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Didn't We Do This Once Already?

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Summary: Unfortunately, Christmas in Sunnydale is just as weird as the rest of the year. Ethan didn't take the hint Ripper offered him, so he's back in town, looking to have some fun at the Scoobies' expense, again.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > GeneralGreywizardFR13112,2463183,0129 Jan 129 Jan 12Yes
Disclaimer: They all belong to either Joss and ME, Eric Kripke, or Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner. Deal with it. I have.

Time Frame: Follows BtVS Season Two, Episode Eleven, 'Ted,' then heads off to parts unknown, according to my very own warped imagination.

Spoilers: Possibly a few regarding future canon developments which occurred in both 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and 'Angel: the Series,' but it's really irrelevant, since the futures of all of the various characters are going radically AU in the course of this story.

Character Bashing: No actual or metaphorical character bashing whatsoever, this time around. And if you see something you don't like, remember – this is a work of fiction, people!

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.

Author’s Note 2: As usual, “word” indicates speech, :: word :: indicates mental communication and { word } indicates a character's thoughts.

Author’s Note 3: This particular story was inspired by ideas first suggested by Asbjorn Grandt and Alex Mcpherson at the XanderZone right before Christmas, and it's taken me this long to get my muse's inspiration finished.

~/~/~

'A Different Type Of Christmas' Boutique
Sunnydale, CA

December 10, 1997


{ That bloody pillock – Ripper actually thinks he can intimidate *me*, does he? } Ethan Rayne angrily thought to himself as he again surveyed the contents of the small, clearly 'exclusive' shop he was about to open in the heart of the Sunnydale Mall.

The self-styled chaos mage bore no resemblance at all to what he'd looked like when he'd first appeared in Sunnydale approximately two months earlier, his current somewhat portly, silver-haired and –goateed image in stark contrast to the lean and slender, dark-haired appearance the Englishman had previously possessed.

{ All right, then, I'll show him, and those blasted children he thinks so highly of, just what a true Chaos worshipper can do, given the proper motivation – revenge! } Ethan swore to himself, a smug, vicious smile struggling for possession of his supposedly cheerful face as he walked to the front of the shop and pushed open the shop doors.

"Good morning and welcome, everyone!" the man officially known as “Edward Janson” cheerfully greeted the small throng of people gathered outside, with a smile that any used car salesman or politician would have slaughtered several busloads of nuns or children to possess.

"Come in, come in," Ethan cheerily invited all and sundry standing outside, "and behold holiday ornaments, costumes and mementos the like of which you have never seen before, and most likely will never see again!"

~/~/~

A higher realm far beyond the normal space-time continuum

"I can't believe that that idiot is actually thinking of pulling that same trick of his all over again," the faintly glowing, dark-haired woman stated as, together with her companion, she watched the scenario unfolding before them through a portal shaped to resemble a 60-inch wide screen TV.

"Well, not everyone learns their lesson the first time they screw up," the dark-haired man with the scraggly-looking beard commented after taking a sip from a large stein of beer while he lounged back in a massive leather recliner.

"Yeah, You're right about that, Gabe," Ganos Lal (the Ascended Ancient also known as Morgan le Fay in an adjoining dimension) nodded her agreement with his observation.

"Some of those putzes I've had to deal with needed to be beaten about the head with a clue stick a couple dozen times before they finally get the hint," the Ancient woman complained with a shake of her head.

"What really annoys me about this whole situation, though," the higher being known as ‘Gabe’ replied as he gestured at the end table next to his chair, and a large bowl of popcorn appeared, "is that that those balance-obsessed idiots in charge of this particular aspect of The Mandala aren't going to do anything about his messing with 'The Plan', *again*. And it's eventually going to spill over into our dimension, and then *we're* gonna be the ones who have to clean up *their* mess. And that’s if it doesn’t get to ST-verse and tick off Q – you know what he’s capable of."

"Yeah, you're right," Ganos agreed, as a tall, frosted glass holding a swirling purple and blue liquid appeared in her hand. "The idiots in charge over there are just too chicken-shit to do anything, anymore.

"Although..." the ascended woman said, a moment later, as a devious smile appeared on her lovely features, "...that *does* give me an idea."

"Yeah? Like what?" Gabe inquired, an interested expression on his own face.

"Well, since we know those so-called 'Powers That Be' aren't going to do anything about this clown's actions regarding his messing with 'The Plan,' why don't we take advantage of that and make sure that things go the way *we* want them to go?" she said.

“You know that we aren’t allowed to directly intervene-” Gabe started to say warningly.

“Who said anything about doing that?” Ganos Lal protested. “I was thinking something more along the lines of a... subtle nudge.”

"Y'know, babe, I *really* like the way you think," Gabe declared, a wide smile crossing his face as he sat up in his chair and set his stein down on the table next to him.

"Maybe we could use a variation of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' theme," the ascended woman suggested to her companion.

"Always a classic."

"And if so, then all we need to do…"

~/~/~

'A Different Type Of Christmas' Boutique
Sunnydale, CA

December 24, 1997


It had been a busy two weeks, but now all his patience and hard work was finally going to pay off.

Pushing aside the curtain pulled across the small alcove in the rearmost section of the shop, Ethan respectfully knelt before the statue of Janus. Pressing his hands together, the shop owner winced in pain, then pulled them apart, revealing the wounds now evident on his palms, his blood now flowing freely.

"Janus. This world that denies thee, thou inhabit," Ethan intoned as he dabbed his right middle finger into the blood on his left hand with and smeared it over his right eyelid.

"The peace that ignores thee, thou corrupt," he continued his recitation as he dabbed his left middle finger into the blood on his right palm with and smeared it over his left eyelid.

Dabbing the blood on his left hand with his right middle finger again, Rayne smeared a cross onto his forehead.

"Let the mask transform itself into flesh and blood," Ethan declared. "May your holy presence curdle the heart! Janus! Take the night!

"Chaos! I remain, as ever, thy faithful, degenerate son," the Englishman fervently finished his exhortation as he bowed low before the statue, not noticing how the woman's face on the left side of the bust gradually shifted to resemble the woman known elsewhere as Ganos Lal as, at the same time, the man's face on the right side slowly altered itself until it finally appeared identical to the higher being Ganos Lal had called Gabe.

"Right then! It's showtime!" Ethan stated as he finally rose to his feet and exited the alcove, a malicious smile now etched on his face.

"Yes, it is," two voices affirmed the chaos mage's satisfied declaration, even though Ethan apparently didn't notice the reply.

Ethan also apparently didn't notice how both aspects of the bust now had the same malicious smile he'd worn plastered all over their own faces.

Pity…

~/~/~

Sunnydale High School library

December 24, 1997


Instead of being at home with their families waiting for Christmas Eve, and Santa Claus, and visions of sugar plums or whatever, the members of the so-called Scooby Gang were all here in Slayer Central.

Willow Rosenberg and Rupert Giles were busy re-shelving the few books still remaining on the library carts following the holiday shutdown while Jenny Calendar was occupied with updating the library's various computers' software. Xander Harris was busily engaged in cleaning and polishing several of the swords and axes the Scooby Gang normally kept stored in the rear of the library's book cage.

Buffy Summers and Cordelia Chase were seated at the large oak table which the Scooby Gang typically used for researching whichever Big Bad was the menace of the week – and perhaps not surprisingly, both young women were completely focused on an in-depth discussion of the merits of the various shampoos and hair conditioners they used.

And last, but not least, Angel, the vampire who had been cursed by gypsies with a soul nearly a century previously, was skulking around in the rear of the library, as he was wont to do.

None of the people present in the school were aware that, at that particular moment, all of the town's inhabitants (including a small number of non-human residents) who had procured Christmas costumes, accessories or gifts from Ethan’s shop, were now all being affected by the magics which had been woven into the various gifts' structures. And thus, the various members of the Scooby Gang were taken completely unaware when, a few moments later, a dark-haired, round-faced individual pushed open the swinging doors and entered the otherwise-unoccupied school library.

"Can I help you?" Rupert Giles politely asked as he moved towards their visitor, only for him to freeze for a precious fraction of a second in wide-eyed surprise as he belatedly recognized the person approaching him.

Quickly regaining his composure and moving to interpose himself between their visitor and the teens present, Giles called out, "Everyone, arm yourselves and be on guard! We're most likely under attack! Buffy, can you sense any vampires in the area?"

"Calm down, Mr. Giles," former Sunnydale High School Principal Bob Flutie declared as he held up a hand in a gesture of goodwill

The previous head administrator of the school (and the unfortunate victim of an attack by a group of students who'd been possessed by Primal Hyena spirits the previous year) then turned to the rest of the Scoobies and said, "And you can relax, too, all of you. I'm not here to cause any of you any problems."

"You're a freakin' zombie, buddy!" Xander Harris blurted out as he tossed the axe currently in his hands towards Buffy, who snatched it out of the air as easily as if it had been a nerf ball as she rushed to confront the newcomer.

"Uh, I mean, Principal Flutie sir!" Xander belatedly added an instant later, as he remembered exactly who it was who was talking to. "How is that *not* a problem?" he then continued his diatribe.

""Because you’re operating under a mistaken assumption, Mr. Harris. And that's completely unnecessary, Miss Summers," Flutie admonished Buffy as she swung her axe at him.

"I'll have you know," Bob went on as he gave the Slayer a stem look while the axe blade passed harmlessly through his apparently incorporeal body, "that your ‘kill first ask questions later’ attitude potentially indicates deep-rooted, anti-social tendencies that will eventually result in you becoming a complete menace to society."

"It does *not*! And hey – just 'cause you're a ghost and not a zombie doesn't mean that you're not the menace around here, mister" Buffy glared at the newcomer, apparently personally offended that she was currently unable to inflict violence on him.

Angel, meanwhile, had quickly but quietly grabbed a sword as he moved from his position at the rear of the room and now stood next to Buffy, facing the apparition by her side. Almost instinctively, other members of the group clustered together as well – Jenny moving closer to Giles, and Cordelia and Willow to Xander.

"Actually, everyone," the formerly affable educator stated as he glanced around the room at everyone present, "I'm only here because I was asked – quite politely, mind you," Flutie noted in an aside, as he gave Buffy another disapproving look, "to stop by and let you know that you're all going to be receiving several visitors over the course of the evening."

"What sort of visitors?" Giles demanded, shoving Jenny behind him as he moved to stand between Flutie and his teenage acquaintances, while still allowing Buffy and Angel to confront the apparent ghost directly.

"And what exactly, pray tell, would be the purpose of these visits?" Giles immediately followed up his initial question with a second, seeking further clarification of their visitor's purpose here.

"Believe it or not – the visitors will be providing each and every person present here with a glimpse of what their future holds in store for them, as things currently stand," the former administrator of the high school informed his avidly listening audience.

"What you choose to do with that information after you receive it, is entirely up to you," the former principal informed the group.

"And now, since I have completed the task I was asked to accomplish, I will take my leave of you all," Sunnydale High’s answer to Marley’s ghost finished up, before vanishing from sight in a sparkle of scintillating lights.

And leaving a very perplexed and confused group of people behind him.

~/~/~

Sunnydale High School Quad

The same time


Looking around him, the rather portly individual with a black pipe clenched tightly between his teeth was quite perplexed to realize he initially had no idea of where he was or how he had gotten here.

After a moment's focus for him to concentrate, though, he realized that, for whatever the reasons might be, he was standing upon the Sunnydale Hellmouth.

And since he had not arrived here of his own design or implicit actions, the longstanding agreement that had been brokered so long ago by Wolfram & Hart – that he never initiate any actions which would result in his traveling to the California Hellmouth for his own purposes – had not been breached by any actions on his part.

And *that* meant that he was now free to act as he saw fit, according to the rules he was sworn to adhere to.

The feral smile on the somewhat corpulent man's face slowly expanded to Herculean proportions, as the mystical being dressed in red and white considered his options.

~/~/~

Sunnydale High School library


"Just what in the blue blazes did Principal Flutie really mean, saying that we'll all be receiving visitors later tonight?" Xander asked as the Scoobies all stared at each other in confusion in the wake of both their visitor's unexpected visit and his abrupt departure.

"I thought your former principal was quite clear about the intended purpose of your notifications, silly boy," a woman's voice answered Xander's clearly rhetorical question, and everyone instantly spun around to face the petite blonde in the red dress who had stepped out from between two of the rearmost bookshelves.

"Darla?" Angel asked, obviously shocked at the sight of his former sire. The fact that he'd dusted the blonde vampiress approximately a year earlier to save Buffy’s life made him wonder if the woman before him was merely an illusion of some sort, even if sight and smell argued otherwise.

"In a sense, dear boy, yes – it’s me," the blonde demon smiled engagingly at the ensouled vampire. "In the flesh.

"So to speak," Darla added with a mocking smile as Buffy lunged past her maybe/potential undead boyfriend and attacked her former nemesis, only for the Slayer's axe to again pass harmlessly through the ghostly being in front of her.

"Why so much hostility, dear?" Darla asked Buffy in a faux-solicitous tone, tilting her head as she spoke. "Weren't you listening when Principal Flutie said that all of you would be receiving visitors tonight?"

"Yeah, I was," Buffy snarled in frustrated rage as her attack (again!) failed to connect with an unexpected visitor. "But he didn’t say that one of them was going to be an evil bloodsucking skanky demon whore, who should be roasting her ass in Hell right now!"

"My, my. Do you actually kiss your mother with that mouth, little girl?" the blonde apparition smirked at Buffy's obvious aggravation at her presence.

"Oh well, I suppose I really should get on with what I was sent here to do," the night's second impromptu visitor then sighed, before giving the entire group a searching look.

"As I am sure my dearly departed associate, Bobby, informed you, I am merely the first of several visitors you'll be receiving, tonight, people," Darla said.

"And while I can't reveal to you the exact purpose, or even very many details, regarding these visits," she elaborated, "I can tell you that some of my other associates are going to provide each of you with opportunities that will allow you to either minimize, or possibly even circumvent, several rather significant problems that will be cropping up here in the course of the next few years – if you can recognize and take advantage of the opportunities offered you.

"That is the entire purpose behind these visits, after all," Darla commented.

"And why should we have any reason to believe anything you, of all people, might tell us?" Giles challenged their visitor and her credibility. "Especially with regard to these so-called ‘visitors’ we’ve been told to expect?"

"Well, that’s the best part of course. You have no reason to do so," Darla smiled brightly at the Englishman. "That's part of the reason why I agreed to act as a messenger for those responsible for this latest situation, actually.

"None of you are likely to believe anything I tell you, yet my participation in this – intervention, so to speak, will somewhat counterbalance my previous misdeeds, when I appear before those who will decide my soul’s final fate," the former 17th century whore explained her presence here.

"Speaking of which," Darla noted with a small sigh, "I suppose I should just get on with my own tasks."

Before anyone could move or protest, the former vampiress gestured with her right hand, so as to encompass the entire group – then Darla intoned, "Remember how things were, so you that you will be able to properly evaluate what might one day be."

Instantly, each member of the group was inundated by a deluge of memories pulled from the depths of their minds.

Images of long-ago Christmases spent with his family, gathered around a tree festooned with dozens of different ornaments and decorations and followed by a hearty meal, all of them filtered through the eyes of a child, flowed through Rupert's mind, bringing a smile to his face as he again saw the love and affection reflected in the eyes of all the Giles family members present.

Jenny Calendar (also known in some circles as Janna Kalderash) also recalled the childish joy and warmth she'd felt during such family celebrations, before she grew up and the overbearing weight of responsibility for overseeing the Kalderash Clan's vengeance against one particular vampire was dropped on her shoulders.

Liam Seamus Gallagher, currently known by the alias 'Angel,' was besieged by a variety of Christmas memories – none of them the least bit pleasant – acquired throughout the decades during which Angelus had run rampant across the world, either with or without the other members of the Scourge of Europe.

Cordelia relived the various Christmases during which the Chase parents had given her piles of expensive gifts, only to then leave her behind in the care of her various nannies, while they flew off on vacation trips to faraway and exotic locations; and a scowl born of loneliness and longing for true affection appeared on the cheerleader’s face.

Buffy Summers remembered the family Christmases from the last few years before she had been Called as the Vampire Slayer, and she shook her head in dismay and embarrassment over the way she'd acted towards both her friends and, more importantly, her parents, when the spoiled valley girl she’d been didn't receive whichever gifts she'd decided she deserved for the holiday.

Willow Rosenberg recalled the relatively few times over the past eight years when her parents had been home to celebrate Hanukkah during the holiday season, and how neither of them had actually spent all that much time with her – Ira and Sheila Rosenberg preferring to, instead, work on their lecture notes or perform more research for whichever paper they were working on, at the moment.

Xander Harris merely stood quietly where he was, his face an impassive mask as he remembered five years' worth of his grabbing his sleeping bag and ground cloth and heading out into the back yard after the Harris family dinner, preferring not to listen to his parents' and other relatives' post-Christmas-dinner drunken screaming at each other and wondering just when the nightmare would end.

The entire experience lasted just a moment for each of them, and once that instant had passed, the members of the group were all left standing and blinking at each other in uncertain confusion

"What – what was the purpose of our re-experiencing those memories?" Giles asked, obviously bewildered by the experiences he'd just relived and wondering what connection it could possibly have to whatever was occurring at this particular moment.

"That's something you'll just have to determine for yourselves," Darla answered, smiling with enjoyment at everyone's perplexed expression. "And now, it's time for me to depart, so that your next visitor can appear.

"Ta-ta, all," the Ghost of Christmas Past said, an instant before she, too, vanished in a sparkle of glittering lights.

"Well, it's about time," the Scoobies heard yet another new voice then declare. "I thought that frickin’ bitch wasn't ever going to leave."

~/~/~

Sunnydale City Hall

The same time


Mayor Richard Wilkins III (who had also been Mayor Richard Wilkins, Jr., as well as Mayor Richard Wilkins the First) was seated at his desk, busily reviewing a stack of paperwork when he heard what sounded like the barely heard chiming of sleigh bells ringing far off in the distance.

Looking up with an annoyed expression on his face, the long-lived sorcerer demanded, "Is someone there? I'm working on important matters regarding the city here, and I would prefer not to be disturbed by trivialities."

Glancing around, the frown still on his face, Richard was surprised to see a large fireplace on the far wall of his office – one he was quite certain hadn't been there just a moment earlier – and the evil politician was even more surprised to see a smiling, red-cheeked, rather portly-looking man of indeterminate age, dressed in red and white fur clothing, stepping out of the base of the chimney

"Oh, there's nothing to be concerned about, Richard," the Mayor heard his visitor answer in a cheery voice, as he reached into the bag he was carrying in his left hand.

"I'm simply here to give you your Christmas gift, that's all."

~/~/~

Sunnydale High School library


Willow's and Xander's astonished, but happy "Jesse!?!" echoed throughout the room at the same moment as Cordelia's somewhat-fear-laden "McNally?", and the tall, dark-haired youth who stepped put of the shadows in the rear of the library gave the group a genial smile and waved a hello to everyone present as he nodded his confirmation of their various questions.

"Yeah, it's me," the latest ghost to join the party said amiably, which was immediately followed by a "And sorry, but no touching allowed," when both Willow's and Xander's attempts to hug him were foiled by their stumbling through his immaterial form.

"There're a lot of rules being bent *way* out of shape to even allow me and the others to show up tonight, people," Jesse explained as everyone present focused their attention on him, "so, I've got to be very careful about what I say or do while I'm here.

"And I also can't stay very long," Jesse added, "so, we gotta get right down to business here, guys."

Seeing the concerned expressions on his friends' faces at his words and the unasked questions in their eyes, the ghost attempted to reassure them as he said, "Everything's cool with me, guys – really! But that's one of the things I can't talk about with you, so please don't ask me any questions about where I’ve been or whether there’s really a Heaven or anything like that, okay?"

Smiling with relief at the various clearly reluctant nods of agreement from his audience, Jesse continued speaking.

"I'm supposed to show all of you some of the things that are occurring in Sunnydale right now, guys, so you can understand what's actually going on around here tonight," McNally told his audience.

"So, just relax and let me do what' I'm supposed to, okay?" he commanded more than asked.

That said, Jesse then gestured at the area directly in front of the gathered Scoobies, as he murmured, "Behold what is, so that you might further appreciate what could be!" – and a section of air approximately eight by ten feet shimmered and began displaying a number of scenes illustrating the various activities happening throughout the town.

As the Scoobies watched in stunned disbelief, an apparently random number of children and adults thronging the streets on last-minute errands began morphing into various creatures.

Three foot tall elves dressed in bright red and green outfits began running down the sidewalks, singing Christmas songs in high-pitched voices while dodging snowballs being thrown at them and the various other citizens on the street by humanoid snow people oddly resembling Frosty the Snowman.

Other people transformed into reindeer which then wildly galloped down the streets in panic-stricken confusion, either slamming into vehicles or running roughshod over people in their efforts to escape, even as several six-foot-tall green-furred Grinches in pseudo-Santa Claus outfits started breaking into various shops and either stealing the merchandise inside or destroying it with malicious glee.

One scene gave the Scoobies a quick glimpse of a sleigh, pulled by a team of reindeer flying through the air, guided by a white-haired-and-bearded man dressed in the traditional red and white costume, who merrily waved to the people on the ground below as he passed overhead.

Other close-ups included a freaked-out Harmony Kendall and several other Cordettes being half-buried by a flurry of snowballs from several Frosty the Snowman figures, who were quickly driven off by a team of elves led by a much taller elf, approximately six feet in height, who was wearing yellow pants, a green jacket and a green and yellow hat and flinging exploding Christmas ornaments at them, while an apparent impromptu game of basketball was being played on one of the high school's outside basketball courts between a team of elves riding reindeer and animated snowmen and snowwomen.

"Oh dear God. Who or what is responsible for all this?" Giles asked, his forehead furrowed in alarm and concern as he considered possible explanations for the events they were witnessing.

"An old friend of yours, Mr. Giles," Jesse answered. As he saw the furious scowl forming on the librarian's face as Giles straightaway deduced the identity of the person responsible, McNally then quickly added, "Hey, don't sweat it, though.

"Your buddy Ethan's gonna get exactly what he deserves in a couple of minutes, from the most appropriate source possible," their visitor assured him with a wide grin. "Remember – 'tis the season."

“That guy’s back again?” Buffy growled, wishing she could put aside that Slayer handbook rule of no harming humans. “God damn it...”

“Dude, what’s the what? I mean, if you don’t want us to mount up and track the British man down and put a stop to all the Halloween-type madness – well, then what’s the point of showing us all this?” Xander asked, looking confused.

"I just showed you guys what's happening outside, right now, so you can get a look at all the people you've helped since Buffy came to town, and so you can all really realize just how much of a difference you've all made in those people's lives," Jesse told them, as the air shimmered again and the images vanished. "I mean if it weren't for all of you, a lot of those people most definitely wouldn't be alive today to celebrate Christmas.

"So just take a minute, and relax, and everybody give yourselves a hug and a high-five for a job well done, okay?"

Seeing the small, pleased smiles each of the Gang wore upon hearing an expression of gratitude and appreciation for everything they'd done, Jesse's own face lit up with a smile, his mission now accomplished.

"All right then, people," he announced a moment later, drawing everyone's attention to him again.

"We're kind of on a pretty tight schedule here, so I'm gonna have to get going, so your next visitors can show up," Jesse said.

"Wills, Xand, it was good seeing you again, guys," their departed friend said, smiling at his closest childhood friends.

"Cordy, it's always good seeing you, too," McNally half-leered at his former crush, drawing a faint blush and a somewhat self-conscious, "Well, of course, it is!" from the gorgeous brunette,

"Buffy," Jesse said, turning to address the Slayer, "I know it’s been bugging you since the moment I showed up here – but believe me when I tell you, there's absolutely nothing you could've done different to save me that night. I'm just glad you saved Willow and Xander, so, thanks!", his words drawing a diffident smile and her own, "Thanks for saying that, Jesse," from the diminutive blonde.

"The rest of you guys," Jesse said, as he turned and addressed the remaining three Scoobies, "you've been doing a real good job of supporting Buffy, too, so keep it up. The world really appreciates it!"

And with that, the Ghost of Christmas Present waved goodbye and vanished in a swirl of sparkling light.

~/~/~

Chesapeake Technical College
Dutton, VA

The same time


"AAAAUUUGGGGHHHHH!"

Warren Meers snapped bolt upright in his dormitory bed, his body covered in terrified sweat and his heartbeat hammering at approximately five times its normal rate as he frantically checked every shadowy nook and corner of his dorm room for any hint of either of the figures who had so enthusiastically haunted his dreams just now.

Apprehensively inspecting his room, Warren sighed and wiped some of the sweat away from his forehead, as the dark-haired technological genius wondered what could have been the basis for the nightmare he'd just experienced – one in which the darker aspects of his teenaged psyche had apparently assumed control of his dreams, and he'd not only made some very disturbing forays into methods of mind control for the purposes of sexual manipulation of some woman he’d never even met, but he'd also committed murder!

Committed murder several times, actually!

And as a direct result of one of the killings he'd committed, he'd been flayed alive by a furious witch, before finally being incinerated!

"Thank God, it was all just a dream," Warren murmured to himself, as he felt his pulse beginning to slow down and approach normal.

"Tonight, sure, but that doesn't mean that you won't act that way in the future, you putz," Warren heard a young woman's voice saying disdainfully, and his head abruptly snapped around to stare into the shadows of the far corner of his room, where a beautiful young brunette, with sky-blue eyes that sent shivers down his spine, was standing and staring at him with an expression best described as 'completely freaking terrifying!'

"You haven't done anything deserving of punishment – yet," a tall dark-haired, strongly-built youth agreed as he, too, stepped out of the shadows, to stand next to the brunette, and the look in the guy's eyes was even colder – if that was even possible – than the one in the girl's.

"And that's why you're getting this one, and only, chance, Warren Meers," the girl said.

"Don't screw it up – or you’ll die in about four and a half years’ time, and good riddance to you."

And with that, everything went black for Warren Meers.

When he awoke the next morning, Warren had no problem recalling every detail of that *extremely* strange dream he'd had the previous evening.

So, Meers immediately decided to make an appointment to visit the college's mental health center as soon as they opened after the Christmas break, because *nobody* with their head straight would be having dreams like that – and Warren wasn't about to risk a brilliant career in computers and robotics by allowing whatever issues his subconscious might have to run rampant and cause him to end up in some lunatic asylum.

Especially with that last sentence going round and round in his head.

~/~/~

Sunnydale High School library


"Man, that was just – weird," Xander commented as he regarded the spot where his childhood friend had just vanished, his comment enthusiastically endorsed by everyone else present.

"Actually, I'm really curious now about who's gonna visit us next," Willow commented thoughtfully.

"This whole thing kinda reminds me of Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol,'" the redhead mused, "what with Principal Flutie sorta being like the Marley character, and Darla and Jesse kinda being analogues of the Spirits of Christmases Past and Christmas Present.

"So, now I'm wondering, who's gonna represent the Spirit of Christmases Future?" Willow asked, hoping it wouldn’t be the traditional skeleton hooded within a dark robe.

"That would be us," a soft contralto voice provided the unexpected answer to the redhead's question.

The entire group instantly spun to face the double doors to the library, to discover two dark-haired teens, a strongly-built youth with medium-brown hair and a lovely young girl with chestnut-brown hair, standing there together and regarding the entire group with carefully guarded expressions.

"Hi," the tall brunette girl – she was just as tall as Cordelia, Willow noticed – said, giving everyone a small wave and an equally small smile. "We're the ones you've been expecting."

"Uh, hi," Buffy gave the girl a hesitant smile. Something about this brunette seemed familiar to her – seemed to resonate with some part of her, the Slayer thought to herself, although she couldn't remember ever seeing the dark-haired stranger before in her life.

Angel, too, was staring at the pair of teens, although his attention was focused almost entirely on the boy. His smell was familiar, even though the ensouled vampire couldn’t figure out from where. Something about the youth seemed to call out to him as well, echoing in a sort of sympathetic vibration, as if he was...family.

After a moment's consideration, however, Angel dismissed that as just an absurd flight of fancy.

After all, he was a vampire, an undead creature of the night, and the demon which had possessed his body after his mortal death had made a point of hunting down and slaughtering Liam’s family in Galway – all of it. There was no way that the youth could be anything more than some far-distant relation to him, the descendant of one of Liam’s many illegitimate children perhaps.

The other Scoobies all regarded their two visitors with frank curiosity. After all, neither of the two ostensible teens looked to be any older than any of the other three adolescent members of the Scooby Gang, so why they had been chosen as representations of the Spirits of Christmases Future was a mystery.

"Uh, we're supposed to show you what the future has in store for you guys," the male half of the pair said after a moment, as the two visitors regarded the Scoobies.

"So, uh, that's what we're gonna do, now," the female half of the equation then added, before the pair each extended an arm outward while reciting, "See now what shall be, should events remain unchanged, so that you might choose how best to alter the course before you!"

A faint glow seemed to emanate from their visitors, and then every member of the Scooby Gang was enveloped in visions that seemed to be derived more from hideous nightmares than anything else.

Christmas 1998 – Angel saw himself arguing with Buffy on one of the bluffs above Sunnydale, memories of having spent nearly a century in a hell dimension vivid in his mind, as the first faint rays of dawn began illuminating the distant horizon. As their quarrel became more intense, other memories of arguments with a demonic spirit urging him to attack Buffy, colored his chaotic emotions, making him even more frantic as he tried to persuade her of the appropriateness of his intention to commit suicide – before Buffy slugged his future self and swore that she would *not* mourn his loss, and that it was over between them for good.

Christmas 1999 – Xander could, based on prior experience, quite easily believe the vision showing him how his life would most likely end up – paying rent to live in his parents' basement, utterly friendless and alone after Buffy and Willow, in their misguided efforts to keep him safe, had cut him out of the Slaying and, inevitably, their lives. He watched emotionlessly as his future self grabbed the sleeping bag and ground cloth to do his traditional camp-out under the stars – before the odds finally caught up with the Zeppo, and a soulless vampire climbed over the backyard fence for a free meal.

Christmas 2000 – Buffy was sickened and appalled to see herself standing alongside Giles, standing before a grave with Jenny Calendar's name inscribed on the headstone – gently laying a wreath down as her older self finally apologized to her Watcher for her inability to have acted sooner against Angel's soulless alter-ego, Angelus, and thus possibly preventing the Computer Science teacher's murder.

Christmas 2001 – Cordelia screamed in horror as she saw what her life after high school was like, her future self living in Los Angeles and working as a stripper – and just barely eking out a meager existence while trying to become a Hollywood actress, at that – after her parents had lost all their money and the IRS had confiscated all their material goods, something which had apparently occurred a few years prior to that point in time.

Christmas 2002 – Willow stared in shocked disbelief at the half-dead, blackened world her future self had been responsible for creating, as a result of misguided rage and loss – after her lover was killed and she had broken her vow to never to do magic again.

Christmas 2003 – Giles witnessed himself threatening to dust Angel for allying himself with the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram and Hart, and thus, in his efforts to prevent it, unknowingly initiate a conflict which would eventually lead to the very apocalypse the Council had been trying to avert.

Christmas 1997 – Jenny Calendar stared at absolutely nothing, a black void that completely enveloped her – and a chill ran through her body as the undercover gypsy spy realized that, as things stood now, she had *no* future that would extend beyond next year's Christmas.

~/~/~

An abandoned warehouse
Sunnydale Industrial District

The same time


"He's coming for us, he is, Spoike," Drusilla announced as the dark-haired sanity-challenged vampiress almost glided into the room, Miss Edith clutched to her bosom as though the doll were an actual infant on need of her protection and succor.

"We've been very, very naughty, for many, many years, and now the Blood-Red Justice has come to deliver us our reward," Dru declared, as her bleached-blond childe stared at her with a perplexed expression.

"What's that, luv?" Spike asked, wheeling himself over to her. "Who's this you said is coming 'ere, pet??"

"I believe she was speaking of me, William," the fourth member of the Scourge of Europe heard someone behind him say, and he whirled around, prepared to disembowel whomever it might be, only to freeze in astonishment as he saw a plump middle-aged man with white hair and a beard – and dressed in a bleeding Santa Claus suit, the Billy Idol-lookalike noted absently – smiling at him as he stepped out of a friggin' fireplace.

A fireplace which hadn't even been there on the warehouse wall just a minute earlier, he was quite certain!

"Who the flaming hell are you, ya fat git?!" Spike snarled in a mixture of bewilderment and annoyance at the way things were going screwy around here, trapped and almost impotent in his wheelchair.

"Why, William, don’t try to pretend that you don’t know who and what I am," the old bugger smiled at him. "I'll admit, it's taken me quite some time before I finally managed to find you and your lady friend, but now I'm finally here, and able to give you and all of your minions everything you all deserve."

"And what, exactly, might that be, mate?" Spike growled again, his aggravation growing at the old fart's familiarity and somewhat condescending manner as he referred to him as 'William.'

"I'm glad you asked me that, William," the old guy said with a growing smile, as he reached into the rather grungy-looking bag he was carrying along with him.

~/~/~

Sunnydale High School library


"Oh my God!"

“Good Lord!”

"Jumping Jehoshaphat!"

"Oh, Goddess!"

“No...it couldn’t be, that was just...”

“This has gotta be the fault of all you people, somehow – it’s what you get from constantly hanging with a bunch of freaks and geeks!”

“Huh. Well, it’s not like that was entirely unexpected...”

The various exclamations filled the library as the various members of the Scooby Gang reacted to the visions they'd received from the Spirits of Christmas Future, and once they had regained their bearings, they all turned to glare at the seeming teenagers who'd provided them with the aforementioned images, all but one of them demanding to know how best to avoid the futures shown to them just a few moments earlier.

It took several minutes, but order was eventually restored – well, after Giles finally resorted to slamming the library's copy of the Oxford Dictionary down on the research table and bellowing for quiet, several times, before the assorted teens and other so-called adults finally shut up.

"Thank you," the librarian said, the sarcasm in his voice thick enough to coat the table to an inch's depth.

"Now, if no one has any objections, perhaps our *guests*…" here, the sarcasm in Rupert's voice grew even thicker, as he turned to glare at the two ostensible teenagers, "…might deign to inform us of exactly what was the purpose behind the various visions we all just received."

"Well, like you heard from the others before we showed up, that's totally up to you guys," the dark-haired youth shrugged, seemingly not intimidated in the least by Giles' glower. "We were instructed to tell you that what each of you saw is the most likely future that would occur for you, based on how things could develop from this point onwards."

"We were also told to offer you two," their female visitor picked up the pair's narrative as she indicated Cordelia and Xander, "an opportunity which could significantly change both your lives."

"Why us?" Cordelia instantly asked, a wary expression in her eyes as she looked at the pair and indicated herself and Xander.

"Because you two are the only ones who don't already have any powers to help you in the fight you're currently involved in," the female Spirit answered.

Looking over at Willow, who was in the process of raising her hand and voicing a protest at the girl's statement, the brunette said, "You already know you have the potential to do magic, Willow. There’s no point trying to deny it, not after what you saw in your vision of the future.

"And you should know Ms. Calendar has already spoken with Giles about their arranging for some proper magical training for you," she added, glancing over at the two adults in question, who both nodded their confirmation of the girl's words.

"So, all that remains before we leave is for you two to decide whether or not you want to accept the offer we've made to you," the male youth seamlessly picked up the thread of conversation and looked at the currently clandestine lovers.

"Question. If we say yes, do we get to know exactly what powers we'll be getting, or is this like reaching into a box of Crackerjack popcorn and pulling out the toy surprise?" Xander asked as he stared at their pair of visitors. He thoroughly ignored the concerned looks Buffy and Willow were sending him, as well as the stares from Giles, Jenny and Angel.

"Sorry. We can't tell you anything in advance," the girl shook her head in response to Xander’s question, the responsibility for answering apparently shifting again in some method known only to the pair.

"Like you suspected, it's going to be a surprise for you both. Sort of like what happened to Buffy, when she got Chosen as the Slayer."

"Okay, then I accept," Xander surprised everyone by immediately giving his answer, without any further questions. "'Cause based on what I just saw, pretty much *anything* has gotta be better than what happens to me in a few years’ time!"

There were quite a number of involuntary head nods. But then everyone glanced over at Cordelia, who was staring at the floor of the library and unconsciously biting her bottom lip as she mulled over her decision.

Apparently feeling the metaphorical weight of their gaze on her, the brunette looked up, glanced over at Xander (who gave her a supportive smile and nodded encouragingly), and sighed long and loudly.

"Okay, then I'm in too," Cordy declared, and then she surprised the heck out of the rest of the Scooby Gang as she reached over and took Xander's offered hand in a tight grasp, ignoring the gasps from Buffy and Willow.

"Like you said, Dweeb Boy, pretty much *anything* has gotta be better than what I saw waiting for me in a few years’ time," the brunette declared, making everyone wonder what it was she'd seen in her own vision of the future.

"Okay, then," Xander said, as he pulled Cordelia a bit closer to him and curled his arm around her waist as they looked at the two Spirits. "Give us the juice."

"Yeah. What the doofus said," Cordelia nodded, inclining her head towards Xander.

"As you wish," the two teen Spirits agreed, and they again clasped their hands and extended their other hand towards the two Scoobies.

Light flared out from their hands and completely enclosed Xander and Cordelia in a scintillating globe which strobed erratically, as flickering tendrils of power surrounded and permeated both teens.

The light show lasted for less than a minute, but when it was over, Cordelia and Xander both slumped to the ground – barely conscious as a result of their ‘upgrade’.

"What did you two do to them?!" Buffy immediately demanded suspiciously, as she and Willow both rushed over and dropped to their knees by Xander's side and began checking him over, while Giles and Jenny did the same with Cordelia.

"They'll be fine, Buffy," the brunette teen told the blonde with an annoyed sigh as she rolled her eyes like a typical teenaged girl. "We're not here to kill Xand and Cordy off or anything, unlike certain people who shall remain nameless..."

Willow immediately picked up on the familiar way the girl had spoken of her classmates and, partly out of curiosity and partly to distract herself from the memory of witnessing her romantic crush holding hands with her worst social enemy, the redhead asked, "Do you two know Xander and Cordelia from somewhere? It certainly seems like you do, anyway, from the way you were just talking about them..."

"We've never seen either of them before today," the male half of the pair replied as he shook his head and looked over at the two semi-conscious teens lying on the floor by the library's mythology section.

"And now that that's done, it's time for us to leave," the girl said, as she reached out for her companion's hand.

"Maybe we'll see you guys again in the future," she said, giving the group a hopeful smile right before the Ghosts of Christmas Future vanished in a swirl of lights.

~/~/~

London, England

The same time


Quentin Travers frowned as he glanced into the rear-view mirror of his Bentley Azure convertible. With the top down, his view was completely unobstructed, and he couldn't see anything at all on the road behind him.

Still, he was certain he'd caught a glimpse of *something* when he'd glanced into the mirror just a moment ago, and he was more than half-certain that whatever it had been, it had been *flying* just slightly above the road, too!

There wasn't anything out of the ordinary visible at the moment, though, so the deputy head of the Council merely made a mental note to remain alert and turned onto the private country road leading to his estate.

It was only a minute or two later that Quentin's attention was distracted as something bounced off the side panel of his car, and he turned to his left to say something exceedingly nasty to whoever it was who had thrown whatever it was that had hit his car, only for his mouth to hang open, speechless, with disbelief.

Just off the side of the road, about three feet above the ground, was what looked like an old-fashioned sleigh, pulled by a team of reindeer and guided by an overweight, almost obese old man dressed on red and white fur, flying alongside his car.

Getting a hold of himself – this was obviously some sort of magical being he’d just encountered – Quentin could see the man's mouth moving, but couldn't make out what his companion was saying, so he slowed his car slightly in order to minimize the noise of the wind and allow him to better understand what the fellow was trying to say.

"Hello there, Quentin. You and your fellow Board members have been *very* naughty these past few years, you know," the man told him, shaking his head as if in disappointment.

"So, I'm here to give you some coal for your stocking," Travers heard him say, an instant before the sleigh suddenly shot forward, as though it were jet-propelled.

Refocusing his attention on the road before him, Quentin's jaw dropped even further at the sight rushing up in front of him.

~/~/~

'A Different Type Of Christmas' Boutique
Sunnydale, CA

A few moments after the Spirits of Christmas Future vanished from the library


"Ho, ho, ho, and a Merry Christmas to you, Ethan," the disguised chaos mage heard someone announce from behind him.

"What the bloody hell-?" the former demon summoner exclaimed as he leapt up in surprise and spun around, to find himself confronting a roly-poly man stepping out of a faux chimney façade set against the far wall of the now-closed shop. “Who are you? And why did you call me Ethan?”

Although he had white hair and a beard, and was garbed like the traditional image of Santa Claus, the old man was wearing a smile that was much more reminiscent of a rather feral predator than some addled grandfatherly philanthropist, intent on giving away toys.

"I have to say, my boy," the clearly demented old codger announced as he began approaching the shop proprietor with the grace of a stalking wolf, "that while you have a well-documented and rather notorious history of being a very naughty boy, you've nonetheless given me an unprecedented opportunity to finally catch up with any number of people who have been topping off my naughty list for a good many years this evening, now, so I'm still somewhat undecided as to what should be a proper reward."

"Are you completely daft, man?" Ethan demanded as he began backing up, trying to remember exactly where he'd left that steel fireplace poker he'd hidden behind the counter, in case some hooligans had attempted to rob his store. "Get the hell away from me, and go sleep off your celebration in some alley!"

"Oh, no, I'm afraid I can't do that, Ethan," the other man shook his head in disagreement.

"I've only got a very short time left before your spell expires," he explained, "so I have to make sure you get your proper gift before I go."

"Wha-" Rayne began, before he was abruptly seized by the unexpectedly nimble old man, and then both of them were somehow rising up through the non-existent flue of the clearly fake chimney and ending up on the roof of the Sunnydale Mall.

"All right, boys," Ethan heard the nutjob call out, as he was tossed into the back of what looked like an old-fashioned sleigh. "It's time to head on home!"

And then Ethan, the old man and the sleigh were suddenly shooting up into the night sky behind a team of reindeer; the chaos mage’s terrified screams echoing throughout the otherwise peaceful evening.

~/~/~

Sunnydale High School library

December 26, 1997


"Things really have been quiet, pretty much everywhere over the past day or so, Giles," Buffy reported as the Scooby Gang gathered together to discuss the results of the Slayer's latest patrol.

"Yeah, Giles. Ever since Christmas Eve, it's been really dead – at least as far as the Slayage goes," Xander chimed in from his chair at the far end of the table, next to where Cordelia was carefully inspecting her nails.

"Ow! What was that for?" he exclaimed an instant later, his hand going to grab at his ear as he gave his girlfriend an annoyed look.

"Because that was a really lame remark to make, even for you, doofus," Cordelia declared with a sigh as she went back to checking her nails after flicking the appendage in question. Xander had confided his vision of the future to his no-longer-secret girlfriend, after all, so in Cordelia’s view his choice of wording could have been better.

"Buffy and Xander are both right, Giles," Angel interjected, ignoring the pair's minor bickering as he attempted to get the discussion back on track.

"Pretty much all of the demons in town are laying low after Spike and Dru and their minions – those two really did survive the fire in that church last month; Willy finally confessed to me about it last night – were incinerated in the explosion that destroyed their lair in that warehouse," the ensouled vampire noted. "And that's mostly because the circumstances surrounding the explosion were so strange.

"The fire marshal reported that it had all of the characteristics of a gas explosion, and there was a lot of coal dust residue coating all of the debris that remained," Angel reported, "but according to all of the town records available, the only things that were ever stored there were containers of bulk manufacturing machinery waiting to be loaded onto various ships for transport to Japan or Singapore – neither of which are the kind of places that would be importing coal, either."

"And the fact that a lot of those records they found scattered on the pile of coal that buried Mayor Wilkins' body indicated that he was making this town into a vacation resort kind of place for vampires and other types of demons, it seems to be making all of the demon-y types in town want to stay out of sight until they can figure out exactly what happened to him," Willow added her own bit of news to the report.

"Although, exactly how someone managed to transport half a ton of coal into the Mayor's office and drop it on top of him, without anyone outside noticing anything unusual, even if they were using magic, is something that nobody's been able to figure out yet," she added, with a bit of a frown.

"I'm getting kinda thirsty," Xander announced as he pushed himself up out of his chair. "You want anything, Cordy?"

"Yeah, I think I could use a diet Coke," Cordelia nodded as she, too, stood up and began heading out into the hallway with him. There was no way she wanted Xander to pay for her drink out of his own pocket, and even if she did, she didn’t trust in his ability to get exactly what she wanted, anyway.

"You guys want anything?" Xander inquire as they paused at the doors.

Receiving a negative response from everyone else, he shrugged and said, "We'll be back in a couple of minutes."

"Yeah, there's a whole *lot* of weirdness that's been going on around here the past couple days, Giles," the redhead declared, expanding on her previous comment as the pair of brunettes left the library and Angel decided to disappear as well, leaving via the sewer entrance. "And that's not even considering the mega-weirdness involving Cordelia and Xander.

"Uh, I mean, the mega-weirdness involving their having gotten superpowers," Willow clarified her words, after a moment's consideration. "'Cause, I gotta say, I still think the two of them getting together in a cuddle-bunny kind of way is *unnaturally* weird, even for someplace like the Hellmouth.

"Not that I'm gonna try to do anything about it," Willow added with a minor shrug of her shoulders. "If they really think they can be happy together, then that's something they should see if they can make work without my interference."

While most people would have immediately taken Willow's words regarding her companions as proof positive that a ringer and/or a doppelganger had been substituted for the computer hacker and potential apprentice witch, it was, in fact, merely another indication of all of the changes the young woman had been going through over the course of the past two days.

The redhead had, during the previous afternoon, confided to Buffy, Xander and Giles that her vision of the future had caused her to revise a great many ideas and opinions she'd possessed, while not offering a great deal in the way of detailed information concerning her reasons for said revision. The fact that one of the more significant opinions she'd referred to had concerned Cordelia's character and moral fiber was clearly understood, while not being specifically addressed.

In point of fact, when the group had met earlier that morning, Willow had merely asked Cordelia to accompany her to the girls' bathroom for 'some little girl talk,' after which both girls had begun behaving much more cordially to each other – and the redhead had, thereafter, been one of the more avid participants when it came to exploring the new abilities the pair had received from the Spirits during Christmas Eve.

In addition to both Xander and Cordelia now exhibiting enhanced strength, speed, endurance and agility (approaching, but not in any way close to equaling, Buffy's Slayer abilities), each of the two had also apparently received some sort of arcane transport or portal talent.

While Xander was rapidly becoming adept at using his gift to access or retrieve any object with whose location he was personally familiar, Cordelia's ability allowed her to transport herself, and an additional load of approximately fifty pounds, to anywhere she desired, within a locus of approximately three miles – at least for the present.

And while neither of the newly empowered teens currently possessed much in the way of viable combat skills – both of them, along with Willow, were in the process of establishing a training regimen which would at least provide them with the basic skills they would need, if they were intent on continuing to provide Buffy with much-needed support, as they'd previously been doing. As well as ‘supporting’ each other, of course.

{ I guess it's good that Xander and Cordelia are at least *trying* to determine if they can have a future together, like Willow says, } Buffy reflected as she lounged back in her chair at the end of the table and half-listened to the others discuss the situation in town.

{ I hope that they have better luck than me and Angel would have had, anyway, } the Chosen One thought pensively. { But at least this way, Angelus never gets loose, and Ms. Calendar and a whole bunch of other people don't die anytime in the near future, the way they were going to. }

{ Woo-hoo. Rack one up for the good guys, } Buffy thought pensively (and possibly a little bit sourly, she silently admitted to herself.

Considering everything that they had learned over the course of the past two days, from both their visions and from what Jenny Calendar had confessed, it appeared that she and the rest of the Scoobies had now managed to dodge at least one metaphorical bullet (or more likely in this case – a nuke) that had been aimed in their general direction.

{ It hurts like a mad bitch, though, romance-wise, } Buffy silently admitted to herself. She had been dreaming about Angel for months now, ever since that incident with Machida – almost every night, the Slayer had wondered what it would be like to be together with the ensouled vampire *that* way. And now that she knew...

Buffy consoled herself with the thought that at least she wasn't feeling any of that awful, soul-crushing, aching pain and guilt that she could now only vaguely recall from that vision she'd received. She and Angel had officially broken up, and the pain from that was officially horrendous, but...

{ But at least now Angel won't have to go to Hell and suffer in agony for a hundred years, } she reminded herself. { And since he knows about the escape clause in his curse, Angel can be extra-careful about anything that’d cause him to lose his soul. Like, getting too close to anyone like me. }

In any event, things were definitely on a much different track than they had been heading along, just two days previously.

And judging by the few remarks that her friends had let slip about what they'd seen in their visions, it wasn't like *anyone's* future had been very much of the good or the enjoyable, at all, she noted thoughtfully.

“We’re back,” Cordelia announced as she and Xander re-entered the library, and if they both appeared a bit flushed and their clothes kind of rumpled, nobody mentioned anything about it.

“Weird as, but the nearest machine was all out of diet Coke,” Xander explained to Willow, who was staring at her oldest friend with an upraised eyebrow.

{ If I didn’t know that in the future I end up having a girlfriend, I would *so* make you pay for that one, mister, } Willow thought to herself.

{ Note to self. Make sure Xander doesn’t do anything stupid before Cordelia’s 17th birthday, in order for him to avoid an assault charge from her parents, } Buffy cogitated, after seeing how those two were acting. { I mean seriously, guys and their guy hormones... }

Buffy's reflections were interrupted by Xander's question to Giles, as he returned from answering the phone in his office, an absorbed and contemplative expression on the Englishman's face as he rejoined the Scoobies.

"So, …there a problem brewin', big guy?" Xander inquired of the librarian. "Usually, any calls you get on the Bat-phone in there are not announcements about upcoming parties and festivities."

"Hmm?" Giles shook his head and looked askance at the youth's question. "What did you say?"

"Xander means that the only calls you only get on your office phone are from the Council, and they're usually only calling to warn us about doom and gloom type stuff," Willow translated Xander's statements from Californian to English for Giles, a task that she alone of the teenage quartet could perform.

"So, what kind of problem is it they're calling about?" Buffy asked.

"Oh, uhm, actually – it's nothing for any of us to be concerned about, I suppose," Giles answered, a thoughtful expression on his face.

"One of the Council Board members, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce, called to notify me of the death of the Deputy Chairman of the Board, Quentin Travers," he explained.

"He died in an automobile accident two days ago," the Watcher continued. "From what I’m told, a truck loaded with coal somehow lost control on the road Travers was driving on and overturned, crushing his car beneath it.

"And since Quentin was both the leader and the most outspoken advocate for the more totalitarian faction of the Council, it seems that his death has left his group quite disorganized and has enabled the more proactive elements of the Council to assume a, uh, more dominant role."

Seeing the lack of understanding evident on the teens' faces at the potential implications of his comment, Giles looked annoyed as he explained, "It means that Buffy can expect to receive a great deal more support from the Council in the future than she has received previously."

As the teens gleefully discussed the news Giles had just imparted, no one on the physical plane could hear the inarticulate screams of frustration and anger that echoed across several higher levels of the meta-cosmos, or the gales of satisfied laughter that answered it.

~/~/~

Sunnydale High School
Principal's Office

December 26, 1997
Late evening


Principal H. R. Snyder – the nameplate was clearly visible at the front of his desk – sat slumped in his chair behind his desk, a bottle of bourbon held loosely in his hand and his thoughts a confused muddle of vague and uncertain memories, as he stared at the far wall of his office and the red and white-furred suit hanging on the coat rack there.

"No," Snyder shook his head as he took another long gulp from the bottle in his hand. "It’s simply not possible. I just got drunk and dreamed it all. That's what happened.

"Yeah," he nodded to himself with drunken enthusiasm. "That's what happened – I got drunk, and I dreamed up everything that happened during Christmas Eve."

Bob Flutie's successor took yet another gulp from the bottle, while carefully avoiding looking at the note lying on his desk in front of him.

If the balding little man glanced at it, he knew he would once again see the elegantly inscribed words:

'You were a very great help to me this evening, Roland, and I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to square accounts with a number of people who have been going out of their way to avoid me for quite a few years now.

'Accordingly, this good deed, whether it was intentional or not, has helped move you from the naughty to nice list, so in effect you're starting this year with a clean slate.

'I have great expectations of you in the future, Roland.

'Please don't disappoint me.

'Sincerely,

'Nick'

"It was all just a dream," Snyder muttered to himself, sweeping a number of papers (including a newspaper with the death of the Mayor splashed all over the front page) off his desk.

{ Still, maybe I should check whether Mr. Giles needs any additional funding for the library this year, } Snyder reflected to himself a moment later. { After all, it did seem as though there were quite a lot of...incidents happening there, over the past twelve months or so. }

{ And the children need to be as well-prepared for the future as we can make them. Otherwise, who knows what they might get up to? }

~/~/~

Giles Residence
Sunnydale, CA

December 24, 2004



"Come in, my dear, and give me that adorable little cherub to hold while you take your coat off," Rupert Giles beamed as he opened the door and greeted Buffy and Graham Miller, his gaze focused on the tiny, currently peacefully slumbering baby girl that his Slayer was ever-so-carefully cradling in her arms

"Just don’t wake her up, Giles, or I'll leave her with you for the next three days," Buffy smilingly threatened the father of her heart as she gently handed over the oh-so-delicate burden she held.

"That way, you and Jenny can see up, close and personal, just what a little banshee Dawn can be when she decides to be difficult," Buffy informed him as she slipped out of her coat and handed it to her husband, her eyes never leaving her daughter for more than the briefest of instants.

"Oh, Buffy, she's so adorable!" Jenny Giles-Calendar softly cooed as she pressed up against her husband and looked down on the endearingly cute infant. "Oh, and she's so tiny!"

"She certainly didn't feel that small in the delivery room," Buffy protested with a grin. "And she certainly took her time before she finally decided to show her face to the world."

"Hey, so this is the rugrat, huh, B?" Faith Lehane-Harris asked as she peeked over Jenny's shoulder. "She's a doll!

"Hey, you two, come see B and G's little princess," the brunette called as she looked back over her shoulder.

"Hey, Buffy. Hey, Gray," Xander Harris-Chase smiled as he quietly slid up to join the others, enveloping Buffy in a rib-crushing embrace, first, then releasing her to enthusiastically grab Graham's hand and pull him close in for a man-hug.

"Wow. You're looking great, Buffy," Cordelia Chase-Lehane declared as she joined her two partners in greeting the newcomers. Theirs was, most definitely, a somewhat unusual three-way polygamous relationship, granted; but then again, this was Sunnydale, home to the weird and unusual. "You've lost all the baby weight you gained and you look like you're back to a size two again, aren't you?"

"Close," the golden-haired Slayer smiled back, obviously pleased at the compliments she was getting regarding her child and herself. "And you guys are all looking great yourselves," she noted.

"Are you three really taking over the Council's Rome office?" the wife and mother then asked, the faintest trace of envy in her voice as she did so.

"Yeah, we certainly are," the one-time cheerleader and high school social queen cheerfully confirmed. "We officially take over as of January fifteenth.

"Willow wants the babies to be born in the States, and Tara says the most favorable auguries are indicating either Mount Shasta, Sleepy Hollow, Crater Lake, or Pahuk," Cordelia went on.

"And since Jonathan wants them all to be settled in whichever area they choose at least a month before the babies are due," Cordelia informed Buffy, "that means that they have to decide which site they're going to choose within the next three weeks.

"But I'm sure they'll be telling you that, themselves, soon enough," she added with a megawatt smile. "Giles said that Tara called from the airport about half an hour ago to let everyone know they'd arrived, so they should be here pretty soon."

Whatever comment Buffy might have had in reply to that was destined go unheard, since she was, at that precise moment, interrupted by a piping male voice.

"Hi, Aunt Buffy! Is that your new baby?" The speaker was a small, solidly-built dark-haired boy who was looking up at the Slayer with bright, curious green eyes.

"Hi yourself, Connor!" Buffy's smile grew even wider upon seeing the boy, and she quickly scooped him up and showered him with kisses, making him squirm in her grasp. "How's my very favorite nephew in all the world doing?"

"I'm your only nephew, Aunt Buffy," Connor patiently corrected her, smiling back at her once she finally stopped kissing him, his response clearly part of some long-established custom.

"How're you doing, Buffy? And where's the cherub at?" yet another voice inquired, and Buffy turned, reaching out and pulling the approaching blonde in for a quick hug, as Connor took advantage of the distraction and squirmed free, to easily drop to the floor and scamper away to freedom.

"I'm fine, Kate," Buffy answered as she released the other woman. "And Giles is holding her, at the moment.

"And you're looking great!" she observed with a pleased expression as she gave the clearly pregnant woman a thorough look-over. "How are you feeling? And where's Lee?"

"I'm right here, Buffy," a soft male voice announced from behind her, and the Slayer spun around to throw her arms around the tall, dark-haired man standing there and smiling down at her.

"Boy, you two didn't waste any time at all, did you?" Buffy grinned as she hugged him. "I guess maybe you guys forgot that your becoming human again means that certain actions have consequences, huh?" she teased.

"No," Liam 'Lee' McGarry, the former ensouled vampire once known as Angel, shook his head in amused disagreement as he released her, "I didn't forget anything.

"But I spent far too much time in Los Angeles brooding about my past, so Kate and I talked things over – and we decided we didn't want to waste any more time than we have already," Lee admitted with a contented expression on his face, as he curled his arm around his wife.

"You know," Buffy said reflectively as she turned to look at their extended family, the smile on her face growing even wider than it currently was, "if anyone had told me, back in high school, that all of our lives would end up as good as this, I honestly don't think I'd have ever believed them."

"I'm really glad we've all been able to continue getting together at Christmas like this," Mrs. Miller added, basking in the warmth and happiness that seemed to permeate the entire house.

"Things just seem to be getting better each year," she noted. "Ever since that Christmas seven years ago, when Ethan Rayne tried to mess things up for everyone – but failed, dismally.

"I really wish we could thank those Spirits of Christmases Future for showing us what was coming, so that we could take steps to prevent it!"

"Yeah, you're right," Lee agreed, as Connor let go of his father’s leg and tried to grab Cordelia’s attention instead.

"Just think," the former vampire said, as his eyes focused on the two children the rest of the Scoobies were so cheerfully fussing over, "if it wasn't for them, we would never have had the chance to have these precious treasures we do, now."

And somewhere in a higher dimension, an Ancient and an Archangel smiled in quiet triumph.

FIN

The End

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