"It's cold out," came Dawn's voice between her winter snuffles. "Maybe it'll snow later."

"Maybe," Willow said, although her doubtful tone suggested she thought otherwise. In the last few months at the Academy of Slayers - the schooling system that the gang had established for all those young and willing Slayers out there - everything was thriving. To Buffy, this meant a lot, especially considering how things had slipped from bad to worse of late: just six months ago, not only did she find out that over one hundred originally dormant Hellmouths buried under the earth had been activated, but they had been activated on the first anniversary of Sunnydale's fall and the rise of the Slayers. After putting two and two together, she realised she had only herself to blame. The world was now threatened. Demons were rioting and it was all her fault, because it was her idea to tamper with magicks they knew nothing about. But now that the Slayers knew, the revelation to them had had a roundabout effect to what she had expected. Who ever thought that teenage girls would rally together and think about the good of the world instead of themselves? Her faith in humanity had been restored. Or perhaps it was just the holiday spirit that made them like this…

Xander and Anne, his new friend of whom whether he was dating or not was yet to be determined by the gang, had just arrived to wish everybody a merry Christmas and happy Hannukah.

"We brought food," he piped up. "Food and presents. Lots of presents."

He emptied the gifts onto Buffy's coffee table while Willow quickly snatched up her laptop before the mound piled onto it.

"Xander, you didn't have to," said Buffy rather unnecessarily. With Giles in earshot, though, it seemed appropriate to be concerned about money. Even now, after all this time, she was trying to appease him. Must be old habit.

"Ah, it's no big deal. 'Tis the season to be jolly. Give and receive and whatnot," he grinned. Dawn wandered over from the window, allowing the drapes to fall back and cloak the room in artificial light again.

"Can I open mine now?" she asked.

"You may not," replied Buffy sternly. She smiled when Dawn slumped down impatiently. "You know you were like this when you were six, right?"

"Yeah, and I'm okay with it."

Kennedy came in from the kitchen soon after, bottles of wine in her grasp. "So, we up for alcohol yet?"

"I wouldn't say no," drooled Xander.

By the end of the evening, everybody was full to the brim with food and drink. They had nattered incessantly for hours, played a board game and fallen exhausted onto the couches. Everybody gradually drifted into Christmas sleep. Dreams of Santa Clause, dreams of reindeer, dreams of the aforementioned giving and receiving. Everything one should dream about on Christmas Eve.

But Buffy couldn't sleep. She was not sure why, she just couldn't. Maybe a little reading will send her off to the land of nod.

Buffy tiptoed out of the silent lounge, creaked open the oak door and slid out into the hallway. As she wandered down the corridors, she felt an odd warmth. Odd because of this time of year. And it wasn't just the warm feeling of a duvet plunging into her sides, or a fire wrapping its warmth around her. It was a feeling of belonging, family and like she was not alone and never would be again.

Outside, she saw frost draped on the trees, roofs, car windows, every crevice possible. It was a separate world. Suddenly a blinding light shone in Buffy's eyes just feet away from her in the hallway.

"Who's there?" she called. Though it was clearly a paranormal light, she knew it wasn't a ghoul or a demon. It felt safe, like she should go towards it.

"Buffy?" arrived a familiar, soothing voice. Buffy repeated herself, demanding an answer. And at that precise moment, her answer was granted.

"Mom?"