Buffy got Dawn and Xander to Giles’ without driving on the wrong side of the road even once. It was after six o’clock when she pulled into the driveway of what had once been a small manor house for an estate south east of Bath, near Westbury. Of course the ‘small’ manor house was still quite a bit larger than the house they used to have in Sunnydale. It was owned by the Council of Watchers, and now served as Giles’ primary residence. He had given up his flat in Bath and moved here, since he usually had at least three house guests staying with him, and sometimes as many as a dozen, and it had the room to accommodate them.
Buffy honked the car horn as she pulled to a stop in front of the house. People started to boil from it as they got out. Dawn started greeting friends she hadn’t seen for months. Giles and Andrew got hugs.
Dawn hugged Faith next, and then she turned to Robin Wood. They both looked at each other a little awkwardly. Dawn couldn’t get over thinking of him as her high school Principal: not someone you hugged. After a couple of false starts he just smiled and stuck out his hand for her to shake.
Rona and Vi got hugs after Dawn had finished with Robin. Willow and Kennedy were the last ones out of the house, and they got hugs too before Xander picked up her bag, Dawn grabbed Yanka’s cage, and they all went back inside.
Xander took Dawn’s bag up to the room she had stayed in when she had been there earlier that summer. She saw that some of the stuff that she had left behind was still there; it didn’t look like anyone else had used it since she’d gone.
Dawn returned downstairs after unpacking her bag. She found everyone in the Great Hall, unpacking boxes of newly bought Christmas decorations. Xander and Giles were just carrying in a large pine tree when she arrived. The sound of Christmas music filled the room, though Dawn couldn’t see where it was coming from. It didn’t annoy Dawn the way it usually did…maybe because she hadn’t been hearing it in shopping malls ever since Halloween.
Buffy looked up from the string of lights she was unravelling. “Hey Dawn! Just in time! We put off getting the tree set up and decorated until you could get here to help us.”
Dawn smiled, but she could feel her stomach rumbling. “That’s great, but when are we going to eat?”
“Don’t worry, we’ve ordered pizzas,” said Buffy. “We even ordered a pineapple and anchovy one for you. Now come here and help me with these.”
The pizzas arrived while they were putting the lights on the tree. Everyone took a break to get their first slices before going back to the decorating. After the lights were done they started hanging ornaments on the tree branches.
Dawn looked at a silver ball that she was about to add to the tree. She couldn’t help feeling that something was missing.
“You feel it too, don’t you?” asked Buffy.
“You miss all the old decorations we had at home,” said Buffy. “Twenty-five years worth of family tradition, fallen into a giant hole in the ground.”
Dawn smiled. “Yeah. I know it’s stupid…but looking at this…” She held up the ornament. “…I can’t help but remember that we had one just like it…we had a whole set of them before you sat on the box when you were sixteen.”
“That was the same year that you dropped and broke the last of the glass balls we got from Grandma.”
“That was so not my fault!” said Dawn. “Technically, I wasn’t even really there, it must have been someone else who broke it, and you were tickling me!”
“You mean like this?” Buffy grabbed Dawn and started to tickle her stomach.
“Buffy!” Dawn squealed, and she tried to pull away, but Buffy had too tight a grip on her. She dropped the ornament as she struggled to get free. The plastic ball bounced away across the floor.
“Cut it out you two, before you break something!” said Giles.
Buffy kept hold of her sister, and kept tickling her. “But Giles, it’s a Summers tradition. It isn’t really Christmas unless we break something!”
Dawn kept trying to break free from Buffy’s hold on her. “Xander! Help!”
Xander hesitated a moment, thinking about the hazards of getting involved in a fight with Buffy, even if it was just fooling around, but he could never resist a call for help from one of the Summers girls. “Watch my back,” he told Willow. “I’m going in.”
Willow watched Xander’s backside, and smiled—remembering when she used to have such an enormous crush on him—as he crossed the room to where Buffy and Dawn were struggling together. She saw that Xander wasn’t being so foolish as to try to free Dawn from Buffy directly. When he reached the struggling girls he reached out and started to tickle Buffy.
“Yeeah!” Buffy let go of Dawn to turn to handle this new attack. “Oh, you are so dead!” Her fingers went for Xander’s ribs, but Dawn wasn’t going to abandon her rescuer. Buffy found herself under attack from the rear by her sister.
Buffy was caught between Xander and Dawn. She couldn’t protect herself from one of them without opening herself up to attack from the other, unless she wanted to resort to Slayer moves. “Willow! Help!”
“Oh no!” said Willow. “I’m already watching Xander’s back!”
“I got ya B!” Faith grabbed Xander around the waist and pulled him away from Buffy, freeing her to go after Dawn again.
“Oh no you don’t!” Willow jumped onto Faith’s back. “Keep your paws off Xander!”
Buffy grabbed Dawn around the waist and picked her up. She spun her around, and Dawn’s foot hit a lamp on a table. It crashed to the floor, and shattered into a zillion pieces. Everyone stopped.
“Oops,” said Buffy.
“Well, now it’s official,” said Dawn. “It’s Christmas.”
“That was my grandmother’s,” said Giles.
“Oh, hey, I can take care of this!” Dawn pulled out her wand.
“Uh, are you sure that’s a good idea?” asked Buffy.
“No problem!” Dawn pointed her wand at the pieces of lamp scattered across the floor. “Reparo!” The pieces all gathered together, and the lamp flew back up onto the table, fully intact again, and Dawn smiled smugly. “Learned that one last week in Charms.”
“I thought you weren’t supposed to do magic away from the school,” said Buffy.
“That rule only applies to underage witches,” said Dawn.
“Any you’re not underage?”
“Not to wizards,” said Dawn. “They consider seventeen to be ‘of age.’ I’m going to be taking apparating lessons next term too.”
“Apparating?” asked Faith.
“Teleporting,” said Dawn. “For witches, getting your apparating license is kinda like getting your driver’s license. You have to be seventeen to take the test.”
Andrew appeared, wearing an apron and oven mitts. “Dessert’s ready!”
The next few days were among the happiest Dawn could remember in many years. The previous two Christmases hadn’t been particularly joyful. The first had been marred by Buffy’s depression following her resurrection, and the second by the news that the First was on the rise, and trying to destroy the Slayer line.
Buffy went a little nuts over getting Christmas dinner ready. It reminded Dawn of the stories she’d heard about the Thanksgiving dinner Buffy had held for her friends the year she had gone with her mother to visit her Aunt Darlene, only without a vengeful indian spirit interrupting it.
Everyone was sitting around the table after dinner was finished, letting their meal settle before they started into cleaning up the dishes. They all had a glass with an after dinner liqueur. Even Dawn had a glass of Crème de Menthe.
Giles rose from his seat at the head of the table, with his glass in his hand. “I would like to propose a toast.” Everyone could see the grave expression on his face. “It is wonderful that we could gather so many of our friends here for this occasion, but I think we should take a moment to remember our friends and loved ones who couldn’t be here tonight.”
“Mom,” said Buffy softly from her seat at the other end of the table.
Dawn looked at her sister. “Spike.”
“Anya,” said Xander.
“Tara,” said Willow.
“Jonathan,” said Andrew.
“Chloe,” said Kennedy.
“Jenny,” said Giles.
“Amanda.” “Allan.” “Annabelle.” “Jesse.” “Molly.” People kept saying the names of people who had fallen over the years. Dawn felt a lump growing in her throat with each new name. It didn’t seem right to her that she should know so many people who had died before their time.
Eventually the list of names came to an end. Giles was still standing. He raised his glass. “To departed friends.” He drained it in one swallow.
Everyone raised their glasses. “Departed friends.” They all placed their glasses to their lips.
Andrew tried to emulate Giles’ draining of his glass, and started to cough. That broke the spell of melancholy that had settled over the group, and a couple of them started to laugh. Dawn patted him on the back. “You okay there Andrew?”
“Fine!” squeaked Andrew. “I’m fine. It just went down the wrong way.”
“I’m sure,” said Buffy. She got up from her seat. “Why don’t those of us who cooked retire to some more comfortable seats, while the rest of you take care of the cleanup?”
|Chapter 40: Home for the Holidays||Contents||Chapter 42: The Burrow|