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All I Want For Christmas...

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This story is No. 1 in the series "Season's Greetings". You may wish to read the series introduction first.

Summary: Everyone always wants their heart's desire for Christmas, but very few people ever actually get it.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Literature > OtherGreywizardFR1817,6584193,45224 Dec 1024 Dec 10Yes
Disclaimer: The Scoobies all belong to Crack-Head Joss and ME. Barbara Everette belongs to John Ringo. Deal with it. I have. And you should all definitely read Ringo's 'Princess of Wands' for a great story and a chance to see an excellent depiction of how a Christian 'witch' might behave, without catering to overly worn stereotypes.

Category: Another crossover response to Challenge 1578: In Jim Baen's Memory.

Time Frame: Approximately a year and a half after 'Chosen,' and pretty much any time after 'Princess of Wands.'

Spoilers: None intended, but if you don’t know what happened up to this point, why are you reading this story?

Character Bashing: None.

Feedback: Of course!

Archiving: Talk to me first, please.

Author’s Note 1: Many thanks to Bill Haden and Theo (Starway_Man) for beta-ing this story.

As usual, “word” indicates speech, :: word :: indicates mental communication and { word } indicates a character's thoughts.

~~~

Dimension Kinari Minor Mark Four One Two

Faculty housing
The Sineya Foundation
Cleveland, OH

December 22, 2005


"Let met say yet again just how much I personally appreciate your taking those cooking classes last year, Buff," Xander declared with a wide smile as he quickly grabbed a brownie from the second platter the petite blonde had just placed on the table in front of the gathered Scooby Gang. "These brownies are almost as good as the ones your mom used to make!"

"I used Mom's recipe for them, Xand," Buffy smiled, a wistful expression on her face at some of the memories that comment brought to mind. "But you're right – they're good, but they're not quite as good as the ones Mom used to make."

"Remember how Mom used to make four batches of them on Christmas Eve, Buffy?" Dawn reminded her big sister with an equally pensive smile as she thought back to happier times.

"Yeah. One for the three of us to eat on Christmas Eve, two for any guests that stopped by on Christmas, and one specially baked for the Bottomless Stomach, here, when he came by to deliver our presents?" Buffy grinned as she nudged Xander with her elbow.

"Hey now! What's with the implication that I ate so much?" Xander huffed with a mock semi-indignant expression. "The little blonde girl over there eats at least as much as I do, and nobody ever says anything about that," he pointed out with a grin.

"'The little blonde girl', mister," Buffy repeated as she gave the Prime Scooby a narrow-eyed glare, "is the person who just happened to make those brownies you're scarfing down so eagerly, and the one who cut off that supply, too, I don't think I need to point out."

"Allow me rephrase my previous comment, then," Xander immediately replied with a wide grin, "to note that the petite, stunningly beautiful, and equally multi-talented golden-haired goddess who made these awesomely delicious brownies we're all currently enjoying only consumes as much food as her supernatural metabolism requires, in order for her to perform her sacred duties of saving the world and all of us living in it."

"Nice try for the save, Xand," Willow chimed in with a grin, "but I don't think that's gonna –"

Whatever it was the redheaded witch was about to say was interrupted as an alarm began blaring across the compound.

"Damn it! Can't we ever catch a friggin' break?" Faith muttered as she practically leaped out of her seat. "It's Christmas Eve! Can't these scum-suckers let us relax, just for once?"

She made a point of grabbing another brownie and taking a big bite of it before leaving, however, as did all of the other Scoobies as they followed her out the door.

~~~

Dimension Kinari Minor Mark One Seven Two

Bienville National Forest, MS
Several miles inside the forest's western perimeter

December 22, 2005


The ceremony was nearly complete, Joy noted calmly as she cast a professional eye over the ritual circle inscribed in the clearing below them.

And she also noted that if it were allowed to continue to completion, then a full portal to Abraxcelon's domain (judging by the entreaties she'd heard being made by the fool heading up this idiocy) would be opened wide and the demon lord's legions would pour through the gate to inundate the unsuspecting cities stretching from here to the Gulf Coast, with the blood of millions of innocents staining the ground before the bad guys could finally be banished back to their hives.

More importantly, though, – at least, on a personal level – Barbara's home was only about an hour's drive from here, Joy reminded herself as she glanced over at her companion who was busy evaluating the situation in much the same manner she'd been doing – a fact which had undoubtedly been the primary reason Augustus had called and asked the tall strawberry-blonde to check things out.

And since all three Everette children were some of the most beautiful, sensible, adorable and just plain damn *good* kids she'd ever come across in all of the violence-filled years since she'd adopted her current vocation, she wasn't about to allow anyone to do anything that might endanger them in the slightest.

The fact that she had dropped by to wish Barbara and her family a 'Merry Christmas' the previous day had been nothing more than a fortuitous coincidence which now allowed her the opportunity to provide her fellow Special Circumstances operative with some reliable backup, since Joy hadn't told anyone about her plans – or, actually, her complete lack thereof – for the holidays.

And right now, the fact that she really hadn't had any holiday plans at all was looking like a good thing, because if the cultists below them weren't stopped within the next ten minutes or so, then everyone with in a thousand mile radius of here almost certainly wouldn't be celebrating anything at all come this Christmas morn.

"Look like these guys are planning on inviting some friends to drop in for a holiday party," Joy noted in a quiet, casual tone as she checked that the magazines for her Springfield XD .45 semiautomatics were fully loaded with the blessed silver/iron alloy hollowpoints she generally favored in situations like these. "What do you think – should we follow 'Plan A' or 'Plan B' to welcome them to town?"

"From what I recall of the last time you helped prepare a 'welcome party' for anyone," Barbara replied with a wry expression on her face as she glanced over at her companion, "your version of 'Plan A' consisted of shooting anything that attracted your attention in the head, and then following that up by chopping the body up into numerous small pieces and incinerating them, before then scattering the ashes to the winds.

"Based on that little fact, I'm almost afraid to ask what 'Plan B' might be," the mother of three turned demon hunter noted dryly as she returned her attention to the ritual circle below.

"Oh, that's easy," Joy grinned without any real humor in her expression. "Kill everything that moves, then burn the bodies and flush the ashes down the toilet."

"Riiiiiight. Why does that *not* surprise me?" Joy heard Barb ask rhetorically, even as she mentally debated what would be the most effective sequence for taking down the potential enemy combatants gathered in the clearing, once they'd taken out the high priest. She also noted the small grin that momentarily twisted her friend's lips and counted it as a success in her effort to lighten the atmosphere surrounding them, since they both knew what they needed to do next.

"Hellmouth and damnation! Looks like we're gonna have to go with 'Plan B,' after all, Barb," Joy added an instant later, as she saw a pair of hooded acolytes begin dragging a struggling, bound and gagged figure towards the ritual circle. "We can't afford to wait any longer for backup. These mooks have to be stopped now."

Picking up her USAS-12 Auto-shotgun, Joy slung its carrying strap over her shoulder as she thumbed the selector switch from three rounds to single shot mode, then began moving out from behind the small thicket they'd been watching from to the left side of the cultists' group, with Barbara mirroring her actions on the opposite side of the copse.

"Federal agents! Everyone stop what you're doing, drop your weapons, knees on the ground and lace your fingers together behind your heads. NOW!" she ordered loudly, even as she trained the muzzle of her weapon on the high priest leading the ritual.

"I'm not telling you again!" she warned as she stepped closer to the ritual circle.

The instant Joy saw the hand holding the sacrificial knife begin twitching and start moving towards the intended sacrifice, she squeezed the trigger twice and watched impassively as the corpse dropped to the dirt, copious amounts of blood and pieces of entrails falling from the massive hole through his torso, even as she reflexively swung her shotgun to center her sights on the next closest cultist, who was staring at the body of their former leader with a distinctly greenish pallor and a horrified and nauseated expression on her face.

Unfortunately, however, a random drop of blood from the now-beginning-to-cool body must have somehow splashed onto the ritual circle, because a spark of pale blue light abruptly appeared inside the circumference, its luminescence steadily increasing as all the people present surrounding it watched with expressions ranging from astonishment to satisfaction to horror.

~~~

Dimension Kinari Minor Mark Four One Two

Inside the cavern containing the Hellmouth
The Sineya Foundation
Cleveland, OH

December 22, 2005


"Christ on a mini-bike!" Xander swore as he dodged a reptile-man wielding a machete and reflexively slammed him in the side of the head with the butt of his Saiga 12K shotgun, knocking his opponent to the side and out of his intended path of advance.

He then quickly refocused his attention and unleashed a three-round mixed salvo of Dragon's Breath, blessed solid silver slug and blessed double ought buckshot shells at the group of vampires deeper inside the cavern who were forming a skirmish line a few yards away from him, placing themselves between the demon high priest and his band of acolytes, who were all gesturing and chanting frantically. Xander and the furious group of Scoobies, mini-Slayers and the other non-supernaturally enhanced demon hunters they'd met and recruited over the course of locating newly Awakened Slayers this past year and a half knew they had to act fast, or this was going to get...messy.

Ignoring his would-be assailant and trusting Vi to guard his back against any further attacks, Xander carefully aimed and fired yet another three round burst at his targets' heads and upper torsos and disregarded for the moment the half-dozen torn and dismembered bodies of the group of Slayers and Hunters who'd been assigned the task of guarding the Hellmouth this evening, since if they didn't prevent these assholes from opening the Hellmouth to whatever unholy nightmare it was they worshipped, there was going to be a whole lot more bodies joining them very shortly.

Seeing Faith and Buffy leading an assault on the left flank of the demonic horde who'd managed to breach the security surrounding the Hellmouth, Xander swore under his breath yet again and loosed yet another three round burst as he silently wished they had sufficient distance between their forces and the demons to allow him to safely use the blessed fragmentation and white phosphorus grenades he had with him.

He fired off his last round in the magazine into a charging demon and quickly reloaded.

“Happy fuckin' Christmas, asshole...”

~~~

Dimension Kinari Minor Mark One Seven Two

Bienville National Forest, MS
Several miles inside the forest's western perimeter


"May the Lord bless and protect us!" Barbara murmured, alarm, worry and concern filling her eyes as she focused her attention on the slowly, but steadily, growing sparkle of light dancing in front of them.

"Joy, that's an uncontrolled portal," the strawberry blonde declared a moment later, as what might have been a flicker of fear momentarily crossed Barbara's face. "And I can't close it – it's growing too quickly!"

All of the practical knowledge Joy had learned about activating portals (which, admittedly, wasn't really all that much) from her coworkers ran through her head in the seconds following Barbara's declaration, and she gave an involuntary shiver at the realization that the interdimensional threshold so rapidly forming in front of them still posed a massive threat to their world's existence despite the lack of the usually requisite ritual sacrifice.

Unless, of course, the sacrifice of the high priest at her hands was enough of a satisfying requisite, which would then mean that Joy herself was responsible for whatever the portal was about to unleash upon them.

Without any specific guidance to direct its still forming orientation, the supernatural gateway was just as likely to open onto any one of the myriad hell dimensions cluttering the multiverse as it was to connect to one more inclined to peaceful coexistence. And since it was already partially-formed, the only way to take control of this particular portal was for someone to enter the ritual circle and use their own blood to command it – something that was just as likely to kill you as it was to succeed.

Still, Joy knew that since she and Barb were the only two of the people currently present who were both trustworthy enough (since there was no way in hell she was about to let any of the cultists near the circle) and halfway qualified enough to even attempt doing something like that, she realized that this task now fell to her alone to complete.

"In case this doesn't work, tell Augustus that he owes me *big time* for this, Barb," Joy said with a humorless grin as she let the shotgun fall to her side on its sling and pulled her Fairbairn-Sykes knife from its sheath on her left thigh.

"No, Joy, wait – we should draw lots for this," Barbara protested as she realized what the other woman was intending to do.

"Uh-uh, Barb, that’s not gonna happen," she gave the other woman a weary, but nonetheless real, smile as she shook her head in disagreement while she lightly drew the blade across her palm.

"And before you try to argue with me about doing this, let me remind you of the three kids waiting back at your house for their mother to come home. Barb, I'm not looking to commit suicide doing this," Joy went on, as she cupped her hand to let the blood pool in her palm. "I'm simply the best person we have available right now here who can do what's necessary.

"I know what needs to be done, I'm at least as qualified as you are to do it, we don’t have *time* to argue about this and, just as importantly as far as I'm concerned, I'm simply tired of all of the fighting, Barbara," Joy said as she turned to look into her friend's eyes, and she finally allowed all of the pain, the fatigue and the almost insurmountable sense of loss she felt almost constantly to show in her eyes.

Truthfully, once you got down to the basics, she really didn't have anything holding her here in this world any more, because pretty much everyone she'd ever cared about was dead now.

Rupert had died nearly six years ago now, having been gleefully killed by Kralik while trying to rescue her after Quentin Travers and his minions had used her as bait to force Buffy to undergo her Cruciamentum. And she *still* regretted that those pompous buffoons had made the mistake of running afoul of Kralik and had been killed before she'd been able to personally slaughter the arrogant sons of bitches herself!

Buffy and Dawn had both died – or, more accurately, had been brutally murdered – two years later while saving the world by stopping that psychotic hellgod, Glory, from opening up a portal back to her home. The fact that she had finally managed to kill that bitch by cutting Ben's heart out of his chest after he'd shifted forms with Glory two minutes later did little to assuage the pain and heartache she still felt each time she thought of her slaughtered children.

Willow and Andy had died the following year when that parasite, Rack, had drained the two of them (and Amy Madison, too) of their magic and their life-force when he'd tricked them into magical slavery under the guise of helping them learn to channel their power, and Faith had died stopping the demons that black-hearted bastard had summoned to guard him while he tried to seize control of the Hellmouth and channel its hellish energies as a means of empowering himself to the level of an Old One.

And that thrice-damned leech was fortunate beyond belief that Xander had found that bastard first and emptied an entire magazine into his head in order to stop the ritual, before she'd been able to get to him since she would have kept that piece of offal hanging at the edge of death for weeks – and that was only if she'd been feeling merciful!

And then Xander, the last surviving child of her heart, had died last year at the hands of that demented ex-preacher, Caleb, when the First Evil had tried to wipe out the Slayer line – although her adopted son had managed to wipe out the majority of that fanatic's Turok-Han forces with a thermobaric bomb he'd somehow managed to obtain from the Initiative, thereby helping Deirdre, the newest Slayer Called after Faith's death, and the Council's last surviving black ops teams achieve what Joy considered a truly Pyrrhic victory over the First, once they'd managed to send it back to the hell dimension it had been previously imprisoned in.

And with Xander's death, she had finally been left completely alone, with no one left to care for or look after, and no real reason to go on living – except for the chance to strike back at the evil things that still existed in this world as a means of returning at least some of the pain and heartache she'd experienced ever since finding out that her eldest daughter had been called as the Slayer.

And *that* had been pretty much the only reason she'd finally accepted Augustus' offer of employment when he'd finally managed to locate her. She'd still managed to stumble across various vampire nests and demon lairs wherever she traveled while she was on her own with depressing regularity, but working with Special Circumstances, rather than going at it lone-wolf style, had provided her with a much better opportunity to find and destroy the forces of evil which still threatened their world.

That satisfaction, the few friendships she'd made with some of the other SC operatives like Barbara, her own sense of duty and the promise she'd made to her children to not foolishly throw her life away were really the only things that had been holding her here for a while now.

She really didn't have a death wish – well, not the way she'd heard some of the lower echelon support personnel speculate about her when they thought she couldn't hear them – but she also didn't have any qualms about walking into situations that might kill her, either, since she really didn't have anything she considered worth living for any longer, now that her all of family was gone.

She'd been fighting for far too long to think that she wasn't eventually going to end up as one of the statistics on Augustus' charts – the main difference between her and almost everyone else in Special Circumstances was that she was so tired of being alone now that she really didn't care about where or when that might happen, not anymore.

"Do me a favor and cherish those darlings of yours every day, Barb, and appreciate them and give thanks for them every morning you wake up, okay?" she instructed her friend as she began focusing her attention on the relatively small bit of magic she possessed, preparatory to her effort to seize control of the portal.

"I will, Joy," Barbara solemnly vowed, taking a moment from watching over the now cowed and subdued cultists huddled in front of them to glance over and meet her friend's gaze. "I promise, I'll do that every day."

"Oh, and tell Allison not to be too surprised if her application to Oxford comes back with an offer to intern for Dr. Wyndam-Pryce during the summers," Joy told Barbara a moment later as a stray thought reminded her of actions she'd taken earlier that year.

"I called an old friend of mine I know who teaches there a while back and mentioned that Allison seemed to be a natural when it came to languages, and he agreed to consider her for a position in the program he runs," she said by way of explanation, seeing Barbara's stunned expression at her news.

"Goodbye, old friend," she smiled as she stepped into the ritual circle.

As she moved forward and tossed the cupped handful of her blood into the ever-growing portal, she didn't feel any regrets at all – after so many years of being alone, she knew that she was finally going to be reunited with her children and the people she loved once again.

~~~

Dimension Kinari Minor Mark Four One Two

The Hellmouth
Cleveland, OH

December 22, 2005


"May the Force blast them! That rotten nerf-herder must've read the Evil Overlord's Guide!"

Dawn smirked to herself as she listened to Andrew's semi-pseudo-cursing as he replaced the thirty-two round drum magazine in his AA-12 autoshotgun with one loaded with the Council's standard anti-demon fragmentation rounds, while she helped Willow try to tear down the wards guarding the high priest.

{ Looks like Andy's hanging out with Xander lately is finally starting to produce some results, } the former Key thought to herself.

"He's got whichever minion is maintaining his force shield on the inside with him, where we can't get at him!" the former computer nerd turned surprisingly more than adequate Council demon fighter complained vociferously, even as he aimed the muzzle of his weapon at the aforementioned target of his grumbling and unleashed a steady stream of firepower on their foes.

Dawn's attention was distracted a moment later as she noticed a small bluish-white light abruptly spark into existence in the back of the cave, a few feet in front of where the high priest and his minions were frenetically chanting and gesturing.

"OH SHIT!" she screamed a warning to her fellow demon fighters as she recognized what had just happened. "WE'RE TOO LATE, GUYS!

"THEY'VE OPENED THE PORTAL!"

~~~

The pain wasn't nearly as bad as she'd expected it to be, Joy thought to herself as the portal yanked her inside itself.

Spinning around like a child's top, she felt herself pulled deeper into what looked like a whirling, iridescent tunnel which tossed her around, up and down and side to side on unseen roller coaster tracks as she rushed down the apparently never-ending passageway to what she anticipated would be her ultimate fate, consoling herself with the memories of her lost children and the knowledge that she would be joining them soon enough.

After an ostensibly interminable time, Joy noticed that an area off to one side of her seemed to be growing brighter in some indescribable manner, and she mentally braced herself for the culmination of her journey even as her hands took a firmer grip on her weapon.

An instant later, she felt herself falling through the air and she then hit some sort of solid ground that rose up to meet her.

Amazed that she was still alive, and automatically rolling on her shoulder and back up into a crouch, with the muzzle of her USAS-12 up, her finger poised alongside the trigger guard and the sounds of battle filling her ears, Joy quickly evaluated the area she now found herself in – only to discover that she was currently in the middle of a group of creatures resembling a hybrid mixture of men and crocodiles.

{ Well, definitely not a heavenly dimension then, } Joy thought to herself absently, { not that I ever put much stock in that possibility. Not with *my* luck! }

Scanning the area beyond the crocodile-men, she could see that mixed groups of other hulking lizard-like creatures and yellow-eyed, furrow-browed men and women whom she recognized with a snarl of rage and hatred were engaged in an apparent no-holds-barred struggle with a horde of young women – no, not women, they were just teenaged girls! her mind instantly corrected her – who were wielding a bewildering mixture of modern semiautomatic pistols and medieval weaponry and who were backed up by other mixed groups of men and women using more modern firearms.

A faint glimmering of the air shining between the warring groups and her own position warned her of the presence of some sort of force field – which was evidently being used to keep the young women and their allies away from the area where she currently resided.

The crocodile-man nearest her, who was clad in an elaborate robe and jeweled headpiece, was staring down at her, its tooth-filled jaws hanging open as though in shocked disbelief at her unexpected appearance – so Joy reflexively took advantage of the opportunity offered to shift the sight on her shotgun a few inches to the side before pulling the trigger and abruptly transforming the creature's head into a mess of raw and bloody hamburger.

Confusion and incredulity at the surprise execution of their leader held the other demons surrounding her motionless for another few, crucial seconds and Joy used that time to throw herself in a low dive to the other side of the cave, flicking the selector switch on the receiver back to three-shot mode as she did so.

Quickly rolling back onto her feet, she unleashed several bursts of blessed double-ought buckshot at the now incoherently screaming acolytes who were turning to face her, their clawed hands still in the process of pulling out the knives sheathed on their belts when the demon-killing rounds sent them to join their leader in the demonic afterlife. As she reflexively let the now empty shotgun slide off her shoulder to the ground, she also noticed that the sheen separating her from the fighting which she'd observed a moment before had now disappeared, too.

Turning her attention to the fighting closest to her, Joy saw that a small blonde woman was engaged in a furious mêlée with one of the massive alligator-men, with streamers of the monsters' blood flying off the blades of the sword and axe in her hands with every stroke of her weapons. She also saw a second lizard-man rushing to attack the unsuspecting woman warrior from the rear, and the sight reminded her of another petite warrior she'd lost not so many years ago, making her scream with outrage at the cowardly attack.

"Leave her alone, you bastard!" she yelled angrily as she yanked her knife from its sheath and leaped forward. The creature was almost directly in line with the girl, so she couldn't risk shooting it, since the slug might go right through the monster and hit the unsuspecting young woman, so she needed to get closer to stop it.

Leaping up onto the crocodile-man's back for a moment, she shoved her Fairbairn-Sykes into the base of its spine and upwards into its head, severing its spine and internally bisecting its brain, before then shoving herself away from the now-falling corpse and onto the unyielding cavern floor.

"Thanks for the last-second save," Joy heard the girl she'd just rescued saying as she pushed herself to her feet, and she looked up with a smile as she nonchalantly shrugged off the girl's gratitude.

"You're welcome," she began to say before she abruptly caught sight of a pair of startled blue-green eyes that were flaring open with shock as they looked at her, and her words abruptly froze in her throat as Joy was confronted with a heart-stopping impossibility she wasn't at all prepared to deal with.

"Buffy?" she thought she managed to whisper, an instant before blackness abruptly overtook her and her consciousness fled, leaving her body to drop bonelessly to the ground beneath her.

~~~

Dimension Kinari Minor Mark Four One Two

The Kendra Zabuto Hospital
The Sineya Foundation
Cleveland, OH

December 22, 2005
Very late evening


"It looks lie her! But, but it can't be her!" Dawn whispered, shaking her head in disbelieving hope as she stared at the woman currently lying unconscious in one of the beds in the private room wing. “Mom’s dead! She’s been dead for *years*!”

"She's probably some kind of shapeshifting demon trying to fool us as part of some elaborate scheme," Buffy was saying with an uncertain shake of her head, even as she, too, was watching the sleeping blonde as intently as any predator might examine their prey.

“She looks older than I remember,” Dawn muttered. But then it occurred to the brunette that it had been over four years since she and Buffy had buried their mother in the now long-vanished town of Sunnydale, so if this was, somehow, impossibly, Joyce Summers – then, then that would actually kinda make sense.

Well, inasmuch as anything about this entire crazy business did, of course.

"She doesn't register on any of the coven's spells as any kind of demon that we have any record of," Willow observed as she, Kennedy, Xander, Faith and Andrew joined the two sisters in their observation of the newcomer.

"What do you think, X-Man?" Faith asked her companion as she glanced up at the sole male in the group. "How's she feel to you? Ya think she's the real deal, or is she some sort of demon-clone?"

"What're you asking me for, Faith?" Xander asked, a puzzled expression on his face as he glanced over at the brunette Alpha Slayer. "Willow's the one with all the demon-detectin' mojo, remember?"

"Well, yeah, that's true, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to get your input, too," the normally outspoken brunette gave a little shrug as she answered. "'Cause I've been keeping track of when we've been doing the whole 'meet and greet' thing with the various demons clans about treaties and shit for the past year or so, and by my count, you've been right about who's been cool and who's been hinky more often than most of the coven's Sabrinas have been when they were doing their mojo to try and figure out who was lying to us and shit."

"Really?" Willow asked, turning away from the sleeping woman to stare at her childhood friend with a look of intense curiosity on her face upon hearing the tidbit of information before glancing over at the brunette. "That's really interesting to hear, Faith.

"What exactly made you think of keeping track of something like that?" she inquired.

"Uh, well, see, I remember, back during the fight at that vineyard, that skeeze Caleb called the X-man here 'the One Who Sees' before he gouged his eye out, and I just figured that there must have been a reason for him saying something like that about X," the second most experienced Slayer in the world replied with another shrug.

"Yeah, the way Caleb said it, just before he shoved his thumb in Xand's eye, it sure seemed like he was trying to be sarcastic, or maybe even ironic," Kennedy agreed and elaborated a bit on Faith's comment as she reached out to put a hand on Xander's shoulder, as though she was offering support or thanks or, perhaps, both.

"Way I figure it, nutjobs like that always have some sort of reason for pretty much everything they say or do, whether it makes sense of the rest of us or not," Faith observed, "so I figured it couldn't hurt anything to try and keep track of what Boytoy here thought and said about things.

"Anyway, you never did answer me, X," the brunette reminded him and the others. "How does she –" Faith indicated their 'guest' with an inclination of her head, "– feel to you? Does she feel like the real thing, like she's really Joyce? Or does she feel like she's some sort of fraud looking to put one over on us?"

Seeing the curious looks on the others' faces, Xander shrugged uncertainly before finally answering.

"Well, I gotta admit – like Wills said, I'm not getting any 'demon' vibe from her," he agreed as he glanced over at the two sisters who were watching him with a very focused look in their eyes, "and she certainly does look like your mom, guys.

"It's just my opinion, but if it was just up to me – if I was gonna bet the mortgage money – I'd say she's probably okay.

"Still, having said that, guys – I also gotta point out that she's definitely not Buffy and Dawn's actual mom, no matter how much all of us would like to believe differently, 'cause I certainly don't remember Joyce having any scars like the ones you can see this lady's got," he pointed out as he gestured towards the sleeping woman's arms, visible atop the covers. "So, I'm thinking that she could possibly be some alternate reality version of your mom from some universe where things went a lot differently for her than they did here.

"You know, sort of like when that vamped version of Willow here, showed up back during senior year, but without the bloodsucking and the serial killer tendencies that version of Wills had.

"In fact, I think you could say she's probably like the bearded Spock in that Star Trek mirror universe episode. But without, you know, the beard.

"Right, Andy?" he grinned as he looked over at the only other male in their group.

"Xander, I am not about to let you or Andrew here compare our maybe-mom to any sort of Star Trek character of any kind!" Buffy huffed somewhat indignantly before Andrew could respond, while Dawn simply grinned as she listened to the others discussing the situation.

"Well, B, whether or not she's a demon," Faith said as she glanced over at the ash-blonde woman currently sleeping in the high-security section of the visitor's ward, "she ain't gonna be going anywhere tonight, so what say you and Little D and everyone else go catch some Z's? That battle we all just went through was mondo-tough on everybody."

"No, I think I'll stay here, Faith," Buffy shook her head in disagreement, even as her actions were being matched by Dawn. "I want to be here when our visitor wakes up, so I can ask her some questions…"

"I can stay here and keep watch on our visitor, if that's what's got ya worried," Faith told her mystical Slayer sibling. She left unmentioned that if this was a demon or an evil alternate version of Joyce Summers or whatever, *someone* would have to deal with her – and better her than one of Joyce’s daughters.

"I'm really not all that tired, and I definitely didn't get my bell rung by a big friggin' club the way you did fighting those lizard-guys, either," the brunette added to Buffy.

"Seriously, all of you guys look like shit," Faith grinned at her obviously exhausted companions, “and my money says you'll probably scare the crap out of this poor lady here if she has to look up at all of you, first thing, when she opens her eyes.

"Go on, go to bed, and I'll holler if she wakes up, okay?"

After another moment or two of reflexive argument, Buffy, Dawn and the others finally acquiesced to Faith's suggestion and made their way back to their rooms after leaving instructions for her to call them the moment their new arrival awoke.

"I, uh, I think I'll stay here and keep watch, too," Andrew said, lingering behind as the rest of the group left.

"Well, that is, if you don’t mind," he quickly qualified his statement.

"Whatever, you can stay if ya want," Faith shrugged.

"Just make sure you don’t start on any of that shit about Star Wars or Star Trek or any of that other nerd crap, understand?" she added, smirking to herself as the blond-haired geek's jaw abruptly snapped shut.

"Okay, Faith," Andrew nodded vigorously, before smiling as another idea suddenly burst into existence.

"You know, I'm thinking that it's entirely possible that our visitor could have been delivered to us here in this dimension, as a result of intervention by a cosmic entity entirely separate from the Powers That Be," he declared confidently as he settled himself more comfortably into his chair, not noticing Faith's rolling her eyes as she slumped deeper into her chair.

"Possibly someone like the Beyonder or maybe Eon or Epoch or even Uata, as a reward to Buffy and Dawn and Xander and Willow for all of the good work they've accomplished since…"

~~~

" – and, of course, there's always the possibility that, instead of being an alternate dimensional analogue like all of the different characterizations of the X-Men that are constantly showcased in the 'Exiles' series, our visitor's more like Maddy Pryor – in that she's actually not an alternate universe counterpart, but something more along the lines of a clone, in that she doesn't share most of the same memories and experiences that the original Jean Grey possessed…"

Confused and disoriented, Joy opened her eyes cautiously, peering through the narrowest slits she could manage as she tried to figure out where she might be, while thinking that the nonstop semi-incomprehensible chatter she was hearing sounded more than a bit familiar.

The last thing she could remember was falling out of that uncontrolled portal whose creation she and Barb had interrupted, and landing inside some sort of cavern in the middle of a battle between a group of what looked like Troglodytes and another group of humans, who appeared to be trying to disrupt whatever ceremony the Troglodytes were performing.

She'd blown the Troglodyte high priest's brains out the back of his head, interrupting the ceremony, and then emptied the rest of her clip into his acolytes, when they'd taken exception to her actions and attacked her, and then –

Then – she'd shoved her knife up into the brain of another one of those bastards who'd been trying to backstab a young woman who'd looked just like Buffy, Joy abruptly recalled, feeling a familiar stab of pain run through her gut yet again with the memory of her lost child.

Dismissing those thoughts before they could drag her down into yet another bout of depression and melancholy, Joy evaluated her surroundings and tried to determine where she was, and what her possible status might be among her seeming rescuers.

Seeing the pair of figures seated near her bed, Joy only barely managed to prevent an involuntary gasp from escaping her lips as she recognized both of them as virtual doppelgangers of yet two more of her lost children.

"Andrew, shut the fuck up already. And hey, Joyce or whoever you are – you can open your eyes now," the young woman who resembled her own Faith announced as Joy did as ordered and saw the girl give her one of the brunette's iconic grins. "I know you're awake – your breathing shifted just a little a few seconds ago, and you tensed up a bit, too, when you saw us watching you."

"Who are you people?" Joy demanded as she pushed herself up into a semi-reclining position on the bed, while telling herself that everything she thought she was experiencing was almost certainly just some sort of dream.

"My name's Faith, and that's Andy there," the girl identified herself and the taller, blond-haired youth sitting next to her with a nod of her head, and Joy forced herself to not react in the slightest way to that revelation.

"And now the question is, who are you?" the brunette demanded in return, not moving from the deceptively casual slouch she was in.

"Like you guessed, my name is Joyce Summers," Joy answered Faith's question, her heart thumping faster with each word from the brunette's mouth.

"But I generally go by Joy," she appended, a moment later with what she hoped looked like a casual shrug.

"Great Maker! Did you, by chance, ever happen to have any children, Joy? Any daughters, perchance?" Andy immediately chimed in, drawing a look of annoyance from Faith at his inadvertent disclosure of what might be potentially important information.

"Wait!!! So that *was* Buffy I saw in that cave? But – *how*?" Joy instantly demanded as she snapped upright in her bed. “She’s dead!”

“Not here she isn’t,” Faith replied, which quickly reminded Joy how this wasn’t her world; she had travelled through a portal to. Another. Dimension...

"Oh Goddess! Is Dawn still alive here, too? How about the others? I can see you two are here, and you're okay; are Willow and Xander still alive, too? Rupert?" Joy demanded, an unmistakable note of hope in the blonde's voice.

"I can see that you are most likely somewhat confused and unsure of the situation in which you have found yourself, dear lady, in much like the way Luke Skywalker must have felt when he found himself in the bacta-chamber after being rescued by Han Solo from that Wampa while they were stationed with the Rebel forces on Hoth. But rest assured that Mr. Giles, Dawn, the Red Witch and the Slayer's Paladin are all alive and in good health and spirits," Andrew informed Joy, somewhat portentously.

"Yeah, lemme translate for ya, in case ya don't speak geek – Jeeves, B, Little D, Red and the X-Man are all alive here, sister," Faith confirmed as she nodded in affirmation of Andrew's comment. "G’s in England running the Council, and everyone else is right here in Cleveland. But before I yell out and tell them you’re awake, there's something I need to say."

Joy half-smiled to herself as she watched the younger brunette's brows narrow and come together in a frown, in almost exactly the same manner the young girl she'd accepted into her heart back in her home dimension used to do.

"Joyce Summers died on February 21st 2001, here in this world. So if you’re who and what we think you are, you should know that it hurt everyone here a helluva lot when Joyce died, and I don't want to see that happen again – especially not to B and Little D," the Slayer said in a low, intense tone of voice.

Ignoring Joy’s shocked look and glancing over at the blond-haired youth seated next to her, Faith mentally shrugged and then continued on with the rest of what she wanted to say.

"B and the others, they know all about the bad shit that me and Andy've done in the past. I went to jail for killing two guys, and Andrew here went on the lam before killing his best friend. Still, all that don't bother the guys anymore – they've accepted both of us as part of their group, and they're letting us help with the stuff they do, so we can try and make up for how bad we fucked up in the past,” the brunette explained.

"None of them had to accept us, but they did anyway, so me and Andy owe them all for that and more.

"That’s why I'm telling you right now, Joy – if the gang lets you in as the closest thing possible to getting Joyce back, and you screw them over in any way, shape or form, you won't live long enough to regret it," Faith promised, giving the ash-blonde woman her most chilling glare.

"Indeed," Andrew nodded his head, the focused expression on his face one that Faith had usually only previously seen when he was trying to explain some esoteric point of information about one of his games or TV shows or movies the nerd was so nuts about.

Oddly, the hardened and determined look in Andrew's eyes was one Faith couldn’t ever recall seeing on his face before; actually, the only place she could remember seeing it previously was on X's face when things looked like they were about to hit the crapper and he was about to pull one of his typical dumbass stunts that usually helped distract the current Big Bad's attention long enough for them to kick his ass.

"Lest you not heed Faith's warning seriously enough, dear lady, let me offer my own caveat to reinforce the Dark Slayer's," Andrew said as he stared intently at their visitor.

"Should you cause any harm, either physical or emotional, to those who have so selflessly offered us an opportunity to redeem ourselves for the misdeeds we have committed in our past, then I promise you, the suffering you will endure will make the agonies felt by those ingested by the Sarlacc in the Great Pit of Carkoon on Tatooine seem like the softest, most loving caress of a loved one," Andrew intoned, while also actually surprising Faith by managing to project a decent amount of actual menace into his voice.

Their guest's reaction took both Scoobies by surprise when she leaned forward to take hold of one of their hands while a brilliant smile lit up her face.

"Thank you! You've both just made me even prouder of you than I ever thought I could be," Joy declared as she gave each of their hands a squeeze of thanks and appreciation before settling back onto her bed.

A few moments later, as her other four children practically stampeded their way into her room, their faces glowing with happiness as they looked at her, Joy finally allowed herself to relax completely.

{ I knew when I stepped into that portal, that I was finally going to be with my family again, } she reflected as she was buried under a human tsunami of hugs.

{ I just didn't think I'd be alive when it happened. }


FIN

~~~

Merry Christmas, everyone!

The End

You have reached the end of "All I Want For Christmas...". This story is complete.

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