A Giles Christmas

"I got over here as soon as I could. Now let me in before I freeze my bloody arse off."

"Oh, sorry."

Willow Rosenberg opened her front door wide to allow Rupert Giles in out of the snow.

"What have you two done this time?"

"Well, actually, this time it was just me…or it might have worked a little better…"

Giles stomped the snow off his boots. "I'd say it worked rather well, wouldn't you? Considering its seventy-two degrees over at my apartment."

Willow's bottom lip jutted out. "I just wanted a real Christmas for Tara and me. My parents are out of town, so I get to use the house. She celebrated Hanukkah for me, and made it really, really special. I wanted to do the same for her.

Giles looked around the room at the tree with its gifts, the decorations, the Menorah on the mantle and nodded. "Very nice," he said more gently, wondering what Ira Rosenberg would have to say if he knew. "She'll love it."

Willow finally smiled. "She'll be here later, after she feeds Miss Kitty and calls her folks. I can't wait."

It was Giles' turn to smile. Her enthusiasm was infectious. "All right," he said gruffly. "Show me your spell book, and tell me exactly what you did."

It took him two hours of reading and experimenting to stop Willow's tiny snowstorm and another hour to go through what went wrong, and the exact spell to allow her to control it fully, so that she could do it again, safely, including the part that made it visible only to those whom she wanted to see.

When they were done, Willow watched him close the book, affection and warmth in her eyes.

"Did I interrupt your Christmas preparations very much?" she asked.

She caught a glimpse of an expression flitting across his handsome features, but it was gone before she could identify it.

"Not so that you'd notice, no," he finally said, his tone dry. "My halls are decked and the five of you trimmed my tree…in fact brought my tree," he added even more dryly. "So there's not that much to be done."

Willow grinned widely. "That was fun. And you helped."

"Yes. Untangling the lights," he confirmed grumpily.

"Mister Grumpy Pants," she teased. "You want some Nog? I can heat it in the microwave…"

He shook his head. "I have to go down to the store. Anya is doing inventory, and if I'm not there she'll double the stock that moves quickly and delete a lot of lines that I'm quite fond of, simply because they don't walk out of the place every five minutes."

"Oh…okay," Willow said, disappointed, but trying not to show it. "Well, have a great Christmas." She waited a few more seconds and then leaped forward just as he reached the door, and threw her arms around his neck.

At first Giles was stunned then too busy being kissed to think about it. When she finally lowered herself to the floor, he cleared his throat self-consciously.

"Y-yes, well…" he began, to pause when Willow, glowing like a Christmas tree and grinning mischievously, pointed to the ceiling.

Mistletoe.

"Oh," Giles said dumbly. "Good show…I mean…Merry Christmas, Willow," and smiled back no less self-consciously. "I'd better go. Merry Christmas to both of you, dear."

Willow blinked as the door closed. He'd looked so darn cute with that 'slammed in the face with a pie' look just before she kissed him. And then afterward, it was as though they'd gone back in time, and he was the sweet, stammering librarian she'd once had such a crush on, all over again.

For several long moments she stood and stared at the door, before finally shaking herself out of her thoughts, grinning, and heading for the kitchen to continue working on the Christmas preparations for Tara, for the next day.

She had only been working on a cookie-baking project for a short time before Tara came home. There wasn't a trace of snow left. Giles had done a great job with his reversal spell. After she reacted to the decorations and they said hello under the mistletoe, Tara changed and they worked together on the preparations.

"Something's wrong," she said a while later.

Willow looked up from cutting cookies, and blinked. "Wrong?"

Tara nodded. "I can feel it. You're not…not happy about something."

The redhead frowned. "The only thing on my mind right now, besides cookie dough, is Giles," she said thoughtfully.

"Mister Giles?"

"You don't have to call him Mister anymore, you know…he's just…Giles. But yeah, he was here earlier, helping me with something," Willow went on absently. "I was trying to remember who's doing what, tomorrow. I know Anya and Xander are giving the new apartment its first Christmas…oh, I was meant to tell you, we're invited around for supper and a cutthroat game of Monopoly."

"Anya always wins," Tara said forlornly. "And I always have to be the red M and M."

"So? I have to be the blue one. And they're both getting kinda gross." Willow giggled. "Anya cheats, but in a nice way. She's got such big success and money issues lately. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, yeah, I know what they're doing. And Buffy is mostly spending the day with her mom and Dawn. Do you remember if Giles has said anything about his plans for tomorrow, or if anyone has mentioned going over there?"

Tara frowned in thought. "I-I don't think so. With Buffy's mom being so sick, nobody's talked that much about Christmas, except us."

"Yeah," Willow agreed, deep in thought again. "Nobody has."


*******

"I know we can think of something else," Willow growled.

"The stores are going to close in an hour," Tara grumbled uncharacteristically. "And my feet are screaming."

Willow shifted her parcels. "But you still want to do this, right? You said it was a great idea."

"I-it is," Tara confirmed. "I especially liked your idea for something from home…a-and I'm glad you liked the shirt."

Willow grinned. "You're good with the detail. He'll look so great in it. It's so exactly him. I was going crazy looking at all the fashions out for guys these days."

"And all those stuffy business shirts. Variations on a theme," Tara added dryly.

Willow rolled her eyes. "Exactly. And I've had an idea about the 'something from home,' too.
By the time Willow had found what she was looking for, her feet ached even more than Tara's.

In the end they hailed a cab and rode back to Willow's parents' house, red faced and overheated, despite it being winter and early evening.

"Sometimes I really hate California," Willow muttered as she unlocked the door.

Once inside, they both set about getting freshened up and changing into pyjamas before sitting down together, Willow with a telephone, Tara to begin wrapping their ample bounty.


*******


Giles poured himself a cup of tea and took it back to the sitting room. When he was comfortable in his chair he leaned forward to pick up the cup from the coffee table, then paused to look at the fir tree the gang had conferred upon him.

It was gaily decorated in a multitude of cheap coloured baubles, and a sprinkling of carved wooden traditional ones, given to him by Willow and Tara. It was weighed down by far too many lights and too much tinsel, and the star on the stop was bent from too many years of use in the Summers household, since Dawn had decreed the Summers' tree would have the angel on top this year.

He grinned at it. Truth be told, he liked it. A lot. He shook his head and let his eyes travel around the room, taking in all their work decorating the place and making it festive, despite his reservations.

When asked why, all they would say was that if they didn't do it, they knew he wouldn't bother. He sipped the coffee and chuckled almost silently to himself before settling back into silent reflection. It wasn't as though he wasn't used to spending Christmas alone. He was beginning to make an art form of it…

He was interrupted in his reverie by a knock at the door. When he stood up, he flexed his knees and his fingers, which were surprisingly cold, and lacking in circulation.

"Hi Giles!" Two voices chorused when he opened the door. "Can we come in, it's kinda cold out here?"

"Bloody hell," he exclaimed.

"Hey that's not very Christmasy," Willow pouted.

"What happened this time?" he asked with patient tolerance.

"Nothing," Willow said indignantly. "It's part of your real English Christmas…which you're not going to get if you keep being Mister Grumpy Pants."

"My what?"

"G-i-iles! It's freezing!"

"Oh, yes, sorry…" He stepped aside and let them through before looking out at his white terrace, shaking his head and wondering what the neighbours would think if they could see it, before finally chuckling to himself and closing the door.

Both girls had put down the bags and packages they were carrying and Tara was stacking parcels under the tree with the ones that were already there. Ones marked in his neat script: Willow, Tara, Buffy, Dawn, Xander and Anya, and a couple given to him by neighbours, one posted to him by Olivia, and a couple of small items from family and connections in England.

"I say," Giles exclaimed when he saw what was going under the tree. "What have you two been up to, and who are you expecting?"

They looked up and blinked. "No one," Willow said. "I gave Buffy and Dawn their stuff while Joyce was still in the hospital, and I knew we were seeing Xander and Anya tonight at their apartment. Why?"

Giles blew out a bemused breath and eyed the gaily-wrapped bounty again. "No reason. It just looks like you bought out the store…" He paused. "You haven't been to the Magic Box lately, by any-?"

"Nope," Willow grinned. "You wish. Not magick stuff this time. I have to go to the kitchen now, for a while, so you can go back to what you were doing…after you light a fire."

Both girls disappeared into the kitchen with much giggling and rustling of sacks and packages.

Giles settled back in his chair and wondered what on Earth was going on, but wasn't brave enough to ask.

A little while later Willow came back, and stood in front of his chair, her back being warmed by the glow from the fire, until he stopped reading and looked up.

"You didn't have any plans at all for today, did you?" she asked. "I looked in your fridge. There's a half-eaten brie, a bottle of Guinness, milk, some eggs and some juice. You're not even expecting anyone," she said sadly.

"Is that a crime?" he asked mildly. "I was thinking of Thai for dinner. The 'Garden is open. Saves making a mess just for one…"

Willow's eyes grew very large and very bright. "It is at Christmas," she whispered.

After several moments charged silence, she cleared her throat. "We're using your oven and stuff. I promise we'll clean up, after. Can we have the table out again?"

Giles stared at her for a moment longer, then his face softened. "I thought today was for Tara," he chided.

She smiled shyly. "Well, it was, but we decided we wanted to share. We love you, Giles."
Willow stopped, her eyes suddenly huge. That had just popped out.

The two of them stared at each other for a very long moment, then Giles nodded and smiled self-consciously. "I'll get the table for you."

After the preparations were done and the kitchen was cleaned up, leaving only the luscious smell of Christmas spices, overlayed now by the aroma of beef roasting, the girls returned bearing tea and plates of Willow's cookies.

When Willow announced that it was time for the gifts, Giles started by handing each of the girls the small, identical packages with their names on. Inside each was a small box containing a pendant on a silver chain. Their eyes each lit up at the same moment.

"I don't know what to say," Willow said softly, when she looked up. "They're beautiful, Giles…and very old. We know what the symbol means. You think we need to be protected?"

Giles smiled. "I'm glad you like them. And yes, now, more than ever, I think the two of you need the protection of the symbol, both from the enemy Buffy has yet to fight, and as a ward against any future…problems…either of you might encounter with spells."

Tara looked at him with something akin to hero worship. "I thought these were so rare a person would only find one in a museum."

Giles shook his head. "Not that rare, if you know where to look…and are willing make some…accommodations, to get what you want."

Each of the girls clipped the other's chain and turned back, the medallions, with their ancient Celtic symbols, lying protectively at their throats.

"Perfect," he said with satisfaction, then raised his head and breathed deeply. "Something smells stunning."

"Dinner," Tara grinned and handed him a soft package.

Giles lifted the silk shirt from the tissue paper and held it up. He hadn't seen one quite like it since his Museum days, when he'd had both the income and the requirement to own one. This one was a perfect oyster crème colour. There wasn't a suit or a jacket it wouldn't go with, and yet it would dress up as far as he wanted it to.

"It's my size," he said simply, grinning lopsidedly at them.

Willow scooped up another package and handed it to him.

"More?" he laughed. "I hope you didn't get too carried away."

He pulled the wrapping from the small oil and caught his breath before swallowing hard.

The girls watched as he stared at the small scene painted on the framed canvas.

"H-how…?"

"I had a long talk with Wesley," Willow said quietly. "And when I told him I wanted something that would remind you of home, except I didn't know exactly where it was or what to get, he said he did, and he would have something couriered down. It was this."

"It-it's a painting of a place very near where I grew up…a-at least where I spent my childhood," he said almost reverently. "Wesley knew because geographically he grew up very close by. Economically, and of course in years, we were somewhat farther apart. When my father told me…about my calling…Wesley hadn't even been born yet. His family probably owned this place."

The girls gazed down at the windswept vista, somehow majestic despite the muted tones of winter and storms; the lonely, single, two hundred year old stone cottage standing against the elements, despite the seeming fragility of it's simple thatched roof and wooden shutters.

He traced the small building with the tip of a forefinger. "I've played there as a child." He laughed without looking up. "When I was thirteen and home from boarding school on holiday, I took a girl there, because I wanted to prove to my mates that I could. We ended up spending the whole time talking about music. She wanted to marry some prat from the Monkees, or, failing that, Paul McCartney, and I wanted to be…well perhaps not Paul McCartney, but any of a dozen great Rockers of the day." Soft giggles roused him from his reverie. "You think it's funny that the old chap might have had a childhood?" he asked without accusation.

They stopped giggling. "N-no," Tara said very softly. "Y-you're not old, Mister Giles. It was what you s-said…"

His eyebrow lifted, but his eyes twinkled and drew a small smile from the shy girl.

"I don't know what a prat is, but the Monkees still get replayed sometimes and they r-really are silly," she managed, her smile still tentative.

"Well, if you've seen them, you know exactly what a prat is," he observed, and made them both giggle again, his own smile wide.

Willow scooped up a bulky package. "This is kind of from me. It's what I got you originally for Christmas. Kinda boring now, though."

Giles shook his head at the surfeit of riches the girls were bestowing on him, warmed by their enthusiasm and their big hearts and chuckled again when the big tin of assorted, imported teas, some exotic, some highly favoured by him, was revealed.

He looked up and grinned at Willow.

"Yeah, I know," she said sheepishly, her cheeks red. "Boring, but practical. And you're nothing if not practical, Giles."

Giles gave a short bark of laughter, but his face revealed his resignation. "Yes I suppose I am, these days. Not how I planned it, though."

"Y-your life?" Tara asked, curious.

He turned to her and again smiled reassuringly, this time removing his glasses. "Yes, " he confirmed. "I most definitely had other plans…for about my first ten years or so…then I spent another decade or so in a futile fight against the inevitable. Now here I am, practical Giles."

Willow made a disbelieving noise. "The other guy is still there. You can't fool us. We saw you sing at the Bronze, Giles."

"Ohhh yeah, " Tara agreed then turned beet red when Giles' green eyes flicked to hers inquiringly.

Willow saw and tried immediately to head him off. "You were great, o-of course," she stammered. "But you couldn't call that practical Giles…and hey…how come you never wear the earring? Even Anya loved the earring."

"Well there's a good reas…" Giles began then subsided when Willow's eyes narrowed. "It isn't who I am now," he pointed out. "That night, a little bit of who I used to be was allowed out for a while. But it's not truly me, anymore."

"You aren't just saying that because Xander told you he was looking into therapy…?" Willow began grumpily.

Giles shook his head. "A lot of things upset Xander, not least the fact that the two of you and his girlfriend, actually liked my performance."

"Hey that's true," Willow realised. "He really was…"

"…Jealous," Tara continued. "I would never have thought of that…but it's true. The more we liked it, the worse he got. I thought Anya was going to hit him at one point."

Willow giggled. "Me too. Xander can be really silly, but it's kind of nice he was jealous of you, Giles."

Giles' eyes widened for a moment, then he got it and started to chuckle again. "I seriously doubt Xander would think of his discomfort in those terms," he told them. "I'm sure it wasn't his intention to flatter my capacity to interest the opposite sex."

"Nah, it definitely wasn't," a voice said close by and they all jumped violently. "But since I find you here with not one, but two beautiful women, I've gotta say, Giles, my man…" Xander said, as he arrived at the Watcher's side and held up an abortive hi-five, only to put the hand away moments later when all it got was a dyspeptic look.

"To what do I owe the honour?" Giles asked dryly, instead.

Anya shoved a large, heavy, but flexible parcel at him. "We wanted to…well, Xander wanted to wish you a Happy Christmas. He says everyone usually forgets about you on Christmas day and that we should start a new tradition."

Xander smiled uncomfortably, his cheeks as red as a beet. "An, honey, what have I said about repeating what I say?"

Anya shrugged. "You said not to repeat anything that might hurt someone's feelings. How can us going out of our way to be nice, hurt his feelings? Can we go now?"

"My feelings are fine," Giles told both of them, amused, and trying not to show it. "Thank you both for coming."

"Open it," Anya ordered, when Giles moved to put the package under the tree. "It was my idea. Xander says I'm nuts. You can tell him he doesn't know anything about anything, when you open it," she grinned.

Giles opened the package with something approaching fear, mixed with a healthy curiosity. The parting of the heavy wrapping paper revealed heavy leather. He swallowed and pulled the paper all the way open.

It was a jacket, a heavy, black leather jacket. A motorcycle jacket, he realised when he held it up, waist length, but with protective elbows and biker-like heavy metal zipper and buckles. An envelope fell out of it as Giles lifted it higher, for everyone to see.

"It's fantastic, Xander, Anya. I don't know what to say. I coveted one of these…and the bike to go with it…as a young man, but I was chronically without funds when I was your age," he said with genuine pleasure, stooping to pick up the envelope and what he thought was a card. When he opened it, he grinned widely.

"You see!" Anya exclaimed. "I told you he'd love it!"

Xander reserved his opinion. Until Giles lifted his head and looked at both of them.

"I thank you both," he said. "But this can't have been cheap…I can't let you…"

"Don't sweat it," Xander told him, boyishly pleased to see his friend so obviously excited about something. "Anya knows the guy…well, the Brakken Demon, anyway, who runs the business. Let's just say we got a pret-ty good discount…and with Anya and me both working, we went in together on everything."

Giles chuckled and looked to the ex-demon. "How…?"

"You're always reading those stupid Motorcycle and Scooter magazines on your tea breaks, and this Brakken demon owed me, big time. And there were those men…the ones wearing all the sweaty, smelly leather…with the ones who looked like they went back for extra Y-chromosomes. You talked to them forever about their machines. You sounded like you wished…" Anya stopped and her eyes became a little unfocused, as though her thoughts had slipped to something else completely. "You sounded like you'd lost something and you hadn't finished grieving for it yet."

The room fell silent, so that her last words fell into a void.

"Wow, An'," Xander managed a few moments later, not sure what else to say,

"They weren't Hell's Angels or anything, if you were wondering," Giles told them sheepishly. "Just a couple of blokes rather like me, who decided their last fling before settling into mediocrity was going to be a tour of the whole country on bikes which, as young men, they once dreamed of owning. I remember when I first saw a Goldwing… and the restored vintage Triumph…beautiful, beautiful, bikes," he said wistfully.

To Willow and Tara's puzzled looks, Giles held up the envelope and smiled. "A week's rental of a Harley Davidson," he explained.

Both girls broke into grins. "That's so cool, Giles," Willow bubbled. "You could go on picnics, or take a trip up to Sacramento or-or over to Vegas."

"Or I could just learn to ride all over again," he pointed out gently. "It has been years, and technology once again has marched on without me."

"But the magazines…?" Tara asked plaintively.

"Classifieds, not instruction manuals," Anya pointed out acerbically.

Tara blinked. "Oh."

After a few moments silence, Giles handed Xander and Anya their parcels and waited while they removed the wrappers.

"Giles…Big guy, you're giving deadly weapons now as Christmas presents?" Xander asked whimsically as he lifted the dagger from its extra tissue wrapping. "You trying to tell me something?" His face dropped. "I'm a marked man, aren't I? Some demon is pissed off with me and wants to kill me, right?"

Giles shook his head and chuckled.

"It was mine. The first weapon I ever owned as a Watcher. It wasn't issued," he said evenly. "It's several hundred years old. I want you to have it. The blade has been sanctified and blessed with Holy Water."

Xander turned the inlaid pearl, onyx and silver handle and paused when he saw the small, stylised G engraved on the butt.

"Family?" he said softly.

"Family," Giles confirmed. "It was my Grandmother's and her grandfather's before her, all the way back to the sixteenth century when it was taken from a Vampire Master by a Slayer, and given as a gift to her Watcher."

"But…" Xander said helplessly.

"It's all right, Xander," the older man said gently. "My line ends with me."

Xander's eyes grew very bright, but he fixed his friend with a fierce look. "As long as you know that if that ever changes this will be my gift to your firstborn."

The green eyes in turn, grew just as bright. "Thank you," he said. "I shall hold you to that."

At that moment Anya made a happy noise and everyone turned to look. She had the lid off her deluxe Monopoly set and was gleefully looking at all the playing pieces, money and cards.

"Wow, An, your favourite game," Xander said less than enthusiastically. "Nice catch, Big G…"

Giles just smiled.

Anya looked up for a moment. "I told him what to get me weeks ago. I was tired of playing with your crappy set."

Xander shrugged. "Can I help it if all I had left was the boot and the thimble? Or that something ate the corners off all the properties…and it wasn't my fault Will coloured all the dollar notes. She thought they wanted to be as pretty as the rest of the notes."

"I was eight!" she objected. "Besides, they weren't as pretty as the others… You said you liked them."

Xander tilted his head to one side. "I said I liked it when you made me drink air tea from your tea set when we were five, too," he retorted. "I lied."

Willow poked her tongue out and turned to the tree, snatching up another package and handing it to Giles.

"I thought we were finished," he said with some surprise.

"Nope. This is a special Giles Christmas."

"Which reminds me," Tara said suddenly. "I better check the roast. Anyone want cookies, milk…tea?"

"Tea," Giles requested.

"Cookies," Xander and Anya chimed in at the same time.

"I thought I could smell baking when we came in, except the roast smells so great I thought I was imagining the rest," Xander added.

Tara grinned widely and went to organize things as Giles opened the mystery package and drew out a small box, small enough to fit in his palm. His first guess was cufflinks, or possibly a tiepin…

When he finally opened it, he sat very still for a long moment, then snapped it closed, got up and left the room.

Xander watched him go, startled. Anya was too busy counting the money and playing with the tiny pewter horse, lining up the rest of the pieces, including car, ship and dog, to notice what was happening.

"What did you do, Will?" he asked accusingly. "This isn't another one of your spells gone poof is it?"

"Its 'kablooey', and no it's not," she shot back. "He'll be fine."

"It's Christmas, Will. Go and make sure. Anything that could get that kind of reaction out of our stuffy Brit needs some moral support."

Willow didn't agree, but followed the Watcher out to the terrace nonetheless. He was sitting at his tea table, oblivious of the cold and the softly falling flakes, elbows on knees spread somewhat apart, staring at the item in the box.

He looked up when she touched his shoulder. Willow caught her breath at the moisture in them.

"Where…and how did you know?"

"Jenny gave it to me just before Buffy's birthday. She said I'd understand why, later. I guess she meant about her uncle trying to make her go back to her people. When I did understand why, I was to give it to you. See, I knew about it…y'know, why she wanted you to have it," she said uncomfortably. "She told me how you found it…h-how cute you were when you gave it back."

Giles flushed red. "But…she never went back to her people," he whispered.

"We both forgot about it," Willow said very softly. "So much was going on…with Angelus, school, everything. I didn't find it again until after…" She bit her lip. "I j-just couldn't give it to you then…so I gave you the rose quartz she gave me, instead…"

Giles touched the long spiral earring with a fingertip. "I understand," he said. "And perhaps it was for the best. I wasn't terribly um…grounded…after she died and just when I thought I was beginning to move on, there was the affair with…with Acathla…"

Willow closed her eyes. He'd told them very little about his capture by Angelus, but she knew something terrible had happened, something far worse than broken fingers. In his semi-delirium from dehydration, shock and pain, Giles had called Jenny's name over and over in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

It had distressed Xander so much he'd told her all about it during his very next visit.

"I didn't mean for it to hurt," she said, opening the huge emerald eyes again, moisture trickling down soft cheeks. "I just wanted you to have it. She wanted you to have it."

Giles rose then and drew her into his arms. "And I do want it. Bless you for keeping it for me. There are still times when I miss her terribly, silly as that might sound, considering how long it's been and how little time we actually had…"

Willow sniffed into his shirt. "I-I know. I do too, sometimes. I can't explain it, either."

He dropped a light kiss on the top of her snow-dotted, red head. "You don't have to," he whispered, closing his arms a little more when he felt her shiver from the magic-induced chill of the evening.

When they went back in, the fire had been banked, someone had turned on the tree lights, Anya had roped Xander and Tara into a game of monopoly and someone had put Giles' only Christmas album on. Ironically, it wasn't a rock album. It was an instrumental collection of the classic Christmas tunes and hymns. The First Noel was in full chorus as they reached the others and Xander was absently singing verses, surprisingly well.

Giles and Willow were seated on the couch and Anya had just landed on Free Parking much to the others' chagrin, since most of the pile money on it was theirs, when the front door opened and Buffy and Dawn stepped inside, shaking snow off themselves.

"This is so cool!" Dawn exclaimed. "This is like a real Christmas!"

"Samantha have you been making with the nose twitching again?" Buffy teased.

"You like?" Willow grinned, glad she'd included all her 'family' in the spell, just in case.

The other girl looked at her flush-faced, actually excited younger sister, smiled and nodded. "We didn't know when we were going to see everybody, so we brought everything to put under Giles' tree…"

"Let me guess," Xander piped up. "You realized that none of us usually remembers to come see Giles on Christmas day and you decided to start a new tradition?"

"Something like that," Buffy confirmed, smiling at her Watcher. "It was kinda hard to get away. Then Mom got a surprise visitor from the gallery, so we got over here as fast as we could, to give you your presents and ask you to give others theirs."

Dawn smiled happily, particularly at Xander. "Looks like problem solved, to me."

For Willow, Anya and Tara there were the latest rages in perfumes and make-up and for Xander an enormous chocolate bar, weighing at least two pounds, from Dawn, and a black shirt from Buffy.

"I thought only Deadboy looked good in the black," he snorted as he held it up.

"'Ay!" Giles growled, reminding everyone that he owned one or two black shirts of his own.

"Xander, you'll totally slay them in black," Buffy told him dryly. "I bet Anya would like you in black."

Anya looked up from her game. "I like Xander in everything. Of course nothing is even better…"

Dawn giggled and everyone else turned red.

"Yes, thank you, Anya. Would anyone like a drink?" Giles asked, changing the subject.

"I'll take care of it," Xander volunteered, shaking his head at his once again completely absorbed in her game, girlfriend. "You open your presents, Big G."

Dawn rushed forward with her package as soon as Xander headed for the kitchen. "Open mine first. It's way better than Buffy's."

"Dawn!"

Giles smiled widely, and with affection for their mystical charge. "You got something especially for me?"

She nodded. "Since…since I started coming to the store, you never yell at me when I'm clumsy, and you let me help sometimes, like you really think I can do it…and it was fun finding out what all those Rockers were like before they got, you know, old."

"Dawn!" Buffy said in a strangled voice.

Giles chuckled. "It's all right, Buffy. The ones Dawn is talking about are old…well, older: The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bowie, The Who, Pink Floyd…and a few others she'd heard of, or seen interviewed in her music programs."

Buffy looked bemused. "When did all this happen?"

Dawn made a derisive noise. "Well we had to do something all those times you wanted to train alone or with Ri…er…without Giles. When my homework was done, we talked, or I helped. Sometimes I got in the way and sometimes I broke stuff, but Mister Giles doesn't get mad like..."

"Like I do?" Buffy frowned. "You didn't tell me."

"It wasn't important," Giles said mildly, and began unwrapping Dawn's gift. "Slippers," he said, lifting the items from their box. Thank you, Dawn. That's very thoughtful."

Dawn shrugged. "I asked Buffy if there was anyone who gave you stuff like slippers and shaving soap and aftershave and stuff like that, and she said not really. So I'm elected," she grinned.

Giles smiled at her with great affection. "I'm honoured," he told her, and meant it, as he started unwrapping Buffy's gift.

It was a tiny package. Inside was what looked like a ring box. Giles looked up at her, puzzled.

Buffy just smiled cryptically and waited for him to open it.

He did, and stared at it for a long moment before lifting his gift out, and slipping the thickish solid gold hoop into the piercing in his left earlobe.

"As gorgeous and studly as I expected you to look," Buffy said approvingly, her eyes dancing, when he looked up at her again. Again a long moment passed as they held each other's gaze.

Giles knew exactly what she was telling him, what the small token symbolised. His eyes also glowed.

"Thank you," he said amid the Christmas din…Anya and Xander bickering over payments for hotels, the strains of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen in the background, the smell of roast beef wafting from the oven Willow had just opened to add the vegetables to bake, and the flicker of the firelight.

Buffy smiled back. "I couldn't afford a guitar," she said softly.

"Already have one," he reminded her, moved that she had grown up enough to accept all of him, simply for who he was….

"I'd like to hear you play," she smiled, something much deeper in her eyes, as Dawn was roped into the game. "I'd better see if Will needs me in the kitchen. I don't think I can face Anya Getty Rockerfeller tonight." She looked around again, at everything. "It's a real Christmas, Giles. I can't remember when it was more like Christmas in Sunnydale, than this…looks like Willow knows more than one way to make magic."

Giles smiled as she wandered off to see if Willow needed a hand, and a dispute started over who actually won the last property auction, interspersed with Tara and Dawn's giggling. Then he sat back in his chair and relaxed, content to watch the others.

"Hey, Buff," Willow grinned when her friend joined her. "How's your mom?"

"Coping," Buffy smiled. "And just glad it's all over with. So what's with the Gilesfest?"

Willow lifted the lids on each of the saucepans of green vegetables, poked them, then covered them again, satisfied.

"Same reason we all had for being here." She turned and looked the other girl right in the eye. "It looks like we all love Giles and we all realise, after what happened last year, that we suck as friends. It was nice that we all worked it out by ourselves, though."

Buffy shrugged. "We all grew up. So much stuff happened last year…this year. And…well, I thought we always cared about Giles."

"Not so's he'd notice," Willow observed pointedly.

Buffy had the good grace to look guilty. "Okay, so we were typical teenagers. Self-involved, dense, stupid…but I have always cared about Giles."

"Yeah, well, ditto…but have you…have any of us ever bothered to tell him?"

"You don't think he knows?"

Willow scowled fiercely. "You think he knows so much he got fall down drunk just before one your biggest battles ever, just for the fun of it? It couldn't be anything to do with the fact that the three of us pretty much forgot he existed while we rediscovered our love lives and hit the brave new world of Collegeville…or in Xander's case, careers hell?"

Buffy swallowed and looked away, then looked back again. "But…what you're really saying is that I was the worst, right? No training, no patrols. You kept telling me to go and see him…" She frowned. "Why didn't you guys ever go?"

It was Willow's turn to look down, the telltale red rising from her throat. "Well, we did…sorta…I mean…research…spells, a-and stuff…"

Buffy gave her a pointed look. "You mean like that truth spell for Spike…?"

"Okay, we were all bad, the other girl admitted glumly, "hence, a Giles Christmas. I don't want anything to go wrong, okay?"

Buffy finally smiled. "It won't, Will," she told her. "Haven't you noticed? Everything seems to be going just right, today. I mean even Dawn and Anya are actually playing nice together…sorta."

Willow's face lit up as she grinned back. "Yeah, it is, isn't it?" She opened the oven. "Even the cooking is just about done without a major disaster."

Buffy looked in at the mouth-watering piece of beef, with potato, pumpkin and carrot scattered around it, baking, and the tray underneath it with something weird lining it.

"What the hell is that? Is that some weird Jewish celebration dish or something, Will?"

The redhead's grin widened and she shook her head as she closed the door again. "It's a surprise for Giles. And look." She picked up a small bundle of cheesecloth tied at the top and handed it to Buffy, who was surprised how heavy it was as she lifted it to sniff.

"Wow. I wondered what the spicy smell was. Traditional, old fashioned Christmas pudding, right?"

Willow nodded. "It's real. See: cloth, like the old days. No cans this time. I hope it tastes as good as it smells. And we have brandy sauce ready to heat to go with it."

Buffy's expression softened from amusement to affection. "You really love him, don't you, Will?"

The green eyes looked back at her, wise beyond their years. "Don't you?" she asked.

The blue-grey eyes gave their answer warmly and the two women shared their affection silently for a moment, before Buffy spoke again.

"We've never talked about it, and none of us, including him, talks much about the relationship between the four of us…but I really thought we all pretty much knew the day we stood up to Tara's father, that we were a family."

Willow nodded. "Yeah, we sorta did," she agreed, "but it's different for the three of us. Like last year, you know, when we went to fight Adam, and we all made up? It was easy for us…and special, you know, but Giles…"

"Giles wasn't there at first, and by the time he made it down the shaft, none of us knew what to say and he went all British and bossy and made us keep moving so we wouldn't have to say anything. I know, Will."

"Then why…?"

"Because I don't know what to say to him, either," Buffy confessed.

Willow's eyes widened at the unexpected confession. "You're scared of Giles?"

"I was scared of making things worse. I'm still scared of saying something stupid or hurting his feelings."

"But you never…"

"…Bothered about them before?" Buffy closed her eyes. "I think that pretty much applied to all of you, Will. It was more than I could handle…letting myself feel things, letting myself get emotional, when I had to go out and do all that stuff. The only way I knew how to show him how much I really need him…how much I love him…was to ask him to help me again. I wish I was as nice as you and Tara. I wish I wasn't so stupid about how people feel. You did all this, made everything just for him. All I knew how to do was ask him to be there for me."

Willow paused in her preparations to make traditional gravy, and smiled affectionately at the other girl.

"It's okay, Buffy. You need us to be there for you more than ever, now. It's not like you're just a regular person, you know. I think getting killed once, the Angelus stuff and almost getting killed every other week, not to mention spending all your nights fighting mean ugly things l-like Adam, to keep the world safe at the expense of what little life you've got, kinda entitles you to a few squillion freebies in the screw up area," Willow managed almost in one breath. "Which is not to say it won't tick people off," she added mischievously. "It's just that we understand…while we're being ticked off…"

There was a moment of dazed silence then their eyes locked, Buffy started to giggle, and Willow followed until they were both out of control. A few moments later they were interrupted.

"What on Earth…are you two all right?"

They swung around, suddenly silenced and both nodded at the same time, until they caught his eye and started off again.

"Good Lord," Giles said gruffly, trying not to smile, or to be drawn in by their infectious mirth.

That only made them worse.

"I think I'd better…"

"No!" They both said at once as he started to turn, and came to him at the same time, stood on their tiptoes and kissed his cheeks, before leaning against his arms.

"What have I done to deserve this?" he asked, as the giggling gradually subsided.

"The list is too long to memorize," Buffy finally managed. "So we skipped it and went straight to the good part."

"Merry Christmas, Giles," Willow added warmly.

Giles, still flushed with surprise and genuine pleasure, chuckled, slid his arms around their shoulders and kissed the tops of both heads of shining hair.

"It most certainly is," he told them. "Buffy's right, Willow. It's all rather magical, thanks to you."

Willow crimsoned delightfully and partially hid her face in his shirt.

"Wow, Giles. You're starting to scare me, the way you're attracting the ladies. So what kind of badness am I interrupting?" Xander teased, his hands full of empty pop bottles and glasses.

"Giles Appreciation day," Buffy told him.

"And we need one of those, why? I thought we appreciated Giles all the time?"

"Giles is here in the room, Xander," he said pointedly and released the two women.

Xander turned from the sink and cleared his throat. "Sorry, Big G. But the point still stands. When have I ever not appreciated you?"

"Almost all of last year?" Willow offered.

Xander's face fell. "Oh. Yeah. That. But it wasn't all my fault…there was Anya…"

"And Riley," Buffy added.

"And Tara," Willow said. "We're sorry it all got so weird last year, Giles."

"I know," he said gently. "We all could have made different choices last year. I certainly could have. But I chose to do nothing, instead."

Willow's eyes flew to his face and confirmed that he was, indeed, referring to the subject of their conversation back when Dracula was around.

"It wasn't nothing," she said with vehemence. "After what we did to Adam, everyone knows how important you…all of us, are to the group. There's no 'nothing'. If you'd gotten some big job somewhere how could you have helped us with Adam? What would have happened if you weren't there to find that Unifying spell? We would have tried…"

"…And died," Xander added grimly.

Giles bowed his head. "You almost did anyway, thanks to Spike. God we were fools."

"Yeah, thanks for the reminder there, Ghost of Christmas Past," Xander interjected wryly.

"He's right," Buffy said softly. "We all were…and do you know why it was so easy for Spike?"

They all looked at her. "Because we all care so much for each other. So much, that when we hurt each other it's like almost a mortal wound, where to others the same thing is like, a scratch. We need each other. We're family."

She turned to look up at Giles. "I never meant what I said that day…about you…a-and …I'm sorry. I know now that I deserved anything you said to me, even though Spike lied about most of the stuff he said to you guys," she added, flicking a glance to Xander and Willow, then back to Giles. "He was so wrong about me not needing you though…"

"How did you…?"

"Spike told me. The night before my mother went into the hospital again. It was kind of weird, but we sat and talked for a long time. He wanted me to go drinking with him, like I ever would," she muttered. "But he just kind of appeared just when it was really bad… and well, we talked. He told me a lot about last year…about Adam. But he's wrong about us. Giles, I was really screwed up last year…everything was bad…Angel…Parker…the Initiative… even Riley. It was just…bad…including me…but I never stopped needing you…" She turned as Giles' eyes grew very bright. "The same with you guys. Everyone was so caught up in new stuff, good stuff, bad stuff, lots of bad stuff, in all our lives. I really believed it was up to me to find a way to stand on my own two feet…you know, stop bugging everyone…except I kinda fell on my face with that one."

"Did you ever," Willow muttered almost simultaneously with Xander's 'damned straight,' and Giles' 'yes, well…'

Buffy looked up at all of them, her eyes flashing. "Well, Merry Christmas to you guys too," she growled, until Willow sort of smiled, urchin-like, from under her shock of red hair. In spite of herself, Buffy grinned, and the others, all just as red in the face as she, grinned back. "Okay," she said sheepishly. "I probably deserved that, but can we stop with the cheap shots at the nice slayer now?"

"Buffy!" Dawn's voice rang out, sounding distinctly like someone looking for backup.

"Xander!" Anya's yelled directly afterward. "Dawn's playing your game all wrong."

"I am not!" Dawn yelled even louder.

The Slayer rolled her eyes, reached up and kissed her surprised Watcher affectionately, before flicking his earring. "Sorry, sexy. Gotta go sort out the kids." She turned to Xander. "You coming, bro?"

"Do I hafta?" he asked without much enthusiasm.

"One of them is yours," Buffy drawled. "Move your butt."

Giles and Willow, still smiling, watched them go before Willow did a quick check of the oven and turned everything off.

"You'll want me out of your hair," Giles observed as she straightened.

"It's your kitchen," she grinned, her urchin dimple showing, "and your dinner. Not my call."

"All right, then I say we finish the preparations together," Giles told her. "I'm rather good with a carving knife."


*******

Willow wiped her hands on the paper towel she'd drawn from the roll in Giles' cupboard and put the last plate on the breakfast counter, ready to serve, having shooed Giles away not ten minutes before.

He'd done a great job of the carving and helping in general and was now organizing the opening of a special bottle of Christmas champagne.

Dawn had begged to stay, but Buffy had given their truly sorrowful apologies after checking with Joyce and finding that her visitor had departed, and that she'd developed a bad headache. In protest Dawn had said goodbye to everyone, one at a time, with much hugging and kissing, even for Giles, until she got to Xander.

Well aware of the younger girl's adulation, Xander had good-naturedly guided her to the mistletoe and bade her close her eyes before bestowing the most tender of kisses…on her nose…and then her forehead.

"Merry Christmas, kiddo," he said, smiling, but with great affection for his biggest fan.

Dawn had floated out of the room, Buffy rolling her eyes as they went.

Giles looked up as Willow approached the table, and his eyes widened. "Now there's something I haven't seen in years," he said, obviously moved by the efforts Willow and Tara had gone to.

"Tara helped big time," Willow confessed. "I'm cookie girl, not funky British food girl."

"What exactly…is it?" Xander asked, looking at the flaked piece on his plate, next to his meat.

"What you see before you Xander, my boy, is roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Nothing like it on a cold day. Brilliant, Willow," Giles smiled and bit into the piece on his fork. A moment later his delight was obvious.

Tara finally grinned. "We did it right," she said, awed by their success.

"God yes," Giles said fervently, taking another mouthful, combined with gravy and a little meat, before reluctantly putting his fork down and picking up the un-corked champagne to fill everyone's glasses. "I'm sure on this day, of all days, we can be forgiven for a small toast."

"To Willow and Tara and their magical Christmas," he said warmly, when everyone had charged their glasses. They drank the toast, the girls flushing rosily and not just from the wine.

Dinner was a raging success, with much pulling of crackers, trading of paper hats and bad jokes. Tara knocked over a glass of wine, Xander accidentally shot peas across the table trying to cut his Yorkshire pudding and Giles managed, at one point during a particularly animated discussion about magic, to drop the glasses he was waving around into his Christmas pudding and custard, causing much laughter with his cursing and abortive attempts to wipe the mess off the lenses, before giving up and putting them on his side plate for the duration.

When it was over, everyone helped with the clean up, making it a short, riotous job, before they all settled in the living room again, feeling very full, very sleepy, and in Giles' case, more content than he had in a long time.

It was less than an hour later that Buffy returned, and found them all dozing, Giles in his chair, Willow with her head on Tara's lap, and Tara asleep on a pillow on the arm of the couch. Anya and Xander were stretched out on the floor, and Anya's hand was somewhere it shouldn't have been.

The Slayer smiled at the scene and the contentment on all the faces. The lovers all looked so totally as though they belonged together that it made her sad, and even sadder when her gaze flicked back to Giles, alone in his lonely chair.

She roused herself a moment later and slipped silently across to add wood to their fire before leaving again to continue her patrol. She was dusting off her hands and rising to do just that, when she realized Giles was watching her.

"Hi," she mouthed and smiled warmly.

"Hello," he mouthed back and returned the smile.

After a beat she rose and moved across to his chair, Giles starting to rise as she approached, but stayed, first by her hand on his shoulder, and then by her arms sliding around his neck.

It was a warm, loving embrace.

Giles' eyes, which had been wide in surprise, closed, and his body relaxed as his arms went around her and returned the hug. The depth of his emotions played across his face as he held her.

Eventually they parted and looked at each other again, green eyes and grey locked together, taking long moments before they both smiled, their eyes bright.

"I love you, Giles," she mouthed.

His smiled widened and his eyes grew very warm. "I love you too," he mouthed back.

Someone snored softly and they both looked around, startled, before they turned back to each other, chuckling silently.

Buffy tilted her head to one side and made her now infamous staking motion, then gave a little wave of her hand to let him know she had to go back out to finish patrol.

He grinned and nodded and lifted his hand to say goodbye.

She grinned back and started to turn, but before she could step toward the door, something stopped her. The grin washed away and she turned back again.

"I love you," she mouthed again, her eyes intense and her colour high, whirled…and was gone.

Giles blinked as the door closed and stared at it for a very long time.

It was another hour before everyone began to stir. Xander was the first, needing the bathroom and waking Anya in the process. She promptly told him off and woke everyone else…except Giles, who was wide-awake, and miles away.

"Wow," Willow croaked. "Must've been a great dinner."

"It was, and more." Giles said, stirring and smiling at the girls. "Thank you both."

Willow and Tara grinned like Cheshire cats as Xander returned and sat down next to his girlfriend, their hands unconsciously entwining.

"Merry Christmas, Giles," Willow said, love in her eyes, Tara and the others nodding.

Merry Christmas, Giles," Xander echoed.

Anya, half smiling, shrugged, then nodded agreement.

"Merry Christmas, Mister Giles," Tara told him, smiling contentedly, knowing now that this was the only family she wanted.

The soft green eyes slid to the door, before flicking back to his loved ones.

"Merry Christmas everyone," Giles said softly, his voice, and his heart, very full.

"Merry Christmas…"



* * *