Christmas Eve, 2000

"I still think this tradition is absurd."

"Come on, Ahn. We discussed this last year, just let it go."

"I can't just let it go. It doesn't make sense to me. You murder an innocent tree and put it in your living room and cover it with colourful or shiny things, simply for a place to put gifts that you open at a given point all at once so you're overwhelmed with things and so you don't have time to appreciate everything given to you properly without staying up for multiple hours, and by that time you're tired and grumpy and don't appreciate everything anyway."

"But… it's pretty."

Finally, a smile. "Yes, I suppose it is pretty." She leaned forward and kissed Xander before leaning against him and sighing contentedly. "That doesn't mean it has to make sense."

"You don't have to make sense of it if you don't want to," Xander told her, stroking her hair lightly.

"Well, I won't, then." A pause. "Xander!" she exclaimed accusingly.

"What? What?"

"Now you've gone and ruined my rant. It's no fun anymore."

"You can still rant if you want to."

"Stop being so understanding! It's better if you disagree, and then I continue on with my point and we have an interesting discussion where I always end up sounding right and you get upset and then I comfort you with promises of sexual favours and you get that look in your eye, and then we do the sex thing anyway and we're both happy."

"Oh." She felt him smile into the back of her head. "That sounds like a good plan. Let's do that."

"The moment's passed now, Xander."

"Oh. Can't we call it back?"

She tutted. "Not unless you've been lying to me about how this aging keeps happening to me. We can't call back moments." She turned and looked at him hopefully. "Can we? Because that would be really nice, and then I wouldn't have to die, or you wouldn't have to die, and we'd both be happy forever."

Xander stared into Anya's eyes. They peered into his, beautiful and alert, searching for some answer to what her life is worth.

"Xander? Did I say something? I didn't mean to, stop that… you're not supposed to cry. That's my job and then you come and put things right and I feel better. I… oh no, I don't know how to fix it. Wh…" her next sentence gets stifled with a kiss, which she responded to enthusiastically after a moment.

"I don't need to call back moments, Ahn. Every second with you would last me for forever anyway."

"Oh…" she whispered, pulling him back in for another kiss.

"That sounded really cheesy, didn't it?"

"No. Well, maybe a little. But no. You made it sound perfect." She sat on his lap and hugged him tightly, both staring at the tree silently a while more.

"I still don't get it."

He smiled. "I know. But the rest of the world does, so just pretend like you do and we'll all be fine."

"Why? Willow doesn't have to pretend."

"Yes, but she's Jewish."

"Well, can't I be Jewish?"

"No. Well, if you want, but I don't know much about it, so don't ask me."

"And what's the point of buying things for me anyway if you're just going to hide them for a while? Why not give them to me as you're buying them?"

"Tradition, dear."

"I say screw tradition."

"You can't just screw tradition." He winced. "That was supposed to come out differently than it did." Then he grinned and kissed Anya softly. "I like the subject, though."

"Tradition?"

"No, the other one."

"Oh." She grinned and kissed him back as he scooped her up and carried her toward the bedroom.

---

"Can I help you?"

"Yeah. Dozen black roses, dolled up or wrapped or somethin'."

"Present for your girlfriend?"

"What's it to you?"

"…I was just wondering if you wanted a card to go with it, completely complimentary."

"Oh. No. Flowers had bleeding well better be enough."

A pause. "If you don't mind me saying, sir, I think you could use to lighten up. It's Christmas Eve."

"Look, mate, I'm doing you a favour, not only by not eating you, but by paying for these at all. Shut the hell up, or your luck's gonna change real quick, got it?"

The guy behind the counter fell silent as he placed the roses in a blood red box and put a black ribbon around it. "That's forty-one sixty."

"What?! That's a bloody rip-off, I'm not paying you that much."

"Then you're not getting the flowers, sir. I'm sorry, but that's the way it works."

Spike repressed the beast that threatened to come out. She'll never forgive you for showing her Riley's little obsession if she ever finds out you killed for her present. Get it legit, and be happy about it. Spike forced a smile. "Fine," he said very delicately. "Here's forty-two. Keep the change."

The boy's face broke into a grin despite the measly tip as he handed Spike the box. "Thanks, sir. Merry Christmas."

"Yeah, yeah," he muttered as he snatched the box away and strode into the night toward Buffy's house.

Not ten minutes later, he approached the house slowly. The light in the living room was on; Buffy and the little bit were putting tinsel on a small artificial tree. Both were giggling about something as Joyce sat on the sofa, cradling a mug of a steaming drink of sorts and looking drained but content. Bad remixes of typical Christmas carols played in the background, though no one paid any attention to them.

Spike paused behind the thick tree and watched them for a while. They looked just like the typical family he saw time after time in commercials between installments of Passions. Two happy girls decorating the tree on Christmas Eve and mom looking on, a tear in her eye while watching the girls but laughing with them all the same and refusing to participate.

"Mom, come on. You're missing all the fun," Dawn prompted.

"At least help Dawn with the tinsel. It seems she doesn't quite know the definition of 'strategic decoration'," Buffy added with a teasing smile as Dawn put another handful on one branch.

"No, you girls go ahead. I'm not up to it anyway," she responded tiredly with a smile.

Buffy stepped down from putting the star on the top of the tree and went to her mother with concern. "Can I get you anything? More tea, a snack… chicken and stars soup? I bet even I could pull that off."

A shake of the head accompanied with a smile. "I'm fine, Buffy. Stop worrying. I'm just tired. Having a brain operation kind of sucks the energy from you." She paused. "And how are you doing?"

Buffy's face fell. "I'm okay, I guess. It gets easier, day by day. Of course it's nowhere near easy yet, but I remember what getting there feels like, so I guess I'll find easy eventually."

Dawn bounced over and sat on the other side of her mother. "There. Done. What do you think?"

Buffy glanced at the tree and then regarded her sister skeptically. "Remember the talk we had last year? No pictures of Leonardo DiCaprio on the tree."

"Oh, come on! He lights up the entire thing. He makes the tree complete," she informed her sister with a self-satisfied smile.

"Dawn."

"Buffy."

"I'm taking it down."

"No!" she shrieked, jumping on Buffy's back playfully. Buffy yelped and galloped around the living room with her sister on her back before tossing her onto the loveseat and tickling her. Joyce watched, laughing and trying to ignore the fact that Dawn was just a figment of her imagination.

Spike shook his head. "Fool," he muttered, throwing the box on the front stoop and regarding Buffy through the window. "Merry Christmas, love." He turned and walked away without another glance.

---

Willow came in the door and was greeted immediately by an overwhelming smell of pine. Which was probably caused by the tree standing in the middle of the dorm room.

"Uh, hi. Tara?"

"Hi," came a sheepish voice from behind the tree. "Is this okay? I know you said it was, but I-I…"

"Tara, it's fine. You just… could have waited, I would have helped you…"

"No, no. I didn't want to make you feel uncomfortable… which I'm still in danger of doing, what with flaunting your non-religion in the middle of the room and everything…" Tara stepped out from behind the tree holding a tangle of lights. "I was trying to untangle these before you got home… I thought, maybe, if you wanted to, we could decorate the tree together. If you want."

Willow grinned. "I'd love to. It always sounded like fun… I've never decorated a tree before. Well, when I was little I took my collection of plastic jewelery and placed it all over one of the bushes outside, but that never went over well since dad thought I was trying to make it Christmas when really all I wanted was to make the bush look pretty." She blushed at the realization that she'd just said that out loud and Tara giggled. "Besides, I haven't really been into the Jewish thing since junior year of high school, aside from the going home I used to do at Channuka… Xander and I always spent Christmas day in his room. Which sounds… uh… maybe I'll just stop talking."

Tara kept giggling at Willow and she realized that Tara was nervous about something. "What's wrong?" she asked concernedly, pulling her girlfriend into a hug.

"I'm sorry," she whispered into Willow's shirt.

"What for?"

"Being such a doof."

"Don't be a doof. Er… you're not being a doof. It's okay. You know you can tell me anything, but it's your choice, baby."

Tara didn't say anything for a while. Willow left her alone and just held Tara close until she was ready to tell her. "My d-dad called the Magic Box earlier. Giles picked up, and apparently they didn't have a very m-merry conversation," she said, laughing nervously. "It just threw me off a little. I didn't think he'd try to contact me anymore."

Willow pulled away and regarded Tara's carefully guarded face. "Oh, baby. What did he want?"

She shook her head. "I don't know. Giles was very kind about it… not like he ever wouldn't be. He just told me my father wasn't very polite and that he made a judgement call not to pass the phone over to me." She shrugged, as though trying to make it go away. "I'll be fine. I just… hate that I'm not alienating my family on Christmas. I-I mean, I am, my biological family, but I don't feel guilty at all. What Buffy said… I took it to heart. You, the Scoobies, Mr. Giles… you're all my family now. I'm… happy."

Willow smiled kindly at Tara. "You're sad because you're happy?"

"Uh… yeah." The blonde grinned her trademark lop-sided grin. "When you put it that way, it all sounds so silly."

"It is. Er… it's silly to be sad that you're happy with us, because none of us are sad that you're here, especially not me. You're my light, you're my joy… you're my Christmas," she finished, grinning. She rubbed Tara's shoulders affectionately and kissed her again. "Now, come on. We have to get this tree decorated."

"The lights are a little… jumbled," Tara said, grinning.

Willow grinned back. "I noticed. I wonder how they got this way, since it looks like you just bought them today…"

Tara blushed. "You know, I think they sell them that way nowadays."

A laugh from the redhead. "Oh, really? Well, it's not like I'd know or anything, since I've never really seen lights off a tree or a house before."

Tara stood and watched Willow bumble around happily, talking nonstop about nothing in particular and making the lights in worse shape, if possible. She was right where she was supposed to be: here with Willow decorating a tree, going to Christmas dinner at Buffy's house tomorrow to spend time with everyone who really wants her around for her. Eventually she went over to save Willow from accidentally tying herself up with the lights and ten minutes later, laughing hysterically, together they got the lights untangled and danced around the tree with them, just loving every second.

---

Giles poured himself another scotch and sat outside under a thick blanket, listening to the sounds of Christmas Eve from afar and reminiscing. Christmases for the past few years had been interesting, to say the least; last year he'd gone to visit Olivia (without telling Buffy he was leaving, no less… that took some creative explaining when she yelled at him when he got back) and two years ago he'd had all of himself and a cameo appearance by a slightly delusional Angel to deal with.

But those were unimportant. This year he had people; Buffy and/or Joyce had invited him to dinner, to which the rest of the gang was expected to attend. It would be by far the most accompanied Christmas for him in at least five years.

But not the best. The best Christmas since his childhood had been three years ago. It had just been him, and Jenny. Olivia was beautiful and fantastic and all the rest, but he never loved her. He stopped answering her emails after last Christmas, and she'd stopped sending them altogether months ago.

He'd loved Jenny, though. They'd just recovered from one of their many spells of not talking to each other; he'd been tending to a back wound she'd caused when she accidentally shot an arrow into his back. She'd stopped by on Christmas Eve to make sure he was all right (he knew better; she was there because she didn't want him to be alone on Christmas) and she'd ended up staying until the next day.

It wasn't how it would have sounded if Giles had been speaking aloud; they'd simply talked until morning, falling asleep with her enveloped in his arms just after dawn. They'd laughed about it when they'd awoken, and they opened gifts from each other. They'd both given each other the same book; they laughed even harder at this. But they'd kept each others' copies, because they were inscribed.

Then she announced that she was starving, and that they go out for dinner. She yelled at him for being British when he showed hesitation to American Christmas dinner from a restaurant and dragged him off despite his requests. Unfortunately, the only places open were a Chinese food restaurant and the drug store. They opted for Chinese food and sat alone in the restaurant, still not lacking in topics to discuss. She'd kissed him goodbye outside the restaurant and he'd gone home a very happy man.

Not a month later he turned on her because she'd had a (very vague) part in Angel's transformation. He regretted that more than anything. If it all happened again he wouldn't have done anything differently because despite turning on the woman he loved, he reinforced his good relationship with Buffy. And that was important, too.

But he missed her. More than anything. They hadn't spoken in a non-official capacity until the day she'd been killed. And yes, it still hurt.

Giles needed more scotch.

This year he had people. People he loved. Not in near the same capacity or fashion, but it wouldn't be empty like the two years past. It would be Christmas, not just another passing memory.

He pulled a book from the shelf beside the scotch and flipped open the cover. He read it carefully and let a slow tear fall onto the writing. He smelled the book and could almost smell her; it smelled like love and roses and lipstick and cinnamon.

He kicked back a shot of scotch and filled his glass again, returning outside to the refreshing crispness of the air. He kept the book tightly in his hand even after he fell asleep in the chair hours later.

---

"Hm."

"What is it?"

"Something on the front step, a box. I'll be right back."

"What's in it?"

"…A dozen black roses…"

"Really? I didn't know roses came in black. Red, white and pink, sure, but not black. Who're they for?"

"…Huh? Oh, no card."

"Weird. Probably just something else for mom. I hope I get this many presents if I ever have brain surgery."

---

Spike could smell her. No, he couldn't. He could feel her. Something in the air quivered when she was near. He opened his eyes and crept almost zombie-like up the stairs, knowing she wouldn't be standing there when he got up and therefore didn't bother to cover himself.

She was already gone. The air was still. He pulled a sheet from downstairs and wrapped it quickly around his waist as he leapt gracefully toward the crypt door and wrenched it open hoping to catch a shimmer of her golden hair from afar.

He knew he wouldn't, though. He stood in the doorway, looking out into the rest of the graveyard, feeling more disappointed than he should that she wasn't standing there.

He looked down and backed up, ready to shut the door and go back to sleep. A very small, torn sheet of thin paper lay on the ground. Two words were written on it, in her perfect loopy handwriting:

Merry Christmas.