DISCLAIMER: They belong to Joss and all those other people, not to me.
SPOILERS and TIMELINE: Roughly mid-season five, although it goes its own sweet way from there.
It was two days before Christmas. The sun was beating down with merciless insistence, the bright California day denying any true acknowledgement of the season. Buffy and Dawn were stalking the parking lot outside the Maybury Mall, trying to pick out a suitable tree from among the offerings laid out on show. The firs and spruces were wilting in the heat and beginning to turn brown despite the refreshment of a faint spray from the decorative fountains.
"Some winter wonderland," Buffy grumped, rejecting yet another slumped spruce as its branches showered her with a cascade of needles. "Even the plastic Santas are sweating."
"Yeah," Dawn agreed. "And Frosty over there is getting sunburned. This is no fun, you know? Why can’t we have a proper
Christmas, with snow and icicles and tobogganing, and stuff like that?"
Buffy paused by one of the taller trees. "Snowball fights."
"Wearing snow boots and bundled up against the cold."
"Ice skating in the open air …"
The two girls looked at each other – and then heaved a simultaneous sigh. "S’not going to happen, is it," Dawn said dispiritedly.
"Well," Buffy considered, "there was that time when Angel …"
"Yeah, right." Her sister’s voice was scathing. "It snowed for what – fifteen minutes and was gone again in five? That’s the only time I’ve seen
snow …" She paused for a moment before adding : "Which I didn’t. Not really. Because – key and all that …"
"It’s okay, Dawnie." Buffy led her along the line of trees, cursing herself for even starting the conversation. "You’ll see proper snow one day. Heaps of it. Drifts and snowbanks and white flakes falling from the sky."
"Sure," the teenager drawled, taking a couple of steps back to study the tree her sister was pointing out. "The day the hellmouth freezes over …"
She stumbled as she spoke the final word, her last backwards step bringing her into direct collision with the long limbed figure who’d just emerged from the row next to theirs. The packages he was carrying flew up in the air – and stayed there as he reached to catch and steady Dawn before she fell over completely.
"Walking backwards for Christmas, are we?" Giles asked, setting the girl back on her feet and putting out his hand for the tumbling packages. They landed firmly on his outstretched palm, stacking themselves back into a neat pile as they did so. "Perhaps we should have you fitted with a reversing light."
an idea," Buffy said, grinning at the new arrival with decided pleasure. She hadn’t seen her Watcher for a couple of days, and she suddenly realised just how much she’d missed him. "Hi Giles. Been shopping?"
"No, I always get my laundry gift wrapped … Of course I’ve been shopping, Buffy. This is
a shopping mall. I – um - saw you looking at the trees as I came out. What’s all this about the hellmouth?"
"Oh … nothing really." Buffy frowned at her sister, who was eyeing the Giles’ pile of packages with eager curiosity. "Dawn and I were … lamenting the absence of winter and stuff. It being Christmas and all." She paused, a sudden look of thoughtfulness settling on her face. "Do you … miss English winters?"
"Not in the slightest," he said with certainty. "Short and miserably grey days without a sign of the sun? Bitter cold rain and a wind that would cut you in two given half a chance? A slick of ice across the pavement and everyone grumbling about the bloody weather? I should think not. Now, Scottish
"What’s the difference?" Dawn asked, still staring at the parcels as if she could divine what they held by mere will alone. Giles chuckled.
"Oh – about that
much snow," he said, indicating a point somewhere near her shoulder. "Crisp clear days. Ice on the lakes thick enough to walk on, and huge roaring fires burning in every grate. At least, there were when I was a boy. Now that’s
the tree you want," he declared, abruptly changing the subject as his eyes alighted on a spruce somewhere behind his Slayer. Buffy turned, finding herself staring at the perfect tree.
It was just the right height and everything
"Oh," she reacted, throwing a puzzled glance at her sister. "Was that there before?"
Dawn grinned and shook her head.
"Nuhuh," she denied, practically bouncing with suppressed delight. "It sorta … appeared."
"Nonsense," the Watcher said, giving her a stern look. "You just weren’t looking at it right."
"I was so
," Dawn countered, still grinning happily. "And it … okay," she said, subsiding a little under the challenging glare she’d engendered. "It’s just the right tree in the right place for the right person to find it, right?"
"Right," Giles confirmed matter-of-factly. Buffy turned from her examination of the tree to bless him with a grateful smile.
"Thank you," she said softly. "It’s perfect."
He coloured a little, dipping his head in a brief moment of embarrassment. "You – um – intending to patrol tonight?"
"Just the usual." She handed Dawn a wad of notes and sent her off to buy the tree before anyone else spotted it. "Quick sweep of the recent burials, back before midnight stuff. Things have been pretty quiet recently. Want me to call in on the way home?"
"Hmm? Oh – um – no, no. No need for that. It has been … rather quiet." His smile was meant to be reassuring, but Buffy felt a little hurt that he didn’t want to spend time with her. Nobody seemed to want to do that anymore. Okay, so some of that was about Riley and him leaving her, and her being all mopey because of it, but she didn’t think Giles had noticed. She wasn’t sure that he’d noticed anything
just recently. He’d been distracted and a little distant ever since he’d inherited what ever it was he’d inherited from his grandmother – and things had developed a habit of happening
whenever he was around. Weird things. Like finding your clothes had changed colour from one moment to the next. Like dropping a quarter and picking up a silver dollar. Like the ‘hang in the air’ parcels. Like finding the tree …
"I might not be home," he was saying. "I have some … people to visit. I-I may be late back."
"I’m people," Buffy offered hopefully. He gave her an odd look.
"Indeed you are. Maybe …" The look dissolved into another of those smiles. The warm ones, which seemed to come to him more easily these days. That
was a change she approved of, if only because seeing him smile like that made her feel … well, she wasn’t entirely sure how
it made her feel, but it was a good feeling all the same. "We’ll see," he concluded, not quite making a promise, but somehow hinting at one. "I must get back. Before Anya does something I’m going to regret. Have … fun, trimming the tree."
She watched him weave his way back through the trees, his little pile of gift wrapped parcels tucked under his arm, then she sighed and turned back to the fresh piny goodness of her tree.
‘Back before midnight,’ she’d said, and for once she was, slipping back into the house on Revello drive and creeping around the kitchen to make herself a midnight snack. Her mother was in bed, taking the advice of the doctors and getting the rest she needed. Dawn was curled up in front of the TV, a half eaten bowl of popcorn on her lap. She was snoring softly, having obviously drifted off while waiting for her sister to get home. Buffy smiled and tiptoed round her, carefully switching off the TV and rescuing the popcorn before it ended up on the floor. She’d wake her up in a moment or two; wake her up and send her to bed.
In the meantime she snuck back out to the kitchen and glumly munched on her sandwich. She’d dealt with a couple of newbie vampires and a stray Dizig demon, but nothing else had appeared to challenge her. Even Spike had failed to show for once, but then he’d been keeping a low profile ever since that stupid business with Riley and the vampire suck-house; he had to know that she’d broken up with her ex-Initiative boyfriend, but it seemed he’d realised it wouldn’t be a good idea to hang around and gloat.
Buffy sighed, wondering why it was that all the guys she liked found ways to leave her without
leaving her – and then upped and left, so that she had to deal with the pain of it twice. She’d known for a while that Riley wasn’t the
one – especially after all that stuff with Faith – but he’d wanted to be with her, and she hadn’t wanted to be alone. But being with Riley and not being alone had turned out to be completely different things; he’d wanted her to be something she wasn’t, and just couldn’t cope with what she was.
So now she really was
alone, and she didn’t know what to do with herself. Patrol – and slay, of course – but without someone to share that experience with, it seemed to have lost a lot of its glamour. Willow was all wrapped up with Tara, and Xander had Anya, and if it wasn’t for Giles expecting her to report, and expecting her to train – in short doing all the Watcherlyness that he was so good at - she’d have probably abandoned the whole business days ago.
Weeks – no, years
In fact, if it hadn’t been for Giles she would probably never have resumed her duties as the Slayer, or have worked out what being one really meant …
She sighed a second time and took another half hearted bite from her sandwich. Angel had thought he knew what it meant, but then Angelus had constantly underestimated her. Riley had tried
to understand – but he’d never got it, not really. Maybe that was why she didn’t miss him the way she wanted to. His leaving her had hurt, but not as much as everyone seemed to expect it should.
What she wanted – what she really
wanted – was someone who could understood who and what she was. Someone who wouldn’t be intimidated by the Slayerness. Someone who would love all of her, who would be as willing to fight beside her as he was to hold and cherish her when she needed to be held. Someone who would be loyal and loving and put up with all her little foibles and quirks.
Someone she could trust, someone she could count on.
And if he turned out to be someone that could tie her stomach in knots with a single touch, or reduce her bones to jelly with nothing more than a smile, well – that would make him practically perfect in every way …
The thought hit her like a rubber mallet in a Daffy Duck cartoon. The room went whoozy. Everything swayed and she could almost see the little lightbulbs circling her skull, flapping round on tiny angel style wings.
How dumb could she be? Of course
she didn’t really miss the men who’d left her.
She was in love with the man she still had
For a long moment she thought she was delirious. The sound of his voice – soft, low and sweetly musical – shivered through her like a lightning strike. Then he said her name a second time and she realised she wasn’t hearing things. He really was standing in the kitchen doorway … wearing, of all things, a thick aran sweater under a sturdy jacket, a pair of dark jeans, heavy boots, a pair of leather gloves and a scarf
. A long one, made of dark blue wool and trimmed with a little knotted fringe.
?" she questioned, blinking at the unexpected apparition. It wasn’t just that she’d been thinking of him – or thinking of him in that
way – it was the fact that he was dressed for arctic weather. Which was ridiculous.
"I thought you might like to go for a walk," he said.
"A … walk?" Buffy stared at him in bewilderment. All the little things she’d been trying really hard to ignore had just clicked into place. The way her heart had begun to lift whenever she was in his company; the churn in her stomach when he chided her during training; the shiver she always felt if she accidentally brushed against him. The myriad of minor moments that they’d shared over recent months took on a whole new significance - and she suddenly realised that the way that she sometimes zoned out when he spoke to her had nothing to do with enduring long and interminable lectures and everything to do with wanting to drown in the sound of those warm, honeyed tones. Being practically perfect was obviously a family trait, and she’d been ignoring the fact for far, far too long.
"Yes, a walk. The process that requires you put one foot in front of another? I know it’s late, but I was … passing, on my way home and I thought –"
"I’d love to," Buffy interrupted, then winced, realising how over eager that had sounded. "Walk, that is. With you. Walk you home
, I mean. Because – hey – Sunnydale and dark and ‘streets not safe without a slayer to keep them that way.’" She winced a second time. The last thing she wanted was to make him think that she
thought he wasn’t capable of taking care of himself.
"Yes, quite." Giles seemed more amused than offended. "You’d better bring a coat. It’s a little cold out tonight."
been, twenty minutes earlier, when she’d sneaked in from her patrol, but there was something about the way he was looking at her – not to mention the way he was dressed, which should have been disappointing, given her earlier revelation and the way the bulky clothing covered up all those rangy limbs …
… but actually
, he looked rather scrummy like that, bundled up as if he were a Christmas package, all gift wrapped and cuddly. Buffy suppressed a sudden desire to wrap her arms round him in a loving hug and covered it up with wry smirk instead.
"You look like a bear," she told him, catching the way he reacted to her look. "A big, cuddly, Rupert bear …" His wary frown deepened into a patient, put-upon one, and she grinned. "I’ll get my coat."