lallis_folly: (santa)
[personal profile] lallis_folly
This Buffy story was written for the [livejournal.com profile] oldschoolfic 2010 Holiday Fic Exchange and was originally posted there. It's set in an alternate universe created by a wish (much like the universe created by Cordelia's wish in the aptly titled episode "The Wish.") in which Giles is only a few years older than Buffy. This came about in part because of the nature of the prompt and the requester's wishes.

Title: 'Tis The Season
Word Count: approx 7,100
Author's Notes: See end.
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its settings, characters, stakes and all, is owned by Mutant Enemy. No infringement is intended and no profit will be had hereby.
Summary: The Scoobies are warned that something with a fondness for children is coming to Sunnydale.



There is a theory that tells us that every choice represents forks in the road of reality, and down each divergent road are found new universes. At one fork in the road, for instance, a man proposes to his high school sweetheart. Down the fork where they wed, they live happily ever after, and their children do good and important things that make the world a better place. But suppose she refuses him? A whole new universe spins off from that choice as well, and in this one, overcome by sorrow, he goes on a bender and wraps his car around a tree. He has no descendants, and thus, this new universe is a darker, grimmer place than the other.

That is the theory.

There is also a truth: words hold power. Any word can change the world. And so it is best to be careful what you think, what you say, what you wish for.

Especially if you live near a Hellmouth.

It began this way:

Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, Watcher, was, indeed, watching. It wasn't the Slayer, however, that his eyes rested upon, but her vivacious, dark-haired friend Cordelia Chase. Wesley had been entirely smitten by the young Miss Chase, who appeared, for her part, to return his affections. He turned to the school librarian -- the older man he had, in theory, replaced as Watcher -- and asked his advice as to whether it would be proper to dance with the young lady.

Rupert Giles' exasperated reply, while it did give Wesley the affirmative answer he craved, also compared his emotional maturity unfavorably to that of a blueberry scone.

Now, in one universe -- in our universe -- young Mr. Wyndham-Pryce ignored the slur against his age and maturity and went off to dance with young Miss Chase. But in the one about to be formed, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce had had just about enough of Giles' sarcasm. He had been rejected by the Slayer -- by both of them, in fact -- and their friends. He knew himself to be cowardly and ineffectual, completely unready for the responsibility that had been thrust upon him by the Watchers Council. He was, in short, a failure, and well aware of it. Unable to ignore the slurs and insults that he knew he deserved, he let loose a low-voiced stream of well-bred, but nonetheless blistering, invective. Which, though it took Giles aback, meant very little until Wesley uttered the fateful words, "I wish you had had to deal with all of this at my age. I'd like to see how well you handled it."

Two things here: Wesley was totally unaware of Giles' storied past. He supposed, based upon his own training and experiences, that Rupert Giles had, at twenty-five, been much the same as was Wesley himself: uncertain, shy, unprepared for the reality of being assigned as Watcher to the Slayer herself. He was, of course, wrong, but he couldn't know that.

And the second thing: He had earlier that day accepted a beautifully-made pen from a shy student who had lately begun spending a lot of time in the library. "I made it in wood shop," the youth said, turning the finely-sanded wooden barrel in his fingers so that the faceted crystal at the pen's end twinkled in the library's overhead lights. "You've been so very helpful with my history project. I wanted to thank you."

Wesley had stuck the pen in his jacket pocket, the same jacket he was currently wearing. As he uttered the fateful words, in his inner pocket the pen's crystal accent winked. And across the gym, the shy youth who had given him the pen straightened. It might have been the light in the corner where he waited, or it might not have been, but his face, as he turned toward Wesley, seemed to change. "Done," he said.

And with that word, a new universe was born.

~*~*~


1 December, Monday

Richard Willkins III, Mayor of Sunnydale, looked up from the report in his hand. "You're certain of this."

"Yes, sir," his assistant replied. "He's planning to come here this season. His Acolytes are already in town."

The mayor stood and moved to his office window. From there, he could see the twinkling of the Christmas lights in the downtown. The municipal decorations were particularly magnificent this year, with huge snowflakes glimmering on each lamppost and garlands of lights strung across the main street. He loved Christmas; the emphasis on family and tradition was only right and proper, and in an age where such things deteriorated daily, it did his heart good to see the turnaround at this time of year. So something that would interfere with that annoyed him. Greatly.

Chewing his lip in thought, he turned back to his assistant. "You know, there's nothing worse than a freelancer in town," he said at last. "See that the Slayer finds out about this."

"The...Slayer, sir?"

Mayor Wilkins nodded. "Yes, Mr. Connor. The Slayer. This is exactly the sort of thing that she's around for. She'll rid us of this nuisance."

"But...."

Wilkins sighed. "You don't have to approach her directly, Mr. Connor. Just see that word gets to her."

Obviously relieved, Mr. Connor straightened. "Yes, sir. I'll see to it, sir." He left the office.

Wilkins shook his head. "That's one of the problems of having a vampire as an assistant," he said to the room at large. "No spine when it comes to anything to do with the Slayer. But the Slayer is the most efficient use of resources to take care of this problem." He turned back to his window. While he knew that he would eventually have to deal with the Slayer himself, for now, it amused him to think of her as merely another of Sunnydale's resources. He watched the lights, confident that this holiday season would be a good one.

~*~*~


4 December, Thursday

In his sparely furnished mansion at the edge of Sunnydale, the vampire known as Angel methodically swept the floor of his practice room. He was expecting his sparring partner in the next half hour or so, and he preferred it if the place was tidy. Theirs was an odd partnership, he reflected, though not quite as odd as the one that had brought him to Sunnydale in the first place. Englishman and Irishman, Watcher and vampire, united by the Slayer. The Englishman had been sent by his superiors to guide and train the Slayer, while Angel had been sent by powers he did not understand to help and guard her.

Angel had sensed a kindred spirit in the Watcher Giles at their first meeting, and though it had taken some time for Giles -- who knew Angel's past -- to trust him, they had eventually become friends. It amused the Watcher that at twenty-five, he was vastly the younger of the two, but looked older than the slender centuries-old vampire. Angel, meanwhile, understood the rage that Giles kept constantly in check, buried beneath wire-rimmed spectacles, tweed jackets, and impeccable manners. Not even the Slayer knew about Giles' simmering anger and resentment, nor the fear and guilt that it overlaid, and she and the Watcher were certainly far closer than Giles' superiors would ever approve. The Slayer was strong and perfectly capable of handling Giles, but Giles would not allow her to see that side of himself. The pent-up violence was reserved for Angel, who understood it and could match it. It wasn't as if Angel didn't have issues of his own.

With a last flick of the broom, Angel finished his task and went into the kitchen. From the cupboard, he removed a pitcher, filled it with water at the tap, and took it and two heavy glass mugs into the practice room and placed them on the narrow table against one wall, just as he heard a knock at the front door.

The knock was followed by Giles' proper accents. "Angel? May I come in?"

"Enter of your own free will," Angel called back, completing their ritual joke.

The students of Sunnydale High would have passed their librarian by on the streets without recognizing him. Stuffy and tweed-clad during school hours, Giles reverted to the comfortable jeans and t-shirts of his own hardly-distant teen years when he had done things that would curl -- or straighten -- the hair of most of Sunnydale's teens. Even his wire-rimmed spectacles were gone, since he wore them mostly for reading and occasionally emphasizing points. The only thing that remained of the school librarian, in fact, was the modulated, pleasing voice with its oh, so proper accent.

"Good evening," he said. The bag he carried over his shoulder clanked as he dropped it onto the bench next to the table.

"Evening," Angel said. He waited while Giles kitted up for their session. Both he and Giles trained with the Slayer, of course, but despite her strength and ability, they both found that they held themselves back when faced with her apparent fragility. It was only against each other that they felt comfortable enough to test themselves to their limits. And even though Angel's vampiric strength was far greater than Giles' human abilities, they were, nevertheless, well-matched.

Giles moved into the center of the room. "Ready?"

"Ready," Angel confirmed, and attacked.

Giles countered, and the session was on. They worked each other mercilessly for a couple of hours before dropping down onto the wooden bench and gulping down water. They sat in companionable silence for a while.

"I have something to show you," Angel said when he heard Giles' heartbeat approaching a more normal rate. He went out to his desk and returned with a folded slip of paper which he handed to Giles.

"Guard the children. The Saint is coming," Giles read. He looked up from the paper. "Saint? What saint?"

Angel shrugged. "I don't have any idea. I was at Willy's earlier and found that in my pocket."

"Sloppy," Giles said. "Letting someone sneak up and put something in your pocket."

"Could have been magicked there. But you know how Willy's is. Probably no one could take anything out of my pocket, but put something in?" He shrugged. "I suppose it's too much to hope that it's a very strange Christmas greeting."

Giles nodded. "Definitely a warning. But saints? There are a great many saints associated with the Christmas season."

"Not the least being Santa Claus himself," Angel agreed.

"Well, I suppose I had better go see what I can find in the library," Giles said. He stood and began gathering his gear.

"Do you want help?"

Giles shook his head. "Not just yet...though if you wanted to go...ask...Willy what he might know about this Saint, it might be helpful."

Angel nodded, and showed Giles out.

~*~*~


5 December, Friday

Buffy's reaction, upon being shown the note the following day after school, was almost identical to her Watcher's. "Guard the children," she read aloud to Willow and Xander as they sat together at the library table. "The Saint is coming. Saint? What saint? What does this mean? Giles?"

Giles removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I don't know. And I've been sifting through books for mentions of saints and children all night. Unfortunately, hundreds of saints are associated with children."

Red-headed Willow raised her hand slightly. "Not much with the whole saint thing, here," she said, "but if we assume that it's a warning, and that it has something to do with a Hellmouthy thing, then we probably don't care about saints who protect children. Right?"

"Not that I know anything from saints," Xander said, "but there are saints that don't protect things? I thought that was what saints did. Sort of a requirement of the whole saint schtick."

"Catholics are not the only people to have saints," Giles said. "Remember the Master and his prophecy that the Slayer would die?"

"And so she did," Buffy said, referring to herself in the third person. "Just not for very long."

"No," Giles said patiently. "My point is that we are not the only ones to have prophecies. Nor saints. And what a demon would call a saint is probably not someone you would care to run into in a dark alley." A shadow crossed his face, but if any of the others noticed, they gave no sign.

"Unless you're me," Buffy said. "In which case, it's your business to run into such things in dark alleys."

"Someone has to," Xander said.

"True," Buffy answered. "Hurray for me, then."

"Hey," Xander said, "maybe it's Simon Templar!"

Buffy shook her head. "I saw that movie, too, Xander, and Simon Templar wouldn't be a threat to the children. Besides, Val Kilmer is just too cute to slay."

"So how do we figure out which demon saint it is, then?" Willow asked.

"Angel has gone back to the bar where he got the warning to see if can learn anything further," Giles answered. He glanced at the library's window. "But as he can't move about in the daylight, I don't think we can expect him for a few hours, yet."

"Are we planning a research-fest for this evening, then? 'Cause I'll have to call my parents if we are," Willow said.

Xander groaned. "Not how I wanted to spend Friday night."

"If this Saint is dangerous enough that someone in a demon bar would warn Angel about it, then I think we cannot dismiss it," Giles answered.

Willow, Xander and Buffy all rose with sighs and went into Giles' office to use the phone.

~*~*~


Empty pizza boxes littered the library's floor, and tightly-capped drink bottles were scattered on the tables, when Buffy sat back with a groan. "I can't read anymore. Can I just go slay something now?"

"Me, too?" Xander asked, pushing away from the table. "Is there any of that pizza left?"

"No," Willow answered without looking up from her book. "You shouldn't need more, anyway; you ate a whole one by yourself."

"Hey, I'm a growing boy," Xander answered.

"You're going to end up looking like Larry if you're not careful," Buffy cautioned.

"It's okay. I have a very high metabolism. Besides, I get a lot of exercise running away from big scary monsters."

The library door swung open and a slender figure clad in black strode through. "Boo."

"See?" Xander said. And then, "Oh, bless you! You brought pizza!"

"I figured you guys could use a snack," Angel said as Xander took the box from him. He glanced at the boxes already on the floor. "Though maybe I should've brought doughnuts instead."

"It's all the same to Xander," Buffy answered. "Though I could totally go for some glazed, sugary goodness. What do you say, Will?"

But Willow shook her head. "Not me. I don't like the doughnuts so much. Too greasy."

"There's no such thing as too greasy," Xander said, taking a bite of pizza.

"Ah, Angel," Giles said, appearing from out of the stacks. "What did you learn?"

Angel perched on the edge of a table and looked up at the Watcher. "A whole lot of not much. Willy couldn't -- or wouldn't -- tell me where the note came from, even when I showed it to him, and not too many people down there are willing to talk to me since I hang out with the Slayer. It seems that it has become common knowledge that Angelus is...gone."

"You could hardly keep something that big a secret forever," Buffy pointed out.

Angel shrugged. "True." He got a thoughtful expression on his face. "It was a little odd that everyone seemed to be talking about Christmas, though. People kept mentioning Saint Nicholas."

Giles frowned. "It could be just a coincidence."

"It's a very odd coincidence," Buffy said.

"And Willy's clientele are not exactly the sort to celebrate Christmas," Angel added.

"But Saint Nicholas isn't dangerous," Willow protested. "Is he? I mean, he's just Santa Claus, right? Not that I'd know anything about that," she added hastily, "being Jewish and all."

"It still bears looking into," Giles said. "Start searching for references to Saint Nicholas."

There was a chorus of groans. "This is where I remind you that this would be a lot faster if you'd just let me computerize your card catalog," Willow said. "I could even scan the texts so that they could be searched by computer."

"Thank you, Willow, but no," Giles said. "Some of these books are dangerous enough as is. I shudder to think what might happen if they were digitized."

"Fine," Willow said. "But I'll end up making my grumpy-Willow face."

"Though it wounds me, I shall persevere in the face of your grumpiness," Giles answered. "Tea, anyone?"

~*~*~


6 December, Saturday

It was well after midnight when Angel suddenly groaned and dropped his head into his hands.

"What?" Willow looked up from the heavy tome in her hands. Next to her, Xander snored on. Of Buffy and Giles, there was no sign.

"Saint Nicholas," Angel said. "It's been so long...I'd forgotten." At Willow's confused look, he explained. "I was raised Catholic. The Feast Day of St. Nicholas...was today. Well, yesterday, now."

"Vampires can't be expected to keep up with the churchiness," Willow said, "what with the holy water and the burny crosses and all. Besides, here's me, still confused. I thought Saint Nicholas was good."

"He was," Giles said, reappearing from the stacks, a frown on his face as he perused the book in his hand. Glancing up, Willow could see it was entitled Lives of the Christian Saints, and was just an ordinary library book, not one from Giles' private collection. "There's nothing here to indicate that he is a danger to children. Quite the opposite, in fact, as he is one of the models for the modern concept of Santa Claus." He closed the book with a snap.

Buffy emerged from a different part of the stacks, her hair slightly mussed. Willow suppressed a smile. The fact that Buffy and Giles were together delighted her; the fact that it was a secret only made it that much more delightful. Not that Buffy had even tried to keep it from her best friend. They caught each others' eyes and Willow smiled after all. Buffy blushed slightly.

"Maybe they weren't saying 'Nicholas,'" Buffy said, smoothing her hair. "Maybe it only sounded like 'Nicholas.' Besides, I don't hear any sirens."

"So now we're looking for a demonic saint whose name we don't actually know, but it might sound like Nicholas," Willow said. "Gotcha. Can I make my grumpy-Willow face now?"

"Grump away, Will," Buffy answered, surveying the books already spread out on the tables and stacked on the floor with a sour face of her own.

"This isn't really the sort of thing you're likely to find in cyberspace, anyway, Willow," Giles said. "The demonic world doesn't seem to have discovered the Internet, quite yet." He sighed. "I may have a few volumes at home that are more pertinent. Why don't we call it a night. And someone wake Xander, he's drooling on the Prendergast Compendium."

~*~*~*~


7 December, Sunday

Buffy arrived at Giles' apartment to find him asleep on the couch, books spread out around him. She wondered how long he'd been asleep; normally he'd've woken up when she unlocked the door. He usually slept very lightly and woke at the slightest unusual noise, as though he was listening for and expecting something terrible. On the other hand, her Sunday morning visits were entirely normal and expected; her mother thought she was out jogging.

She looked down at him. He looked awful. She hadn't seen him yesterday, and she had a feeling he'd spent all day and all night with his books. His face was grey with fatigue, and she could sense that he was not so much asleep as passed out from exhaustion. She contemplated carrying him upstairs to his bed; now that she'd had a good look at him, she didn't think he'd wake after all. On the other hand, even though he was her Watcher and well aware of her superior strength, she rather suspected it would be a blow to his male ego to find that he'd been carried to bed by a girl. But he really did look awful. And there was no room for her beside him.

"I'll just tell him I got Angel to help me," she said. "Note to self: call Angel and tell him that he helped me carry Giles to bed." Decided, she lightly picked her sleeping lover up and carried him up the stairs to his bed, settling him more comfortably on his pillows and pulling the blankets up. She smoothed his hair and kissed him lightly, then went back downstairs.

Other than the book that had been in Giles' lap, which she laid aside open to the page where it had been when he fell asleep, Buffy didn't touch the books. There was no telling if Giles had discovered something, and he'd be...peevish...if she disturbed a vital clue.

She called Willow and after she'd caught Will up on the state of things at Giles' apartment, the two chatted about commonplaces for a while, until Buffy heard Giles stir. She hung up the phone and went into the kitchen to brew some tea. Though she much preferred coffee, Giles was, after all, English. She carried the cup carefully up the stairs. As expected, Giles was awake, though at first, he seemed not entirely aware of the fact.

He looked up at her footstep and some clarity came into his eyes. "Buffy? Where did you come from?"

She sat on the edge of the bed. "From where I usually come from." At his look of continued confusion, she sighed. "It's Sunday, sleepy. I always come over on Sundays." The upward tone of her voice on the last word turned the statement into a question. Remember? it asked, without asking.

"Oh, of course." He seemed to notice the cup in her hands. "Is that for me?"

Buffy nodded. "Yup. One hundred percent English tea for my one hundred percent English tea-drinker." She waited until he'd settled himself in an upright position against the pillows, then handed him the mug. He sipped carefully, and made a noncommittal noise.

"What? Not one hundred percent English tea?"

He shook his head. "No, it's fine, thank you, Buffy." He looked around his bedroom. "How did I get up here? I don't remember...."

"Oh, Angel helped me bring you up. You'd fallen asleep on the couch."

"Angel? Is he still here? Surely it's daylight out?"

Buffy kept her face smooth; she'd forgotten that one important detail. "Nope. That was hours ago."

"Indeed." Giles watched her over the rim of his cup, but let the matter go.

"Did you find anything in all your books?"

"Actually, I did," Giles answered. "There was a mention of a demon called Miclos who was associated with children. His minions would mark children for him, and he would crawl down their chimneys and eat them alive. His feast day was, quite literally, a feast day."

"Oh, gross!" Buffy exclaimed. "And this is the saint that Angel was warned about?"

"We can't be certain, of course, but given the warning to guard the children, I'd say he's the most likely candidate."

"He has minions?"

"Yes. The Acolytes of Miclos," Giles answered. He took another sip of his tea. "It's all downstairs."

"And how do these Acolytes mark the victims?"

"I don't know," Giles admitted. "I couldn't find that part. But it would have to be something that also marks the chimneys that Miclos must crawl down."

"So...how long have we got to figure it all out?"

"I believe his feast day is the winter solstice," Giles said.

"So...," Buffy said, taking the tea cup from Giles' hand. "We've got a little bit of time."

"Indeed," Giles answered.

"Oh, good," Buffy said, as she leaned in and kissed him.

~*~*~*~


18 December, Thursday

"So my mom had this women's group meeting at the house the other night and she made me sit through it," Willow was saying as she and Buffy walked through the well-lit Sunnydale Mall after school finishing up Buffy's Christmas shopping. They had still not been able to discover how the Acolytes of Miclos marked those meant to be the Saint's victims, nor had they discovered who the Acolytes were. Everyone was beginning to get snappish, and they'd been through the books so many times that their fingertips were chapped. Buffy had declared an evening off. "We'll figure it out," she'd told the others, "but not if we kill each other first. We all need a break. I'm going shopping." She suspected that Giles and Angel were going to spend some time beating each other up, and Xander would probably end up at the Bronze.

"And there's all the usual sorts of women there," Willow continued, "some of whom are really quite hairy, and this one comes up to me afterward and slips me a business card. 'If you need help,dear,' she says to me, 'come and see me.'"

"Was she coming on to you or something?" Buffy asked, leading the way into the glass-walled elevator. As the elevator began to move, she gazed out at the mall's Christmas decorations, not really paying much attention to them. The elevator was quite near the plastic-and-styrofoam gingerbread house where kids were standing in line with their parents to sit on Santa Claus's knee and get their pictures taken. Further down the mall, she could see other Santas, as well, a few stood over donation pots ringing bells, one sold Christmas decorations in a temporary kiosk, heck, even the rent-a-cops were wearing Santa hats. Everywhere she looked, she could see Santas.

"I don't think so," Willow said slowly, "though she was definitely what Xander would call hot. Very pretty and sort of exotic." She fished the card out of her pocket. "Look, even her name is exotic: Janna Kalderash."

Buffy glanced at the card. "The Magic Box? What's that?"

"Oh, it's a little shop uptown that sells magic stuff."

"What, bunnies, doves, top hats?"

Willow shook her head. "No. Real magic stuff. The women's group is held there sometimes, and there are some of the most amazing things in there."

Buffy looked down at the gingerbread house Santa, far below. As she watched, he handed the boy sitting on his lap a huge, striped lollipop which he took from a kettle full of them near his feet. Buffy drew in a sharp breath as she watched the kid toddle happily to his waiting mother.

"Will," she said slowly, "what if we can't find the Acolytes of Miclos because they're hiding in plain sight?"

"What? Where?" Willow followed Buffy's gaze. "Oh. Oh, no! Oh, that's just so wrong!"

"That's why they call them demons, Will. We need to get hold of one of those lollipops. Wanna go sit on Santa's lap?"

~*~*~*~


19 December, Friday

Buffy couldn't wait until after school to present her theory to Giles. She was in the school library the following morning as soon as she could get into the building. The janitor who unlocked the doors looked at her askance, but she only said that she had a test she needed to study for and he chuckled. "You probably shouldn't have left it this late," he said, not unkindly.

"Well, you know how us kids today are," Buffy answered. She ducked into the library before she heard his response.

Giles was startled to see her there, and frowned thoughtfully when he heard her idea.

"You don't think so," she said, crestfallen.

"What? Oh, no. No, I think you're actually on the right track." He put the lollipop on the library counter, next to where Buffy was sitting. "You haven't tasted this, correct? Only held it?"

"Right. Didn't want to eat something that might make me tasty to a child-eating not-saint."

"Good." Giles then did something Buffy would never have expected. He held his palm over the lollipop and closed his eyes. She watched as his forehead creased in concentration, and when his eyes opened, he pulled his hand back and shook it in distaste. "Yes, definitely magical. I'd say you have finally found the way that the Acolytes mark their victims."

At Buffy's surprised look, he said, shortly. "All Watchers have a modicum of magical training. Some have talent, some do not."

"Do you?"

"Not enough to solve this problem, if that's what you're thinking." He shook his head. "We'll have to do this the old-fashioned way. Perhaps we can find out which children have been marked already and set a watch over them."

"But, Giles, there've been Santa Clauses all over Sunnydale since Thanksgiving, handing these things out. They must have marked nearly every kid in town by now. There's no way we can find them all."

"Then we need to find a way to draw the Saint to us," Giles said.

"I was afraid you were going to say that," Buffy answered. She picked up the lollipop and raised it to her lips.

"No, wait!" Giles said. "Doing that will only mark you as one victim among hundreds, perhaps thousands. There's no way of telling how he chooses. If this is the way we're going to do it, then we need to amplify the marking somehow, make you irresistible to him, so that he has to come to you first."

"What if we could gather a crowd of marked kids?"

"I don't think so. Unless he had a way of immobilizing everyone in the room, how would he manage to feast without the others attacking or at least running away?"

"Good point. Then we need to make me sweeter than everyone else. Not that I'm not already sweeter...."

The bell rang, and Buffy looked up in surprise. "Aw, crap. I've got to go, Giles, I have a test first period."

"Good luck," her Watcher said absently. "I will consider this."

~*~*~


Buffy didn't have time to talk to Willow or Xander until lunch. They sat at their usual table in the cafeteria, away from other students.

"Buffy, there you are," Willow said. "I told Xander about the lollipops. What did Giles say?"

"He thinks our logic is impeccable," Buffy said. "Go us. Unfortunately, he's not sure how that's going to help." She explained the problem to the other two.

"What if you ate a bunch of them?" Xander asked.

"I'd end up with a sugar rush," Buffy answered.

"So," Willow said thoughtfully, "we need magic."

"Looks like it."

"I can't believe Giles knows magic," Xander said. "The G-man has been holding out on us."

"He seemed really uncomfortable about it," Buffy said. "He also said that all Watchers get training and some people have talent and some don't. I guess he doesn't have much and that's why he doesn't want to talk about it."

"What about Miss Kalderash?" Willow asked. "You know, from my mother's women's group? She runs the magic shop. Maybe she can help."

"That's a good idea, Will. If Giles doesn't come up with anything, we'll go over there later."

Which is how Willow and Buffy ended up walking into the Magic Box early that evening. They looked around with interest. The shop seemed to be in a couple of sections; near the front were the sorts of made-in-China merchandise that tourists and teenagers-playing-at-magic would buy: brass stars (inverted and not) on black leather cords, crystals (glass and quartz), incense burners in dozens of different shapes and incense of all kinds. Down a step and into the center of the shop, a counter and display case separated more expensive items and herbs from curious fingers. A table and comfortable seating took up the space near the opposite wall, while further back, fully-stocked bookshelves dominated the back portion of the shop. Some sort of incense hung in the air.

"Sandalwood, I think," Willow whispered, when Buffy sneezed. "Look, that's Miss Kalderash behind the counter."

The woman behind the counter was dark-haired and dark-eyed, dressed in floating shawls and skirts, with several strings of beads around her neck. She looked, in fact, like someone who worked in a magic shop.

"Hello, my dears," she said when she noticed them. "Is there anything I can help you with?"

"Hi, Miss Kalderash. I'm Willow Rosenberg. Sheila's daughter?"

Miss Kalderash smiled. "Hi, Willow. What can I do for you?"

"Well...this is going to sound strange, but, well, we...sort of need your help."

"Let me guess," Miss Kalderash said in a dry voice. "Love spells?"

"Um, no!" Willow said hastily. "Not...love spells? You can do those?"

Miss Kalderash nodded. "Of course. Didn't you know, Willow? I'm a Gypsy. It's what we do. Love spells, curses, foretelling the future. For instance, I can tell that you have a lot of magical potential. And your friend...." All at once, her forehead creased and her head swung toward Buffy. "You are very powerful, aren't you," she said softly. "But your power isn't precisely magical. You're not a witch...oh, my god. You're the Slayer."

"Well," Buffy said to Willow. "I'd say she's the genuine article."

~*~*~*~


An hour later, Miss Kalderash -- "Call me Janna" -- had closed the shop, brewed a pot of tea, and they were settled around the table looking at the striped lollipops that both Willow and Buffy had brought with them. They had told Janna the whole story, from Angel's getting the warning -- she'd turned a little pale at the mention of Angel, until Willow assured her that he was a good vampire -- to receiving the lollipops from the Acolyte Santa Claus yesterday afternoon.

"Amplification," she murmured, touching the candy lightly. Her eyes unfocused and both girls could sense that she was doing something magical. "A trap," she added. "Draw the monster to the Slayer. Make the Slayer irresistible." Her eyes focused again. "Yes, I think I can do it. When do you need it?"

"The Feast of Miclos is on the solstice," Buffy replied.

"Where will you do this?" Janna asked. "Your house?"

"Um. I hadn't actually thought about it," Buffy said. "We do have a fireplace and a chimney, but, well, my mom doesn't know about me. Being the Slayer, that is."

"That must be difficult," Janna said, her eyes sympathetic.

"You have no idea."

"So, it's either tell your mother, get her out of the house and destroy it in her absence, or find somewhere else to do it."

"The school will be closed," Willow said. "Vacation will have started."

"No chimney," Buffy pointed out.

"I don't know that the chimney is a necessary part of the ritual," Janna said. "After all, if we're going to make Buffy sweeter than all the other kids in town, it won't really matter where she is. On the other hand, there's the Hellmouth. Do you really want to do this there?"

"Is there some way to include the Hellmouth in the spell?" Willow asked thoughtfully. "To make it were part of the augmentation? Not to mention that there's more open space in the school."

"True," Buffy said. "Less potential for destruction of property."

"I'll need to get a sense of the properties of the Hellmouth itself," Janna said. "I'll get my keys."

"Now?" Buffy asked, surprised.

"No time like the present," Janna replied. "Besides, I thought we had a deadline?"

~*~*~*~


Buffy wasn't certain what she was expecting, but when they got to the school, Janna didn't want to see the seal of the Hellmouth itself. "No, the energy of it will be quite apparent in the library, and if that's where you intend to draw the Saint, then that's where we'll go."

Buffy shrugged. "Okay. The library is probably best, anyway, as that's where we keep the weapons."

"The librarian must love that," Janna said. "Unless...oh, I see. Your Watcher is the librarian."

Buffy nodded. "His name is Giles."

"He's British," Willow said.

"Yes," Janna said. "He would be."

They walked into the library to find Xander, Angel and Giles all seated around the tables, reading from various thick tomes.

"Ah, Buffy," Giles said, "there you are. And...?"

"This is Janna Kalderash," Buffy said. "She runs the Magic Box uptown. She's going to help us with the amplification spell. Janna, this is Giles, Xander and Angel."

"Hello," Janna said. Buffy noticed that she and Angel exchanged not entirely friendly looks. Well, no. Janna looked not entirely friendly. Angel looked...ashamed? But neither of them said anything. "Buffy tells me that she wants to draw Saint Miclos here, and we thought that we could tie the energy of the Hellmouth itself into the spell to make her extra sweet to the demon."

"Sort of like home-cooking," Xander joked.

"Thanks, Xand," Buffy said. "I hadn't really thought of it that way."

"Hey, what do you care? You'll have a sword, or an axe, or a stake, or...what does it take to kill a demon saint? We haven't really paid too much attention to that part."

Giles took off his glasses. "Oh, I imagine a sword will do the trick. Miss Kalderash? Is there anything you need?"

"No, thank you, Mr. Giles. I just need to get a feeling for the energy of the Hellmouth, then everything else I need is at the shop."

"Very well, then. We'll leave it in your hands. Buffy? If I may have a word with you?"

Buffy followed him into his office where he shut the door. She glanced out the window to find that Angel had moved onto the library's upper tier, well away from Janna. She, however, was completely ignoring him, pacing the area above the Hellmouth with her eyes closed.

"How did you end up at the Magic Box, Buffy?" Giles asked.

"It was Willow's idea. Apparently her mom knows Janna."

"I hope she can help, then," Giles said, "because I've run out of ideas. I also hope she and Angel can get along."

"Huh?"

Giles sighed. "Did you think it was just a coincidence that her last name was Kalderash? Her people are the ones that cursed Angelus with a soul."

"That explains the not-googly eyes that they made at one another. But Angel wouldn't hurt her."

"Indeed. It's not Angel I'm worried about. Well, there's nothing for it. We have to defeat the Saint, and if her help is required to do so, then we must make the best of it."

"So we did good?"

Giles smiled and pulled her into an embrace. "Yes, Slayer. You did good."

"And Willow too?"

"And Willow too."

~*~*~*~


21 December, Sunday

"You know, I'm really not that fond of lollipops," Buffy complained, as she contemplated another piece of the candy in front of her. She'd broken it into smaller pieces in order to eat it. "Especially not Hellmouth-flavored ones. I'm more of a chocolate girl."

"I shall get you a box of chocolates for Christmas," Giles promised.

"One candy at a time, if you don't mind, Giles."

It was early evening on the solstice, well before any children were likely to be abed. They were gathered in the library, everyone watching as Buffy ate the large lollipop. Finally, she finished the last piece.

"Do you feel anything?" Xander asked.

"I feel like I just ate too much candy," Buffy answered. "Yuck. Remind me never to touch another lollipop, ever."

"Now what?" Xander asked eagerly.

"What else?" Giles said. "We wait." He dimmed the lights, and they settled in.

Hours passed. Try though she might, Buffy found herself unable to stay awake. Her eyes would close, and she'd jerk herself awake time and again. Around her, one by one, the others fell asleep, even Angel. Eventually, Buffy's eyes closed. She intended only to rest them....

The lights suddenly went out, plunging the library into darkness, but noone was awake to see it. A glow started near the area over the Hellmouth and smaller lights danced around the room, touching each of the slumbering people. They clustered around the Slayer, who slept on, while in the center of the larger glow, a figure coalesced. It was large, mostly man-shaped, but its mouth was oversized, with cruel fangs, and its long-fingered hands were tipped with sharp, hard talons. Its glowing red eyes tracked immediately to the light-swathed Slayer. It moved to her side, and scented the air around her, sniffing delicately for such a large creature.

"Lovely," it said, in a gravelly voice. "Tasty."

At one of the tables, the sleeping vampire stirred. He woke to find Janna Kalderash's head on his shoulder. He saw the creature scenting the air over the sleeping Slayer, and immediately realized the single flaw in their plan. He disentangled himself from the Gypsy woman and launched himself snarling at the Saint.

They flew across the library and crashed into the weapons cage. The noise woke the others -- with the exception of the Slayer.

"Giles!" Willow called, her voice squeaky with fear, "what's wrong with Buffy?"

"It must be part of the spell," Giles replied. He touched Buffy's neck. "Her pulse is strong. It's an enchanted sleep, probably to keep his victims from struggling."

"A little help, here!" Angel called, from where he and the demon were struggling.

Giles snatched up Buffy's sword and strode into the fray. His and Angel's hard work paid off as Angel shoved the demon away, and with one sweeping stroke, Giles decapitated it. The head bounced off toward the library's doors; the body collapsed where it fell; blue-black blood pooled under it.

Buffy woke with a start. "Is it here, yet? Giles? Angel? What?"

Giles laughed tiredly. "It seems you have a new title, Slayer."

"Which is?"

"Bait," Angel said succinctly.

"Great," Buffy said, yawning as she took in the dead demon. "At least I got a nap out of it."

"That's right, Buffy, look on the positive side," Willow said.

"That's me," Buffy said. "Positive lass. Now, can we go home? I'd really like to sleep in a proper bed."

~*~*~*~


22 December, Monday

Mayor Wilkins walked into his office on Monday morning to a report from his assisant on the Saint business. The Slayer and her little cadre -- with help from one of the local business owners -- had taken care of the problem. He smiled. "Excellent. Although I don't suppose we'll be commending Ms. Kalderash for her participation. Pity, though. I do appreciate civic spirit."

Humming, he filed the report and went back to the regular day-to-day business of running a town.

~*~*~*~


Author's Notes: I realize that this is probably pretty far afield from the prompt as requested by [livejournal.com profile] teenagewitch, so I hope she doesn't mind too much.

This is obviously an alternate universe created by a "justice" demon, based on Wesley's wish -- which he didn't really mean, of course, but, oh well. Too late. However, in order to keep track of the various differences of the AU, I decided to limit the characters I was dealing with. So Wesley himself hasn't yet come to Sunnydale. In fact, this story takes place in what would be the "real" world's second season, slightly before Oz and Cordelia joined the Scooby Gang. This allows me to use Mayor Wilkinson, because he's still mayor, but not quite ready for Ascension.

Because Buffy and Giles are together, Buffy and Angel are not. This means that Angel will not lose his soul, and Angelus will not be released...at least, not by Buffy. Which, now that I think about it, might mean that Kendra survives and Faith is not called. Huh. Janna Kalderash's (whom we know as Jenny Calendar, of course) presence in Sunnydale is actually a bit of a coincidence.

The lollipops were a bit of inspiration tacked on at the end, as I'd started to write myself into a corner with the "marking" of the Saint's victims, and time was running out.

Oh, and for what it's worth, I'm treating alternate universes somewhat differently than in the episode "The Wish" where Anya states that the AU created by Cordelia's wish that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale is the real world now. I'm treating them as they do in Stargate SG1 where every fifth or sixth episode seems to involve an alternate universe or alternate timeline or whatever, and, in one memorable episode where there are nineteen versions of SG1 running around the SGC.
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