Disclaimers; The Sunnydale gang belongs as always to Joss Whedon. The Grinch was created by a wonderful human being named Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. Dr. Greene and Nurse Brackett are the creations of Shyfox.
Author's note; I'm back, Shyfox! This story takes place in Shyfox's Sappho's Spell series, between "Unexpected Surprises"(Oz's return) and "Christmas In Your Heart"(the Christmas story, duh). This is my Christmas story for you this year.
Feedback; jingle my bells at Jim_D_Means@prodigy.net.
Rating; a very mild PG. If you didn't know that Sappho's Spell centers around two women in a long term loving relationship, with a physical aspect(ie, sex), then where were you?
The song at the beginning of this story is available on the CD "A Very Special Christmas Volume III".
Summary; All the Scoobs down in Sunnydale like Christmas a lot, but an old friend of Giles' arrives, who does not...

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THE SUNNYDALE GRINCH
Written by Kirayoshi

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"Comes the time for Christmas,
And I feel that I should ask,
If this is being merry
Tell me how long must it last.
I wish a one-horse open sleigh
Would come and carry me away,
And I've been waiting here all day
And still one hasn't come my way.

Forgive me if I'm not seeming reverent,
But I'm hoping for a miracle to hold me, wash me,
Save me from my righteous doubt,
As I stand here helpless and everybody sings;
If it's Chanukah or Kwanzaa,
Solstice, Harvest, or December the Twenty-fifth,
Peace on Earth to everyone,
And abundance to everyone you're with!"

--Blues Traveler
"Christmas"

Sunnydale General Hospital
4:30 pm, December 23, 1999

Molly Brubaker sat by her mother, dejectedly kicking the leg of her chair, looking down the same corridor she had been looking down for the last two weeks. Doctors and nurses passed her without noticing, except for one nurse who gave her some coloring books and some crayons to pass the time while waiting for Dr. Greene to tell them whether they could see her father. Nurse Bracket, that was her name. She was nice.

Molly hated her. She hated everyone here.

She hated being here. She hated waiting outside of her father's hospital room. She hated being in her father's room, watching her daddy lying unconscious, his head bandaged, his arm in a cast, all those machines beeping and flashing around him. She hated that her father needed those machines to live. She hated that she had to wait here with her mother instead of being outside playing, the way children were supposed to be doing during the school's holiday break.

And above else, she hated that it was two days before Christmas.

Her mother was too busy dealing with her father's hospitalization, talking with doctors, filling out forms, and waiting, always waiting, to put up the Christmas Tree, to buy any presents, to do anything for the holidays. She knew that Christmas wasn't coming for her this year, that she wasn't getting any gifts, that she would be waiting here, in the hospital waiting room for her father to get better. Which he wouldn't. She overheard the doctors whispering when they thought she was sleeping beside her mother. She heard one say that Mr. Brubaker would very likely not pull out of his coma. That the construction accident had left him too damaged to recover fully, if at all.

So, instead of getting gifts and giving gifts, instead of singing carols and watching Charlie Brown, this year, she would be losing her father.

She hated Christmas.

"Molly, hello," Nurse Brackett nudged her quietly, her voice calm and soothing as she tried to console the child. "I thought that you would like to know that there is a Christmas party in the children's ward, if you would like to attend. There will be games and prizes, and Santa will be there."

Molly looked up, glancing briefly at the nurse, and then to her mother. "Go, honey," her mother said gently. Molly looked at her mother, who was valiantly hiding her sadness and fear from her daughter, and then reluctantly followed Nurse Brackett to the party.

As promised, many children were present, playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, Simon Says, Blind Man's Bluff, Charades, all laughing, all happy. Molly just allowed the merriment to wash over her, remaining undisturbed in her anger.

"Ho, ho, ho!" a booming voice broke through her reverie. Molly spun on her heel, to be greeted by a large man in a red fur suit. The beard looked genuine, she gave him credit for that. Spirit gum, not a clip on. Santa took Molly by the hand, asking, "Have you been a good girl for Christmas?"

"Yeah," she muttered in response.

"Well then," the Santa announced happily. "I have a gift for you." He rummaged through his bag, and withdrew a small gaudily wrapped package. Handing the box to Molly with a flourish, Santa said, "This is something special, just for you."

Molly dejectedly unwrapped the package, and lifted the lid of the small box. She gazed at the translucent blue gemstone within, it's color seeming to draw her eyes into its surface.

"That is a special stone, my child," Santa said warmly. "It's a wishing stone. Hold onto it tightly and make a wish."

Molly looked around to thank the strange man, but he had vanished quickly. She looked at the blue stone, thinking of her wish.

She had considered wishing for her father to get well, but she knew that would never happen. There was no such thing as magic, or wishes, that much was stolen from her when a crane hook slammed into her father's head. She remembered sadly when the news came of her father's hospitalization. She had been watching "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", when the phone call came, with the terrible news.

She could only think of the Grinch as she held the blue stone.

And like the Grinch before her, she got a wonderful, awful idea.

"I wish the Grinch really would steal Christmas!" she whispered intently, funneling all her frustration into a simple, angry wish.

No one else noticed that the Christmas party had simply ceased. The foyer was empty, the doctors and nurses that had been entertaining the children were simply not there anymore. The Christmas tree, the garlands, the lights, they were simply gone, as though they had never existed. It was as though the party never was.

And from a distance, a Santa laughed. Not with a familiar "Ho ho ho", but a sinister laugh. Mocking, malevelent, triumphant.

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Buffy Summers hadn't planned on buying Oz a Christmas gift that year. She was still put out with him for leaving Willow, and angrier for his returning.

But two things happened. One, she realized that if he hadn't left Sunnydale in the first place, she and Willow might not have gotten together.

And two, while passing a sheet music shop at the Sunnydale Mall, Buffy noticed a book of guitar chords for songs from the latest REM album, something she knew that Oz would like.

Deciding to be mature, Buffy plunked down the money for the guitar book, and with this new treasure, she left to meet Giles and Xander. It was two days before Christmas, and she had finally finished the last of her gift shopping. Her bag had grown heavy with assorted presents, half of which were for Willow and the baby she was carrying.

But as she headed out for the food court, she passed by the jewelery store one last time. She tried to avert her eyes, but she couldn't avoid looking in longing at the one-carat diamond solitare in the display case. So simple, so elegant, so beautiful. So much like Willow.

She had purchased a Chanukah gift for Willow from that same jewelry shop two weeks ago, a charm bracelet. The bracelet contained three seperate charms; a witches hat, for the spell that brought Willow and Buffy together in the first place; a rocking horse, for the baby that resulted from the spell; and a heart, for the love that Buffy had always felt for her beloved Wiccan. As she selected the charms, she asked, half-jokingly, what the price was for the diamond ring. The clerk's answer nearly caused Buffy to jump out of her skin. Way too steep, even if she handn't blown most of her savings on gifts for Willow and the others already.

She had fantasized about asking her beloved Willow to marry her. She had the speech prepared, the time picked out, all she needed was the ring. And it would be a long time before she ever could afford a ring, especially one that Willow deserved. Now, she postponed her plans to pop the question. Without a ring, it didn't feel right.

Buffy shook off these sad thoughts, reminded herself that Christmas was coming, and headed back to the food court. She saw Xander and Giles, chatting in front of the Wacko Taco, Xander gulping down a thirty-two ounce cup of Coca-Cola. "I'm telling you, Giles," Xander announced happily, "Mr. Magoo was the best Scrooge ever, and I'll take you on anytime, anywhere to defend him!"

"Philistine," Giles puffed amusedly. "The definitive Ebenezer Scrooge was still Alastair Sim."

"In your dreams, buddy." At this point Buffy had gotten close enough to participate in the conversation, and Xander took her by the arm. "Settle this for us, Buff. Best Scrooge ever; Mr. Magoo or Alastair Sim?"

Buffy looked at both expectant faces, thinking for a second. "Actually," she answered, "I saw one a few years ago with George C Scott that I liked. I know Willow�s big on the Muppets version with Michael Caine."

Xander threw his hands up in defeat, while Giles mused. "I don't think I ever saw either of those. But George C. Scott is a fine actor. Perhaps you may have this production on video?"

"I think Mom has a copy," Buffy offered. "Maybe tonight."

"Uh, before we do that," Xander offered, "ya guys mind if I bring a vid with me to your place?" He produced a video from his shopping bag. "An early Christmas gift for Willow," he showed Buffy the tape. On the video cover, Charlie Brown stood proudly next to his scraggly little tree, while Snoopy slept on top of his decorated dog house.

Buffy smiled as she recalled last year, when Willow described a holiday tradition that she and Xander shared every year; they would sneak out and watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" together, and Xander would do his version of the Snoopy dance. "Hey, It wouldn't be Christmas without this gem," Xander proclaimed.

"Good call, Xander," Buffy nodded as she returned the video to her friend. "Willow's gonna love it." Xander reached to take the video from Buffy's hand, when a green flash suddenly appeared between them. Before Buffy could blink, the video was gone. Xander looked around, and asked Buffy, "What was that?"

"What was what?" Buffy asked. "And what happened to the tape?"

"I dunno," Xander said quickly. He looked into his shopping bag, and gasped. "Hoo boy! The gifts I bought you guys are gone!"

Buffy suddenly noticed that her shopping bag had grown lighter. "Hey, so are my gifts!" Giles glanced inside his bag, and his eyes widened. "As are mine, along with the mulling spices I had bought at the gourmet shop. I thought I�d prepare some hot mulled cider and popcorn."

Buffy glanced around, and located the music store. She rushed back to the store, and tried to flag down the clerk. "Excuse me, ma'am," she asked the clerk, "Did I leave here with a copy of the REM; New Adventures in Hi-Fi songbook?"

The clerk looked at Buffy, appraising her with a critical eye. "I don't recall seeing you here, miss. If you're trying to shoplift here, I'd suggest that you leave now."

"No, ma'am, I have a receipt." Buffy fished through her pockets but couldn't find the slip of paper. "At least I had a receipt," she grinned sheepishly. "No, you were here, it was just ten minutes ago. I had bought the songbook for a Chistmas gift for a friend--"

"Look, missy," the clerk answered, not even trying to hide her irritation, "if you're not here to purchase anything, I suggest you leave."

"Fine," Buffy muttered angrily, "Merry Christmas to you too!"

"Yeah, whatever," the clerk said absently.

As Buffy left the music store in a huff, she looked around the mall, and stopped suddenly. She started to notice something strange. The garish decorations that had covered every available inch of space on the walls were gone. The green garlands, the strands of lights, the holiday displays, all were missing. She made her way back to the food court, where she had noticed the mall Santa Claus holding court on the center of the floor. The Santa, his throne, the line of children waiting to talk to Santa, all were gone. As though they had never been there.

She glanced around her, and located Giles and Xander, and rushed up to them. "Guys, guys," she said hurriedly, "something's wrong here."

"Yes, Buffy, we noticed," Giles answered. "The holiday displays are missing. Even the background music has changed." Buffy listened, and sure enough, the music had changed. From Vince Giuraldi's jazz piano version of "O Tannembaum" to Hootie and the Blowfish. "Xander and I just spoke to mall security," Giles answered, "and the guard looked at us as though he didn't know what we were talking about."

"Okay, this is getting Hellmouthy," Buffy said. "You guys see anyone make off with the decorations?"

Xander hesitated, but Buffy glared at him, forcing the young man to confess his observations. "I thought I saw someone grab a wreath from the display at the Hallmark store. But it was so fast, I thought I was seeing things. Especially since--"

"Since what, Xander?" Giles insisted.

"Since the figure taking the wreath was green and furry," he half-whispered. "Buffy, he looked like the Grinch."

Buffy looked at Xander oddly. "The Grinch, Xander?" she asked. "As in Dr. Seuss?"

"Cuddly as a cactus, charming as an eel, that's the guy!"

"Hmm," Giles answered. "Not much to go on, but it's a start. Perhaps a demon is using this Grinch character as a template for his activities. But why would he affect people's minds like this?"

"I say we get back home," Buffy suggested, slipping into full-Slayer mode, "get Willow in on it, and do the research thing. I wanna get this over with quick, so we can get back to doing Christmas."

The three friends left the mall, and prepared to once again face the unknown.

========

As Giles drove them home, Buffy and Xander looked outside of the car window, observing the streets and houses around them. Most of the houses by Buffy�s home were decorated with strings of lights, plastic nativity figures, cardboard reindeer and other symbols of the season. None of them remained. They weren�t stolen or vandalized, they simply didn�t exist.

As Giles pulled into Joyce�s driveway, Buffy and Xander jumped out of the car, and bounded into the house. They were startled by the bare walls and tabletops. Before, when Buffy and Willow had moved in with Joyce, Buffy had prepared to make the holiday season extra-special for Willow. The two of them had decked the halls to the nines, the centerpieces of their efforts being a large Christmas tree crammed with ornaments and lights, and a menorah prominently displayed in the window. Now, there was nothing. No tree, no menorah, no gifts, no evidence at all of any holidays.

Oz was rummaging through the living room, searching. Buffy asked the young werewolf, "What�s happening, Oz?"

"The Christmas stuff�s missing," Oz answered. "I�m checking around to see what else is gone. Willow�s upstairs, your mom�s in the kitchen."

Buffy headed for the kitchen, to see her mother peering into the cabinets. As Joyce turned to her daughter, Buffy could see worry etching lines in her face.

"Mom," Buffy started, "you know what the day after tomorrow is, right?"

"Christmas, honey," Joyce answered, causing Buffy to sigh with relief; at least someone remembered that it was Christmas. "But something�s happened. All of the decorations and gifts have disappeared."

"Yeah, I know, it�s happening around town as near as I can figure. Only most people don�t even seem to know that it�s Christmas."

"I sent Oz and Willow around the house to do a quick inventory," Joyce continued. "So far in the kitchen, we�ve lost the turkey, the cranberry sauce, all the food for Christmas dinner. And check this out," she added, pulling a box of microwave popcorn out of the cupboard. "I bought this for tonight, and the box had a winter scene on the front, sort of a holiday promotional. But now, same box, but no holiday images."

"Weird. Looks like Sunnydale�s got its own Grinch on its hands," Buffy commented. Before Joyce could respond to Buffy�s observation, a terrifying scream echoed through the house from upstairs.

"Willow!" Buffy shouted, and bounded up the stairs, three at a time. "Willow! You okay?" She ran into the bedroom that they shared, only to see Willow sitting on the bed, fear and despair playing on her face. She tried to turn away from Buffy, but Buffy gently sat next to her on the bed, and coaxed Willow to face her. "Willow?" she asked, concern tinting her features.

Willow looked at her beloved, tear tracks clearly visible on her face, her bright green eyes shot with red from crying. "Buffy, I--I," she stammered, desperately trying to get the words out. "I lost it. It�s gone."

Buffy�s heart stopped in her chest. She looked again at her beloved�s terrified features, and heard again her words in her head, and came to one terrible conclusion.

Somehow, Willow had suffered a miscarriage.

Instantly, Buffy scooped Willow in her arms, cradling her as gently as she could, much to Willow�s surprise. Before the redhead could react, Buffy carried her out of the room, shouting, "Call 911, now! Giles, we gotta get Willow to the hospital!"

"My God!" he whispered, as Xander and Oz rushed to Buffy�s side. "What�s happened?"

"Uh, Buffy?" Willow tried to get Buffy�s attention.

"Willow lost the baby," Buffy answered, determined not to cry, but failing to hide the despair from her voice."

"BUFFY!" Willow shouted. Buffy fell silent as the exasperated Willow continued. "I didn�t lose the baby! When I said �I lost it�, I was talking about the charm bracelet you gave me for Chanukah!"

Buffy stood stock still as Willow�s words seeped in. Her look of shock and despair slowly metamorphosed into a hard glare. "Willow! Way to give me a heart attack!"

"Sorry, Buffy," Willow answered sheepishly, as she slowly extricated herself from Buffy�s arms and stood up again. "I was just shocked is all. I mean, I hadn�t taken it off once since you gave it to me. Not even in the shower, or going to bed."

"Shh, it�s okay, love," Buffy calmed herself and spoke to Willow in loving tones, holding her and stroking her silky red hair. "I might have over-reacted." The others by now had breathed a sigh of relief, and Joyce had put the phone down before rejoining the others.

"Okay, getting back to the matter at hand," Giles said, once the emergency passed, "does anyone have any idea what is happening? Joyce, have you seen anything or anyone who may be behind the disappearances?"

"Well," Joyce hedged a little, not sure how to phrase what she saw. "I had seen something, but I didn�t believe it. It looked like a large green figure, wearing a red Santa Claus suit."

"You mean the Grinch?" Xander looked at Buffy�s mom, cracking a lop-sided smile in the process. "I thought I saw him skulking around the mall."

Giles looked unsurprised at Joyce�s explanation of the thefts. "Are you certain of this, Joyce?"

"As sure as I can be, Rupert," Joyce admitted. "But how can it be possible? I mean, I�ll buy vampires, demons, werewolves, that sort of thing, but the Grinch? I mean, that�s just a children�s story."

"I dunno, Joyce," Willow offered. "Some of the demons we�ve faced have their basis in stories. Remember Hank and Greta?"

"I�d prefer to forget them," Joyce admitted. The memory of trying to burn both Buffy and Willow at the stake, when she was controlled by what they had later called the Gingerbread demon, was something that haunted Joyce�s nightmares for some time after.

"Well, they were the inspiration for Hansel and Gretel. Maybe there�s some big skanky monster that inspired the Grinch."

"Or perhaps, Willow," Giles argued, "it�s the other way around."

Buffy thought briefly over Giles� words. "You saying that some demon�s getting his M.O. from Dr. Seuss? Should we be worried about Big Bird sightings next?"

"Not quite, Buffy, but it is possible that the Dr. Seuss story is being used as a template," Giles explained, slipping into full Watcher mode. "There exists something called �spiritus mundi�, and please, Xander," he added hurriedly, "don�t say gesundheit." Xander had opened his mouth to speak, but then shut up quickly.

"Spiritus mundi?" Buffy asked, "sounds like a name for a Bond girl." Giles suppressed an urge to smirk, and prepared to explain.

"World memory," Oz translated.

"Yes, that�s right," Giles added. "It�s like a racial memory. There are certain concepts that are so universal that they can be understood at a primal level. The handshake, for example, is universally seen as a token of friendship. And as certain figures and names pass into universal recognition, they become part of this racial memory."

"So you�re saying some fictional characters are so popular," Xander guessed, "that anyone in the world can recognize them."

"Precisely," Giles answered. "They become real, beyond the written or spoken word that birthed them. Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Superman, these figures may be fictional, may even be copyrighted, but to many, they are as real as you or I."

"Yes, I read something like that," Joyce said. "Some reports that a ghost had been sighted repeatedly around the area of 221 Baker Street in London. The ghost of Sherlock Holmes. And this despite the fact that Sherlock Holmes never really existed, outside of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle�s imagination."

"My point exactly, Joyce," Giles answered. "It is possible that what ever force is responsible for erasing Christmas from the memories of the town has used the common memory of the Grinch, either from the book or the cartoon, to inspire its actions."

"But why do we remember the holidays, Rupert?" Joyce asked worriedly. In a tiny corner of Buffy's mind, it occurred to her how odd it was that her mother was calling Giles by his first name.

"Because we're kinda immune," Xander answered. "We know what's out there, while the rest of Sunnydale lives in beautiful downtown Denial." The others nodded. Even Joyce, who had labored under the same cloud of denial for the first two years she lived in Sunnydale, until that terrible night when she saw her daughter spear a man through the heart with a wooden stake, and her victim decomposed into a pile of ash within a second.

Giles somehow understood the look on Joyce's face. He gently touched her shoulder, saying, "I understand, dear. At present, however, we should address the problem of how to fight the Grinch. Now, perhaps there is a clue in the original Dr. Seuss text. I must admit that I'm not entirely familiar with the story. Does anyone else remember whether the Grinch was defeated, and if so, how?"

"The Whos sang," Oz offered.

"The Whos?" Giles asked, puzzled.

Buffy rolled her eyes at the question. "The Whos down in Whoville, Giles," she explained. "They sang, even though their presents and Christmas stuff was stolen. The Grinch planned to destroy all the stuff he had stolen, and wanted to hear the Whos cry when they found out that he had taken their Christmas from them, but they still sang. That's how he knew that he hadn't stopped Christmas from coming."

"Because the Whos refused to let their misfortune get to them," Giles mused. "And then what happened the Grinch?"

"Well, he kinda got anti-commercialism on us. The big moral of the story sunk in then;
'Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store,
'Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more'."

"Yeah," Xander offered. "Then the Grinch's heart grew three sizes, and he returned all their stuff."

"Hmm," Giles thought aloud. "A noble sentiment, albeit rather a simplistic solution."

"Hey," Willow defended, "it's a children's story, what do you want?"

Buffy's eyes widened with inspiration. "But it could still work." The others turned to her, as she started to explain her plan. "Look, the Grinch has taken Christmas away from Sunnydale, right? So what if we still celebrate Christmas right here? Let the Grinch know that someone's still partying. We sing some carols, Mom, you got that microwave popcorn, we've got to have some thread and a needle around here somewhere, we can make popcorn garlands and string them up on the windows."

"You're saying we make a sort of Grinch trap, Buffy?" Xander asked.

"You got it, Xander," Buffy smiled. "We flush out the Grinch, have him try and steal Christmas from us, and then we find out what the demon's real game plan is."

The others made noises of agreement, and even Giles nodded. "The plan has merit, Buffy. Well, who wants to start?"

Without missing a beat, Xander started singing a loud chorus of "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer", causing Buffy and Willow to cringe. Joyce immediately left for the kitchen to start the popcorn.

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Fifteen minutes later, they had enough popcorn to make some generously sized garlands, even after Xander scarfing a good portion of it. Joyce located some strong thread, some scissors and a couple of good needles, and Buffy and Willow set down to the task of stringing up pieces of popped corn.

As they worked, they sang a wide assortment of Christmas songs. Giles led them in a chorus of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", while Willow recalled a few more secular songs, like "Frosty the Snowman" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Xander surprised the others by singing a halfway decent version of "Oh Holy Night," followed by Elton John's "Step Into Christmas." Oz added a version of "I Believed in Father Christmas" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Joyce had begun to lead the others in a rendition of "I Saw Three Ships," when a sudden gust of wind blew into the living room. Like a living tornado, the visitor spun around the room, collecting the garlands that Buffy and Willow had draped across the windows. "No Christmas this year!" the fiend shouted, as he stopped his manic motion and stood before Buffy and her friends.

He matched the description of the title character of Dr. Seuss�s book perfectly. Tall, lanky, pot-bellied, his fur a sickly green. All that was missing was a poor dog with an antler tied to his head. Buffy regarded the apparition before her with her usual nonchalance. "So you�re the Grinch. Sorry, but I always preferred the Lorax."

"Well poo-poo to you, little Buffy Lou Who," the Grinch chortled at the Slayer�s bravado, extending a long, shaggy finger and touching Buffy�s nose. "I�ve taken your Christmas, so what can you do?"

The others looked at this weird tableau, wondering how it was going to turn out. But as the Grinch spoke, Giles mentally kicked himself, recognizing the storybook fugitive�s voice. "Oh, cut the theatrics and the rhyme scheme, Ethan, they don�t suit you!"

The Grinch spun on his heels, regarding Giles with jaundiced, yellow eyes. He smiled hugely, and suddenly his face and body shifted, morphing into the more familiar, yet just as unwelcome, figure of a former friend of the Watcher.

"It took you long enough, Rupert," Ethan Rayne spoke, his voice dripping with contempt. "And don�t tell me that you�ve taken up with the tart on the police car!" Giles suddenly started to fly out toward Ethan, only to be held back by Buffy. "Don�t kill him yet, Giles," she spoke intently, calming her mentor down. "Not until he�s undone his latest scam."

"You think you can stop me, little girl?" Ethan snarled angrily at Buffy. "You�re going to have more trouble than you can imagine come Christmas morning. When I release the memory blocks that my little spell has placed on the peasants of Sunnydale, and when they realize that all of their Christmas things are gone, oh, the carnage, the chaos. It will be glorious."

Buffy glared at Ethan, her eyes flashing fire. "You�re going to reverse the spell now, and return what you have taken." Willow, Oz and Xander flanked the Slayer, and the four of them moved threateningly toward Ethan.

"Ah, but it wasn�t my spell now!" Ethan squeaked, as his own cowardice rose. "I can�t lift it. Don�t come any closer!" The Scoobs moved in on Ethan, who suddenly spread his arms wide about him, unleashing vast levels of chaos magic. The nimbus of mystic energy engulfed him and the four young people, then disappeared in a flash of eldritch light. When the smoke and haze dispersed, Joyce and Giles stared at where the others had been. There was nothing there, not even a scorch on the floor to indicate where they had been.

"Oh, no," Joyce breathed. "You don�t think that terrible man had killed them, do you?" She remembered the horror stories that Buffy and Giles had told her about the chaos mage Ethan Rayne. And Joyce could still recall the enchanted band candy that caused her and Giles to behave like immature teens. She glanced at Giles at the thought, smiling inwardly.

"I don�t believe so," Giles said. "Ethan�s insane, true, but he doesn�t have the stomach for murder. He delights in chaos, but is at heart a coward. No, Joyce, knowing Ethan like I do, he�s taken them somewhere to gloat on his latest scheme." At least, he hoped so. He didn�t like the alternatives.

========

When the smoke cleared, Buffy, Willow and Xander coughed briefly, and glanced around them. "Welcome to where it all began," Ethan chuckled. "Here in Sunnydale General Hospital."

Buffy surveyed her surroundings, and indeed, they were in a hospital waiting room. Willow and Xander looked around as well, and Xander stopped suddenly. "Oh my God, Molly?" he breathed, as he saw a little girl sitting alone on one of the chairs.

The girl looked up, and the others could see the tear tracks that streamed down her face. "Xander?" she asked timidly.

"You know her, Xander?" Willow asked.

"Yeah, Molly Brubaker," Xander answered. "You know my part-time job at the construction company? Her dad was my foreman. Steve Brubaker, he was a good guy. She visited the site every so often with her mom, Leah." The sadness that tinged Xander�s voice was noted by the two women.

"You said that he was your foreman?" Buffy asked. "What happened?"

"An accident last week," Xander said solemnly. "Took a crane hook to the temple. Poor guy�s lying in ICU, on life-support. Last word was he wasn�t expected to make it past tomorrow."

"Oh, Goddess," Willow breathed. "Poor kid. Losing her daddy on Christmas." Oz silently agreed with his ex-girlfriend. He snarled at Ethan, wishing that he could unleash the wolf within him to subdue this fiend.

"And when I saw her," Ethan answered gleefully, "I couldn�t resist. She wanted to take Christmas away, since her holidays were marred by her father�s imminent demise. I had my inspiration."

"Shut your pie-hole!" Buffy hissed at Ethan. "You disgust me! This is low, even by your standards!" Willow, Oz and Xander agreed wholeheartedly with the Slayer. To use a suffering child to bring about more suffering, that was truly evil.

Willow, however, could see that the child herself was not evil. Molly was only hurting. She went to the child, and asked her, "What did he do to you?"

"He was Santa Claus," Molly answered, and the girl�s sad voice tore at Willow�s heart. She thought to the daughter that she was bearing, and prayed to whatever diety was taking calls at the time that she would be up to the task of comforting her own daughter if she was ever this hurt.

"The bad man was Santa?" Willow asked.

"He gave me a Christmas gift," she said meekly, holding out the small opal that she had clutched. "He said it was a wishing stone. I wished for the Grinch."

"And your wish came true," Xander answered, stepping in front of the child.

"No it didn�t," Molly said defiantly. "Wishes don�t come true. I wished and wished for my daddy to be well, and it didn�t come true."

"Can I see your wishing stone, Molly?" Willow asked, holding out her hand. Molly looked at the red haired woman, and decided that she could trust her. She gave up her treasure to the young witch.

"Don�t touch that, youUNGH!" Ethan�s outburst was stopped by Buffy swinging her arm hard into his midsection. "Ethan," Buffy commented, "you�re so lucky that you�re in a hospital, because you�re this close to needing a doctor." Ethan tried to rush Buffy again, only to be suddenly restrained by Oz.

Buffy then turned to her love and asked, "Anything, Wills?"

"Yeah," Willow answered calmly. "It�s a talisman. It amplifies the powers of the mage who uses it. My guess is that Ethan gave the stone to Molly, hoping that she�d make her wish out of anger. Since his powers are based on chaos magic, naturally the wishes will be evil."

"So how do we undo Ethan�s whammy?" Xander asked.

"I give it back to her," Willow said simply. "Now, the stone will amplify my power instead of Ethan�s." Willow gave the stone back to Molly, saying, "Here, Molly, the wishing stone wasn�t working right, but I just fixed it for you. Now then, look into your heart. If you could make one special wish, one from your heart, what would it be?"

Molly stared intently into the opal, which seemed brighter than it had before. She closed her eyes and held the stone tightly in her hands. She nodded her head, and said, loud and clear, "I wish for a Merry Christmas!"

"No, no, no!" Ethan moaned as he tried to break free from the orderlies. But his protestations were too little, too late. A Christmas tree appeared next to Buffy, then a wreath on the door, then all of the Christmas decorations that had been stolen by Ethan the Grinch. Buffy smiled, and then thought to locate a pay phone.

She deposited a quarter, dialed home, and when her mother answered the phone, asked, "Mom? Anything happen back home?"

"Buffy!" she could hear her mom�s relief. "Where did you all go?"

"Sunnydale General, Mom, it�s a long story. How about back home?"

"Well," Joyce answered, "whatever you guys did, it seems to have worked. All of the decorations and gifts have returned." As she heard her mother�s confirmation of their success, Buffy glanced back at Willow, who was suddenly excited about something. Grinning happily, she raised her right arm, and displayed her charm bracelet to Buffy.

"Good," Buffy answered. "We�ll be back shortly. I think this story�s not done yet." As she said goodbye to her mom and hung up, she turned back to her friends, only to notice a commotion around the ICU entrance. Several doctors rushed in, and Leah and Molly Brubaker looked on apprehensively.

Ten minutes later, Doctor Greene emerged from the ICU, a shocked expression on his face. "Mrs. Brubaker? I have good news for you. Your husband seems to have emerged from his coma. I can�t explain his recovery, but he�s awake and alert. He has been asking for you and your daughter."

At these words, Buffy felt a lightness enter her soul. Knowing that Molly wouldn�t lose her daddy this Christmas was worth all the aggravation of dealing with Ethan. She looked back at Oz, and waved him off. "Don�t worry about him, he�s harmless." Oz, after appraising Buffy�s eyes, knew what she was planning, and dropped Ethan.

Buffy nodded at the fallen mage, a look of cold contempt on her face. "I�m going to give you a Christmas gift, Ethan," Buffy announced. "You have until the twenty-sixth to get out of town. I see you around town after then, I will deck your halls. Do we understand each other?"

Ethan hung his head in defeat, and nodded silently. He shook off the orderlies, and walked away from Buffy, exiting the hospital silently. Buffy acknowledged his departure with a grim satisfaction, as she and Oz returned to Willow and Xander.

"Hey, Buffy!" Xander announced happily. "It looks like Steve�s gonna make it. The doctors gave him a complete checkup, and they�re expecting him to make a full recovery from his injuries."

"Oh, good," Buffy smiled. "How�s Molly?"

"See for yourself," Willow motioned for Buffy to join her. Buffy, Willow, Xander and Oz looked into the window of the ICU, and saw Leah sitting next to her husband, while Molly happily sat on the bed next to her daddy. Steve Brubaker wasn�t yet at full strength, but he still held his daughter�s hand, and talked happily with his family. Molly�s face was radiant, her eyes sparkling with happiness.

Buffy and Willow were distracted by a sniffling sound. They turned to see Xander dabbing at his eye. "I love happy endings, don�t you guys?"

"Yeah, Xander," Buffy said happily. Willow agreed, holding Buffy a little closer. Oz just raised an eyebrow, reminding the others of Mr. Spock.

As they were watching the family reunited, Molly jumped down from the bed, and excused herself for a second. She walked out of the ICU, and toward Buffy. "Are you Buffy?" she asked.

"Yeah, that�s me," Buffy answered.

"Willow talked about you. You�re her friend, right?"

"Yeah, her best friend," Buffy said. And so much more, she thought, but she didn�t want to confuse the child at this time.

"I think that you should keep this," Molly said, taking Buffy�s hand and placing the wishing stone in her palm. She kissed Buffy on the cheek, and said, "I wish you a Merry Christmas, too."

"Thanks, Molly," Buffy smiled at the girl. "And Merry Christmas to you and your folks as well." Molly hugged Buffy once more, then ran back to her parents.

Buffy looked at the stone, as the others were engrossed in watching the Brubakers. Before Buffy could summon Willow to show her the stone, the stone seemed to shimmer, to move in her hand. Buffy blinked at the sight, and suddenly she realized that she wasn�t holding a stone.

She was holding a small ring box. Opening the ring box, she almost dropped it when she examined the contents. A full carat diamond solitaire, with two matching wedding bands. She gawked at the ring, trying to imagine how it got in her hand. She could only think that Molly had somehow empowered the stone for one last wish. A wish for Buffy�s happiness.

"Hey, Buffy," Willow looked at her distracted lover, who managed to stash the ring box before Willow could notice it. "We�d better head for home. I�ll call Joyce and Giles for a lift home, then we can watch that video Xander says he got for tonight."

"Oh, yeah," Xander announced. "There will be Snoopy-dancing tonight!"

"Good idea, Wills," Buffy answered, kissing the tip of Willow�s nose. She said nothing about the ring, preparing for what she would say on Christmas morning.

That evening, Buffy and her extended family enjoyed Charlie Brown and A Christmas Carol, drinking mulled apple cider and scarfing more popcorn, then she wrapped the last of the gifts she had bought. She privately dropped the ring box in a secret place in her bureau, where even Willow wouldn�t see it.

The next night, Christmas Eve, after Buffy and Willow had made love, Buffy snuggled into Willow�s arms, never wanting to lose that contact. She started to formulate her plan. Christmas morning, after they all had opened their presents, she would offer Willow the ring, kneel before her, and ask Willow for the honor of marrying her. Yes, she thought, it would be perfect.

Knowing a rare happiness and peace in her heart, Buffy slept soundly, dreaming of her future daughter, playing in the snow with her uncle Xander. A four-year-old girl with red hair and freckles, who had captured Buffy�s heart from the very beginning.

Just like her mother Willow.

FINIS

Continue to the Next Story in the Series
Christmas in Your Heart
by Shyfox

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