First of all - not owning anything. Especially money. So please don't sue!

This was originally written for the ASHlatte Holiday Extravaganza (if you're an Anthony Head fan, why not just scurry over there for a latte and some nice Tony discussions?! But please feel free to stay and read this disgustingly sugary thing first...)

Giles looked at his watch. Eleven fifteen. Only another twelve hours and forty-five minutes left of Christmas Eve. And then the twenty-four hours of Christmas day. Not to mention hours and hours of Boxing Day. He sighed. Tis the season to be lonely, fa la la la la, la la la la... Dear Lord how he hated the holidays.

He gave a pile of unread books a hopeful look. Maybe there was a small prophecy concerning the end of the world? He smiled grimly. And if it took requests he'd very much appreciate it ending before he had to endure another painful rendition of Good King Wenceslas. The Watcher winced and gave the radio a sour glare as the jumped up circuit card pulsated out the first notes of The Christmas Song. Not much of an improvement really.
He hurriedly switched it off, but the silence only made him feel more lonely. He paced aimlessly through the flat, moving things not needing to be moved and generally just willing time to pass. Which it did. Only not quickly enough to please a very bored Watcher. Eleven nineteen. Perhaps he could find a way to end the world himself? Because it would certainly be an improvement to this. He shrugged resignedly. Ah, well. It was only an idea. Maybe he could try hibernation. Or tea. Tea could be good.
The kitchen expedition was disrupted by a timid knock and he frowned at the door as he went to open it. Short of a very premature Ghost of Christmas Past he wasn't expecting anyone.

'Merry Christmas, G-man' Xander greeted him with forced cheerfulness.

Giles took in the young man's deflated appearance and silently let him in, not even commenting on the use of the despised nickname. Xander stopped just inside the door, put his bag down, and gave his host a lost look.

'Would it be okay if I crashed here for the night?' he asked hesitantly. 'Christmas at my place? Not all mistletoe and jolly fat men with beards.' He gave Giles a tense smile. 'No mistletoe at all, really. But there are a couple of fat men. And a lot of eggnog. So I thought I'd better get out before someone got hurt. Most probably me.'

Giles heart melted as he looked at the distraught teenager. How could his parents so easily discard this remarkable young adult? Thoughts taking a path towards the violent were interrupted as he realized that Xander was waiting for a reply. He shook himself free of his harsh feelings and offered a comforting smile.

'Of course. You are always welcome here, Xander. I was hoping you already knew that.'

'I did. Do. I mean...' Xander looked up at the older man with an uncharacteristically shy expression. 'Uh... you know, when I was a kid I sorta always wondered what it would be like to have a dad. I mean a real dad, one who'd take me fishing, or watch monster trucks, or...' the goofy Xander grin made a swift appearance 'dust vampires. Not someone who'd just beat me up whenever he felt like it. It's good not to have to wonder any more.'

The choked up Giles hesitated self-consciously for a moment before he drew the young man into a warm embrace. Xander clung almost desperately to him as he cried against his shoulder, and the Watcher mumbled soft, comforting words whilst stroking the dark hair.

'I would have been so proud to have been your father' he mumbled indistinctly. Anxious eyes scrutinized his face and calmed into chocolaty delight as they found only truth and reassurance. Giles's voice was rough with pent up emotions 'But for the record. Under no circumstances will I take you to a monster truck rally.' He gave Xander a wry grin and was rewarded with a somewhat wobbly one in return.

*****

'Tea?'

Xander nodded, his eyes still suspiciously moist.

'Uh-huh. And if there are any cookies..?' he continued with a hopeful half smile.

Giles rolled his eyes and turned towards the kitchen – only to be interrupted once again. He gave Xander an apologetic shrug and went to get the door.

'Hi, Giles.' Willow gave the tall man a tentative smile. 'I was kinda hoping you wouldn't mind me and Tara hanging out here today?'

'You know that I'm always happy to spend time with the two of you, Willow. There really is no need to ask.' Giles smiled reassuringly and stepped aside to let her pass.

'Uh. Yeah. I guess. It's just... Thanks.'

Giles was saved from having to decipher her last sentence by Xander's materialization beside them.

'Hi, Wils! What brings you to this dysfunctional Christmas party?'

'Mum.' The word was uttered without any signs of emotion and Xander nodded with the weary wisdom of one with erring parents of his own.

'Oh. So what has the distinguished Mrs Rosenberg done this time?'

Willow gave a gloomy shrug.

'Forgotten she has a daughter. As per usual. So I wanted to celebrate Christmas with the only parent I kinda know. The only family I really have.' She peeped anxiously at the suddenly flustered Giles. 'Although mum doesn't want me to celebrate. Christmas, that is. So I thought I could sit in a corner and look disapprovingly at you...'

Willow tried to look disapproving, but her lips trembled too much and her huge eyes filled with tears. Giles didn't hesitate this time, he simply drew the distressed teen into his arms as he struggled valiantly against tears of his own.

'I couldn't love you more if you were my own daughter' he whispered softly into her hair as he stroked her back in soothing circles and felt her relax against his chest. He looked up and met Xander's eyes. 'But there will still be no monster truck rallies' he muttered gruffly.

*****

'Where is Tara by the way?' Giles asked when he had installed the disconsolate duo in front of the TV.

'She'll be along soon. Her father called for the annual Christmas guilt trip. She made me leave when I heard him call me an abomination.' Willow scrunched up her face. 'I don't really think he needs a phone. We would have heard him just as fine if he'd simply opened a window.'

'Ah.'

Giles contemplated Willow's shy girlfriend being yelled at by her father and felt the dark violence inside him stir again. No matter how much he tried to bury him, Ripper was never far below the surface. Especially not where people he loved were concerned. Like Tara. He looked at the two teenagers comfortably curled up on his couch. Xander. Willow. He smiled wistfully as his thoughts were filled with blonde hair and a brilliant smile. And Buffy. Christ how he loved that girl.

'Tea?' he asked abruptly, definitely not wanting to muse on his feelings for the young Slayer.

This time he was half expecting the knock on the door. But definitely not the person outside. He gave the brown-haired girl an incredulous look.

'Hi, Giles. Aren't you gonna invite me?' she asked with a sunny smile.

'I don't know. Should I?' he replied cautiously.

'Come on. Direct sunlight, okay?'

The brunette rolled her eyes at him and pushed her way into his flat. He grinned dazedly and drew the surprised visitor into a warm welcoming hug. She relaxed into it for a couple of seconds before quickly extracting herself.

'So what's with the cuddlies? Who are you and what have you done with the Giles we all know and love?' She stepped back and looked at him. 'Not that I don't appreciate the new you, though. You do casual quite nicely...' her fashion observations were cut short as Xander and Willow enthusiastically bore down on her.

'Cordelia!? It's great to see you!'

'Cordy?! What are you doing here? Why didn't you call?'

She beamed at her friends.

'The Big Brood was being broodier than usual, so I thought I'd go home for Christmas. And somehow this seems like the closest thing to a home I've got.' She carefully avoided the others' eyes. 'God, my life is pathetic.'

'We love you too, Cordy' Xander mocked her with an understanding smile.

'Yeah, well... I...' She shrugged. 'I have sorta missed you guys.' She looked around Giles' apartment and scowled. 'But boy do you lot suck at Christmas.'

*****

Giles' thoughts had been headed in the same direction, and he gave his flat a disgruntled look. He didn't think Willow's mother would really object to her choice of location for Christmas, anything less Christmassy than his home was hard to imagine. He looked at his watch. Eleven fifty-nine. Right.

'Yes, as you say I... uh... "suck" at Christmas. But the stores are still open...'

Cordelia quickly interrupted him.

'Great! Shopping spree!! Food, tree, lights, decorations, candy...' she enthusiastically listed before smiling radiantly 'and I'm sure none of you have thought of getting me a gift...'

'Well, at least you're focusing on the important stuff' Xander observed with a grin. 'It's really good to have you here, Cordy.'

The brunette tilted her head in acknowledgement but otherwise stayed focused on the tasks ahead.

'So Giles, you're on food duty. Willow, you handle decorations. Xander...'

'I think I'd better keep a tab on the G-man.' He grinned unperturbedly despite Giles' murderous glare. 'Or am I the only one not happy with the thought of jellied eels on the table?'

Cordy made a slight retching sound.

'Good point. Okay, you babysit the Brit. I put you two down for candy too. Which means Willow, you'll have to get lights as well, okay?' Willow nodded determinedly. 'And I'll make sure we get a good Christmas tree.'

Giles gave her a hesitant look.

'Are you sure? The tree is usually quite a struggle.'

'Don't worry, Giles. I'll manage the tree issue' she replied with a self-assured smirk. He shrugged and let it go.

Cordelia had managed to find a pencil and some paper and was scribbling furiously, all the time muttering to herself.

'Pumpkin pie or pecan?' she asked without looking up.

'Can't we have both?' Xander pleaded.

'Only if you're the one volunteering to make them.'

'Oh. Well, in that case it won't matter. You'd never be able to tell them apart anyway.'

The brunette simply grunted and made another couple of notes. She reread the list and nodded contentedly.

'There. I think that's about it. You take Giles' old heap of... umm... car' she exchanged expressive looks with her friends 'and I'll use mine. Rendezvous here at fifteen hundred at the latest.'

Xander managed a smart salute as he claimed the grocery list.

'Yes, drill sergeant. We'll have to wait for Anya and Tara though. You remember Anya, don't you? Blonde. Outspoken. Used to go a bit veiny in the face sometimes. Kinda retired now, though.'

Cordelia shuddered. She remembered the ex demon a bit too well. Especially the veiny part.

'You two still together then?'

'Uh-huh. Ahn might come across as blunt and selfish, but underneath she's really kind and thoughtful.' Xander's face softened into a fond smile. 'And I love her. Very much. So yes. We are. Together, that is.' He looked slightly confused. 'Umm... What was the question again?'

They both jumped at a very undemonic squeal from the hallway.

'Xander, that was so sweet' Anya exclaimed tearily as she threw herself into his arms. 'And you can't have him' she hastily informed the bemused Cordelia,

'Oookay.' Cordy eyed the blonde nervously and quickly added 'He's all yours. No infringement intended. Really. None.'

Anya gave the brunette a calculating stare before nodding contentedly.

'Fine. As long as you remember.'

'Oh yes. Definitely remembering.' Cordelia pulled herself together and looked at the other newcomer. 'Hello. You're new' she observed with some curiosity.

Tara nodded shyly and shot Willow a help seeking look.

'This is Tara. My girlfriend.' Willow smiled lovingly at the blonde witch. 'And this is Cordelia. Quite the legend in the Scoobyverse.'

The legend raised a well manicured eyebrow.

'Girlfriend? Now that's definitely new.'

*****

Giles watched the excited teenagers as they worked out the last details of their shopping strategies. He laughed at Cordelia's dismayed expression when it was decided that Anya should accompany her on the Christmas tree hunt. And he laughed even more at Xander's worried air when Anya and Cordelia seemed to bond over some unresolved boyfriend issues. His eyes wandered joyfully over his untraditional family before fixing themselves on Tara. The Watcher quickly sobered at the misery in the young woman's eyes. He indicated the kitchen with a head tilt and raised his eyebrows in a silent question. Tara gave him a grateful smile as she walked across the room and followed him into their impromptu hideaway. Giles leant comfortably against the sink, his eyes swimming with concern for the young blonde who stood hunched up in front of him, her arms protectively across her chest.

'Uh... I just wanted... T-Thank you, Mr Giles.'

He gave her an uncertain look.

'Well, yes... uh... For what?'

'J-Just...' she shrugged her shoulders, her eyes glued to the floor 'F-For this. F-For everything. Being here. For us. All of us, I mean. E-Even me. Even though you don't have to. And for making Willow feel loved.' She looked up with a forlorn smile as she continued almost inaudibly 'F-For making me feel loved.'

Giles instinctively pulled her into a consoling hug.

'You are a very easy person to love, Tara. And I want you to know that you're not just Willow's friend.' His eyes were serious as he met her red brimmed ones. 'You are mine. A friend I love very dearly.' The witch gave him a grateful smile and he nodded encouragingly. 'Your father was wrong when he told you you were a demon, right? And no matter what he told you today I'm sure he was wrong again. Alright?'

He felt a small nod against his chest as the witch snuggled back into the hug. He sighed, relieved that he seemed to have said the right thing.

'What's with Giles and all the touchy feely?'

The tall Englishman snorted. Anya had still to grasp the concept of a discreet whisper.

'Not sure. It might just be his Christmas alter ego' her boyfriend suggested.

'I vote we keep that, then' the ex demon stated decisively.

Giles smiled down at the now faintly giggling witch. He tightened the embrace for a moment before releasing her and turning towards Anya who was hovering curiously in the doorway. They exchanged indecisive looks before the Watcher finally reached out a hesitant hand and dragged her too into his arms. She might be an eleven hundred year old ex vengeance demon, but she was still one of his children.

*****

Giles was surprised to see tears in the ex demon's eyes when he released her, and he tenderly removed a slightly damp wisp of hair from her face.

'What's wrong, Anya?' he asked softly.

The blonde girl deliberately avoided his eyes.

'I don't know. I just feel happy. And sad. At the same time. It's very confusing. And I don't like it. Please make it stop, Giles.'

The Watcher smiled fondly at her.

'I'm sorry Anya, but I don't think I can. It's all part of being human.'

'In that case I don't like being human' the ex demon sulked.

'Ah. Well, it has its moments. Like today...' He grinned to himself. A couple of hours ago he had felt like the loneliest man in the world. Now there were friends. Family. People who needed him. Loved him. He sighed deeply. If only Buffy was...

'If you two are finished there's a Christmas to be celebrated' Cordelia's impatient voice boomed through the kitchen.

Anya muttered something under her breath and rubbed impatiently at her eyes. Giles gave her a worried look.

'I may not say this often enough, but you are very dear to me, Anya. I need you to know that.'

The ex demon sniffed quietly and gave him a vehement hug.

'You are very dear to me too, Giles' she replied formally. 'If I didn't have Xander I would have liked to have sex with you.'

Giles cleared his throat as he tried not to smile.

'Um. Thank you, Anya. I would have liked to... uh... have sex with you too' he said politely, if not entirely truthfully. 'Now I think there was talk about shopping?'

*****

'Bloody wanker!'

Giles glared crossly at the owner of the out of control trolley that had careered into his right calf. The hassled man shrugged apologetically before scurrying away, leaving an irate Giles rubbing the throbbing area.

'I think we actually have one item of everything in the store now. Can we please just go?' he complained petulantly.

Xander, one of nature's born shoppers, just grinned at the ruffled Watcher while carefully balancing a packet of crisps on top of the crammed trolley.

'Nope. We need two of some of them. More if we're talking candy. Oh, look! Turkeys!'

The excited teen ran off to fetch one and Giles gave the huge bird a horrified look.

'Are we inviting the rest of the customers back for Christmas dinner, or are you simply planning your entrance in the Guinness World Records?' he asked sarcastically.

Xander gave the turkey an appraising pat.

'Looks good to me. And besides. Leftover sandwiches are the best part of a Christmas turkey.'

'And with this one I'll still be eating 'em while I cook next year's sodding bird. Now downsize it!'

Xander recognized a lost cause when he saw one and reluctantly exchanged the pterodactyl like bird for a more traditional sized one. The Englishman nodded his consent.

'What else?' he snapped impatiently.

Xander scanned the list.

'Candy for the stockings.' he frowned. 'And for the rest of us, I guess. Not on the list, though.'

'Hang the list. Let's just get the sweets and get out of...' Giles blinked. 'Stockings?'

Xander was gazing hungrily at the vision of candy heaven before them and weren't really paying attention.

'Yeah. You know. Goes on your feet kinda things. Traditionally filled with candy. And stuff. Ooh! Candy corn!!'

'But I don't have enough... Oh, bugger it...'

Giles joined Xander in the candy frenzy.

*****

The troubled Scoobies were gazing from their purchases to the car.

'I guess you haven't a handy extra dimension hidden in the trunk?' Xander asked without much hope.

Giles ignored him, fully focusing on their logistic predicament.

'If we put those bags over there, the big parcels on the floor, you two... hmmm...' his eyes darted between car and cargo, contemplating angles and measurements in his mind. 'Right. You two. In the back.'

The giggling witches climbed in and were soon contorted into uncomfortable positions as more and more packages were shoved in after them.

'Hey! HEY!! I'm sure there's something in animal law about cruelty to dumb witches! Or at least it should be!' Willow's complaint was slightly muffled by a box of Christmas lights, but loud enough for Giles to hear. He looked at the remaining goods and nodded.

'Yes, most of the rest will fit in the back, and...' he smirked at Xander 'I know exactly where the turkey will go. Now aren't you glad we didn't buy the first one?'

Xander retained a dignified silence.

*****

A very disgruntled Giles led his band of worn out Scoobs into his flat.

'How could you forget the bloody onions?'

'I said I was sorry, okay. And I didn't forget completely.'

'Remembering it in the car on the way home does not remotely count as not forgetting, Xander.' Giles glared at the unrepentant teenager, well aware that they all knew his bark was much worse than his bite.

'Well, it's not as if...'

They never found out what Xander was going to say. His eyes widened in awe at the sight of the huge Christmas tree standing erect in the corner of Giles' flat.

'Okay, how did they...'

He turned at the sound of voices from the kitchen.

'Oh. Hi, gang.' Cordelia gave the puzzled Scoobies a wide smile as she put a flirty hand on a stranger's arm. 'This is Mr Finch. He was kind enough to help us with our tree.'

The middle-aged man gave them a sheepish smile as he shrugged into a worn coat.

'Um. Hello.' He looked back at Cordy with a glazed expression. 'And let me assure you that it was a privilege to help you. Unfortunately I have to return to my trees now, but perhaps we could...'

The brunette turned her lethal smile towards her admirer.

'I would have loved to, but I'm only here for the holidays' she said regretfully. 'But if you're ever in LA you'll have to call this number.' Cordy handed her new friend a card, followed him to the door, and gave him a kiss on the cheek as he left. Turning around she found five pair of eyes watching her in various degrees of confusion.

'What??'

'Did you just..?' Xander waved vaguely, not able to verbalize his question.

'I was just being nice to someone who had been very nice to me. It's called manners, Xander. You might have heard of it. But probably not.'

'But you gave him your...' Once again Xander failed to finish the sentence.

'The card thing?' Cordelia grinned impishly. 'That phone number goes to a very nice hotel...'

'Oh, you're good!' Anya's eyes glowed with approval. 'I like you!'

*****

Santa's little helpers were rapidly turning Giles' flat into a Christmas grotto. Anya and Cordelia seemed determined to hide the Christmas tree under layers of tinsel and baubles, and were succeeding beyond expectation. Xander was hanging their sad collection of last Christmas stockings in the shop over the fireplace, very careful not to leave any visible marks on the whitewashed front. Tara was using her magic to decking the hall with boughs of holly, giving Giles a remorseful glance as she did so. His views on not using magic for mundane chores were passionate – and well known to the two witches, who'd been on the receiving end of his stern lectures more than once. He smiled and touched her shoulder reassuringly as he passed her on the way to the kitchen.

'It looks beautiful, Tara' he observed, giving the dainty, green garlands an approving look. The witch rapidly ducked her head, blushing with pleasure at the praise.

The kitchen looked very much like a blizzard had passed through. Giles looked questioningly at the flour covered Willow who guiltily looked back.

'I'm... umm... making gingerbread cookies. Only I had a slight accident with the flour.'

'Ah.' The Watcher gazed thoughtfully at the chaos. 'I guess this means take out tonight...'

Willow looked up at him with disappointed eyes.

'But... Turkey!' she spluttered insistently.

'Yes?'

'We bought turkey' Willow persisted.

'Quite. And if you come back tomorrow you'll be most welcome to not celebrate Christmas by eating a nice non Christmas Day turkey' Giles grinned teasingly.

'T-Tomorrow?'

Giles nodded, trying to ignore the pleading eyes before him. Willow went for the heavy artillery, and even if her pout wasn't as fatal as the Slayer's, the Englishman still didn't stand a chance. As he very well knew.

'Yes, yes. I'll go get the damn onions, shall I?' he groused glumly.

Willow squealed and threw her arms around him in an enthusiastic hug. He tolerantly endured the embrace. As well as the flour the affectionate gesture sent tickling up his nostrils.

*****

Giles was staring at a brightly wrapped box in his hand. He'd got the onions. He'd got some small gifts for the stockings. Heck, he'd even got some blood in case Spike would turn up for the Christmas fun. He was definitely running out of excuses. Exiting the car he gave the front door of 1630 Revello Drive a panicky glare. He drew a steadying breath. What could be more innocent than a Watcher bringing his Slayer a gift? He blushed, thinking of some of the Watcher's diaries he'd read. Quite a lot, actually. Trying to ignore both embarrassing thoughts and butterflies in the stomach region he apprehensively rang the bell.

'I'll get it!!'

The flock of nervous butterflies suddenly tried to make a break for freedom as Buffy's voice drifted through the door. Giles sympathised wholeheartedly, wanting nothing more than to turn and run himself. The door was flung open by a small, animated blonde who took one look at the visitor and yelped with excitement.

'Giles!! My favourite Watcher of all Watchers!' To his surprise he received a warm hug and a quick peck on the cheek. 'What's up? Demons? Vampires? End of the world?'

'Uh. No. I... um... Merry Christmas' the favourite Watcher stuttered, offering her the small package.

'So. End of the world it is then...' she observed, grinning mockingly at him.

'Very funny.' He turned the Gilesy glare on her, but Buffy's grin only widened and she wiggled her tongue at him. He relaxed into an affectionate smile. 'Well, I should...' He indicated the door and Buffy quickly seized his hand.

'You can't leave yet' she pouted. 'I sorta have something for you too. Although I can't give you it at the moment. Well, I could. But that would be strange. I mean really strange. But I don't want you to think that I haven't got you something. Because I have. And I really hope you'll like it. Because if you don't...' She gave the bewildered Brit a beseeching look.

'I guarantee that I will treasure whatever it is you've gotten me, Buffy' he assured her with a gentle smile. She held his eyes for a few seconds before nodding, obviously happy with what she had found there. He wondered briefly what that was.

'Merry Christmas, Rupert.'

Giles jumped slightly and looked up to find Buffy's mother watching him with an amused smile.

'Uh. Hello, Joyce.' He held out a bottle of wine. 'I... uh... brought you this. 'Merry Christmas.' He rolled his eyes impatiently. Stupid candy. Stupid police car. Stupid handcuffs. Would he ever be able to have a normal conversation with this woman again? He glanced at Buffy. Probably not.

'...you perhaps like to stay for dinner?'

'Hm? Oh. Thank you, but I have to get back to my place. I have... uh... guests. I just wanted to...' he shrugged.

Buffy gave him a horrified look.

'Olivia?' she asked in a small voice.

'What?' Giles looked at her with confusion before realization dawned. 'Oh. No. No, my home is at the moment infested with Scoobies.' He grinned at his Slayer. 'So not only do I need to go back to cook a gigantic turkey, I also need to save my kitchen from further Willow related catastrophes.'

Buffy turned a thousand watt smile at him.

'Cool.'

*****

Giles hummed a contented Christmas carol as he entered his flat. He stopped just inside the door, giving a half melted pile of snow an intrigued look.

'Willow?' he hazarded.

'Yes' she hollered back.

'There's a... umm... snowman in the hall' Giles pointed out.

'Yes. I found this spell in an old book...' Willow came out of the kitchen with an eager expression.

'Uh-huh' Giles nodded encouragingly.

'And I thought it would be rather Christmassy to have a real... oh...' She gave the sad slush a devastated look.

'Yes. "Oh"' the Watcher agreed. 'Well, since it's your pet I guess it's your job to get it housetrained. You know where the mop is, don't you?'

Willow gave him an injured glare and went to fetch something to clean up the mess with. Giles continued his happy humming as he headed for the kitchen.

*****

'You used what for the eggnog?' Giles glared at the culprits before him. 'Have you any idea how much that bottle cost me?' Even the usually incorrigible Anya had to drop her eyelashes before the rampant Watcher. 'You're all bloody mad! Single malt it was too. You better drink that muck with due respect is all I 'ave to say.'

Giles stalked back to the kitchen to take his annoyance out on the defenceless turkey, leaving the Scoobs to pull themselves together best they could.

'Wow. That went better than expected...' mumbled the slightly shell shocked Cordelia.

'Okay. Note to self. Touching Giles' whisky leads to a very cranky Watcher. Not a good thing.' Xander leant back on the couch and sighed. 'Wonder how long he'll stay mad? I'm hungry. Not going in there now, though. Way too many sharp knives.'

Giles smile was rueful as he listened to the chastened teenagers. The whisky had been much too expensive for the eggnog. But he had perhaps overreacted. Somewhat. Rummaging through the pantry he triumphantly retrieved a packet of biscuits. He went over to the door and grinned at the downcast group.

'Xander. Catch.'

He threw the package towards the boy, and a long arm caught it expertly.

'Thanks, G-man!'

'Call me that again and you'll find yourself stranded with the washing up' Giles warned him sternly and returned to the turkey.

*****

The teenager's calm cookie chewing was suddenly interrupted by a smoking, cursing blanket coming through the door.

'Ah, yes. That reminds me. I'll have to start a deinviting spell tomorrow morning' Giles calmly commented from the kitchen.

'Ha ha. Very funny.' Spike finally managed to rid himself of the clinging blanket and looked with interest at the assembly. 'So this is the place for partying this Christmas, huh? Hello. What's the Princess doing here?'

'Sheis a very welcome guest. The question is – what are you doing here, Spike?'

'That was harsh, Watcher. I was afraid you were feeling all alone and thought I'd come to keep you company.' Spike was magnificent in his wounded pride. Unfortunately Giles wasn't that gullible.

'Translation: You're here to leech on my whisky and watch my TV. Sad to say the whisky has matured into eggnog and the TV is resting comfortably somewhere behind the Christmas tree. But please come again soon' he finished sarcastically.

'You used the whisky in your bleedin' eggnog??' Spike stared at the Watcher as if he'd just turned into a Fyarl demon. 'You're 'aving a laugh?! That was thirty years old that was!'

'Yes, well now you can drink vintage eggnog' Giles replied testily.

'Ooh. Tetchy. Someone won't be getting a present from Santa tomorrow' Spike commented with a smirk. Giles ignored him so Spike shrugged and sat down next to Cordelia. Very next to Cordelia.

'Can I just point out that I've got a bottle of holy water in my pocket and I'm not afraid to use it' the brunette said conversationally.

Spike leered as he subjected her short dress to a slow assessment.

'And what pocket would that be, pet?' he asked silkily.

A swift move produced the promised goods and Spike quickly moved to the other side of the couch. Cordy smiled prettily as she replaced the small bottle in its hiding place.

*****

'Hey!'

There was a loud slap and an even louder complaint in a very British accent.

'Now why did you have to go and do that for, Red? I was only going for a little nibble.'

'That was not a little nibble.' Willow glared at the vampire. 'That was a "super size me" bite.'

'Well, I am the big bad' Spike smirked at her.

'Not caring. Keep your fangs out of my fudge or I'll set Tara on you.'

The blonde witch looked up from her candy making and smiled at the squabbling pair.

'Don't make me have to come over there, you two' she threatened with a small giggle.

Spike and Willow grinned at each other and returned to the fudge, and Giles, who had enjoyed the squabble from the doorway, smiled at Tara and returned to the living room where Cordelia was forcing the rest of the Scoobies to adorn the sad looking stockings. He grinned at the one Xander was decorating. Red "blood" was gushing out through a tear in its side. So Willow had gotten Spike a stocking as well, then. She was much too soft on the vampire. He tried hard to ignore the fact that there was a Christmas present for Spike under the tree. A present he himself had put there. Okay, so they were all too soft on the vampire. His grin widened as another slap was followed by more complaints. Maybe soft weren't the word...
His gaze fell on a finished stocking and his eyes saddened. It was ornamented by small stakes around a big B. Buffy. He sighed unhappily, knowing that she wouldn't be there to plunder the stocking in the morning. She would be at home with Joyce. And Dawn. And perhaps even the man flavour of the month. He looked up at the sudden laughter around the table. In answer to his unvoiced question Anya held up the stocking she was working on. He giggled softly at the sight of a huge, tweedy G at the front.

'Thank you, Anya' he said with a grateful smile. So Buffy wasn't here. It was still a wonderful Christmas though.

*****

'Come on. Just one?'

'No. The gifts stay under the tree. Now drink your eggnog and be quiet.'

The Watcher glared at the vampire without visible effect.

'I know which one I'm having' Spike continued unperturbed. 'How about you, Red. Which one are you opening tonight?'

Willow gave him a brilliant smile.

'I want the small, green one over there.' She pointed excitedly at a shapeless packet in the corner. Giles sighed, knowing the battle was already lost. 'Which one are you getting, Xand?'

Giles held up his hands in defeat before Xander could answer.

'Okay. You are all allowed one present each. And that means one, Spike' he muttered ominously.

The room echoed with the sound of tearing paper as the eager Scoobies focused on their gifts. Giles had decided on a big, heavy parcel from Xander and was overwhelmed by the beautifully handcrafted shelf inside. Xander was eyeing him warily, trying to analyse his expression.

'Xander, this is truly a thing of beauty.' The touched Watcher gave the young man a grateful hug and Xander smiled happily as he started in on his own gift.

'Ruddy Nora!!' All activity stopped at the piercing exclamation. 'Is this for real?' Spike eyed the Watcher keenly.

'Yes... well... I thought...' Giles blushed uncomfortably and continued in a grumpy mutter 'Well, at least it'll get you out of Sunnydale for a day or two...'

'I really tried to get tickets for it, you know. I can't believe you got me one. It's just...' The excited vampire gave the Watcher a warm hug and Giles patted him awkwardly on the back. 'Stones at the Bowl! This is even better than the Christmas when Drusilla and I...' He looked over and met Willow's interested gaze. The blond vamp shrugged. 'Never mind.'

*****

Giles' living room was covered in mattresses and blankets since the wound up Willow had decided that they all should sleep there while waiting for Santa. Even on a sugar high the redhead's resolve face was an undefeatable weapon, and Spike and Xander had grumblingly cooperated in rearranging the room into a very Christmassy dorm. The relaxed Scoobies were now drowsily watching White Christmas, and even Willow was slowly coming down from her Christmas buzz. Giles was quietly humming along to the title song as he looked at his watch. One fifteen. He yawned and started to get up. Time for b... They were all surprised by a sudden rap at the door, and the group looked first at each other and then suspiciously towards the hall.

'Umm... Isn't Santa supposed to come through the chimney?' Xander asked doubtfully.

Giles shrugged as he unconsciously picked up a stake and went to see what catastrophic prophecy was coming knocking this time. His eyes grew wide at the sight of Buffy in a very sparse Santa dress. He was quite sure that that was not a decent length for a dress. Or even a T-shirt. He swallowed hard and tried to focus on her face. Her eyes were glued to his as she breathlessly began to sing:

Santa baby, just slip a sable under the tree, for me.

Been an awful good girl

Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney to me

The Slayer started to move suggestively whilst singing, and Giles was suddenly finding himself feeling quite breathless too.

Santa baby, a '54 convertible too, light blue.

I'll wait up for you dear

Santa baby, so hurry down the chimn... EEEEP!

The curious Scoobies were by now crowding the door and Buffy gave them a self-conscious grin.

'Uh. Hi gang. Didn't quite see you there...'

Xander sniggered before giving a slight eep of his own as Anya pinched him. Willow was looking from Buffy to Giles, her mouth open but incapable of making a sound. Tara gently grasped her hand and started pulling.

'Come on, honey. Why don't we go back to my place for the night?' she said persuasively.

'Uh-hun...'

Realizing that her girlfriend was beyond listening Tara simply dragged her through the door. Anya – with the help of Cordelia – did the same with the slightly catatonic Xander. Spike took the opportunity to thoroughly ogle the scantily dressed blonde as he slowly followed the others.

'And about bloody time too, Slayer' he muttered as he passed her.

*****

Tara stopped and turned when she reached the street corner. Giles and Buffy were still staring apprehensively at each other. The witch smiled tenderly as she mumbled a few words in Latin. In response a small branch of mistletoe grew out of the doorpost just above the couple's head. Buffy looked up with a startled expression before smiling radiantly and taking a step forward. Tara nodded with satisfaction. This was definitely of the good. And the Scoobies would all be back to celebrate Christmas later that day. She watched her two friends return into Giles' flat, mouths fused together, hands eagerly exploring. Okay, much later that day...