up for giving alcohol to my underage baby sister."
Before Xander could reply, he and Buffy heard twigs being snapped by heavy black boots headed towards the house.
"Oh, great," Buffy rolled her eyes. "What do you want, Spike? Christmas is in three days, so I'm tapped out of money."
"I've got a hot tip on a demon, and since I'm in the holiday spirit, I'll just give it to you." Spike smirked at his own double entendre.
Xander moved between Buffy and the vampire. "No thanks, Spike. Buffy has enough on her mind without worrying about you."
"It's okay, Xand. Can you just get the tree inside? I'll be there in a sec."
"Fine. But let me take this opportunity to remind you that you've just made a nice pile of stake-shaped pieces of wood right over here within arm's reach." He picked the tree up and dragged it into the house.
Buffy turned to Spike and crossed her arms over her chest. "Well?"
"Now, now, no pleasantries? No 'How are you doing, Spike'? There's no need to be snippy with me just because soldier boy fled at the first sign of trouble." Buffy's glare was her only reply, so he pulled out a cigarette and continued. "Fine. Overheard a couple of Seitoc demons over at Willy's talking about some nasty that's going to be attacking on Christmas Eve."
"Of course," Buffy sighed. "Can't have a holiday on the Hellmouth without morphing First Evils, Irish fear demons, angry Chumash spirits, and other assorted pains in my ass. I don't suppose you know anything more specific than that?"
He shrugged. "Wasn't like I could ask them, considering that the whole demon population wants me dead for hunting my own kind. But they did mention something about this demon liking to come down chimneys."
"Great. Well, if you hear anything else, tell me." She spun around and started to head back inside.
"Well, I mean, don't you want me to help you research or anything?"
Buffy turned around and stared at him. "Research? You? You want to…research?"
"Not if you're going to be a bitch about it!" Spike snarled before turning around and storming off.
Buffy shook her head. "He just keeps getting weirder and weirder."
The next day, Buffy called all of the Scoobies and asked them to meet her in the Magic Box just before sundown.
"You're not going to be keeping the shop closed very long for this meeting, are you? Because a closed shop means no customers, which means no money. And besides, it's just bad practice," Anya said while re-arranging some crystals on a display shelf and frowning at the Closed sign on the door.
"Don't worry," Buffy reassured her, "we'll get the meeting started as soon as Willow and Tara get here."
"It's not very considerate of them to be five minutes late so far," Anya grumped.
"Ahn, don't worry, I'm sure they'll be here any minute." Xander set aside the book he'd been flipping through and turned to Buffy. "So, does this have anything to do with that Glory woman?"
"Nope, just a regular run-of-the-mill demon. I think. We'll know more when Giles starts the research."
At that moment, the bell above the door tinkled and Willow and Tara came in. "Sorry we're late," Willow said.
"But we brought cookies!" Tara held up a brown paper bag and smiled.
"Ooh," Xander said as he jumped up to grab the bag, "did I ever tell you that you're my favorite witches?"
"Only every time we bring you cookies," Willow smiled and shrugged off her coat. "So, Buffy, what's going on?"
"Spike dropped by yesterday and said he heard about a demon that was going to attack Sunnydale on Christmas Eve. Giles thinks he has a lead on it. Giles?"
"Yes. Although my books aren't specific, I believe I might…."
"It's probably the Klausmas demon," Anya said, still re-arranging the crystals. Everyone stared at her.
"I was just about to say that," Giles said indignantly.
"The what demon?" Willow asked.
"Klausmas. I told you about it at dinner the other night. Comes down chimneys, disembowels kids…."
"I—I thought you were kidding," Tara said, and Willow nodded in agreement.
"Have you guys ever seen Anya joke?" Xander asked.
"I can joke! I was joking when I said I'd be willing to wear that maid outfit when we…."
"Anyway," Buffy interrupted, "what do you know about this demon, Giles?"
"Basically, it is as Anya described. Reported sightings of him began appearing in the sixteenth century. He generally resides in Greenland, but he travels abroad to other countries when the population in Greenland becomes depleted."
"And this year he picked Sunnydale. Wonderful."
"So, wait," Xander raised his hand. "You want us to kill…Santa Claus?"
Giles shook his head. "You can't think of it that way. The Santa Claus as you're imagining him is simply a myth. This Klausmas demon is like any other demon that needs slaying."
"Right, and we can't let it ruin Christmas," Buffy said. "So I'm going to take Spike around tonight to the usual haunts, see if we can find out a little more about this guy. We can't exactly stake out every chimney in the town, so I need to know if there's a better way to track him. I was supposed to decorate our tree tonight since Mom and Dawn are going over to my Aunt Darlene's for the night, so can you guys can do that for me? The decorations are already down from the attic." Xander, Anya, Willow, and Tara nodded. "Great. And Giles, you can continue researching, right?"
"Right. Also, before I forget, I called the Council today."
Buffy blanched. "The Watchers? You called them? On purpose?"
"Yes, I wanted to see if they knew anything about Glory."
"And they want to tell me in person, so I'm flying back to England for a couple of days next week. This will also give me a chance to look through some of their books, perhaps find out more about the Key's origins," Giles glanced at Buffy, who nervously fiddled with her necklace.
"Mr. Giles, do you think they can tell us what the Key is?" Tara asked.
"I'm sure they'll be helpful in their usual prickish, cryptic way. So, investigation, decoration, and research," Buffy said. "Everyone knows what they're doing?" The group made general sounds of agreement. "Great. Meet back at my house by 11."
"That sounds fine. You can all leave now so that I can re-open the store," Anya said with a relieved smile.
The sun was just setting when Xander finished propping up the tree in Buffy's house. Willow came into the living room with a tray of eggnog, and she handed a mug to Tara, who was on the couch putting the little metal hooks on some of the ornaments, and one to Anya, who was starting to hang the tinsel on the hulking evergreen. Then she put her mug next to Xander's on the coffee table and sat on the floor near Tara's feet.
"So," Xander said while rooting through the box of ornaments, "it's time to answer the most pressing Christmas question of all. Star or angel?"
"Ooh, I like the angel!" Anya said.
Willow shook her head. "No way. Riley just left, Buffy doesn't need a constant reminder of her other ex sitting on top of the tree. Go with the star."
"Oh please," Anya said. "You're only saying star because I said angel. All you ever do is undermine my opinions."
"Ladies...." Xander tried interrupting, but both Willow and Anya ignored him as Tara squirmed uncomfortably on the couch.
"Undermine your opinions? This, as usual, has nothing to do with you, Anya. It's about not making Buffy upset," Willow fumed.
"Or, it's about you always trying to make me look stupid and insensitive!" Anya was clenching and unclenching her fists, and Xander recognized her "I wish I was still a vengeance demon" look.
"I don't make you look insensitive, you do a great job of that by yourself!" Willow said dryly.
"Right, so, we'll put these over here and let Buffy, Joyce, or Dawn pick out which one they want on the top," Xander said, placing the ornaments on the coffee table.
"…and then I said, I'd die before wearing blue pastel pants and a maroon top. So then, Callie—you know, Marc's sire?—pointed out that I had already died! Isn't that the funniest thing ever, Spikey?"
"About as funny as having my John Thomas shoved in a meat grinder, Harm." Spike was lounging on his sarcophagus with Harmony's feet in his lap; after the fifth time she plopped them on him after he batted her away, he gave up and let them stay. He would have gone out for a walk to get away from her prattling if he wasn't so tired. Thankfully, before Harmony could launch into another story, the door to the crypt swung open.
"Bleedin' fuck, Slayer, have you given up knocking entirely?"
As Buffy entered the crypt, Harmony scrambled off the tomb to crouch behind it. "She's here to kill me, Spike!" Harmony hissed. Spike rolled his eyes, stood up, and walked over to the Slayer.
"Well, was I right about the demon?"
"You were. Now we're gonna go and see if we can turn anything else up."
"What's in it for me?" he asked, but started pulling on his duster before she even answered.
"I told you I'm tapped out, but Giles has two bottles of vodka that he said you can have." Buffy frowned and put her hands on her hips. "Plus, if you help me, I won't stake Harmony, who's hiding so stealthily over there. Hi, Harmony."
Harmony stood up and brushed off her jeans. "I wasn't hiding, I was just picking up my…earring. You don't scare me."
"Alright, let's go." Spike grabbed his cigarettes and a small sword. "But for future reference, offering to not stake Harmony isn't exactly the best motivator."
Realizing that separating her and Xander's girlfriends might be a good idea since the two
had been fighting even more than usual lately, Tara convinced Anya to accompany her to
the store to pick up some more tinsel.
"So," Tara said while she and Anya were admiring a Christmas display in the window of the bakery off Main Street, "did you and Xander decorate the new apartment yet?"
Anya nodded. "Yes, it's much better than last year. We can have a tree that's taller than a foot, and there's very little chance of bad wiring causing a fire while we sleep."
"That's always a good thing."
"What about you and Willow?" Anya asked as they turned away from the display and headed across the street to the drug store.
"Oh, well, we put one of Willow's menorahs in our dorm window. And I hung up holly and lit some rosemary incense for winter solstice. And my friend Mary from sociology class gave us a nice mini-Christmas tree, which we put next to Rat Amy's cage. All we'd need is something Kwanzaa-y to have all the holidays covered."
After they entered the store, they continued on in comfortable silence for a while, looking at the already-discounted Christmas cards and assorted junky knickknacks. Finally, Anya broke the silence.
"Does Willow hate me?" she blurted out.
Tara put down the can of fake snow spray she'd been looking at. "No! Oh, sweetie, why would you think that Willow hates you?"
"I don't know. I just…I mean, I know I probably never gave her a reason not to hate me. But it's been even worse lately."
"I know. It's c-complicated." Tara tucked her hair behind her ears out of nervousness. "It isn't just you. I don't know how to say it."
"It's Xander," Anya stated.
"It's…complicated. Willow loves me, I know she does. But there's some part of her that will p-probably always love Xander. And she may be subconsciously taking that out on you."
Anya frowned. "That doesn't seem fair."
"It's not. And I'll try to talk to Willow about it. B-but maybe you can try just talking to her."
"Or she could try talking to me."
"Well, yeah. Um…I'll talk to her." Tara shifted from foot to foot, caught between wanting to take the side of her girlfriend and the side of her friend. "Oh, hey, there's the tinsel!"
The instant that Buffy and Spike entered Willy's Place, all the action stopped. It was just like a scene out of a Western flick. But when the demons continued gaping at her instead of turning back to their activities like in the movies, Buffy decided to take advantage of the attention and make an announcement.
"Klausmas demon. On its way to Sunnydale tomorrow. Anyone who helps me stop it gets a free pass to continue living undecapitated for at least the next week."
"And what about your boyfriend, the traitor?" a blue, skinny demon with antlers shouted. "You guarantee that he's not gonna kill anyone who helps?"
Buffy wrinkled her face in disgust. "He's not my boyfriend. But yeah, same goes for him. No killing, right Spike?"
"Sure thing, no killing. This week." He glowered menacingly at the blue demon, who held up his middle tentacle in reply.
A tan demon with floppy ears who vaguely resembled a Shar-Pei raised his hand. "I think I can help."
"Great. You? Outside." Buffy pointed, and the demon slid off the barstool. "The rest of you? Keep doing whatever you were doing, as long as it doesn't involve eating babies." She turned around and motioned for Spike to follow. When they got outside, they found the cooperative demon leaning against the wall.
"Okay, what do you know about this Klausmas demon?" Buffy asked.
"Well, first things first. Hi, I'm Clem!" He stuck out a hand that Buffy reluctantly shook.
"Hi. Buffy. And this is Spike."
"Pleased to meet you! So, this Klausmas fellow, he's the one that pretends to be Santa Claus, right?"
"Yeah. Well, not so much pretends to be Santa Claus as he apparently is Santa Claus. But we heard that he's going to be coming here tomorrow. We want to stop him, but we need to know where he'll go first."
"Oh, that's easy," Clem said. "He likes his children to be as young as possible, so if you find out what house in Sunnydale has the youngest kid, guarantee that'll be his first stop."
"Wow. Okay, great. That was actually helpful. You're not like most demons, are you?" Buffy said.
Clem shrugged. "Some of us don't like seeing holidays ruined. Hey," he turned to Spike, "you ever play poker? Me and a couple of the other peaceable demons around here have a game every month."
"I'm not peaceable," Spike seethed, throwing down his cigarette and angrily stomping it out.
"Sorry, I didn't mean…well, I've heard what you do to other demons, so you're not weak or anything. But we all know you like to protect humans."
"I do not…." Spike stopped his protestations mid-sentence and decided instead to lunge at the droopy demon, but before he could get far, Buffy batted him away.
"We're not killing tonight, remember?"
"Whatever. On the off chance you actually need me for anything tonight, I'll be back at my crypt," Spike said, storming off.
Clem watched him go, then turned to Buffy and said, "Quite a temper your boyfriend has."
"He's not my boyfriend!" Buffy shouted.
It was just after 10 when Giles showed up at Buffy's. Tara, Anya, and Buffy were still out, but Willow let him in while Xander finished hanging the last ball on the tree.
"I couldn't get the tree stand to fit, so I wedged the tree between some phone books. Think that'll hold?" Xander asked as he sat down on the couch.
"It should. Hey, Giles. Buffy isn't here yet, but I made some nog if you want." Willow flopped onto the couch next to Xander.
"Oh, good," Giles said as he put down his books and pulled off his jacket. "I was hoping I could talk to you two alone, before Buffy got back."
"What's up?" Willow asked.
"Well, as you may have noticed, Buffy has been acting perfectly normal this whole week."
"Dear God, we'll have to kill her," Xander deadpanned.
"No, Xander, Giles is right. Buffy hasn't mentioned the R-I-L-E-Y thing at all."
"Uh, Will, you don't have to spell it out, Buffy isn't around. Plus, she probably knows how to spell his name, so it's kinda useless anyway," Xander said.
"Oh, right. Well, she's acting like she's totally fine, which isn't very Buffy-like after something really bad happens."
"So you're afraid that Buffy is gonna make like Annie Wilkes on us?" Xander asked.
"He means 'go crazy'," Willow translated the Misery reference for Giles.
"Ah. Well, I doubt we have to worry that much. But it can't be good for her to remain so introverted, it can lead to an agitated outburst down the road," Giles said.
"He means that Represso-Buffy could lead to Fleeing Sunnydale Buffy or Violent Freakout Buffy," Willow translated for Xander.
Xander took a sip of his eggnog and shook his head. "You two are freaking over nothing. Buffy's just been too busy worrying about Christmas to get angsty. After we take care of this demon and have our tidings of comfort and joy, we'll talk to Buffy, make sure she deals with Riley leaving in a way that doesn't involve fleeing or violence."
Before they could discuss the matter any further, the front door opened up and Tara, Anya, and Buffy came in.
"Hey, look who I ran into down the block," Buffy said, indicating to Tara and Anya. When she saw the Christmas tree, her jaw dropped. "Oh, guys, the tree looks amazing! Thank you so much!"
"We do kinda put Martha Stewart to shame, huh?" Willow smiled.
"Very impressive, and deserving of a reward of the sexual nature," Anya said.
"Uh…you were talking to Xander, right?" Willow asked, then she shook her head. "Sorry, too much rum in my nog. Buffy, what did you find out about the demon?"
"One of the guys at Willy's said that it will be going to the house with the youngest kid first, so all we have to do is check the hospital's records to see who gave birth most recently."
"I'm on it," Willow said, already getting up to grab her laptop from her backpack by the front door.
"Great," Buffy said, taking off her coat and sitting on the couch next to Xander. "Giles, any idea how to kill it?"
He took off his glasses for The Ritual of Cleaning and Exposition. "I finally found it in the last book I looked in, naturally. Killing Klausmas is quite simple, actually. All you have to do is throw some powdered mandrake root on him and chant a simple incantation, and he'll dissolve."
"If it's that easy, why hasn't anyone ever tried killing him before?" Buffy asked incredulously.
Giles shrugged. "I haven't the faintest idea. All the books I read say that he's quite swift and difficult to catch, but that still shouldn't have impeded too many from getting rid of him."
"Weird. Well, tomorrow night, it ends. Thanks again for putting up the tree, you guys. Wanna meet at the Magic Box tomorrow just before nightfall?"
"Oh no, you're not closing the shop again, and on one of the busiest shopping nights of the year," Anya frowned.
"Anya, need I remind you that I'm the owner of the shop, and the one who decides when it will or will not be closed?" Giles said.
"Sorry. But I did research, and Christmas Eve is the second busiest shopping day after Halloween, and even having the shop closed for a minute will cause us to lose thousands of dollars!"
"And I'm sure you're not in any way exaggerating," Giles said. "Nevertheless, perhaps we can hold the meeting in Buffy's training area while Anya attends to the store."
"Actually, maybe Anya should come to the meeting since she'll be coming with us tomorrow," Buffy said. "Is that okay by you?"
Both Giles and Anya shrugged.
"Sounds fine by me," Xander said as he stood up and walked over to Anya. "Mind if me and Anya split now? I believe I'm due a reward of the sexual nature." He bent down to give Anya a passionate kiss, which led to Giles removing his glasses for cleaning again.
"Yeah, we're gonna head out too," Willow said. "Tara and I are dropping cookies off at the retirement center tomorrow, and then we have to get the spell for tomorrow ready. Giles, can we swing by your place and pick it up on the way home?"
"Certainly, I'll drive."
As the Scoobies gathered their belongings and began to file out, Buffy found herself wishing at least one of them would realize that the thought of spending the night completely alone, without her boyfriend, family, or friends was almost making her ill. But she took a deep breath and smiled widely as she said goodbye to them all. Lately, her bed seemed so large and cold with only her in it, so she grabbed an afghan and curled up on the couch in the light of the Christmas tree.
Buffy was in the training room sparring with Xander, trying to get rid of the stiffness in her body from sleeping on the couch, when Willow, Tara, and Anya clomped in for the meeting.
"Here's the address of a couple who just brought their baby home from the hospital just today," Willow said and handed the slip of paper to Buffy. "And Giles wanted me to give you this, it's a sketch of the demon."
"Great. Now, before we go, I need you guys to sign the card for Giles' gift that you chipped in for. It's a first edition copy of his favorite book, I got mom to tell me what it was." As Buffy spoke, she pulled a card out of her purse and handed it to Willow.
"What is it? War and Peace? Crime and Punishment?" Xander asked.
"Oh, no way, Giles is more of an Anna Karenina guy, or maybe Madame Bovary," Willow said.
"Actually, it's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Now hurry up and sign, we need to get rid of this demon. Mom wants us to do the traditional Yule log carols thing when I get home tonight."
"Okay, Buffy, what do you want us to do?" Willow asked, taking out a mortar and pestle to begin grinding the mandrake root.
"I need you and Tara to be on the ground by the house, out of sight. Giles said that it doesn't matter who does the spell and who throws the powder. Anya's going to be on the street watching for my signal, she'll let you know when to start. And Xander will be on the roof with me."
Anya raised her hand. "Can you try not to let Xander get killed?"
"I'll do my best," Buffy nodded.
Buffy clambered onto the roof as quietly as she could. Xander had gotten one of his construction friends to call the Feenbergs and make up some convoluted excuse about why they had to stay on the bottom floor that night, so Buffy had some leeway, but they needed the family and the baby in the house to attract the Klausmas demon. Tara and Willow had done a spell to make outside noises hard to hear from inside the house, so she was mostly safe. After a few minutes, she wondered what was taking Xander so long to join her. Sliding down and bracing herself against the gutter, she peeked over the edge and saw Xander and Anya standing in front of the porch.
"Xander, get up here and help me!" Buffy hissed.
Xander looked up at her and smiled. "Just a sec, Buff. I found these on the porch, and the kids will be so disappointed if they wake up and see that Santa didn't eat them!" He indicated to the plate of cookies.
"They'll be more disappointed if they wake up disemboweled," Buffy said.
"If they're disemboweled, how can they wake up? Wouldn't they be pretty much dead?" Anya asked.
"Just get up here and help me."
Willow and Tara were sitting behind a large bush near the side of the building, a small gray blanked draped over their shoulders. Tara had wanted to use this time to talk to Willow about Anya, but they were so comfortable, and she was sure that they would work it out themselves pretty soon. So instead, she asked Willow what she had ended up buying Buffy and Xander for Christmas.
"Oh, well, I found this great sweater for Buffy, and I got a set of comics for Xander, featuring plenty of hot, half-naked women."
Tara raised an eyebrow and rubbed Willow's knee. "Mind if we look at them together before you give them to Xander?"
"How are you handling Riley leaving? I mean, really?"
"Really?" Buffy stopped fiddling with the bag of mandrake root and looked at him. "I don't know. I mean, I know he's gone, I watched the helicopter take off. But I keep expecting him to walk in the door and take me out dancing or something. It isn't like he's gone." She sighed. "I'm mad. At myself, at him, even at Spike for showing me what Riley was doing. Mostly, though, I'm…duck!"
"Duck?" Xander said. "You shouldn't be so hard on yourself…."
She pushed him flat against the roof just before a small sleigh skidded to a stop on the roof. As Xander picked up his ax and Buffy palmed some of the powder, a short, fat, bright red demon clambered out of the sleigh and onto the roof.
"What, no beard?" Xander asked.
In response, the demon's jaw dropped down to its chest, revealing several rows of sharp teeth.
"Yeugh. Now that's just obscene," Buffy said as Xander rushed forward with the ax. The demon darted towards Buffy just as Xander swung down, and his momentum threw Xander towards the edge of the roof. He skidded but managed to stop himself by wedging his foot into the gutter. When Buffy saw that he was safe, she crouched down, ready to pour the mandrake root on Klausmas' head. Unfortunately, in her surprise at seeing Xander skid across the roof, she must have unclenched her hand, and the powder left a silty trail down towards the gutter.
The demon tackled her, and they rolled across the roof. They would have gone right off, probably landing on top of Tara and Willow, had Xander not swung a well-timed chop of his ax, taking off Klausmas' arm.
"Nice one," Buffy said, standing up.
Xander shrugged. "Been working out. Hey, Ahn," he shouted, "tell Willow and Tara to get ready!"
"Got it," Willow's voice floated up.
Down on the ground, Anya kicked a nearby tree. "So why the hell did I get dragged out here? They didn't need me at all."
Back on the roof, the demon was standing up again, gnashing his teeth and gurgling as menacingly as a short, fat, red demon could gurgle. Buffy pulled the baggie of mandrake root out of her jeans and palmed another clump, This time, she managed to smear it on him just as Willow and Tara started the spell. She started forward to try and pin him down so that he didn't get away, but the spilled mandrake root had made the roof slippery, and they both pitched forward. The toe of Buffy's boot snagged in the line of Christmas lights strung up along the perimeter of the roof, and she flew towards the ground, Klausmas sailing past her and dissolving midair as Willow shouted the last word of the incantation. Buffy's head snapped back as the lights suddenly stopped her fall, and she was left dangling from the roof by her leg. Xander must have lost his footing because he and his ax came crashing to the ground moments later, followed by Klausmas' sled. Willow and Tara came running to the front of the house with their candles—still burning—and herbs, and Anya ran over to make sure Xander was okay.
That was when the front door swung open, revealing a very confused Feenberg family.
"You told them you were carolers?" Giles asked, barely suppressing his amusement.
"Acrobatic carolers," Buffy corrected.
"We had to try and explain why Buffy was hanging upside down from the roof," Willow explained.
"Well, I'm just glad you guys are fine." Joyce set down another tray of Christmas cookies in the living room.
"Was there ever any doubt?" Xander said.
"Not doubt, per se…." Giles hedged.
"I had doubt," Anya said. "Especially when you came skidding off the roof."
"Well, that's nothing. You should have seen the teeth on this guy. But I did what had to be done."
"Yes, you did Xander," Buffy nodded. "And there's no need to go into detail." She indicated to Dawn, who was curled up on the couch hanging off every word of the night's adventure.
"Yeah, no need to traumatize Dawnie," Tara said as she smoothed the young girl's hair down.
"Too late. So, since I'm all, like, traumatized because my big sister killed Santa Claus, can I open my gifts tonight instead of in the morning?" Dawn grinned.
"No way," Buffy said. "You know how it goes. Six a.m., blueberry pancakes, hot cocoa, and a Bing Crosby record. That's when presents get opened."
"Fine. But if one of those presents are those fuzzy monkey pajamas I was coveting in the mall last week, wouldn't it be better to give them to me now, so that I can enjoy them an extra night?"
Buffy rolled her eyes and pointed to the Christmas tree. "The flat box, red and gold paper, all the way to the left."
"Yay!" Dawn sprung off the couch.
"Well, Buff, me and Anya are going to head out. I want to enjoy my first Christmas eve indoors, in my own apartment," Xander said. "Sure beats having to sleep outside to avoid the annual Harris Family Meltdown."
Tara stood up as well. "I forgot to leave food for Miss Kitty, I want to get back to her before she decides that Rat Amy looks like a good substitute."
"You gonna be okay, Buffy?" Willow asked.
Buffy looked at her mom and her sister—who was currently squirming around under the tree shaking some of her other presents, trying to hear what was inside—and she smiled. "I'll be fine."
From beneath the Christmas tree, Dawn said "Hey, what are our phone books doing down here?"
"Dawn," Xander shouted, "don't touch—"
As a small red ball rolled across the floor and stopped at Buffy's feet, she regarded the lump of pine on the ground, and her sister's spindly arms sticking through and thrashing around. Buffy turned to her mom and said, "We don't really have to dig her out, you know."