Home for the Holidays

A/N: This is for angryteabag, who requested, among other things, a Sam/Willow fic for Christmas. I know it's been forever and a day since I even cracked open my Garden Club series, and though I'm not certain I can get back into it now, writing little stories like this every now and then certainly helps. I know I'm definitely going to finish it eventually; every time I attempt to work on it, however, my muse throws a hissy fit.

Until then, there's this. My thanks to dusty273, therealmccoy1, and spikeslovebite for looking this over, as well as elizabuffy who stomached Willow/other for me.

Author: Holly (holly. PG (for language and suggestive themes)
Timeline: Sometime during the GC Series, but not related to any of the ongoing plots. To paraphrase Bradley Whitford, I suggest you don't spend a lot of time trying to figure out where this story fits in the timeline of the series. It doesn't. It's a story-telling aberration, if you'll allow.
Spoilers: Possible spoilers for GGSR and Part II of GoCR, but none that I'm too worried about.
Summary: Sam travels to Sunnydale to spend the holidays with Willow and her family.
Pairings: Sam/Willow, mention of Josh/Donna and Spike/Buffy.

Disclaimer: The characters herein are the property of Aaron Sorkin and Joss Whedon. They are being used out of respect and admiration, and not for the sake of profit. No copyright infringement is intended.


"I should be worried, shouldn't I?"

It was difficult warding panic off her face, but a lifetime of practice gave her hope of doing an admirable job. "Worried?" Willow asked, wincing at the shrill in her voice. Then again, she might have called that one prematurely. "Why do you say that?"

Sam tossed her a glance, but nothing more. He was far too cautious a driver to take his eyes off the road for more than a second. "Because you seem to be more anxious about me meeting your parents than I am."

"Well, to be fair, it's a big thing." Willow waved insistently, though as Sam was occupied with the road, it went largely unappreciated. "Usually, the parent/significant other meetings are…are much earlier in the relationship. Say before there has been talk of marriage and how many kids."

"Not always."

"Sam, you had me meet your mom within two months of my moving to DC."

His mouth formed a line. "It was a coincidence. She was visiting."

Willow perked a brow and tossed him a dry look. "Yes. How coincidental that she should show up after you rang to let her know the 'woman you were marrying' was in town and you wanted us to meet before I 'became a part of the family'?"

"This is a sign, isn't it? I should monitor your conversations with my mother."

"Yeah, you wanna pencil that in between the State of the Union and balancing the budget?"

"I'm not actually in on too many of the budget meetings, but it's an idea." Sam shot her a quick glance. "Did my mother actually tell you I used the words 'woman I'm going to marry?' Because that was a long time ago, and—"

"It was right after the photographer. After the Midterms. When you were going through one of your many indignant phases and proclaiming me the love of your life to get reporters to back off."

Sam frowned thoughtfully. "But, you are."

"And that's what you told your mother. Hence why she flew out and hence why we've been pen-pals the past two years." Willow shuddered. "My folks, on the other hand…"

"They never flew out to DC."

"That's right."

"Not even once."

Willow nodded. "Yeah."

"Why is that? You'd think with their only daughter living in Washington, they'd make the trip just to see how things are going."

She shrugged. "Yeah, well, they can turn on the news and see how things are going. Saves them the trip."

"Willow—"

"I've told you, I'm not close with my parents."

"That's just bizarre."

Another shrug. "That's the Hellmouth for you. You don't wanna get too attached; one of your kids could be eaten by a vampire or a Fyarl demon."

The alarm on his face was rather cute; a notion at which she was certain he would find offense. "Is this one of those times when you're being serious, or are you making one of your funny funny jokes?"

"One would think you'd know the difference by now."

"I don't."

"Yeah…doesn't that suck for you?" Willow grinned and settled back into her seat, poking out her tongue when he tossed her a bemused glance. "It's one of the reasons I'm invaluable."

"Good thing you're around to remind me."

"And for the record, I was joking." A pause. "I don't think Fyarl demons even eat kids."

Sam sighed and shook his head. "You're just trying to torture me now, aren't you? This is you torturing me."

"About what?"

"You have me thinking there's reason to think your parents won't like me." His concern must be getting serious for as often as he dragged his eyes off the road. Her boyfriend was many things, including a very fastidious driver. "There isn't, is there?"

"Any…"

Okay, now she was stalling. She was obviously stalling and he was very much aware of the fact. Sam's voice did the thing where it got deep and serious, though considering he used that voice for other things as well, it likely didn't have the desired effect. "Any reason for your parents not to like me?"

"No. No, of course not."

The air grew thick. Pavement rushed beneath them. Sunnydale was just a few miles away.

"My parents don't support the President."

He reacted just as she thought he would: he slammed on the brakes, completely uncaring that he was going seventy and they were on the highway. Traffic had subsided outside LA and night had stretched into the dim hours where even drunks were too tired to drive. Though it could have been rush-hour in downtown Manhattan and he would have reacted the same way. It was why she'd attempted to reserve the warnings for when they were on solid ground and in an enclosed area. Sam's hysterics were so not of the needed.

Neither was a major accident.

Then, as though he hadn't just had a little wig-out, he said calmly, "Your parents don't support the President."

"No."

"Who do they support?"

Now with the squirming. Willow hated squirming. "Well, they said they're voting for Ritchie in the primary."

It was a good thing the car was stopped. With that revelation, she was certain Sam would have swerved into a ditch or something equally disastrous. "Ritchie?" he repeated, choking as though the name tasted like dirty socks.

"Yes."

"Rob Ritchie?"

"Unless you know of another," she offered meekly.

"The governor of Florida. The one who spells his name with alphabet cereal. That Rob Ritchie?"

"The one whose name is on the ballot for the Republican nomination for President, yes."

"Your parents support him."

"Yes," Willow said.

Sam's eyes widened and gestured emphatically. Had she not known better, she would assume he was trying to do a spell. "They can't!"

She arched a brow. "And yet, they do."

"They're Jewish!"

Willow just stared at him. Sometimes he had the sort of logic that was not. "Ummm, not all Jews are Democrats, Sam."

"Well, they should be."

"Yes, because that has all the markings of a circular argument."

"I can't believe this," he muttered. "I'm the Deputy Communications Director for President Bartlet."

She waved slightly. "Hi, I'm Willow. I've only been sleeping with you for the past two years."

A sudden look of horror washed over his face. "Do you think they know that?"

"What?"

"That we sleep together?"

Admittedly, the idea of her folks giving her sex-life any thought wasn't something she'd call fun, but Willow was a realist. Her mother had, after all, attempted to burn her at the stake once and then feigned amnesia to all of it except the part where Willow had revealed she was dating a musician. If there was any aspect of her life that her mother followed, it was the dateage. "Well, I did move across the country and have been living in your house, so I'm guessing yes."

"Great," Sam muttered. "I'm staying with two anti-Bartlet Republicans who know I've violated their daughter."

"They're not."

"Not what?"

"Republicans."

His eyes narrowed. "But they're supporting Ritchie."

"Yes," she agreed with a nod, "well, there's an explanation."

"For their supporting Ritchie?"

"Yes."

"What's the explanation?"

"They don't like you."

There was a long pause. "They don't like me?"

"That's right."

"You said I had no reason to believe they didn't like me!"

More fidgeting. She looked anywhere but his eyes. "Yes, I did."

"You lied to me."

"Well, if it makes you feel any better, I didn't feel like I was lying so much as I was withholding the truth." Willow glanced up nervously and offered a small smile. "Don't be mad?"

Sam very rarely grew short with her, thus the request went a long way. He just glowered for a minute or so, then looked away in a sexy huff. She had to admit she liked it when he got angry; mild-mannered Sam Seaborn transformed into silver-tongued idealist. It was quite the sight—and experience.

"They don't like me," he repeated.

"No."

"They've never met me, and they don't like me."

Willow's mouth formed a sympathetic line. "You're in professional politics, sweetie," she said, patting his shoulder. "I'm sure there's a good many people you've never met who don't like you."

He glanced up dryly. "You know what you're not very good at?"

"Comfort?"

"That's right."

"Sam, you slept with a prostitute."

That did it. Any mention of Laurie made Sam leap through the roof, armor firmly in place. "Willow—"

She held up a hand. "I know that, you know that, and everyone we like knows that. But my parents? They see you slept with a prostitute, and then slept with me."

There was a beat, then he dissolved into full-pout mode. "You were there for the second one, though."

"Well, yes. But my point is, you created one sex scandal and followed it up with another. The other involved me. My parents don't like you. Plus…" She fidgeted. "They're Jewish."

"Jews don't like me now?"

"That's not what I meant, and you know it. I mean…they're very Jewish and you're…well, incredibly not."

"Toby and Josh are Jewish."

She nodded her agreement. "Yes, well, unfortunately, Toby and Josh aren't my parents."

"So your Jewish parents are determined not to like me because once upon a time before I met you, I slept with a woman who happened to be a high-price call-girl, something of which I wasn't aware, and then entered a very committed and loving relationship with you after I helped you save the world?" Sam huffed indignantly. "In so many ways, this is completely unfair."

"You forgot the part where my picture was splattered across the Times and reporters called my parents so much they had to change their phone number and leave the country for three months."

"I don't see how that was any fault of mine."

Willow arched a brow. "Yes. You haven't at all been a part of my life since I moved to DC."

"Will—"

"Look, my parents are determined to hate any man I bring home. The fact that you turned my name into a cocktail party joke is completely beside the point." She shrugged and gestured to the open road. "I notice we're at a complete stop and we have yet to pull into my parents' drive. Don't we have some miles to cover?"

Sam stared at her for a long, uncomfortable minute. "I'm going to meet a bunch of people who hate me."

"To be fair, it's not like this doesn't happen all the time."

"There's that comfort again."

"It's what I do."

He puffed out a deep breath, gripping the steering wheel hard enough to leave trench-marks. "Okay."

"Sam?"

"Okay."

"It's important to breathe."

"Okay."

Willow licked her lips. "You know what you should do now?"

"Breathe?"

"That would be a good idea."

He nodded abruptly, falling immediately into a Lamaze-like routine. "Okay. So…Sunnydale."

"Full of vamps, apocalypses, and Republicans. Oh my!" She grinned until she became the subject of a not-so-hot Seaborn stare, then shrank appropriately in her seat. "Okay. Yes. I think I'm going to be quiet the rest of the way."

"That would be appreciated."

"Okay."

It was another minute before Sam found the strength to pull back onto the road. And as the drive resumed, Willow was as good as her word. She didn't speak. She didn't hum. She didn't even sigh wistfully as the mileage countdown from the road to the Hellmouth grew smaller and smaller.

She'd done her job. She had him worried and she'd distracted herself from her own raging nerves. At least now they were freaked about the same thing. She loved Sam for freaking about the same things she freaked about. Especially when she made it impossible for him to not.

He was reliable that way.


"There's a sign."

"Yes."

"You didn't say there'd be a sign."

Willow shrugged, knocking again on her front door and feeling very much like she'd stepped onto the set of the Twilight Zone. Just three years ago, she would have recovered the spare key from the top door frame and paraded inward, no question. But this wasn't her house now; she didn't live here anymore.

Not at this house. Not at this street. Not in this town.

The Hellmouth wasn't home. Washington was home.

Never in her life had she thought she would feel more at ease anywhere but Sunnydale. Even with all the demons and the unexplained accidents and the school with the annual death-rate, she'd never felt uncomfortable walking the streets or patrolling the cemeteries.

Only this wasn't her home anymore. Washington's streets were home. The winding halls of the west wing bullpen were home. Sam's apartment was home. This wasn't home.

And yet, it was home to her parents.

"I think I'm gonna have to do something."

"Sam…"

"There's a Ritchie for President sign at the house where I'm staying."

She heaved a sigh and knocked again. "It's not like you weren't expecting this."

"I was expecting to meet Ritchie supporters. I wasn't expecting a sign."

"You know what my parents are?" she asked, eying him dryly.

Sam's mouth formed a solemn line, his usually-sparkling eyes refusing to flicker. "Ritchie supporters?"

"That's right. And you know what signs demonstrate?"

"Support."

"Yeah."

"I work for the President and I'm staying at a place that has a sign for the President's opponent in the front lawn."

"Well, one of many opponents." Willow smiled meekly when his eyes narrowed into a glare. "Sam, it's okay. My folks are just…well, my folks. They don't like you, they don't like the President, and now they have to meet you while knowing that every single night you and I enjoy lots and lots of premarital sex."

Sam winced and shifted uncomfortably. "Well…not every single night."

"Yeah."

"Some nights I'm really tired from, you know…important business. Of the government."

"I know."

"And you're sure your parents know this?"

"That you have very important business of the government?" Willow repeated, knocking yet again. "Fairly certain."

"No, the other thing."

"What other thing?"

"The thing where you and I enjoy lots and lots of premarital sex?"

This was so not the right moment for the door to swing open. Willow squeaked awkwardly and leapt back a full two feet; she would have tumbled off the steps were it not for Sam's quick and, by the frozen look of horror on his face, instinctual reflexes. Ira Rosenberg stood in the doorway, his eyes slanted downward, his face contorted into a scowl. It wasn't a particularly novel look for her father, though there was no way for Sam to know that.

And there was no way to clue him in without being obvious as to what they were discussing. Fate had already decided her father had heard Sam mention their sex-life, but she wasn't about to gamble the last few odds that they could get through the weekend unscathed to signal to her boyfriend that her father was always an asshole. She hoped the many trans-continental prep talks had done the job.

"Hi Dad."

Ira nodded shortly, never taking his eyes off her boyfriend. "Willow."

Sam gawked unnecessarily. "No, errr, I'm Sam, sir."

Willow stifled a groan. This was so not the time to get cute.

A point Ira Rosenberg was about to make, loud and clear. He drew in a breath, puffing out his chest like a flamboyant bird marking his territory. "You trying to be funny?"

"No sir," Sam replied, gulping.

"I don't like funny."

"I can assure you, I am the least funny person around."

Willow fidgeted. "He's funny."

"Will!"

"Well, you are," she replied. "And I happen to like it that you're funny. I like laughing, you make me laugh, ergo I like you. You're not here to date my dad, you're here to meet my dad. By the way, Dad…" She whirled around again. "Dad, this is Sam. My boyfriend. Be nice to him because I'd like him to still be talking to me by the time the weekend is over."

The surprise in her father's eyes wasn't exactly unexpected. Never in her life had she spoken to Ira like an adult. Like she was anyone but his daughter. And once she got the feeling back in her legs, she would be able to tell whether or not it was worth it.

"Like I care if he talks to you," Ira grumbled, stepping aside to allow them entrance. "Go say hello to your mother. And you." He pointed at Sam. "If you're gonna be funny, keep it quiet."

"I am so completely not funny, sir, it's not even…funny."

Willow rolled her eyes. "Yes, you are. And come on."

Sam smiled, motioning as his feet bade him to follow her. "I'm just going to…do what she says."

"I like it that you're afraid of me," Ira called after them.

"He's not!" Willow yelled back.

Sam stumbled inelegantly against her back, tripping over himself. "I kinda am," he whispered loudly, and though it wasn't intended, the effect of his breath fanning her ear sent hard shivers down her spine. It completely threw her how freakishly sexy he could be without even trying. "He's very intimidating."

"He told you not to be funny," she replied, guiding him around the corner and toward the smell of baking…something in the kitchen. With her mother's cooking, it was never certain.

"Yes."

"And your response to him was funny."

"It was?"

"Yes."

His voice hit a shrill. "I was funny?"

"You were to me."

"I missed the whole thing."

"That happens a lot." Willow shot him a grin as they stepped into the kitchen, where she was presented with the rather astonishing view of her mother bent over the stove. "Mom."

Sheila Rosenberg leapt as though the room had been peppered with bullets from a double-barreled shotgun. "Oh!" she gasped, placing a dramatic hand over her heart, her eyes fluttering like a dazed debutante. "I didn't hear you there, Willow."

"Sorry."

"You know I don't like people sneaking up on me."

"I didn't sneak," Willow replied calmly, though she took a second to note she'd been back in the house for approximately ninety seconds and the sensation of enclosing walls was already making itself well known. "But okay."

Her mother frowned reprovingly. "There's no need to take that tone with me."

"There was no tone."

"You might be an adult out there, young lady, but in here, you're going to respect me."

She felt the shift behind her without having to blink. When it came to defending the honor of people in his life, and especially people he loved, Sam was always a step ahead of everyone else. "You're right," Willow said calmly. It was always easier to be calm when someone else was outraged on her behalf. "I'm sorry."

Sheila nodded and turned back to whatever she was stirring. "Is that him?"

"Him?"

"The man behind you. Is that your boyfriend?"

Willow blinked dumbly, tossed Sam a glance, and turned back. "Uhhh, yeah. This is Sam Seaborn."

"I'm not funny," Sam said promptly.

"No, he is."

"Willow's father doesn't like funny," Sheila replied without turning around.

"I'll try not to talk too much."

"See," Willow murmured, ducking her head, "that was funny." Then, glancing up again, she plastered on a smile formed and perfected by two years' worth of photo-ops. "I'll just show Sam around and get our stuff settled in my room."

"Noooo," Sheila all but singsonged. She didn't turn around—didn't even stop stirring—but the satisfaction in her voice almost drowned out the words themselves. "Your boyfriend's going to sleep on the sofa."

There was a long, awkward pause. In the two years since her move into Sam's townhouse, there hadn't been a single night where they'd failed to sleep next to each other, save for the occasional all-nighters and the Presidential poker games which had the tendency of running extremely late. She and Sam were married in every way except for the piece of paper declaring them as such, and the only reason they had yet to actually get married was the press storm it would generate. And with the President's reelection coming up, the last thing she wanted to do was remind the American public of past scandals.

Willow cleared her throat, and in doing so pushed all old insecurities into the pit of her stomach. "Sam and I actually live together, Mom."

"Yes," Sheila agreed in the same 'why-yes-I-did-just-step-out-of-a-1950s-sitcom' voice. "But in this house, men and women will be married before they sleep in the same room. You can go back to living in sin after—"

"Did you actually just say 'living in sin'?"

"Well, that's what it is."

"I have no problem sleeping on the sofa," Sam offered. "I can sleep on the sofa."

"No," Willow snapped, "you can't."

His brow furrowed. "Why not?"

"Because you're sleeping with me."

Sheila whirled around at that, eyes blazing. "Willow!"

"I meant literally, Mom!"

Sam nudged her shoulder. "Just a hunch, but I think that's her objection."

"It is," Shelia agreed, her eyes never leaving her daughter's face. "You know how I feel about you bringing boys to the house."

"Yeah, back when I caught the bus to school. Sam isn't a boy!"

"Well, I think I'd certainly qualify," Sam murmured indignantly. "I have all the parts."

Willow didn't even dignify that with a well-deserved elbowing. She continued as though he hadn't spoken at all. "He's a man," she said. "He's a man and I live with him and he's here to meet you."

"I fail to see where his sleeping on the couch interferes with any of that."

It was fortunate that Sam chose to end it, else Willow could have easily gone another ten rounds. Something about knowing she had a home waiting for her far from here had her juiced with confidence. She wanted so badly to rip down her former insecurities—damn the consequences—and she wanted to start right now. If it meant she never got to come home, so be it. Her parents were instrumental in building the walls that had kept her from discovering herself years ago. Now she had a voice and a place she called home. Sam was key in her evolution; so was Buffy. So was everyone she valued that her parents couldn't stand.

"I'm going to put my stuff on the sofa," Sam said. "And then Willow can show me around." He flashed Sheila a bright, winning smile. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Rosenberg."

The woman did not look impressed. "I don't fall for charm, young man."

His smile slipped a fraction. "I wasn't—"

"I know perfectly well what you were—"

Willow rolled her eyes and whirled around. "Don't bother, Sam," she said flippantly, seizing his arm. "I told you my parents didn't like you. I don't think that's going to change between now and the end of the weekend, do you?"

"I'd like to think I have a chance."

"Not at all."

"You told him we didn't like him?" Sheila squawked. "Willow Rosenberg, why on earth would you—"

"Because it has the added benefit of being true," Willow snapped. "You don't care that I'm here. You don't care that Sam's here. You had an opinion of him and, more importantly, his dating me formed well before we arrived. Let's save ourselves the embarrassment of pretending this weekend is nothing more than you two trying to convince me to come back and be the submissive little daughter the two of you raised for fifteen years."

"Willow!"

"I'm going to show Sam around the house," she said, moving away before Sheila could retort. "Have fun cooking."

She led Sam out of the kitchen without another word.


"This could just be me."

"Shut up."

"Your parents don't like me."

"That's right."

"I don't really imagine that what you said down there made things better."

Willow moaned and flopped back onto her bed. She'd managed to sneak Sam into her room for the tour, but harbored no delusions of it lasting once her mother or father decided to check up on them. "I gave up," she confessed.

"Gave up what?"

"Trying to make my parents like you."

Sam's brows hit his hairline. "When did this happen?"

"About three days ago."

His eyes narrowed. "You decided you weren't going to try to make your parents like me three days ago."

"Yeah."

"Why?"

"Because there's no earthly way for that to ever happen."

Sam looked at her for a long second before exhaling sharply and sliding his hands into his pockets. "Still," he said reasonably. "I don't think you can say you made things better than they would have been otherwise."

"Okay. You got me there."

"Willow—"

She jerked upward abruptly, leaning back on her arms. "Are you under the delusion that we're here at all because of you?"

He frowned. "Are we not?"

"I'm here declaring my independence."

"Your independence."

"Yes."

"From your parents."

She nodded. "Yes."

"And you don't think moving across the country two years ago served as enough of a proclamation?"

She waved a hand at the hallway. "Obviously not."

"Willow," Sam said calmly, "it's not unreasonable to suggest that I sleep on the sofa. It is their house."

"Yeah. And if they actually believed any of the crap they fed us downstairs, I'd happily oblige." Willow shook her head and rolled her eyes. "Look, your family is incredibly not like mine."

"You're right. We're gentiles. Also, my father had a woman in an apartment for twenty-eight years."

"My parents aren't…this is just…" Words were not forthcoming. Willow grabbed a pillow and attempted to rip it in half; when that didn't work, she settled for throwing it across her empty fish tank. It had sat vacant since Angelus murdered her gill-reliant friends more than five years ago. "You don't understand. They don't care about me."

"Willow—"

"They don't. The bulk of my childhood consisted of being ignored unless I did something wrong. I made the honor roll every year since preschool."

Sam blinked stupidly. "I didn't know they had an honor roll in preschool."

"They don't tell you unless you make it."

Another blink. "Well now," he said, appropriately flustered. "This is going to be a thing."

"My parents never noticed my triumphs," Willow continued. "Not once. They ignored me until I met Buffy, and that was only because they thought she was a bad influence. Their rules are for them, Sam, and not because they believe in them. They have the rules so they can keep up appearances."

"I'm a smart guy. Why didn't I make the secret preschool honor roll?"

"Sam?"

He shook his head. "Sorry. I'm here now."

Willow nodded, not convinced but too wrapped up in making her point to backtrack. "They're like the Dursleys."

"The who?"

"From Harry Potter. All about image, no substance."

"Oh. Okay."

"Like why they're voting for Ritchie. The sign in the yard? Appearances. Do you think they really give a crap who wins the primary?"

"I think I'm staying in a house full of people who don't like me very much and who are voting for the person who's trying to put me out of a job."

"But do you think they care?"

Sam held up a hand. "Willow, honey, I'm in no position to know what they do or do not care about. All I can tell you is I'm here right now. I know you want to make a point to your parents; why don't you make it by not making it? Let me sleep downstairs without incident. Don't challenge them every time they provoke you. You're a beautiful, intelligent, not to mention sexy as hell woman who lives a very important life far away from here. Let that be your point. You don't need to stand up to them. You really don't."

It was really irritating when Sam made sense, namely because it happened more often than not. Willow blew out a long, irritated breath. "Okay," she whispered.

"What?"

"Okay. Okay. I'll…" She kicked insolently at her coverlet. "I'll be nice."

Sam smiled softly, closing the space between them so he could favor her brow with a kiss. "That's my girl."


The Ritchie sign was mocking him.

Sam scowled and turned away, his feet carrying him up the sidewalk. The last thing he'd wanted was the weekend to be interrupted by work, but it was literally impossible to cut himself off from the White House. Even if he had the ability to isolate himself, there was always someone in some office who could easily look up the Rosenbergs of Sunnydale, California.

It was better to preemptively see what was happening rather than have Josh wake him up in the middle of the night.

"Josh Lyman's office."

Donna's voice was a natural antidote. She reminded him, just by speaking, that the world he knew was still in motion.

"Hey, it's me."

"Sam! How goes the family meet-and-greet?"

"Well, they're anti-gentile Jews who don't like me very much. Also, there's a Rob Ritchie sign in the front lawn."

"They're voting for Ritchie in the primary?"

"Yeah."

"Why?"

"Because they don't like me very much." Sam cast a glance over his shoulder, slightly paranoid the sign might be following him. It remained where he'd left it. "Is he in?"

There was a pause. "It's Christmas Eve, Sam."

"Yeah. Put me through."

Donna snickered and placed him on hold. The line was quiet all of ten seconds.

"'Sup?" Josh Lyman drawled.

"I really hope you haven't been answering the phone like that all day."

"Hey, it's Christmas. I can do whatever I want."

"Yeah." Sam tossed another glance over his shoulder. The sign remained stationary. "Is anything going on up there?"

"Anything going on?"

"Yeah."

"Well, Congress went home for the holiday, so I don't think there's a chance of them screwing things up between now and when you get back." There was a pause. "But hurry back just in case."

"182 didn't move?"

"Baker and Lillianfield tried to attach a rider, but Toby and I took 'em to school."

"Meaning there'll be more meetings when Congress gets back."

"I definitely wouldn't rule that out." Another pause and the sound of muffled shuffling. Sam pictured Josh kicking his feet back on his desk. "Have you seen a vampire yet?"

"A vampire?"

"I thought Sunnydale was, you know, crawling with them."

"Josh, I see a vampire practically every day at work."

"Yeah, but there's a chance one there might not be nearly as annoying."

"No, I haven't seen any vampires." Sam froze. "Though it did just occur to me that I am outside in the dark and moving away from the only house I have access to."

"Did Willow's dad greet you with a shotgun?"

"They don't like me very much."

He practically heard Josh shrug. "I don't like you very much."

"Yeah, but you know me." Sam sighed. "I was able to calm Willow down until midway through dinner when her mom asked how Bunny was doing."

"Who's Bunny?"

"Buffy."

"Buffy's now Bunny?"

"No, but Willow's mother seems to think so. She went on a little tangent about how she knew 'Bunny' wouldn't make anything out of her life."

Josh snorted. "And?"

"Willow told her that Buffy and Spike were in Manchester, spending Christmas with the President."

Josh barked an appreciative laugh. "Yeah. That girl definitely needs to get her act together."

"Speaking of which, it's like, a quarter till midnight there. Let Donna go home."

"Donna's perfectly content to remain here as long as—" His voice cut out abruptly. "Yeah, either we just lost power, or Donna's about to seize the desk again."

"It's Christmas Eve."

"And you're on the phone with me. What does that say?"

Sam sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Willow's parents are Jewish."

"I'm Jewish."

"Not like this." He exhaled and raised his eyes to the sky. "Hey, did you know that there's an honor roll in preschool?"

"What?"

"A secret honor roll. If you make it, you get to know about it."

"There's no secret honor roll."

"Willow says she made the secret honor roll."

"Willow also comes from a town where the number one cause of death is blunt trauma to the neck. You got to start handing out the honors early or they might not get in there at all."

"I'm just saying, I should have made the—"

"Sam."

"Yeah?"

"Quit obsessing."

"Okay." Sam snapped his phone shut.

Just in time to hear a growl behind him. A growl not entirely unfamiliar, but wholly unwelcome.

"Well," he said, more to himself, "this was entirely predictable."


"At least I didn't scream like a woman."

Willow smiled encouragingly, dipping the washcloth into the basin next to the sink. The cut on Sam's head wasn't the worst he'd had, but just once, she would prefer to not have to wash blood out of her clothing following their outings. If it wasn't vampires, it was something else. She remained a target of creatures of the subworld no matter where she went, though to be fair, Giles had warned her long ago that her magical explorations might leave a signature on her aura; it was only logical to assume the second most-happening place of demonic activity would be the nation's capital.

At least it was now; ever since she, Buffy, and Spike moved across the country.

"I know," she murmured, feeling very much like a coddling mother trying to reassure her son. "You were very brave."

"I forgot vampires could be like that."

"What?"

"Scary."

Willow stifled a giggle. "Yeah. You might wanna not tell Spike. He's a little sensitive about his lack-of-scary."

"I think I might have destroyed your parents' Ritchie sign."

"I noticed it was the thing you decided to defend yourself with."

Sam shrugged, battling off a wince. "Only thing out there within reach."

"You realize my parents aren't going to care that it saved your life, right? More the fact that you destroyed the sign."

"Yeah. I'm choosing to care less about that and more about the fact that I'm alive."

She smirked. "I think you're choosing to ignore valuable irony."

"What?"

"Rob Ritchie saved your life."

Sam made a face. "Funny."

"Want me to kiss the boo boo?" She didn't even wait for a response, instead pressing her lips to the angry red place on his brow. "All better?"

He grinned. "Always," he agreed before seizing her mouth in a proper kiss. And as always when it came to Sam, one taste was hardly enough. Willow cupped his cheeks and breathed him in, devouring him. He was quite simply the most sinfully delicious man she'd ever known, and all at once, she felt the desperate need to christen the bathroom.

Unfortunately, Sam had the strongest sense of duty of any man she'd ever met. No matter how much he might physically desire something…

"How long have we been here?" he murmured into her lips.

"Four hours and fifteen minutes."

"How long do we have left?"

"Forty three hours and forty-five minutes."

Sam sighed, resting his brow against hers. "Okay. We'll make it…or rent a hotel for the weekend."

She smiled. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"I'd tell you, but then we'd be here for a while and my folks weren't kidding about that search party." Willow kissed him again, tugging on his hand. "We should go explain how Rob Ritchie saved your life."

A long moan escaped his lips. "Like they don't hate me enough."

"Yeah, but that much was inevitable."

"Like my not making the preschool honor roll."

"Sam?"

He waved dismissively. "I'm dropping it."

"No, you're not; you're going to phone your school tomorrow."

"I really hate how well you know me."

"No, you don't."

"No, I don't, but I should."

"It's a shame you love me so much."

"Nothing else but love could make me endure this all weekend." Sam sighed again, draping his arm around her middle. "Think they'll mind this?" he asked, drumming his fingers along her side.

"I don't care."

He chuckled. "Wanna know a secret?"

"What?"

"Neither do I."

Willow smirked. "Wanna know a secret?"

"Yeah?"

"That's not a secret." She leaned up to kiss him again. Then, together, they turned the corner and headed downstairs to explain how, inexplicably, Rob Ritchie had saved Sam's life.

The End